A, B, C, Drinks (Part 1)
This look-alike alphabet book lists some popular drinks, but in all honesty it is only a pretext for some Thailand, Hong Kong and China based bar and drinks recollections.
I have been a teetotaler for a decade simply because alcohol consumption was incompatible with the high intensity physical activities I was involved in. But the increased socializing that came with my maturing life created more and more occasions to drink and the incentives are so strong that I finally gave in and started taking alcoholic drinks too.
So far my life is now more enjoyable, as the light-headed feeling that comes along with small intakes of alcohol helps release the pressure of a modern busy life. Now scientists even advise that men over forty takes the equivalent of a beer per day for better health! I will follow this advice religiously as I’m a firm believer in science.
I never get more than 4 or 5 drinks when I party, avoiding at any cost to be drunk as the immediate or long term side effects are just too scary. Luckily for me I know to stop before going too far, but I know we are not equal against alcohol. When I go to the bars and see those guys with limp bodies, bleary eyes and slurred speech, or on all fours vomiting everywhere, I can’t help but find them pathetic.
Very often drinking is a preliminary to one of the most enjoyable human activities, which usually involve two partners of the opposite sex, although other combinations may be conceivable. By the way some drinks have definitely a far more erotic connotation than others, and I’m not speaking only about the name of some fancy cocktails such as Absolute sex, Bend me over, Dick hard, Lady Luv…
Regarding life experiences, the first time often leaves a vivid souvenir, doesn’t it? Here goes…
It is a refreshing blend of Bacardi rum, fruit juices, exotic flavorings and sparkling mineral water. 4%-5% alcohol.
This beverage is not sold in France and I came across this alcopop for the first time in Ko Phi Phi. At first glance I classified it as a lady or teenage drink because of the color, but the events that unfold seemed to prove me wrong…
It was a very hot March afternoon and I had just disembarked. Comfortably seated in an armchair, I was waiting in the open air lobby of a hotel as my room was not yet ready. I was looking at the procession of the motley crowd of worldwide backpackers who were in search of available cheap accommodation.
For my part I had booked on the boat with a very friendly tout. He had a folder with many hotel pictures and a map. And I have been able to choose something in my budget range and to my taste in a very relaxed way as the tout was not pushy at all, but talkative and informative.
Now I’m looking at all these people sweating like pigs from walking from place to place and from carrying bulky luggage under the hard sun, squinting their eyes like crazy to read their dazzling travel guidebooks, the anxiety of not finding a place obviously visible on their faces. And I would guess that only a few of them actually saved some money in the process as several have had finally no other choice than book in my hotel at exactly the same rate and after some exhausting searching.
My attention has been suddenly drawn by the strange yellow bottle this other customer took from the self-service fridge that was at the other end of the lobby. He plonked himself down in an armchair just in front of me, lighted a cigarette and started sipping his Bacardi Breezer slowly but with gusto. After only a few minutes, the guy was falling asleep, the cigarette still fuming between his fingers and the Breezer in the other hand balancing on the armrest.
“Wow! This drink must be very strong” I thought.
It may come as a surprise for you, but where I’m coming from beer is not a highly rated drink despite all the marketing efforts made by the brewers, only the north of France being more beer friendly.
Here people drink beer especially during summer, mainly to quench their thirst. Of course we have our preferred brands, but the choice is not the complex affair choosing the appropriate wine is.
Beer is not considered glamorous; I would even say it has still a low-class connotation, because it is associated with popular outdoor activities, working classes, bad manners such as belching, prominent bellies and a bitterness that can kill the sense of taste.
In the cities, guess what the dropouts seated on the kerb are drinking or which bottles you find broken on the pavement? You get the picture.
In my early contacts with some British workmates, I was very surprised to see them order large draft beers before meals as an aperitif, even during the winter. Because of the volume, the many bubbles and the bitterness, these beers were not very likely to open their appetite. But I would be soon horrified to see them order beer for lunch or dinner as well, ignoring the local customs and skipping the wines that were advised by the sommelier.
In China, I have been even more surprised to see people mix tea, soup and beer, alternatively taking a sip at each one. But Chinese beers don’t have a strong taste, so once you are accustomed to liquid meals, or nearly, it is OK.
If you are American, you will get a “local” beer if your request a “low cal” beer, no matter how many times and how loud you repeat “low cal” to the puzzled waitress. If you just order “a beer”, you will get too a local beer, but do not worry these are very similar to Budweiser or Miller.
In the touristic places of Thailand, I have noticed that Styrofoam bottle insulators are used, the Thais having found a very practical and efficient method to solve one of the major problems with beer, that of it becoming unsavory once hot.
People that are not heavy beer drinkers like me encounter another problem: the beer becomes unpalatable when we have drunk only half of the bottle, because it is already lukewarm and flat.
Fortunately there is no chance that I can get drunk with beer as I can’t drink fast enough to reach a high blood alcohol concentration.
For me beer is as unsexy as a drink can be.
First is the ridiculous and impersonal ‘PSCHITT!’ from taking the top off the bottle. Hey, is someone getting a flat tire or what? It doesn’t compare with the heavenly ‘POP’ made by the uncorking of a wine bottle.
Second is the repulsive breath of a girl that has drunk too much beer, or the smell of her sweat. Her kisses do not taste very good either.
