Finding Nemo

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Chinese Bar Night

Alex eating "Fried baby vulture on a stick"
Alex, Josh, and I were trying to find a seat in the dimly lit, raucous Chinese bar in Lijiang, Yunnan province.  We passed a table of older drunk Chinese businessmen, their table was full of Budweiser bottles and heaping plates of food.  They motioned for us to join them.  Now, a small Bud in this bar cost US$10, a fortune.  No self-respecting backpacker in Yunnan would pay more than US$1.50 for a beer, so getting a drink in this place was turning out to be tough.

Alex, who had just spent a week with a troop of wealthy Chinese students on holiday, knew exactly what to do.  Against my natural instincts, he motioned for us to sit with the old Chinese men.  They weren't even eating the food, it was mostly a display of wealth to attract women (and apparently hairy Western backpackers).  But they were definitely drinking the beers.  And they had money to spend... none of us paid a kuai the entire night!

Free food and drink, all night
On stage, Chinese girls and buff Chinese guys did dance routines, mimicking the colorful minority cultures and dress.  The music was so loud it was impossible to talk, but that proved to be a blessing since none of the businessmen spoke English anyway.  In fact, it was so loud that instead of clapping at the end of a dance number, the Chinese picked up large blocks of wood and banged away at the tables.  The resulting roar was deafening.  After a few free buds I got into the act and got my own block of wood.

And that's when the "strange" happened...
The evening wasn't just dance numbers... at one point a Thai (I'm guessing) lady-boy got onstage and picked  a random drunk man out of the audience and put him in a chair.  He/she serenaded him, eventually settling on his lap and unbuttoning his shirt.  And that is when things started to get weird.

The drunk businessman got a little too excited, and picked up the ladyboy and started carrying "her" around.  The crowd went wild.  The man tried to dance with "her" and made an attempt to plant a kiss.  The place got so loud I almost went deaf, everyone was banging away at their wood blocks and shouting and whistling.  I couldn't believe what I was seeing.  Was the man so drunk he really thought he was with a girl?  At the moment he started pawing at her clothes, the security team stepped up and whisked the man off the stage.  The ladyboy made a comment which I presume was "And he didn't even feel that I was more excited than him", but whatever it was it was funny enough to send the crowd into hysterics.

 Chinese Idea of Bar Fun

At another point, a drunk version of Jackie Chan got onstage and began to show his prowess at chugging beers.  He called out something to the crowd which I realized was some kind of challenge.  The men at my table grabbed me and started forcing me forward.  The next thing I knew, I was shoved onto the stage and blinded by the lights.  The place went from jet engine levels to quiet in a heartbeat.  All the Chinese in the place were either shocked to see a hairy westerner on the stage of a Chinese-only bar, or in disbelief that I dared to challenge Drunken Chan himself.  Drunken Chan gave me a beer and started shouting ... "Wu!! Sih!!  (the crowd joined in at this point) San!! Er!! Yiiiii!!!!  That was the signal... I started to chug my beer and before I took two swallows Drunken Chan had finished, then put the beer over his head to prove his point.  (Note: these were 600ml bottles.)  The crowd went wild again, stomping their wooden blocks in approval of China's mastery over the evil American.  When I finally finished my beer, I put it over my head.
The place went dead silent again.

A cricket chirped.

I meekly left the stage.

Its all in fun.  Really.  I think.
Later, one of the Chinese men wrote something in Chinese on a piece of paper and started dancing outside on the street.  (Chinese dancing mostly involves stumbling back and forth.)  A few young girls saw the sign and started talking excitedly to him.  The next moment they were sitting with us at the table.  I gathered his sign read something like "Free beers for cute young Chinese girls!!!"  At least, that's what I hoped the situation represented, in rural China you never knew.  A few minutes later, the Chinese men danced off down the street, the young Chinese girls jumping on their backs and swinging their beers.

Alex and I were left alone, looking at each other in surprise.

We had just been schooled by the 50-year old Chinese guys.

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