Chinese drinking culture is yet to fully evolve, and for the most part involves a practice where everyone toasts everyone else by shouting “gan bei” (literally “finish glass”) and then downing whatever the hell it is that’s in front of them at the time.
This practice is then repeated continuously until almost everyone is either unconscious or puking, or better still both. What makes nights out in China so dangerous is the ubiquitous local spirit Baijiu (usually pronounced Buy-Jo).
Firstly, to the expatriate palette this stuff tastes like drain cleaner. It’s not bad, it’s not unpleasant, it’s gut wrenchingly disgusting and worse once you’ve downed your first glass you won’t get rid of the taste for days. Its flavor seems to coat your tongue, your lungs, your esophagus and anything else it can get its metaphorical hands on.
If you can bear the pain, it’s worth noting that it’s also very, very strong. Baijiu typically weighs in around 60% alcohol by volume, and often it’s higher still. That’s about half again as strong as a typical scotch or vodka.
Secondly, as the “white face” at the table you’ll usually be expected to “gan bei” with everybody at the table. This means you’ll be drinking twenty or so shots to everyone else’s one. Even the most hardened drinker should start flinching by this point.
Once the drinking starts your participation is mandatory until you collapse and possibly get rushed to hospital with alcohol poisoning. You also will be expected to take part even if you don’t want to and not doing so is considered terribly bad form. There are only two ways out, firstly you can insist you don’t drink alcohol at all – this will lead to everyone thinking you are a complete wuss and losing all respect for you ever. It also means that you can never, ever be seen drinking alcohol of any form in front of any of the people you are out with. If you are caught then you will be a lying wuss and everybody hates liars.
The second option is to bring along some form of medication, this should be ideally only labeled in English. At the moment of “gan bei” you should produce the packet and sheepishly explain that your doctor told you not to drink as it would be bad for your health while you take this medicine. The Chinese always respect a health professional and you’ll be in the clear, at least this time round – but you can’t pull this move every time or you’ll be back on the wuss list as quick as a flash.
The final option when you just can’t avoid drinking is to drink as quickly as possible, wait until everyone else is passed out in a pile of their own sick and then rush to the loo and make yourself vomit before you pass out and die. It’s horrible, but it is better than losing 3 days to the Baijiu shakes.