Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Now, I ask you, is it likely?

A friend quizzed me by SMS last Saturday as to whether I was out & about on the bar scene - "at a Halloween party".

I was flabbergasted!!

a) I don't go out to bars all that much. Really. (Not on the weekend, at any rate....)

b) I don't go to parties in bars. Ever. (Well, not unless they're organised by friends of mine....)

c) Halloween is not an English holiday (not as it is nowadays mostly 'celebrated', anyway, with all of that costume partying trick-or-treat malarkey). It is strictly an American thing, and not something I have any interest in. (OK, I like Thanksgiving and Mardi Gras - but not Halloween. What do you want from me? Consistency?!)

d) I do rather hold to the view that you have to celebrate special events (Christmas, birthdays, New Year, St Patrick's Day....) on the actual day on which they fall - not on an adjacent weekend. Call me a fuddy-duddy, if you will; but there you have it - it is one of my inflexible principles.

So, was I in a bar celebrating Halloween on October 27th??? I should say not!

Tonight, on the other hand, is a whole different question.....

Rain prolongs play...

Last Saturday evening I was out at The Pool Bar with The Chairman and his visiting brother (one of them: he has many brothers - and a sister or two - and it seems they are visiting serially). I was tired, after another succession of late music-nights; and not playing particularly well; I was fully intending to head home before midnight. And indeed, I was just about to do so; and had persuaded my companions to do likewise.

But it had started to rain just after we reached the bar. Quite unexpectedly - rain is quite a rarity in Beijing, and there had been no indications earlier in the day to suggest the likely onset of evening precipitation. But raining, it was. Very, VERY hard. So hard that it would have been tough to get a taxi (as in every other city in the world - but more so - vacant taxis become an endangered species here when it rains; I suspect it's at least partly because most Beijing taxi drivers - well, most Beijing drivers, period - don't really know how to drive, and are afraid of the greatly increased likelihood of accidents in the wet,...... and so pull off the road until the downpour subsides. No, really!). So hard that we would have got drenched in seconds, just trying to wait for a taxi (none of us had thought to bring raincoats or umbrellas for the evening). So hard that.... we went back inside, had some more drinks, a few more games of pool.

An hour or so later, we tried to leave again. Still pissing down. We went back inside, had some more drinks, a few more games of pool.

And so...... despite the best of intentions, it ended up being yet another 2.30 or 3.00am night for me. A good night, though.

Did you notice my reference the other day in my What makes a great bar? post to the desirability in a bar of interior darkness and a paucity of windows to the outside world (such that you can happily lose track of the time of day, or the state of the weather)? The Pool Bar doesn't have any windows at all (at least, not on the ground floor level - I've still never been upstairs): it's like being in a cellar. One of the reasons I love it!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Stranger than fiction...

Or perhaps I should say, too naff for satire.

In the Simpsons' episode The British Cowboy alluded to the other day, where Moe takes his bar 'upmarket', Moe's Tavern is re-branded as M. This prompted me - in my epic post yesterday about the defining traits of good and bad bars - to pour scorn on bars which name themselves after letters of the alphabet.

Then, last night, I happened to read a magazine article about one of Beijing's newest bars. It's in the Sofitel Hotel, which is buried inside one of the city's grotesque new mega-malls. It's a (would-be) upscale cocktail lounge.

And it's called..... M.

Ye gods!

Oh well, I don't suppose I'll ever go there.

I wonder, though, if they were perhaps consciously referencing the Simpsons in choosing that name. Unlikely, I fear; but if they were, it might just redeem them.

This week's bon mot

"Not drunk is he who from the floor
Can rise alone and still drink more;
But drunk is he who prostrate lies,
Without the power to drink or rise."

Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866)

Of course, the lawyer in me immediately spots the 'loophole': Peacock seems to be saying that the ability to resume a standing position is definitive of not-being-(too)-drunk, but then in the last line implies that if you can still drink while lying on the floor, that's OK too. Maybe that was a conscious corollary? I doubt if the distinction is ever of practical value, since it's pretty much impossible to drink lying down - even when sober.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

What makes a great bar?

I think I have been answering this question - albeit obliquely, serially - since I started this blog a year ago. However, my gadfly, The British Cowboy, challenged me the other day to come up with a more definitive, single-post answer.

So, here I will attempt that. Attempt.


The Caveats

1) No bar ever attains perfection. (And if it did, it probably wouldn't be any good any more! We love places - as we do people - for their individual kinks, their imperfections.)

2) I can't really lay down a single, all-embracing template for the 'great bar', because my requirements and expectations differ at different times. Perhaps we all look for different things in a bar at different periods of our lives; perhaps we even look for different things at different times of the year, or different hours of the day. And I certainly look for different things in different locales: in northern Europe and North America (where I have learned to love bars), I would almost always want to sit inside; in southern Europe or the tropics, I am much more tempted to sit outside. And so on....

3) A lot of 'great bar-ness' is specific to individual tastes and particular circumstances; in essence, you can fall in love with a place if you happen upon it at just the right time, or are lucky enough to have a really good first experience of it. Friends who haven't shared that initial bonding experience may remain mystified as to why you are so keen on the place.

Enough with the caveats; let's now try to nail some of the...

Essential Elements

1) Good draught beer. This is mostly what I drink. Sure, it's nice if there's an extensive, and perhaps slightly exotic, selection of spirits too, and maybe even a drinkable house wine (but, face it, ladies, you're never going to be able to trust a wine that's sold by the glass); although frankly, I don't really give a rat's ass about any of that. The beer has to be good. Of course, in an environment like Beijing where none of the beer is much good, and drinking bottled rather than draught beer unfortunately has to be accepted as the norm, differentiating between bars on the basis of point no. 2) becomes even more important.

2) Reasonable prices. I am not a rich man. Even if I were one day to become a rich man, I don't think I would ever succumb to the allure of ostentatious consumption: I think it will always give me less pleasure, not more, to spend more than I need to on something. But it's not just about thrift. Low prices tie into so many of the other important qualities I shall try to itemise later: cheap bars are happy bars, friendly bars, unpretentious bars. Expensive bars tend to be full of wankers.

3) Good service. The bar staff make or break a bar 9 times out of 10 (this, sadly, is why there are so few bars to which I have formed any strong emotional attachment here in Beijing). You need people who are swift and efficient (without being uptight or obsessive compulsive), outgoing (but not too loud or hearty), and friendly (but not pushy or intrusive) - not forced bonhomie and routine humour but genuine sociability, combined with an enthusiasm for doing their job well. It's not too often you find that.

