One has never feasted until one feasts with the Chinese. This weekend I stayed in Liuyang to have a quiet weekend, and go practice Taekwondo a little. I went on Friday, then went home early and had a good long sleep. Saturday I just sat around all day until after dinner, and ran out to Baisha road to see if I could catch a taxi downtown to the Taekwondo school. It’s always a hit or miss with catching a taxi out here, but I got one at the last minute and was a little late to class. I can usually understand only half of what is going on, and so when class ended a half hour early I wasn’t sure why. It was explained to me that there was a performance somewhere near there and that the black-belts would be participating in it, so I decided to follow everyone over there to watch. We walked down the road and under this archway with flashing neon lights, and then up five flights of stairs into this massive room full of people and a huge dance floor where couples were waltzing around to some strange electronic waltzing computer music. I went to stand on a bench with some of the people I was with, and watched a few performances. They were advertising a dance school, and the performance consisted of men in tight pants doing a line-dance rumba and then a bunch of little girls doing a choreographed dance to some song, then a bunch of professional waltzers waltzed around in suits and crazy dresses. After those performances, the people from my Taekwondo school did their demo, which went really well. There were a lot of people wide-eyed from the board-breaking they did.
After they finished we were all ushered to a private karaoke room where everyone sang songs till about 10h30. A girl convinced me to sing ‘my heart will go on’ with her. Needless to say, she did most of the singing (very well too, considering it was all in English). When everyone started leaving I kind of joined the crowd, and when we got downstairs I realized that a midnight feast was immanent. We piled into a few taxies and ended up on this side street at a big late-night hot-pot restaurant. We crowded 15 people around a tiny table with a giant pot in the middle and they proceeded to order two big boxes of beer and a ton of food (how much food, I couldn’t have known yet). A big pot of crabs was dumped into the boiling bowl in the middle of the table, and we all devoured those, then after three more bowls of delicious crabs, a bunch of steamed buns were brought out with sweet sauce and spicy peppers. After I thought maybe that was it, more crabs were dumped in, and after those were finished, a girl came over and scooped out part of the leftovers then came over and dumped a ton of broth into the bowl and stoked the fire underneath to get it to boil. While all this was happening, I swear two more big boxes of beer and a zillion toasts happened, and then the waitress poured a bunch of meatballs and seafood balls and garlic and onions and cilantro and lettuce into the broth. After this I was figuring that must be the last of the stuff, but then she brought out some fried steamed buns and some fried noodles and salty peanuts and oil-bread sticks and some kind of peanut sauce. While everyone was devouring that, I think every person had a toast with someone else between every bite.
After these four boxes of beer, and all that food, the waitress then brought out two big bowls of noodles that she dumped into the big middle bowl of broth (and everything else previous), as well as some plates of lotus roots and more lettuce and cilantro. I think they must have ordered more beer because someone whispered to me that there was now a challenge between two people on who could toast the most toasts. After a bit I went to the bathroom only to encounter the respected Mr. Li coming out of the bathroom looking a little bleary eyed saying ‘gosh, I sure drank a lot, would you like some full size fireworks for your Christmas celebrations?’. I went into the bathroom and sure enough, the respected Mr. Li had thrown up all over the place and was going out for more.
When I went back, I realized those lotus roots and cilantro plates had come from a metal shelf that was brought out that had about two more big bowls of noodles, meatballs and bean sprouts and Chinese sausage and a zillion other things. These were all devoured in due time, while a few more cases of beer were sucked down.
I also forgot to mention, while everyone was getting more and more intoxicated, and more and more toasts were happening, and more and more food was being devoured, all the crab shells, bones and used napkins and chopsticks and cigarettes were being tossed on the floor. Every time another toast would be poured, someone would drunkenly shove in and try to top off someone’s glass with more beer, and it would go all over the table. This table-beer started to drip off the table onto the mess on the floor, which ended up being a giant soupy mess both on the table and off.
One of my teachers explained to me some of the rules of Chinese alcohol culture. First, when you ‘ganbei’ (dry-glass, aka cheers) someone, your glass must be lower than those who are older than you. Second, you must always have a very full glass. Third, you must drink the entire glass on every cheers and show the empty cup to the table. He explained that this differs from Chinese tea culture, because tea culture calls for a half full glass and small sip.
This same teacher began a game with everyone at the table, where you go around and say a certain specified word or phrase in your home dialect. Everyone at the table had family from different places, so he would point to one person and say ‘Hunan!!! Go!’ and they would say it in Hunanese dialect, then ‘Liuyang Hua!!’ then ‘Hubei!!’ then ‘Jiangxi!’ then ‘Chongqing!’ then ‘Beijing!’ then ‘Cantonese!!’. It was actually really interesting for me, to hear people speaking the same phrase each after the other but in completely different, exaggerated accents in Chinese.
After a few more shelves of lotus roots and lettuce and cilantro and noodles and crabs, and a few more cases of beer, at about 3 in the morning, the big group (1/3rd of which had been sleeping on friend’s shoulders), decided it was time to go home. Two of my teachers brought me home in a taxi (unnecessary but they insisted), and I came home, and jumped into bed, incredibly full and incredibly exhausted, but very happy from the craziest dinner I’ve had in China!
This happened a few weeks ago, but I haven’t gotten around to posting it until now. I will post soon about recent things like Christmas and New Year, just as soon as I have some time to write something up!