Am I a beer label collector ?

The answer is NO and I seem to spend a lot of the last 10 years explaining why I am not.  It just seemed the right thing to do at the time when you are stuck in one of China's many 1+ million people cities and there are (ie were) no cafes, bars, museums, galleries etc. to go to.  It got me into many places and backstreets that I would otherwise never have ventured down.  At the time, I used the term "I am off beer hunting".

It might have actually started when I went to Harbin not long after I arrived in China.  On arrival, it was -29 degrees Celsius.  Outside the hotel window, workers were on their hands and knees with "hammers" breaking the ice on the roads.  I had a Chinese minder who had the annoying habit of following me into toilets.  (I mean I had to request that he not accompany me into my hotel room bathroom !)  Elsewhere, I was not so lucky.  There's nothing like the pressure of standing at a urinal with a relative stranger looking over your shoulder.  

As an adjunct to my Chinese language lessons, I used the process to provide impetus to get into character recognition and translation plus typing of Chinese and Pinyin characters.  So yes, I translated all characters myself and typed the Chinese and pinyin characters myself.  The naivete is all mine.


I collected the labels when I lived in Beijing in 2001 and 2002, did a tidy-up sometime in 2003 and decided to do this website in early 2012.  The photography of labels and image cropping was done in 2002 and 2003.  All of the basic database stuff including typing of characters was done in 2002 and stored in a spreadsheet.  It remained untouched until 2012.

Collection Methods

Apart from keeping my eye out most of the time, if I went to a new place, I would usually try the larger supermarkets, then smaller supermarkets then after that, hit the backstreets.  I learnt quickly that the beers at the big supermarkets were different to the backstreet beers.

Under less stressed circumstances, one would soak the label off in a basin at home, dry it and put it in the album.  On the road, hotel bathroom rubbish bins became soakers and when not in hotels, a plastic bag with a wet cloth usually did the trick.  Fortunately most labels slipped off easily after an overnight soak but many were prised off with a pocket knife in a hurry when one should have been packing.  Some were steadfastly glued with epoxy.

And yes, it is possible to do all of this and not even look like a beer hunter.

Tools Used

For the sake of this exercise, I chose to use open source tools to do everything.  OK, I do pay for the web site but I prototype the entire site locally using the open source/free tools.  Those tools include MySQL database, FreeBSD, Apache web server with PHP, Joomla content management system plus a selection of extensions.