Third, after 3 or 4 beers, my tongue has had enough and my stomach is bloated, I have to stop drinking.
That leads to the more unsexy part, when a romantic walk hand in hand with my next to be bed partner, or a cuddling taxi ride, is spoiled by a bladder that sends priority messages to my brain. Then, the very first thing I have to do upon arriving at the room is to rush to the toilet and mimic Niagara Falls for a time that always seems interminable to me.
Did you ever see kids or lambs jumping for joy in a prairie by a sunny spring afternoon?
After having drunk coffee I feel like them.
Without coffee I would be already dead – dead from boredom, from too much calmness – my heart would have already stopped to beat. Without java I would be like a lifeless copper conductor, made useless as it doesn’t carry anymore electricity, my brain would be filled with a shapeless and unproductive gel instead of an instable jelly.
This is my favorite beverage and this is the only thing I miss from Farangsetland when I’m on a long mission in China. You can find Starbucks coffeehouses in big cities such as ShenZhen or GuangZhou, but if you are stuck for weeks in a remote and drab industrial town, the closest thing to coffee you will be able to find is Nescafé. The fact is that most Chinese people I came across really believe that Nescafé is coffee! They couldn’t be more far from the truth.
In Hong Kong, which has a heavy English heritage, they serve a kind of tasteless brown colored water taken with milk and sugar. Hopefully they have Starbucks also.
The first time I came to Phuket, I was surprised as the coffee was acceptable, tasty and strong enough.
I use coffee as a stimulant when I expect a busy and naughty night. At 4 or 5 pm, I take one or two espressos without sugar from the local Starbucks. After having been on the coffee wagon for some days, that first java cup gives me an electric boost that even uncurls my nostril hairs. Everything I will do after will be in a frantically and gleeful way and my mind will be racing.
This is an amazing cocktail made with:
3/4 oz light cream
3/4 oz white creme de cacao
3/4 oz green creme de menthe
Shake all ingredients with ice, strain into a cocktail glass, and serve. 15% alcohol.
In my mind this cocktail is irreparably linked to Fenwick the Dock Bar in Hong Kong Island, Venezuelan prostitutes and the closest state to a hangover I have ever been.
It was an unusually cold and humid March night, the kind that makes you pity the pretty girls in mini-skirts that are touting in the streets of Wanchai at the doors of the entertainment places, the kind that makes you search for the security of a bar as you are looking for warmth, both from the place and from its crowd.
I was bar-hopping with some workmates. After a diner washed down with a couple of beers at a Malaysian restaurant in Lan Kwai Fong, I was in the mood for filling the gap in my education and trying as many different cocktails as I could take. I was still experiencing my ability to withstand alcohol, I mean enjoying the taste of drinks, getting just tipsy enough to cancel any inhibitions that could prevent me to be tongue in cheek or bold with girls, while avoiding being drunk and making a fool of myself.
When we arrived in Fenwick I was already seeing things with some time lag, like watching a TV broadcast where would be the live image mixed with what was the image two or three seconds before. At each step the ground seemed lower than expected and to be frank I’m not even sure that it was Fenwick…
I’m left alone standing near a pedestal table and I order the Grasshopper as it is the next one on my alphabetical list of “must try”. I don’t how it came but now it is in front of me with its amazing green color.
One sip. I have to turn my head to the right to see what is on my right. Across the counter several girls are gathered with high slip-on shoes, jeans, spaghetti-strapped tank tops where pert tits are trying to bulge, and smiling faces. Filipino or Thai I can’t tell, it is too dark inside or I’m already blind.
One of them starts the usual bargirl routine with a singing “hello, how are you?”, but my answer is coming with such a delay that she gives up with a smile and resume chatting with her friends. I’m not good boom-boom material tonight; in my state I may not be able to remember where I placed my wallet.
The taste is sweet, creamy.
One other sip. I have to turn my head to the left to see what is on my left.
Seated up on high stools against the wall, there are several South American prostitutes waiting for a john. Hardened poker faced, wearing flashing white tank tops flexed to their maximum ability and ready to be burst open by huge breasts, they smoke cigarette after cigarette in a very bored way. Neither of them starts the usual bargirl routine with an inviting and singing “hello, how are you?”
I come closer to one of them and doing my best to look at her only in the eyes, I start the usual monger routine with a “hello, where do you come from?” “Venezuela” she answers. She lights a cigarette, draws a long puff and exhales. Hum, it looks like this one will talk only in the presence of her lawyer. I give up with a smile and let her smoke alone.
OK, I know it is Monday night and that the week-end may have been boom-boom-busy, but would you look at your sisters just in front of you and take a leaf out of their book?
One could say that right and left girls are selling the same thing. Of course not, it is like comparing having lunch at Mac Donald’s or in a restaurant. In both cases you satisfy a primary need for food, but in the second case you get more than food and it is for sure more rewarding.
The taste is now slightly bitter, maybe from the cocoa crème?
One last sip, and I look in front of me, where is the exit? Someone opens the door and I can feel the brisk winter air flowing inside.
The refreshing mint flavor is now predominant.
For a region that consumes so much alcohol, I am surprised there are not more quality locally produced beers or spirits. Wines I can understand because the climate is not really conducive to it, but frankly, other than Beer Lao and San Miguel, most of the local beers are not much chop, are they, hence the high sales of Heineken and other international beers.