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Notes about China

Notes about China Li and Tao Naive sly guy Forty strikes with crowbar Land of fences
The culture of drinking The flaming sinologism syndrome

The culture of drinking

Alexey Sereda

Translator's notice:
This article is chaptered with lines from the songs popular in former Soviet Union and Russia.

Who does not drink? This Ukranian song may be applicable to representatives of every nation of the Globe. How could the billion-strong Chinese nation, suffered from foreign conquerors and local feudals for ages and thus forced to drown the sorrows in drink, be an exception? So there are old traditions of spirit-distilling in the country; and the potion is consumed, seems, in MEGAliters, because of number of population. Like in our country, there are only abstinents and ulcer-sufferers who do not drink. But Chinamen are Chinamen in everything, and they drink special potions in special way. I'll try to look closer to this interesting aspect of national culture, without turning to statistics (official figures cannot be true).

What do you drink here? For sure, every country has its favorite drink. The preferences have been determined historically, after all, everything has roots in agriculture: if they grow vines, so they drink wine. And there is rice-growing in China, consequently they drink rice vodka. If in books and films about China they say "wine", that is likely a tradition (in ancient Russia they also said "wine" about vodka). In famous Chinese movie of "Red Kaoliang" the "wine" is red. How to explain - maybe it was distilled from kaoliang instead of rice, maybe because a boy pissed into it - who knows? The fact is that in the film that "wine" burned and exploded to kill Japanese occupants. Chinese vodka available on market do not flames literally, but heavily burns the organs inside. Its traditional strength is not 40% as our Russian vodka's but about 60%. There also can be a drink of 80% but much rarely. Now they became making more vodka of 40%. Maybe, the matter is the profit: the proportion of spirit and water (40/60) invented by Prof. Mendeleev do not shrink the volume of final product as compared to other proportions. More vodka means more profit, so Chinese standard is turning to less spirit.

Besides of strength, Chinese vodka is distinguished with its famous specific odour. Pleasing to Chinese nose, this strong aroma is often unbearable for us. Sniff the bottle's neck and imagine how could smell the vat of this vodka. Reasonably, such a vodka can be neutralized only with Chinese snack, the spicer the better. To intermesh the traditions is often unsuccessful: when Russian vodka is at least passable with Chinese food, the Chinese vodka is not so flexible. But Chinamen not only drink it without screwing faces, they even do not hasten with snacks. They do not swallow but swill the drink. Maybe, Chinese mouth and tongue is less vulnerable because of permanent consuming of spiced and salted foods. The choice of liquors in China is huge. The vodka definitely prevails. The difference of quality and cost is huge, but it does not mean that expensive vodka like Mudanjiang's Maotai got rid of above-mentioned odour. The odour is present in every vodka, varying with strength and nuances. Now the quite passable vodka may cost one third of our price; sometimes prices may be so ridiculous that someone can think that Chinese have already built the communism in the country.

And are there more precious drinks? There are. Wine, for instance. Much in quantity and assortment. Can not understand, who consumes such a volume? The preferences of Chinese men are determined, and the women in China are limited to drink. Nevertheless, the fact remains the same: there is a lot of wine in China. The largest deal of it is a sweet syrup added with spirit. There's no cheap red wine like in neighboring Russia. But there is decent genuine wine: white, red and pink. And it is either sweet or semi-sweet. Their stereotype is: wine is for ladies, and ladies like sweet. There are a lot of other sweet stuff like "Cherry Brandy" known to inhabitants of Russo-Chinese border. But this is mostly for Russian ladies. In big cities they sell for foreigners a lot of quite expensive quality liquors, both licensed and original. It is almoust like in our country, the difference is that Chinese have learned to please foreign guests long time ago.

Besides, in the PRC they make much of liquors for very specific purpose. In due time industries of NE China produced a lot of spirits for Soviet (later Russian) market - now it became much less. The vodka for Russians has no traditional odour, almost like ours. During ten years of production there appeared many brands: "Edeke" (distorted transcription of "vodka"), "Hongmei", "Tianhe", "Ante", "Knight's vodka" and other "futejia" (another variant of transcription). It is interesting to observe how the "brothers" tune in for customs regulations. They already switched from standard glass bottles, pleasant to Russian heart, to plastic rectangular packs which are lighter and smaller. This vodka was an important export commodity on local level, but now its manufacturers have problems with sales and with law as well. Happens, they can be sentenced to be shot on stadiums. Nevertheless, while there is demand for the commodity, such mash will be in production, because there are no limits to the inventiveness and flexibility of Chinese "minor and medium manufacturers".

