Illustration by Mitchell Fong
As a male of drinking age, and of part-Asian descent, let me share with you a unique cultural problem I face, quite literally, with my face. I’m talking about an anxiety-inducing experience known as “Asian glow,” the erroneously cute term for alcohol flush reaction—a condition concerning the intense blushing and bright rosy hue that fans across one’s face, neck, ears, and body upon the consumption of alcohol. It is common among people of Asian ancestry, a large percentage of whom lack aldehyde dehydrogenase 2, some cellular enzyme that breaks down acetaldehyde, a byproduct of alcohol, causing it to accumulate at 10 times the normal concentration due to the presence of an allele called ALDH2*2 by which—okay, look, I get it: Asians are supposed to be good at, like, bio-engineering and science, but I can’t even pretend to understand what I just copy-pasted from Wikipedia, so why don’t you just Google the rest while I go ahead and live it. Ugh!
For us, the worrying starts before the drinking even begins. For most people, a night out means weighing whether or not you want to get freaky, while we weigh looking like a total freak. We worry about getting dressed and choosing clothes that’ll complement our potential face color, which could run anywhere from a portly pink to a deep purple. Drinking can feel like a part-time job because of all the prep work required before downing one beer, and the mental fortification required for all the potential jokes ahead. (“Are you okay? Do you want some SPF 90? You’re, like, really red right now. Ack, now you’re turning purple! Did you choke on the poke? I made it!”) Everyone means well, but they’re having a killer buzz, and we’re just red with jealousy.
Asian glow is a paradox. It’s at total odds with why people drink in the first place: To rid ourselves of inhibitions only makes us more inhibited. Still, we love knowing our limit better than our friends will ever know theirs. We appreciate that turning red saves us a ton of green. We have to be even more confident in our skin, a life lesson in loving yourself. We use a diverting self-awareness and make light of being a lightweight. And we dream—the ultimate coping mechanism to loving the glow.
The next time we’re blinded by the luminescent reflection of ourselves in the glare of our half-full glasses and begin wondering where we fit in the fabric of this party, we convince ourselves we’re part of an enlightened truth radiating beneath the tide of our crimson surface—that in the post-post-racial year of 2187, everyone will inevitably have some of this hyperactive blood pumping through their veins, and we’re merely bright beacons of that future lying ahead. Basically, we tell ourselves anything so that we can glow with the flow.