Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Vietnam Annual Beverage Festival

The weekend just past was the Vietnam Annual Beverage Festival. I knew little of this event until told by the Vietnamese owner of the house I am staying in, on our boozy Thursday night encounter. The festival was very close to where I live and seemed a good port of call for the coming weekend.

After dropping Celine at work I grabbed my camera and headed for the festival. There was a number of large tents set up in the grounds of Vietnam’s exhibition centre. Each tent represented a different brand of beer and there were several food stalls spread around as well. There was a main stage, which was receiving most of the attention when I arrived. On stage were two young well dressed Vietnamese, a man and a woman, who were talking to the crowd via their microphones. At the front of the stage were lots of tables with countless cases of beers stacked. Young girls, dressed in beer advertising, were frantically filling beer glasses while men frantically drunk them. As the hosts on stage chatted away I looked at what was going on there and it didn’t take too long to work out what was happening: a drinking contest.

I stood out like a dog's butt in the Vietnamese crowd and it wasn’t long before approaching eyes sought my involvement. One man, clearly on his way, made the effort of walking over to me and dragging me towards the stage. People cheered. It seems I was entering this contest... As I walked on stage, being the first of the contestants to greet the hosts, I had this strange feeling of being watched. By absolutely everyone there. A little overwhelmed by this new found attention I looked around smiling. Many people were smiling back clearly excited to see a foreigner in the competition. Shit, I had better not let them down.

With the other contestants on the stage I was kindly given the rules in broken English. It was simple as most drinking contests go: in this case the first to drink three glasses of beer wins. Each round of the contest had a different beer and this round was American beer, not one I had ever tried. I was not in the best drinking mood after my Thursday night exploits and was wondering how the hell I had gotten myself into this. While trying to put my game face on and get myself into the zone I was approached by one of the hosts, with a video camera and a microphone.

“Can we do a quick interview?”

“Ummmm yes”

I was asked the usual questions so luckily I was prepared: Where are you from? Are you living in Vietnam? What do you do? I wasn’t prepared for the “Are you going to win??” question and my blunt reply of “yes!” sent excitement around. Shit, shit, shit. Now I was going into damage control. Surely I couldn’t win. I have all these eager Vietnamese waiting for my victory and I was soon to disappoint. Exit strategies were going through my head. Could I pretend to faint? Possibly a drop and run scenario? All seemed a little too dramatic and reality struck that I would have to fight my inner demons and bring victory to Australia.

We all stepped forward and the countdown started. On the bell I raised my glass and took my first big gulp; the warm flat beer attacked my taste buds. I instinctively retracted but persevered nonetheless, finishing the first glass in acceptable time. The second glass was painful and my stomach was not agreeing. Shit. After a small break for composure I finished the second glass. While on my third I could see I was loosing pace with the front runners and fearing an embarrassment on stage succumbed to defeat. Shaking hands with the victor I strolled away from the limelight. I exchanged smiles with the hosts and a few people as I left the stage. It was a fun experience but the beer was awful.

Now happy to retire to one of the beer halls I was taken aback when the tap on my shoulder led to overwhelming encouragement to again join the stage for another round. Surely not, I thought. I can’t do this. Please don’t make me do this. My voiced refusals were not heard and somehow I found myself on the stage again. Dejected I found two large, warm and presumably flat mugs of beer in my hand. Clearly a shattered man I prepared for battle.

I managed one and a half glasses before the winner claimed victory. A poor showing I admit. I ambled off the stage in defeat looking for a quieter setting.

I never cease to be surprised here in Hanoi!

Le week end dernier, Dan est alle boire un verre au festival annuel de la biere, en face de chez nous, pendant que j'etais a l'ecole. Il s'est rerouve le seul blanc au milieu d'une foule de Vietnamien qui l'ont du coup tout de suite remarque. Ils l'ont traine sur scene ou se deroulait un concours de buveurs de biere, a qui finirait sa pinte le premier. Dan avait un peu le trac, et d'ailleurs il a perdu le concours mais tout le monde l'a acclame et apres quelques minutes une jeune femme avec un micro et un cameraman sont venus l'interviewer. Il a repondu aux questions comme il pouvait, et s'est re-fait entrainer sur scene un deuxieme fois, pour une deuxieme defaite. Quand je suis rentree a la maison il m'a raconte sa soiree mouvementee. Decidemment, quand Dan va boire un coup quelque part, il a toujours beaucoup de succes!

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