I'm not sure what I had been expecting of the New Year's Eve party but it certainly wasn't what I got. I had realised that it would be more elaborate than previously expected when I was called during the wedding to ask if I wanted to perform in the show. I agreed to read some of my poetry to an audience who would almost certainly not understand a single word.
The teacher with the cab arrived on the dot at four O'clock and we drove the short distance to the Baiyin Hotel. This is the best hotel in the city and I had eaten there twice before at teachers' events. This time we were in the large banqueting hall in the building to the rear of the hotel. It was filled with tables set for ten and there was a stage on which sound and lighting technicians were busy setting up. I had contemplated changing from the formal clothes I'd worn to the wedding meal into something a bit more comfortable but looking around at the suits that everyone was wearing I was certainly glad that I had not.
We sat chatting for a while – our table being one of three that contained the English department – and then the entertainment began.
It kicked off with the senior staff of the school all in matching suits standing in a row on the stage reading a long poem in Chinese. A very long poem. It went on for at least twenty minutes and while you might expect me to be bored, it was evident that everyone in the room was bored. As department heads, administrators and senior staff all took their turns at reading a few lines, the room was filled with a buzz of inattentive conversation and no one at all was looking towards the stage. When they had finished though things became more interesting. Department staff performed dances and songs and humourous skits and generally hammed it up shamelessly. The women from my department did a traditional Tibetan dance, the mans department in brightly-coloured fright wigs started with a "chicken dance" and moved on to several other bizarrely choreographed pieces. The history department did a weird marionette show. Another department did a fashion show that featured the men in a James Bond style catwalk routine.
And I read my poems.
The show was great but there was a downside. It was put on before the meal was served so that by the time dishes started arriving most people had already drunk bottles of beer, red wine or baijo and were feeling very hungry. Having eaten so much at lunch time I wasn't especially in need of food but at a banquet not eating isn't an option. For over an hour food kept on coming with all the usual varieties of fare represented in a more elaborate version of the wedding feast from earlier.
By the time we had finished I was feeling very full but as we had started so early and as it was New Year's Eve I hadn't quite finished.
It was about eight when the party ended and people started going home but Mike and I and Erika had other plans. Instead of going home we went off in search of a bar. We knew where we wanted to end up but called briefly into another bar. It was a nice place, decorated with several Christmas Trees and lots of coloured lights but after one beer we moved on. The bar we were going to is imaginatively called "Bar" and is located in a sleazy back street that has lots of flashing neon, dark corners and piles of rubbish. Bar is a different proposition. Inside it's comfortable and well decorated and looks like a reasonably up market western bar. It was very busy. We sat in one of the downstairs booths drinking slowly and chatting and waiting for midnight. Mike and Erika, noticing that the bar had hookah water pipes shared one. The fumes from it were nowhere near as objectionable as the general smoky atmosphere. Living in a country that has sensibly banned smoking in bars, I have found this aspect of Chinese life very difficult.
At various times people came to try to talk to us and Erika, who has spent a lot more effort than either Mike or me, in trying to learn some Chinese, tried to talk to them. The truth is that in the circumstances communication didn't really matter.
At abou eleven thirty a couple of more-than-usually persistent guys brought over bottles of beer and insisted that we drank with them, toasting in the Chinese fashion by drinking beer down in single goes from shot glasses.
And then it was midnight.
Outside we could hear firecrackers. The light from them flickered across the coloured blinds on the windows. We toasted the new year and continued toasting it with our new friends until about eleven twenty when we finally gave up and left to go home.
As I walked down the street I thought that my New Year excesses were no complete.
I was wrong.