Friday, March 11, 2005

A Single Plum Floating in Perfume, Served in a Man's Hat

For those who do not worship "The Simpsons," this is what a Yoko Ono-ish character orders to drink at Moe's Tavern. Why do I bring it up? Because this post is about boozing in China.

Despite what you may have heard, Harbin holds the oldest brewery in China. Beer is a big deal here, and they drink more of it than any other city in the world besides Hamburg, Germany. Most restaraunts assume you're drinking beer, to the point of which it can be very difficult (and annoying) if you just want a soda. But usually, I wont complain.

A bottle of beer at my local corner mart costs 1.5 yuan, plus a .5 deposit. 2 yuan is equal to about $.25. Yeah. Hooray. A bottle stands at 630 mL, and I have no idea how many onces that is, but its more than 12. Despite the bigger bottle, the alcohol content is actually lower, somewhere around 3.5 proof, a little more than half that of some American beer. The end result is I have to drink more beer to get as drunk as I would back home, but the larger bottles balances this annoyance out. However, it does inspire more frequent trips to the local WC.

The beer is light, but tasty. Brewed locally, they never use preservatives. That means the beer is always fresh, and whatever doesnt sell quick enough gets returned. Often times a shopkeeper will tell you just how old the beer is, in case you were wondering. (I usually dont care, but it does provide for some conversation. "Ahhh, Friday! Friday was a good day for this label!") More often than not the beer is left outside, hardly ever refridgerated. But since Harbin is as cold as it is, I have yet to come across a warm beer. Some of you might think warm beer to be odd, if not gross, but you should know that in Chinese culture cold drink traditionally carry the stigma of being a (Tom) bearinger of disease and illness. Bartenders will at times look at you funny if you ask for a "cold one."

Outside of beer, China has wine and "bai jiu." The Asian winos hold a different nose from their Western counterparts, basically everything we in the West deem bad or poor qualities in wine are considered to be the best elements here in China. As such, the wine is often too sweet and too full for my tastes, plus, like the beer, its weaker in its alcohol. But since none of the food pairs well with the local wine, who really cares.

Hard spirits are hard to come by outside of the local paint thinner, a moonshine loved by locals and feared by foreigners called "bai jiu," or literally "white liquor." Contrary to the other imbibements discussed, bai jiu is stronger than any sort of western counterpart. And far, far, far grosser. We (the expat community) are always careful not to find ourselves in a situation where a native is buying us drinks of bai jiu and we become obligated to drink it or insult our friends. The drink is true rot gut. Just a shot or two and you'll be writhing in pain for a day at least. As it sits in your glass, the bai jiu holds a shimmer like gasoline in water; as it sits in your stomach, uuughgghhg. Sometimes the characters used to describe bai jiu translate as "wood alcohol," sometimes as "reject the dragon wine," other times... who knows. Its gross.

Western spirits are hard to come by save at select bars or huge department stores. I haven't been able to find any yet myself. Right now, as I write, I'm sipping on a brandy, which isn't that great, but its doing what I need. I'd be happier if I had some ice (I have yet to find ice trays, again, a convenience that has fallen victim to the superstition against cold drinks) but I'd be happiest if I could find some decent scotch. There is a bottle of Cutty Sark on display in the lobby of one of my schools, and some one has already drank half of it. I kinda want the other half. Maybe tomorrow, perhaps in preparation for my 8 AM class of 4-6 yr olds...


At 1:16 PM, Blogger eirishis said...

Calculators and metric converters are awesome!

630ml = 21.3oz/12oz = 1.775 vol CHN/vol US

3.5%/5.2%(a US average) = .673 %booze CHN/%booze US

1.775 volume ratio * .673 booze ratio = 1.19 intoxication factor.

Thus, five chinese bottles of beer get you approximately as drunk as six bottle of US beer. Enjoy that local WC in the process.

At 1:49 AM, Blogger DigitalCamera said...

Hey there, you've got a great blog here! I'm thinking of bookmarking your site!

I have a Perfumes site. It pretty much covers Perfumes

related stuff.

Come and check it out if you get time :-)


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