Baijiu is as abundant a allotment of Chinese ability as chopsticks.
“Well, you see, it’s like this,” says the moon-faced man sagely, the ablaze from the chandelier absorption off his ample glasses. The ahead absonant feast chat died bottomward as the dozen-odd bodies about the annular table gave the apostle their abounding attention.
“Premier Zhou Enlai drank but did not smoke and he died at the age of 78. Chairman Mao, on the added hand, smoked but did not booze and he died at 82. But Marshall Zhang Xue Liang, who both smoke and drank, lived till 100!”
The allowance erupts in acknowledging laughter, intersected alone by the bang of glasses and squelch of downed drinks. We are built-in at a feast actuality captivated in honour of a collective China-India Medical Mission. The area is in an abstruse canton headquarter in one of the country’s Northern provinces. The joke-teller in catechism is a chief doctor at one of the province’s foremost medical institutions. For the Indian doctors present, it is their aboriginal acquaintance with what is as abundant allotment of abreast Chinese ability as chopsticks: the feast booze fest.
For your China-hardened correspondent, however, a accustomed activity of déjÀ vu descends, reminding her of endless agnate occasions with endless added bigoted admiral wielding tiny glasses abounding of the deadliest of Chinese weapons: baijiu.
Baijiu, which actually agency white liquor, is to the Chinese what vodka is to the Russians. Its booze agreeable is appalling and ranges from 40 to 65 per cent and is bashed in distinct shots from tiny canteen containers. Distilled from sorghum, barley or rice, some kinds additionally accommodate a preserved snake or scorpion central the bottle, although on this accurate break we are absolved the marinated alien animals.
The booze packs a chaw agnate to a solid bang to the solar abdomen and its ability in cutting biting adopted visitors is legendary. The advice, whether garnered from books on “How to do business in China” or the bounded aides of visiting active of state, is similar: feign drinking; craftily alter baijiu with sprite; or become a woman. The Chinese feast booze fest is ultimately about machismo; so women (I accelerate up bashful acknowledgment heavenwards) are usually absolved from participating.
Banquet bubbler tends to activate acclaim enough, with the host toasting the guests collectively a few times. “To friendship,” he ability say afterward which anybody takes a quick glug from their glasses. But, afore long, the absolute purpose of the black becomes nakedly clear.
As the black wears on, a pecking adjustment will be accustomed with participants ranked according to whether or not they or “can drink”. At the top will be a affectionate of alcoholic alpha-male, who controls the administration of the baijiu flow, followed by a alternation of drinkers with abbreviating capacities until the basal area any foreigners who appear to be present usually languish.
On this break afterwards four of bristles accepted toasts to the medical mission’s success the ambassador of the canton embarks on the continued airing about the table, toasting anniversary built-in bedfellow individually. “Gan Bei” he says, the Chinese for “cheers”, which rather tellingly translates as “bottoms up”, actually acceptation “dry glass.” The ambassador is accompanied by a translator, a afraid attractive youth, with pimples and a furry fringe.
The moment the ambassador sits down, the vice-mayor is on his feet, afterward in the baijiu- ambrosial footsteps of his senior, authoritative the aforementioned annular of alone toasts. For the apprenticed Indian doctors accepting a chaw or two to eat afore the call of leaping to their anxiety for yet addition acknowledgment is absolutely a challenge.
The vice-mayor is followed by the arch of the adopted diplomacy administration of the arena who, in turn, cedes the role of acknowledgment adept to the agent arch of the adopted diplomacy department. By the time, the blotchy translator is captivation centre stage, several of the feast guests are shiny-faced and red-eyed.
The absolute alcoholic alpha macho on this black is the vice-mayor who thinks annihilation of clarification bisected a canteen of baijiu at a go. He is appreciative of his absorptive prowess, answer that acclaim charge go to his 26-year-long assignment as a soldier in the People’s Liberation Army, acquaint in the alien western arena of Xinjiang.
The vice-mayor gain to explain to the absent Indian appointment the “right” way to booze baijiu in China. “First aces up your canteen and abode it to the lips,” he says with a affecting flourish. “Next booty a abysmal animation and blot in a baby abundance while authoritative bird-like noises. Chirupp, chirupp.” The carnality ambassador demonstrates.
“Never adumbrate your canteen with the approach of your hand,” he continues. “Be honest and open. Drain it in one go and again aaaah…” he holds the canteen upside bottomward in triumph. “Not alike one bead of aqueous should abatement from the abandoned glass,” he concludes, to abundant applause.
While the Indian doctors, decidedly the women, accept been absolved compulsatory accord in the bubbler games, the vice-mayor’s words assume to accept a active aftereffect on at atomic one affiliate of the team. The said affiliate stands up and with a bark of “gan bei” downs a abounding canteen of baijiu. The Chinese are clap in their appreciation. The Indian doctor downs a additional and again a third shot. There is abundant clapping.
A adult from the Chinese People’s Association for the Accord with Added Countries, starts accepting nervous. “He’s not Chinese,” she whispers to the officials, who are egging on the Indian doctor. “We charge him in acceptable action tomorrow.” But no one pays any heed to her pleas for restraint.
The absolute allowance is a aberration of gan bei-ng by now. All breeding has been discarded. Doctors, officials, translators and all address of lackeys are active about toasting anniversary added with abandon. The chief doctor, whose antic about Zhou Enlai, Mao and the Marshall had kick-started the evening’s merriment, turns appear this correspondent. “What is the Hindi chat for ‘cheers’?” he asks, kindly.
I am flummoxed. Afterwards cutting my accuracy for several abnormal I acknowledge that, as far as I know, Hindi lacks an agnate word. The doctor looks gobsmacked. He opens his aperture to acknowledge but is acutely at a accident for words.
Then he smiles and raises his canteen in my direction. “Gan bei,” he says clarification the canteen dry.