History would be a lot different if everybody got their dates wrong. Imagine if Lenin and his Bolsheviks had decided to stage their revolution in July and not October. All the Communists would have found when they prematurely stormed the Winter Palace would have been a couple of idle serfs draining the Tsar’s pool. What if Lee Harvey Oswald had got stuck in traffic on his way to Dallas, and missed JFK’s visit? Marilyn Monroe would be raising an illegitimate Presidential baby, and Oliver Stone would never have made a career out of movies. And consider a world where a foolish Arthur C Clarke decided to set his Space Odyssey in 1452 instead of 2001. Arthur would have been laughed out of the Science Fiction Guild before he could say “Han Solo”. So it is no wonder that I have so far failed to become a noted historical figure. My ability to confuse dates is outstanding; if ever I succeed one day in conning some unfortunate woman into bearing my child, I’m sure I’ll be dismantling my Corby trouser press while my other half shits a placenta into a net.
It’s this complete inability to grasp the simple concept of time that foreshadowed my first ever trip to Qingdao.
August. Hangzhou. 2005. A city so hot, even Ethiopians would be shaking their heads in pity if they had seen scenes of it on TV. The air was drier than Oscar Wilde’s wit. My friend and I sat sweating together like two Prisoners of War building a railroad, whilst we racked our sizzling brains for a solution to our heat problems. As we sat discussing the logistics of dragging a glacier all the way to China, my gaze fell on the Tsingtao I held in my hand. The nice, ice-cold, refreshing bottle of Tsingtao goodness…
“That’s it!” I shouted (actually, I didn’t really shout that, this is something we writers call a “literary effect”), “We can go to Qingdao for the Beer Festival!”
It was a perfect plan. Head north for a week to a refreshing coastal city with a nice sea breeze, and drown our sorrows away with bottle after bottle of cool Tsingtao alcohol. I was about to get fired from my job anyway, so giving myself a week’s holiday was going to be no problem.
A quick Google search provided the date of the hallowed Festival of Beer. I felt like Augustus Gloop preparing to enter the gates of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory; only better because instead of fudge it would be beer. Plus, there would be no danger of getting sucked up a chocolate pipe by Oompa Loompas.
We packed everything we would need for our formaldehyde filled frolics: swimming trunks, beach towels, alka-seltzer. In short, everything but the kitchen sink which we would inevitably need to vomit in when the hangover kicked in. Once the packing was done, it took us nearly a day by rail to get from Hangzhou to Qingdao. We prepared ourselves on the train by playing a few rounds of Extreme Scrabble (you know, the version where you have to down a pint if you use a vowel), and wondering where it all went wrong. Everything was all set for us to have the best time since sliced bread.
Except it didn’t happen. When we arrived at the beach, we saw the work monkeys dismantling the few remaining Tsingtao stands. We saw the empty beer tents that had once contained the kegs of wife-beater fuel. We saw the litter strewn everywhere by people who had obviously had a fantastic, and environmentally unfriendly, time. And, if you had looked at me, you would have seen a broken man.
I had gotten the date wrong. My friend checked the website I had looked at, and pointed out that I had taken the date for LAST year’s Beer Festival. I had never felt so stupid since the time I told my mum that my new study desk was made from monogamy.
We tried to do it ourselves, but it wasn’t the same. We had the beer, but no festival. It was like meeting Laurel without Hardy. No matter how many beers we drank, or how many times we were violently sick, nothing could replace that festival feeling. We went back to Hangzhou like the sad losers we were.
Thus, that was the Beer Festival that wasn’t. I’m positive, deep down, that the only reason why I later moved to Qingdao was to make certain I didn’t miss the Festival each year. My therapist says that writing about it will help me to get over it, and then the healing can begin.
Oh well, at least I’ll never forget that Christmas is on December 27th…
If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy my book Party Members – a dark comic fantasy that exposes the corrupt underbelly of modern China.