Yesterday I was eating dinner with Rachel, an expat most recently from the good old Bay Area, and our friend Sui Nan, who is a Taiyuan native. Sui Nan works 12-hour days five days a week at a bank, and she’s currently studying to take her masters exam in January, so sometimes it’s hard to pin her down. Despite her hectic and seemingly soul-sucking work schedule, she is bubbly and overly hyper all the time. She is obsessed with Spongebob Squarepants (the Chinese translation, 海面娃娃 haimianwawa, means something like “sponge baby” or “sponge doll”) and likes to put fresh fruit in coffee. Anyway, yesterday Rachel and I told her that lemon and milk curdle when mixed. So there we were, in Rachel’s living room, Sui Nan sipping on a mug full of coffee with half a lemon and milk.
I was trying to grill Sui Nan about what the hell there is to do in Taiyuan. I haven’t figured out what the hell I can do in this ginormous city. I’d seen signs for a vinegar factory.
“Have you been to the vinegar factory?”
“Nope, but I’ve been to the liquor factory,” Sui Nan said, while poking the lemon around in her mug.
The famous baijiu in Taiyuan is called 汾酒 (fenjiu), named after the river Fen (汾河). I’ve had it maybe three times and enjoyed it once, but my standards for all alcohol have been shattered here. I drank a Corona here two days ago, it was the fucking best.
“Why did you go to the liquor factory?”
“I was on a middle school field trip.”
Rachel and I both stared at her.
“How old were you?” I asked.
Sui Nan then explained that once, her middle school took her an hour out of town to visit a Sino-Japanese war hero’s grave.
“It was very far away, so they wanted to make the trip worthwhile,” she said. “The liquor factory was on the way. So we went to the liquor factory too.”