Friday, November 30, 2007

Once more unto The Pharmacy

Beijing's best, weirdest band - Glorious Pharmacy - are playing together again, after a long separation. Their reunion a month or so back was alleged to be a one-off event, a special favour for some friends who were throwing a 'leaving Beijing' party; but..... it was obvious they so enjoyed playing together that I figured that wouldn't be the last time.

They're on at one of my neighbourhood music bars, Jiangjinjiu, tonight. The place is pretty tiny, and likely to be jammed. I'm getting a small party together, and we're aiming to get there at least an hour or so early, to try to bag a table. (I can only mention this here on the blog because so few people are reading this. The event would be completely swamped if there were too much advance publicity.)

Review to follow shortly. Maybe I should get myself a video camera and become a YouTuber.... There's still disappointingly little film of Chinese music (apart from MandoPop crud) on there.

Beginning of the party season

A good thing I'd arranged to have the day off work today! Last night was the infamous year-end party for Koryo Tours - a small British (Beijing-based) company that runs trips to North Korea.

There was free draft beer. There was free mulled wine. There was free soju. There was excellent music (mostly '80s pop classics, but with an occasional random admixture of rousing martial tunes from the DPRK). There was just about everyone I know in Beijing present. Did I mention the free beer?

As at last year's event, it was the soju that did for me. South Korean soju is one of my favourite rice spirits: smooth, delicately flavoured, not rasping to the throat - or too damaging to the head the next day. North Korean soju is quite different: it is viciously nasty. My restless spirit of curiosity, however, just can't resist a unique opportunity to try out exotic spirits - even if I know they're going to be foul-tasting, and quite possibly steeped in noxious chemicals.

Last year, there was a blind tasting competition of 10 or 12 different unusually-flavoured varieties; so, I felt obliged to try all of them...... some of them twice, for fine-tuning my identifications (although, like most competitors, I found distinguishing the alleged flavourings quite impossible: even strong and distinct ingredients like ginseng or blueberries seemed quite undetectable; rediscovering my scrawled - and largely profane - tasting notes a week or so later, I was reminded that my 'favourite' had inspired the comment "This is the only one that doesn't smell of toilets"!).... one or two of the less disgusting ones three or four times. I was wasted.

This year I was a little more circumspect. But only a little.

I soon got red-faced, giggly, and slurry.

And then the room suddenly filled up with beautiful women.


HBH 55

Madame X

There she goes again
Trampling my heart with those boots,
Killing with her smile.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Drunk on stage - the great role models

In noodling around YouTube the other day - at The Cowboy's prompting - looking for other examples of entertainers who, like Dave Allen, have been fond of the odd drink, I turned up this analysis of the pros & cons of performing drunk. I really don't think Dave did drink on stage - he just pretended to, for a giggle, to wind up the censorious types who'd disapprove of such behaviour. If he did drink, it certainly wasn't to excess: he never appeared to be 'under the influence'.

The same, alas, cannot be said for the people cited in this clip (one or two of whom deserve an 'Unsuitable Role Models' post of their own at some point).

Expensive lessons

Managing to "finish work" by the middle of the week for a change (my job job is a half-time affair, usually requiring my attention from Wednesday through Friday; but I enjoy a certain amount of autonomy, and this week I swapped it around), last night I allowed myself to be cajoled into attending a poker school. My American buddy, Big Chris, has been running a mid-week session for most of this year; and since he moved down from Wudaokou to my 'hood a few months ago, my excuses for non-attendance have been weakening.

I have always been fascinated by the psychology of gambling; and, to a lesser extent, by the mathematics of it, too (I loved Anthony Holden's 'Big Deal' and Thomas A. Bass's 'The Newtonian Casino'). And I've always had a special fondness for poker. I suppose it's the seedy glamour, the thrill of imminent danger attaching to it that we always see in the classic Westerns.

My brother taught me the basic rules when I was a very young kid. I played a bit in my final years at school, and at University. But not really played, you know - friendly games, penny stakes, nobody really knew what they were doing. And this was....... (cough, cough)...... A LONG TIME AGO. I've only played twice before in Beijing - and both times I was parted from my money rather easily.

Third time lucky?? Well, no. No, I got spanked again. There were some serious sharks in the pool, and it was very soon apparent that I would not be leaving the room any richer. I think I'll claim my buy-in against tax, as a charity donation.

It was a diverting evening, though. It was good to scrape the rust off my knowledge of the game, to start reviving instincts and intuitions long dormant. And I didn't completely disgrace myself. In fact, I probably could have done a lot better; but, having no confidence of final success in that kind of company, and not having the stamina for a late-night session, I was playing to lose, deliberately self-destructing for the last half hour or so. I saw off the other two novices at the table and one of the 'experienced' guys - which was, I think, a fair showing for my first attempt.

And I did have the rush of winning 4 or 5 quite big hands. My satisfaction, however, was somewhat undercut by the knowledge that on 2 of those wins I had got very lucky with the cards turned up. Although not as lucky as Big Chris, who later closed out the third-last survivor by pairing both his cards, a crappy 9-4..... the 4 on the river - bad beat! I just couldn't catch a break from the dealer all night, so was forced to go chasing dreams with bad hole cards.... and fared rather better than I deserved to. But a lucky win is still a win.

