It’s been such a long time since I became an admirer of China’s sweet sorghum sauce, that I sometimes forget where I started. Before I started this blog baijiu wasn’t something that I disliked so much as reviled. It inspired in me a soul-down, existential dread that can probably best be encapsulated in its physical manifestation: the baijiu face.
I was catching up with an old friend the other day, when he reminded me about his first experience with baijiu. It was the summer of 2007 and I’d just wrapped up a year of teaching in Shanghai. A friend from high school was getting married outside of San Francisco and I had flown back for the wedding with a stowaway bottle of baijiu.
Exactly what kind of baijiu it was, I’m not sure. Knowing how much money I had in the bank back then, it had to have been something cheap. Dirt cheap. I brought it back with me a gag gift for my friend Jake, an accomplished drinker. I figured even he wouldn’t be able to stomach Chinese rotgut, but it’d be fun to watch him try.
The wedding reception itself was a rather sedate beer and wine affair, so we gathered – friends and family – back at the hotel afterward to finish the job. There was a truly horrifying assortment of alcohol at the after-party, which included whiskey, sambuca and Jake’s baijiu. Most of this alcohol was consumed hobo style: standing in a circle and passing around the bottles until they were empty.
When the bottle of baijiu was cracked, the smell rushed out to fill the room.
“It smells like gasoline,” remarked a friend.
“Bleu cheese,” said a second.
“Bleu cheese mixed with dirty gym shorts,” amended a third.
As far as baijiu goes it was just awful, remarkably so. Whenever someone took that first pull from the bottle, his eyes would go all squinty and his lower lip would stiffen. It was an expression of utter revulsion – exactly the response I had been hoping for. It was the baijiu face.
Below is the remaining photographic evidence of that night’s baijiu revelry, but that’s only half the fun. I’m also announcing my first ever contest.
I challenge my readers to send me their best baijiu-face portraits. I will post all worthy photographs on the blog throughout the competition period, which will last the remainder of this summer. The winner will receive the best unopened bottle of baijiu still in my apartment when I move house in September. (Note: I can only mail the bottle within Mainland China, but the glory of victory transcends all national boundaries.) Good luck and happy drinking.