4) A hands-on owner/manager. They don't have to be there all the time, or work behind the bar themselves, but they should maintain a reasonable level of visibility; they should be in a position to know if their staff are doing a good job, if their customers are happy; and, if anything is going wrong, they should be around to put it right promptly. Even more importantly, a great bar needs some sort of distinctive 'personality', and (although this is generated also partly - and sometimes solely - by the staff and/or customers) that 'personality' is usually to some extent an extension of the owner's personality. [This is one of the key reasons why The Tree is SHIT, in my view.]

5) A dark interior. I go to bars to forget about the outside world. I don't want to be able to see the outside world going about its business through a huge fucking floor-to-ceiling window. Ideally, I don't even want to know whether it's still daylight outside, or whether it's started raining....

6) A good bar. Easily overlooked, but one of the key attributes of any drinking establishment is the bar itself, the counter. It should be long enough to accommodate everyone who'd prefer to stand or sit at the bar (as I usually do) rather than sit at a table. It should be just the right height to rest your hip against when leaning in against it (I like quite a tall bar; this is based on the fact that I am 6'3" - sod the rest of you!). It should have bar stools of a suitable height for people who choose not to stand. Ideally, it should have a brass footrail. I particularly like U-shaped or 'island' bars that give you a view of pretty much the whole room.

7) A good band of regulars. A great bar needs just the right level of custom: not so much that the place is crowded or noisy, or suggestive of being a common favourite rather than a hidden gem for those in-the-know; not so little that the place has no atmosphere, goes out of business in a few months. It can be a very tough balance to strike. They also need to be the right kind of customers - not necessarily people exactly like myself (there's no-one like me!), but people I can get along with. Not loud, obnoxious, or violent. Well-behaved, thoughtful drinkers. [Here I should refer you once again to my key early post, Two Kinds of Drunk.] Occasionally, I might be able to entertain myself in a bar by reading a magazine or a book; or sometimes, I may have gone for a particular event, such as some live music or a football game on TV; but in general, I go to a bar for company and conversation. I am not always able to go with friends, or to be sure of rallying friends to meet me there. So, an important aspect of a great bar is the reliable expectation that there will be some customers there who are not complete strangers, the sort of people you can have a friendly chat with while you drink.

8) Location. I only had to say this once, because I am not in the property business. Although you can find honourable exceptions, town centre bars usually lack most or all of the qualities that I have listed so far: their custom is too large, and too changeable, so they never establish a fixed 'personality' for themselves. Small bars in residential neighbourhoods almost invariably offer a readier welcome, a cosier charm.

9) Accessibility (i.e., closeness to home). I put this in at the end of the 'Essentials', because, while it is usually for me - for nearly everyone, I think - a key factor in choosing a favourite bar..... well, I can live without it: I'll travel quite some distance to a bar that has all the other elements of greatness in place. I've always been a big walker; and here in Beijing, taxis are so plentiful and so inexpensive that it is no big deal for me to frequent bars several miles away from where I live. In general, though, you would expect a great bar to be "a convenient staggering distance home" - no more than two miles distant, preferably under one.

10) Associations, memories, anecdotes. It's difficult to think of according a place great bar status on your first visit. You might recognise its potential for greatness, but you need a few more visits to confirm that initial appraisal. I guess I've never been a one-night stand kind of a guy. I always want to develop a relationship. I want some history with a bar before I think of ranking it among the greats.

Of course, there are a lot of other factors that may draw us to a favourite bar, but - for me - I don't think any of the others are make-or-break. These 10 points are the Formula for Happiness.

Then there the other potentially positive things, that I think of merely as...

Desirable extras

1) Free bar snacks. You can't insist on this, but it does make such a positive impression. My local when I was doing my teacher training (more years ago than I now care to remember) was a country pub just outside Durham: they always used to hand around plates of cocktail sausages and baby roast potatoes on Sunday lunchtime, and I loved them for it. I've found a few places in the States that put out complimentary tortilla chips and chilli salsa on the bar. And my favourite hangout in Beijing, the Yacht Club, gives you a dish of (rather good) roasted peanuts every time you buy a drink. Trust me, prospective bar owners, you will never spend a better promotional dollar.

2) A beautiful barmaid (or two, or three). Again, one can't insist. I know it's horribly un-PC of me to point out that, in a service industry primarily targeted towards men, it is a huge advantage to have some attractive female staff - but there it is, such is the way of the world. Some idle flirting with a pretty barmaid can be a key part of the great bar experience. (And of course, it's so much safer than flirting with female customers, because you know it's never going to lead anywhere.)

3) A good juke-box. Much better than piped music; or - god forbid! - a DJ! I am quite happy to do without music in a bar altogether. But if they must have it, it should be: not too loud; chosen by the customers; and drawn from a generally accepted list of classics that have stood the test of time (not contemporary hits that we're hearing too much of already in the outside world; and not divisive genres like rap [pretty much everyone can enjoy a Johnny Cash song, for example; but rap, hip hop, techno and a few other styles split the world in two!]). The best juke-boxes of all, of course, are the antique ones that actually play 45rpm singles - just watching the mechanism at work is mesmerising entertainment (they used to have one of these in favourite Oxford bar, The Black Swan, back in the early '90s; but it was a freakish anachronism even then. I very much doubt if you can find one anywhere now.). If these wondrous machines no longer exist, then CD-based juke-boxes are to be preferred. MP3/MP4-based machines have unmanageably long playlists and dismal sound quality.

4) A good pool table. Although I love the game of pool, I do not view it as an essential part of the great bar. In fact, I like to think of favourite pool-playing haunts in a separate category: the presence of a good pool table will tend to distract me from drinking and conversation, and thus might arguably be seen as a factor that compromises a truly great bar. In practice, though, favourite bars and favourite pool-playing haunts have tended to coincide for me.

5) A good selection of single malts. This might not be of interest to everyone, but a fine whisky is one of my favourite special treats. And a really good selection is both a rarity and a sure sign of class in a bar.

6) Food. I go to bars to drink, not to eat. And food tends to slow up the process of getting drunk. And anyway, as I often say, beer is food. However, even I have to admit that it is often a welcome convenience to be able to get some decent grub in your boozer. And since almost all the bars I've ever been to in America (and an increasingly high proportion in the UK) do offer food, the quality (and price and appropriateness) of that food does become an important differentiating factor in choosing your favourites. I tend to worry, though, that if a place gets too much of a reputation for its food, it will start attracting the wrong sort of custom. [Strike 2 against The Tree. And I don't even think their food is very good; but it does have a reputation...]

