Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bu yao Tsingtao!

Bu yao is one of the few really essential Chinese phrases - used almost daily for the peremptory dismissal of bothersome street vendors, ticket touts, market traders, or waitresses trying to foist on you the 'special fish dish'. It means 'Not get' - i.e., "I don't want that, thank you; please get it out of my f***ing face."

I have long been toying with the idea of mounting a campaign behind the slogan "Bu yao Tsingtao!" to try to eradicate this ever-present and really not very good beer from the city's bars.

Now, I like Tsingtao - in its place. I liked it in London, though largely because it was the only Chinese beer I could get there and it reminded me of good times here on my first visit in the '90s (and, I suspect, the stuff made specifically for export, or brewed overseas under licence, is probably 10 times better than any of the local product). I quite like it in Qingdao, its original home (variant spelling) - when in Rome, and all that. Funnily enough, I don't even mind it so much when it comes in the big 650ml (or whatever they are) bottles; I really think it must come from a different factory from the 330ml little-swig-of-poison bottles we have to suffer most of the time. And gosh, even the draught version isn't too bad sometimes (it is never to be relied upon, even in those very few bars that are familar with the concept of cleaning their pipes and their taps once in a while; and it is often skanky as hell, but that is a common problem of most draught beers here, particularly the lagers). But those small bottles - at least, the ones we get here in Beijing - have become the bane of my life.

I dislike small bottles in general. They are terrible value for money, they seem somehow to make the beer even more gassy, and they are gone in no time. And for a Brit, brought up to appreciate the satisfying weight of a chunky pint mug in his hand while drinking, they are just too damned unsubstantial.

However, Tsingtao in small bottles is particularly bad news because it is absolutely toxic - it always has a slight (or not-so-slight) metallic aftertaste to it, and often a definite hint of detergent as well (how else do they make so many goddamned bubbles in it?). And it invariably gives you a foul head the next day, however little or much of it you may have drunk (so I am informed by friends - I am [almost] impervious to this myself). Like many Chinese beers, it's probably loaded with formaldehyde; but I think the Tsingtao sold in Beijing must be brimming with lots of other nasties as well. It's just vile.

Oh yeah, and the 10-fold mark-up on it is really galling (I guess it would be the same for any local beer, but if I'm going to give you such a generous profit-margin, Mr Bar Owner, I'd prefer to have a selection of local beers..... so that I could, you know, choose one that was at least vaguely palatable and wasn't going to make me ill).

I don't suppose we're ever going to persuade bar owners to stock the BIG BOTTLES for us (that would be the second phase of the campaign, I suppose; if we ever achieve that crucial first objective of banishing Tsingtao), but Yanjing - the local Beijing brand, and usually far less noxious (particularly in small bottles and cans) - is also available in stubby bottles; as are a number of others, including the bland but inoffensive Snow and the thoroughly wonderful Harbin beer (the best Chinese-made beer I've tasted, by a country mile).

How on earth has Tsingtao achieved such an overwhelming monopoly of Beijing's bar scene? It is quite uncanny. In Chinese restaurants and supermarkets, these other brands I've mentioned, and more besides, are often available, and indeed are frequently stocked in preference to (though rarely to the complete exclusion of) Tsingtao; in fact, in the kind of cheap joints I habitually take my dinner in, Yanjing (and BIG BOTTLES, to boot) is the default option, and Tsingtao a relatively rare and would-be slightly "up-market"(!) alternative. And yet in the bars, 99% of the time there is only one choice (well, unless you want to spend substantially more on an imported lager - which will again be in a bottle, a small bottle, and won't be a whole hell of a lot better: Heineken, Carlsberg, Budweiser - ack!!!). Few people manage to come to love Tsingtao, despite their repeated exposure. Most of my acquaintances bitch about it pretty regularly. A few of us have been griping about it constantly for the past 2 or 3 years. Whenever there is any kind of cost-friendly alternative available, whether imported or domestic, you can guarantee that it will prove a popular choice with the punters. And yet still we find bar after bar after bar stocking Tsingtao as its only 'budget' beer offering. One must suspect some kind of mafia stranglehold on the supply trade.

Oh yes, breaking this monopoly is going to be a tough job. I could well end up like Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront. But this is not a fight I can duck any more (because I've sworn off Tsingtao [in the dreaded small bottles, at least] as my primary New Year's resolution; and when I renounce something, it stays renounced - oh yes!). What do you say, my brothers? Are you with me? Together - we can win the right to choose.

"All we are asking is to be allowed to name our poison!"

Monday, January 28, 2008

A dating bon mot

"In life we all have girls we should have kissed a little more, and girls we never should have kissed at all."

Robert the Publisher

For those of you unfamiliar with the eccentric wit and wisdom of perhaps the world's greatest living sage, click on the link. Sheer bliss. "Robert" (probably not his real name) is a New York publisher, the boss of my blog-idol, Moonrat; and it seems that just about every time he opens his mouth, some nugget of skewed genius emerges (this one is in fact untypically coherent, unwarped). I have suggested the word 'ineptigrams' for them, but MR - a kindlier soul than me - refers to them as 'Gems'.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Heavy Metal hero

Jaime Welton has too much hair and too much talent. I'm not much prone to envy, but.....

JW is a key component of the Beijing music scene: a perfectionist sound engineer who is usually involved in setting up for any visiting bands of note; one of the city's best blues/rock guitarists and the backbone of Beijing's best-loved party band, Black Cat Bone; and also for a while the lead vocalist with the most excellent AC/DC tribute outfit Dirty Deeds (now sadly in indefinite hiatus).

As if all that weren't enough, he's just put together another band - a trio comprising himself, his BCB bassist, and an impressively dirty-looking rock chick on drums (I have a certain weakness for dominatrix outfits - who doesn't?) - called Bad Mamasan. They are dedicated to all things Metal, and in particular to the great British 'monsters of rock' from the early '70s (although they did throw in a couple of AC/DC numbers as well). We discover that not only can JW play guitar like Richie Blackmore or Billy Gibbons or just about anyone else you care to name, he can also do very passable vocal impersonations of Bon Scott, Robert Plant, and Lemmy from Motorhead. Too much talent!

Their debut show at 2 Kolegas last night was a rocking good time (Love the Flying V, Jaime. Are we going to see you in Spandex next time??). Their set is a bit on the short side at the moment, but I'm sure it will soon grow. If they will accede to my demand to add Black Dog and Doctor, Doctor! to their playlist, I am set to become their biggest fan.

Oh damn - I really didn't need another must-see gig on my schedule every month or two!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Vodka on the cornflakes

Hmmm, another 'possible band names' contender there.....

But I digress. Has anyone else ever heard or used this expression? Just lately I have been thinking back rather a lot to my schooldays, and wondering if some of the slang, some of the references that have become ingrained in my psyche are perhaps...... well, incomprehensible to anyone who didn't attend Monmouth School For Boys in the late '70s/early '80s. One I recalled just the other day (another band name suggestion!) was Bunny Rippers - a nickname for the kids who chose to specialise in Biology in their senior studies, because this required them to carry out dissections on dead rabbits (something the rest of us, of course, found both utterly gross yet ghoulishly fascinating).

