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Land of Confusion

This is part of my experiment to write regularly and publish every day with the help of 365 Days of Writing Prompts. Today’s prompt: “Tell us about a time when you felt out of place.”

I feel out of place when people fight over each other to talk, which happens a lot. However, since I have written about that recently, let me write about some other occasions that make me feel out of place: occasions where everyone else is drinking.

There is a strange element in the Chinese culture about drinking. People associate it with happiness. At celebrations such as weddings, people drink — a lot. People routinely emerge from these events drunk. They say that they drink because they are happy. They make it like if you are happy (e.g. for the newlyweds at a wedding), then you must drink a lot. You must keep drinking until your face is red and you can no longer walk a straight line. What kind of happiness is that?

It is the norm, an almost inescapable aspect, for young people’s weddings to have a lot of drinking involved. People make (i.e. pressure) the newlyweds, especially the groom, to drink, one cup after another. The “brothers” (i.e. male friends and relatives of the groom) are expected to fulfill the drinking requests on behalf of the groom. However, people keep asking them to drink. At the end of the feast, many or most of them end up getting drunk themselves along with the groom. They do stupid and ridiculous things while buzzed partygoers watch and scream in hysteria. I never get it. Why are these people doing this to themselves? Why do people pressure these poor fellows, who are their friends and family members, to drink like that? They say that it is for the sake of happiness, like some kind of blessing for the newlyweds. Such nonsense.

Pressuring others to drink is a thing in our culture. I do not regularly drink or drink a lot, but I do not mind sipping a little red wine during dinner at home when it is done on my terms. I feel safe enough to do. Outside home? That is another story. They say that “real” men are expected to be able to drink as much as they want (or asked to). The coercion is real. Turning down a drink that is offered, especially from the elderly or business partners, ranges from being frown upon to being a big no-no. I have personally been pressured by relatives to drink, and when I state that I prefer to not drink, they make various degrees of personal attacks like I were not a normal functioning human being. Why? Why do people do these things just to make another person drink alcohol? In many cases, these are full-grown, otherwise responsible adults. It should not be like teenagers coercing each other at school or in an alley into looking “cool” by taking drugs. But sometimes, when it comes to alcohol, these adults behave like teenagers or worse. I feel that some people are obsessed with their mission. Sometimes they resort to lies and tricks. On some occasions in the past, some supposedly trusted friends or relatives got me some beverage that they insisted to be non-alcoholic. It was clearly alcoholic. Even when confronted, some of these people made excuses like “it is not TOO alcoholic”. See? There was a bigger issue than what was in the drink. They lied to me. Trust was compromised. They were willing to betray my trust of them just because they were pursuing “help make this man become an alcoholic-drinking real man” or whatever mission that they might be into, which they clearly regarded as more important than me. Nowadays, I let everyone know that I simply do not drink alcohol while not at my home, period. I also go out a lot less and avoid gatherings where these people might show up. It has come to this even though it does not have to. And for what? Again, for their holy mission of making others drink alcohol?

Some might think I am overanalyzing the situation. They might be thinking: It is just a drink. Just take it. Why not? Why being so serious? No, the problem is not with me for being too serious. The problem is with them for being arrogant and potentially putting others in danger. Taking a drink at a particular situation is not necessarily as harmless as they might think. The person might have an alcoholic intolerance or an allergy of something in the drink (e.g. wheat). The person might be taking medication (e.g. painkillers) that should not be mixed with alcohol. The person might need to drive or operate machinery that requires them to be not under the influence of alcohol. In addition, they might have religious or other moral objections against drinking alcohol.

On national and global scales, drinking is an enormous problem. “More than 3 million people died as a result of harmful use of alcohol in 2016”, according to a report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in September 2018. That translates into 1 in 20 deaths, making alcohol one of the deadliest killers in the world. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the United States, one person dies every 50 minutes from “motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver”. A fact sheet from National Institutes of Health (NIH) shows that alcohol is “the third leading preventable cause of death” in the country, killing 88,000 people per year and causing about one-third of the country’s driving fatalities. In addition, there are numerous counts of crime (e.g. violence and domestic abuse), loss of productivity, wasted lives, etc. that are results of drinking. Drinking places heavy burdens not only on binge-drinkers but also their families.

It is insane how, despite the known dangers, people take drinking for granted. For example, people describe drinking like it is a necessary element of the college experience. One’s college years are viewed by many as being incomplete if one never drinks in college. In many ways, we collectively encourage and even pressure our young mind to drink, and some drink a lot. As a result, stuff happens: letting hangovers hinder studies, driving under the influence of alcohol, having sex while one or both parties are not sober enough to give or understand consent, etc.

Once, I was at a dinner party that was part of a professional conference where I was a speaker. Waiters and waitresses carried around trays with cups of what looked like lemonade or limeade. I wanted some beverage to go with the food that we had, so I took a cup. One sip later, I found out that it was neither lemonade nor limeade. It was some sort of alcohol. In fact, that was the first time I drank what I later found out to be a mojito. I decided that I should just put it down instead of finishing the cup. Later, I got myself some water. Notably, none of the waiters and waitresses carried any cups of water. I had to go to the bar, ask for a cup of water, and receive one of those “you are not a child are you” looks. It was a professional event as a part of the conference. Attendees were sent there by their companies for work purposes. Why were they expected to drink alcohol like water?

If alcoholic drinks somehow disappear from Earth one day, I will not miss it at all. I will be celebrating — with non-alcoholic drinks, of course. In the meantime, I just have fend for my own safety, especially if my supposedly trusted ones are not fending for mine. I just have to stand my ground and be a contrarian.