Few people who meet locals in Asia can escape the rounds of toasts that accompany meals or social get-togethers. Refilling fellow diners' cups is considered polite, as is reciprocating every toast. Challenges to knock back fiery cups of spirits might spill to unconnected restaurant tables. There's no getting out of polite sips, since the Chinese for "cheers" – similar in Korean and Japanese – is "gan bei", which means "dry cup".
China's sorghum-based baijiu is about 50 per cent alcohol but reasonably pleasant in moderation, which is unfortunately never. Japanese shochu and Korean soju have half the alcohol content, but drinkers only get into their stride after a dozen shots. Hangover antidotes include dry fish soup, nashi juice or naked sweating in a Korean bathhouse.
Elsewhere in Asia, it isn't so much quantity as content that challenges the delicate of stomach. South-east Asians have a liking for assorted creatures pickled in alcohol. Vietnamese snake wine and Thai centipede whisky are just the start of the horrors. Expect to find birds, bugs, scorpions or eels in spirits, supposedly the thing to electrify your love life, if not your liver.
The only way to get out of drinking is if you're pregnant or a monk. Pretending you're Muslim doesn't necessarily help, since Malays and Indonesians happily down arak, infamous for its cheapness and potential for serious bodily harm. There's some good news, though. Filipino rum and Indian whiskey are good, and Chinese red wine, once mouthwash, is now surprisingly decent.
Chinese meals end abruptly, letting you off further drinking. The Japanese, however, usually head bar-wards, and Filipinos for the karaoke lounge. By then, though, you should be fuelled with enough alcohol to cope with anything, including your host's lusty rendition of My Way.