"Vodka on the cornflakes" was a phrase - more of a joking taunt than a nickname as such, although often inserted into the middle of his real name - associated with the young Russian teacher at this school, who was reputed (on no evidence at all) to be a bit of a heavy drinker. It subsequently became symbolic for me of a really destructive drinking habit, emblematic of a final abandonment of all self-control or self-respect. And yet also sometimes kind of tempting - you know, just the once, as an experiment.

Well, thanks to my favourite amateur lush and tireless Web-trawler, Moonrat, I have just learned that a trendy New York cocktail barman (or perhaps a chef with a cocktail fetish?) has been pioneering ways to turn alcoholic drinks into food - and one of his latest creations is a White Russian breakfast cereal. I kid you not. Go check it out.

I think I'm going to try making this....

A dating haiku (HBH 64)

Always "too busy":
Keenest wooers discouraged.
Hard-to-get women!

To wrap up this week's mammoth series on 'Dating in Beijing' (here and here and here and here), a little haiku on the topic. I think just about every woman I have dated here (or pursued vainly, been frustratedly in love with) has given me a hugely hard time over getting her out on a date at all: I mean, really, you have to ask at least 6, 8, 10 times before you get a result. I think in the West you'd give up in half that time, interpreting "too busy" as "not interested" or "not available". But here - quite often, anyway - it really does seem to mean just "too busy".

Ladies, please, if you're having trouble finding a guy in Beijing, consider - you might need to address your work/life balance. And relearn the dying art of turning people down courteously (a curt "working late Thursday" text message is not going to encourage a guy to ask you out again).

And please, try a little attitude adjustment as well. It may be true that there is an unfortunately high proportion of scumbags, playboys and losers among Beijing's expat men; but if you go out on the town with the prejudice that everyone is likely to be like that, you're not going to make a favourable impression on anyone (male or female, foreign or Chinese) that you meet.

Dating in Beijing (4): where to go to meet people

Anywhere! Anywhere at all - just don't mope at home or spend all your time in the office. Get out and about.

Anything more specific to recommend?

Oh, all right then.

Suggested Ways To Meet Potential Dates In Beijing

1) Networking parties. No, really. They're great for getting you over any shyness you may sometimes feel about introducing yourself to strangers because that is their entire raison d'etre: everyone has gone there to introduce themselves to strangers. Alas, there aren't as many of the more purely social ones as there used to be. The always good-for-a-laugh Young Professionals' Happy Hour withered and died quite some time ago, and Oriented has been a bit shit for the past couple of years (they're tending to get stuck in long 'residencies' in one venue rather trying somewhere different every month as they used to; and terrible venues, too!). However, a lot of the Western hotel bars have 'happy hours', 'ladies nights' and other special promotions which are much the same. And even the rather staid and serious speaker events organised by national chambers of commerce or the major university alumni groups (I subscribe to the Club Canada newsletter on the very tenuous basis that I was once quasi-affiliated to the University of Toronto for a year; there's a lot of good stuff on that ) are still good mixers: I'm sure most (unattached) people who attend these would be open to meeting a possible date; and a good proportion of them have probably gone primarily or solely with that purpose in mind.

2) More alcoholic 'networking' opportunities. Charity parties, 'soft openings' for new clubs or restaurants, wine tastings - that kind of thing. You might be slightly more reserved about introducing yourself to strangers without a 'business' pretext - but they won't be. And after a few drinks, neither will you.

3) Music bars. Of course, it helps if you really like music. I asked a woman to come to the old Yugong Yishan rock club with me once. She said yes, but it turned out she was only trying to humour me, and didn't really like anything other than cocktail jazz; SUBS were not her thing at all (I am considering a new series of posts called Great Dating Disasters). I happen to love live music (of many different kinds: classical, jazz, Chinese folk, blues, rock, pop). And Beijing's music bars happen to be some of the nicest, cosiest, most characterful (not to mention being also among the cheapest) bars in the city. And I figure that anyone I meet at a gig is likely to have a lot in common with me - she likes this bar or this band or this kind of music or the kind of people that come to events like this. And you do have a readymade opportunity to suggest a date!

4) Networks of friends. I am a fuddy-duddy, a curmudgeon, a git. I am a pauper. I am a hermit. I am past my prime, and sulking about it. It takes a carefully-harnessed team of wild horses to get me anywhere near Sanlitun. Fortunately, I have a lot of young, bright, fashionable, sociable, and slightly more prosperous friends (with good wild-horse-wrangling skills) who occasionally chivvy me into going to bars and restaurants that I wouldn't normally bother with, and thereby introduce me to new circles of acquaintances with whom I might otherwise never intersect. Networking is everything in China, in business and in social life: I would say you are most likely to meet someone romantically interesting to you through a friend, or a friend of a friend.

5) Activities. This tip is just a more general example of point 3), that it's good to be drawn together by a common enthusiasm. If you're not the kind of person who likes to hang out in bars a lot, or at least not on your own (and, contrary to the impression I might sometimes give on this blog, I'm not), and you can't rely on your friends to broaden your social reach, then joining a club or going to some kind of special event is a great way to meet people. I know a number of people who've hooked up with each other through the Hash running club (although that's always seemed just a bit too cliquey for me). And I've met a few people through the Chinese Culture Club (not a Boy George tribute band!). And I've dated people I met through chatting at the Cherry Lane movie club. Whatever your interests - mountain-biking, tennis, acting, yoga, writing - there is almost certainly a club or forum or social evening somewhere in Beijing dedicated to it; just check out the listings magazines.

6) The Bookworm. Ah, The Worm - surely the No. 1 pick-up place in Beijing! It combines a mellow ambience, a central location, good wi-fi, an intellectual atmosphere.... and a library. But it's actually a bar - I love that concept. And they have some great speaker meetings and other events there too. And all these fine qualities do seem to attract gorgeous women in droves. Very few of them are single, alas - but a man can dream.

I think that's about it for me. I know some people swear by a trendy restaurant, or Starbuck's, or the gym as ideal venues for serendipitous encounters, and they may be right; but I've never been into 'trendy' anything, or expensive coffee, or working out in the gym; and I'm too much of a stick-in-the-mud to revise these habits just to meet more women. I meet plenty of women as it is. I just seem to have forgotten how to chat them up effectively. I'm really kind of hoping that someone will make the preliminary graft easier for me by falling in love with me because I made her laugh on this blog. Some hope?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Dating in Beijing (3): what I look for in a woman

Well, having risen to Tulsa's challenge and covered the unique challenges of the Beijing scene, and given my encouragement and advice to the expat ladies of the city, it is now time to review my own situation in the light of some of the observations on these previous two posts.