I found it particularly tough to gauge the strength of the betting here. We were playing Texas Hold 'Em in a tournament-style elimination format, with betting limits being successively raised at an increasing tempo. Even without this constant upping of the stakes, the betting patterns of the other players were pretty unfathomable to me. With a small table (only 8 players, 2 of whom didn't really have a clue what they were doing) and no serious money at stake, I think the core players were bluffing extravagantly, betting wildly (playing 'on tilt', as the poker expression goes) almost the whole time.

Whereas I was treating it more like a low-stakes casino game (the style of play I've read a fair bit about, briefly tried a few times during my sojourns in North America), playing very conservatively. My overactive imagination - and my overdeveloped reflex for thrift - kept prompting me to think of the chips as real money (when in fact we were given 3,000 of the little beauties for a mere 100 kuai), so I was rather too easily scared out of the running by a big early bet. Maybe next time I'll be a little more savvy about this. Maybe....

If there is a next time. I didn't find this particular group of sharks very congenial company (maybe if I get to know them better, I'll warm to them..... but a poker table isn't a particularly sociable environment unless you already know the people....). And the session is always on a Wednesday or Thursday night - which is always a work night, and usually a gig night. A weekend would suit me better. Perhaps I'll start looking around for another game.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bad bars abound...

It is an unfortunate sign o' the times that bad bars are proliferating in Beijing - while the few good bars we used to have are disappearing, or degenerating into crapness. At this rate, the 'Hate List' will soon be the most populous strand on this blog.

Last night, The Chairman inveigled me into trying out the newly-opened Paddy O'Shea's.

How do I loathe it? Let me count the ways. Or...... you could just refer back to my 'What makes a great bar' post, and note that it fails on every single count.

It's off to a bad start with the name. That just screams faux Irish, doesn't it? And, as The Cowboy and I have agreed before, faux Irish joints are amongst the naffest and most irritating of all 'theme' bars. The 'Paddy' is the first glaring giveaway: a proper Irish bar would just be called 'O'Shea's'. Now, the manager (owner?) of this frightful bar is actually an Irishman - but he's not called O'Shea, or Patrick. Bad start.

Bad location - in the business district, but not particularly near anything else you'd want to go to of an evening. Facing on to a busy main road, in what was intended to be a retail space - floor-to-ceiling window right along the front. Horribly overlit, tacky decor, dozy staff, atrocious pool table (despite being brand new), unappetizing-looking food, skanky beer, sky-high prices (which are not on display anywhere)...... and a 'happy hour' that finishes at 7pm.

Ah yes, and a boss who, despite being present throughout, managed to avoid talking to a single customer in the two-and-a-half hours I was there - even when, through some strange cock-up in the serving arrangements, he was briefly the only person behind the bar.

This place is BAD in so many ways. It offends me in a most profound way. Such places ought never to come into existence. They certainly ought never to survive. And yet - amongst certain segments of Beijing's undiscriminating, homesick, overly affluent expat population - it will probably find its niche.

Then again, it is so stupendously dreadful that perhaps it does stand a chance of failure after all. Place your bets. I think I give it 6 months.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A sit-down comedian

I have sometimes thought that if I ever got into comedy (and I have toyed with the idea once or twice), my favoured mode of delivery would be the gentle, rambling anecdote while slouched against a bar - kind of a lean-to comedian, rather than a conventional stand-up (and certainly not your hyper-kinetic, tiger-prowl ranting of the angry young men school).

One of my great comedy idols was the wonderful Irish raconteur Dave Allen, who had a late-night TV series on BBC1 throughout most of my '70s childhood (it was one of those late-night treats that I really shouldn't have been able to witness at such a tender age; but my parents very soon abandoned any attempt to enforce an early bedtime for me). It was revived in the late '80s/early '90s, but I didn't see many of those later shows. It's the mid-70s 'golden age' that I hark back to in my mind.

Dave's trademark was that he always delivered his jokes and stories while sitting on a stool or a nice comfy swivel-chair (no sense in working up a lather over it!). Ah yes, and the fact that he drank (although one suspects it was only ginger ale, rather than whiskey, as he liked to kid people it was) and smoked throughout his performance. (It wouldn't be allowed today, of course - although I grew up adoring the man, yet was never once tempted by his example to adopt smoking, as 'cool'.)

Also, he had a fantastic voice - you felt you could listen to him for hours. And you might sometimes have to: he was a master of the "shaggy dog story" - the joke that becomes so elaborately protracted that the point of it becomes the manner of its telling rather than the eventual punchline.

Although I suppose most of his material was quite mild by contemporary standards, it was pretty risqué stuff for an 8 or 10-year-old! He always had a twinkle of subversive wickedness in his eye, and there was quite an exhilarating undercurrent of irreverence throughout (particularly with regard to religion: although he had been brought up a Catholic, he liked to strike an atheistic pose in his monologues, and was notorious for his ongoing series of skits featuring the Pope,.... and he signed off every show with the mischievous, mockingly conciliatory line: "Good night.... and may your god go with you.")

I've been meaning to give him a shout on here since he came up in discussion over on Froogville a few months back. There's a lot of his stuff posted by fans on YouTube now. This little story is one of his classics....

