Monday, January 6, 2014

Creating a business relation in China or how I learned to love Baijiu

So, as I mentioned in the last post I'm opening a bar. This entry will be about business  dinners in China The key to any successful business relationship is trust. In my almost 4 years of living in Shanghai I've seen that the way the locals build trust is by getting completely shit faced drunk over a long dinner or a trip to a KTV. Oh, China...

Typically after you've got a solid business plan and investors you need to find a property in which to conduct your business.  Here, in Shanghai and I'd imagine most other places in China the next step after you acquire a property you need to meet up with the local government of your district and wine and dine them for specialty licencing

       (Hairy Crab, getting business done in Shanghai since forever)

Now, several things will happen at these dinners, there will be lots of chain smoking, oceans of Baijiu (a sorghum based alcohol) and rivers of red wine and or whiskey. For some reason that I can't quite understand most foreigners do not like Baijiu I however love it. It reminds me of burning hot firewater that takes a root in your throat, lights up your esophagus and warms up your belly. It's delightful and not for the faint of heart. It tastes of lychee and watermelon and bright faced exhilaration, after several shots served in tiny little cups it feels like anything is possible and my attitude and my paltry Chinese suddenly get much, much better. On the other hand though, if you don't like it then you'll probably puke. 

              (Chicken feet and cigarettes, the final thing I remember)

I've learned in China it's not the end of the world to puke or pass out at a dinner as long as you puke in the toilet and pass out at your seat. Being drunk is not a bad thing but being drunk at a business meeting when you're supposed to hold your own and is looked down upon. Yes, they will be trying to out drink you and yes you will be the host/victim of many toasts and shots but you can not falter. This is where I shine. As a beverage master for more years then I'd like to count I can hold my own with anyone from local government. That's when it starts getting crazy. Human nature is about competition, when it's two different nations being pitted together in the brotherly act of business drinking there only two options. Either surrender or leave the table of battle as equals. 

Every business dinner starts with a sizing up of the opponents. Usually, it's evenly represented - each side with an equal amount of people. Cigarettes are exchanged, with the heads of both parties receiving priority followed down the ranks. Then comes the toasting. I was once told long ago by a translator that if I don't like to drink I should say something like I'm sick or blame it on my religion. As a foreigner you'll be excused for these things. But, I'm not sick and my religion never held me back for taking out a table at a business dinner. 

Back to the order of events though, So the dishes are coming served family style,because this type of meeting with government always takes place at a Chinese restaurant that you're paying for. If you don't like Chinese food then don't eat much of it, but remember when your with government people the chances are that they've already ordered in advance. This is no problem if you have yourself a hardy before hand. Even if you like Chinese food, and I do, it still doesn't hurt to carbo load before you go in. Try to grab a huge dinner of rice or pasta, anything that will help you absorb the torrential rain of booze that's headed your way. 
After many interesting dishes made of things that you might not be comfortable eating do to moral, religious or textural issues the food is finally finished. Some fruit is served and the drinking begins in earnest. 

Someone told me a trick once where every time you cheers with Baijiu your supposed to take the shot and then chase it with a sprite or even water and actually instead of drinking your actually just spitting it into the clear non-alcoholic chaser beverage. This is for beginners and I've never tried this before. Why waste perfectly good alcohol. Keep in mind, these bottles are about 100 USD per bottle or even higher. When you're doing business with local Chinese government it's not cheap. I'm not going to say the "B" word here but this another form of it, hugely expensive dinners that foster business ties. If you want to do everything right, make sure all the forms are filled out, all the mountain of paperwork processed then these are the steps you need to take. Also, it's not my culture so I won't judge. I just know If I want a legitimate business then I need to go through the legitimate channels and these are them. It might be different if you're opening a flower shop but I sling booze and that's that. 

