A Distinctly Chinese Birthday Celebration

Having only been at Lotus a couple of days, I was delighted to be invited to Lily’s birthday do on the first Friday of my arrival in Beijing. However, I will admit that at first I felt perhaps a little apprehensive at my sub-par communication skills, and predicted that I would spend the entire evening repeating “Duìbùqĭ, Wŏ bù Dŏng”. I did on the other hand feel that having tackled the Chinese textbook’s chapter on birthday parties at university I knew relatively well what to expect…more or less.

We left the Lotus office early Friday evening and piled straight into the car waiting for us, cheerfully making no issue of the considerable discrepancy between our number and the car’s capacity. We pulled up to an enormous restaurant that was decorated in gung-ho style with elaborate patterns in gold and red everywhere, and yet was still very classy.

The layout of the restaurant was certainly strange, as it consisted of a vast complex of separate dining rooms, each with one enormous round table, and a hole cut into one of the walls for food to be passed through. The first order of business after we were escorted into our room was filling everyone’s glasses with beer, and I was a little confused as my glass was half-filled with warm beer, and the remaining half was filled with ice-cold beer. Lily, being the birthday girl, stood up, raised her glass, said what I guess must be the Chinese equivalent of ‘cheers’ and drank as everyone else followed suit. I myself took a large sip and made to sit back down, only to look around and find everyone else still drinking. I finally clocked on to what I was supposed to do so I stood up and drained my glass, by now rather pleased it was not ice cold. It was at this point that I received a very sweet little applause from Alice and an equally sweet warning of “don’t get drunk” from Zoe. I cockily replied that coming from a country where beer is served in measurements rather larger than they were here, I certainly felt that I’d cope.

Another characteristic of this dining style that I found slightly puzzling at first was the lazy Susan, as by the time we had all sat down to enjoy the food I was pretty hungry, and reached eagerly for the fish dish only to find it mockingly slide away from me. Once again, it took a few seconds for me to realise what was going on, as I noticed that it was not just this particular dish that appeared to be moving. A rookie to start with, I felt that by the end of the meal I was a Lazy Susan-spinning pro, as with an elegant flick of the wrist I saw the duck’s tongue dish slide toward me. Having said this, it may have been the substantial amount of beer consumed by this point that made the action appear smooth and successful.

It seemed that to sip at your lager was not considered normal form, and I very much enjoyed the process of picking a drinking partner from around the table (or maybe ‘opponent’ would be more appropriate) when you felt thirsty and downing your beer in unison. This hilarious method of drinking, coupled with excellent food, made for a wonderful meal and I’m pleased to say that the fact that I understood little of what was said, or rather shouted (hence the separate rooms I guess), over the course of the meal failed to dent the experience. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the evening and cannot wait for this coming Friday when it will be repeated in celebration of the mid-Autumn festival.

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