New Year’s

I don’t really have much to report since the Christmas update. Life here in Xi’an is pretty much the same as it has been over the past six weeks. Due to the school being closed on Christmas Day and New Years Eve and Day (a Saturday and two Sundays; normally the school’s busiest days) and classes being moved rather than postponed, we have a very busy week coming up catching up with classes. It’s slightly better for me because the state school’s term ended a week earlier than we thought, so that cuts out quite a bit of planning and teaching next week.
By Boxing Day I was feeling fully better from my food poisoning, then later in the week I developed a cough and headache that won’t shift. It appeared on Wednesday but fully developed on Thursday, a day with particularly bad pollution when I was walking to and from the state school. I don’t have asthma and have never had any symptoms, but I think I can appreciate what it must be like being asthmatic. The pollution that day was so bad that I had to be careful not to breathe too vigorously or the air would catch in my throat and I’d start coughing trying to inhale anything that might pass for air. I think just by breathing here I must be smoking the equivalent of about five-a-day (no evidence, just conjecture). Today we have pollution and fog, and I can barely see across the road from my apartment. It’s definitely a day to stay inside, avoid looking out of the window and live life through the internet.

Anyway, since Thursday I’ve had a phlegmy cough that I can’t shift, a headache and a generally lethargic inclination to doing anything. Since my food poisoning before Christmas and the disappointing meal on Christmas Day I’ve been generally unenthusiastic about food. Walking home from school on Friday evening I was mentally going through the different eating options. None of them seemed particularly appealing so I didn’t bother with dinner. On Wednesday I have a day off work, so if I still have my cough then I’ll go and get some antibiotics. With the headache I’ve nearly got through the box of ibuprofen I brought with me. Hopefully I can find some more here.

For New Year’s Eve we went for an Indian meal and then out to the Belgian Bar, Park Qin and then a club called Fantasy. When eating Christmas dinner we noticed the Indian restaurant opposite the bierhouse and since then everyone has been craving some proper British Indian food. I had the staple: chicken tikka massala with pilau rice and naan bread. It was actually pretty good. After that we were supposed to go to a house party with some of the teachers from the other schools, but by the time we left the restaurant it was after 11pm so we headed straight to the Belgian Bar. I was a bit disappointed as the opportunities for meeting other westerners and teachers have been few and far between and I was excited to potentially expand my social circle into double figures.

At the Belgian Bar it was typical fayre and we saw in the new year in quite a low-key manner. Countdown, “happy new year!”, cheers, done. We tried to get a chorus of Auld Lang Syne going but it fizzled out. I was again a few drinks behind everyone else – actually I’d had less than two drinks the entire evening – but this time didn’t mind as I was in a happy party mood anyway. I realised my slow drinking has a lot to do with the poor quality of alcoholic drinks here. This put me into a contemplative mood about why I drink.

There a number of stages to consuming alcohol, and I like or dislike them in different measures:

  1. actually drinking an alcoholic drink;
  2. being a little bit tipsy and merry; and then possibly
  3. being drunk; and
  4. having a hangover.

My attitude towards those four stages has changed over time. When I was younger the objective of drinking was to get drunk. I didn’t particularly like alcoholic drinks – and no one enjoys a hangover – but I tolerated them in order to get wasted, which at the time seemed both fun and somehow socially necessary. Gradually as I refined my tastes I came to enjoy consuming some better alcoholic drinks, and at the same time I realised I didn’t enjoy being drunk. So I moved from drinking whatever would get me as drunk as possible as fast as possible to enjoying good beer and wine, being enjoyably merry, and most of the time knowing when to stop to avoid progressing onto being drunk. Drinking good quality alcohol also meant I no longer suffered from hangovers. All the (to me) positives of drinking without any of the negatives.

But I have yet to find a nice alcoholic drink in China. The beer, even when imported from Europe, is poor, and wine is generally undrinkable. About five minutes into 2012, after trying to drink some more of the pint I’d been avoiding for so long it was flat and warm, I realised that I don’t like anything alcoholic that I drink here, and therefore I don’t drink enough of it to be merry or tipsy, yet it’s such low quality alcohol I still somehow have a hangover. It’s also expensive: in the Belgian Bar a “good” beer is ¥40, about £4, or almost half my self-imposed daily budget. Most of the negatives without any of the positives.

So I decided that my new year’s resolution is to stop drinking any poor-quality alcohol. In effect that means I’m not going to drink at all in China. There are some other benefits to this resolution. It was becoming increasingly annoying fending off “why aren’t you drunk yet” and “go on, have another drink” questions and statements. Apparently “I don’t feel like it” isn’t a socially acceptable answer and it was often met with chants of “shot!, shot!, shot!”, and even people buying me shots that I would then feel obliged to drink yet dislike in every way. Since 12:15am when I made my resolution and started answering “I don’t drink”, people have just accepted it and haven’t give it a second mention.

So there it is, I’ve given up drinking in China and I’ll be happier, healthier and richer as a consequence. That said, I am looking forward to my first glass of good Côte du Rhône when I’m back in the UK at the end of the year!

To finish the tales from the new year’s celebrations, after the Belgian Bar we went to Park Qin, and from there to a club called Fantasy. On the way to Fantasy I casually asked around “what’s it like” and the general reply was truly awful, but so bad it’s actually good. By this time I was completely sober so I was almost more intrigued about what I would find from a social studies perspective than I was about having a wicked awesome night out. Here are my scores against the best clubs I’ve been to anywhere else:

It was free entry (win, 1-0) and the decor inside was a good attempt at the faux luxurious glamour of “good” clubs I’ve been to (draw, 2-1). But the cloakroom was full so we had to keep our bags and coats with us (lose, 2-2). The thumping house music wasn’t at all bad (I secretly like a bit of house music…) (draw, 3-3). It was busy without being excessively crowded (win, 4-3). The ratio of men to women wasn’t great but I’ve seen worse back home (draw, 5-4). The only downside was the ratio of sleazy-greasy-disgusting-narcissistic men to ordinary people (lose, 5-5). So overall, a draw and I actually really enjoyed myself.

Like for so many things here in China I have to keep a positive attitude. Although I may personally dislike certain things about Xi’an and China, mostly they are not worse, just different, and who am I to judge an entire country and culture that I have played no part in creating.

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