By now, everyone probably had a few shots and there is some etiquette involved. If your the head of your side you should make an effort to cheer the head governmental person. If you aren't the head of your side then it's the head of your sides duty to cheers the head government guy. It goes like that naturally with other people from the government side cheersing both you and your colleagues much the same way. Over and over and over again till the room is red faced and smoke covers the air, at this point there should be a few lesser governmental officials sleeping at the table. The toilets should be covered in puke and if you've succeed in not making a total ass of your self or being to drunk then the head governmental official will say that it's time to go. Don't make the lead government person loose face by getting him too drunk unless he's the one initiating it. If he stops drinking don't force the issue. Later, there will be an effort on their part to pay the bill. Whatever happens don't let them. Discreetly pay, also pay for their equally expensive take away items that they've already pre-ordered and then start saying your heartfelt good byes. After the dinner concludes both sides generally like each other much more and even though there is a huge ocean of language and culture for those few merry hours of complete alcohol overload the ocean turns to a puddle that's that's easy to hop over as long as you don't throw up. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

It's been awhile!

Fudge on a fudgicle. It's been awhile since I've updated this blog. It's been so long that even the word blog sounds stupid to me. But, that's me though. Busy, busy, busy. Over the last 3 years I've been the bar manager at Shanghai's top new clubs and now I'm going on another adventure. That's right, I'm opening my own spot. So, do try and follow these new adventures, whether they're mundane like selecting glassware or awesome like a day of hard core liquor sampling - I plan to update, post and edit things up and until the bar is open and running. Then it'll be a transformed blog (eewww...can we make better word then blog) of cocktail recipes, funny stories, customer reactions and more shenanigans. Who would have guessed, I'm going to own a bar. Boom

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Machine Gun Funk

Like all foolish things I set out to do this with the greatest of intentions, to dig deep and commit myself to writing about the nuances and craziness of bar tending overseas, of living the crazy American dream of little work, lots of money and a maid that comes three times a week. Then, the darkness crept up on me, I started to say simple little things like:

It’s cold here now in my second year of Shanghai and I’ve been racked with this terrible cough for the last few weeks. Before that I was food poisoned and even worse then that, I started playing my xbox religiously - these are excuses as to why I haven’t been doing any writing of late - haven’t been detailing my adventures in vigorous, whiskey numbed prose punching out words to a silent computer screen that reflects blood shot eyes and a devilish grin.

I had to stop that though - lying in bed all day, refusing either to go to the gym or to write and sleeping, truly sleeping in my desolation and depression was getting to be way to emo for me. The thing is that it’s not that I haven’t been having new adventures, new stories and favorite new concoctions but it’s just been that I’ve had no reason to write them down. Which is stupid because if I don’t write it out, experience it digitally again then sometimes the thing is like it never existed at all.

I’ve changed jobs since my last real posting, I left the half empty bar where no one would go except for my friends to a new crazy awesome nightclub where the only people I seem to meet are my friends or people who’ve always pretended to be my friends, bass music,vodka, champagne, loud uncontrollable nights that don’t end until way into the next day crowing themselves in the glory of the cold cloudy Shanghai winter days. In a way I’ve made my piece with the dawn, that ugly hour that sends us frantically scurrying to our homes in fear of the coming of the light. I’ve made my piece now with hangovers and wear them like a three piece suit, top two buttons clasped, last button open with a big pocket square.

I neglected myself for the last few months, I’ve put on a few kilos, got a few more grey hairs maybe stared into the mirror to much about my own mortality. Which means, while I’m unmarried and doing a job I love I should do everything about it to live the moment to its fullest, to grab the Jameson by the bottle and drink it up like life flowing from a shot glass.

Debauchery and diatribes ahoy...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

American style drinking versus Chinese Style drinking

I have a good friend out here in Shanghai who is from Singapore, named Karl. He's very well off, educated in the UK and an all around crazy guy, the other day he asked me why Americans don't buy bottles at nightclubs here but instead individual drinks? He told me, he just didn't understand it. As a Lao Wei or a foreigner as well as a bartender I always thought that with the exception of a few select spots,the cocktails in the mainland just sucked in general and this led to it being smarter and better to buy a bottle. It's one of those things I've noticed my entire stay, if there are a group of Asians they will almost always order a few bottles of either Champagne or Whiskey and Green Tea or Vodka and mixers for their table. In terms of Westerners, it's always rounds of drinks.

I thought about it a little bit, maybe it was due to the fact that most Chinese people I know don't like to rent - they buy. So renting an apartment is frowned upon here - you stay with your parents until you have enough money to buy your own place. Why buy a drink in a bar for 70 rmb (almost 10 US) when you can typically buy a bottle for around 700-1000RMB (or roughly $100-$150)?
In  the nightclubs - the local culture is to grab a table with your friends, order many, many, many bottles, girls,fruit plates, as you smoke lots of cigarettes and party all night.

