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  Dispatch: Drinking and Driving in China

Driving in China teaches you much about the country, but most of all it teaches you to appreciate airplanes; drinking in China leaves you either stone sober or raving mad, and most likely a tea drinker.
By Stewart Nusbaumer

Tianjin, China -- My options are running out. The reasoning gig was an utter disaster, leaving me severely brain damaged. Then booze made me nuts; seldom does booze let me down. So I took a break, and returned believing culture was the key. [See Dispatches 2 and 3]

Studying the language did get me in touch with the homicidal cravings of typical Chinese -- no small matter -- but that's not fodder for understanding anything, except, maybe, that I should pack my bags immediately. Getting heavy into the food enabled me to discover the Chinese secret ritual of devouring democracy, but who wants to listen to the next super superpower rudely burp our most cherished principle? [See Dispatch 4]

Enough, I need a break. Some time off from this inscrutable nut house. Why not a drive? You know a quiet, relaxing drive. And I might even learn something.

The roads of China are something to experience, but not for long. Drivers stop whenever they want, go wherever they want, brake if they want -- most of the time they don't want -- ignore speed limits, ignore driving lanes, mistake red lights for New Years decorations, use sidewalks as side roads, view pedestrians as video game targets. Wisely, the government has not wasted money on stop signs. I have not seen a single stop sign in the entire country. But I have seen everything else.

Heading out of Beijing in a Toyota, I weave through traffic as my research assistant, May Lay, her shapely legs crossed and heating the car, reads to me from a paper that I somehow stumbled upon last night. Knowledge is a mysterious process -- especially on the Internet. "The typical Chinese driver, who has 3 ½ years state education," she begins, "is reeling from 5.2 gallons of caffeine-packed explosive tea and convulsing from 22.7 centuries of landlord abuse and degradation. This often pumps him into a raging maniac primed to rip off your fenders, if not your head."

"Fair enough, fair enough," I say slicing between a white bug of some sort and dilapidated truck listing and overloaded with squealing pigs -- then nearly clipped by an airborne Mercedes! That followed by a near miss of a bicycle.

"The life expectancy of the average Chinese," May Lay clears her thin throat, "from issuance of driver's license is 3.9 years." She hesitates, thinking, what did I just read? Only 4 years driving before meeting the great emperor in the sky? Where did this American get this screwy paper? Does he ever wash? He smells like a dead skunk.

"Continue reading, May Lay, please. I really need an overview of the China road scene for my next dispatch. I think this might be the key to understanding China."

"With the improved construction of motor vehicles in the People's Republic of China, the survivability rate is rising --"

"Things are getting better, that's good."

"On the other hand, with higher driver/passenger survival rates the PRC's hospitals are packed with severed spinal cords, amputated limbs, and brain-dead patients. This has resulted in veterinarian hospitals being transformed into --"

"Oh, that's ugly," I groan.

May Lay interrupts the American's groan as a response to humans vegetating in veterinarian hospitals, whereas his groan is actually a comment on the dead dog in the road being scooped up by two young boys., two skinny young boys who look very hungry.

"You need more McDonald's in this country," I suddenly say.

Up Close and Probably Dead

Soon I have the opportunity to engage in some typical Chinese road dialogue, mixed with cross-culture communication:

American: You moron, watch out! You almost hit me!

Chinese: Get out of my country, foreigner.

American: Stick to driving your rickshaw.

Chinese: Why don’t you learn Chinese, you stupid foreigner?

American: Peasant can't speak English?

Chinese: Shut up or we'll nuke Los Angles.

American: You're lucky this septic tank country has nothing to nuke.

Chinese: Listen saucer eyes....

The roads of China are an excellent venue for communicating with the locals and for enhancing international understanding.

I steer onto the Beijing-Tianjin expressway -- there is a flash and a roar, not sure if it was a vehicle headed east out of Beijing or a missile headed east for Los Angles. I guess I'll find out.

In the hour and half to Tianjin, China's third largest city, we passed an astonishing slew of ghastly accidents of gruesome carnage. In the first mile I was screaming to May Lay for my medicine -- a Chinese expressway is no place to have a Vietnam flash back! On this one highway, I was told in Beijing by the son of a high government official, 500 Chinese died last year. I probably saw 500 corpses on this one Sunday afternoon drive.

"For the entire People's Republic of China," May Lay reads from the paper, "the estimated number of annual deaths from motor vehicle accidents is 14 million."

"Wait!" I interrupt. "I was told 100 thousand Chinese are squashed every year on the roads? What's this 14 million figure?"

"Statistics are not yet well developed in China," she replies sweetly. "It's somewhere between 100 thousand and 14 million."

The Goddess of Tiananmen Square said, before I lost consciousness from her little "harmless drinkie," traveling in China required that I remain flexible. True, but Chinese are so flexible there are no rules of the road. So flexible there are stiff bodies everywhere.

On the outskirts of Tianjin, a seaport city of more than 5 million residents (it's only notable feature seems to be that as a city of more than 5 million it has no notable feature), I park the car and hail a cab. In a five-block ride, we pass three nasty accidents. Bodies were lined up like club beaten seals on an Alaskan beach. This distresses the cabbie, who whispers to May Lay, "Shameful that a foreigner saw that."

"No problem," May Lay reassures him, "big nose loves China."

