Everything you ever wanted to know about the Asian Flush

Last Friday I was out in Fremont with some friends. Fremont is a wonderfully charming neighborhood, and is especially inviting for people who love narrow roads, spending an hour looking for parking, and don’t mind occasionally running into a college hipster, which is the pupa stage before an adult hipster enters the world. Though not quite as terrifying, they consume unspeakable quantities of Bud Light.

We decided to meet at Revel, an Asian-inspired fusion restaurant, at 5:00 pm. The place was packed by the time I got there. For the average person, finding your friends in a large crowd may seem daunting, but we Asians have learned to follow the soft red glow that emanates when our people congregate. The restaurant was dimly lit, which made finding my friends, most of whom are Asian, all the more easy. I noticed that half of their faces were bright red, which meant that either someone in the group farted or they had been drinking. Based on the hue of their faces—a gentle, yet regal crimson—I estimated they probably were two or three sips into the night.

An article from NBC News reports that the Asian Flush, as it is commonly known, occurs in up to 30% of Asians—especially in people of Chinese, Japanese or Korean descent. The cause is due to “a genetic inability to properly metabolize alcohol.” The result is a reddening of the face; but other symptoms may include increased heart rate or a hot throbbing sensation around the neck and chest. A young Asian couple experiencing this for first time might mistakenly believe they are in love, or that their date is a pharmacy student, a prize coveted by many moms. Others may experience headaches, dizziness or nausea—similar to the feeling most Asians get right before they tell their parents they didn’t get accepted into Harvard.

At this stage in my life, I wonder why some Asians still seem surprised when they see a flush, like my Korean friend Emily, who commented “OMG Jackie, your face is so red!” She may as well have added “Congratulations! As the one-millionth Asian I’ve seen with a flush, here is a $25 gift card for bubble tea.” It’s almost become a litmus test to see who the “real Asians” are. My friend Jane is only half Asian on her mom’s side. She never turns red no matter how hard she tries, a shame she shall wear to her grave.

Of course, as soon as one person shares their flush story, everyone else at the table joins in too. “How red is my face?” “Do I look like a strawberry yet?” “Not fair! All I had was a teaspoon of grape cough syrup.” It can get really ugly at times, like a group of caged MMA fighters showing off their scars. “This flush I get when I drink tequila, it’s nasty.” Another poor soul described the first time she had vodka, which left permanent redness on the right side of her a face and a twitch in her eye.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. I recently read a Times article about researchers who believe the Asian flush could be an evolutionary advantage (thank goodness, cause out height deficit is not helpful at all). They hypothesized that when ancient Asians drank too much fermented rice, their faces turned red as a warning sign that they should probably stop drinking and get back to rice farming. I presume having a red face was considered super sexy and desirable too. How else would this gene have survived for so long? The Asian flush also appears to be associated with lower rates of alcoholism. In fact, the drug disulfiram, used to treat alcoholism, creates the same effects as an Asian flush.

Evolutionary or not, the stereotypes that surround Asians and alcohol are irritating. I’ve been mocked for being lightweight, too small to drink, and at times have felt like I needed to drink on behalf of all Asians to prove our worth. These stereotypes can be really harmful if someone actually tries to disprove these myths. How about kicking ass at driving instead? A few things I’ve learned are:

  1. Don’t peer pressure others into drinking more. Build resiliency by practicing meditation or hot yoga.
  2. Make sure everyone is safe. No one should be driving and driving.
  3. There are far worse things than a flush, like puking your brains out or making eye contact with a hipster.

Despite the brief embarrassment a flush may cause, I had a genuinely great night with my friends. We played pool, had pizza and danced the night away to 90s throwback. Don’t ask me how or why, but there was a cage and pole involved.

The next morning I found a parking ticket on my windshield. My face became bloodshot with rage. I curse you Fremont with the fury of a thousand ancient Asian farmers! Alcohol isn’t the only thing that will turn an Asian red.


2 thoughts on “Everything you ever wanted to know about the Asian Flush”

  1. Good old Asian Flush, my poor uncle couldn’t even drink at his own wedding for fear of ruining the wedding photos for the night!
    P.S. I heart your sense of humor with our Asian stereotypes! One time when I was driving on the interstate and saw a driver’s ed car in the lane next to me. There was an Asian female in the driver’s seat and a Asian male in the passengers seat. WHAT?! I literally busted out laughing at how ironic this actually looked, as if we need Asians teaching Asians to drive. I will admit I may have switched lanes to steer clear haha.


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