7) A non-naff name. If everything else about a place is wonderful, you can grow to love it despite its name. But some names really do not help. As The Cowboy has already suggested - in reference to a Simpsons' episode where Moe unwisely jazzes up his tavern - bars whose name is a single letter of the alphabet (or a number) are a bad idea. As indeed are bars whose names sound like a character from The Matrix, or include the names of fruits or vegetables (OK, there's a place in Pimlico called The Orange Tree - I'll allow that), or the words 'slug' or 'firkin'. Outside of traditional English pub names (The Turk's Head, The Woodman's Arms) and traditional Irish/American bar names (the family name of the original owner, with a possessive 's appended), you should stick to very simple - non-silly, non-pretentious - names like Reef Bar, The Bookworm, Bell & Drum; or names based on your location, like The Riverside Inn, Nanjie, East Shore Jazz. Bars that call themselves things like Centro (Matrix - or Transformers? - character), Zeta (Matrix character, letter of Greek alphabet, bad Welsh actress), Q (Matrix character, letter of alphabet), or Block8 (silly, pretentious, Matrix macguffin, number) are never likely to win my respect after making such a poor first impression with their choice of name.

8) A Happy Hour. Again, not absolutely essential for me (I grew up as a bar-goer without them, since they are almost unknown in the UK); although they do of course appeal to my sense of thrift. I am just a little bit sceptical of the institution, since I don't need any additional encouragement to have a drink as soon as I finish work. Happy Hours are all too often an affectation of upmarket, would-be nightclubby city centre bars that are desperate to attract a bit of early evening custom. I'll generally try to avoid Happy Hours at bars that would be too expensive for me to drink in at their regular prices - it's a matter of principle. Moreover, in Beijing, instead of giving you a straightforward discount on every drink you buy, most places offer you a second drink free; quite apart from the fact that you might not want to consume an even number of drinks, neither customers nor wait staff are able to remember clearly what free drinks are owed to whom, and it just results in fights. Not very 'Happy' at all, in fact. However, it can warm the heart to find a really good bar that is serving drinks even cheaper than usual. And I particularly like a bar that will distinguish itself by instituting a Happy Hour that is longer, cheaper, or more creatively timed than anyone else's (The Cowboy and I were reminiscing the other day about the wonderful Hogan's, which used to have a weekday lunchtime Happy Hour while 'The Jerry Springer Show' was on TV. Inspired!).

And then there are the...


1) A TV. Sorry, Cowboy. I mostly prefer to watch major sporting events at home rather than in a crowded bar. And in a bar, I find the presence of a TV set to be rather anti-social. I know TVs are ubiquitous in American bars (and increasingly common in British ones), and I have often found them a welcome source of distraction when there's no-one around to talk to; but I'd be just as likely to want to watch the news or a talk show as a sports event. American sports leave me cold anyway, I'm afraid (apart from gridiron football; and even there, I'm scarcely a hardcore fan).

2) A cocktail menu. Sometimes, it's nice to have options.... but really, how often do you order a cocktail? That's right - NEVER. Any bartender worth his or her salt should be able to make up any of the standards for you anyway; or at least take direction on how to do so. If you're in a bar that highlights its cocktails, it is likely that it is expensive and full of wankers. You didn't notice it was called Morpheus or Y or Block8??

3) Live events. Music, comedy, whatever. I mean, I like this kind of thing, I really do. And it is possible for live entertainment to be a characteristic feature of a great bar. But more often I view places like this as an event venue rather than a boozer. Having said that, though, a number of my favourite watering-holes in Beijing are in fact music bars. I said at the outset it was difficult to lay down hard-and-fast rules.

4) A clean toilet. Now, it's nice if there is one. But remember what I said up the top about tolerating imperfections in those you love? Most of my favourite bars over the years have had pretty grotty toilets; a few of them have had toilets that were outright disgusting. We simply do not choose bars on the basis of their bathroom facilities.

And finally.....

The Definite No-No's

1) Bright lights. Bar lighting should always be subdued, intimate, shadowy - heck, gloomy is the word I'm looking for, it should be gloomy.

2) Any kind of 'theme'.

3) Anything swish, modern, airy, minimalist - or otherwise expensive - in the furniture and decorations.

4) Service by wait-staff only, rather than directly from the bar.

5) A door charge.

6) Naff dress for the staff.

7) Being located in a mall or an office building.

8) Being located on an upper floor of a mall or an office building (particularly if access is via a lift/elevator).

And, of course, the absence or antithesis of any of the good points I mentioned above.

So, there you have it: How to recognise a great bar when you see one. I can see this one provoking a bit of discussion....

Friday, October 26, 2007

Jianghu, again

My fizzled evening yesterday - networking plans scuppered by the party organisers' disastrous, incomprehensible choice of the Turd Palace as their venue - was redeemed, as so often, by dropping in to Jianghu on the way home.

I introduced a couple of friends to the place for the first time, hung out with a couple of the 'regulars' (that should probably be 'inevitables'), and enjoyed D & N doing their inimitably mellow thing. Zoe the gorgeous accordionist sat in with them for a few numbers. And J-S, another French guitar whizz, was also on hand to play a short set of his own.

Yet again, I rather lost track of the time - not managing to tear myself away until after 2.30am. (Not getting to bed until nearly 4. Getting up again for work before 8: today was a day of limited productivity!)

As I've probably said before: God, I love that place.

A new 'Worst Bar in Beijing' contender

At last - the execrable Centro has some competition!

Yep, the horrendous Turd Palace I found myself in last night was a cavernous new lounge bar over by Chaoyang Park called Block8. I was initially hesitant to name-and-shame.... but then I thought: ah, what the hell - that's what this blog is for! (Well, partly, at least.)

As my newest blog-stalker, FG, perceptively points out, the place is probably doomed to go out of business pretty quickly, so if you want to see for yourselves how colossally BAD it is, you should get yourselves over there for a cathartic sneer as soon as possible. But please, don't feel obliged to buy anything there.

And commenter-in-chief Tulsa shrewdly guessed the identity of this bar from last night's preliminary bitch-post. The place has only been open a month or two, and already its vileness is becoming notorious?!

My main objection to the place (apart from the barn-like atmosphere, the deafening hubbub generated by the lousy acoustics, the thin-on-the-ground wait staff, the excessive use of mirrors in the decor [I pretty much knew how awful it was going to be when I exited the lift - any bar you need a lift to get to is off to a very bad start - and found myself negotiating a long, narrow, unsignposted corridor, with grotesque abstract art on one wall and 9ft-high mirrors on the other.... I felt like I was on my way to an appointment with Blofeld], the enormous TV screens showing a continuous [rather short] looped video of pissed-up customers 'having fun') is the really stupidly stratospheric level of prices.

A beer there cost me 40 kuai. That's about 5-and-a-half bucks US. That's nearly 3 times the usual going rate for Beijing, and a significant few kuai more than you have to pay in other too-far-up-themselves (but at least successful) 'high class' bars like Centro and Suzie Wong's. And this wasn't for a pint, mind you; nor even a bottle. No, this was for a tiny glass (no more than a quarter of a pint, at most) of almost undrinkably gassy Tsingtao (the kind of beer that several restaurants here actually give away FREE). Needless to say, everything else on the drinks menu is substantially more expensive. Jeez, I wouldn't pay those sorts of prices in London or New York. In Beijing - where the cost of living is on average barely 20% of that in Western Europe or North America - these prices are just outrageous.

