Monday, 30th, August, 2010. I
woke up at 8 O’clock and got ready to go back to the village for Dads friends’ sons’
engagement meal. I was numbly tired and hung over and wanted to go back to bed.
I kept my mouth shut and my head down until the train journey was over and we
got a lift to Dads friends’ house. It was an old style Chinese house made from
wood with a small courtyard vegetable patches and concrete in the centre, the
house was large and brightly painted in red yellows and white. Although it must
have cost a fortune even the furniture looked characterless and tacky.
We drove through the village again and the
driver who was clearly going far too fast almost hit an old woman on a bike as
she turned a corner, screamed and slowly fell of her bike. Dad’s friend shouted
at the driver telling him “why don’t you beep when you turn the corners? You were
going too fast you’re the worst driver, beep before you turn the corner”. We
arrived at one of the small hotels which was in a large government complex, a smart
looking park outside in the vast square surrounded by the hotel and officials apartments.
A room with 20 large round tables and square pillars dotted around was where we
ate. The snacks where tropical fruit and expensive nuts and seeds and good chocolate,
packets of the most expensive cigarettes where scattered on all the tables “you
can tell how rich someone is by their snacks at a wedding” Sarah laughed.
Dad’s friend had employed a chief from a 5
star hotel to cook the meal and I was very much looking forward to it. A bottle
of Wu linage ye (now 1000yuan for a small bottle 100 pounds) was plonked on our
table and the 6 other men on the table inspected it with interest. The table
seemed to be occupied with workers from the coal mine. They looked tired and
dirty, probably just came down from the mountain from their work. Sarah said
that he didn’t invite any of his family to this engagement meal, he had to
invite workers and business associates. If he didn’t do this they would be very
angry with him “Not inviting his relations or his business friends will annoy
them, doing nothing can make people very angry” she said. The dishes came out.
An array of cold dishes, nuts, beans, fungus,
donkey meat and snails with mustard sauce. Then the main dishes came, everyone
got a small brown tea pot with pork and a small bird inside. The pork was dry
and unappetizing and the small bird rather disgusted me with its poor like head
looking like a bald sleeping chick, but the soup which I poured out of the
spout into a bowl was possible the best I have ever had, hearty and flavorsome.
Then there was bao yue, I don’t know the English name but it was a kind of
shell fish, small brown slices of seafood in a thick salty brown sauce with cauliflower.
Apparently it was rare and came from Africa and this small plate with only 10
thin slices was about 100 pounds. I was not overly impressed, it tasted like
any other shell fish I have had before, slightly chewy with a fishy taste. I preferred
the cauliflower in the sauce. Then the deep fried lobster which was my favorite,
I try and stay away from crabs and lobsters because they are so much work to
crack open and eat. Not this time, the chief had expertly opened it up displaying
the beast on a long plate and the pieces where meaty and easy to eat. Then the
crab came which had a soggy grungy white sauce and it was hard to eat, A bright
red fish with soft white meat. A good lamb dish and cakes and a decorative
pumpkin soup finished it all off for me.
The drinking had been very respectable and
enjoyable; the inhabitants at the table didn’t do the traditional crazed
bullying to get everyone as drunk as possible. As most of the people where
workers from the mine I assume they had to get back to work later and they didn’t
want to be drunk. As suspected many people left promptly after eating and went
out of the hotel. Dad was very talky and was placed food on everyone’s plate,
Sarah gave me a weary look as he repeated himself over and over again.
Sarah and I rested in the afternoon in one
of the hotel rooms, dozing while watching reruns of the Beijing Olympics on TV.
All the while we could hear Dad shouting down stairs talking to fellow guests.
I went and looked over the balcony down at the main entrance and saw him
lecturing two smartly dressed women about how to stay healthy “ I go running
everyday for one hour and take medicine” he bellowed.
I met the head chief as I was coming down
the stairs and I congratulated him on the meal. He was very friendly and could
speak a little English. He was from Guangdong in the south but now worked in a
hotel near where Sarah’s and I live. Sarah has been wanting to train with a professional
chief for a long time and when she came down the relationship solidified and he
said that he could teacher her some dishes if she wanted. As they kept talking
I looked out the large window to the kitchen which was set up under a large
tent. A deep fryer, a big dish washer and an oven. Trays of the bird soup in
tea pots lined the wall. Chiefs whizzed around quickly taking lobsters and
crabs out of oven and fryer, waitresses stood by the steaming dish washer and loaded
up the mountain of used plates and bowls I was enjoying our little conversation
when Dad barged in and order me to drink with him. I went and sat down at a
table full of people I didn’t know and was poured a large glass of Wu liang ye
and Dad told me to cheers and down it with the people at the table. I did so
and we immediately moved on to the next table where I did the same thing. In
the space of 10 minutes I had consumed a dangerous amount. I wondered what Dad
was trying to achieve by taking me round on the quick version of a pub crawl.
As we got to the last table and I had my 5th large glass of bie jiu I knew I
was in trouble. Dad wanted me to go to another table but I broke away from his
grip and flew out the door snatching 2 bottles of water from Sarah on the way
out and I made a bee line for the nearest loo. I had two choices. I could either
stomach the alcohol and be incredibly ill all day or I could make myself sick
to get the poison up and out. I honked back the bottles of water and bent down
evacuating the contents of my gut in a few violent nauseating retches,
projectile vomiting all over the place. I felt much better. I went out for a
moment and breathed a sigh of relief while Sarah mopped the sick off the walls.
Thankfully that was the time to leave, we
met Dad outside and he was not so jovial anymore, He was pissed off. A mixture
of resentment and guilt for letting him down coursed through my veins. On one
hand I felt I had let him down for not sticking with him as he showed me off
round the tables, I also felt angry that he had got me so plastered and
expected me to carry on. What did you expect to happen?, force feeding me 5
large glasses of 53% rocket fuel when I was already very drunk, did you think I
could take it?, well surprise surprise I didn’t. I was more annoyed with myself
for giving into the pressure of drinking and not saying no, instead of actually
enjoying myself on this rare occasion where amazing food was plentiful. It’s
hard in the moment to say no to ones Father in law in front of his friends,
where in Chinese culture so much hangs on keeping your face.
Before we left I shock Dads friends hand
and wished him well, telling him that I had looked forward to this meal for a long
time. I looked down to find Sarah wiping vomit off my shoe and trou.