In the States, while it's not unheard of getting bottle service at the club it's just extra VIP, balla status. Not the norm. In the States a huge mega dance club will have a big dance floor, huge bars and a small VIP section. In China, where the people are a little more conservative with how they’re perceived, the dance floors are much smaller and usually packed with Lao Wei and bottle service reigns supreme. There are even second and third tier cities where there is no bar, just a small dance floor, 300 tables, lots of black lights and Lady Gaga.

Karl keyed me in the fact that the Chinese are very communal. This goes from the way they eat, in terms of big family style shared plates, the way the families live together as a group and how most holidays are centered around spending time with relatives and loved ones to the the way they drink. A bottle bought for the table is the ultimate showing of community. It's a little feudal as well, Karl explained to me, when he orders a bottles at the club, it's now his table - he's king of the table. The girls, the booze, he's host of the table and it's in a way holding court and  as always  I am the strange and ruggedly handsome visitor from a strange and far off land. There is more to it as well, at a Chinese table there are tons of drinking games, dice, things with your hands, all designed around getting everyone at the table, involved together, communicating, getting hammered drunk and bonding over distilled grain products.

In a western table with individual drinks the conversations turn more individual, one on ones. If we are westerners together at a bar are conversations are for the most part centered around groups of two's and threes. Obviously the exception is for birthday groups or bachelor/hen parties but that is not the norm.

So next time you're at a bar or a club in the States and you can afford it, or grab your friends and pitch in for a bottle. If anything, a shared bottle at a table is much like a campfire in that everyone gathers around it, it's sparks conversations that you might not of had before, it creates memories and hell, it's a lot easier then going back and forth for another round of Appletinis. If anything, you've got a story to tell. Play drinking games, cheers loudly with friends and bond over that booze - it's one of the reasons life is great in the first place.

I wanted to make some kind of bold statement about the differences in mindsets is that Americans are a nation of individuals, we've been told since our birth to be unique, to stand out whereas the Chinese are taught from the beginning that the nail that sticks out gets hammered down hardest and that conformity was the name of the game - I wanted to make some far reaching metaphor about Justin Beiber and Chairman Mao but it's getting late and both Karl and the KTV are calling and you never want to turn down a KTV with Crazy Karl....


Friday, March 4, 2011


Chasing the dragon:

Shanghai is a grey messy mist, concrete and glass accentuates it hips;
curves with neon
amalgmated metals

She is big and clumsy in her movements; swaying back and forth across
the river some sort of growling, howling
sky filled with smoke and
horns, meats cooling over fires....
yet I must be the real monster
because to me you sacrifice
so many of your daughters


Visa Run:
Oh, the adventure has begun again in earnest. It started at around 11am today at my bar. I'd been sick for about 3 days with fever, a real mean nasty burn a hole in your head leave you soaking wet one moment, shivering cold the next, aches, hallicinations, burning, burning up in the cold inky
blackness, shadows turned to spiderweb turned to tunnels, not stopping, fever dreams, hallucinations.
Maybe I died that night.
Maybe I died the next.
I know I passed out on a Friday in my bed covered in sweat and stink. Later on Sunday when I came too I saw my maid had come and left me medicine.
Chinese pills called Buffrin, yellow 2 times breakfast and lunch blue before bed. After I took a few I felt better then I had in weeks.
I was alive.
Later in the afternoon a Chinese girl came to check on me, we played DR the rest of the day sick and in bed, alive and on top.

