Drinking in China has always been a minefield of potentially explosive situations. Even after learning the drinking customs and the consequences they bring, drinking in China still brings about new experiences that surprise me.
I was recently sitting in a local bar with friends, contemplating the merits of English classes that day. As we exchanged stories regarding the questionable behaviour of students and their parents, a procession of eight young Chinese girls entered the bar. They were dressed to impress with high heels, short skirts, and enough make-up to make a clown wince. These beauties wouldn’t look out of place on a night out anywhere in Britain, but here in China, their appearance could only mean one thing: they were prostitutes.
Like a police line-up, they sauntered up to the table behind me and stood in a line, pulling a variety of faces. From vulnerable, to kinky, to just plain happy to be there, their looks were aimed at one man in particular. Weighing up the pro’s and con’s of each girl, with the nod of his head he made his decision. As quickly as they had entered, the girls left the bar, followed by the lucky man, his face grinning from ear to ear, obviously knowing the joys he would be having that evening. Coming from a conservative country, where the use of call-girls is often frowned upon, it always surprises me how this part of Chinese culture is so blatant and accepted.
Drunkenness amongst the male population is as much evident in China as it is in most Western countries and as I entered the second bar of the evening with another teacher, I spied a group of young men sitting at a table in the corner. Their table and the surrounding floor were littered with empty beer bottles. Sticking out like a blonde amongst brunettes, it didn’t take long before this group of intoxicated youths were beckoning us to join their table.
You can judge immediately the nature of those drinking and the potential dangers they possess. From my own experiences in China, I’ve adapted a number of gauges to assess the potential pitfalls of drinking with strangers in Benxi. While many groups are harmless, there are two that I am very wary of. The first, the older businessman, is often an aggressive and stubborn drunkard. The second group is the young members of the law enforcement profession, who refuse to take ‘no’ as an answer, thinking their new found power doesn’t allow refusals to their demands.
Those drinking at the table in the corner were of the latter variety. Like Braveheart fighting the tyranny of the English, we victoriously fought off their offers of free drinks and groping hands well in to the evening. Tired of our snubs, they changed tactics and without an invite, joined our table. As successful as a Roger Federer volley, our empty stomachs quickly drank all but one of the young enforcers in to submission. Making their excuses and leaving, there was soon just the one man in blue left.
This man was of a different calibre though. He drank like a camel and had the wondering hands of Mr. Tickle, inappropriately grabbing my inner thigh at every opportunity. My friend and I realised a change of game plan was needed to escape from this man’s rash-like presence. The only words Mr. Tickle (as he’ll now be called) could utter in English were, "I China police," and with my limited Chinese language skills, conversation was kept to a minimum. I had hoped my excuse of having English classes the following morning (a blatant lie, as this was the evening before my only day off) would give him the hint to leave. It didn’t.
Finally understanding that we wanted to leave, he ordered a further six bottles of beer and informed us we could leave after these were all drank. We decided to stand firm to our plan to depart without drinking these extra beers. Pointing to our watches we got up to go home, a move that made Mr. Tickle shake with rage. Getting out his police badge and uttering the words, "I China police," once again, we wilted under the pressure like a daisy under a spotlight, and sat back down to drink the beers.
It took another hour to finish the beers. As soon as they were finished, I informed Mr. Tickle I was going home to my wife. Upon hearing this his eyes lit up. "Good idea," he replied. Surely he couldn’t be thinking I was offering him a laowai (foreigner) threesome? I went to the bathroom to relieve myself. Unable to lock the door, Mr. Tickle burst in seconds later. Fellow men sharing a toilet for a quick ‘sword-fight’ is a very common occurrence, so I thought little of this until he stood in front of me and just watched me urinate in to the Chinese-style hole in the floor. Maybe he really did think it was his lucky night?
Leaving the bar, Mr. Tickle stuck to us like a blood-crazed leech. Seeing his little violent outburst earlier in the night, my mind was quickly thinking of possible escape plans. After putting my friend in a taxi and allowing her to flee to safety, I was hoping that I could achieve the same success. As I entered the taxi though, Mr. Tickle, jumped in the back. I knew now I had a fight on my hands to get rid of him.
Exiting the taxi and getting more forceful in my approach, I told Mr. Tickle I was going home alone. A sentence he refused to listen to, getting angrier and more physically violent the more I repeated it. Unwilling to accept my pleas, he started to shout, "I China police, I China police," over and over again. His now evident annoyance made him look like Sloth from The Goonies. Grabbing my arm and trying to force it behind my back to put me in to the taxi, I realised there was only one option left.
Pretending to accept his demands, he let me free from his iron-like shackles and I politely opened the taxi door for him to get in first. He got in the taxi, his mind no doubt envisaging the fun he was about to enjoy. I slammed the door behind him. As Mr. Tickle peered through the taxi window, I bolted. I ran and ran and ran, and then I ran some more. Through the silent early morning streets of Benxi I ran. At first Mr. Tickle had tried to follow, but soon the, "Hey I’m China police," shouts stopped and the early morning silence resumed. As I wiped the sweat from my head, I swore to my waiting wife this would be the last time I shared a drink, forced or not, with either of these blacklisted groups.
In comparison to shaking off horny cops, teaching has been very tame. The only interesting moment was when asking a young boy to tell me during class what he liked. Thinking briefly, he responded, "I like eating man meat." Before I could correct him by suggesting the word he was actually looking for was ‘flesh’, he continued with, "and you like drinking your wife’s milk." I had no comeback to this and decided to move swiftly on to the next student, hopeful the watching parents hadn’t understood his words.
In the past few weeks I have also had the pleasure of celebrating my two year wedding anniversary. I had originally thought a perfect wedding day surrounded by friends and family would take a lot of beating. It has. These two years have certainly made me realise what a good decision that day was. To celebrate the occasion we decided to have dinner at one of the most expensive restaurants in the city. Here for $15 a person you can eat exquisite hamburgers, and sip extravagant cocktails. You’d have trouble doing that at Weatherspoons for the same price!
To our dismay when we reached the restaurant, they informed us they were out of hamburger patties and the only cocktails in stock consisted of those requiring no more than vodka, whiskey, coke and sprite. Not to be defeated, we instead searched for our own anniversary meal ingredients. By evening we had made our very own hamburgers, each one big enough to stave off famine for decades. So good they were, we ate similar sized hamburgers for the next five days until overload kicked in. We also purchased a bottle of Kahlua, drinking Black and White Russians until we both fell in to a meat-induced coma.