On a recent Friday evening, at a promotional party organized by a foreign-managed bar, a very drunk foreign man accidentally dropped a very drunk Chinese woman whom had been sitting on his shoulders. She fell backwards, hit her head on the pavement, fell unconscious, and was ultimately hospitalized with a serious concussion.
The event sparked a heated forum exchange on GoKunming, the city’s popular English-language blog. (Full disclosure: I once wrote for GoKunming, know the principals in the incident slightly, and was even at the bar for awhile that evening. Yeah, Kunming is that small.) Some foreigners were outraged that anyone could be so drunk and irresponsible. Others defended the guy, noting that virtually all of us have done stupid things when drunk at least once in our lives. Eventually, the site administrator closed the forum thread.
Reading through it this morning simply underscored something I’ve been meaning to write about for a long time. Man, foreigners do drink a lot in China. By any reasonable definition a healthy chunk of foreigners that I have known in my five years in this country were either alcoholics or heavy drinkers. Perhaps this says more about me than about foreigners in general, but at the risk of ruffling anyone’s feathers I’d wager that a quite a few of you could say the same about your laowai friends and acquaintances.
Understanding why isn’t terribly hard. Most expats in China are young, and young people tend to drink more than old people. Most expats seem to be men, and men tend to drink more than women. Most expats are childless, and as anyone with children can tell you, your heavy-drinking outings become much less frequent once little ones enter your life.
Alcohol is relatively cheap in China and is easily available. China has a macho drinking culture, where binge drinking at banquets is the norm. Public drunkenness in China isn’t necessarily frowned upon as much as it might be back at home.
Many foreigners who teach English or study Chinese have a lot of free time and can afford to be hungover. In many smaller cities a bar is the only real cultural activity available to non-Chinese speaking foreigners. Many foreigners also find China an overwhelming experience at first and use drinking as a means of escape.
I could go on, but you get the point. And it’s little surprise with this much drinking going on, an incident like the one mentioned above could happen.
I’m the last man to argue for temperance, and those of you who know me personally probably find it amusing I’m writing this at all. But seriously- all of us know good men and women ruined by the bottle. Not to spoil the party, but it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on people who are in danger of becoming “lost laowai” in the worst sense of the term.