Monday 2.28.11
I woke up first at 6 am, strange dreams of my grandmother, on my mothers side. Dreams of her as a corporate macot for a company called Synergy. .
I woke up smelling still like the girl from the night before. After getting ready I rushed to my bar around 11:30am. Walking down the street to the subway station, gray cold out fruit stands red with vibrant oranges, grapes with a need of a little polish, women and men on bicycles with maskes covering their faces as they peddled by in massive numbers, thick coats and scarves bundled up against the last febuary morning chills.
It's quiet on the strets, the occassional honk but silent and the silence is so loud its rings off the hubcaps of the yellow expo cabs vans, of the run down bumpers of the shady red cabs and bounces back across the green neon for hire rof top mounts of the *dash* cabs, always on - even if there are people in them
My walk takes me past the bank, 3 sex shops, 4 fruits stands, 6 convience stores, several coffeeships and restaurants finally after passing countless people in parkas, marching army guards, old people people with canes, young school children with red bandanas on thier necks, some wearing blue caps, some bareheaded, some clutfhing their friends, arm and arm down hauai hai lu and I reach the Shanghai library, 10 line.
I pay my 3 rmb and ride through 3 stations, I'm pushed by the onslaught of people, so many faced, pale shanghai style with elegant features, fat wide and broken tooth day laborers, the occasional  lao wei like myself lost in translation, heaphones on listeniung to music, pretending their somewhere else.

To get to work I exit the train and walk through xintandi, the tourist area of old Shanghai style housing. Converted and gentrified by the local goverment to have shops, Philipino bands, bars, kiosks and beer gardens.
To work and it's a rush through the traffic that never really stopes even at the lights., Strange shaped cars, Citroens and expensive shaped cars - Maseratis, Bentleys, Ferraris all jostle with cheap shaped cars BYD's and vw taxis swerving around each other, no seatbelts or turn signals, bouncing around like blood vessesls in a magnified artery.
Yp in the elevator the little Ayi, cleaning as I ride up to the 6th floor she never bothers me and I but briefly smile at her. She must be about 60 on her hands and knees with a dirty cloth polishing the scratched bronze plated metal at the base of the elevator door.
In a moment I get off the elevator, strangely noting that our paths won't ever cross again  - not socially not over dinner or hopt pot, no jazz - just one moment where we shared a space as she cleaned the metal near my feet,
Out the elevator to the right walking past the empty eyed hostess.
The anticipation of the days adventure starting to sting like a nick from a close shave.
At noon a package arrives filled with 15k HKD, 20 minutes later 6k RMB was wired to my bank account.
I was to fly in HK by the way of Shenzhen, booking arranged by an associate, visa run of the damned.
My Visa for China had been expired by 5 months, a tremendous, horrendous and icredibly ridiculous feat of bold face craziness. Off all my friends I was the only one who had ever taken it that far. For five months I had been living in fear of arrest and deportation. Every knock at the door was answered by a girl while I waited perched on the ledge of my 3rd floor window, 10,000 RMB of cash in the side pocket of my blazer - ready to make a run for it, it was either that or a pissible 10 day detention followed by a 5 year ban from China and I just couldn't do that.
So I waited it out, did nothing - my usual MO.
During the middle of my 4th month of being a fugitive I happened to stumble on a Visa website, they hever had a case like mne before but for 13.300 RMB

Thursday, February 24, 2011

To iphone or not iphone

An American Bartender in Shanghai
by Logan B.

