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Date Posted: 22:07 21/05/2005

Journalist gets drunk shock

Ruining your liver in the pursuit of news

WHENEVER YOU on a business trip of some kind in China, you have got to be able to hold your drink. Of course, in Shanghai and sophisticated “IT industry centres” like Shenzhen, a variety of US-educated company executives are likely to sip mineral water and talk about “leveraging” and “branding” and other execrable MBA waffle. However, for the most part, and especially if you happen to travel inland, to Yunnan or Henan or northern Jiangsu, to coalmining townships or oil refineries or herding communities, you will invariably be confronted by some affable but vaguely threatening old geezer with a comb-over, demanding that you pour at least half a pint of 50%-proof gut-rot down your gullet. Journalists are, generally, renowned for their alcoholism. After all, we do not have to operate heavy machinery, drive long-distance lorries or remove malignant tumours. Nevertheless, in China, drink is a particularly onerous occupational hazard for the lowly hack.

Recently, in the city of Sanmenxia in Henan Province, we were forced to deal with the local penchant for industrial-grade baijiu, and with the customary drinking games with random members of the local community. We also found that a litre of local draught ale cost as little as 2 RMB. Furthermore, the beer is served by the barrel. By midnight, we were hard-pressed to avoid the pools of stale urine as we negotiated our way to the nearest latrine, and we picked up at least one long-term injury in the process.

Going on to a small coalmining town called Yima, we made the mistake of boasting that we regularly drink baijiu from an ox horn. Our interlocutor, a manager of a nearby mine, was apoplectic. “Bring out the big glasses,” he shouted to a waitress.

The local tradition, he claimed, was to stand a cigarette packet on its end, pour the baijiu until it reaches the height of the cigarette packet, tip your head back and drink.

The rest of the day was suitably foggy, bumbling through what – for all we knew – might have been a TNT factory or plutonium enrichment plant, throwing cigarettes in random pieces of machinery and flicking every available switch.
And so, in the remote northwest of Yunnan, we have held drunken conversations with policemen about how all people are the same, whatever their nationality. We have shared a bottle with shady Mafiosi from Changsha, discussing the various rehabilitative functions of prison. We have got sozzled with Kazakh and Mongol herdsmen… All this to bring our readers the most crapulous coverage of China that you can get. Cheers.

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