What am I looking for in a woman?

1) Someone who is not too far from my own age. I jested earlier about being encouraged by the Beijing dating environment to consider twenty-year-olds, but..... it would have to be a really exceptional twenty-something (and nothing much younger than late twenties, I think) to hold my interest. I've been attracted to women in their thirties ever since I was in my early twenties; that hasn't changed. These days, I am prepared to cast the net a little wider, to consider women of my own age or maybe even a little older (the early to mid-forties); but basically 30-40 is my target zone.

2) Someone who isn't a Language Nazi. I am always terribly impressed - sometimes swooningly so - by women who have achieved a very high level in their Mandarin skills. But, as I observed before, people this proficient in the language are often savagely intolerant of indolent bumblers like me who get by with the 'Lonely Planet' phrasebook. Tolerance is good, I think; a key quality of personality that I look for in any woman I may become interested in.

3) Someone who isn't a happy-clappy Sinophile or an embittered China-basher.
I place myself somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, but with a heavy dash more scepticism and criticism than everything-in-the-garden-is-wonderful optimism. It is difficult to coexist comfortably with someone who diverges too far from that outlook.

4) Someone who is likely to stay here long-term.
I am very settled here now. I have a pretty good life, plenty of work, some fantastic friends. I can't imagine being able to enjoy such a good quality of life anywhere else in the world. I would be very reluctant to relocate (I did consider it briefly - in a rather hypothetical way - when I was dating an American grad student a few years back; but I fear it was never a very likely outcome). Thus, women who have any sort of terminal date for their sojourn here - even if it's 3 years hence - are not an appealing match for me.

5) Someone who shares my interests. I'm all for compromise and being tolerant of and curious about and inspired by difference, but..... in some things there's only so much difference you can take - and it's not very much. I remember reading an interview with Quentin Tarantino once where he said, "When I'm getting serious about a girl, I always take her to see Rio Bravo. And she'd better f***ing like it!" I once showed a girl I was dating Harold & Maude; and, despite her being well aware that it was a film I absolutely loved, she was emphatically unimpressed with it - that's not good for a relationship. Similarly, I can't imagine having a relationship with someone who doesn't read (a lot); or with someone who doesn't like Tom Waits; or with someone who does like rap music.

6) Someone who doesn't have incompatible beliefs. I am a passionate atheist. Religions annoy me. Anyone with very strong religious beliefs (at least in one of the more obviously theistic religions) is very unlikely to be able to get along with me. These days, vegetarianism and teetotalism (and not wearing leather or fur, extreme recycling, etc.) have become new forms of religion. I do not at all disapprove of any of these things per se; quite the contrary. However, these are not superficial lifestyle choices; they are prompted by fundamental issues of principle. I happen not to have adopted those principles in my life; so I'm never going to feel very comfortable around someone who has - there will be a constant uneasiness that at some level they disapprove of me, a constant regret that I cannot share my pleasures with them (I appreciate all the arguments against alcohol and meat - but for me they are instantly defeated by a good steak and a fine whisky), perhaps even a gnawing of guilt that I have not been strong-willed enough to embrace these worthy ideals myself. And I tried dating a vegetarian once - it wasn't fun (although this was the same girl who didn't get Harold & Maude, so it wasn't just my carnivore-guilt that undid us).

7) Someone who isn't too much shorter than me. I'm 6' 3". I have a weak back. I don't like bending down too far to kiss someone. The shortest girl I ever dated - by a good 2 or 3 inches - was about 5' 5" (I think her vegetarianism may have stunted her growth). Most of the girls I've loved have been around 5' 9" or 5' 10". One or two have been over 6'. This is a very hard thing for me to compromise on.

8) Beauty, brains, personality, wit, excellent English (not always to be relied on even with native speakers!) - and, of course, absence of madness. Yes, I want it all! Must be a good kisser also - which lets most English girls out, I'm afraid.

It becomes easier to see now, doesn't it, why I have been single so often and for so long?

Of course, it is points 1) and 7) that militate so powerfully against me finding a Chinese girlfriend. There is still a very strong cultural norm in China that girls get married in their early or mid-twenties; so, there are very, very few single Chinese women around in their thirties. And there are very, very few Chinese women taller than about 5' 4" - I'd develop a painful stoop in no time if I tried to date someone that height. I am sometimes accused of having a racial prejudice against Chinese girls. That is just not true. I have had very many female Chinese friends, and some of them I have found very, very pretty - but I seldom or never come across a Chinese girl who is the right age and the right height for me.

So, if you are, or happen to know someone who meets the 8 criteria above, please drop me a line in the comments below.

Or, if you think I'm going to die a bachelor and deservedly so, you can tell me that as well. I can take it.

Dating in Beijing (2): my advice for the ladies

I have already apologised for the monumental - not to say ludicrous - presumption involved in this post, but I figure I had better do so again. Remember, it is Tulsa's fault.

My Tips For Expat Women Looking For A Date

(not with me, you understand, because..... well, I'm booked up months in advance; just, you know, generally looking for a date)

1) Try to get over your insecurities. It's true, there aren't that many good men around. Lots of men are gay. Lots of men are in steady relationships. Lots of men prefer Chinese women. Lots of men prefer younger women. But not all. There are still a lot of nice, available guys out there. You really don't help your chances by obsessing about all of these limiting factors, by convincing yourself that there is no-one worth your interest. This, I think, has been the major problem that I have encountered during my years in Beijing - the overwhelming negativity of so many expat women, the suspicion and the lack of self-confidence, the resentment, the bitterness, the distrust, often the downright hostility they seem to have towards Western men. It's not all of you, by any means, but it does happen quite a lot.

2) Be aware of the potential 'hidden' incompatibilities. I discussed these in my first Dating post yesterday: disparity in income, disparity in Chinese language ability, disparity in attitude towards China, disparity in personal ideologies, disparity in how committed you are to staying here, how long you intend to be around. If you are properly aware of these things from the outset, you may be able to find ways of working around them; but if you blunder into a new relationship incautiously, things like this will often prove to be dealbreakers.

3) Be aware of other potential problems. The things I highlighted under point 2) above are specific to the China expat experience; but you shouldn't overlook the other major sources of potential incompatibility that would be a problem anywhere else in the world. When I mentioned 'personal ideologies' above I was thinking primarily of what kind of work you do and why you've chosen to be in China; but let's not forget that your views on your domestic politics and on international affairs, your religious beliefs, and other stands of principle (like vegetarianism or teetotalism) can also be an obstacle to romantic bliss. Heck, these days some people will reject you for the size of your carbon footprint. And that's before we even get on to what we might call the 'second order dealbreakers' like taste in films and music. Life is tough. Tough, but not hopeless. So long as you are aware of these issues, you can usually begin to find a path to compromise. But if you only like jazz and the guy you're talking to has made it clear that he's exclusively into heavy metal..... you'd probably do better to give up and move on to someone else.

