Going out for a company meal in China is all part and parcel of the
way things are done here. None of this going for a beer after work
nonsense, it’s a full banquet or, literally, nothing. As non-Chinese
speakers we are, thankfully, left out of the majority of
inter-departmental small-talk and can focus on the real reason we’re
all gathered at table: the banquet bounty itself.
Some of the more noticeable points here are:
The excessive amount of food
There are 15 people seated at the table and they serve food for, oh,
roughly, about 40 people. Food comes in a what seemed like a rather ad
hoc fashion, but there is some sort of method to the madness. First
come a succession of what I suppose you’d have to call salads,
disinguishable from the rest of the food mainly by being cold.
Then come a succession of smaller meat dishes and the vegetable
dishes. The highlight for me is braised eggplant and capsicum in a
sticky hoi sin sauce, which I naturally over-indulged in. Tofu also
features highly, these folks know what to do with soy bean!
Then come the centrepiece dishes; seafoods, duck, chicken (boney as
hell) and, unbelievably, Mongolian beef, JUST LIKE AT HOME!!! I nearly
cried with happiness, but it seems this particular piece of heaven
hasn’t made it as far as Scotland, because Ian had never heard of it.
The Peking duck, athough a long, long way from home, was also most
welcome. One of the highlights of living in this region is that pork
is not ubiquitous; due to the high Muslim population, these banquets
always feature my favourite meat, lamb instead, and the lamb here is
absolutely to die for;
The five per cent alcohol – that got our colleagues smashed.
They served alcohol there, but not exactly as you might recognise it.
A steady flow of extremely fruity red wine is delovered to the table.
The bottles are immediately flattened the second they arrive, but not
in the way you might think. It’s polite to serve other people’s
glasses before your own (instead of your own) and so the second a
bottle arrives it’s grabbed by a hospitable fellow-diner and shared
among all 15 people at the table.
The difference here is that the wine is about 5 per cent and the
glasses are small, so each glass of wine lasts Ian precisely 2.5
seconds: i.e. the amount of time it takes him to politely wait one
second, grab the glass and raise it to his mouth.
This causes a problem if, like me, you have decided for the sake of
your health, to have a week relatively off alcohol and came with no
intention of drinking (and the crappy wine in any case takes up
valuable Mongolian-beef-space). It’s rude to refuse the glass, or not
subsequently refuse to drink it, and yet, there’s 15 people around the
table, meaning that our glasses are to be filled 13 times in the name
of hospitality. What to do? Well, of course, a sneaky sideways flick
of the booze into Ian’s glass keeps us both happy, he gets a more
respectable share of the wine; I get to (more or less) stick to my
Not to cast any apsersion on China or Chinese as a whole… but…
seriously, the people at our company, man, they cannot drink. Two
100ml glasses of 5 per cent alcohol and all the girls are giggly and
walking on more severe diagonals than normal. Ian gets many looks of
awe and I get many looks of pity as he soaks up all the available
wine; unsurprisingly he remains almost completely unaffected. More
than one of the co-teachers were rough and well off their game the
following day. (Being of Celtic descent is both a blessing and a curse in China.
Imagine a Scottish Legolas drinking with Chinese dwarves: Ian)
The seating order
One of the more interesting things we noted is that the Chinese
teachers we work with automatically arranged themselves in order of
seniority, leading away from our manager. There was the big boss (next
to Ian, lucky him…) then our manger, then the longest serving
teacher, then then next longest… and so on, down to the girl who was
hired only a few weeks ago. And the newest girl was the one
continually sent to fetch new bottles of wine from the waiter. What’s
that you say? Sixty years of communism making an equal society? Bah!
Pix coming once we’re in a country that doesn’t have sucky internet.