Bot­tles and Broth­ers

The World of Chinese - - Cover Story -

“Stay here. Do not leave, if you have the balls. If I don't use a knife on you tonight, I won't have the face to get by in this street any­more,” Yin the Younger, a ven­dor of the night mar­ket, shouted at a fre­quent cus­tomer at Han's stand. Yin breathed heav­ily, stink­ing of al­co­hol. Two ven­dors were hold­ing him back and all hell was break­ing loose in the mar­ket—which isn't un­com­mon. The cause of the brawl? Ac­cord­ing to Yin, he saw Liu and tried to toast him with a cup of beer. Liu turned Yin down and threw his beer to the ground, sneer­ing, “You will al­ways be be­neath me!”

All of this, and the vi­o­lence that would fol­low, dated back to a sup­posed 200 RMB over­charge from Yin to Liu when the lat­ter ate at the for­mer's stand sev­eral days ago, play­ing out a per­fect scene of the “rivers and lakes” mas­culin­ity that so em­bod­ies th­ese mi­grant street mar­ket com­mu­ni­ties. Liu bragged that he earns over 5,000 RMB a month as a train con­duc­tor, so he would have no need to cheat the bill. Yin coun­tered with his sup­posed mob con­tacts and more than “10 broth­ers” in pri­son to whom he sends money. Liu coun­tered this counter with a claim that he could “mo­bi­lize 100 staff from the rail­way” to fight for him.

Then, bang. Yin mu­ti­lated him­self in de­fi­ance, bash­ing a beer bot­tle over his own head, white foam run­ning on the con­crete.

Han, the man who gave me my first job in the mar­ket (and ever the peace­maker) in­ter­vened by tak­ing the half-bot­tle away from Yin and drag­ging Liu to the op­po­site side of the street. Yin tried to fol­low, and when I and others tried to stop them, we were hit and kicked.

Af­ter an­other half-hour the fight came to its end. Han man­aged to have both par­ties seated at his stand with three bot­tles of beer placed be­fore Yin, Liu, and him­self. Han asked Liu to fill the cup and toast Yin first to apol­o­gize for in­sult­ing him. Then, he or­dered Yin to fill the empty plas­tic cup for Liu, and both of them drank and agreed not to pur­sue ma­li­cious in­ten­tions. When it was Liu's turn to fill the cup for Yin, he made a sen­ti­men­tal speech, stat­ing that it would be the last ban­quet he would have at the night mar­ket.

“Brother Han, I didn't tell you that we are leav­ing next Mon­day, and per­haps not com­ing back. You know us train guys are just like sol­diers,” he turned to Yin. “I come from the North; you are also from the North. Why do we leave our home­towns? It is only for good for­tune...let me toast you.”

He drank the full cup in one go and thanked Han for his care. He left the ta­ble, and Yin did not stop him.

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