4) Analyse your own 'weak points'. You're wonderful, of course you are, and I want you to project more poise and self-assurance, not less. But..... it is worth trying to work out why you don't always meet as many men as you'd like or have them fall wildly in love with you or have the relationships last or whatever. Some of the problems might be purely practical, and therefore have the potential for change: e.g., maybe you work such crazy hours that you can't keep up a regular social life; or maybe you live in an unfashionable part of town and it's sometimes too much trouble to come all the way to Sanlitun or Houhai to meet up with people; or maybe you devote a lot of time to a severely uncool hobby like basket-weaving or yodelling that doesn't get you out of the house and meeting people (hey, have an uncool hobby if you want to, that's fine with me; I'm just saying, be aware of the ways it may impact negatively on other areas of your life). Then again, other problem areas might be aspects of your behaviour or personality; it's harder to change things like this; but not impossible. If you tend to be very domineering in conversations or to always laugh at your own jokes or to tell long boring stories about your Great Aunt Dora...... well, it might be worth considering a little attempt at some behaviour modification.

5) Get out there and meet people. The expat community is extraordinarily open and welcoming, supportive and friendly. It's one of the things I most love about living here: you can strike up a conversation with a stranger almost anywhere. And it is a target-rich environment. There are lots of like-minded people out here, lots of people like you. Well, the mere fact that they're here gives you a superficial something in common immediately. But the reasons why people come to a place like this are selecting for compatibility in all sorts of ways. You're unusually bright and well-educated, right? Perhaps a little, or more than a little creative? Also perhaps a tad unconventional and rebellious? Curious, adventurous, self-reliant? Of course you are - that's why you're here. And so are most of the other people here.

6) Be realistic, honest, and self-aware about what you want in a man. If you despise English teachers, don't waste time flirting with them. If money (or ambition or career-plan) are important for you, focus your attention on the high-end bars and restaurants where the bankers and property developers are more likely to hang out. If you're hoping to find a long-term relationship, don't get involved with someone you know is going to leave in 6 months (that's really not enough time to establish something on a long-term footing).

I honestly believe that Beijing is a great environment for meeting interesting people, making lots of new friends, and potentially finding a 'soul mate' (heck, I sometimes find 2 or 3 a year - but they're generally involved with other people!). You just have to make the effort to meet people, to get to know them, to allow a relationship to grow. And you have to be open to the possibilities, not pessimistic and embittered. Yes - Western men are often promiscuous sleazebags who will cheat on you with 5 different Chinese girls before the end of the month. But it ain't necessarily so - hope for the best, don't always be imagining the worst.

Avoiding negativity is thus my overriding top piece of advice. My second most important tip is Make the time to see people; don't be a slave to your job! A true story by way of illustration: a very beautiful woman that I had long maintained a flirtatious e-mail friendship with but very seldom actually saw, surprised me by suddenly showing up to a party of mine a summer or two ago (more of a lads' night out boozing than anything very genteel, I'm afraid). She spent most of the evening chatting rather flirtatiously with one of my friends, and I was stung by a slight pang of jealousy. Later that night or the next day he told me, "Man, you are such an idiot. She was talking about you the whole night. Apparently, she's always really fancied you and is miffed that you've never asked her out." Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather! Unfortunately, she left China very shortly afterwards. The thing is, I had tried to ask her out. At least 6 or 8 times. And I'd been told every single bloody time that she was "too busy with work" - so I had, you know, inferred that she didn't like me in that way, and I had given up asking.

This is a surprisingly common phenomenon in Beijing: women who are so caught up in their jobs that they lose touch with reality a little, start to neglect the social niceties. So, please, ladies, if a nice guy asks you out, and you really are absolutely too busy to accept - you can at least turn him down nicely and suggest a rain check.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Dating in Beijing (1): the special circumstances

My sometime 'commenter-in-chief', Tulsa, claims that I have promised her that I will write some advice for expat women on the dating scene here in Beijing. I have absolutely no recollection of this, but she insists that it is so - so I suppose I'd better humour her.

I have already quipped that, given my own dismal romantic record in this city, having me dole out dating advice is a bit like having Timur the Great discourse on humanitarian aid. And I certainly don't feel that I have any great insight into dating from the female perspective! I can only attempt to analyse my own experience of trying to find romance in Beijing, and hope that we can extrapolate from that some of the difficulties faced in this endeavour on the other side of the gender divide.

A further initial disclaimer, before I get started: I don't like the word 'dating', I've never really understood the concept (as I have previously recounted here). In the UK, we prefer the term 'going out with' - but that is a little cumbersome; and since the person who "commissioned" this post is American, we'll run with the American word 'dating'........ just this once. I don't expect to be making a habit of it.

So, to begin, what are the special features of the dating scene in China today, or more specifically in Beijing, for us Western expats?

1) A Hothouse Intimacy - Even with the numbers of (non-Asian) expats in the city now running to many tens of thousands (at least 3 or 4 times as many as there were when I first arrived here 6 years ago), it's still a very intense, close-knit sort of community. Even though the number of foreigner-oriented bars & restaurants now runs into the hundreds rather than just a few dozen, there are only ever a handful that are very good or very popular - so the nightlife scene here can at times seem a very small world indeed. You keep on bumping into the same people all over town (good if you're pursuing them as a potential interest; bad if you're trying to avoid them as a doomed prospect, a painful disappointment, an ex-from-hell). Everyone seems to know everybody else's business. It can be very difficult to keep a relationship discreet in its early stages. It can be very difficult even to get a relationship off the ground, since it is almost impossible ever to get someone you fancy on their own, detached from their usual busy social life, their inevitable circle of friends.

2) Transience and Uncertainty - Expats rarely seem to know how long they're going to be here for. Even if they think they know, they often change their minds very suddenly. And most of them are not here for very long. Many who come here to study will only be around for one year, or less. Staff at most of the Embassies rotate every 2 or 3 years. Many MNCs follow a similar policy. I would guess that 3 years is the average stint for most people, and fairly few stick around for much longer than 5 years. It's difficult to develop a serious long-term relationship in such a volatile, short-term environment.

3) The Competition - There tend to be more men than women in the expat community (though I think the numbers have been rapidly evening up in the last few years, and might be getting quite close to parity now). And - loath as I am to use what I regard as an unlovely and somewhat racist term - there is some basis to what is widely known as the 'Yellow Fever' phenomenon; which is to say that many Western guys seem to have a particular weakness for Oriental girls, and will sometimes develop an exclusive preference for them, completely forsaking women of their own or other ethnicities. Again, I don't think this is nearly as pronounced as it used to be, and Western women are perhaps inclined to exaggerate the extent of the problem. When I first visited China 14 years ago, there were rarely more than a few hundred foreigners in any one place, and often only a few dozens, even in quite large towns and cities; and they were almost all men. In those circumstances, the compelling fascination with Chinese women was fostered by the absence of any other options. Now that the expat community in Beijing is so much bigger than it was a few years ago, and more evenly gender-mixed, I think it is becoming far more common for male and female expats to socialise together and to date each other.