It makes you think....

"A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world."

Louis Pasteur (1822-1895)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Council of War

Last night, I hooked up with my male drinking buddies - The Choirboy, JB, and the Bengali - for about the first time in a month...... and got very drunk on meng jiu and martinis....

And they took me in hand on the Madame X issue. I have a plan now (sort of), I have my instructions, I have to make something happen in the few short weeks remaining before she takes her Christmas break. Oh, the pressure....

Three Women

Just now, I happened to remember the imminent birthday of my most recent ex, The Poet, and, wishing her a happy day, ended up getting into a little SMS exchange, setting up a possible date (Platonic, of course) for later in the week.

While I was doing that, I received an e-mail from a friend in the UK - one of several I've met through my experiment with Internet dating, but the only one with whom I might have been tempted to pursue a closer relationship. She is possibly the cleverest, kindest, nicest woman I know, and I have a huge soft spot for her. She has always been interested and supportive through my various romantic misadventures; she was, in particular, a great comfort through the long despair that accompanied the failure of my relationship with The Poet. She hadn't been in touch for quite a while now, and was asking for my 'news'...... so I felt prompted to start analysing the state of play with my current romantic obsession, 'Madame X'. And that's not a promising situation.

A strange coincidence that these three women for whom I have the fondest feelings should all collide in my thoughts at the same time. Cruel Fate, why......?

Perhaps it's the onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder; perhaps it's overtiredness from a string of late nights and a tedious afternoon of editing work; perhaps it's the excessive emotional lubrication that results from celebrating the end of the editing with a pint of rum'n'coke..... but I find myself sitting here with moist cheeks....

When it comes to women, I am a hopeless, hopeless case....

Friday, November 23, 2007

HBH 54

A following the English football team haiku:

Another defeat!
Expected disappointment,
Pre-imagined pain.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Put not your trust in the England football team

Days of anticipation, hours of frustrated preparation, and a weary, weary day today.

And all for what?

Yet another England cock-up!

I can't say I was surprised. Lately, we don't seem to manage an easy win against anyone, and we certainly weren't going to pull one off against Croatia unless the Croatian boys were going to treat it as a friendly kickabout.

In fact, my dominant feeling this morning was a certain sense of justice. It was a fair result on the night, and probably for our qualifying campaign overall: we don't deserve to be going to the European Championships, because we just haven't played well enough for the past 18 months.

There was also, I think, a feeling of some relief. I can now enjoy the Championships next year without the distracting burden of obligation that the presence of our perennially underperforming national team imposes. Free of those few vestigial promptings of patriotic loyalty I sometimes feel, I can simply pick a team to follow based on technical merit alone - I might even tip the eventual winners (it has been known to happen: I was an 'early adopter' of the Danes when they pulled off their surprise win in '92; and a - less prophetic - supporter of the French in 2000). I'll be able to enjoy to enjoy each and every game, without worrying about what its implications for England's draw might be. I'll be able to savour the whole tournament without the dark cloud of looming national disappointment diminishing my enjoyment.

I'm actually quite glad England are gone.

I sometimes wish I could rid myself of my attachment to the bloody team altogether (it is a stubborn hangover of my childhood, one of the last remnants of a national pride I've never really felt all that strongly, and have all but completely renounced now that I have become a career expat). But..... come the World Cup qualifiers in another year or so, I daresay I'll be putting myself through that emotional wringer all over again.

All sports fans are masochists - but English football fans more so than most.

Put not your trust in Cable TV

Having discovered that the vital England v. Croatia football game was to be on in the early hours of this morning - while I was still in the western Chinese city of Chongqing on business - my challenge then became to find some way of watching it.

Bars are extremely thin on the ground in Chongqing (foreigner-friendly type bars, anyway). There were none at all in the end of town where I was staying. So, there was no prospect of being able to stay up all night in a divey sports bar (as I had been planning to do in Beijing) to watch the game with a nice insulating layer of alcoholic euphoria to ward off the likely disappointment.

However, I was staying in an unusually upmarket, Western hotel - which had a full array of cable channels on the TV in my room. Including StarSports and ESPN. I watched the 'Football Focus' preview programme on ESPN on Tuesday evening, and they confirmed that the game was going to be on that channel at 4am local time on Thursday.

All I had to do was stock the mini-fridge with cheap local beers from a roadside stall somewhere, set the alarm-clock for 3.45, and try to turn in early-ish on Wednedsay night. Sorted.

Except that I was so keyed up with anticipation that I woke before 2am (after about 3-and-a-half hours sleep) and couldn't nod off again. And then - when game time arrived (or pre-game warmup time, at any rate) - I discovered to my horror that ESPN was in fact showing basketball. And not even the NBA - I could understand if it were The Rockets..... but it was just some crappy college game. This is not the first time I have run into such a problem. Quite often, China will have its own - unannounced - variation to the rest of ESPN's offering: sometimes because one of the Chinese terrestrial networks has paid for exclusive domestic coverage (happens quite a lot with the football); sometimes for no obvious reason at all.

