Mei Yu Wanti

Taiwan bustles chaotically just 90 miles off China's eastern coast, but its style of free market capitalism couldn't be further from its Communist motherland. Democracy rules in most of the ways Taiwan does business, but industries like alcohol and tobacco were government-owned monopolies when I visited the island for the first time in 1985. Not that I cared—I swore off booze as a child, and nothing and no one was going to break my hard line on that matter. At least that's what I told my gracious hosts when business protocol demanded hearty socializing. My escape clause worked perfectly in places like Great Britain, Germany, Holland, Belgium and Finland, but proved impotent when I entered the Pacific Rim.

If players in the American bicycle business pride themselves on their lunchtime rides, resting heart rates and V02 max, their Taiwan peers gloat over liver disease and DUI's like badges of honor. If Taiwan has a drinking problem, it's that there's never too much to drink. I learned this the hard way at dinner and karaoke with four of Taiwan's most famous alcoholics: the legendary Victor Sun, Southern Cross factory's TC Lin, Kalloy founder David Chang and Velo Industry's affable but irascible Stella Yu. Not over four or even two business dinners, I'm sad to admit, but rather All On The Same Night.

That night started predictably over a 12-course family-style dinner at a now-defunct seafood mega restaurant called the Lotus Garden in Taichung. Taichung City and its surrounding industrial parks and suburbs comprise the geographical heart of Taiwan, and is the place where roughly 75% of the factories that cater to the high-end bike business call home. On any given evening in the Lotus Garden's prime, presidents, sales reps and product managers from a hundred different bike companies could be seen washing down steamed cuttle fish and sweet-and-sour chicken feet with cognac and rice wine in any number of its 25 or 30 private dining rooms. In my day I have supped with some of the heaviest hitters in the business, including Sam Wang, Ike Cheng, Gary Fisher, Tom Richey and even one of my early BMX heroes, Bob Haro.

On this evening, however, it was just me, my boss, the aforementioned booze hounds and TC Lin's business partner, Ms. Sherry Shu. My protestations to the imbibing about to ensue were greeted with resounding contempt.

"Mei yu wanti!"

What the hell are they saying? I asked.

"'May yoo wan tee' means 'No problem.' Stella, TC and the rest of our friends are saying it's okay for you to drink—no problem."

It might be okay for them, but it sucks for me, I replied.

"Hey, McGoo—don't insult our friends. Have a drink. If someone raises their glass to you and says 'Compai,' that means, 'Bottoms up!'"

And with that friendly lesson from my learned teacher, the giant cherry in the Shirley Temple of my life was forever broken.

Details from the rest of that evening are sketchy, but I do remember holding David Chang's head above the urinal while he puked his guts out in the Karaoke bar, and waking up the next day naked on my bed, my clothes folded neatly on my dresser and my shoes stacked carefully by the nightstand. My wallet was still hidden in my suitcase, so my previous evening's keeper was clearly friend, not foe.

Although I lived to fight another day, my nights would never be the same. On my thirtieth birthday I dropped my moratorium on booze on strictly foreign soil, thus completing my descent into chaos. By avoiding potent potables into my thirties, I sometimes think I did more harm than good. Waiting until your 35th birthday to drink like a teenager seems counterproductive in retrospect, but better or worse, that's how I played it. On the matter of my drinking in Taiwan, the worst of it seems well behind me. On my most recent trip this Thanksgiving, I had one bottle of beer, shared one bottle of wine, and required no help undressing after the fact.

If that's not the first step to sobriety, it ought to be.


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