My name is Logan and I am iPhone junkie. I'm that jerk that's surgically attached to his phone, eyes glazed over, charger always near, four squaring my location, twittering random and pithy one-liners to my 44 followers, updating facebook stats in the backs of dark bars about my random Keroac-ian escapades and generally hooked on the apps be it Angry Birds or the extremely useful Google Translate or the slightly less useful Fingerzilla.
Then the unthinkable happened.
I lost my god damn iphone, not once but twice. No longer could I be in my electronic security blanket, skyping with my friends back home in the states as I drank my way through the middle kingdom - I had to look up in the world again and pay attention.
To quote the wicked witch as she lay melting from Dorothy's pitched bucket of water, What a world! What a world!
See the second time I lost my iPhone was a few Sundays ago, it what can only be described by the musical styling of the Rick Derringer song, Real American. We had started out with some Sunday drinking at an American  bar that specialized in hard to find in China bourbons and whiskeys, usually in China when a liquor is hard to find and then it’s found it means either its been smuggled in (see our column about my exploits in Macau for more details) or it’s a fake. Whatever the case the booze was esoteric as it was intoxicating. Lots of the special edition Makers 46 served on the rocks, followed by round after round beer served by cute Chinese girls in country western outfits.
At this point no one was saying the word drunk, we were about 6 whiskeys and 6 beers into it per person,  my Shanghai drinking crew, the Mooncake Mafia and I when we decided, like the aforementioned Rick Derringer song that we wanted to be  Real Americans and fire some high powered automatic rifles while smoking cigars and sampling lots of different distilled spirits. This being Shanghai, China where everything is possible for a price, it took one quick glance on my iPhone App HiShanghai to find an excellent if not janky  shooting range that happened to also have a KTV in it. This means, Justin Bieber music blasting out the speakers, tons of beautiful and semi apparelled KTV girls and .357 smith and wesson hand cannons.
In about ten minutes we appeared, eyes glazed and booze reeking at the gun range, tucked off the main thoroughfare of Haui Hai Lu and Sinan Lu and up a sketchy looking elevator.
We walked in, pointed to a gun menu, picked girls out of a line up, fiddled with stereo and in no time were blasting more rounds then Jason Stratham in both Crank 1 & 2. It was an epic masterpiece of gun smoke, Jay Z, whiskey and green tea and cigarettes.  
30 minutes and near 3.600 RMB later we were back on the street, strangely sober, crazy haired and refreshingly more alive then ever before.
We walked down the street, energetically buzzing to our friend Wiki’s excellent cafe, where she was sitting with an Israeli drinking Chivas. That really made me reflect on the truly international aspect of Shanghai - sure, it Chinese here, that is a given but also, it’s a huge diverse group of French, Italians, Canadians, Africans, Arabs, Colombians, Americans, Belgians, Australians, just a whole hodge podge of different cultures and beliefs but its not a melting pot like back in the states, Shanghai is still more of a salad bar. The people are all here, just not tossed and seasoned yet.
After we finished her bottle we debated on ordering another bottle from Sherpa’s the Shanghai delviery service. Based on similar Western concepts like Waiters on Wheels they deliver food from a vast majority of restaurants all over Shanghai - the nice kick is that they also deliver liquor and cartons of cigarettes as well as mixers and ice. Instant party, natch China.
We decided against it and hopped into cabs after that back to my bar to meet up with my old friend John Jameson, in the cab I used an app to show the driver where we wanted to go - I didn’t have to say a word, just showed him the screen, easy as pie.
When we arrived we noticed that there was a private event going on - Chinese break dancers were busting sloppy windmills to mando-pop as a row of Chinese girls in playboy bunny outfits did some poorly choreographed dance moves partnered by local guys with bad haircuts and shiny silver suits.
I went to pull out my phone to take a video and post it to facebook - my incredulity at the situation maybe more of a mask to hide the strangeness I found at the whole scene- here I was a million miles from home, truly and completely at the mercy of my friends and luck, using this little hand held wonder to act as a shield between me and the amazing world going on in front of me and it wasn’t in my pocket.
It was gone, my precious. I freaked out - what would I do if I couldn’t upload something to youtube  or download a viral video and make it into a ring tone to play ironically? I was scared, I was frantic, of the two things I need in this physical world, coffee and my iphone  -I was out and I’m pretty sure I would have done without the coffee.
The world around me was so strange, I couldn't share - just absorb it. The food I ate the rest of the day, street meat vendor octopus on a stick - the double magnum bottle of Dom Perrignon Champagne I gulped down later that night at the nightclub, there was no barrier, nothing to let me record and live vicariously through digital means.
Later that night when I stumbled into a cab I actually had to speak to the driver, it was then that I realized I’ve been here almost a year and depended on my apps for everything. I could barely get by to my own house with the sorry amount of Chinese I could mumble. I had a moment of clarity, I realized life without my technology would be hard, it would be boring at times during long commutes and meetings, it would be frustrating in strange cities but always it would be real an adventure and mine. Not to be instantly shared and tossed head long into the data stream of updates and tweets but instead savored like a single malt whisky. I’d have to learn Chinese, I’d have to pay attention to reality and not the augmented version. I still love my internet, my tech, my social media but now I understand they have their place just as I have mine - or maybe Steve Jobs didn’t have a hard drinking, fast living,  American bartender  in Shanghai when the him and the boys in Cuppertino designed their shiny piece of trouble. Whatever the answer, I’m less connected digitally then I have ever been but more here in the now as well.