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China, 6: Two drops of the hard stuff

copyright elaine canham 2015

copyright elaine canham 2015


Continuing my 30-year-old diary of my trip to China. Here we have a party on the train and introduce the Chinese to David Bowie.

There are three blokes on the bunks opposite us, and they seem to have an inexhaustible supply of  apples. The Chinese are very careful about the cleanliness of what they eat and drink – although maybe not so much about where they eat and drink it – so they peel everything. (The word for leather is, apparently, cow peel). The peel falls from their fingers, in long and delicate ribbons and, fascinated, we strike up a conversation. At least Elspeth and Cheryl do the talking. I marvel at the easy way they’ve learnt to speak Chinese. To cement international relations we give them a mug of gin and tonic – the oldest man tries it and laughs.

‘He thinks its pop,’ said Cheryl.

The gin goes down a bit more and then they bring out their alcohol. Pure white spirit that tastes like refined turpentine but once swallowed makes you feel extremely cosy. Then I do something terrible. I try to mask the awful taste by adding tonic water. Utterly disgusting and now there is twice as much.

‘We can’t drink this,’ I say, appalled.


‘Smile,’ said Cheryl. ‘They’re all watching us.’ And it was true, everyone in the carriage had gathered round to watch the weird western girls drink strong liquor.

‘Can’t I just go to the bog, and get rid of it there,’ I suggested, beaming at three guys and waggling my mug to show how much I was enjoying it.

‘God. No!’ said Cheryl. ‘The Chinese would never think of doing anything so insanitary as that. They’d think we were the absolute pits.’

‘What about knocking it over, casual like?’

‘They’d probably only give us a refill,’ said Elspeth, grinning manically and then knocking back a hefty slug. So what could we do, but drink it? With the result that we all got very mournful about our lives, prospects and the future of the world. The Chinese, on the other hand, decided that gin was, ‘Very, very good.’ One of them was, apparently, a professional alcohol taster and he did the whole bit, rubbing it on his hands, sniffing it and then draining a stiff shot in one go before giving it his definite seal of approval. So, no problems for you here, Gordons. Of course, the guy could have just been a chancer from Harbin, or wherever…

Lent the oldest man my personal stereo. He put the earphones on with a big smile and was obviously telling all his mates he couldn’t see what the fuss was about, when I switched the tape on. He was utterly astounded. Oddly enough, the track was David Bowie singing Little China Girl. He listened to the whole thing. I think he liked it.

About elainecanham

I started blogging because I'm a writer, and I thought I ought to. Now I realise that I blog because I lwant to; even when I can't think of much to say. I do a lot of work for local businesses - get in touch if you like my style.


23 thoughts on “China, 6: Two drops of the hard stuff

  1. How did I miss these posts? Suddenly there was 8 in my mailbox and I was completely unprepared, Anyway, you were a sloshy broad back in the day, huh?
    That is my contribution. I say it with all the love in the world. And, I should probably admit to some sloshiness of my own at that tender age. Mmmm, no. I was never a drinkey Mcdrinkerson. I preferred smokables. It’s probably very un-british, but I only use gin in mixed drinks. (three grievous grammatical errors)

    Posted by naptimethoughts | February 21, 2015, 1:08 pm
    • A Drinkey McDrinkerson (maybe that’s one of the errors – you didn’t cap up the D) eh? I like that. Yes, but then if there is drink in front of you, it’s a shame not to drink it. Although, having said that, alcohol does seem to be losing its appeal somewhat, as I get older. Anyway, we did mix the gin. Not always with good results.

      Posted by elainecanham | February 21, 2015, 2:04 pm
    • Don’t mix it with orange juice. When I was 14, and raided my parents liquor cabinet for the first time, I mixed gin and OJ. Not good, especially warm. And, like you, I had to drink it to save face, and tonic water would absolutely not have helped. Of course, the gin was at least a thousand years old, my parents weren’t really drinkers, and my mother never threw anything out. Plus– I have 5 older brothers and sisters, so who knows how much of it was actually gin, and how much was water, inserted to keep the parents from noticing the diminishing gin supply.

      Posted by naptimethoughts | February 21, 2015, 3:01 pm
    • I once had gin and coke. Once.

      Posted by elainecanham | February 21, 2015, 5:24 pm
  2. Go for it. Certainly not boring, and if people like it so much it means you must be doing something special. Don’t worry about length either. Could be a long extended essay, or a short novella size of a book.

    Posted by Irish writer Mel Healy | February 21, 2015, 11:39 am
    • Actually, I think I’m going to have to make the posts longer, otherwise we’ll be here for months. Thanks for the encouragement. It’s such a departure from my normal, rather eclectic mix of stuff, that I sometimes wonder whether I’m doing the right thing – but then since I’m just editing my diary, I don’t have to use my imagination too much to think up new stuff!

      Posted by elainecanham | February 21, 2015, 11:45 am
  3. What a rip-roaring adventure. Yee gads. I don’t think I could swallow that turpentine liquor. You are so brave. ❤

    Posted by Let's CUT the Crap! | February 20, 2015, 3:38 pm
  4. What a riot…had me smiling…great!!!

    Posted by Kirt D Tisdale | February 19, 2015, 10:00 pm
  5. Your best China so far…

    Posted by Bruce Goodman | February 19, 2015, 9:42 pm
  6. I love this, ( of course ). I have my own Chinese adventures but they are not as colourful as this, and possibly marred by the fact that I didn’t speak a word of the lingo.

    Posted by Peter Wells aka Countingducks | February 19, 2015, 6:03 pm
    • I think it was the ability to communicate, even very simply, that made it so special.

      Posted by elainecanham | February 19, 2015, 6:08 pm
    • I could tell you about the time I discovered a ‘Burger King’ in the back streets of Beijing and thought
      that would make a less challenging meal than the earwigs on sticks or whatever they were, and I can tell you I was utterly wrong. One mouthful into the snack I felt as nauseous as hell and the rest of the feast went straight into a nearby bin !

      Posted by Peter Wells aka Countingducks | February 19, 2015, 6:22 pm
    • And yet, in shanghai there was a little place behind the Peace Hotel that did fabulous lemon meringue pies. So you just never can tell…

      Posted by elainecanham | February 19, 2015, 6:28 pm
  7. Like it, why Elaine, I’ve had to re-evaluate my whole perception of you since you started writing this.I’m not missing a minute of it.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    Posted by davidprosser | February 19, 2015, 2:19 pm
    • Thank you David! I’m not sure if I should ask what your original perception was, or if your present one is that I’m continually swigging gin!

      Posted by elainecanham | February 19, 2015, 2:38 pm
  8. I take it you didn’t think to bring some of their pure white spirits home to use as a household cleaning product?

    Posted by lbwoodgate | February 19, 2015, 1:04 pm
  9. When is this coming out as a book? I want to put in an advanced order.

    Posted by Irish writer Mel Healy | February 19, 2015, 11:36 am
    • Oh Mel, that’s really nice of you. I hadn’t actually thought of doing it as a whole book, until I got stuck into posting. People seem to like it, don’t they? I thought they might find it boring.

      Posted by elainecanham | February 19, 2015, 11:56 am

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