November 25, 2016

Workie Mike's Japanese Diaries No 2 - The Drinking Competition

By Stuart Turner

Our Workie's last diary saw him throwing nato on his own face! This one sees him in a terrible state after a drinking contest. Karl Pilkington better watch out...

I’d spent my first year in Japan as a volunteer and, as much as I’d taken from the experience, felt like, socially at least, I’d missed out. I could count on one hand the number of nights out I had during the time I spent in Tokyo.

After returning home I bounced between jobs, ending up in a tedious admin position where I wasted a year and half of my life before coming to the realisation that, if I was no closer to knowing where I was actually going with my life, and now had savings in the bank to cover it, I might as well run away to Japan again for another year of ‘soul searching’.

So that was it. I enrolled at a language school in Tokyo and headed off to make up for all the drinking I hadn’t done the first time.

 It was two whole weeks after joining my new class before me and my classmates finally went out for a drink together. We’d made small talk but hadn’t socialised out of class. As most of them were Korean, we ended up going to a small Korean bar with seating enough for the 15 or so of us who turned up, but little more.

It all started well enough, the initial hour or so passed without incidence. I hadn’t offended anyone and, as I supressed the urge to start knocking drinks back as I would have at home, I reflected on how this fresh start in Japan had helped me to shake off the bad drinking habits I’d developed at home. Mere weeks had passed and yet, already, I’d clearly matured.

Moments later however I found myself in a drinking competition.

I entered this on the assumption that I would win. This, in turn, was based on two further assumptions. The first of these was that Korean people can’t drink a lot. The second was that I can.

 My reasoning behind the first of these was that I’d met a lot of Japanese people who couldn’t handle their drink at all. Among them, a woman who, after a SIP of her shandy, became noticeably red and complained of being dizzy and, on another occasion, a man who, after about half a pint of lager, was sufficiently drunk enough to strip off in a Karaoke box. In fairness, he might have just been a bit weird, but for obvious reasons I didn’t see him again, so can’t really comment.

 The reason for these reactions, however, is actually a biological one. Alcohol flush reaction affects up to 50% of people with Chinese and Japanese ancestry and for some poor souls can make drinking deeply unpleasant. In response to alcohol consumption those affected experience an accumulation of acetaldehyde.

 According to Wikipedia: “Acetaldehyde accumulation may be caused by a missense polymorphism that encodes acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2), an enzyme normally responsible for breaking down acetaldehyde.”
I’ll admit that I’m not wholly familiar with some of those words, and have absolutely no clue what most of the others mean, but after several readings and based on my existing understanding of the disorder, it seems like, in Lamen's terms, the cause is something sciencey.
But while some Japanese people are among those affected, Koreans, it turns out, are not.

 So there I sat, quietly confident, as my new friend got us under way by adding to our beers a shot of soju. As a liquor traditionally made from rice, it could be considered the Korean equivalent of sake, except it’s stronger, closer in taste to vodka and gives your gag reflex a much better workout. We downed the concoction and he poured us another. After a few of these my confidence began to wane, especially when he started pouring us an extra shot of soju as a palette cleanser between rounds.

I think by now it was pretty evident that all assumptions I’d made were wrong.

After a few more he was still looking fine while I feared I was starting to look as bad as I felt. I don’t remember much after that but apparently the competition was soon over. Mainly because after drinking myself into a state where I was dribbling over myself and falling off my chair, my body threw in the towel. I accepted defeat graciously, by puking all over the floor of the only toilet.

The teacher we’d invited chose this point to make her entrance and, naturally shocked by the state I was in, wisely decided it was probably time for me to go home and, with the help of a classmate, escorted/carried me outside to hail me a cab. At this point I apparently sprang back to life and sprinted off down the road. After a quick search, I was found slumped in the gutter down a side alley and successfully bundled into a cab.

As far as ice-breakers go, I don’t think I could have done a much better job.

 For many, this might have been mortifyingly embarrassing experience, but luckily, due to my nature, I was able to drunkenly humiliate myself on such a regular basis that one shameful incident was soon forgotten and replaced with a new one.

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