my first night in beijing

one in the morning i sit over a beer so cold it’s tasteless. to get here from the hotel, i walked by shopkeepers sleepily watching tv or tending small bits of meat over a brazier—a late snack for the kids out drinking on this saturday night. the strings of lanterns and flags at this outdoor bar drew me over. bottles of yanjing beer and food spreads across several tables ready to be cooked to order. when i gesture for no food, just beer, the cook sadly points at the sky and then back at the earth.

i find a seat under the sky at one of the faux wood cafeteria tables drinking the beer directly from the large bottle and turning over the small white plastic cup that came with it. two boys from a boisterous laughing table jump up to sit next to me. i say cheers as we clink to big smiles. not knowing english, they repeat the word several time with laughs. they turn my plastic white cup over to fill it up for me. we cheers again and they return to their table, occasionally toasting from afar with another round of smiles. they offer me a smoke as they go. i hesitate before shrugging, “what the fuck” with a laugh. a chorus of  laughing “fucks” rise up around me as they give me a cigarette and stream around my table for the street. they leave a table strewn with pop bottles, watermelon and silver trays covered in leftovers and chopsticks.

just as i finish taking notes about my day, another group waves me over to shower me with spicy chicken and tiny snails, the innards plucked and eaten with a toothpick. the circle of young men come from hunan province but all study accounting in dublin. they have a few days in beijing before going home for the first time. it’s been so long that one couldn’t even write out the characters for the cigarettes he just offered me. Fu Rong Wang, the flower of hunan province, and much “better than what those other guys gave you.”

we toasted often, to pretty girls, to america, to ireland, to china, to their hometown of chairman mao and the longest cable car in the world. we sat for an hour, exchanging pleasantries. they taught me the basic phrases of mandarin and i opined on the ease of sex in america, always a fascinating topic. in the wee hours, bars are the same the world over. young men, happy to be out drinking and eating with no pressing concerns. boozy friendliness with new acquaintances easily won and forgotten.

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Lex Pelger

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