6th, November, 2010. In the evening Friendly invited us to have a meal in the nearby village of Dingshung “My student works in a hotel there” He said when he picked us up. We drove on a brand new deserted road to the village. It was very eerie in the darkness, being the only car on the spotless gently curving road. Dingshang village is much smaller than Xinzhuo, when we arrived at 7:30 the streets where almost deserted. One of the only big buildings with a moving search light on top was the tall bright hotel.
It was smaller than the one Friendly worked in but none the less very smart. We were shown into a large room on the third floor of the hotel, with a set of big uncomfortable sofas, its own TV and bathroom and a large round table in the middle. An army of long hat-ed white coated chief’s entered and paid their respects to their teacher, Friendly. It transpired that a lot of the chiefs came from Guangdong province in the south. They had all trained together and moved up to Shanxi together.
The chiefs brought in an electric hot pot. It had turtle, sea slug and chicken in the soup. Friendly told me that the chiefs had secretly put the sea slugs in “eat them quickly before the waitresses or anyone else sees” Friendly said. I munched quickly on the chewy rubbery black slug. Dipped into the chilly vinegar it was fantastic, a soft texture like biting a jelly sweetie. A plate of beef was brought in next. Thick slices of red beef rolled up like cigars. One of the Chiefs took a few rolls off the plate and with a long ladle dipped them in the bubbling hot pot for 20 seconds; he took out the still pink meat and served it to everybody. It was the best beef I have ever tasted. It was juicy and soft. I voiced my opinion to the serving chief and he agreed “Yes it is the best beef, it is from Japan, they massage the cows and feed them beer as well, they are well looked after, this plate is worth 2500 Yuan, but it’s not the very best beef, there is other American beef which is 3 times as expensive” He said proudly.
“They pretend it’s the cheap beef, so we can eat it” Friendly added. I was being introduced to the sneaky world of being a chief. Hiding sea slugs in hot pots and dressing lamb up as mutton. It reminded me of when I was a pizza chief and I would sneak extra toppings under a layer of cheese when I cooked myself a pizza.
Steven was being loud and obnoxious, screaming and running around the table. I tried to teach him a few English words but he was not interested in learning, instead he had a very loud tantrum, His parents ignoring him.
Between 4 chiefs and me we polished of 3 bottles of red wine. Filling our glasses up, we toasted and then downed the whole glass. I watched as Friendly tutored his student about how to drink wine. He swilled his glass and noted the edge of the wine adding that one should hold the stem of the glass rather than cup the glass around the base, his students followed suit, then they all clinked glasses and wolfed down the large glass.
After the meal we went to a KTV. The streets where quiet and dark as we walked through the deserted village towards a dim light. The KTV was small, we walked up to the 3rd floor and entered a long room lined with sofas and a small cinema sized screen at one end. Friendly began singing, his voice is very good and was a pleasure to listen to, his students also sung very well. Steven was interested in the disco lights and he ran around the floor chasing the strobes and lasers. After a few songs where sung the mic was passed to Ariel and Sarah who where left on their own and the men sat down and we began a drinking game. A long period of time elapsed and trays of canned beer where regularly brought up by a bored waitress to replace the empties we where rapidly drinking. Friendly’s main student began looking worse for wear. Eyes unfocused and glazed. Manner, floppy and slouching and speech slurring. “Is he alright?” I asked Friendly as his student staggered out the door to go to the loo “ yes he is fine” Friendly said dismissively. The night drew to a close and I saw Ariel cradling Steven in her arms, he was asleep. Ariel was looking in our direction as if to say ‘I want to go home now’, the other chiefs where sitting watching a music video on the screen, they also looked tired and board. We finished off the rest of the beer and walked home propping up the very drunk chief. Staggering home in an arm in arm line though the silent tree lined streets talking crap reminded me of being in England again.
We got back to the hotel and leaving Friendly’s main student in the lobby to pay for our rooms we were shown to our room. It was clean and luxurious. As I was in the shower I realized that I was much drunker than I had thought I was. The hotel room was exactly like the one where my brother and I stayed on our first night in China and in Hong Kong. Distant memories of me taking a picture of a huge poo I had done, the thought of the horrific jet lag, walking down the claustrophobic narrow streets on Hong Kong island. Drinking star bucks mochas, playing arcade games in dark loud underground basements. Getting sick from the elevators in our hotel and my first disappointing taste of real Chinese food. The fear of the unknown, the excitement of the future. I mused on how my life has changed, how I have changed and how you can never go back in time.
I slumped against the glass screen of the shower watching my steamy reflection in the mirror. After a short eternity I slipped back into reality and made a break for bed. The next time I woke up was in the stark cold unknown hours. The colour and madness which was swilling through my mind had gone, only wet confusion gripped my body, I was utterly soaked, the bed was as wet as if someone had poured a bucket of water over me, or as if someone had just wet the bed……..
I got up and examined the wet patch under the bed side light. Unless I had urinated all over my head and behind my back I found it very unlucky that I had wet the bed. More likely it was a massive sweat attack brought on by excessive drinking and expensive Japanese beef. Thankfully there where two beds in our room so I migrated Sarah and myself to the dry one. I fell back to sleep in the darkness.