dancing, blacking out, and an accidental Christmas dinner
singapore sunset
amw
Two weekends ago i think i had hit the brick wall on immigration stress. It hasn't helped that my two hiking/chatting buddies have left Shenzhen - one off to follow a job opportunity in Xiamen, and one to care for family in Hong Kong after an unexpected death. I have buried myself in language studies to stay occupied, but sometimes i need to blow off steam and just reviewing flashcards or going for a solo climb isn't enough of a distraction.

Enter, booze?

As i have mentioned before, Chinese bars are not like Western bars. They very rarely have barstools and don't open till after dinner. A couple months ago i discovered a bar that opens at 7pm, so the other day i decided to duck in and throw back a few. Although i don't like the opening hours or expectation that everyone arrives with friends, i much prefer the atmosphere of Chinese bars to Western bars. The music is loud and almost exclusively electronic - pop, trap, trance and house. The spaces are dark and feature disco lighting. Sitting there alone i realized i needed to dance.

There are two nightclubs in Shenzhen i know of that play underground house and techno music. They both play more popular stuff in the main room and house/techno in the side room. One is about a 40 minute walk from my hotel, so i left the bar and ducked back to my hotel to put on my "interview shoes" (read: the pair of sneakers that isn't split all down the side). I picked up a can of beer from the corner store then headed over, planning my arrival for opening time to avoid any hassles at the door.

I was a little nervous, having heard that the Chinese club scene was overrun with trendy rich kids. I needn't have worried. People certainly weren't dressed in rags, but i didn't feel out of place in jeans, sneakers and a threadbare tank top. Of course, there were lots of tables where people could snack and play dice games - it is China after all - but the music was loud and the lighting was dark and the focus was clearly on the dancefloor. I instantly felt at home.

So i got drunk. I got very, very drunk. I started in the side room dancing all alone to Detroit style techno and house. Two DJs down, one Corona and a great many gin tonics later, i ventured into the mainroom where DJs were playing dubstep and other Music For Young People. The crowd was obviously younger than in the techno room, but that's a given. They were all very into their hyperactive bass drop tunes and perfectly friendly. Or perhaps they were just bemused at the very drunk, very tall, very old laowai stumbling about buying everyone blue shots. The shots were blue. I wanted everyone to taste the blue shots.

Cue my blackout. That One Night In Xi'an was pretty bad, but i haven't really blacked out that completely since i lived in Berlin. I recall snippets of adding some randoms on WeChat, kissing a sweet boy who asked nicely and looked like he needed a kiss, snagging a cigarette from someone, arching my eyebrow rather high at the tiny bottle of water that cost the same price as a blue shot, and... Oh yes - more blue shots... And fragmented glimpses of the long walk home.

I woke up the next morning with clothes strewn all over my room and a splitting headache of doom. No food in my room, bar a bag of instant oatmeal someone gave me a few weeks ago and i didn't want to casually eat because it's not vegan. In a fit of desperation i boiled water and ate it. Contemplated how fucking disgusting (powdered) milk tastes. And then vomited it all back out into the toilet. And then vomited out bile and phlegm and goo and swore never to drink again. Again.

It took me hours to recover enough to try clean up my room, at which point i realized that somewhere along the way i had lost my earplugs. Which is rather unfortunate, because they were a very expensive custom-made set that i bought after suffering through a few abysmal sound systems in Toronto. And then i moved to Berlin where the music completely surrounds you and fills you up and rattles your bones... but there is no distortion, no echo, no ear fatigue. Everything about clubbing in Berlin is fantastic, but i think the single thing i will miss the most is the sound quality. I was prepared for Chinese nightclub sound systems to be as shit as every other place in the world, so had my ears protected from the outset. It seems that despite having 20 years experience keeping track of my wallet, phone and passport in a drunken stupor - not to mention getting myself safely home no matter where i am in the world - i have lost the skill of holding on to a couple of earplugs. That's something i am going to have to relearn, when i find somewhere to buy new ones. Sigh.

That Sunday was one of the most miserable days of my life. I eventually made it down the elevator to the corner store and back up the elevator again clutching some rice cakes and 豆干 (dòu gān) - jerky-like dried tofu. I ate and passed out and then woke up to another fucking hangover. God, i wish i could tell my teenage and 20-something self to party even harder than i did at the time, because once you hit your 30s just a short night out on the drink will leave you in misery and despair for far longer than is reasonable. My 40-something friends tell me it doesn't get better.

At least i flushed the stress out of my brain.

Last week i tried to detox.

It was all going well until Saturday. I was very nobly heading out at around 7pm to go to a local noodle place where i can pick lots of good healthy veges when i got a call on the stairwell. It was one of the hotel staff. He ushered me up to a hotel room that the whole team was converting into a little dining room. My hotel does not have a fridge or kitchen supplies in the rooms - it is just a bed, TV, bathroom and kettle. But it turns out with a bit of Chinese ingenuity (couple of electric skillets and a plastic bucket) you can cook up a freakin' feast.