My long-time drinking companion The British Cowboy commented on my earlier post about this place last night that he once had a similar experience, wandering by mischance into an outrageously 'high-end' bar in DC; when charged $8 dollars for a beer, he guffawed at the barman and said, "No, really, be serious: how much is a beer?" I wish I'd done that last night.

At least I was able to escape after that solitary, arm-and-a-leg drink. I can't imagine ever going back there - not even to mock the freaky decor.

HBH 50

best part of the night
after drinking music talk
wandering home late

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Why, oh why...?

I have just been to the worst bar in the world.

It doesn't even deserve the tiny chance of 'immortality' that naming-and-shaming on my 'Hate List' would confer.

I wonder why such bars are ever conceived and built.

It is because there are people who will go to such bars.

Why do people ever go to such bars?

I think it is because affluence smarts like acid on the soul. And affluent people seek to salve this hurt by haemorrhaging money. Bars like this are a leech treatment for the spiritual malaise of the excessively wealthy.

I hate them, hate them, HATE them.

Building a big bonfire of money would do the same job, and be way more fun.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The end of my widowhood?

Another cross-post from Froogville - on the most acutely galling of my recent 'birthday disappointments'. I think I chose to put it first on Froogville because I plan to follow up on the topic of 'hated sports' there at some point; but really, the key theme of abandonment by 'drinking companions' is Barstool fare.


There are a number of my principal drinking buddies - notably The Choirboy and The Suave Bengali - that I have scarcely seen in the last 6 weeks. Their unfortunate addiction to the wretched game of rugby is to blame.

So thoroughgoing is my lack of interest in this that I had been completely unaware of the event in question (the World Cup, apparently??!!) until it was well under way, managed to avoid seeing even one second of TV coverage of it, and had not heard a single result until last week. I even remained obstinately unmoved when I learned that England had unexpectedly made it to the final; or when friends afterwards complained to me that "we were robbed". I have NEVER in my life watched a game of rugby on TV; and I don't want that record ever to change.

Imagine my dismay when I learned that a number of my female chums had planned an all-girl 'sleepover' to watch the final game this weekend.... rendering them unavailable to join me for revelry
on my birthday.

When I was informed of this unfortunate clash in a text message from my lovely friend DD, I responded bitterly (oh, how I love the succinctness of SMS!): "Aha! Now my spurning is COMPLETE. Bloody rugby!"

A detailed description of the depth of my loathing for this game can wait until another time. For now, I just want to celebrate being once again free of its baleful influence for another 6 months or so. Vile, vile, boring, vile game!!

Monday, October 22, 2007

A drinking - and fighting - bon mot for the week

"Many battles have been fought and won by soldiers nourished on beer."

Frederick the Great (1712-1786)

Nourished?? I wonder what the original German is there? I love the idea that you don't just get your men pissed-up to drown their fear, but that you train them on drink.... But maybe that's not what Big Fred meant.

Where are the military historians when you need them? Frank, do you know this quotation?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A busy 'birthday'

A cross-post from Froogville, summing up my yesterday:

my general distaste for the idea of birthday celebrations (and a certain paralysing lethargy which has been dogging me for some weeks), yesterday's 'big day' turned out to be not soooo bad.

It included:

Afternoon tea with two of my favourite ladies (mother and daughter)

A first-beer-of-the-day and a quiet read in the soothing atmosphere of The Bookworm

Sharing a quick dinner (one of the few decent burgers to be had in this town) with Tulsa

Seeing the final recital by the group of touring Indian classical musicians I'd been repeatedly failing to catch up with for the last week-and-a-half (and, at long last, getting to meet the lovely Hortense, who had helped to arrange the event)

Following that up, for contrast (and a bit of a wake-up!), with a rock'n'roll gig at one of my neighbourhood music bars

Not bad. Not bad at all. But also less-than-entirely-satisfactory. I was feeling desperately exhausted and lacklustre. My lovely tea companions had to rush off to another appointment after 45 minutes. Dinner had to be compressed into a scant 15 minutes; and then Tulsa got sidetracked for the rest of the evening playing host to some work colleagues. The Indian concert was fascinating, but...... it did go on rather (I noted in a text message to a friend who had quizzed me about it: "This music is very long-winded and repetitive; kind of mesmerising - if you can lapse into trance, you're fine; but as soon as you 'wake up', it becomes ferociously boring. I was in trance most of the time..."), and I felt the need to do a runner before the last (15 or 20-minute!) piece started. The following rock gig was a big disappointment: a new laowai band, good but not great; an hour late starting; a tiny crowd; an atmosphere-free barn of a venue - again, I succumbed to the urge to quit early, after only 30 or 40 minutes this time.

But then......

Well, it was a fine night for a walk home: clear and mild, with a fat half-moon shining down on me. I strolled up the Nanluoguxiang bar street, feeling very mellow and meditative. I looked into one or two of my favourite haunts down there to see if there were any familiar faces about, but NO. I thought of stopping in to the Yacht Club for a nightcap, but resisted the temptation. But, just before I reached the top of the road, I thought - "Well, I do fancy one more drink. There are always people in the Pool Bar; and it's a cool place to hang, even if I don't know anyone. And I do know the owners, and a couple of the 'regulars'. Shall I, shan't I? Oh, what the hell...."

If I had turned left instead of right at the top of that street..... well, I would have been in bed by 12.30, and probably rueing a bit of a fizzle of a day. But I turned right, to check out the Pool Bar. It didn't look promising at first: there was no-one I knew in; the list of people waiting for the table was too long for me to have any chance of getting a game in; and Luke, the owner, was getting ready to go home. However, just the one, I thought. Qualifying for the Brazilian GP was just starting on the TV, so that would provide reasonable distraction for a while. And then.... just as I was about to leave, a friend of a friend dropped in. I'd spoken to him in there a few times before, knew him to be a decent pool player. We chatted for quite a while about this and that; I bought him a drink to celebrate the 'b-word day'; the crowd thinned out; we got our turn on the pool table after all; I was actually starting to rediscover my form, and managed to win several games in succession..... it was only with some difficulty that I finally dragged myself away around 3am.....

Good things often happen in the Pool Bar. A fine end to the day.

Well, at least that's all over for another year.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A birthday beer...

I am not keen on the idea of birthdays (as you can read over on Froogville).... but I think I can find some familiar comforts to distract me from these unwelcome reminders of decay and mortality. Yes, beer is my one true friend.

