Beijing is a story told in many forms. This is part of my story told in beer.
When you first get to China, you drink a lot of Tsingtao. This is for a couple reasons. The first is straight forward: you’ve seen this beer in the States. Maybe just in passing, maybe in the Japanese restaurant you eat at with your grandparents who don’t actually like Japanese food but they like rice and they love you so you eat there. Wherever you saw it, you’ve seen it, and, for the first few weeks, that’s good enough for you.
Well, you’ve seen it before and it’s cheap. So frickin’ cheap. You end up spending $10 and getting wasted. Before you’ve settled into your new life, you’ve spent several nights drunkenly wandering along empty Beijing streets at three in the morning wondering how you got to this point. The answer? You drink a lot of Tsingtao and don’t have a lot of Chinese friends.
Tsingtao is special in a lot of ways. Once you’ve been in China for more than a minute you realize it’s not pronounced in whatever way you butcher “Tsingtao,” but it’s pronounced Qingdao (if you can read Pinyin) or “Ching-dao” (if you can’t read Pinyin). Maybe you even learn the history of the German brewery in a Chinese city it’s made in (non-coincidentally also named Qingdao). Tsingtao holds your hand as you go from stranger in a strange land to, “Yeah, I live in Beijing.” One day, Tsingtao will taste like nostalgia. For now, it tastes like “This is totally better than Bud Light, dude.”
After you’ve been in China for a couple months, you probably have a solid friend-group of people who’ve been there longer than you. When you’re still a China-baby, everyone with more experience—even if it’s only a month or two—is a wise guru taking you by the hand and showing you the glory of Chinese life. Disregard the fact that you still haven’t learned Chinese and you’re still incredibly intimidated by any Chinese coworkers you do have. You’re a laowai (foreigner) and proud of it, damn it. You’re making the most of your life in the great smoggy wonderland.
Your friends who are China veterans will show you around to all the cool bars and hipster cafes. Then you’ll meet one friend who suggest you go to this cool little barbeque place down the road from their apartment. You go there and you’re greeted by the smell of meat and veg, and when you sit down, your friend orders a round of beers in Chinese. Out comes your new love: Yanjing Beer.
There’s a lot that can be said about Yanjing. I wouldn’t call it good by any means, but compared to Chinese beers and beers stateside, it is so damn drinkable. Something about it tastes homey and happy. Yanjing tastes like good nights and bad food, good friends and bad experiences. It feels like a public bathroom when you’ve become so desperate you’ve considering peeing outside. It feels like a cab showing up on an empty street when all you want is to go home.
You fall in love easy in China, with people, with food, with everything you meet and touch. Falling in love with Yanjing was easy, too. Plus, it’s cheaper than Tsingtao—a statement you never thought you’d say. You spend $7 and end up walking home singing Paramore songs so you can focus on your steps.
Even when you meet new loves in China, nothing quite replaces Yanjing. Sometimes, when you’re lucky, you pop into a corner store and find a cold bottle of Yanjing selling for $0.50, and you wonder what you did to deserve such kindness in your life.
Snow was made for KTV. Well, probably not. But it should have been. There’s nothing quite like strolling up buzzed to karaoke, getting settled into the room and queuing songs, then a beautiful man with a basket full of beers starts lining up the Snow bottles on the table. You do not order Snow because you have a hankering for it. You do not order Snow because it goes well with this meal. You order Snow because it’s cheap, available, and gets the job done.
Snow is made for chugging with Chinese coworkers who should quit their day jobs and become professional binge drinkers. Snow is made for drinking in excess and getting lost in the middle of the night. Snow is made for ditching your friends and become besties with the Ukranian girl you met in the bathroom line. Snow is not made for happy tomorrows or peaceful nights.
Snow has, however, sponsored some of your most interesting stories. Snow held your hand as you drifted in and out of bars and restaurants. Snow greets you at every chuan vendor in the hutongs. Snow is the epitome of convenience.
And, somehow, Snow is even cheaper than Yanjing. You spend $5 and wake up with a pounding headache and a strange stuffed animal in your bed and you don’t even question why at this point. Sometimes you wake up with things you didn’t mean to in China. Sometimes it’s a scorpion, most times it’s interesting.
Sometimes it a text message with pictures of four different maps you drew while drunk to explain to your friend how to get to the subway from your house. When your friend complains the next day about how lost they got, shrug your shoulders and say, “I didn’t draw the map, Snow did,” and then give them a knowing stare. “You know better than to trust Snow.”
And they’ll sigh and agree. Because they know better, and they’re drinking up anyway.
Tsingtao: By Derbrauni – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30868126
Yanjing: By Holly Baer