Bar owners in China are constantly walking a tightrope between allowing patrons to have a good time and ensuring residents living nearby are not being too disturbed. For areas frequented by expats and foreigners this divide can often take on a ‘what is culturally acceptable?’ edge, pitting foreigners against locals, as if the problem is with one or the other.
Media reports have shed light on the behaviors of some expats who have acted recklessly under the influence of alcohol. A prime example of this is Shanghai’s Yongkang Lu. Once a street market, this 50-meter long side street has become a chaotic, loud and messy bar street, incurring the wrath of residents, young and old, who live nearby. One way locals have found to deal with expats booze drinking culture in China is to occasionally dump buckets of water on the rowdy patrons below.
Spending one Saturday night with some friends of mine at Hunting Bar, a quaint Guangzhou bar that is part of a cluster of bars in a residential area, came to a halt when a bucket of water was poured down on us. Thankfully, a side-tent had been installed by the bar that protected its patrons from the occasional buckets of water from above, but the police did turn up at about 23:30 to tell us to move inside.
The Yongkang Lu situation highlights the behaviors of certain expats in China. The growing presence of multiculturalism in the country has become a ‘push-and-pull’ of acceptance and, in some cases, an outright rejection of what should be responsible living. But both sides can easily point out ‘uncivilized’ behaviors, which ultimately don’t help to solve the friction.
Trying to walk the tightrope
Noise pollution is everywhere in China no matter where you live: near a construction site, a school, a bar street, and even with neighbors who talk at high volumes. Calling the local authorities for excessive noise pollution is possible but, for the most part, nothing will be done. However, when it comes to bars and their patrons, action has been taken. Local authorities have ordered bar owners at Yongkang Lu to close by 10 pm and tables removed from the street by 9 pm. Moreover, a ‘special tax’ has now been implemented on the bars to be given to locals while property owners have seen their property increase in value due to the area’s popularity.
Xingsheng Lu in Guangzhou, is another example of a new ‘it’ street, but with its rise in popularity comes the inevitable displeasure of locals. Once a quiet street with only a handful of business within a 50-meter street, the arrival of the Irish Pub Hooley’s ignited new business ventures to set up shop, many of which are western-type bars and restaurants. Noise pollution is bearable when many of its residents live higher than your usual four-storey buildings, but issues can still arise.
The creation of ‘party zones’
China’s nightlife is growing, with young Chinese generations hitting the bars and clubs. Perry’s Café is a student bar known for its inexpensive food and drink. Inside, Mexican sombreros, handwritten graffiti, wooden tables and chairs are some of what makes this café unique in the city. It has been known to be a popular watering hole among foreigners but finding a seat on Friday evenings has been a challenge as it is now, more often than not, full of locals.
Guangzhou has come up with one way of coping with booze drinking culture in China and retain the city’s burgeoning nightlife, and that’s with the Zhujiang Party Pier Beer Cultural and Art Zone – a refurbished area that overlooks the river and the city center. And its best feature is that you can party until dawn as the loud music from bars and clubs reverberate far from residential areas found on the other side of the river.
This does seem to be trending, as city planners move the party scene away from residential areas, or at least do there best to keep it in one area, though this can make those areas a miasma of hedonism.
A sore thumb?
There are some places that have taken extreme measures in dealing with booze drinking culture and banned foreigners from the premises. In Seoul, South Korea, for example, some bars have ‘no foreigners allowed’ signs in their front entrance.
However, there are ways to have your cake and drink it too. Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen recently hosted their versions of the Santacon Crawl tradition. In its second year organizing the event, Guangzhou resident and Latin deejay, Alex Llan, wanted to share this tradition with the locals. “Christmas here is lonely so we decided to bring our friends together to make it feel like a big family.” Llan has been living in China for seven years and said that being a foreigner is not always easy.
About 300 to 400 participants attended the event by dressing up in Santa attire. The wannabee Santas gathered at various spots throughout the city, starting at noon and finishing in the wee hours. The idea is to roam around the city, dressed as santa and have a good time; for most this means drinking. And while other Santacons have drawn criticism because of participants drinking too much and misbehaving during their drunken stupor, according to Llan there were no complaints about the participants in China.
