First, I would like to dedicate this post to my brothers Patrick and Brian as well as my mother Camelia, who are all celebrating birthdays this week. Second, I would like to offer a slight disclaimer: when I wrote this blog entry late last night, I was out of my mind drunk.
Before I begin, I apologize for whatever shape this story takes, I am just so drunk. Tomorrow is the Mid-Autumn Festival, or Zhongqiu Jie, also referred to as the Lantern Festival or Mooncake Festival. It is both a Chinese national holiday as well as celebrated in other parts of Asia such as Korea and Vietnam. As I understand it, there are three fundamental traditions to the holiday: gathering together with family, giving thanks for the harvest, and praying for material or conceptual satisfaction (a child, a spouse, wealth, long life, etc.) Other traditional activities include lighting lanterns, dragon and lion dances, and the baking and giving of moon cakes.
This holiday is so revered that the teachers at my school asked if this week, I would teach a class on certain English words associated with the holiday such as lantern, lion, moon, star, and moon cake. Also, I have a four-day weekend with no class.
In honor of the festival, the principal of my school gifted me with a basket of apples, peaches, dragon fruit, and moon cakes. And two of my contacts in Xingtai, Tina and Jenny, invited me to have dinner with them at their friend’s restaurant. This wasn’t just a dinner though, this was a complete feast in the large, private dining room in back that made our Peking Duck orientation lunch look like a small snack. This was dinner in the traditional sense – several courses brought out seemingly without end.
We began with grapes to ready the appetite and palate, which led to Peking duck, fried eggplant (surprisingly the best-tasting thing I’ve had since arriving in China), sausage, tofu, pig’s ear, sea cucumber, cow’s stomach, and to end this glorious feast, dumplings. Everyone was overjoyed and patted me on the back when I said I would try anything. “Very brave!” Of course, there were several other things on the table – celery, sprouts, cherry tomatoes, watermelon – to serve as cleansers or transition foods.
But apparently the main course of this meal was alcohol because we definitely consumed enough. And politely declining to drink was not an option. To not drink would have been extremely disrespectful, I gather. It was insisted upon that I at least try the rice wine (which happens to tastes like and have the alcohol content of vodka). In addition to the rice wine, there was a bottle of red wine (and this was like a 500 Y bottle), and plenty of beer. After three rounds of group shots of the rice wine, I switched to beer, which is perceived more as a chaser, as if it’s closer to water than alcohol. And almost every ten minutes, there would be another toast proposed or another round of shots.
Throughout this marathon meal, my contacts and their friends were very curious as to the presence and significance of alcohol in American culture. I told them all, constantly switching back and forth between Mandarin and English and some sort of hybrid, about the college drinking culture, bar hopping and clubbing, drinking games, and the hundreds of different kinds of alcohol. I taught them some of the drinking vocabulary, like chug, take shots, and of course, drunk. In China, shots are taken one by one and instead of chug, they say “Drink all!” At one point, I even informed them of the practice of marking how many shots you’ve taken on your arm (mostly because I was simultaneously impressed and growing steadily worried about how many shots they were able to consume, felt like someone should be keeping track).
I wasn’t even the drunkest member of our party! In fact, I was probably the most sober, which, given my current state, tells you something about just how under the table my new friends drank me. But the funniest part was that our evening devolved into the totally cliche American drunk activities like over-the-top declarations of love and affection, uncontrollable giggling and crying, really cliche ineloquent speeches, etc. By the way, none of this is me, I’m just sitting there, silently marveling at the spectacle, nodding, and occasionally saying “Wo dong” or “Dui, dui.” I couldn’t believe the parallels! But I guess everyone gets drunk the same way and then behaves the same way.
Oh! This part just happened and I’m still wondering what the hell to make of it. So! We take a taxi back to my apartment building, they ask me if I’m okay enough to make it upstairs by myself, and I tell them “Wo hen hao, wo okay” but they escort me up to my apartment anyway and who should accompany us but two Xingtai police officers! I didn’t know what was happening but they assured me it was for my own safety. I made nice small talk with the police, they asked me where I’m from, what I’m doing in China, how long I studied Chinese, etc. Meanwhile, I’m just smiling and nodding and answering their questions as coherently as I can. I honestly thought I had violated some law where foreigners can’t be intoxicated because… I don’t quite know why, but needless to say, I was freaking out! Plus, the entire time, I was worried about the cleanliness of my apartment! I thought, “Oh no! My apartment isn’t immaculately clean for the Xingtai police!”
I suppose that sums up a very funny evening. In closing, I’d like to toast my brothers Patrick and Brian and my mom Camelia. Zhu Nimen Shengri Kuaile! A Happy Mid-Autumn Festival to all those celebrating. Cheers and… ganbei!