by Toffler



Gan Bei

(Well here’s a very strange situation…I wrote this Sunday night.  It got posted to my website and was even imported into Facebook.  But when I looked at my website on Monday, it was gone!  Either someone deleted my post or my content management system lost it. I have no idea how either could happen, but I was not happy that I lost an entire post.  Then today when I was looking at my FB profile, here it is, saved in FB and not all my writing has been lost!  So happy.  Now if only the mystery could be solved.  Anyway, on to the story…)
Gan Bei

Well last Wednesday was definitely an experience in Chinese culture, specifically Chinese banquets and drinking…

It all started at lunchtime–that’s right, at work, in my uniform, being served by the people I teach English to, lunchtime at the hotel.   Out hotel hosted some out-of-town Chinese guests for lunch, about 24 people.  Everyone was given a wine glass.  My boss made the introductory toast and we finished our first glass of wine.  Then the others at the table started 1-by-1 going to my boss and each ‘gan bei-ing,’ ie cheers and then finishing off their glass of wine, followed by tipping their glass to the other person to prove they’d finished it.  Not long after, they started coming to me! each 1-by-1 to gan bei–that’s 11 people, including my boss.  Then my boss told me to go gan bei with the 12 individuals at the other table, needless to say I thought I might pass out just from shock that he suggested such a thing.  Let me remind you, I’m still wearing my uniform, including my name tag, sitting in the middle of my employer’s banquet hall being served by my colleagues.  Thankfully the manager of guest company suggested 1 round of gan bei was sufficient for the whole table rather than individual by individual.

Well that was a nice buzz to get me through the afternoon and on to the next gan bei event.

Our company New Year’s party happened to be that evening as well, a total of about 20-22 tables in the largest function hall.  The festivities started fine and relaxed, appetizers were served and the many Chinese speeches began.  Then some meat dishes were served and after that, it all began again…I started with a nice Spanish drink called tintoria de verano, a mixture of sprite and red wine, and cheered my table, only 1 swallow, no need to finish the whole glass.  I thought I’d go to a couple of tables where I personally knew others and do a cheer with the table–maybe 2-3 tables at most.  So it starts fine, another swallow of my mixed drink with the front office staff and 1 with the 1st table of housekeepers and 1 with the first table of F&B where I finished my mixed glass.  I thought I was done–my glass was empty and I thought I’d gan beied with everyone I knew.  Well it seems many other employees recognize me even if I don’t know who they are, which is not surprising given I’m the only white employee.  Little did I expect this was only the beginning…But then I was pulled into another table and complained ‘oh my glass is empty,’ no worries, they have an entire bottle of red wine, nearly half of which they poor into my glass.  And with this table, it’s not just 1 swallow, its the entire 10-oz glass of red wine.  What a painstaking endeavor.  As soon as I manage, after about 3-4 tries, to finish that glass, I’m whisked off to another table, which doesn’t offer wine, but rather Maotai, Chinese whiskey.  Fortunately, I convince them shot size is enough to gan bei and that goes down without too much pain. And away I go to another table–was it wine they gave me or something else?  I don’t even remember, but after that it only got worse.  Another full glass of red wine and the manager at the table pours herself 1/4 of what she gives me but expects me to match her in 1 big gulp.  My body is starting to resist.  The wine won’t pass my throat.  It takes me 4 tries, and someone taking a 1/3 of my wine and lots of begging off before I can finish that glass of wine while standing at that table.  The next table, another group of F&B people–where did they all come from?!?! pours about 4-oz of maotai in my glass and they expect that to be taken as if in 1 shot–are you kidding me?!?  That stuff smells worse than rubbing alcohol!  At first I try to take a large gulp, my body fights it but I manage to get it down, hardly made a difference in the level in the glass.  Again, same thing.  Another time.  Each time my sip is getting smaller and smaller until I’m just pretending to open my mouth.  Then, with about a 5′2″, 180lb boy, they make me wrap arms (champagne wedding style) to drink to finish the last of it, but of course I can no longer tolerate this in my throat so I merely pretend.  Fortunately that was entertainment enough and they don’t seem to notice I didn’t finish my glass.

Then another table wants me, I beg off, promising to comeback after I settle down.  I go back to my own table to rest and get something to wash my mouth out and my new manager says ‘ahh let’s gan bei now that she’s back!’  But first he looks in my glass and goes, ‘you can’t drink sprite, that’s not real gan bei.’ I let him have a whiff and he reels backward not expecting a nose-full of pure alcohol.  He decides maybe I don’t need to finish the remaining 1.5-oz in 1 large shot and let’s me off easy–thank god.  I pour the rest out and look around to my sales colleagues for sympathy. It’s there.

Not more than 5minutes later, someone else that I can’t recall ever having seen in my life comes to the table and asks if I’d do the honor of gan bei-ing with them.  How can I refuse? It would be downright rude.  And there’s a bit of shock and admiration from my sales colleagues and cheers from the table who I’d accepted their invitation.  I finish a small glass of wine with them and think, well, that wasn’t too bad after the maotai, but haha they had other ideas.  They decided that that wasn’t enough and they were going to add a full glass of beer on top.  I don’t drink beer, absolutely not.  Therefore, at that point, I’d simply had enough.  No matter what invitations to other tables I was offered, I was not drinking anymore. It was certainly not one of my drunkest nights but not a pleasant experience by any means.  Who ever thought drinking terrible Chinese wine (or whiskey) was a good plan?

That was my day of gan bei.  1 finished glass after another.  I’ve lived the experience of the Chinese drinking culture and I will be happy not to have to do it again.  The next day, the China Daily featured a survey claiming that nearly 70% of Chinese don’t like the high-pressure, finished glass, gan bei style of drinking.  Hear Hear to that!


  1. Teresa |

    that’s one of the thing hong kong people worry the most when they are called to do business at china. one of my previous boss was sent to hospital for alcohol poisoning after a night of gan bei…

  2. Teresa |

    forget to say this earlier! HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR! Have good fun in the holidays;)

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