The Library Bar

I have once before mentioned on here that one of my favourite hangouts of the past couple of years has been a bar in central Beijing that is also a library (readers with over-active memories may recall that it prompted a comment from a random visitor to the effect that surely the books were at risk of suffering drink-related accidents, viz. being covered in vomit). Indeed, my young companion The Choirboy has taken to calling the place The Library Bar, which is admirably descriptive. Its actual name, however, is The Bookworm - though most of us regulars refer to it more succinctly as The Worm.

It has been going for several years now, but originally the project was just to establish a lending library of secondhand books for the expat community, and it was hosted by a succession of independent bars/restaurants. It changed location a few times; sometimes, I think, losing a significant number of its books along the way (its last partner, re-opened in new premises after a chai [demolition order] on the old, has now mysteriously established a library of its own). However, a while back - in the summer of '05, I think it must have been - The Worm finally established a venue of its very own. And it's a lovely space, large and airy, with a high, high ceiling and glass roof in the main bar area; and a pleasant if somewhat windswept roof garden for the nice days of early summer. A great location, too: right in the middle of the Sanlitun bar district, mid-way between the 2nd and 3rd Ringroads on the fashionable east side of town.

The Worm's formidable proprietress, a British long-time expat called Alex Pearson, claims (just a tad disingenuously, I'm sure) that she's really not interested in the F&B business but is driven by the ideal of creating the sense of a literary salon, a little haven of calm for the beleaguered intellectual in the heart of this hectic, grimy, go-getting city. In addition to the library, it hosts a poetry group, a couple of book clubs, the occasional wine tasting, and frequent book launches and speaker meetings. In the past couple of weeks I have been to see the hip and kooky young German forensic pathologist Mark Benecke (he has a great - not-for-the-squeamish - website) explaining why some people believe in vampires, American amateur 'Buddhologist' Bill Porter recounting stories of his investigations into the continuing hermit tradition in Chinese Buddhism and Daoism, amusing Aussie poet Peter Bukowski (inspired by but no relation to Charles) reading some of his work, and genial Irish raconteur Paddy Barry describing his epic sailing trip around the North Pole (the first ever westerly circumnavigation within the Arctic Circle). Tons of fun.

Central location, cosy environment, and good wi-fi facilities ensure that it is a favourite spot for many people to work, and particularly for Beijing's legion of foreign journalists. And, all in all, it is a great place for randomly bumping into weird and fascinating people, as well as for more targeted networking, or for just running into old friends by happy chance. It's quite uncanny, actually: I have scarcely ever been in there without bumping into at least one person I know; and if there's a popular event on, it's quite likely there'll be at least half a dozen familiar faces I have to chat to. (In fact, sometimes, when I'm in one of my unsociable moods, this becomes a reason for avoiding the place!)

Also, I fear The Worm may be my last chance for meeting a romantic partner, since it boasts such a high traffic of gorgeous foreign women, many of whom are young and single... or not-too-old, and 'available'. (I continue to be stubbornly averse to the local girls, which severely limits my opportunities to find a girlfriend.) Of course, it's a little style-cramping that the place is almost always full of friends, exes, and thwarted crushes of the past....

Yet aside from the social opportunities, the eye-candy, the comfort of the thousands of books lining the walls, the great events, the eye-candy.... it's also a great bar: the decor and atmosphere are a little too bright and swish and modern for my taste, but it's very comfortable, the staff are nice, and the prices are not too high. And they do have by far the best selection of single malts in town. (And back in their first year, they were only about $5 for a hugely generous free-pour - probably a double-measure, at least; quite a bargain! Now, alas, the prices have crept up a bit - they were probably losing money before.) Now that the dry and dusty autumn weather is bringing the annual return of the dreaded 'Beijing Throat', regular doses of this delicious medicine become obligatory.

Enough gushing, Froog! Very well, in the interests of a balanced review, I will say that I find the food is (though alleged by some to have improved a lot recently) disappointing and best avoided: it's overpriced and wildly inconsistent. Also, promptings of the libido aside, I've always been rather wary of places that attract such a predominantly - almost exclusively - expat crowd; I didn't come to live in a foreign country so that I could spend all my time in a protective bubble of pretend-home, insulated from anything Chinese. And these days, the place is in danger of getting just too darned popular for its own good - I looked in there last Sunday afternoon, hoping for a quiet drink and an opportunity to get stuck into my new novel; but it was absolutely heaved out, and far too noisy for me to read there; so I had to head elsewhere instead. Boo!

So, it's not all wonderful with The Bookworm. But I do rather like the place. Hell, I'd be lost without it!

And this, by the way, if you take Froogville and the Barstool together, was my 1,000th post. Time for a celebratory beer, I think....

Friday, October 19, 2007

HBH 49

Giving up beer is hard

Cheaper than water,
Longed-for lift to the spirits;
A cosy habit.

Yep, I have been attempting to give up - or at least cut down on - drinking beer for the past month or so, as part of my marathon-training regime, but somehow it's just not been happening. I had a really firm resolve (once upon a time, I forget exactly when) that I was going to go completely dry for a month after my birthday this weekend.... but I fear I'm not very confident of sticking to that any more.

"Willpower is the first casualty of middle age."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Inflation, by other means

Remarkably enough, the price of a locally-brewed beer here in Beijing is still exactly the same as it was back when I first arrived more than 5 years ago. OK, these days there's a rather higher percentage of grubby little restaurants that fancy themselves to be just genteel enough to warrant charging 3 kuai a bottle (about 40 cents) rather than the base rate of 2 kuai..... but basically there's been no movement on price in all that time. There have been quite big jumps in the cost of most other daily staples, but beer..... beer has seemed immune to these unfortunate side-effects of economic boom.

Except that...... heck, I'm sure the big bottle of Yanjing pijiu used to hold 675ml back in the good old days. But a couple of years or so ago, a lot of the bottles suddenly appeared to have been scaled down to 645 or 640ml. And just recently, a new standard bottle has appeared, of a paltry 600ml. The alcohol content has been slightly reduced too (and it never was all that potent). BOO!

Oh, they've done it very craftily as well - the elegant design of the bottle, the subtle thickening of the glass: it's really not conspicuously smaller than the old ones. But I am starting to notice that I can get through one a good 10% faster.....

Inflation by stealth - only in China would they conceive of such a thing! Or do my readers know of similar skullduggery elsewhere in the world?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Bullingdon Arms

Ah, The Bullingdon - or The Bully, as it was generally known. I confess I was just a little intimidated by it when I first encountered the place as a student. It wasn't at all one of the rougher or more hostile pubs in East Oxford; but all the pubs in East Oxford had the reputation of being at least a little bit rough, and decidedly student-averse. And The Bully was - at the time - flamboyantly, aggressively Irish as well, which added an extra air of potential trouble to it. (I haven't now been back there for some years, but I'm sure I heard some time ago that it had undergone a radical personality swap with another pub in that neighbourhood, and had transformed itself into a West Indian pub. Must go back and check that out some time.)

