“Do you want to come out for a soft drink with us?”
This is a question I get asked quite a bit by people I know who are planning on heading down to the bar or pub to knock back a few beers. They know I don’t drink anything alcoholic, and it’s very nice to be invited along.
A couple of years ago, I was having dinner with relatives in Malaysia and red wine was passed around. As a non-drinker, I declined. One of my uncles frowned and said to my parents in Cantonese, “That’s so strange. Your kids are Australian. But they don’t drink.”
Really? I’m Australian, so I must be a drinker? Does my no-drinking attitude have something to do with my Asian background? Because I’m Asian Australian?
It’s no secret there’s a strong drinking culture in Australia. It’s the norm for many here to wander to a watering hole and unwind with jugs of beer on a Friday night. Get tipsy and you’re assumed to be enjoying yourself. When a public holiday rolls around, plenty of Aussies eagerly throw a shrimp on the barbie and wash down it down with a fine wine. When the footy’s on, a pint of lager is bound to be on the table.
In Asia, the drinking culture is a notch tamer. As Bloggers Without Borders has pointed out, religion and limited wealth are factors contributing to this. For instance, there are large Muslim populations in Indonesia and Malaysia that abstain from alcohol and so not everyone drinks. In China, drinking is usually done by stable income-earning professionals and families when they are closing business deals and having celebratory reunion dinners respectively. In the country’s rural areas, it’s extremely expensive to transport literally anything to these regions.
On the topic of health, studies have shown Asians tend to inherit a deficient enzyme that inhibits their bodies from digesting alcohol efficiently. This goes towards explaining why a number of Asians get the “Asian flush” face when drinking and don’t hold their liquor too well, and so drink less.
What’s more, tea is frequently the preferred drink of choice, overshadowing alcohol, on several occasions in Asia. It’s almost served immediately upon arrival at Chinese restaurants in Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Milk tea is also a hit in these cities, with long queues a common sight outside bubble tea stores day and night.
In the Western world, Asians are naturally tempted to be more adventurous with their drinking habits. Clubs here organise “Asian nights”, nights where Asians are encouraged to come out to party and bond (non-Asian clientele are welcome too). Alcopops and slabs of beer can be bought at the nearest 7-11. Consequently, recent research has shown drinking wine has become part of the lifestyles of many South East Asians who have studied abroad.
I’ve never had a proper drink in my entire twenty-something life. Not in Malaysia. Not in Singapore. Never been enticed to in Melbourne. Admittedly, I had a sip of Tiger Beer and red wine on two separate occasions in my teens. That was all.
It’s not religion or money or my time in Asia that influenced my decision to not drink. My reasons for not drinking are simply:
I don’t like the taste of alcohol.
My body is a temple and I want full control of it.
I’ve nothing against those who drink and believe many of them are nice people. Recently, I discovered The Wine Wankers, a welcoming blog about searching for the best wine(s) around and yes, it has opened my eyes to the art of wine-tasting. As for those who stumble drunkenly on the streets, I’m inclined to think they made the occasional bad decision at the pub on a swell night out. Getting intoxicated doesn’t necessarily mean someone has drinking problems, and drinking in moderation has health benefits.
There’s a social stigma attached to not drinking: if you don’t drink, you’re often stereotyped as anti-social and shy. Do people who drink feel uncomfortable around me and those who order something non-alcoholic on a night out? I don’t know. But what I do know is that apart from the reasons above, I feel no need to justify to others why I don’t drink – the choice is mine.
I’m perfectly happy with my Asian Australian self sitting in a bar with a cup of water while everyone else has a beer or two. Or more.
What are some of the reasons you drink/don’t drink?