So maybe some of you are thinking “Kirsten, tell me: what does a typical night out in China look like?” Well, allow me to use Friday night’s innocent shenanigans as an example.
As is our wont, my friend and I planned the first stop of the evening and allowed the winds of fortune to take us where they would. We got some quasi-authentic pizza, supposed coffee milkshakes that just tasted like Ovaltine, and found people on WeChat to talk to.
In case you haven’t heard of WeChat, it’s amazing. It’s like the Skype phone app, but with fun social features. It allows you to “look around” your area and start talking to random people nearby, which can make for exciting times. Example: last night I had a prolonged discussion in Chinese with a girl studying at Tianjin Medical University about how excellent the cowboy hat in her profile picture was. The best part was when I said something about Chinese people, and she asked “Wait, aren’t you Chinese?” My self-confidence soared approximately 1000 points, until she said that I looked very “handsome” in my profile picture. I explained how you generally don’t use the word “handsome” to describe women, and then she stopped talking to me. Well, you win some and lose some.
Although Tianjin has 10ish million people, it seems like a small town when you’re deciding where to go to next on your night out. “Alibaba’s? No, it smells like mold and has an annoying group of 15 year olds getting pissed drunk there every weekend. AJO’s? No, there won’t be anyone there. Helen’s? Again?! Meh, why not.”
And so my friend and I ventured once again to Helen’s. Since we got there at 7:30 or so, we had to wait for a table and ended up sitting across from a Chinese couple that didn’t know any English. Fine for me, not so good for my friend. They ordered pizza, and wonder of wonders, they ate it with their hands and didn’t put ketchup on it! It was very un-Chinese of them.
A new feature at Helen’s is their beer-chugging contest on Friday nights. Obviously, my friend and I had to participate. We all got a free huge bottle of Tsingtao and went at it. Guys, I was MERE SECONDS away from winning, which is sort of a big deal since this was my first such contest. I also managed to not spill beer all over the front of my shirt. Mom, if you’re reading this, you should be proud 😉
Burping and massaging our very full bellies, my friend and I were invited to sit with some other Chinese people whose English was stellar. I talked with a woman living in Guangdong province (southernmost China) about differences in Chinese culture depending on region (ex: she said that spitting disgustingly like they do in northeastern China is not acceptable in southern China… remind me to live there next time). And most shockingly, she said that in China, people don’t actually “buy” houses in the Western sense. They can rent them monthly, or purchase them for 17 years. After that, they have to either re-purchase it or move. Crazy.
As is usually the case after chugging a bottle of beer, I had to pee and got in line for the bathroom. In the process I ended up meeting a girl from Ireland, who invited my friend and I to join her and a few others on their expedition to another Helen’s bar a few streets away (Tianjin has three Helen’s for some reason). Neither my friend nor I had been there before, so we decided to tag along and see what all the hubbub was about.
The other Helen’s bar is MASSIVE–it can easily seat a few hundred people, with the same wooden picnic tables and thumping music that I’ve come to know and love at the smaller neighborhood Helen’s. I ended up having a long conversation with a guy from Ukraine who has some serious travel experience under his belt. He went to high school for three years in Mongolia, has traveled to the US twice, and is now working in China. Things were great, until he got this funny idea that I should be in a threesome with him and another girl. Naaaah, thanks though. Between that, my friend being pretty much smothered by a guy from some central Asian country who couldn’t speak a word of English, and the fact that it was 3:30 in the morning, it seemed like a good time to go.
Of course, the first taxi driver I talked to outside tried to charge me a ridiculous price for the trip back home (100 yuan, instead of going with the meter for 25 yuan). So I just walked down the street a few feet and found one who would actually use the meter, bless his heart. We ended up having a fantastic discussion in Chinese ranging from China’s crazy roads to the One Child policy (it’s a long cab ride.) And to top it all off, the gate at my school was left open a smidge, so I didn’t even have to climb over the fence. Win.
So that’s how a typical night in Tianjin goes… meeting some great people from around the world, meeting some people that you rather wish you hadn’t, and never knowing where the night will take you next. And when you’re lucky, like last night, you might get away with all this nonsense and only end up paying for one beer. An entire evening out for $2, plus a few bucks for a cab? Not too shabby, China.