It wasn't long, though, before I began to spend more and more time out east in the Cowley-Iffley triangle, and it came to be one of my favourite parts of the city - in large part precisely because students were comparatively thin on the ground there. And so I began to become familiar with, and even comfortable in some of these rather unwelcoming bars that I'd once been so nervous of entering, they became my favourite refuges.

I think I really started warming up to The Bully in my 3rd year (of 5, arguably 6....) - which was a kind of delayed 'gap year' (hey, I called it 'sabbatical', they called it 'rustication'). I was living in East Oxford, not far away; and for several months I had a job at the despatching warehouse of the publishers, Basil Blackwell's, which was just around the corner. So.... it had become my local patch; and I was a regular working guy now, not a bloody student any more. I felt safe enough going in there; I felt entitled. Friday lunchtime drinks in The Bully with colleagues on the monthly payday became quite a regular little indulgence for a while (well, either there or the next-along Ampney Cottage - but let's not confuse things).

Having established that necessary initial degree of recognition and acceptance there, it soon became a regular highlight of my traditional St Patrick's day pub crawl (usually in the company of The Bookseller, of course; and I think at least once, a few years later, in the company of The British Cowboy). The landlord, I remember, used to celebrate his national identity on that day by wearing a green blazer and an orange bow-tie. Ah, St Pat's in The Bully - there was usually a free pot of Irish stew on the bar, a decent fiddle band playing in the corner.... and one of the best pints of Guinness you could find in Oxford (all the better for being heavily discounted on that night).

Two particular memories stand out from my trips to The Bully (probably not that many trips in all, truth be told).

St Patrick's Night - 1987, I think it must have been. I'm on the traditional pub crawl with my mate Richard (yes, the one who originally lured me to China all those years ago), who happens to be living in the vicinity himself that year. We arrive at The Bully mid-evening, just as the band is about to get going. And the place is PACKED, fuller than I've ever seen it. There is scarcely a square foot of free floorspace. But Richard decides...... he wants to play darts. We had both liked the game from childhood, and had recently got into a habit of having a few games together whenever we were out having a drink. But neither of us was really very good, to be honest. The idea of playing in front of any onlookers at all usually unsettled me deeply. The idea of playing in front of hundreds, many of whom we had had to ask to make space in front of the board (many of whom were, indeed, still so close to the board that they were in acute danger of being maimed by any wild throws or unlucky rebounds) elicited something very close to FEAR.

But, somehow or other, this extreme stress focused our minds wonderfully. We were quite happy to quit after a single game, to let the crowd expand back into the corner by the dartboard, because we both realised that we would probably never play as well again in our entire lives. We had, by some amazing quirk of fate, managed to look competent in front of this teeming and potentially hostile crowd. No, more than that, we had managed to look good; we had managed to look almost like professionals. I think we both hit at list one treble-20 with each visit to the oche, scoring consistently around 100; and then Richard, as soon as he got on a double, nailed it with his first or second dart. I think it might well have been a 15-dart finish, or maybe even a little better. And I was hot on his heels the whole way, having started second. I don't think either of us had ever come close to doing that before - or would ever do so again. One brief, shining moment.

The other great attraction of The Bully was its tiny snug around the back. The walls were festooned with Gaelic football jerseys. There were two (or was it three?) pumps for Guinness behind the bar, and nothing else. And there was a fantastic jukebox, full of old '50s and '60s classics. I don't recall quite how this came about (though, obviously, the consumption of large amounts of alcohol will have played a part), but on one occasion I think Richard and The Bookseller and I were crammed in there with two or three random strangers when one of us had the idea of putting on Chain Gang, the classic song by R&B great Sam Cooke (it was probably me; I was going through a big Sam Cooke phase at the time). And we all joined in. The song is well suited to such impromptu group performances, since it includes so many discrete elements: we left someone who could actually more-or-less sing to try to carry Sam's falsetto part; there was a big guy in the corner who lent his throaty bass to introducing the chorus with a lampshade-rattlingly-deep "Well, don't you know...."; while the rest of us joined in on "... that's the sound of the men working on the chain ga-a-ang"; we also provided the rhythmic background grunting of the convict labourers ("oooh - hah; oooh - hah") and mimicked the clang of their pickaxes with pens or cutlery rapped against the side of empty pint sleeves.

We had so much fun, we did it again. And possibly even a third time.

Simple pleasures.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The importance of beer - a bon mot

"You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer."

Frank Zappa (1940-1993)

I mentioned last week on Froogville that Zappa had been appointed as a 'cultural ambassador' for the new Czech Republic by President Havel in 1990. They definitely have beer. And a good national football team. I assume they have an airline too - but that somehow seems so much less important.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Glorious Pharmacy postscript

I just had a check on YouTube to see if there was any footage of the band. Alas, no.

There is, however, this brief clip of saxophonist Tie Qiao and guitarist/vocalist Xiao He chatting outside the 2Kolegas music bar. (I have no idea what they're saying, but they're such a cool pair of dudes it's quite fun watching them anyway. This may be of more interest, though, to those of you with a good level of Chinese.)

Ooooh, and there's this - a snatch of Xiao He playing a solo spot recently at 13 Club. Now, this is good.

Yet another LATE night

The stupendous Glorious Pharmacy reunion (I'm still dumbfounded as to how Li Tieqiao is able to torture such extreme sounds out of his tenor sax!) was done and dusted before midnight last night, but.... well, there were a lot of people I had to stop and say hi to; and then it seemed like a nice night for a stroll around the lakes (a very indirect route home... but there were actually stars to be seen last night, and that hardly ever happens in Beijing); and that led to a stopping into the 'Haiku Bar' for 'just the one'.....

So, that's now 3 nights in a row that I've got by on about 4 or 5 hours of sleep. Oh dear.

Glorious indeed!

After the cumulative exhaustion of three gig nights (and two nights of far too little sleep) in succession, and the anticlimax of Friday's shitfest at D-22, I really shouldn't have been at it again last night.

But.... well, it was a leaving party for some good friends.

And it was perhaps a one-and-only, last-ever chance to see Glorious Pharmacy play together.

And they did not disappoint - an absolutely mesmerising performance. Mentally exhausting for us, though: long, complex, challenging, amazingly intense and largely improvised pieces, with hardly any breaks: there was more music in their 70-minute set than you'd get from most bands in 3 hours. These guys looked remarkably chirpy and relaxed at the end of it, as if they could quite happily have done another hour or two - but were simply in a hurry to pack up and get back home to their families. The audience, on the other hand, were completely drained. Remarkable stuff.

