Homework with whisky and singing

Today I had whiskey with dofu chasers.

On the way out to the park to do some homework, I stopped at the bike repair guy’s corner to see if Mr. Lu would tighten my bike seat. Every time I went over a bump the seat would go vertical. He told me to sit down with his buddies for a snack, which turned out to be peanuts, shredded dofu, and whisky, with the dofu as the chaser. We ended up ‘chatting’ for almost an hour (not that I have anywhere near enough Mandarin to sustain a conversation that long).

We’ve read and heard lots about Chinese drinking customs, about how they should be avoided at all costs, and how they’re hard to avoid. At informal occasions like mine today, but especially at banquets, there can be a lot of toasting with strong drinks. It’s mostly the men; apparently it’s a manly-man thing to drink a lot, and there can be lots of goading and pressuring to get reluctant participants to drink more than they should. (Ironically, ethnic Chinese have one of the lowest genetic tolerances for alcohol, meaning that on average they get drunk easier than everyone else. Manly-man indeed…) Our friends that have lived here long enough, especially those that work in some sort of official capacity, have had to face the banquet scene a few times. They told us they just tell people something like, “We’re Christians so we don’t drink,” even if they do drink occasionally, and the rationale was that your only other choice is to get hammered. I never understood why it was apparently so hard to just stop after one drink. Can’t you just tell people no?

Today I got a small taste of how hard it can be. I only had one, but man I had to fight to keep it at one! These guys were persistent, to the point of trying to grab my cup and fill it for me, or trying to fill it when I was holding it and not paying attention for split second, or giving me all kinds of arguments and guilt trips (I imagine… Mr. Lu doesn’t slow down or simplify his speech for foreigners like others sometimes do so I don’t know what he was saying aside from the non-verbals). I wonder if a little bit has to do with you giving them face by accepting their hospitality, and saying no can be a little loss of face or something. Since you have to work so hard to refuse more, to the point of almost making a little scene, I can see how the pressure would be even greater at formal banquets where there’s a lot more face going around.

Still, tough rocks. I’m not going to be your drunk foreigner entertainment, and I’ve got more interesting ways to affirm my masculinity.

But we still had a good time. After the snack, I found a bench in the park and ending up talking with someone else for another hour. Then he saw one of his friends and we sat and talked with him. Jessica found us by then, and he and his friend (an erhu musician) sang us this song:

I’d tell you what it’s about, but, ah… it has something to do with “Who are you?” and the army… I think.

While I was talking in the park, this was going on. I promise you won’t get this stuff back home:

The guy I was chatting with asked me if I liked it. I told him it was interesting.

Tomorrow is May 4th, officially one of the most important holidays in China. Workers get a week off of work. Every gate on every apartment building around us (hundreds) is flying a Chinese flag. Fireworks almost every night. You can click here to see how a government site explains the significance of the May 4th Movement. It would be interesting to compare this to what is written in your history textbooks. From said government site:

Under the influence of the October Revolution in Russia, China’s May 4th Movement arose. During this great anti-imperialist, anti-feudal revolutionary movement led by patriotic students, the Chinese proletariat for the first time mounted the political stage. The May 4th Movement marked the change of the old democratic revolution to the new democratic revolution. It enabled Marxism-Leninism to further spread and link up with the Chinese people’s revolutionary practice, and prepared the ideology as well as the cadres necessary for the founding of the Communist Party of China…