However, it remains true that a lot of Western men do have a preference for Chinese girls. Some like their petite, almost childlike physiques. Some perhaps like their glossy black hair. And some undoubtedly like the unfamiliar directness and intensity of their flirting, the relentlessness of their flattery, the singlemindedness with which they tend to pursue a man they are interested in. Some Western women develop a similar fascination with Chinese men (or make a conscious, more-head-than-heart decision to date Chinese men in order to help them learn the language), but this does seem to be far, far rarer. So, yes, there is somewhat of an imbalance in the dating pool between the numbers of available expat females and males.

4) The Age Gap - I think one of the most significant impacts of Chinese culture on the expat dating scene may be the inflated expectations it tends to inculcate in us men as to how young a girl it may be possible or reasonable or seemly for us to try to date. In Chinese culture, age is good; traditional values encourage women to select a husband based on status and financial stability rather than good looks or youthful vigour. Well, that's what people keep telling me, anyway. While China is unlikely ever to garner the sleazy 'sex tourism' reputation of Thailand, it is becoming known as a 'marriage tourism' destination. Beijing is awash with failed businesmen who have come here in their middle-age, often their late middle-age, sometimes indeed in old age, largely because they know that they can still find a wife or girlfriend here who is much, much younger than them. The last time I was in the British Consular Offices renewing my passport, I checked out all the notices of upcoming weddings: without exception, they were British guys marrying Chinese girls; the smallest age gap was about 10 or 12 years; most were between 15 and 25 years apart; the largest gap was 37 years!

I think this is the aspect of the common 'Chinese preference' that causes the most difficulty - expat women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s often feel insecure because they believe that men of their age will naturally prefer, and can readily find, someone younger than them.

And I fear that this probably encourages us 'dirty old men' to look at the younger end of the market even among expat women. We get used to having Chinese girls of 22 show an interest in us, and we start to think that Western girls of that age should as well. And we might sometimes be right: the disparity in numbers, the oft complained-of "shortage of decent men" here, tends to work in our favour, increases our pulling power. Back in the UK, I'd rarely look twice at a girl under 30 (as much because I'd doubt if she had that much interesting to talk about as because I'd know I had absolutely no chance), but here.....

5) The Unseen Barriers - I have discussed before in comment-strings (though I can't now remember where) that one of the biggest problems in the expat dating scene here is mismatched interests or expectations. Of course, that can be an obstacle to any relationship anywhere. But the range of things that can cause such tension, and sometimes downright incompatibility, does seem to be much increased here - though often people seem to be naive or unself-aware about these things.

Socio-economic stratification is very much intensified; but it is often disguised by the fact that people from all income brackets often hang out in the same places. There are some businessmen here and senior managers of MNCs who are rich beyond the dreams of avarice. And then there are a lot of students, backpackers, and EFL teachers who are mostly dirt poor. And there's a whole range in between. There can't be many places in the world where people from those extremes of the income scale might regularly rub shoulders together at the same bar. I would guess that most of my friends here make less than $2,000 per month, and some perhaps make less than $1,000. But there may be others who make $5,000 or $10,000 or $20,000 - it never seems polite to ask. Oh, but if you're dating someone, it can very quickly become an issue.

Then, there's the question of 'commitment' to China - why did you come, how long do you want to stay, how interested are you in the culture? Serious divergences on these matters will often prove fatal to a relationship. Two particular problem areas here, I think, are one's attitude to the government & the economy, and one's attitude to learning the language. China-optimists these days seem to be in the majority. I tend more towards the sceptic end of the scale myself (though not to the extent of the comically extreme doomsaying of the notorious Nanheyangrouchuan), but I don't mind the optimists so long as they don't get too militant about it. Many, however, veer towards an everything-in-China-is-lovely fantasy and become naive apologists for the Communist government; and they are often rabidly intolerant of any more critical viewpoint. I like to think of myself as an enlightened sceptic/very cautious optimist/China-basher-as-appropriate; people who are too far to either side of that point in the spectrum tend to get on my tits, and doubtless I get on theirs. Strange that this should have become such a fundamental aspect of our self-definition here; I rarely find 'political' disagreements causing such friction in the UK or the USA.

Similarly with learning the Chinese language - many who've made the effort to acquire a decent proficiency in it become proselytizing zealots, viciously disdainful of us lazier types who have decided it's really not worth the bother. They seem to resent our very existence.... as if our perpetual reminder of the fact that it is perfectly possible to function in daily life here with a few dozen words and a lot of smiling-and-pointing makes them question whether the agonies they went through to learn the language were really worth it. Yep, disparity in Chinese language skills is another huge, though often unsuspected, stumbling block in expat relationships.

There seems to be a lot of ideological polarization in the kinds of employment people find here as well. Again, this is probably becoming more common the world over, but it seems to show up in especially stark relief here: many people seem to be working for NGOs or boutique environmental consultancies; many people work for banks and oil companies and such; never the twain!

So, dating in Beijing can be rife with difficulties - especially for the ladies - that you don't necessarily find (or, not to such a marked degree) in most other places. Tomorrow (or sometime soon-ish) I will write further on this topic, attempting to give some advice on how to overcome these problems. Yes, I shall share with you what I look for in a woman and where I would go to look for a woman.

I bet you can hardly wait......

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

HEEEERE's....... The Bookseller!!!

My old University drinking buddy, The Bookseller, has added a truly awesome list to my Possible Band Names competition. Do go and check it out.

We must hope for more comment contributions from him. He can be a bladder-looseningly funny writer at times.

Monday, January 21, 2008

How to get around Internet censorship

Last week - in a rare flush of public-spiritedness - I wrote a post on Froogville detailing all the methods I have found for circumventing the Chinese government's attempts to prevent me from visiting "un-harmonious" websites. (That really is the Communist Party's favoured buzzword; but it has already been adopted by the blogging community here as mocking slang - "You've been harmonized!" is a common euphemism for 'censored'.... 'warned off'..... 'blocked'..... 'closed down'..... 'imprisoned'......)

Please go and check out that post (or the sidebar on Froogville) if you want to know more.

However, the simplest method of all I will add a link to in the sidebar here. It's a proxy site called Kallahar's Place: it's quick, easy, reliable, does not require any downloads..... and, unusually for a proxy server, it gives you access to secure webpages, thus allowing you to comment on blogs or order stuff on Amazon, etc. Note, however, that of the three proxy 'methods' supplied on this page, only Method #2 works. Also, there's a glitch that makes it difficult to navigate back to this page from the proxified sites you've visited - the trick is to click 'Refresh'. (Actually, this hiccup now seems to have been sorted out.)

Do give it a go - it renders virtually the entire Internet readily accessible even here in censhorship-ridden China.

A bon mot especially for me!

On having a girlfriend:

"Unlike riding a bicycle, it involves certain skills which can be forgotten."

