A magical evening with Quanxing

Peter, Quanxing and the bitter baijiu face.

DISCLAIMER: Before you get too hung up on the title, let me just say that I usually try to distance myself from my PR days, and I wouldn’t break out that kind of cheese without a good reason.

So I was eating spicy pig’s feet at a hole-in-the-wall Sichuanese restaurant with Tony, his cousin Peter and a recently arrived musician whom I’ll call DJC. It’s no secret that nothing goes better with pig’s feet than some cheap baijiu, and the room had that slightly nauseating rubber cement fragrance about it.

Quanxing 全兴 is one of the cheaper baijiu brands of the same Quanxing Baijiu Company that was recently bought out by international liquor giant Diageo for RMB140 million (US$21.63). But why would they buy a cheap baijiu? To keep things simple, baijiu’s grain base is fermented in mud pits and each pit of grain will later become its own batch. The best batches become high-end brands – Shuijingfang 水井坊 in the case of the Quanxing Baijiu Company – and the dregs end up something like Quanxing brand baijiu. Diageo sells Shuijingfang internationally for around US$100 a bottle, whereas the Quanxing brand stays in China and retails for around US$3 for a small bottle.

In case there is still any confusion, Quanxing is a highly suspect drink. It comes in a dodgy little red bottle and it tastes like a bag of rusty assholes. It was so harsh that I found it impossible to drink without violently shuddering. Tony threw in the towel after two glasses and I was tempted to do the same, but I’m a man on a mission and I soldiered on. The remaining three of us drank the rest of the baijiu, finishing the last round with some help from the restaurant’s cook.

Just over the 50 shot mark and my body seems to be making some of the necessary adjustments. I didn’t have any trouble getting the Quanxing swill down or, more important, keeping it down. The next morning I felt like a million bucks.

Peter was less fortunate. He decided that in order to get through his portion of the bottle, he was going to take half the shots but in double the quantity. This is a foolish strategy (as you may remember from Scott’s cautionary tale), and I attempted to warn him away from it. He persisted in the way of madness… and paid the vomit price twice before we left.

The baijiu drinkers and team pig feet. Note that the cook seems more capable of holding his Quanxing than Peter.

The plan for the evening was to watch some jazz but we ended up at a magic bar. Calling it a bar is actually kind of generous – it was more of a magic shop with a bunch of a beer on the back wall. For just 50 kuai (about US$8) each, we could have a beer and learn a couple magic tricks. Our teacher was good. In less than an hour, he taught four baijiu-ed up foreigners two reasonably impressive card tricks – and in Chinese no less.

Needless to say, anyone foolish enough to drink with us near a deck of cards will be in for some unprovoked (and probably unwanted) enchantment for while. I imagine we’ll be returning soon to learn how to saw the lady in half.

240 shots to go.

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