Sunday, September 24, 2017

Alcohol-Infused Education

In a few more days, I will have been in China for an entire year. A year. An entire freaking year! Wow. Time really flies. Now, you would think that in that year I would have gotten used to China and all the ways it is different from America, but you'd be wrong.

Kind of like that uncle who always bites down on his fork and then drags it through his teeth as he removes it and you can feel the metal screeching against his enamel and it's piercing every square inch of your spine. You've had the same reaction ever since the first time you noticed it at Thanksgiving dinner when you were six and now it is almost 40 years later and it is just as irritating as the first time it happened except now all the little diodes in your brain are extra sensitive from overuse caused by the Trump administration and the upcoming second season of Stranger Things, so his grating feels like those inflamed diodes are being scraped by one of those metal tooth hook tools used by the same dentist who tells you to keep metal away from your teeth. Just can't get used to it.

Last week, I was teaching in one of my 4th grade classes and I mentioned that I was going to Qingdao for the upcoming mid-Autumn Festival. Several of the kids got excited and one jumped up and shouted, "Teacher, do you drink beer?"

I thought this was an odd question to come from a nine-year-old. Especially when directed to a teacher. I paused for a moment and said, "Sometimes." A murmur started through the entire class as they smiled and nodded. The child who was still standing proudly said, "You can drink beer in Qingdao."

Once again, that's an odd statement. You can drink beer pretty much anywhere. There are bars and liquor stores in Beijing just like there are in the States. He spoke up again, "Qingdao has some very famous beer."

Okay. That makes a little more sense. This is a city that is actually known for its beer. I get it, but why do kids this young care about this? I changed the subject because it just felt wrong to discuss my alcohol habits with my students. Particularly at this age.

I told the kids to open their books, but a student in the back interjected, "Qingdao beer is very good. I love it." I cheerily called him out, "You don't drink beer."

Oh...okay (wink).

He shot me a look that clearly said, "What are you talking about?" I was playing with the kid, but I suddenly realized that I don't think I know what's going on here. Hands started going up around the room.

"I drink beer."
"I like beer."
"We have it every night at dinner"

Now, I am not appalled at the idea that a child has tasted beer. Here is a picture of me at 14 months old. I really didn't seem to mind.

I moved on from PABST before my teenage years.

Almost every kid I grew up with had a taste of their parents' drink at some point, but this was different. I could tell they weren't bragging that they had gotten to drink an adult beverage. They seemed genuinely confused that I would even question this.

When I got home, I looked up the drinking age in China and discovered that it is 18 as it is in most of the world. However, it only seems to apply to the purchase of alcohol, not consumption. And even the purchasing restriction is not a law, but a regulation. A regulation that isn't really enforced.

In the first month I was here, I was out with a friend who had his preschooler with him. When our drinks arrived, the boy reached for his dad's glass of wine. His dad held it so he could try it in order to help the child discover that he didn't like it and wouldn't want it any more. As he was doing this, my eyes were anxiously darting around the restaurant to make sure no one was seeing this. You don't do this in the States!

My friend saw me getting nervous and laughed it off. "No one cares here," he said.

I've learned that he was correct. Drinking is looked at differently in various parts of the world.

I'm not suggesting that the kids here are alcoholics.


Or even that they spend all their spare time chugging beer with their friends. They don't.


But there is a distinct difference in attitude. For example, here's a picture of my wife's pencil case that I have seen many students have.

ROUGH TRANSLATION:
I just want to get drunk.

This is a common phrase here that is used in the same way a white girl in America might say "I can't even".

It's these differences in thinking that are the most difficult to adjust to. The Chinese attitude toward almost everything is typically very different than the attitude in the West. This applies to marriage, money, time, manners, medicine, diet, hygiene, work expectations, friendship and basically anything you can think of.

I love my life here, but don't know that I'll ever reach the point that I don't feel like a foreigner.

8 comments:

  1. Lao Wai. I own the fact that I am an outsider!

    Students may drink qingdao, but I bet the good German bier we get would put them under the table!

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    1. True. Very different ABV between the two.

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  2. I can't wait for the book when you explain it all. Cheers.

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    1. Maybe some day. I've been taking notes since we landed.

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  3. I've enjoyed this year of reading about your adventures in China, so I'll just throw out there that I would definitely be curious to read a little more in-depth on what exactly the differences are in attitudes about marriage and money and hygiene and what have you. Your perspective on this has been a trip and a half and I find you and your wife's bravery for just jumping over there and jumping in pretty frickin amazing

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    1. I'm still learning what many of the differences are. We've been here long enough that we are getting better at recognizing differences in attitude faster than before, but still don't understand a lot of the why.

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  4. Wow, it's already been a year? That's crazy.

    I'm just surprised those kids actually like it. Sure, I tasted my parents' beer when I was a kid... and it tasted awful to me. If they had offered me a full bottle, I'd have sneered, pushed it away, and grabbed the Kool-aid.

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    1. My assumption is, and this is an assumption, that when going out to eat, beer is ordered for the table. That seems to be the practice here. One big bottle is often split between 2 or 3 people. So, they would get their own small glass. Plus, the typical Chinese beer is of less than 3% alcohol.

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