The host, who i assume is the hotel manager, explained to me that she likes to give the staff a feast once every month or so. They emptied some stock mix into the skillets and added boiled water from the kettle. Washed and sliced veges in the bucket, then spread them out all round the table with some pre-sliced meats. In China this is called a hotpot. It's basically a fondue - a big pot of simmering broth where ingredients are tossed in and pulled out every now and then. Everyone has their own chopsticks to fish stuff out of the pot, and everyone mixes up their own personal seasoning (garlic, chili, cilantro, chives, vinegar, soy), so it's a pretty easy way to cook and eat in a group.

Obviously trying to eat vegan went out the window. I could have been very satisfied with just the sweet corn, potato, enoki mushrooms, winter melon, tofu skin and several different greens. But i was a guest, so i had to give everything a try. Other ingredients that went in and out of the hotpot included crab sticks, mini hotdogs, pork balls, mystery balls with some weird juice and offal (?!) inside, paper-thin shavings of beef and mutton and random chunks of bone-in chicken. Then there were the 小吃 (xiǎo chī), literally "small eats" or snacks. I was comfortable with lotus root and peanuts. I was a little less happy with the chicken feet and duck neck. But, you know. Now i can say i have eaten duck neck. Don't ever need to try that again. I think the best meat thing was a slim mutton roll filled with garlic. I've had mutton a few times in China and it has always been very, very good. Aside from pork buns and hotdog buns, i think it is the only thing here i would deliberately buy for a "cheat" (or "treat") meal.

I felt a little guilty after the excessive meat consumption, so i was very happy when the cups of dice got pulled out. When the dice come out in China, you know it's time for serious drinking. After a few rounds i figured out the rules of the game, and proceeded to laugh and chatter and drink them under the table.

I should note that i had spoken little-to-no English all evening. Although every Chinese theoretically learns English in highschool, and they listen to plenty of English music and watch plenty of English movies, they really cannot use it very well at all. The hotel manager (?) had been to university and could speak a little, but i wasn't getting anything from the receptionists or housekeeping. I could still follow bits and pieces, though, which was nice. One of the receptionist's boyfriend joined us - he was a soldier on R&R. The conversation was refreshingly unremarkable. Since almost everyone in this city is a migrant worker, a common topic is comparing food and traditions from people's hometowns. Making fun of different accents and dialects. Talking about family and the weather. Who's hooked up, who's getting married, who's the drunkest, who has to work tomorrow? Haha! Oh no, you have to work front desk in the morning, here, have another beer!

It can get a little awkward playing drinking games when you are a hulking barbarian with twice the bodyweight of the other participants. I will need to find a way around this as i spend longer in China. My trick last Saturday was to deliberately throw a couple of rounds of dice (which resulted in me having to slam a couple cans) and then excusing myself.

Although i was far from the previous week's blackout drunk, i woke up Sunday with a very fuzzy head. I decided to go for a proper 3-4 hour hike to clear it out. That was sorely needed. Lately my hikes have only been short up-and-down jaunts, but getting up on the longer (and quieter) trails helped me to relax and focus a little more. This week has been much better as a result.

Or maybe this week was just better because i didn't have any immigration shit to deal with.

Well, it was better until yesterday when i had an anxiety attack because one of the marketing people put the hard sell on me to attend the school Christmas do on Friday. I was looking forward to being in a country where Christmas is totally not a thing, because holiday parties are the fucking worst. In China holiday season is Spring Festival, but because this is a school whose clientele is all foreigners, they thought it might be cute to do a Christmas thing. Nope the fuck nope and nope. It's very hard to refuse an invitation in China because custom says you should find some kind of valid excuse, but fuck that fucking stupid tradition. I hate enforced fun, i hate "parties" and networking and all that shit. Nope. If it doesn't happen completely on the spur of the moment - like last week's impromptu dinner with the hotel staff - then i am out.

But i am still nervous just thinking about the fact that i have to duck out of the office at 6pm after class tomorrow, knowing that the thing starts at 7pm. Ugh. Nope.

Maybe i will go out clubbing again this weekend. Try the other nightclub. Not drink so much.

Maybe i will head out to one of the mountains i haven't visited before and try one of those 5+ hour trails. There is a 100km trail in the New Territories i want to tackle once i have residence here and feel less nervous crossing the border.

Or maybe i will just hide under my blanky and drink beer and eat tofu and enjoy the fact that this immigration nonsense is actually giving me an extra month or two of being able to do nothing at all. Soon i'll be looking back on these 6 hour school days as the vacation they really are.

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