China Tales are short stories that are made up of events and situations which have happened to us, or friends of ours over our time in China. Please feel free to add your own China story in the comments below.
We take our first tale from a dear friend of ours who was based in Hexian, Anhui (located on the eastern coast of China near Jiangsu province). Having visited Jack in Hexian (pronounced Her she an) a few times, I can say that it is a small town, by Chinese standards, and slightly backwards compared to other Chinese cities. Minimal to zero foreigners (apart from Jack) lived there, so he was still very much a spectacle. The fact that he embraced Chinese culture so much that he pretty much adopted it for his own, meant that he was highly appreciated around town. On most days, Jack could be seen out and about chewing on ganzhe (sugar cane) or duck neck and carrying his jar of green tea.
I would visit Jack in Hexian some weekends, and one highlight were the night markets. Red tarpaulin-covered outdoor restaurants, where they cook fresh food and people enjoy eating and drinking, sprawl along the edge of the roads. The hustle and bustle, smells and sounds of a Chinese night market are irresistibly intoxicating for a traveller. If you haven’t experienced a night market as a foreigner in China then you have been missing out. When drinking at a night market, then I would say that 90% of the time you will be approached by another table of drinkers who will want to “Ganbei” (cheers) you. If you reciprocate, then more often than not they will invite you to join their table to continue to drink together. If you are up for being social, then this can lead to a hilarious and joyful night as it has with me and did with our friend in Hexian many times.
After a long week of ESL teaching, Jack went out for a (quiet) meal at the night market. As a foreigner sat on his own with a beer in hand it didn’t take long for him to be noticed by another table of drinkers, only this time the other table was full of off duty local policemen, who after “Ganbei-ing” Jack several times invited him over to their table to drink together. Now, Jack can speak Chinese, but not enough to fully understand a fast-paced Chinese conversation. Does it matter in a situation like this? No! When drinking at night markets a mysterious and mutual unspoken understanding reveals itself making communication a breeze. And really, very little needs to be said.
Uncountable empty bottles of beer stacked back in their cardboard boxes as they continued the baijiu drinking late into the night. Jack decided that he ought to head home, he had parked his bike outside and was planning on cycling. The police, however, would not accept this and insisted on dropping him back. In the end, Jack’s bike was chucked into the boot of the police car, which then couldn’t close. With the music turned up full volume to impress their foreign guest, Jack and the car full of his new police officer friends drove home slowly, but drunkenly, in places jumping the curb and driving on the pavement. It would have been a funny sight to see, a car full of drunk policeman driving on the pavement, boot open with a bike sticking out and belting dance music full volume.