Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A High-Speed Digestif on the Way to Xiamen

On a high-speed train heading south from Shanghai to Xiamen I sat next to a man from the northeastern province of Heilongjiang.

As I settled in for the almost 9-hour trip, I smelled something peculiar. Although the smell seemed familiar, I could not place it. As the man who appeared to be in his 60s later unpacked some of his belongings, I discovered the smell’s source -- some of the various preserved vegetables that along with a large chicken foot served as his lunch.

When he later enjoyed these delights, I noticed another smell, but this one I recognized immediately. I then saw the man had just opened up a bottle. Despite it being labeled as Tibetan spring water, I had no doubt it actually contained the strong Chinese alcohol baijiu. I then looked at him and huge grin grew across his face.

Whatever the baijiu’s strength, it was not enough to deter him from finishing the bottle during his lunch. In fact, the man still had enough room for a digestif. For after finishing his lunch he brought out a half-liter sized can of a strong beer.

I probably will never see this man again, but I won’t soon forget him. And I appreciate his offer to share his baijiu and his later offer of a can of beer. Maybe next time I ride a high-speed train, I’ll bring some alcohol of my own and offer to share it with whoever happens to sit next to me.

And maybe they too will leave with a story to tell.

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