I do hope they play together again some time.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Not such a good night

It was probably a mistake to get so excited about the idea of going to another SUBS gig. It's only a few weeks since I last saw them, and that was a cracking show - hard to top. And they're playing all over the place this month, so there will be plenty more opportunities to catch them.

Schlepping all the way out to Haidian - at the end of a particularly long and exhausting week - was not really a good idea. Especially since I couldn't find anyone to go with me. And it was at D-22, which, as you may have gathered, is my least-favourite music bar in Beijing.

Why do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.

1) It's too small. Positively claustrophobic.

2) It can be difficult to see anything - unless you get right to the front, or look down from the balcony.

3) The sound is lousy.

4) The equipment keeps going on the blink: I lost count of the number of times they lost one or other of the microphones last night.

5) The service is terrible. (The staff always seem to be too busy chatting to friends, chatting to each other, watching the show, or just generally zoning out to actually pay any attention to people who might, you know, be trying to buy a drink.)

6) There's a cloying smugness about the place - "ooh, aren't we cool?" No.

7) The clientele is becoming almost exclusively laowai (foreigners). Worse, they're almost exclusively students of Chinese from the numerous Universities in the area. I hate fucking students!

8) They start the show hopelessly late (even by Beijing standards).

9) Before the main band comes on, you have to listen to 2 hours of COMPLETE SHITE.

No, I didn't have a lot of fun last night. Because SUBS' frontwoman Kang Mao is a bit of a screamer, the powers-that-be seemed to have decided that this should be the theme for the night and had rounded up three support bands who bawl wordlessly into their microphones. It seems there is a whole musical sub-genre here of which I had been previously unaware. It almost makes me appreciate rap (previously my least favourite brand of music), which at least has rhythm and phrasing and the occasional moments of intelligibility - rather than just a continuous stream of vocal noise. With Kang Mao, the words are still (sometimes, at least) comprehensible, and the shouting conveys emotion. With these guys, it was just like: "Hey, watch me wreck my vocal cords!"

The final support band could at least play a bit (a kind of thrash metal, played on a pair of bass guitars); although they did go on a bit, and the meaningless vocals were extremely wearing (I thought for a moment that they might be singing in something like Icelandic, but no: it was just a kind of manic throat-singing scat). The first two were just dismal, but mercifully brief.

So, yes, I was bored and irritable (and parched) long before SUBS finally got going at about 1.30am, and I only stayed for a few songs. KM was as exuberant as ever, but I think they were a bit inhibited by the size of the venue, and by the size of the stage (it really is a postage stamp: no room for her to leap around as she usually likes to! I rather think that video clip I posted the other week must have been shot at somewhere like WuMing GaoDi; it doesn't look like D-22). I didn't get the feeling it was going to be one of their great shows.

It was quite fun, though, to be two yards away from her, and gaze deep into her eyes as she yells, "Die, motherfucker, die!" Yes, that's rock'n'roll.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A new record

I have commented before on the crappy service at D-22, but here's another little postscript to that.

It is possible to stand at the bar there for one-and-a-half hours with an empty glass in front of you - and not have anyone ask you if you want another drink.

Actually, I was quite grateful, because their draft beer was skanky and I am terminally bored with bottled bloody Tsingtao. And I need to be pretty careful with my spending too at the moment.

However, this does represent a staggering new low in the annals of 'bad service in China'.

Another great night in Jianghu

I always have a great time when my favourite jazz guitar duo, Dan and Nico, play - although I am in danger of having seen them too much: I was afraid I knew their repertoire inside and out now.

But last night, there were a few new things, a few surprises. Not least the extended line-up for the second set - joined by friends on accordion, viola, and a wonderfully twangy 5-stringed acoustic bass.

And La Famille Nico were in the audience too.

I had arranged specially to have today off work (well, OK, it was forced upon me by the travelling schedule of my MD, but...... I am claiming it was my plan), which gave me a little more freedom to kick back, drink more, stay out longer. But heck, the guys were starting a third set just before 2am. Part of me would have liked to stay up all night; but part of me also knew that I would be awake before 8am this morning, no matter when I turned in, and that I would suffer if I didn't get at least some sleep. So.... I slunk off after one or two more songs. And I'm feeling rough this morning.

And I have a lunch date a little later, so I must try to get myself energised again....

HBH 48

Staying up too late

Music charms the clocks,
Halts time, defers tomorrow
- Steals away our sleep.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Oh, my - it's an exciting and hectic few days we have coming up.

Tonight I'm planning to indulge in a Jianghu session for the first time in a month or two (I've seen my guitar buddies Dan & Nico at a few other places, like Salud, recently, but not there - the fantastic, tiny courtyard bar which has become their spiritual home).

As I've already mentioned, the fantastic SUBS are playing tomorrow night at a small club up in Wudaokou. That's a must-see.

If I've recovered from that.... Saturday offers an embarrassment of riches. The traditional Indian musicians I mentioned last night are playing an afternoon gig in Ritan Park (which I might just about be able to shoehorn into my schedule), and then later are supposed to be jamming with my favourite Xinjiang-flavoured jazz trio Panjir at the Stone Boat (which I'll have to pass on, sadly). There's also a very tempting line-up at the new Yugong Yishan club, with good bands Joyside and The Scoff (I'm afraid I'll have to pass on that too).

The reason I have to spurn these two very attractive gig options is that Glorious Pharmacy are playing in my 'hood. This is an event - sort of on a par with a Velvet Underground reunion! The Pharmacy (also sometimes translated as Glamorous Pharmacy - I've no idea what the Chinese is, I'm afraid) were a loose affiliation of eccentric geniuses who produced largely improvised, highly experimental music that fused Western jazz/folk/rock with traditional Chinese elements. I only managed to catch them once in their heyday, at the old Yugong Yishan, but it was one of the most brilliant shows I've seen here. The heart of the group was the delightfully batty Xiao He (who I have seen several times solo over the past year) - but he just got a bit too weird for everyone else, and the group split up to pursue individual projects a couple of years or so ago. I have seen them advertised to play a few times since, but these gigs always seem to fail to materialise (or it's just Xiao He on his own, like the show I saw out at Dashanzi a few months back).

This time, I am assured, they really will play together - at least, the three core members: Xiao He, Li Tieqiao, and Guo Long. Apparently my Indian friend Sumita and her Chinese hubby have known the band since their early days, and have persuaded them to get together again to play at their leaving-China party (Sumita's, that is - but I'm sure she'll be back). Not to be missed.

And Sunday? There's almost certainly something to be seen on Sunday as well, but I can't plan that far ahead at the moment - suffering from something of a cultural overload!!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Gig frustration; gig compensation

A very vexing time I had earlier this evening.

I received an e-mail this afternoon advertising the visit this month of an Indian woman musician called Shubha Sankaran who plays a rare kind of über-sitar called a surbahar (which has allegedly never been heard in China before). She's here for a few weeks, playing a series of gigs around town, with an American guy accompanying her on a regular sitar.