I flicked over on to sister network StarSports to see if it might by some chance be showing on there. But no - they had just started showing the staggeringly unimportant clash between Italy and the Faeroe Islands!! That's just taking the piss - I was starting to feel seriously victimised here. I hopped madly around the other channels - mostly local Chinese ones - in hope of finding the game (without the benefit of intelligible commentary, but what the hell) on one of those. But no: Chongqing doesn't get BTV-6 (the Beijing Television sports channel, and my usual default position for watching sport at home), and none of the seeming dozens of provincial channels were showing sport. The national sports channel, CCTV5, looked like being my last chance. France v. Ukraine. SHIT!

But then I flipped back to StarSports for one last check and discovered that they (rather than ESPN) had switched to the England game about 1 minute before kickoff.

Why is it so ruddy hard to watch a game of football in this country?

Erratum: Put not your trust in The Chairman

He is notoriously blunder-prone, easily confused, bothersomely inexact or inconsistent on important details.

The BIG GAME was of course on Wednesday night. (Of course, that meant that it was on Thursday morning in China, but that's not what The Chairman had meant when we last spoke about it - there had been quite a protracted discussion about when we might meet on Thursday evening, and how much we might suffer for it on Friday morning...)

Luckily, I soon discovered this mistake (by reading the China Daily, of all things!).

Or perhaps 'unluckily'. If I had continued to labour under the misconception, I might have been spared the direct experience of this latest national humiliation.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Happy chance, dangerous chance...

I am so cut off from regular news and TV from home that I do rather lose touch with things out here. On the political front, this doesn't bother me too much. Has the Queen Mum died, has Tony Blair finally resigned? Do I care?? I don't live in England any more, and am not sure when, if ever, I will again. So, NO, I don't.

However, I do rather regret not being able to keep up with the footie a bit better. I had, for example, completely failed to note that the final batch of European Championship qualifiers was this week, and only found out in passing when I went out for a few jars with The Chairman on Sunday night. After Israel's form-book-overturning win against Russia at the weekend, England now suddenly have a glimmer of a chance of going through after all - but we'll have to get a result against the quite tasty Croatians on Thursday. Big game! Alas, over here, it will be on at 4 in the morning.... and only on satellite TV, which I don't have. So - it will have to be an all-nighter in a bar somewhere.

This is not the sort of indulgence I can often allow myself...... particularly not on a 'school night'!

However..... it just so happens that a work trip this week has necessitated my adjusting my usual part-time schedule, and so...... I'm off on Friday. And, assuming my flight back from Chongqing doesn't get delayed (which is always a dicey thing to assume with Chinese air travel), I should be back on Thursday afternoon. Hmmm, tempting......

The Chairman, on the other hand, has an 8-hr teaching day ahead of him on Friday - starting at 7.30 am. But I think he'll be up for it too.

He is, as I said the other day, incorrigible.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Morning After Blues - ice cream for breakfast!

Last night I wrote on Froogville about the odd little ice cream celebration I witnessed among the teenage security guards in the gatehouse to my apartment building, and reminisced a little about my own passion for ice cream. FG commented that ice cream was good at any time, except possibly for breakfast.

This reminded me that I did once eat rather a lot of ice cream for breakfast.

It happened like this.....

During my extended spell as an undergraduate, I gradually amassed quite a number of creature comforts to make my meagre digs more homely - a toaster oven, a microwave, a small fridge, a TV. These were relatively unusual luxuries (the fridge, especially) for a student, and helped to make my room something of a social focal point - particularly in my final year, when I had quite a large and comfortable one, on the 2nd floor of the accommodation block directly across the street from the college chapel. Evenings would quite often start and/or finish there. On a few occasions, we might not even have bothered to go out in the interim. And for some strange reason - despite the fact that their own accommodations were rarely more than a few minutes' stagger away - people quite often ended up crashing out for the night in one of my armchairs, or just on the floor.

The Bookseller was a particularly frequent visitor during that year (he had in fact graduated the previous summer, but was still hanging around - earning beer money from a "temporary" job in a bookshop! - for no better reason, I suspected, than to try to ensure that I would screw up my Final exams). For quite some time there was scaffolding up outside, as the front of the building was being cleaned and repaired; and The Bookseller developed the habit - when he did bother to go home at all, that is - of casually leaving my room through the window and climbing down the scaffolding to the pavement below. I was convinced that when the scaffolding was finally removed, he would one night unthinkingly exit my room through the window and plunge to his death - but fortunately that did not come to pass.

Anyway...... one night he had crashed out on my floor after a particularly late and heavy night of drinking. The next morning, I was awake early-ish (as is my wont - hangover-proof devil that I am), and eager to be off out doing things. But The Bookseller slumbered on, snoring loudly, quite unrousable.

I hit on the idea of trying to jolt him out of his coma with a stirring burst of AC/DC on the hi-fi. And it worked just fine.

Except that Dave the janitor, who lived in a flat immediately below, had a low tolerance for the musical tastes of us students, particularly on a Saturday morning - and whenever he felt that one of us was playing something offensively loud, or just offensive, he would cut the power to the whole building. Usually he would feel that he'd made his point, and relent after 5 or 10 minutes. But that morning, he appeared to have gone out while still in a huff, and left us without electricity for hours.

