China is full of surprises. Most of them are painful and come at inconvenient times. But today is bliss. I have secured a bottle of Wild Turkey 101 American bourbon whiskey, which I believe to be genuine. I have lived in China for 15 months and, despite exhaustive searches, today is the first day I have ever seen a bottle of Wild Turkey 101 for sale in mainland China. I had a drink (two, actually) to celebrate.
For those of you that know me, you understand my euphoria. I love American bourbon. I like beer. There is a certain relaxing quality in a smoky scotch or a good tequila (bad scotch and bad tequila are the reverse of relaxing). Top quality gin is passable in a pinch. But I love bourbon. I am probably a bourbon snob – I haven’t been able to drink Jim Beam for > 10 years, Jack Daniels only in a pinch and usually on a plane. My choices: Wild Turkey 101 (80 proof is crap – not drinkable), Bookers, and Pappy Van Winkle Family reserve at Christmas (worship the wife). I make room for Old Grand Dad at Caribbean bars with no Wild Turkey, and Ancient (Ancient) Age in Ohio with my Grandmother-In-Law – I love all women who drink bourbon, regardless of age.
The Duty Free areas in Seoul and Hong Kong both sell the turkey spirit. This weekend I discovered that Edinburgh and Frankfurt airports do not sell Wild Turkey 101. Civilized cities? I think not.
My Chinese friends – or more precisely my friends that live in China – will attest to my two greatest complaints about Communist China – no American bourbon and no American football. China will not be a threat to American economic dominance until I can sit at home and watch the Chicago Bears live on television while drinking good American bourbon – albeit at 1 AM on a Monday morning.
The bourbon, surprisingly, was found at this small shop across the street from my apartment. The street is an 8 lane highway, so it is a 15 minute walk across the pedestrian overpass. My eyes trained for Wild Turkey 101, I caught a glimpse of a familiar bottle from the street out of the corner of my eye, 25 feet away. The shop was very Chinese – mostly cigarettes with 4 men smoking in front. The prize was on an upper shelf – I had to stand on my tip-toes to grab it, so I am certain none of the staff could reach the bottle and suggestive that no Chinese buy Wild Turkey from this shop. I looked twice, grabbed a bottle securely and looked again. Bingo!
There were actually two (visible) bottles in the store. I considered nabbing both and the more I consider it the more I think that would have been the appropriate course of action. The price was fair – US$20 for a US fifth (700 ml for the metrically inclined). That equates to 160 RMB – including the Coke I paid yi bei lio shi san kuai. I had to ask three times to understand 163 – her lio didn’t sound like lio, so a co-worker had to state it more explicitly.
Durchi cz SAAD dressing
I am exploring my new neighborhood in China and ventured to Jenny Lou’s. This is a small chain of small grocery stores that cater to Westerners – lots of foreign food – canned goods, bottled goods, boxed goods, frozen goods. I found a renewable source of Cheez-Its and another China first – Strawberry Pop Tarts with icing (only the non-icing version was available in Shanghai – what’s the point, really). A branch of a popular Italian / Pizza chain is next door – who knew? Jenny’s failed me in the bourbon quest though I looked through the liquor department just in case. I raided the nearby cigarette shop following this episode.
Within 30 seconds of entering Jenny Lou’s for the first time, I was accosted by a staff member brandishing a torn piece of paper.
She said to me ‘blablablablablabla.’ I said to her: ‘Shenme’ (what)? She shoved the paper in my face and said ‘blablablablablabla.’ I said to her: ‘Shenme’ (what)? She grabed my hand and dragged me to aisle 5 and confronted me with 2 other Chinese women who immediately asked me ‘blablablablablabla?’ I said to them: ‘Shenme’ (what)?
As the only westerner in the store at the moment, I was the chosen one.
At that point the conversation broke down to grunts and pointing. Apparently they needed help finding ‘saad dressing’ of the type ‘durchi cz’. I initially interpreted as salad dressing of the brand durchi cz – there are many European brands in China, so it seemed plausible.
Alas, I could not find durchi cz saad dressing.
Not to be deterred, one of the women pulled out her mobile phone, started dialing, and said to me ‘blablablablablabla.’ I interpreted as ‘you can’t speak Chinese so I am calling my boss.’
I asked her ‘ni shi ayi, ma (are you the maid)? She said ‘dui’ (yes). Progress.
Once connected, I was passed the phone. I was speaking to another Chinese woman, but this time in English. Her boss had asked her to secure Blue Cheese Salad Dressing. Durchi cz is a type of cheese, not a brand.
That was understandable, so I hung up.
There was no blue cheese salad dressing but I could not remember the Chinese words for blue, for cheese, or for salad, and I am confident I never knew the word for dressing. After a heated exchange of ‘mei you …..’ ‘blablablablablabla’ ‘wo bu zhe dao’ ‘blablablablablabla.’
I walked from the dressing aisle to the cheese aisle in hope of a break through. There seemed to be immediate progress – there were 3 types of blue cheese, immediately identified by the three Chinese women.
Loud discussion ensued.
My skepticism kicked in when the ayi attempted to purchase what appeared to be a lifetime supply of Danish blue cheese. Unable to communicate that this was only one ingredient of the requested durchi cz saad dressing, I broke into grunts and in Chinese shouted ‘1st this and 2nd this.’
Silence. Followed by more shouting and a rush back to the saad dressing aisle.
At that point I was searching for an exit strategy. Optimistic there was at least minimal comprehension, I picked up what I hope was a creamy vegetable dressing and suggested assertively in Chinese ‘this and that’ while pointing to the enormous hunk of cheese. I then said excuse me and rushed for the Pop Tarts.
The women thanked me profusely.
I hope the man eating yogurt and vegetable saad dressing with crumbled durchi cz tonight has a sense of humor.