This blog has been highly critical of China both in my articles inspired by six weeks in Beijing, as well as Chuck’s contributed series inspired by his 3+ years living in China.
This is the fifth edition, and the last of Chuck’s series. We’re going to finish on a positive note. Chuck had sent our circle of college buddies an email describing a wild night with somebody who, at the time of reading it, I assumed to be a Westerner AKA white man AKA foreign devil. But when Chuck came to Peru for my wedding, it came out that this buddy was a Chinaman. Not just a Chinaman, but a working class, peasant Chinaman made good. The more Chuck told me about this guy, the more I wanted to hear. Not only is his name bad ass, but also the man.
Note: I don’t believe “Chinaman” is the preferred nomenclature.
I first met Sandwich at his wedding. He was a friend of October, my language exchange partner in Beijing. “Sandwich” was the English name he went by because his Chinese name sounds similar to the Chinese word for ‘sandwich’.
The wedding was held at a shoddy two-story restaurant outside Beijing’s fifth ring road. At 10:30 in the morning the wedding party rolled up in black Audis adorned with flowers to the accompaniment of fireworks. Then everyone went inside one of the restaurant’s large private rooms and took seats at huge round tables.
An MC guided the couple through a handful of ceremonies. They held hands while lighting a candle. An apple was dangled between their faces, then lifted to bait them for a kiss, garnering applause from the guests. Then, with interlocked arms, the newlyweds drank from champagne glasses. Wifey took just a sip. Sandwich slammed his.
The bride and groom were seated and servers began bringing out the food. Sandwich grabbed one server by the arm and demanded a bottle of baijiu be sent to his table immediately.
Once the newlyweds finished eating, they and their parents went around the room to thank the guests for attending. The men filled their glasses with liquor, the women wine, and a toast was given at each table. At Chinese weddings, the newlyweds usually use miniature shot glasses, or drink water rather than real booze, so as to remain coherent throughout the ceremony. Sandwich drank full shots of real baijiu. The groom, in no uncertain terms, directed the guests to do the same.
By one o’clock Sandwich was wrecked.
October told me Sandwich has a bit of a drinking problem. Yeah, no shit. He was loud, domineering, and in everyone’s face. Several friends pleaded with him to calm down. Sandwich would reply with what seemed to be the Chinese language equivalent of “fuck off.” They were told to fuck off or dismissed with a wave of the hand. At one point the bride, playing the role of the good Chinese wife, brought over a tray with a few glasses and a half-full bottle. Sandwich seized the tray, told her it wasn’t enough and ordered her to get more. When that was finished he made his way around the room, snatching glasses from people’s hands as he passed by, including my own.
Most Chinese weddings I went to were only an hour and a half long. People bolt right after eating. Food’s typically served at noon and the people start leaving at 12:15. The whole point of the ceremony is for the newlyweds to fleece the guests for money – attendees give cash. Their names and how much they gave are written down in a book. My foreign friends and I referred to Chinese weddings as “fundraisers.” We’d joke, “Are you going to the fundraiser today?” But Sandwich’s wedding definitely emphasized celebration.
Once Sandwich started stealing the guests’ drinks and it had the feeling of a drawn out romp, people started to clear out. First to go were the service staff. Then family members. Even wifey ducked out around 2 pm. Remaining were Sandwich, a few of his best friends, and me. At 2:30 he was subdued enough by the alcohol to be physically carried out and dragged home. A 2:30 pm finish in China is like a 4 am finish in America.
[Interruption from Colin]
Hearing this story inspired a new word in our lexicon. There are a million and one English slang terms for getting drunk. I use wrecked, shithammered, shellacked. But there’s no word to describe such extreme inebriation that you have to be carried home. Sandwich, a most worthy and benevolent Chinaman, has inspired a word with his English namesake.
Sandwich: (verb) to get so obnoxiously drunk your friends physically carry you home.
- I got 200 soles and had a shit day, I’m goin’ Sandwich tonight.
- Vamos al centro para sandwichear.