I had a large tub of ice cream in the fridge (rum'n'raisin, if I recall correctly) which was rapidly starting to melt.

So The Bookseller and I began our day by eating half a litre of the stuff each, while sombrely humming AC/DC tunes. I have to say - although the portion was excessive, and the fact that we were eating it under duress may have taken some of the shine off it - I didn't find it at all inappropriate as a breakfast food.

Although by that time it was already mid-morning. And half an hour later, the pubs were open again....

Bon mot time again - an oldie, but a goodie

"Work is the curse of the drinking classes."

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

I haven't used this one before, have I? I hope not. My memory lets me down occasionally these days.

Friday, November 16, 2007

"It is better to burn out than to fade away...."

I am not quite at death's door any more, but still within easy crawling distance of it.

However, buoyed up by a self-administered regimen of super-powerful painkillers, antihistamines and antibiotics, I'm starting to think to myself, "Well you wouldn't really want to die in bed, would you? Far better to go out in a blaze of glory, quaffing till the wee small hours in some favourite divey bar!"

And it just so happens that the very wonderful Ziyo are supposed to be playing in 2 Kolegas tonight..... Start working on my obituaries now.

"He was just a boy who couldn't say 'No'."

HBH 53

Parties passed over,
Tempting invitations spurned.
A sick man indeed!

I didn't even make it to Jianghu last night, despite a pair of simultaneous, though separate, inveiglements to do so. Nor did I make it to Big Chris's poker school. Or the Beaujolais Nouveau beano at the Alliance Francaise. Nor to the Hungarian Film Festival. Nor even to one of my local little bars for a brief mid-evening pick-me-up.

This must be the first Thursday in quite some time that I haven't been out. It's not a good sign. I am a very poorly fellow at the moment, and largely keeping to my bed.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"Just one more" - a cautionary tale

I was out playing pool with my buddy The Chairman in The Pool Bar the other night. He is able to get down into the city (from his arse-end-of-nowhere digs in Changping) rather more readily and often since the opening of the new subway Line 5, which runs from within a mile or two of his place to within a mile or two of mine.

And these days (another significant improvement in the public transport service of late) the last train back is at 11.30pm.

However, the nearest station is about a 15-minute walk from The Pool Bar. The Chairman, with an early class the next morning, was being very 'sensible' and self-disciplined, wrapping up our session on the table.... heading out of the door - after the inevitable round of goodbyes - by 11.10 or so..... and even flagging down a cab to take him to the subway station, to avoid being in a last-minute rush.

Of course, that meant he got there with 15 minutes in hand, was tempted to go into a new favourite haunt of his - dangerously adjacent to this station - for "one last beer"....... and promptly fell asleep in an armchair for an hour - missing the train, necessitating a long and expensive taxi ride home, condemning himself to tackling his next day's teaching with an inadequate 5 hours of sleep.

When one reviews the epithets most commonly applied to The Chairman, 'incorrigible' is always among the frontrunners.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Cartesian co-ordinates - that René D reference explained

Since I irreverently chose a famous Monty Python line for my start-the-week 'bon mot' yesterday, and the reference slipped by a number of you (even The British Cowboy, brain paralysed by overwork); and since (for the moment, at least) we have YouTube back in China, I thought I'd give you this link for the full version of The Philosophers' Song, as performed by the professors of the Philosophy Department of the University of Woolamaloo, Australia.

This is the performance from the 'Live - at The Hollywood Bowl' film, in which - strangely - they crowbar in an extra philosopher who was not mentioned in the original version of the song that appeared in the TV show. Can you spot who it is?

Now, I can't prove this, as such - since YouTube doesn't appear to have the TV version anywhere. The 'Bruces' sketch about the Australian philosophy teachers is
there, several times over; but it doesn't include this song (which, as far as I recall, came at the end of the skit..... but perhaps I'm wrong on that? Was there a separate episode with the Bruces in which the song occurred??).

However, you can hear the original, with the benefit of captioned lyrics, and illustrations of the philosophers mentioned, in the animation below. Enjoy! And, for those of you who didn't have the benefits of a '70s childhood, catch up!

Monday, November 12, 2007

A "messing with the classics" bon mot

"I drink, therefore I am."

René Descartes (1596-1650)
[According to Monty Python]

Descartes' original maxim was, of course, "Cogito, ergo sum" ("I think, therefore I am"). The 'therefore' remains highly contentious.

This variation would in Latin be
"Bibo, ergo sum".

Sunday, November 11, 2007

How was I yesterday?

A friend sent me an SMS enquiring how I was doing last night.

I replied:

"Pleasantly mellow on an exotic mixture of drugs - cloves, codeine, cannabis, baijiu, beer."

I do not often get so whacked out of my head, dear readers, honestly. But I have been very poorly the last couple of days: a particularly vicious flare-up of my of my perennially troublesome wisdom teeth has left me with an agonisingly sore throat, and I need every variety of 'medication' I can get my hands on! (Cloves courtesy of Tulsa, cannabis courtesy of Big Frank.)

Friday, November 09, 2007

HBH 52 (Jianghu, again)

Red eyes greet the day,
Stumbling brain still partly sleeps.
Another late night!

