Ask anyone who has spent enough time drinking with me and they’ll tell you that before long I’ll ask them, “Is my face red?” I know it drives them crazy, but I have to say, the idea of having “Asian Flush” is something I get quite anxious about, because not only is it unattractive and physically uncomfortable, a candy apple red face would generally appear that I’m drunk, when I’m not.
Patiently, they always say what I want to hear, which is, “No, it’s not red.” But, I never believe them; I know that “Red” has arrived (or will very soon) because my face (and entire body) is flushed and she always arrives after I’ve had some alcohol. And when I say “some,” I mean just a few sips. That’s all it takes to turn this girl, who started the evening in complete composure into an insecure walking red beacon, as if calling attention to everyone around. It’s done. “Red” has made her entrance. She is going to stay for the rest of the night, and I never invited her.
“Red” also brings along the dreadfully numbing and buzzing sensation that I get deep in my ears, and this feeling as though my ears are going to pop off like Mrs. Potato Head after she’s been thrown across the room by a tantrumming two-year-old. Crazy, I know. It’s generally a miserable feeling, but not nearly as miserable as knowing that “Red” has arrived.
Why do I turn red and you don’t? Alcohol is broken down in two steps. Sadly, I get stuck at the end of the first step. Without getting too scientific, once alcohol enters the body, it breaks down to aldehyde (step one). Actually, in 80 percent of Asians, this step happens faster than the rest of the population. Then, aldehyde – which is toxic – breaks down further into harmless substances, with the help of an enzyme (step two). I’m missing this magic enzyme.
The aldehyde that is left stuck in my body after the first step dilates my blood vessels, essentially turning my skin red. So yeah, that’s the reason for my red face. I’m not drunk. I’m not angry. I’m not holding my breath. I’m not bashful. I’m just stuck with “Red,” the unwanted visitor who invariably arrives late to my party.