Buried in a forgettable town in heartland China is a restaurant with only ten or so large tables, ill functioning electricity and no menu's. You eat whatever they bring. Having just finished the massive meal and the ample amount of toasts to coincide, my body is in a battle between feeling stuffed and feeling buzzed. My new Australian friend and his interpretor informed me that the constant toasting is a part of Chinese culture and generally everybody will toast, and will be toasted by every other person in the group or room. That amounts to a lot of drinking while your eating. Half the time your food is cold by the time you get back to it. Normally you would only socialize after the meal and drink much less or simply tea, but tonight was different. Tonight is a celebration. Tonight there are white people in town.
"We're twice their size you'd think we could take um on physics alone" Roger said. "Well I don't know you" I said, "but every Aussie I've ever known has been well respected in the pubs, so I have little doubt you'll be standing when this is over. If nothing else, we need to keep up foreign relations ya know? We're like those Ping-Pong guys that united the two sides, only we're here with boomerangs and shot glasses. And don't worry about me Roger. I'll be fine." "Who are the Ping-Pong guys?" Roger replied. Everybody in the room, myself included are standing and talking. We are holding our glass in one hand and either a liter of beer or some unmarked moonshine smellin shit in the other. "All we need to do is drink as much or more than them and don't lose face in the process." Roger looked at me like Ivan Drago in Rocky IV and added, "We won't lose".
Gumbei is the word and each time you toast you can say it and drink the whole glass. If your counterpart doesn't as well he looks bad. They are only 3 or 4 ounce glasses but you down one every couple minutes and then throw in some occasional rice extraction bullshit and well, you get the idea. You didn't have to but I decided to go with the "gumbei" strategy. Go big early and then try and save a little kick for the homestretch. I glanced at Roger and could see that he was already gaining respect. He downed them much faster than me.
2 hours later a few people have left but that didn't matter much. Roger and I were standing in the same exact spot we started in still withstanding the perpetual onslaught of toasts. They just kept coming at us. Maybe there were more of them and I only thought there were less? That was their strategy. I went with the gumbie thing and they went with, overwhelm you with numbers and secretly sub in guys who hadn't been drinking thing. Rogers friend and interpretor Jerry still remained as well. As well he should, these were his friends. At this point I'm just about teetering on the edge. You know the edge where on one side you've got this killer buzz and everything in your life is perfect and on the other side is the downward spiral to the scary place? I was easing up to it. If we continued on this pace I could be in trouble very shortly.
As soon as I think about that a man I recognized was standing in front of me again, this time instead of holding his glass and a bottle he's holding two bowls. Not rice bowls either. These are cereal bowls and they're filled to the brim. He hands one of them to me. We say gumbei and the Chinamen was fast. He immediately grabbed another bottle and his was filled up before I was finished with mine. I was as puzzled as I was concerned when I looked down to see him filling mine up again too. I thought he was going to walk away like the rest of them and go toast somebody else. Jerry leaned over and said "in China it's considered good luck if you do three." I looked at the man again and said, gumbei! I was much faster the second time, or maybe he was slower I don't know. Either way we were both feeling it afterwards. It took the guy much longer to fill up the bowls and by the time he was done everyone in the room was watching. I immediately said the magic word again and this time I had mine done first. The price I paid for it was crossing that line I spoke of earlier. I was fucked up but I knew it was time for the kill. I fed off his weakness and immediately grabbed another liter and started filling our bowls up again. When I was done I pulled Jerry over and said, "you tell him in America... we do 4". I held up four fingers and Jerry was laughing as he translated it. As soon as he stopped talking I banged the bowls together and I'll never forget the look on that guys face. "Gumbei"!
Roger had his arm draped around my neck as we walked out of the restaurant. The pitch black street didn't conceal our drunkenness. "We did it mate!" Roger said, "and "In America we do 4?" That was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant mate. Allies 1. China nill". "Yeah we did good,today" I said, hoping my words were understood by whomever was listening, "but even money our next challenge will be either Mahjong or Ping-Pong. Are you up for it mate?"
I walked back to my quarters, stopping only to snap a photo I'd been meaning to.