Thursday, November 08, 2007


I mentioned in a comment a little while back that I should more properly describe myself as an asexualist than an asexual (as I had at the end of that post - well, I used the word 'asexuality' about myself). Indeed, 'asexualist' was a derogatory description once applied to me by old Oxford buddy, Mr B.

This was, however, a veiled reference (one that only Mr B and I and The Bookseller and a handful of others back then would get; one that today is perhaps all but forgotten) to another of my great Unsuitable Role Models, the satirical writer Auberon Waugh. Bron, as he was familiarly known, had despaired of trying to escape from the shadow of his famous father Evelyn, and thus abandoned an early career of novel-writing to become a newspaper and magazine columnist. I discovered him at a tender age (tipped off to him, I think, by my favourite subversive Classics teacher), fell immediately for his caustic and deliciously un-PC wit, and devoured every written and spoken word of his I could find for the next dozen or more years: in the New Statesman, Books & Bookmen, The Literary Review (his own, quixotically odd magazine, which he started up just after I entered University); but mostly through his semi-fictitious 'Diary' in Private Eye and his often wilfully offensive but rarely less than hilarious 'Another Voice' column in The Spectator.

Amongst his ongoing crusades was his insistence that the use of the adjective 'homosexual' as a noun was quite unnacceptable; the proper term for a person exhibiting homosexual proclivities, or indulging in homosexual practices, or espousing the 'homosexual lifestyle', was..... homosexualist.

In grammar, he was indisputably right. After all, we have the reasonably common example of the word 'sensualist' meaning a person who venerates sensuality. Everyday usage, however, is a damned hard thing to overthrow. Poor old Bron never seemed to make any progress in this campaign - except for the dutiful adoption of the term 'homosexualist' by a coterie of young fans such as myself (and Mr B and The Bookseller).

Ah, I still have a huge soft spot for Bron; I was just reading his obituary in The Guardian (he died a year or so before I came out to China), and it almost made me cry. A very fine piece indeed, and well worth a read.

All of that, however, is mere preamble.

What I had wanted to say in this post is that perhaps a leading reason (the reason of all reasons?) for my ongoing girlfriendlessness, one that I somehow omitted from the (comment-frenzy-provoking!) post below (although, if you have by chance found this Asexualismo piece in isolation via a search, here's the link), is that I am essentially - as my 'friend' Mr B so shrewdly, so witheringly put it all those years ago - an asexualist.

Scoff, if you will. Sneer, jeer, and entertain your doubts. I assure you it is true. Sex has never been a central part of my life, a major motivator of my actions. That is not to say that I haven't from time to time become sexually obsessed with a woman - and, on a few occasions, even enjoyed having sex with the object of one of these obsessions.... and accordingly been driven to make a fool out of myself. But these incidents are very much the exception rather than the rule of my life. Sex is not part of how I define myself. (I always suspect it of being a bit of a political soapbox thing when our gay brethren proclaim their sexual preference as the core of their being. I scarcely even understand the term 'preference' in this context. "Erm... indoors, with the lights off?" I mumble shyly.) I could far more easily give up sex than books.... or a key friend..... or running, probably...... or possibly even blogging (now, that is a sad reflection).

Indeed, I have given up sex for far longer periods of my life than most people would suppose humanly possible. Sometimes this has been by necessity; more often, perhaps, it has been the result of indolence, or mere inattention. Chastity has become a kind of habit with me, and I can quite often go for a year or two at a time without so much as attempting to chat a girl up - and not even notice the passage of time, the length of the drought.

And I'm really not too unhappy about it. I have attained a certain kind of inner peace through following this path (and saved myself a heck of a lot of money, and left myself a lot more time for reading books, and....). Perhaps I should try to convert others to this outlook, to develop it into a creed which could ease the frustration and disappointment of humankind, and lead us all into a more tranquil way of living (albeit one that would doom our race to rapid extinction). Come, my brothers (and sisters), take up the cause, join with me in celebrating the benefits of Asexualismo. You know it makes sense.

I am often reminded of the words of Socrates on this topic (though, admittedly, he spoke them only in old age):
"I am heartily glad to be rid of sex - as a slave that has escaped at last from a brutal and tyrannical master."

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Why I don't have a girlfriend

I have just conducted a survey to try to ascertain the most likely reasons for my seemingly perpetual singlehood. (Not a real opinion poll, you understand. I mean, who would I have asked? Random strangers on the street? What would they know? What do they ever know about anything? My friends? Well, I considered the possibility; but I thought they'd probably take too long to get back to me, or wouldn't respond at all, so..... I decided instead to canvass the various paranoias of my own imagination.)

Here are the results:

Poll - Likeliest Causes of Froog's Girlfriend Famine

Too old: 24%
(People are always trotting out that tired old Charlie Chaplin example to me: "Oh, Charlie Chaplin was still siring children at the age of 78, or whatever." Yes, yes, yes - but it's not about the longevity of your genitalia; it's about whether you can still get laid at an advanced age. Charlie Chaplin was rich and famous. I don't have those advantages.)

Too nice: 89%
(Yep, I just can't do that 'bastard' thing that so many women seem to love.)

Too fussy: 58%
(I prefer the word 'discriminating'. And I don't think it's excessive.)