Perceval Snopes

And hence, I suppose, one should not allow oneself to fall out of practice for too long. Yes, my old friend and occasional cyber-gadfly, Mr Snopes, has once more been goading me about my romantic inertia.

I reflect that I have only kissed six women since I came to Beijing. And I have only slept with four. I have also been in love with four women; but unfortunately, it wasn't the same four (well, only once did I manage to kiss, and sleep with, someone that I was thoroughly in love with). Either way, there has been remarkably little actual sex. In nearly 6 years, that is a truly dismal record. Perhaps my problem is not that I have forgotten those relationship skills that Snopes alludes to, but that I never learned them in the first place. Oh, woe, woe.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Great Love Songs (2)

The first having been A Rainy Night In Soho by The Pogues, which I posted last month. Yes - another new series here on the Barstool!

This is Gypsy, a beautiful early song (I think she wrote this when she was still a teenager) by one of my favourite singer-songwriters, Suzanne Vega. I've loved it for 20-odd years, but it has acquired particular resonances for me with regard to my great failed relationship with The Poet a couple of years ago: it speaks of being attracted to someone's creativity and eccentricity, of recognising a kinship in these things, of celebrating such a love in one's own creative output..... and of recognising that the relationship must be transient, of accepting that you must let it go.

This is a performance from Austrian TV in the late 80s. The YouTube post includes the lyrics. Well, that link seems to have been deleted (shame - a really good performance), but I've added a decent alternative from the same era, a 1989 club appearance in Madrid filmed for Spanish TV. This is also a very good performance, from nearly twenty years on, a concert in Basel in 2008 (again with lyrics provided); she seems to have that not-aging magic!

Later, this really lovely solo performance appeared on Youtube. And also this 'video' of the song, apparently shot for a Swedish TV show in the late '80s.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Carnival time again!

It's come around quite early this year, catching me rather by surprise. As I recounted last year, I have a personal connection with the Krewe du Vieux, the first, most intimate, and most bawdily satirical of the Mardi Gras season parades in New Orleans, my 'spiritual home'. I have attended three times in the past, and am overdue another visit. I had thought I might take advantage of my current joblessness to get over there this year, but it was only a few days ago that I discovered that this year's parade rolls tonight, January 19th - so, alas, I didn't have enough time to make the arrangements. Cruel Fate! Maybe next year.....

Ah, well, I shall be with them in spirit. And I can fritter away an hour or so this afternoon looking for photos of past parades on the Internet and reading the Krewe's annual 'manifesto', Le Monde de Merde.

This year's theme is a Beatles-punning 'Magical Misery Tour'. And I think the Krewe de Mama Roux has the best sub-krewe title:
"We all live in a Jello Shot machine."

And here's a video of last year's parade, to give you a hint of what it's all about. Only a hint, mind you - it can't begin to capture the whole delightful loopiness of the event, the alcohol, the obscure in-jokes, the alcohol, the beautiful girls, the marijuana, the music, the alcohol, the beautiful girls...... It's a great, great night.

A big hello from China to my friends in the Krewe de Craps!

(And what happened to the Krewe de Jew?! They always used to have the hottest girls, but they don't seem to be participating this year. I wonder if they've renamed themselves.)

Put not your trust in music critics

I've been given a few bum steers on the Beijing gig scene lately.

I like Ian Sherman, the beardy layabout who writes the rock music listings for Time Out Beijing - since we are probably Beijing's two most prolific gig-goers, I run into him around town quite a lot. He's a decent chap, a very funny writer, and his knowledge of rock music is awesomely compendious (although this tends to render his assessments of rather limited value to me, since his thumbnail reviews of bands are typically based on 3 or 4 witty comparisons to other bands or musical genres that I've never heard of)...... but I'm beginning to think that his judgement is a bit dodgy.

He fairly raved about Magyar Posse (the ludicrously named Finnish imports I went to see last night) and their 'epic film soundtrack' music. Actually their music sounded to me more like the themes from 70s TV shows - not bad, but not quite as grand or awe-inspiring as 'epic film soundtracks'. The lush aural soundscapes and slightly retro melodies reminded me a little of Goldfrapp - but not as good, of course. The repetitive figures they often used reminded me a little of Simon Jeffes' Penguin Café Orchestra - but not as good. And the sawing guitars and drum crescendoes in the last third of each piece reminded me a little of any average garage band trying hard to make it seem more exciting than it really is - but not as good. No, they were really pretty mediocre, and after 4 or 5 songs it was all starting to sound the same.

Interesting, up to a point, though - not a complete waste of an evening.

Unlike visiting French punksters Papier Tigre, who Ian had also proclaimed to be "really very good". I had had my suspicions that this might prove not to be the case, so rather than shell out cash to see their main show at MAO Live I caught their free after-hours gig at Room 101 (still dangerously smelly, but it's growing on me gradually) instead. And my instincts were vindicated: as my illustrious friend The British Cowboy would have it - they sucked the balls of a donkey.

Now, perhaps Mr Sherman is just so much more musically literate than me that he can perceive virtues in these bands that pass me by. But I rather think that it's just been too long since he saw a proper band and so he gets overly excitable about any change from the usual Beijing routine. I shall be consuming his reviews with a larger sprinkling of salt in future.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Vexed again, perplexed again

Don't even think about the next line.

It's been another difficult night.

That 'band name' game - we just can't compete with the professionals

When I kicked off the band-naming game on here last week, I did jest (in the hope of encouraging reluctant participants out of their shyness) that it would be difficult to produce suggestions worse than some of the names that bands actually choose for themselves. That point is, I think, amply illustrated by some of the examples of really dire Chinese band names that I have given in the comments to that post.

And we see yet further evidence of this in Beijing tonight. A little bit later, I am - maybe - going to see a band called Magyar Posse. They are from Finland, and are said to be quite good, in a lush symphonic rock, Ennio Morricone kind of way.

Apparently, most of the band members were previously in a group called The Alibi Of Carlos.

Clearly the Finns are worldbeaters in the art of bad band-naming.

So, please, don't be shy. Give it a go. It is extremely unlikely you will proffer anything more inept than this. Unless, that is, you are from Finland. (In which case, you are still welcome to amuse us.)

Getting Lost (the suavest Role Model)

My new blog-friend (blog-fiend?) "Keith Tolstoy" posted this exquisite video of the great jazz trumpeter/singer Chet Baker in his youth last week.

That, of course, led me to wandering around YouTube for an hour or two checking out the other clips of Chet. I think this is perhaps my favourite. It's not a performance video but a montage of (mostly black & white) still photographs. Chet was perhaps more photographed than any of the other jazz greats - because he was such a handsome rogue in his youth (albeit in a rather angular, ugly-handsome kind of way), possibly even more dazzling than last week's 'Role Model', Errol Flynn; but then those film-star good looks of his withered dramatically with years of drug abuse, and the ravaged face of his later years is compelling in a different way. This is a great set of pictures, and a fabulous song too.

