Boozeless in Beijing

As a note to anyone who cares, I’ve been remiss on my sober blogging. But I’m still with the program! Closing on in my 60-day mark, and I am weirdly excited about this. Certainly more excited than I thought I would be. Heck I never thought I’d get to sixty days with no alcohol in my body, let alone contemplating how I might feel about it.

Anyway, in addition to closing in on my 60-day mark,  it has also been almost a year since I got back from China. I spent August in Beijing last year. My friend took me to a couple of great micro-breweries but you’d have to know where to find these places, or even that they exist. Because here’s the thing: best I can figure, Beijing has no booze culture. I mean I am sure there are Western-style bars and clubs where you can imbibe freely, but my point is that these are destinations. They are not ubiquitous.

I thought about this absence of alcohol quite a bit while I was there, and again when I got home to Canada. The contrast is striking. In Beijing I swear all people do is eat out. (Which is awesome. The food is awesome.) You can’t spit without hitting a restaurant. (Not that I tried. But I could have because people spit a lot there. Wait this is a tangent, right? Anyway.) But what I didn’t see in Beijing was people drinking. Restaurants served alcohol — particularly that ubiquitous Chinese beer Tsingtao — but almost as more of an afterthought. You didn’t see a lot of alcohol on the tables. Most people drank water with their meals as best as I could tell.

Certainly I drank daily there, but I was self-conscious about it: more so than usual. It was striking to me that there were about a bazillion people living their lives without routinely thinking about, drinking, avoiding, or otherwise managing alcohol in their lives. It was striking to be a minority figure as a regular drinker.

In contrast, once back in Canada and out cycling or walking with my partner, I noticed that most every restaurant that wasn’t a fast food joint had a sandwich board on the sidewalk that advertised the daily food special AND the daily drink special. Patios are often festooned with alcohol marketing swag. We’re tempted to cool off with sangria, draft beer, and fruity cocktails. Booze menus come out with the drink menus. Alcohol is everywhere.

You don’t realize how pervasive and normal alcohol consumption is in our culture until you’ve got something to compare it to. Who knows then — maybe some seeds of sobriety were sown for me in Beijing. Sometimes I still remind myself of what I saw (or rather didn’t see) there when I am mulling my Reasons to Stay Sober list.

Sober Note: Feeling left out because you’re not drinking? Feel like a weirdy because you’re the only one ordering a non-alcoholic beverage at your table? You don’t have to run with the drinking pack. I know it feels like everyone is doing it, but there are whole cities and cultures where everyone is NOT doing it. Having that perspective does help!




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