Intimidatingly intelligent: 23%
(I don't like to think that I'm "intimidating" in any way; but I have often found women who are not confident in their own intelligence tend to fear that I will soon become bored with them. So, perhaps that's more about confidence than intelligence? Maybe I'm intimidatingly confident??)

Too poor: 67%
(Personally, I think this is probably the biggest obstacle. I have no savings, no pension, no life insurance, no health plan, no real estate, no investments, no car..... and very limited employment prospects. I'm not even confident that I could keep a woman adequately entertained on dates, let alone try to support one in a life partnership.)

Too spiritual: 48%
(I have always been poor, and am likely always to remain so, because I am determinedly anti-materialistic. I have very little drive to amass chattels [other than books and music]. Women tend to be a lot more chattel-focused, I fear.)

Lousy in bed: 11%
(Not that I've received any bad reviews as such. But there is no data at all from the past couple of years. I am badly, very, very badly out of practice.)

Spend too much time hanging out with my friends: 35%
(Yes, possibly - but I'm usually [well on those rare occasions when I am seeing someone] quite adept at integrating a girlfriend with the rest of my social life.)

Drink too much: 8%
(Refer to comment above.)

Work too hard: 7%
(It certainly doesn't help that I work such eccentric hours, and have to make so many trips out of town.)

Spend too much time online: 18%
(By george, maybe that's it! I should be out a-wooing at this very moment, rather than wasting my time with this blog nonsense.)

Too set in my ways: 12%
(Yes, that's probably another biggie, I fear. I'm obviously doing something wrong, but I just can't be bothered to change....)

Any other suggestions, Dear Readers? Your counsel is always appreciated; but, please, be gentle with me - I'm feeling a little emotionally fragile of late.

Monday, November 05, 2007

One consolation of aging - an enigmatic bon mot

"A man is a fool if he drinks before the age of 50; and a fool if he doesn't after that."

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959)

Naturally, I don't agree with this; but it does offer some hope for me in my declining years - perhaps in a decade or so my drinking will become more socially acceptable, and perhaps even more enjoyable?? We shall see.

However, I post this largely because I was fascinated to discover that the great man had expressed an opinion on alcohol - even if it is one that is hard to fathom the wisdom of.

I rather prefer this (entirely non-drinking-related) line of his:
"Every great architect is - necessarily - a great poet. He must be a great original interpreter of his time, his day, his age."

I found this latter quotation at the head of a rather excellent webpage about Wright (tons of links to discussions and photos of his work) - well worth a look.

And, in passing, this is Post No. 400 from the Barstool. How time flies!!!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A poem from a distant land

I haven't shared a 'drinking poem' with you for a while. I just turned up this rather nice piece by a poet from the Cape Verde islands. Presumably this was originally written in Portuguese; I'm afraid I don't know who did the translation. I really like this; I'd like to read more of his stuff, try to read it in the Portuguese. (Perhaps OMG can help out again with tracking down the original of this??)

A tavern by the sea

A distant glimmer,
A beacon spitting light
Into the black face of the night.

Everything is brine and yearning.

Winds with waves on their backs
Make tremble the tavern
Which is an anchored ship.

Love, passionate and brutal,
Amidst the bare knives
And the abandon
Of a prostitute's embrace.

Bottles, glasses, bottles....
Oh, the thirst of a sailor!

Tattooings pricked on skin
Proclaim the pain and the bravado
Of escapades in foreign ports.

Men of every race,
Men without homeland or name
- Just men of the sea,
With voices of salt and wind,
And ships in their unclouded eyes.

Boredom and Regret appear,
Chewing on aged pipes....
Appear and then depart,
Staggering home with a drunk.

Cards, tables and chairs,
Bottles, glasses, bottles,
And the tavern-keeper's face
Stirring up ancient quarrels.

And everything is full of sin
And everything is full of sleep
And everything is full of the sea.

Aguinaldo Fonseca (1922- )

The Practically-Perfect-In-Every-Way
OMG has very promptly answered my challenge to root out the original of this. In fact, she managed to find a Spanish version, as well as the original Portuguese. They are now available to read in the comments below. Do check them out.

Oddly enough, this translator omitted two lines (after the verselet about embracing the prostitute): "Despair spirals in the air/ In dense coils of smoke."

Saturday, November 03, 2007

It's strangely reassuring....

..... to discover that even rock stars get pee-shy.

Here's this dude at MAO last night - bass player (I think) in one of Beijing's leading bands - poised over the urinal for fully 5 minutes while an impatient line of punters starts to back up out of the door. And eventually the poor guy has to give up and leave, without cracking the seal.

You'd think, wouldn't you, that someone used to public performance would be proof against this sort of hang-up??

The Gig of all gigs

Oh, really, that was just ridiculous.

I went out last night to the big new music bar in my 'hood, the MAO Live House (which deserves a post of its own - some time soon, but not now). What a fantastic show! There was apparently some sort of tenuous 'hippie' theme, celebrating the spirit of '67, or somesuch. That didn't really seem to have much impact on the music, though; except that headliners Ziyo kicked off their set with a bitchin' cover of California Dreaming. Whatever the pretext, it was simply a quite awesome evening.

