(Ed. note: Get a cup of coffee and settle in – it’s a long one today)
It is Sunday afternoon and Terry and I are having a very low key day and while it may not be the kind of day we had planned coming in to the weekend, it is one of necessity after last night. Before we went away to Thailand, we were in Starbucks and got in to a conversation with Jeremy and his lovely wife Jasmine. Jeremy has been in China for 11 years and is the General Manager of a company which make the paper for tea bags and cigarettes – two very desirable products in China. We agreed that after we returned we would get in touch and get together and so last night came about. Jeremy arranged for a dinner of ex-pats and a few others – there were 15 of us in total. However, before I get to the dinner part let me describe how we got to the restaurant.
The bus which stops just outside our apartment is the No. 28 and, fortunately, it goes right by the restaurant (Jiaxing Impressions) and takes about 25 minutes. Great. Our reservation is for 5:45 so at about 5:05 we go out to the bus stop, knowing that the bus runs every 15 minutes. Now, we have written before about the nature of Jiaxing public transit and the, let’s say, lack of dedication to an exact schedule. We wait, wait and wait some more – no bus. Finally a girl of about 15 comes by with her father and I ask them if the bus runs on Saturday evenings. She speaks quite good English and tells us yes, but we might have to wait for up to 30 minutes and suggests we might want to walk over to the mall and catch a different bus. Then she asks where we are going, and I say Meiwan Street. “Ah” she gasps, “that is where my father and I are going.” Still no bus. She and her father have a brief conversation and she says “My father and I are going to ride bicycles (the ones for public use all over the city) to Meiwan Street but my mother and grandparents are going to drive. Do you want to go with them?” Still no bus. We say “Are you sure?” “Yes” says she and he phones his wife to come and get us. He gets out his business card and gives it to us and Terry gets hers out. “Oh” he says “Jiaxing Gaoji School – my very good friend George Zhao is the vice-principal there.” “Yes” says Terry “we live in the same building as him and he is our friend too!” The bus now pulls up – and he says “No, no” As it pulls away, his wife pulls up, we pile in and off we go. The wife and grandparents speak no English, but drive us right to the door of the restaurant. We walk in the door of the restaurant at 5:45. Remember now, Jiaxing has 3.5 million people. Would this scenario have played out in Vancouver, Calgary or maybe, Toronto – a city of comparable size?
Our reservation had originally been for 6pm but I got an email from Jeremy saying it was moved up to 5:45. I suggested to Terry that maybe he wanted us to come a little early to get to know us a little better – we had only had a 10 minute conversation in Starbucks, after all. Couldn’t have been more wrong – we were the last to arrive.
About the gathering. There was Jeremy and his wife Jasmine; Mark and his wife Vanessa from England; David from Scotland; Tillo and his wife Angela from Germany; Jessica and Mr. Jang from Shanghai; Chip and wife May and daughter Grace from the U.S. and Jason from Jaixing. Small world #1: We had met Angela in the September luncheon on National Teacher day and Terry had run in to her on Wednesday at the school after the Women’s Day affair. Small world #2: Vanessa says to Terry “You got your haircut at Toni and Guy in Shanghai” “Yes – how did you know?” “That is where I go and my hairdresser told me that a woman principal from Canada living in Jiaxing had been in the shop.”
Back to the action- first question – what would you like to drink? How about yellow wine? Now I tried yellow wine when we first got here, and honestly, it wasn’t my favourite. It is literally the colour of gasoline. I said that I would have a beer. Somehow or other, though, I changed my mind and said I would try the wine. First mistake. When it came I poured my glass almost full. Second mistake. Some important information.
- The glasses at Chinese restaurants are multi-use. People use them for wine, beer, pop, milk, whatever. I think they hold about 5 ounces.
- In my experience here when out to dinner, people don’t sip wine. Rather the custom is to toast each other and then “Gambay” – bottoms up.
- People know this and so only put a small amount in the glass.
- Geoff is a slow learner and likes to fill his to the top.
To be fair, anytime I was involved in a toast, the matching person also filled theirs so it was a one to one correlation, but I toasted way too many people. Anyway we had a fabulous meal and copious (and I mean copious) amounts of beer, yellow wine and white wine brought by Vanessa – one of our new best friends. I think the following happened towards the end of the evening – but I could be wrong, it might have been only half way through. Chip brings out a bottle of Baijiu. According to the online Urban Dictionary:
Baijiu – Pure distilled evil in liquid form. Chinese firewater that could be used to put a man on a moon of a planet in a far off galaxy.
Wikipedia: Baijiu is a Chinese alcoholic beverage. The name baijiu literally means “white liquor”, “white alcohol” or “white spirits”. Baijiu is often translated as wine or white wine. However, it is actually a distilled spirit, generally about 40–60% alcohol by volume. (Ed. note: This was 53%.)
From Scene Asia: Baijiu isn’t for the easily tipsy. Richard Nixon’s advisers famously tried to keep the president away from the strong Chinese liquor (baijiu translates as “white spirit”) at state dinners during his first visit to China in 1972.
Do you get the picture? Thankfully, they serve it in thimble size glasses, but as my pal Nancy said this morning, all those thimbles add up to a cup! I have no idea how many thimbles I had – but any more than one was too many.
All of a sudden, dinner is over and someone says something about going to a club (I think). We stand up and away we go. I have no idea how I got downstairs, because by now I am beyond four sheets to the wind, drunk as a skunk doesn’t even come close to where I am and no newt was ever as pissed as I was. As we hit the street we were at the back of the group and I think I said that we were just going to go home.
We found a taxi and came home. Now here’s the good part. I learned that if you consume enough yellow wine, you can sleep quite comfortably on the tile bathroom floor for several hours. Your wife can wash her face, brush her teeth and it doesn’t disturb your rest. I don’t wish to gross anyone out, but you can even be sick and have absolutely no recollection of doing so.
Some of you may be wondering how much all of this cost. I have no idea. When Terry (Ed. note: Don’t think that Terry was Miss Perfect last night either. In fact, today she says that she doesn’t remember ever being as drunk as she was) finally got up this morning she asked me if I had paid any of the bill and I realized that I hadn’t – I had just gotten up with everyone else and left. Nice touch. Don’t pay and then slink off into the night without saying goodbye. This is how you build relationships with new people. I did email Jeremy first thing with our apologies and he graciously assured me that dinner was on him and no need to worry – and even said they were looking forward to seeing us again. And Vanessa emailed Terry saying that we would get together again but wondered if we were too ill to respond to the email.
All in all a great day in Jiaxing, but one which I don’t wish to repeat all of –
anytime soon ever.