Living in China can bring you face-to-face with cultural misunderstanding, misinterpretations and bad behavior that has nothing to do with the previous two but is often understood within those terms. And if you are in doubt about how to behave when you head out for the night, take some of santa’s advice.
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Keywords: Booze Drinking culture in China foreigners against locals; Happy hours
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14 Comments Add your comment
Hey, here's an idea: If Chinese hate foreign bars so much (but it's still so difficult to get a seat because local flock to foreigner-bars in no time), then I'm sure it's fine if I set up a Blacks & Whites Only bar (1 local invitee allowed), right? I promise I'll set it up in a non-residential area, but I don't want any accusations of racism here - Chinese do this shit all the time. I'll call it a private club, and all 'members' just happen to be of certain races.
Dec 25, 2013 09:38 Report Abuse
They're already members by virtue of their race in this private club. Just like I'm already a noise offender as a result of my skin colour according to this article. If we're stuck here in China interacting with rigid thinkers who insist on characterizing people by their ethicity, we might as well play along and use it to our advantage. I've said it many times: Chinese will reward you for confirming their prejudices, and validating their distorted world views. If we criticize them for writing racist articles, we will be ignored as pompous and arrogant. But if we play along, it confirms that we are culturally inferior, unjust, evil westerners. But believe me, that racist bar will be allowed to exist, even protected by the government, as a shining beacon of proof that their world views are true!
Dec 25, 2013 10:56 Report Abuse
I am pretty sure that there's plenty of expats who will reward you for confirming their prejudices and validating their distorted world world views. If we criticize them for writing racist posts then we will be ignored as uninitiated and green. If we play along then it confirms that we are unable to make balanced intercultural judgements.
Dec 25, 2013 12:34 Report Abuse
True enough. Too bad that these attitudes are the prevailing sentiment of most Chinese rather than an opinion of a small subculture. Not to mention the norm disseminated by government and media. Maybe the government will sponsor my B&W private club!
Dec 25, 2013 13:08 Report Abuse
Alcohol is one are that China is actually much freer than the USA is about alcohol. My country and state have some asinine laws that China does not have. In the USA you have to be 21 to buy alcohol. What is more insane is that someone between the ages of 18 and 20 can be arrested and charged in adult court with possession of alcohol by a minor. I knew a guy in college who was 20, TWENTY YEARS OLD and was arrested for buying a bottle of wine to bring to his girlfriend. In my stupid state, one cannot buy liquor on Sundays. Because it is Sunday. That is another thing I like about China, Sunday is just another day, banks are open, shops are open, no stupid Christers flooding the restaurants with their bullshit. Also, in my state (because they are retarded) one cannot buy wine and liquor in a supermarket. So fantastic that I can buy a bottle of booze from a market 24/7. Wow, what freedom! I think for many foreigners, the bars are a source of entertainment and a place to meet other foreigners. The life can be very lonely and this is a way to combat that. It is also good at times to get away from the locals for a bit. My bar is actually most all Chinese clientele, but I prefer it to the so called foreigner bars, but I have been here for many years and do not really give a crap about foreigners and newbies anymore. Sure, problems can happen in bars, but this is Worldwide. I have seen fights, and I almost got into one with some jug head Brit bastard I had issues with. But 99 percent of the time, we all get along. I have been in bars where it is like the UN, with people from literally all continents all over the World. No biggie. Most of the best times I have ever had have been in bars, also some of the most scary, and sometimes self painful (falling on my face or off the furniture.) To newbies, always make sure you poop at home because you don't want to s... In the bars. Trust me on this point.
Dec 25, 2013 15:43 Report Abuse
Drinking may not be good for you, but many of us live in a very high paced environment. A nice place where you can go and have a drink after work, is a nice diversion. Finding a place where you can just go and relax is difficult. Most Chinese bars are basically discos, music is too loud. Most ex-pat bars are so overpriced. I don't mind drinking with locals and expats. I plan on opening my own place in two years, a neighborhood type bar in Meicun, outside of Wuxi, not worried about making a lot of money, but a real bar. Hopefully, expats and locals will enjoy.
Dec 29, 2013 09:46 Report Abuse
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