Now, you often get some long - and bizarrely diverse - gig line-ups here in Beijing, but this..... well, it just beggared belief. They had 4 or 5 of Beijing's very best bands playing together; and a similar number of mostly very decent support acts. It threatened to go on all night. It started shortly after 9pm, and - even with every band being very disciplined about playing no more than 25 minutes, and the changeovers being, mostly, amazingly slick - there was still no end in sight when I reluctantly quit in search of my bed at 1.30am. I just had no idea how many more acts were due on. (There was at least one more 'name' band, the Ningxia folk rockers, Buyi, still to come. I was sorry to miss them, but I have seen them quite a few times before; they're something of a fixture over at 2K.)

I doubt if this could happen in any other town or city in the world. 5 top bands sharing the bill?! And all for 50 kuai (6 or 7 bucks; a little over £3 - and that's pretty expensive: a lot of gigs here are completely free, and where there is a door charge, it's generally only 30 or 40 kuai). This is why we love Beijing!

Ziyo were my main reason for going. I'd been hearing good things about them for ages; but they haven't played that many gigs around Beijing - and I have somehow contrived to miss the few they have done. However, I did once meet their lovely singer, Helen, out at Kolegas a couple of years ago, and have had a raging crush on her ever since. They're a tight little band, but she is the big selling point. She's quite gorgeous, of course (and I really don't go for Chinese girls, on the whole!). She has a beautiful voice. And - unusually amongst Beijing's rockers - she speaks really good English; good enough to enable her to sing properly in English. Hence, they might actually have a shot at a bit of international recognition.

The other big highlight for me was the opening act, Queen Sea Big Shark (now that really was a measure of how wackily over-the-top this bill was: QSBS are an excellent outfit, often the headliners - and they were only the "warm-up" here?!). Their singer is arguably even sexier than Helen. Last night she was affecting a jeans-and-leather-jacket/surly biker chick/Chrissie Hynde look; good, though not quite as devastating as that silver micro-dress she wore at the D-22 anniversary party a few months back! Great band, great gal. But, alas, her efforts to sing in English are heavily accented; really a bit mangled; probably a mistake. Ah, but who listens to the words, anyway?

Lots of other great stuff too. There was one punky band - whose name I don't know and will probably never be able to discover - who did a decently energetic version of I Fought The Law. Cowboy, you should have been there.

Traffic report - stats for the blogs, Oct. '07

Crikey! Another bumper month - approaching the wild excess (still the record, just) of March this year. At least back then I had the excuse of being unemployed.

Why the massive splurge this last month?

Well, amongst the factors, I think, were...

1) It's the first time in 4 or 5 months that I've spent the whole month in Beijing, rather than having to travel hither and yon.

2) I've had a fairly light month at work.

3) I've had completely uninterrupted Internet access (also something of a rarity here).

4) Subconsciously, I probably felt I had a bit of a 'backlog' to clear out of my teeming brain, after attempting to shut the blogs down for a while back there in September.

I do apologise. I think this really is too much; I fear it becomes a burden on you, my readers. It's certainly quite an imposition on me! It is sobering - shaming - to reflect that in my 14 months as a blogger I have now churned out well over 300,000 words. That's a novel! 2 or 3 short novels!! I feel I should probably try to spend a bit less time wittering on here, and a bit more trying to write something of substance.

Ah yes, the figures:

On Froogville, 72 posts and just over 20,000 words.

On the Barstool, 38 posts (including the post of posts, which you must all read and comment on) and 14,000 words.

Visitor figures much the same as always, although we have had a few novel commenters recently. Thanks for stopping by.

Friday, November 02, 2007

A parable

Last night, while waiting for my (almost invariably late) friend F - 'The Choirboy' - to show up for a Post-Work Gargle, I got into an exchange of text messages with my Commenter-in-Chief, Tulsa.

She revealed that, when a child, she had had a pet goat, which was her delight and affectionately followed her everywhere. And it shared F's name. My friend F is lovely, but not quite as sweetly devoted as that.

I became concerned that Tulsa did not offer any conclusion to her story. I didn't like to think of her darling pet ending its life prematurely, winding up as yangrou chuanr (mutton-on-a-stick - the ubiquitous snack food here). I quizzed her on this a number of times, but she coyly avoided giving me a straight answer.

Finally, to quell my mounting anxiety, she responded:
"Long, happy life. Many wives. Lots of little F-lets scampering around the southern hills."

Ah, that's all right, then. We should hope for the same for my F. Well - maybe not the many wives bit, but everything else.

HBH 51

Friend's drink unfinished?
We buy one more...... never leave!
Drinking out of sync.

This does seem to be a particular problem here in Beijing. It is a city of autistic drinkers.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The path of the chaste man....

.... is beset on all sides by the goadings of his friends and the scheming of voracious women.

Well, maybe not the latter, in my case (worse luck!), but certainly the former.

I have been trying to avoid The Library Bar of late, because I am finding its overabundance of attractive women just too painfully taunting.

But my buddy The Choirboy is forever trying to inveigle me into joining him there for a drink (it seems to have become his new after-work standard)..... and tonight I have caved in.

No good can come of it.

Only temptation, frustration, disappointment..... and more wavering (just a wobble, no more) from my avowed path of asexuality.....