"May Lay," I say from the back seat, "hand me another one of my pills."

Is Insanity the Only Way Out?

I need a beer, desperately. But there is no beer in China. There is "near-beer," which by the gallons cannot give an emaciated ant a tick of a buzz. There are not even bars in China. Only slick night clubs for the nouveau riche to prance around in, cookie-cutter fern bars for the Nerppies (Nerds + Yuppies) to do whatever they do, dismal neon flooded restaurants for workers to sadly nurse their castrated near-beers. It's a vile environment for the serious drinker.

Bars are free-fire zones without media, sanctuaries to protect the sensitive from the vicious commercial and political onslaught outside, sanctuaries from the sleaze bags ripping off votes and wallets and stuffing our minds with garbage. Bars are somewhere to hide. And in bars people actually have time to think, to feel, and to talk. Bars do what churches were designed to do: define morality, guide the faithful to the high road, and inspire to the point of intoxication.

Without bars, a society is doomed, sooner or later crushed by the forces of sobriety. Don't take my word; this is well documented. Look at the Muslim world, screwed up big time. Right? And Hindus, they're flipping out every other week, slicing up their Muslim brothers. Filipinos are a great people, but running amuck is Tagalog and that they are. You want to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, get both sides blinded on Wild Turkey. It's a serious matter not to take drinking seriously. The Japanese imperial government strongly discouraged drinking and they ended up with two barbequed cities.

On the other hand, residents of the most developed and prosperous countries, and most peaceful, are soused from morning to night. Again, don't take my word; take a trip to central and northern Europe. Germans invented bars and still have the most, Swedes live drunk, Danes can hardly walk, the Dutch have no word for "sobriety." Well, they do, but they just can't say it.

After the Jews, Gays, Liberals, and Gypsies were driven underground, the Communists then leveled the bars. Today, however, the Czechs and the Slovenians and residents of the Baltic States -- Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania -- are free and are severely drunk, and their societies are rising fast. The empirical evidence is overwhelming that a bar on every corner is crucial for a prosperous, modern, tranquil society.

Wait, I skipped an important point. Not only are bars necessary for maintaining the good life, they are also crucial for creating the good society. The American Revolution was not organized in a Presbyterian church or in an import-export business. The Boston Tea Party was not carried out by Boston politicians. It wasn't the gay-rights parade that walked across the Delaware River. Harvard professors did not die on the bloody soil of Lexington. When Thomas Paine rode his horse, history leaves out Paine was feeling no pain and had to be tied in his saddle. Oops, Paul Revere was tied to his horse, feeling no pain Paine was tied to his pen. Anyway, British tyranny was thoroughly whipped by a group of genuine American drunks.

On the other hand, the American South, which did not support the American Revolution, preferring British irons to American liberty, lacked a true bar culture. Sipping corn pee on the plantation porch under the fan of slavery was inimical to a life of principle and honor and a universe away from the North's taverns crammed with blitzed patriots blowing their week's salaries. Yes, the American south, home of the American traitor, was stone sober.

If anyone should know sobriety creates ugly people, it should be Americans. The Bush Administration does not have a single drunk, and their teetotalism is strangling our country -- young Americans seeking money for college tuition are getting artificial limbs for life. Like the sober South over a century ago, the Bush Administration has declared war on the real America.

Just a second! I seemed to have crossed a few cerebral wires. I'm not in China to explain America, but to understand this Asian nuthouse.

Lacking an indigenous bar culture, history has necessarily been brutal and tragic in China with grand swings and violent flip-flops reducing the people to scrounging paupers and petty criminals, and not a few sexual perverts. In the morning the loyal subjects would kiss the emperor's feet, eating crow to satisfy the old buzzard, in the afternoon they would chop his head off for dinner. One day Chinese troops stomped Tibetans into mincemeat, stealing their artistic treasures, their nuns, their dogs, the next day their leaders passionately advocated a nonviolent resolution in the United Nations to a standing ovation of temperate nations. Not long ago the locals jumped like pogo sticks waving Chairman Mao's Little Red Book and demanding that the world follow them to socialist paradise, today they jump for pure capitalism and lecture Americans on a free and open economy. Not drinking can make a country go completely batty.

Soon I must drive back to Beijing and face those kamikaze morons on their frantic mission for human road kill. I ponder my choices here in Tianjin. Should I partake in the state's near-beer or search for a seller of Susie's secret juice? Choose crushing sanity or mind-raping insanity -- vicious sobriety or hallucinogenic reality? In China, knowing what to do next is not easy.

"Maybe," May Lay says hauntingly, "we get some tea?"

Now, that's an interesting idea. "Do they have tea in China?"

"Oh, yes. We have good tea."

Just when all options seem to have disappeared -- using the brain, drinking the booze, taking an easy drive, enjoying the food -- when there is only a nasty dead end, another avenue suddenly opens. "Sure, let's get some tea. I hope they have Lipton."

Stewart Nusbaumer is editor of Intervention Magazine. You can email Stewart at

Posted Wednesday, December 14, 2005


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  Live from China

By Stewart Nusbaumer


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Driving in China teaches you to appreciate airplanes; drinking the booze will probably turn you into a tea drinker.

Sexpots Galore
When sex merges with politics, the Big Dog authorities never win.




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