Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Had dinner with my students in Zhengzhou this evening. Sort of a "farewell" banquet. Seems like every time I do this, there is some new dish I have never tasted. For some reason, I have never quite adjusted myself to a Chinese breakfast. Don't why, but when I get up in the morning, I'm just not in the mood for a cold, wet pickle. Not a problem in Beijing. I can get Australian oatmeal for less than a dollar a bag, and if that doesn't fill me, I can go to the coffee bar and have bacon and eggs, or an omelet.

Sometimes I have the lunch buffet at the Korean bakery. And sometimes I just skip lunch. But for dinner, especially if you are with a group of people, there is no contest. I don't know how else to express it, except to say that the Chinese are very good at making Chinese food. It's hard to explain to you if your experience is limited to Chinese restaurants in the United States. They do contain a sample of what you can find here, but the variety available at any good restaurant in China is quite a bit better than what you can find at most Chinese restaurants in America. There are several reasons for this. One is that the food, and especially the meat, tends to be fresh in China. More than once, I have come out of a coffee bar close to midnight, after having studied through the evening, and seen the delivery folks with their bicycle carts, hauling the next days fresh pork to the restaurants in the community. And fish is the same way. When you order a meal that involves fish, they bring the fish out to you, and let you examine it while it is still alive. Fresh fish is not a rare experience in China. It is the norm.

After dinner, the ladies left, and the guys asked me if I wanted to stay for awhile with them. Of course, I like these guys, and I wanted to be sociable, but I really don't like drinking parties. They are not unique to China, of course, but the way it is done here is different from the United States. In America, when a bunch of guys want to go drinking, they head for a bar. In China, they head for a restaurant. Now, I don't want to give the wrong impression. I don't have a conscience about alcohol in the sense that I think it is inherently sinful. It is very common to have cold beer with a meal in China, because Chinese restaurants do not serve ice water. But when the meal is over, there is really no more reason to keep drinking (unless, of course, you really do want to be inebriated). We can argue all day about such issues as when (if ever) it is appropriate for a Christian to imbibe, but for a Christian, there can never be any argument about drunkenness. It is simply out of the question.

So the kinds of social activities that provide a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) incentive for people to drink more than they otherwise would have, are something I tend to resist. The Chinese expression, "ganbei" means literally, "empty cup." But if you look it up in a Chinese--English dictionary, the English equivalent is stated as "Cheers," which doesn't necessarily imply emptying the tumbler. The same is true in China. Many times I have sat down at a meal, and seen everyone raising their glasses and clinking them together as a greeting and form of well-wishing. But when the point is made that someone will raise a glass and offer a special toast, then the term is taken very seriously. Everyone is expected to drain his cup, and they often make the point by turning their glasses upside down to show everyone that it is empty. I usually explain to them the difference between "cheers," and "bottoms up" as a way of telling them that I do not participate in "bottoms up." I guess I would not necessarily make such a point of it if my glass were near empty, but that rarely happens, because if someone sees me holding up a near empty cup, they will insist on filling it. I always like this, because it makes it easier for me to make the point that I do not allow anyone to tell me how much alcohol to put in my body. Sometimes they remonstrate quite loudly when they see me take a little sip, but no one has ever pressed the issue unreasonably. Many times I have heard expats who have been in China for some time, and consider themselves experts, insist that it is rude not to drink the entire glass full of whatever beverage. This is nonsense. The Scripture says, "Let your moderation be known unto all men."

But getting back to the point. These guys are not evil men. They're just a bunch of pretty decent guys having a good time. And I didn't see anyone getting out of control. I just don't like drinking parties, or any event that has no other purpose than consuming or getting others to consume alcohol. And I especially don't like them when people start to get drunk. Drunks are all the same. They are not interesting people. When I was in the trucking industry, I did know some alcoholics who had very interesting personalities. But I have never, ever met a drunk who was interesting. Drunks are the most boring people on the planet.

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