After that I allowed myself to be dragged to banquets. They were never much fun, and I’m glad I haven’t gone to one in about a year now. Here are a few common characteristics of Chinese banquets:
Without a doubt the biggest thing happening at a banquet is not the food consumed, but the alcohol. It really turns into a drinking competition between the men, and then into a lame attempt to get the women drunk. By then most of them are heading toward the doors and the men are picking themselves up.
Well, they’re not all like that, but you’ll see men doing toast after toast, walking around to the different tables and bothering everyone. The usual drink is wine, Great Wall wine which is not very good, and then the baijiu might be broken out after a time. Baijiu is a grain alcohol that’s very strong and which you’ll taste for days afterward. When that stuff gets opened, it’s time to leave.
The food at most banquets is terrible. It could be a big teacher’s day or school banquet, or even one that your work puts on. You’ll go to some restaurant, be whisked to the large banquet hall or smaller room, and there your captivity begins. You’ll often have no choice in what food is served, but make sure you ask for rice. It may be one of the few good things to eat, and one that often gets overlooked.
Be prepared to eat with your hands at times, although little plastic gloves will be provided. Most of your meat will have bones, or what I like to call bones with meat. Chicken feet are common, and everything get’s passed around the table. You’ll be getting hungrier and hungrier as you wait and you’ll be hungry again a half hour after you leave.
There’s really not that much fun about banquets. If you’re a new teacher in China you’ll have to put up with everyone asking you the same questions over and over before nodding politely and breaking out the Chinese with their friends. It’s easy to get forgotten in a Chinese banquet hall full of people when you’re the only foreigner. All you can really do is watch the men get drunk, or take part with them.
I went to one banquet where all the men got into arm wrestling competitions with one another. I was of course chosen to go every time, and it wasn’t that bad. The 5 bottles of Qingdao beer I drank certainly helped. One guy got so drunk he told me that for the rest of the year he’d call me Obama. Thankfully he forgot about that later, or at least tried to. Drinks will be spilled quite often, and you might even see a few waitresses get knocked down. Overall, banquets are bad sober but manageable when drunk.