Thursday, December 29, 2011

Culture Corner: Ganbei!

Like everywhere else in the world, drink and dance are also appreciated by the Chinese. They have good beer (thanks to the Germans), so-so wine, and horrible liquors. And if you're going for a night on the town with the Chinese, you'd better be prepared to drink any and all; they don't have a brake pedal.

The Chinese do not go to just any street corner pub that has a tap and a jukebox (mostly because these places do not exist), they go to fashionable clubs. Just who spreads the word about which places are "the place to go" is happening beyond my perception. But someone does know, because after going to one club two weeks in a row, the word spreads that another club is the place to be. So we go and find the same people, leaving me to wonder if the previous club is now empty or filled with other people who thought they were doing the cool thing.

When the Chinese buy alcohol, they do not buy individual drinks or rounds.  They buy whole bottles of whiskey and cases of beer at a time, the latter all being opened at once before being placed on the table. (After a while you simply grab a beer and don't worry about whose it is or if it's "fresh".) They do not buy them in such quantities to savor. No, it's so you can get sloppy drunk enough to flatter the bar owner into giving you roast duck head for free. 

If the spirit moves them, the Chinese will dance. It is not pretty, looking something like a half-hearted twist with a touch of running man. They are aware of the beat and dance to it, but don't have that wild and crazy attitude Taylor, aged 19 from Reno has with her pink tank top, glitter lipstick, thong, and spare tire of fat hanging out of her jeans has, hands over her head in a war whoop all night long.  However, the techno version of John Denver's "Country Roads" or the Miami Vice theme may inspire some of the Chinese to leap onto speakers and perform a more active version of the twist. I swear I've never had so much fun stepping out on the dance floor with a bunch of Chinese people, half in the bag, all gettin' down to "Sex Bomb" by Tom Jones. The craziness of it all!!

After the club, however, the night is only half over. It's time for eating - and yes, more drinking. You, your cronies, and whoever else has joined your crew (it's easy to acquire new cronies in China) pile ten deep into the only car between the lot and participate in a little drunk driving. As the Chinese are crazy drivers anyway, the years of practice ensure no one gets hurt. In the restaurant, it's time for more calls of "Ganbei!", which is their equivalent of "Cheers!", but with an added feature: ordinarily when people say "Ganbei!" they touch glasses and take a drink - as we would.  But when drunk, the Chinese use the official definition, which means you must finish what's in you glass.  This formula works out to a primitive kind of social Darwinism.  Those who can handle their alcohol goad the weaker into drinking. The weaker try to refuse at first, knowing what lies ahead.  But, facing challenges to their “face”, they eventually give in, and often with disastrous results. (Warning, those with sensitive stomachs should cover their ears for the next ten seconds.) A couple weeks ago, a young man beside me was goaded many a 'Ganbei!', protesting all the way. After one particular queasy looking swallow, he proceeded to reveal the contents of his stomach using our table as a display board.  People laughed, waitresses grimaced, but he "saved face", right?

Oh, that pesky Chinese pride... It gets them in trouble all the time. Nothing like Westerners, no, no, no… But that's the subject of another culture corner.

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