And meet under table? Now about the sacrament and circumstances of drinking. It's strange that Chinese who drink less than us do not care about the cause for pleasant ceremony. Maybe, because they have few holidays (or we have too many holidays). A bottle in circle of males do not bother surrounding people. There are many suitable places - a sea of little restaurants. It's also no problem to do it at home and even at office. Certainly, the workers at construction will not get drunk, but their bosses can take a glass without remorse. Not to mention businessmen. What is the result of such undiscipliness? Generally, the people work on and likely not degrade. The matter is an approach to drinking. In genuine people's China the people are very modest in any desires. They simply do not drink much. Han (Chinese proper) people are quiet and timid. The neighboring city of Manchuria is not typical, because it attracts various villains from every corner of the country, and the city's atmosphere itself spoils the people. The Chinamen who hang around in Russia for years are even more impudent - at home they can not be so loosescrewed. But comparing to the past, our neighbors drink more and more and morally corrupt simultaneously. Concerning the feast itself, it goes on interestingly, with toasts and specific games (throwing fingers or asking riddles, and the loser must have a drink). The same is for more or less official banquets. It is not so primitive and standard as at ours.

And what about girls? As already mentioned above, women in China are quite indifferent to liquors. Confucian tradition, you know. Of course, they can have a drink, but mostly to support a company. Though the spoiling influence of us, USA and West in whole also takes place. In the mass of population there can be allocated two groups: Chinese majors (tycoons' sons and daughters and young and rich businessmen, or both in one) and travelling vendors and businessmen who spend the most of time outside China. Their women behave like ours. Once I'd been told that they witnessed a drunk college-girl at the restaurant. Imagine, she were even wearing glasses! She tried to catch escaping pieces of meat with her fork while singing in ugly voice. From then on, there became more those emancipated girls. In general, Chinese do not do bad not because of it is bad or harmful to health, but because it is usual to do in this way and they got a habit to act so, maybe, they are afraid or unable to invent something different. Now the consciousness of Chinese gets strong hits, and the process of corruption is irreversible.

If there was a sea of beer... Yes, guys! There is a sea of beer! Ten yers ago a Russian coming to China could scream it out. Now we also have a sea of beer. In such a case, they have an ocean of beer in China. As in other countries of SE Asia, the beer was not a traditional popular drink in the past, but now it became an integral element of feast. Certainly, the climate is hot, people feel thirsty. They already have rich traditions of brewing in the country. There are many brands of German, Danish, American and other recipes. Their common standard is different from ours. There is mostly lager beer, strong enough, made of rice, without barley flavour. The bottles are big, so it is quite possible to get drunk from beer, without any vodka. Our compatriots in China do exactly so. Possibly, because of its strength Chinese beer became widely popular. But in general, most brands are similar in flavour, and its strength is caused by added alcohol, so, in fact, there is nothing to be glad of. Nevertheless, they do a lot of beer, and it is very cheap. So welcome to China.

As to finish our little cultural investigation, the conclusion may be as follows: concerning to drinking alcohol, Chinese follow the deep and very special traditions. Despite of abundancy of affordable liquors, one cannot say that the alcohol really ruins the physical and psychic health of Han nation. Exactly Han, because for Mongols of China that is the same case as for Mongols in Mongolia. But that difficult case is to speak separately. Conclusion is that the abundance of affordable alcohol is mortal for us but harmless to Chinese, whether some time ago they said that unlimited choice of decent alcohol like in civilized countries must elaborate the culture of drinking. It did not turn out. Then the question still is in mentality. What else can I say? Let's drink!

Translated by Dmitry Alemasov

Notes about China Li and Tao Naive sly guy Forty strikes with crowbar Land of fences
The culture of drinking The flaming sinologism syndrome

Chinese software dictionary pack

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© Dmitry Alemasov

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