I grew up in suburban Beijing buying unnamed draft beer daily for my father, a binge drinker of beer, and seeing him swigging mouthfuls of beer with relish was so contagious I was itching to give it a try at five, an age still in open-crotch pants.
Well, just try it, my dad said to me. I sipped, rinsed in my mouth, grimaced, and spat it out. But overtime I became drawn to it under Dad’s formative influence, quaffing in gulps while clutching a jar of the fresh beer from the store two blocks away. By the time I was home, there was less than half-jar left for my dad.
One day my dad brought home two bottles of dark-colored beer from his work cafeteria, the first time I ever saw beer in a container.
This beer is an ale, Germany brand, my dad said, first grade in the world. I did not ask for its brand, too young to care for brands, and simply left the bottles in a barrel of cold water – the only way back then to chill it without any domestic fridges – along with some other edible items in the same barrel: milk, melons, vegetables, what have you. Another time, my dad brought home two bottles of chilled beer – chilled off the refrigerator from his work cafeteria.
Drink it when it’s still fresh and chilled, my dad said. I drained one whole bottle without any food, feeling like inhaling fresh air from a heat-packed room on a scorching summer day. In the years that followed, we were the first home that owned a domestic fridge among a closely-knit neighborhood of eighteen homes, and I naturally became a minor celebrity simply by sharing the chilled food and ice-cream bars with friends of my age group. Seeing my dad freezing liquor once in a while, I tried playfully freezing beer. I never understood why my dad’s liquor never froze, the way beer did.
The freezing point depends on the percentage of ethanol in it, my dad said, laughing one day at my frozen beer bottles seen broken into glass shards. I have whiskey, with a higher percentage of alcohol than beer, a reason why you would never leave low-ethanol beer in the freezer. But I was determined to try a frozen version of my beer, an act of pride to show off the effect of my freezer among my friends than the perceivable self-satisfaction of its mere consumption, since anything chilled or frozen was luxury to those without freezers. I used the lidless pint glasses instead, and that worked really well. I was happy to catch the dropping jaws and jealousy eyes each time I shared my frozen beer. I loved biting off the iced beer mass, and grew enamored of it that gradually outlived the simple pride of building childhood fandom in my formative years.
In the US, I’ve made lots of adaptations to try to be the best Americanized version of the immigrant, but drinking frozen beer stubbornly stays with me, the eccentricity I cannot outgrow, like a birthmark, an established telepathic link with the vestige of my past, a badge of who I am.
As a sales director for a famed vendor, I hang out a lot with my C-level clients. I would ask the bartenders to freeze a couple of beers for me.
You must have meant to chill in this culture, one of my client executives says today, laughing, because the outcome of freezing a beer is a tasteless mass of ice.
Thank you, I simply say, but I meant what I said.
The client executive is visibly irritated, despite my subsequent effort to apply some levity to defuse the tension. He starts gathering his things and takes off without a word.
As I’m called into my manager’s office, I see my HR Partner present wearing a stone face, I know I’m in trouble. Today is…, the HR Partner starts, after clearing her throat a few times, is your last day. You annoyed one of our high-touch clients because you clearly meant chill when you said freeze, and you chose not to admit your fault.
I’m now one of the client executives of this same vendor. I do not mask myself for who I am, I say to my vendor group over a glitzy and ritzy dinner, I want frozen beer, and I mean it. My eyes meet with stares from the whole group, while I ask the bartender to freeze a couple of draft beers for me.
That sounds very interesting, the sales director of this vendor says, his cheeks twitch into a wisp of a smile, that shows a lifestyle we should all learn. We are your fans of frozen beer. He then turns to the bartender, cutting through the noise of the crowds milling around the bar, and says, We have twelve people here in our group, we each want a frozen beer. Please put the beer bottles in your freezer.
Correction, I say, No bottles. Only pint glasses.
Ahming Zee (pen name) is a Chinese immigrant living in Boston. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ariel Chart, Scarlet Leaf Review, Literary Yard, Door Is A Jar, among others. Ahming holds an English degree and dual Master’s in Liberal Arts, and has served as Lecturer of English in Beijing, Poetry Editor of Hawaii Review, and Staff Writer for Ka Leo O’ Hawaii. You can find him on Twitter @ahmingzee.