Tag Archives: gan bei

Why You Shouldn’t Drink on Trains…


The drinking culture of different countries is usually pretty interesting.

In China, the ability to consume massive amounts of alcohol when pressured by friends or making a business deal is necessary in order to “save face” and maintain your reputation (ah, binge drinking, always a healthy habit). With the words “gan bei,” one must down the drink without question, often the ever-terrible and ever-potent “baijiu,” a distilled liquor usually made from rice, wheat or barley that can only be compared to drinking rubbing alcohol. Repeat this procedure throughout the night and you can get some interesting events.

Like when taking a night train in the seated class.

With our last-minute planning, my travel buddies Kaleb and Wade and I found ourselves forced to spend the night in the chair-only section of the train on our way to Pingyao. While Kaleb had his own seat in the section behind us, Wade and I found ourselves sitting across a table from a Chinese woman and a Chinese man who spoke no English but seemed pleasant enough. As I leaned against the window to attempt to sleep, I heard the words “gan bei”, as the Chinese man and his buddies across the aisle attempted to engage Wade in their drinking game. Always a good sport, Wade happily obliged, and as I glanced at the silver bottle containing the nasty baijiu, I was grateful to be a woman and, therefore, usually left alone in the drinking games.

As I continued to doze, I heard laughter as the men delighted in Wade’s participation and their own progressive inebriation. Awhile later, further into my sleep, I felt something shoving against my leg and was forced to awaken fully to discover our neighbor passed out, slumped across from us, trying to stretch his legs under the entire length of the table. The woman, who had originally sat across from me, had been displaced. I looked at Wade at what to do and together (or really, Wade), moved the man to lay on his back with his legs away from us and into the aisle.

Chinese drinking

Again, I attempted to sleep.

A short time later, I awoke to a gurgling noise to find that our Chinese neighbor had begun to vomit on himself. Quite disgusted, I waited in vain for one of this man’s buddies to take care of him. The guys across the aisle from us made no attempt to help this man, and in fact, found the situation pretty funny. Though I’ll admit I was part annoyed, part amused by the circumstances, I did not want this guy to choke and die on us and called the attention of one of the train attendants.

Chinese drinking

I have little experience taking care of drunk people, but I thought the SOP of these situations was to turn the person over so they don’t choke. To my surprise, the train attendant, finally dawdling over to us, simply wiped off the man’s face before covering it with newspaper. No joke.

I looked to Wade for help on this on to whether or not I was overly worried. He said that he was not planning on sleeping that night and would keep an eye on our drunken neighbor and make sure he kept breathing.

Semi-relaxed, again, I tried to sleep.

A short time later, I was woken up again to the feeling of someone pulling my backpack out from underneath my legs and seat. My sleepy instinct was to fight to hold my bag with my feet, and then I realized it was Wade “stealing” my bag and asked what was going on.

He said that our “friend” had begun to wet his pants and he was trying to save my bag so it didn’t get peed on.

Now I was annoyed.

As Wade tried to find a place to store my backpack on the already-full train, a distinct smell of urine filled the air as a pool of liquid began to form on the ground beneath the table.

I decided that I had had enough.

Like the woman before me, I found myself displaced and was lucky to find the one open seat remaining a few seats down.

Returning to my original seat in the morning, I was pleased to find the man sitting up, alive, relaxed in his chair, carrying on as if nothing had happened the night before. As I stared at the dried vomit on his face and the newspapers on the ground, I wondered what was going through his mind. Was there any sense of shame or remorse to the previous night’s activities or was this just another evening for him? If one was required to drink excessively to prove himself to his friends, was alcohol tolerance a factor or were these drunken and seemingly expected occurrences all part of the game?

I never did get my answer to that one. I’m just glad he didn’t piss on my bag :).