My relationship with alcohol could be described as “barely tolerant.” Half a glass of beer and my face was reddened. Later, I learned that the English had terms like “Asian flush” and “Asian glow,” racially linked to our lack of alcohol digesting enzyme. But such euphemisms weren’t apt for my “boiled octopus” face, as a Japanese expression described a reddened face. If I kept drinking beer, my heart started to palpitate, and breathing would become laborious. After that, I would hyperventilate and get a splitting headache.
After a while, I learned to drink slowly, which enabled me to feel the merry drunkenness. But I had to be very careful with food. Low-carb foods like salad and pickles were ok, but if I had carbs like rice, pasta, pizza, potatoes, or ramen, I got sick immediately and had a terrible hangover the next day. If my stomach was empty, I had diarrhea the next day, so the best I could do was to eat light 1 or 2 hours before drinking alcohol. I learned all this over the years of mistakes and embarrassments, but in the beginning, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t enjoy alcohol less restrictively as others did.
My father didn’t get red and started with beer, then move on to sake and finish with whiskey, while gobbling up sashimi, tempura and vegetable pickles. He loosened up very quickly and became talkative to an annoying degree. Thankfully, he never became physically violent or destructive or drunk-drove. When he was younger, I saw him throw up after coming home from drinking with his colleagues, and my mother caught the vomit with a washbasin. I resented how much he drank, but he always amazed us whenever he came back clean from the annual health check. My mother would buy herself mini cans of beer that only contained my father’s one gulp worth, and after one of which, she was red and sleepy. My sister and I got our mother’s tolerance.