The problem is that sandwich often implies the middle member of a trio, train, or tag team sex. So, in English, we can’t say “I’m gonna get sandwiched tonight” without sounding gay. So we have to use the verb “to go.” I’m going sandwich! Because we coined the term in Peru, we had to develop a Spanish version. So in addition to using it as a toast (‘¡Sandwich!’, en lugar de ‘Salud!’), the adapted verb was ‘sandwichear’. Sandwicheo, sandwicheando, etc.
[End Colin's Interruption]
I saw Sandwich again on his birthday, celebrated at a karaoke place (KTV). Before going inside, October told me not to mention Sandwich’s wedding around his mistress. I was incredulous. Less than a year had passed. Mistress already?
Sandwich’s mistress was nails, a direct contrast to him. I love the guy, but he is flat out, butt ugly. The only thing more hideous than Sandwich’s crew cut (trimmed close to show off a wrinkly skull) and extremely acne-scarred face were his clothes: a polyester polo shirt buttoned to the top, pleated slacks pulled up to his belly button, white tube socks, and black quasi-patent leather slip-ons with ventilation slits adorned with gaudy brass logos. Typical Chinese peasant. Have him squatting, smoking, and wearing an oversized, green, military surplus coat and he could be any migrant worker hanging around Beijing West Railway Station.
Sandwich’s wife was also very hot. October told me the only reason he was able to get such a good-looking wife was because she was divorced, hence considered damaged goods in the eyes of Chinese men. The “new money” peasant couldn’t have cared less. And the mistress was, beyond the shadow of a doubt, a rental.
We went inside the KTV spot, the most posh one I have ever been to. We were greeted at the door by a middle-aged man in a white tuxedo, then escorted to a private room with three plush couches, glass table, chandelier, and large flat-screen TV affixed to the wall. A small flight of stairs led above our room to a balcony that overlooked a mini-theater featuring (clothed) pole dancers and qipao-clad women twirling decorative paper umbrellas.
In addition to me, October, Sandwich, and Sandwich’s mistress was some nerdy guy, nerdy guy’s girlfriend, and a high ranking officer in the People’s Liberation Army. I later pieced together that Sandwich worked as a military contractor, and this little party was an indirect bribe. The entire point of the evening was to show the military officer a good time and grease the wheels.
No expense was spared. A servant woman kneeled on a pillow before the glass table and poured drinks on demand. That was her permanent station. Fruit platters were laid out. The white tuxedo gentleman brought in three lineups of women to choose from. Sandwich ordered one from each selection – one for each of the unaccompanied men in the group. Neither Sandwich’s mistress nor the nerdy guy’s girlfriend flinched.
Given that I don’t like singing, I resigned myself to the other staples of Chinese karaoke: drinking and dice. Still new to China at that point, I didn’t know what to do with the girl I’d been assigned. She didn’t know any English because she dropped out of school. So I practiced Chinese and we played drinking games. October came over to spell it out for me: “You can do anything you want with these girls, just no sexy.”
A couple of hours into the evening, Sandwich and his xiao san went into the bathroom together.
After the disheveled couple returned, one of the KTV girls said she had to leave the room to make a phone call. Sandwich grabbed her arm, scowled, and pointed his finger into her face. “You be back in five minutes!”
The place was closing around 2 am. I had an arm around my KTV girl. October came over and asked, “Do you like her?” Sure, I replied. He then whispered something to her that I couldn’t understand. Then to me, “She said you can do anything you want with her.” I later learned Chinese KTV women can be paid extra for sex, but they exercise significantly more discretion with clientele than normal whores. October leaned in, smiled, and gave me a “congrats buddy” pat on the back: “Her friend told me she is 17.” I damn near choked on my Hennessy and green tea.
Sandwich paid the bill – 10,000 kuai. ($1,300!) He reached into his hiked-up pants pocket and pulled out a fat stack of pink Mao Zedong portraits. Every last one of the hired help was tipped 500.
Moral of the story: Not all Chinese are the little recluses you see walking around universities. Some are worth having a beer with. Thank you, Sandwich!