Friday, August 14, 2009

This Is Supposed To Be A Guy's Game

So we're sitting on the patio of Wei Ziqi's place, eating our delicious meal and staring out over the mountains, which are topped beautifully by the crumbling Great Wall, when a conversation begins between us and a large table of Beijingren next to us. You see, two families had made their own trek out to this treasure in the trees (as they do around four times a year), were sharing some chuanr they had brought themselves in coolers (and had Wei Ziqi grilling up for them), and, upon realizing we had some language skills, commenced verbal exchange.

At the start, there was some artistic sharing, as one of the sons (who is in his early twenties) stood up and began singing a selection from the Peking Opera. His voice was really beautiful, and it struck me that he was some type of Renaissance man, in that at his age he was willing to perform a difficult cultural piece among people he didn't even know. Imagine a twenty year old that you know standing up in a restaurant and bellowing, "Ok-la-homa, where the winds come sweeping down the plain..." Yet this young man was totally into it. He even gripped his stomach in an effort to maintain perfect pitch.

"So, can you sing for us now?" they asked us.

"Shenme?" we responded. ("What?")

OK. Now it was time to put all our hard work and effort to use, as we decided "Wo Ai Beijing Tiananmen," a Chinese Revolutionary song that we had heard months before at Beihai Gongyuan and learned for fun, was about to come in really handy.

"Keyi!" ("Sure!")

They were all thrilled to listen, and they all joined in at the chorus very enthusiastically!

This performance provided entry into what would be an evening of conversation...And some unexpected guanxi on my part.

You see, at banquets and dinners, there is usually a lot of alcohol flying around. The men are expected to clink glasses (a tradition that has its own set of rules!) and ganbei, or "dry their glass." While tonight there was no evidence of baijiu (a type of Chinese grain alcohol) around, when the keg opened the real surprise was who wanted to ganbei with who.

"Nushi...ganbei!" she said. "She" was one of the forty-something year old moms in the group. As you may have guessed, "Nushi," (lady, miss) was me!

"Huh?" I said as I looked around. "Oh, hao de (OK)!" I said as I tried to ganbei.

As not much of a beer drinker, I decided in the spirit of cultural exchange that I'd put aside my taste buds and do my best to drain the glass. They all cracked up as I took a gulp, swallowed, took another...You get the idea. Let's just say that my technique was not as smooth as my xin pengyou (new friend)! In any case, I was kind of hoping that this was it, cup was filled again...and again...

At one point, the woman's husband (who is a Beijing traffic officer) looked sympathetically at me, as if to say, "It's OK, you don't have to keep up with her." But I know the meaning of mianzi (face) in China so I did keep up. This was much to Z's chagrin, who was adorably concerned about me. "Don't worry," I told him,"this beer is really weak."

Either the beer was weak, or my German genes kicked in, because I'm proud to say that my pengyou went off to her room before I did.

And I had no headache to speak of the next morning!

Now, while I definitely do not recommend involvement in this type of cultural exchange (in fact, the whole idea of drinking at banquets is now under scrutiny in China because of obvious hazards and health risks!), it was certainly interesting to get a glimpse into an aspect of Chinese culture that I had only heard about. (Even Steve has been fortunate enough to avoid this tradition.) For me, it was certainly harmless, but it is easy to see how this type of behavior on a regular basis could be tough for society to absorb. Not to mention their livers.

For me, singing was definitely a better option. Did anyone say karaoke? I'm in!



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