As luck would have it, I'm not free for any of their other dates. Their opening gig - TONIGHT - was going to be my only chance to hear them.

On the plus side, it was quite near my office.

On the minus side, I didn't know the venue, and had only the vaguest of directions to it - no map, no name/address in Chinese.

Finding anywhere in this city is generally a pretty huge ordeal (I could go into this unfortunate phenomenon at great length - perhaps in another post at another time, maybe over on Froogville - but, in a nutshell: everything looks the same; the system of ascribing addresses is wildly confused; names of streets and buildings are rarely displayed; and everybody - the Chinese especially, but foreigners too - gives appalling directions). At night, in the middle of a park, I had no chance at all. After I'd made several vain attempts to contact the event organiser, she did eventually send me a series of text messages - which appeared to be claiming that the teahouse hosting the performance was..... well, somewhere it plainly wasn't, a spot that I had actually stood on while hopelessly scanning 360°around me! Grrrrrrr.

Anyway, I managed to be fairly philosophical about it. I had known it was a pretty hopeless cause before I even set off, so was thoroughly mentally prepared for the frustration and disappointment when it indeed materialised.

And at least it was a nice evening for a walk home.

And, if I hadn't decided to walk home, I probably wouldn't have gone out at all tonight. But since I was passing by my local Nanluoguxiang bar street on the way back (well, a small detour), I thought I'd drop in somewhere for 'just the one'. I happened upon Salud (site of last year's infamous Christmas party where I was inveigled into playing Santa, and also of the French-babe-overload The Choirboy and I suffered some months later), which is now doing live music every Wednesday. And tonight it was really rather a decent little laowai blues trio I hadn't heard before - which was probably much more what I was in the mood for. (And they probably wouldn't have had any beer in that mysterious, invisible Zhongshan Park teahouse!)

Things have a way of working out for the best sometimes.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Pool divination blues

I have played quite a bit of pool over the past two weeks. I have been shite almost every time. I've hardly won a single game. I feel as though my cueing action has got shaky. I can't see the shots I need to make. My confidence is at an all-time low.

I have a long-standing superstition that such lapses in my pool-playing 'mojo' are generally symptomatic - predictive, even - of a more thoroughgoing slump in mood and fortune (I have written about this before - better, and at more length - here). This certainly seems to be the case at the moment. Which comes first, the dip in pool form or the insidious soul-crash? Chicken & egg. It's impossible to say.

I actually managed to beat The Choirboy a few times last night, but I didn't play well enough to restore my self-belief. I fear I need to take a complete break from pool for a while - until I am in more buoyant spirits again. That may take quite some time.

Sometimes when I suffer a run of bad form or ill luck on the pool table, I try to console myself with the old superstition - "Lucky in games, unlucky in love. (And - by implication - vice versa!)" But when the slump runs so deep, I know this isn't going to be true. I fear most of my current depression - and my dismal pool playing - is bound up with my despair about my romantic life. And if that's the case...... I may never play pool again!

Monday, October 08, 2007

'Traffic report' catch-up.... over on Froogville

I just posted a rundown of the facts & figures for both my blogs for July-September over on Froogville. If you have trainspotterish tendences, you may want to go and take a look. Or, more probably, you'll just ignore me until I have something interesting to say again.

This week's drinking bon mot

"Drinking makes such fools of people. And people are such fools to begin with that it's compounding a felony."

Robert Benchley (1889-1945)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Missing a gig (or three)

The week just past might well have been even busier.

I discovered - just too late! - that my beloved SUBS were making an unheralded appearance at the endearingly shambolic 2K on Friday. (Ah well, I suppose I can wait until their gig this Friday.)

My friend Gorgeous G was trying to entice me to join her at the Forbidden City Concert Hall tonight (the nicest in this city, I think - though not actually in the Forbidden City, but in a park next door) to hear a performance by the legendary jazz pianist Chick Corea. I'm afraid I just didn't have the energy today. (And I was slightly dubious about the idea of a solo concert; I'm not sure how at home solo jazz playing will sound in a classical concert hall; and I would have preferred to see him with a band. I'll have to make do with playing Bitches' Brew at home.)

And there was (yet another) open-air music festival in Beijing this week. It was a first-time event set up by a leading local indie label, Modern Sky Records, who have a number of decent Chinese bands signed to them. I thought I'd like to support it - on one day out of the three, at least. And the sole foreign import, scheduled to close the final day, Thursday, was the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, of whom a number of people have recently told me good things. Alas, the weather was depressingly cool and grey for most of the week, and particularly grim on Thursday; and then in the afternoon it started to pour with rain. Not the conditions for an outdoor concert - regretfully I abandoned my plans to go to that. Instead, I spent an hour or so checking out the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on YouTube. And that got me to thinking that maybe I hadn't missed all that much. They seemed interesting, but not great. Not quite my cup of tea, anyway. A couple of the songs seemed quite catchy (Turn Into, Cheated Hearts), but I didn't much like the singer's voice.

Hmm, I wonder if anyone went? I wonder if the event was cancelled?

A quiet week?

I think of myself as having been mired in apathy and depression of late. I think of myself as having had an exceptionally inactive and unsociable sort of week. Or 10 days, in fact - because that's how long I've just had off work for the Chinese National Day holidays.

But then I reflect that I have in fact been out on 5 of those 10 nights: 2 gigs, 3 dinners, a speaker meeting, and assorted general debauchery. It's only by the rather frenetic standards I have established for myself in my recent life in Beijing (where it is not unknown for me to go out every single night of the week) that this counts as a quiet phase!

The week coming up looks set to be rather busier.

Friday, October 05, 2007

SUBS rock!

I discover that there are a few clips of Beijing's best rock band, SUBS, popping up on YouTube now. They're not very long or very good, but..... at least it's something. This is probably the best of them. I fear it may not convince those of you who haven't yet seen them live (do, do, DO) how wonderful they are. The picture is mostly not great, and the sound quality is SHIT, but at least it gives you some sense of what a hyperkinetic sex-bomb their frontwoman Kang Mao is.

This looks like the gig I saw last month at MAO Live House, but I can't think where the elevated vantage point point would have been. No, the high camera angle and the tiny stage make me think this must have been D-22 (the most over-rated music bar in Beijing, and firmly on my 'Hate List'); I didn't know they'd played there recently (this is definitely KM's late summer '07 look). However, they are on there next Friday, so that's another date for my calendar (even though I loathe the venue, it will be fun to see them in such an intimate setting). Will probably have to arrive very early to be sure of getting in.

HBH 47

Almost forgotten
Pain returns, heart cracks again;
You, you, you, you, you.

A weary and depressive week leaves me vulnerable.... to ambush by wistfulness!