Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bu yao Tsingtao!

Bu yao is one of the few really essential Chinese phrases - used almost daily for the peremptory dismissal of bothersome street vendors, ticket touts, market traders, or waitresses trying to foist on you the 'special fish dish'. It means 'Not get' - i.e., "I don't want that, thank you; please get it out of my f***ing face."

I have long been toying with the idea of mounting a campaign behind the slogan "Bu yao Tsingtao!" to try to eradicate this ever-present and really not very good beer from the city's bars.

Now, I like Tsingtao - in its place. I liked it in London, though largely because it was the only Chinese beer I could get there and it reminded me of good times here on my first visit in the '90s (and, I suspect, the stuff made specifically for export, or brewed overseas under licence, is probably 10 times better than any of the local product). I quite like it in Qingdao, its original home (variant spelling) - when in Rome, and all that. Funnily enough, I don't even mind it so much when it comes in the big 650ml (or whatever they are) bottles; I really think it must come from a different factory from the 330ml little-swig-of-poison bottles we have to suffer most of the time. And gosh, even the draught version isn't too bad sometimes (it is never to be relied upon, even in those very few bars that are familar with the concept of cleaning their pipes and their taps once in a while; and it is often skanky as hell, but that is a common problem of most draught beers here, particularly the lagers). But those small bottles - at least, the ones we get here in Beijing - have become the bane of my life.

I dislike small bottles in general. They are terrible value for money, they seem somehow to make the beer even more gassy, and they are gone in no time. And for a Brit, brought up to appreciate the satisfying weight of a chunky pint mug in his hand while drinking, they are just too damned unsubstantial.

However, Tsingtao in small bottles is particularly bad news because it is absolutely toxic - it always has a slight (or not-so-slight) metallic aftertaste to it, and often a definite hint of detergent as well (how else do they make so many goddamned bubbles in it?). And it invariably gives you a foul head the next day, however little or much of it you may have drunk (so I am informed by friends - I am [almost] impervious to this myself). Like many Chinese beers, it's probably loaded with formaldehyde; but I think the Tsingtao sold in Beijing must be brimming with lots of other nasties as well. It's just vile.

Oh yeah, and the 10-fold mark-up on it is really galling (I guess it would be the same for any local beer, but if I'm going to give you such a generous profit-margin, Mr Bar Owner, I'd prefer to have a selection of local beers..... so that I could, you know, choose one that was at least vaguely palatable and wasn't going to make me ill).

I don't suppose we're ever going to persuade bar owners to stock the BIG BOTTLES for us (that would be the second phase of the campaign, I suppose; if we ever achieve that crucial first objective of banishing Tsingtao), but Yanjing - the local Beijing brand, and usually far less noxious (particularly in small bottles and cans) - is also available in stubby bottles; as are a number of others, including the bland but inoffensive Snow and the thoroughly wonderful Harbin beer (the best Chinese-made beer I've tasted, by a country mile).

How on earth has Tsingtao achieved such an overwhelming monopoly of Beijing's bar scene? It is quite uncanny. In Chinese restaurants and supermarkets, these other brands I've mentioned, and more besides, are often available, and indeed are frequently stocked in preference to (though rarely to the complete exclusion of) Tsingtao; in fact, in the kind of cheap joints I habitually take my dinner in, Yanjing (and BIG BOTTLES, to boot) is the default option, and Tsingtao a relatively rare and would-be slightly "up-market"(!) alternative. And yet in the bars, 99% of the time there is only one choice (well, unless you want to spend substantially more on an imported lager - which will again be in a bottle, a small bottle, and won't be a whole hell of a lot better: Heineken, Carlsberg, Budweiser - ack!!!). Few people manage to come to love Tsingtao, despite their repeated exposure. Most of my acquaintances bitch about it pretty regularly. A few of us have been griping about it constantly for the past 2 or 3 years. Whenever there is any kind of cost-friendly alternative available, whether imported or domestic, you can guarantee that it will prove a popular choice with the punters. And yet still we find bar after bar after bar stocking Tsingtao as its only 'budget' beer offering. One must suspect some kind of mafia stranglehold on the supply trade.

Oh yes, breaking this monopoly is going to be a tough job. I could well end up like Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront. But this is not a fight I can duck any more (because I've sworn off Tsingtao [in the dreaded small bottles, at least] as my primary New Year's resolution; and when I renounce something, it stays renounced - oh yes!). What do you say, my brothers? Are you with me? Together - we can win the right to choose.

"All we are asking is to be allowed to name our poison!"


Chris Eldin said...

My husband just said some internet cable thingy got cut off the coast of Egypt and has been affecting internet service in Asia and Middle East.
Has this affected you? It has me, but only intermittently so far.

How do you pronounce bu yao?

Funny post!

Froog said...

I haven't noticed the Internet here being any worse than usual. There are notoriously very few cables into the PRC, which helps the government with its monitoring of overseas sites, but does leave us very vulnerable to crises in service if there is any technical problem with one of them. A year or so ago (or was it two), the main trans-Pacific cable got cut by a submarine earthquake just off Taiwan, and everything went on the fritz for a couple of weeks. I think there are one or two other routes through Russia/Central Asia, and maybe one through SE Asia. I doubt if problems as far away as Egypt are going to impact much on us - although I guess there can always be knock-on effects through the intervening countries. It's never so much about the loss of a single link, as it is about the ability of all the other links to cope with the additional re-routed traffic.

Where are you based? Not in China, I imagine.

Bu yao is pronounced, more or less, Boo yow. I confess that, despite having been saying it for 15 years, I am still unclear on the tones!

Unknown said...

Gosh one of my friends swears by Tsingdao.. only in draught form,from bar blu. He claims it is the best pint he's ever tasted!

Well to each their own. I'd rather have a nice alcholic chocolate bar (cocktail!) anyday!

Froog said...

Yes, well, draught is a different thing. And maybe they clean their taps in Bar Blu. Or maybe it just isn't quite as skanky as in other places your friend has drunk, so he develops an exaggerated opinion of it.

Tsingtao in small bottles is the Devil's piss. Bu yao!!

The British Cowboy said...

Bu yao seems to be best translated as the internet cliche, DO NOT WANT...!

The British Cowboy said...

Damn it - links screwing up!

Try this without the line break

The British Cowboy said...

Apologies - just discovered that link is not safe for work because of some of the pictures...

My bad.

Froog said...

My two regular bars, 12 Square Metres and the Pool Bar both started stocking Harbin beer alongside Tsingtao. So do Amilal and El Nido (where it is a delightfully cheap 10 rmb). This has become my standard budget option over the past four or five years. I can't remember the last time I drank bloody Tsingtao.

I might claim limited success for my campaign here, since the Tsingtao monopoly does seem to have been broken, but... it is still bothersomely ubiquitous. The Fight must go on, my brothers!

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