Happy Year of the snake! Xin Nian Kuai Le (pronounced Shin Neeyen Kwai La) The New Year is officially underway as the fifteenth (our 24th) passed on Sunday. For a description of the lunar calendar, see the previous post. Good luck and prosperity to all!
As I have mentioned in a previous post, my poison, my drug of choice is booze. I am what I heard Janis Joplin called a “juicer.” There are many reasons for it, and I can drink a lot, but I can quit too, so I am not too concerned. It adds a little to the middle, but hey, at my age a six pack abdomen would be aggressive. Chinese New Year is a time for festivities and serious partying. Fireworks deafen everyone and light up the sky. You can buy these large immigrant suitcase-sized boxes of fireworks and they are pro-quality. Every car alarm and dog howls for miles. The family (my brother, wife and children) are not drinkers. This bothers the neighbors because they cannot get them to be silly. I was touted as the drinker and they have all lain in wait. The goal? get older brother or gege (pronounced gugu like gum) drunk. They succeeded in spectacular fashion. Everyone invites me in for a quick snort of the not so strong, yeah right, alcohol they ferment, distill, do I don’t know what with. If I never have Baijiu again, that will be fine. It is a wicked white lightening distilled from sorghum. The base percentage alcohol of baijiu is 55% or 110 proof. The good stuff is 65% or 130 proof. The good stuff is gross.
Round one came at the hands of the family’s landlord and dinner at his house. We sat in an unattractive apartment with a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. All of us around a table as food began to appear cooked by the mother in law. The food was simple and good, I think. The landlord and I were the only ones drinking biajiu. It was a special brew from his home village in a thirty liter punch jar with a glass stopper. Marinating in the white alcohol was a long thin brown thing. It was a deer whip from the red musk deer, and quite prized. Deer whip is the penis FYI. It is supposed to impart flavor and or course virility. He poured us two six ounce Dixie cups full and said cheers. There are a couple of different kinds of cheers here: Sui Ni (pronounced sway nee) translates as you wish, and gambei (gambay) which means dry glass. The first one was an as you wish, and then half way through the cup, a refill naturally, to keep the cup full. I felt like a hot chick at a bar looking at her glass of chardonnay and seeing it is always full. DANGER WILL ROBINSON DANGER!!! The second cup was an initial sui ni, and then half way through that it was gambei. It was only 5:20 in the afternoon. We drank four cups with little refills by 6:30. We both went from fine to buzzed to incoherent in an hour and fifteen minutes. I sort of remember the meal. The landlord apparently fell into the dining room table and all the food. We also head butted each other and I awoke at three in the morning with teeth marks on my forehead and no memory of the said events. We became best friends and were going to travel the world together singing Karaoke. I took three aspirin and went back to bed. He was much worse off than I was. It has been a neighborhood story for a week. End round one: USA vs. China 1 – 0. He did not resurface for three days.
Round two was at a bar with three Chinese guys who like to play pool. They decided they would drink me under the table; beer and tequila. They had no chance. Tequila is my Mexican mother’s milk. They tried to gang up on me with gambei shots, but the secret according to my brother and he is right, is not to do shots with each of them, but to lay each one to waste individually. It is true that I was doing three to the individual’s one, but I was okay with that. One passed out at the table, the second went to be sick and returned green at the gills, and the third waved a white flag in surrender. USA vs. China 1 – 0, now 2 – 0 – 0. I felt like a college kid. Silly at my age, but every once in a while who cares? And it was for my country, so I had to hold up the flag, and stand proud. USA! USA! USA! <grin>
Round three: landlord dinner, we were seven total, and began at three pm. I had not had lunch. I am not sure how or why, but I caught a good wave. Three of us drank a bottle of baiju. Another three could not drink the baiju and drank rice wine and beer. The landlord can drink; he is my equal if not superior. The others were his cannon fodder. After dinner we went out to Karaoke TV (KTV). They take this very seriously in Asia. People go to private rooms and practice. All inhibitions fall by the wayside. If the KTV people were smart they would put poles in the rooms. Fruit plates and snacks appeared: dried squid, weird dried spicy tofu (pronounced dofu), beef, pork, and cuttlefish jerky. Peanuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds, strange gelatin fruit flavored cups, Bugles for God sakes, and four cases of beer. Beer isn’t really considered a drink. It was gambei all the way. The landlord and I shifted from being adversaries to allies and laid the room to waste. Some other people arrived and tried to gambie me to death. I looked at them and said…NO WAY. I have had fifteen beers glasses, you have had none. You must gambei eight right now to play. To be fair, and the Chinese are fair if you call them on it, there is a sense of honor. They fell for the challenge and were killed in the field of battle.
The only way to survive this is to walk to the bathroom while you still can and get rid of all that you are holding in your stomach. If you do not, you will die. I had two such trips. Given the state of the lavatories, I assume it is a fairly common practice. I was thankful to be rid of the devil baijiu. Then it was smooth sailing from there on out. YUCK!
Round three: senior drunks vs. all comers 1 – 0. We are no longer drinking for our countries and face. We were brothers. They dropped me off at the bottom of the road and I tottered home, feeling a little more Chinese.
Round four: Reggae Bar, downtown Hangzhou beer and tequila. No problems and all well. USA beat China and the UK handily. Three Brits had bought three steamer trunk sized firework boxes and at 23:50 went out into the street to set them off and welcome the New Year with a bang. The bar emptied to watch the show. It was impressive. So much so that the roof of the Reggae Bar caught fire and the firemen had to come and douse the flames. Nothing serious, just a lot of stored cardboard boxes and laundry; there was no structural damage according to the firemen. We returned inside and kept drinking.
Thank goodness it was the last night of the New Year’s festivities..
P.S. No pictures that I have seen so far.