30th, November, 2010. I had less of a hangover than I deserved this morning but we were drinking good quality wine last night, so it does count for something. Friendly and I rose at 10:00ish and checked out. Once on the road he told me “we are going to check out the new menu for my hotel”. We got to a community complex after a lot of shouting down telephones on Friendly’s part. Parked, saw a massive cat, saw exactly the same moped I had in Yang shuo a few years ago and then entered a small office block and met the workers for a menu design company. A small stuffy room with 5 people all hunched over computers smoking and working the computers like wizards, snapping up pages, photo shopping pictures of food, editing and generally making the mouse zoom across the screen like it was on fire.
We where there for about an hour, I was given an old copy of the menu and a cup of tea in a disposable cup, it was the retched tea one usually gets, loose leaves sifting around the piping hot water and it all congregates on the surface of the water to guard it from you drinking it, when after a short eternity the water is actually at a reasonable temperature to drink then you are given a mouthful of soggy green leafs and it’s not nice at all.
Maybe all this stomach bile and anger at being given free inadequate tea is to do with my hang over which was starting to make its true character know to me.
I looked at the large black fake leather bound menu, Pictures of sea slugs, abalone, deep sea fish, sharks fin soup, swallows nest soup, guts and animals all cooked sliced and diced and presented to look as if it was still alive. Very different from the UK when most meat you get is unidentifiable, Like a mound of food you don’t have to take responsibility for killing, here you had turtles which were presented in full, head cut off and body cut four ways and all put together so it looked very alive.
The menus where done very professionally to my knowledge not that my knowledge of menus is great but they certainly made me hungry, especially the pictures of the pidgins. What made me laugh and kept me from getting too board over the hour was the random English splashed on the menu pages. “Abalone breeze’ was pasted in bold white calligraphy on the sea food page “Sex temperature and kidney soothing’ was scrolled next to a picture of a lobster. Many more I am afraid I have forgotten, they were so utterly random that they were so hard to remember “Sex temperature” stuck in my mind for some reason. I wondered if I should inform Friendly about the English mistakes, but I didn’t fancy being there all day so I kept my mouth shut.
The menu in order, we left the undrinkable tea, looked again for the bloody big cat, didn’t see it felt sad and got in the car and went to meet Mr. Huang for lunch, it was already 1:00 in the afternoon and I was hungry. We arrived at a small Guangdong restaurant where Mr. Huang was waiting for us outside looking like a spring chicken as if he had dent just literally pickled his liver the night before.
We got in and I surveyed the dirty tanks full of fish and crabs and other underwater life and even a few t shirts in one high tank. For starters Mr. Huang and I had a large shot of Bie jiu. For seconds a small bowl of peanuts and some raw crabs and shrimps where put on the table. Not exactly what I wanted but I had a few peanuts and sucked on a crab head. It served to rouse my appetite. A couple more shots. Friendly wasn’t drinking and although in private he professes to hating drinking (as most respectable Chinese men do) he was looking itchingly and longingly at the bottles of bie jiu.
We had a snake hot pot, which despite my initial horror was very tasty, the snake was very big and when dipped in the chilly sauce it was soft, chewy and full o flavor. Things got blurry after that. I vaguely remember a hoard of other chiefs joining the throng, most memorably a man called Mr. Xing (Mr. Star). Mr. Star was a beer lover and I was very grateful to be relinquished from the heavy unforgiving bie jiu, back in my element we swigged beer, ate snake and nibbled raw crabs. The meal was more relaxed and enjoyable than last night and Mr. Huang was on good form “I don’t want you to drink too much, get drunk but don’t get sick, we are all good friends here, Like Friendly we don’t let him drinking because he has to drive as well”, At this Friendly gave a saintly sigh showing he approved but at the same time didn’t like it. “When your next back we should go to a bar and drink beer ok?” Mr. Star said, he was a tall thin man with large lips, a dark completion and an animated face which the first second he walked in looked like a whole lot of fun. I shook his hand and said “ I am very happy to meet a Chinese person who likes beer”, I pointed at Mr. Huang “ You like bie jiu more don’t you?” I asked. In reply he raised his glasses and we down it together. Me, my beer, he is bie jiu. I remembered my time in Yangshou and in the south of China and how people are more open liberal and friendly there. In Xin zhuo people are more reserved honest and in one sense simple.
It was 4 o, clock by the time we finished and even I was impressed by how much I had drunk, I had drunk a very large amount and was still feeling pretty good. I was happy because it showed that in one respect I was worthy and that if any business between this Hotel chain and Sarah would occur my drinking behavior would hold in favor. Unlike in England where being able to drink a lot is a double edges sword where some will think you’re great and others will think your just a drunk (the right attitude I think), In China or at least where I have been, being able to drink a lot is utterly a worthy thing.
On the drive back I sensed that Friendly was a bit sore from not being included in the drinking. We stopped at a bank and I ran into a hospital asked where the loo and relieved myself.
Just as we got back to Xin zhu and I got out of the car, Friendly said significantly, “When you have time, come and teach my son”. I left the car with a bad taste in my mouth.