A few weeks ago I had a moment where I missed home like never before. Its funny how things get triggered I guess.
We had some colleagues / friends over for dinner and as an ordinary South African male I put on some music, got a variation of well marinated and prepared animals and fired up the braai. Glass of red wine in one hand and tongs in the other, almost a cliché out of any SA’n story and yet, as would be common practice at home, no one came to join me at the braai. No one offered to help with a second pair of tongs, hold the torch due to a light being out, not even the social comradery of standing over an open fire. My shoulders drooped and my heart sank, I missed home desperately.
It’s in moments like these, and there are not too many, but when they do come you realize how powerful the calling of being in a similar culture really is.
Let me clarify, it’s not that these people were being rude or not enthusiastic but they just have a completely different culture. Braaing to them was the same as two people going to stand around the oven while a chicken roasts, to us those moments around the fire are of almost the same enjoyment as the meal itself.
Fortunately for me there was a little piece of home round the corner, and a much needed connection with the feeling of being ingrained in something rather than just sitting on top – it’s difficult to explain. However little did I realize the ensuing few days would take me back further than just being at home but perhaps closer to being at university.
The second biggest beer festival in the world after Munich and close to 3 million people in 2 weeks pass through these massive tents, stages, halls and open areas. One would assume there would be a fair international presence yet being one of, I’m sure, only twenty total Wai Guo Ren in the place it started to feel a little interesting, and with a small crew of people who had almost 30 hours of travelling combined with excitement it felt like rabid dogs waiting to be let of their leashes.
Needless to say when in the first tent you get served, literally, body sized beer mugs and skyscraper like towers of beer you know it is going to be a big 72 hours, that is before the old Chinese man in the corner offers you all a dried Cicada as a welcome to China snack.
It felt like so many times at home where before a particularly big night I had the feeling of excited nervousness as if we would again end up in some police station begging for our freedom but at the same time appreciating the joy of an epic night – the 2am group naked swim in the ocean, and I NEVER go into the ocean during the day let alone at Jaw’s-time at night, confirmed night one had been successfully dealt with!
The next 48 hours were somewhat of a blur of big champagne and lobster brunches, outstanding street / stall food, laughs, lots and lots of laughs and much beer, but it was only about half way through night two that we thought we had done half the number of tents on the rotation when we saw a big set of stairs and lights coming over the top. Thinking it may me a good place to see the city and get some aerial shots of the festival we climbed to survey the half territory we had conquered. It turned out ‘our’ map had included probably a third of what there actually was, our faces looked like the scientists in Jurassic park when they first see the dinosaurs on the island, and sorry for the archaic reference I just watched the re-mastered one in 3D here the other day, a mixture of curiosity, excitement and fear. Turns out we were staring at one of the biggest set stages I’ve ever seen, think a flat version of U2 360 deg tour, and just banquet table after table filled with beer, food, people and chaos. This all surrounded by more halls, tents and side bars than we had even seen at our previous part of the festival.
We may remember night two as the one that broke us all.
When you wake up after three 12 hour drinking sessions, plus two massive nights before we started Qingdao, and you open your eyes normally the pain coursing through your body is enough to put you in the fetal position in the shower. On this morning though it was different, through the pain I was smiling. Certainly not because I felt good but rather because it felt like home for a few days. Its a funny thing, the concept of home.
Im not sure what it is really, its not a place, but a feeling. A sense that there is no need to pretend, no need to impress, no reason to do anything but just enjoy the people you are with and the time you have together. Its a feeling like the jokes they get and don’t judge or take badly, its a feeling that you just are as apposed to most days in Shanghai where you are trying to build and make and be.
The few days with friends, that i have purposefully left pictures out of to avoid some serious embarrassment, is just a perfect rest and recharge no matter how much damage was done to the body.
This beer festival is a the most bizarre mix of people, events, food and fun but i have to say although it may feel like the twilight zone most of the time – it is certainly well worth a visit!