HBH 63

Even TWENTY's old
Amid the Euro-teen hordes.
Underage drinkers!

Amongst the reasons why I can seldom be tempted out to the city's main bar district around Sanlitun....

The last time I went to Pure Girl (one of the diviest bars in town, and artfully misnamed) with The Choirboy, we were mobbed by a bunch of 15-year-old Swiss. I think he quite enjoyed it - but then, the age differential is much less for him. 22-year-olds make me feel like a dirty old man these days; teenagers make me feel like Tithonus.

This, by the way, is one of my entries this week in an online competition for haiku about the Beijing bar scene. Wish me luck! There's a bottle of vodka at stake.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A warning unheeded

If only I'd pondered these wise words before I went hanging out with those NFL cheerleaders the other night!! Now the damage is done - Destruction and Judgment, indeed.

Quot homines, tot sententiae

Loyal readers may recall that last month in my annual Bar Awards I named D-22 as Beijing's Worst Bar - in the face of stiff competition from the likes of Centro and The Tree. It was also runner-up as Worst Music Bar (saved from another victory only by the mystifying continued existence of New Get Lucky - which is really so dreadful it perhaps ought to be excluded from competition) and the scene of the year's Worst Gig (and, quite probably, all of the year's worst gigs). In my opinion.

According to a readers' poll conducted by leading expat listings mag That's Beijing, however, it was........ Bar/Club of the Year.

There's no accounting for taste, I suppose. But that is a very surprising result. I have detailed and cogent reasons for my detestation of D-22. And I am very far from alone in holding such a view of it - I can't think of anyone I know that actually likes the place (and that includes quite a few musicians who play there or people otherwise "involved" in the music biz in some way).

The owner, Michael Pettis, is a relentless self-publicist, and he probably did a good job of marshalling friends and colleagues to vote in the poll. And I suppose it's quite likely that a lot of people might only go there once or twice, to see a particular band, and if they enjoy that band they might form a positive (but unwarranted) impression of the bar. Can this really explain this amazing result, though? Or must we suspect some more nefarious vote-rigging machinations?

I will admit that Pettis has managed to make himself and his bar an important feature of the Beijing music scene - I applaud the good work he's done in nurturing and promoting new bands. It's just a pity that he's such a self-important tosser; and that his bar and most of its staff are so thoroughly tainted by the same smugness; and that the space there is so cramped; and that the service is often non-existent; and that the acoustics are so utterly SHITE; and that the sound system is truly terrible too, and keeps on breaking down; and......... Oh, stop me, someone; I could go on and on.

D-22 is a music bar; nobody would go there just to have a drink; thus it's not a bar bar - so it shouldn't even have been eligible for this category of the TBJ awards. If judged purely as a music bar, compared with the city's other music bars, it's just a craphole - light years behind just about every other venue in the city (MAO Live? Better! 2 Kolegas? Better! Salud? Better! Jiangjinjiu? Better! Club 13? Better! Jianghu? Better! WuMing GaoDi? Better! What Bar? Better! New Yugong Yishan? Better - not much, but better! And these places - as well as having better sound and better bands - are all much better bars as well.).

That's Beijing readers, please take your heads out of your arses. Such unfathomable voting aberrations cannot be tolerated. If you do not make amends this year, I shall have to resort - like Wowbagger The Infinitely Prolonged - to vilifying each and every one of you individually.

By the by, despite a recent revamp, the That's Beijing website (now renamed is still difficult to search and damn nigh unnavigable. Moreover, items on its most recent Bar Awards have so little prominence (I know there are several references to them on the site, but I can't find the main article listing all the winners - which must surely be there somewhere) that even Google fails to unearth them.... although, when you search for "that's Beijing"+"bar awards", it does point to the Barstool here and my own Beijing Bar Awards. Thank you, Google.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Because I am a man....

The Man In Black is a New England Patriots fan. So, when I heard on the grapevine that some of their cheerleaders were on a short promotional tour over here, I thought I should let him know. He urged me to come along too. So I humoured him. That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.

I'm not sure how the girls got to be despatched over here when their team are in the middle of the play-offs (and chasing the Dolphins' unique record of a "perfect season"). We speculated that perhaps it was a discipinary measure, a reprimand for unseemly 'party' antics. Ah, fantasy.... No, alas, they were overwhelmingly wholesome and impeccably well-behaved.

After a couple of hours I quit to go and rendezvous with a couple of my Beijing lady friends, who are, I think, really far more attractive (and they don't read this blog, so I'm not just sucking up!). Perfection is overrated, I say. I mean, you could get snowblind looking at those smiles for too long. These are girls who have clearly never known the dirty pleasures of coffee & cigarettes. Or of alcohol either, probably. Their beauty is somehow rather artificial and antiseptic.

Of course, that's not to say I won't be checking out a phone number or two the next time I'm in Boston......

Monday, January 14, 2008

A bar with no bar

Change is afoot at my beloved Jianghu.

As we know, change is our constant companion in Beijing. As we also know, change is rarely a good thing. Even if change might possibly have its positive aspects, its justifications, it is always a bothersome, discomforting, disorienting thing to deal with. And it is a particularly bad idea when the place you are changing is currently pretty damn near perfect.

The Chinese don't seem to appreciate the proverb 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it'. In fact, my curmudgeonly buddy Big Frank once sourly remarked that their attitude seemed to be rather 'If it ain't broke - break it'.

When I dropped in the other day for my regular Thursday-night fix of mellow music and wee-small-hours drinking, I discovered that the bar (that is, the serving counter) had disappeared. I looked in again last night, largely to doublecheck that I hadn't just imagined it.... and hoping that the owners had perhaps swiftly repented of their aberration. But no joy: my favourite little bar was still bar-less.

The 'plan', apparently, is to create a new bar along the end of the courtyard area. This will involve demolishing the wall of the 'kitchen'....... which may in turn cause the collapse of adjoining walls and ceilings, domino-fashion (awareness of structural relationships is not one of this nation's strong points). And there is no sign as yet of this great work commencing - so, the removal of the existing bar was certainly premature.

And it was such a good bar, too: tall, dark wood; good for leaning on (though an elbow or middle-of-the-back lean, somewhat above the ideal hip-height), and with 3 or 4 high bar-stools for when standing became wearisome or unsteady. It was my habitual vantage point for enjoying the music there. Oh, how I miss it!

I can see the logic behind the move: it creates substantially more space in the small back room; and the new location is more central, more convenient of access for the other two areas of the bar (and a lot of the punters do seem to be favouring the middle courtyard bit of late).

However, it has, I fear, ruined the atmosphere of the main room, the back room, the music room. That room was the bar - the hell with the supplementary 'chill-out' areas! You're much more confident of getting served promptly if you're actually sat at the bar, rather than forlornly waiting to try to catch the attention of one of the staff and summon them to your table to take an order. That immediacy of refreshment is a key part of the appeal of any bar; and it has been a central element of Jianghu's magic for me for the past year. The atmosphere of the music room seems irrevocably changed already: that small boost in seating capacity has instantly made it seem more lounge-y, has fatally increased the level of background chatter, diminished the focus on the musicians. Boo! I would lobby the boss to reconsider, but I don't suppose it will do any good.

Perhaps it will all work out OK. Perhaps when the new bar is built, things will seem better. Perhaps we will see that familiar, beloved dark wood counter in operation once again (though I rather fear they've junked it for firewood). We can but hope. These are anxious times.

More sage advice

"The glass could be either half-full or half-empty, depending on your inner levels of positivity. While you're thinking about that, you might as well get the barman's attention and have him start filling your next glass."


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Possible Band Names - a game you can all play

I mentioned on here several months ago that the 'possible band names' game is a popular subject for SMS exchanges with my old friend, The Poet. Here in China, you quite often find inspiration in the random bits of Chinglish on public signs and in company and product names. In that earlier post I cited the great example of The Sex Health Protection Monopoly - which is in fact a chain of specialist clinics or pharmacies down in Shanghai. And then of course many actual band names in China are superbly warped - tonight I'm going to a gig featuring Banana Monkey and Muscle Snog! And I have spoken often of my adulation for Beijing's weirdly wonderful experimental jazz outfit, Glorious Pharmacy.

So, I'll kick off with a 'Top 10' list of possible band names that have always appealed to me, and will then invite my readers to add their own suggestions in the 'comments'. Most of these, of course, are film references - feel free to shout out if you recognise them (or to complain if you don't).

I omit my very favourite, The Gutter Roses (the story behind that one is here), because I think I might actually use that one one day.

I wonder how many of these are already band names. At least some, I imagine; perhaps all. Never mind. I can't be bothered to check now. Somewhere in the world, at some time or other, almost every conceivable combination of words in the English language must have been adopted as a name by some teenage garage band..... There was, for example, back in the late '80s/early '90s a band gigging around Oxfordshire called Kitchens of Distinction - another favourite name of mine.

Anyway, here goes with my Top 10....... (counting down).........

10) Drowned Kittens

9) Biohazard

8) Bedtime for Bonzo

7) The Smoking Beagles

6) Surf Nazis

5) Cherry 2000

4) Glove Full Of Vaseline

3) War Rocket Ajax

2) Monsters From The Id

And...... my current absolute tip-top Number 1 fave.....

1) Candygram For Mongo

Now it's your turn........

[Well, what do you know?! I discovered in April 2012 that Candygram For Mongo is a real band. You can check out their official website, their merchandise, and some free sample tracks on MySpace.

They're from LA, and were born more than two years before I came up with the idea.]

Friday, January 11, 2008

A worrying sign?

I am miffed that my favourite brand of baijiu, Nongxiang Jingjiu, seems to have disappeared from stores of late.

Maybe it hasn't been withdrawn from sale; maybe it's just that the packaging has changed, making it impossible to recognise (and most baijiu packaging is pretty indistinguishable anyway); or maybe it's just 'hiding' amid the plethora of similar brands on the shelves (an entire aisle of my local supermarket is packed with the stuff - already gearing up for the Chinese New Year festivities next month). But it is invisible to me, and I miss it. Last time I had to make do with something called Jinliufu. Similar price point, but far less palatable - even copious quantities of orange juice can't quite drown out its petrol-like savour.

These observations will, I'm sure, provoke consternation and derision from many of my fellow China expats. All baijiu, even the most "palatable" varieties, is pretty nasty stuff - rotgut. Few foreigners will admit to drinking it at all. Displaying a knowledge of a number of different brands, espousing a favourite, advocating its consumption with mixers..... these are indications of an excessive familiarity, an alarming suggestion that yours truly has abandoned all pretence of shame or self-respect, taste or refinement, discrimination or restraint, that he has, to put it bluntly, started going native.....

I don't think that's true. Jingjiu really is quite drinkable, not at all unpleasant (once you get used to it....). And it is endearingly cheap (and I am, of course, trying to live on a very slender budget these days). I need to find me a new source of supply. Scoff, if you will.

HBH 62

even brightest days
end in darkness suddenly
the bottom falls out

Supply your own punctuation. Supply your own back story. It is what it is.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The suavest Role Model

I started the week with a celebrated quotation from the great Errol Flynn, and that got me to thinking that I really should induct him formally into the 'Unsuitable Role Models' Hall of Infamy. I mean, the man was buried with six bottles of whisky in his coffin - how hardcore is that?!

His autobiography, the splendidly titled My Wicked, Wicked Ways, is apparently still in print, and is a fantastic read. He says at one point, I think in reference to a meeting with Clark Gable:
"People ask, 'What do two actors talk about when they meet?' The answer is themselves."

My favourite line about him comes from his great friend and 'partner in crime', David Niven:
"You always know where you stand with Errol. He always lets you down."

A stats-freak aside: this, by the way, was Post No. 500 on the Barstool. I really never thought we'd get this far. We're also rapidly closing in our 7,000th visitor. Great oaks from little acorns....

Pubs with no beer - persecution again?

I confess to having enjoyed a little warm glow of schadenfreude when I learned a little while ago that Beijing's wretched new cod-Irish bar Paddy O'Shea's had no Guinness to sell. Ha-haa - just when you thought it couldn't get any worse..... it gets worse.

However, it appears I may have been unduly harsh in immediately imputing this shortcoming to the incompetence of the O'Shea's management. There has in fact been a Guinness drought (dread words!!) in Beijing - indeed, in the whole of mainland China, I believe - for the past month or two. As far as I'm aware, Guinness is not yet brewed within China (and I wouldn't have much confidence that they'd get it right when they do finally start local production), and it all has to be imported from Malaysia. The rumour I hear is that the import/distribution company here has run into some sort of problem with the government and is not currently able to bring any more of the black stuff into the country. Oh, cruel and inhuman punishment! The Chairman (like me, a Plastic Paddy - actually, this was another of the initially unsuspected links The Three Amigos had in common: Big Frank, The Chairman and I are all of [somewhat remote] Irish heritage), had been promising himself a Guinness or two as part of his Christmas/New Year celebrations, but had to go without.

I have been rooting around on the Internet to try to get to the bottom of this shocking problem, but there is a curious dearth of news about it. My enquiries will continue. Watch this space.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


At the beginning of this new year, I am inserting a new link in the sidebar over there to a 'Pick of the Month' - the idea is that each month (or so) I shall choose a favourite, neglected post from my back catalogue, and make a last, desperate, almost certainly vain attempt to draw it to the attention of my readers, both 'old hands' and casual passers-through.

To inaugurate this new feature, I nominate 'Zelig', a post from the second or third month of the blog, comparing my personality - or the way my friends like to depict my personality - to Woody Allen's famous 'human chameleon'. Please go and take a look.