Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Strangely appropriate

I think that (contrary to a widely held belief) some Chinese bar-owners may actually have a sense of humour.

Since the recent appalling air quality finally cleared a little this afternoon, I went out for a slow lap-and-a-half of jogging around the lakes straight after I got back from work. And, as I was passing Jinding Qiao for the second time, one of the bars there was playing the golden oldie love song, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. I'm not quite sure how old that is; probably '20s or '30s, I would guess (I think the version I heard today was by The Ink Spots, circa 1940).

Given the stupendous levels of pollution we've been suffering here this year, it was, as I say, strangely appropriate - one of those things that will raise a wry smile from me at almost any time.

NO, this was not enough to entice me in for a drink. I generally take no money with me when running, as a precaution against this kind of temptation.

Why can't you be me?

Well, you CAN! Come, live the life of Froog - sub-let my Beijing apartment for a while, and check out some of the great bars and music clubs I've been recommending on here.

Perhaps Robert Smith can persuade you.......

Back from the grave.....

I had thought the Possible Band Names game thread had kicked the bucket (only just shy of 100 comments - such a shame!), but....... the indefatigable Gary is still playing!!!

What about the rest of you??

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

We like Tuesdays!

Well, actually, the promotion I am thinking of checking out tonight is entitled 'We HATE Tuesdays!', and usually that is a sentiment with which I entirely sympathise. Events like this, however, have the potential to convert my attitude. The Kro's Nest, a newish addition (I guess it's been around for 6 months or so now, but I've still been only 3 or 4 times) to the cluster of businesses inside the north gate of the Workers' Stadium complex, is an American sports bar type of place that serves what is, by some margin, the best pizza in town (a tad pricey; but there's a broad selection of toppings that are tasty and generously applied, you get a choice of thin or thick crust, the portions are HUGE..... and they also do a calzone, a great rarity in Beijing). And recently they have started trying to drum up more mid-week business by offering a couple of kegs of beer FREE at 6pm on Tuesdays. When these run out, the domestic draught continues to be 5 kuai a pint for the rest of the night. And I think there may be a few other discounts knocking around as well. This really does seem too good to pass up - particularly at the outset of what is, for us here in this 'Workers' Paradise', a holiday week.

Unfortunately, I have committed myself to working every Tuesday (and Thursday) evening for three months. And I am absolutely hating it. There's something particularly depressing about working in the evenings - I always find it 10 times more draining than working during the day. It is perhaps especially taxing when it is happening at what should be dinner time. From 6pm to 8pm is usually one of my happiest and most relaxed times: planning what and where to eat, having a first beer of the day, strolling around the neighbourhood to soak up the atmosphere. If I miss this 'golden hour', my bio-rhythms go into a nosedive. I am, believe it or not, primarily a 'morning person': I rise at dawn most days, and am most active and productive in the next three or four hours. With a few decent snacks inside me, I can keep going into the early afternoon; but by mid-afternoon I am usually starting to feel tetchy and lacklustre (and sleepy!), and if I don't get a suitably timed meal fix in the early evening...... well, I'm a goner. These early evening classes are hell-on-wheels for me: 5pm is too early for dinner, but 8pm is definitely TOO LATE.

Missing the sunset is such a bummer too. I hate going into a windowless room for the best part of two hours when it is still light, and emerging into pitch dark. I probably should never have agreed to this series of classes. This working regime skews my bi-polarity more towards uni-polarity.

However, I'm one third of the way through the ordeal now (and I can kid myself that I am half-way through, since I was working similar hours in another job in March). And I can enjoy a rest week this week - perhaps that will give me the spiritual recharge I need to see me through the remainder of the long twilight slog.

In fact, I was supposed to have been working tonight, but...... well, it seems daft to me to get my classes (two different groups, but both at the same company and doing substantially the same type of course) out of sync like this (Thursday is 'officially' the first day of the holiday). Moreover, a few of my Tuesday group hinted last week that they might take additional leave (or duvet days??) this week so that they could enjoy a full week off and go travelling somewhere. And I'm quite sure a fair few of the others would have been tempted to cut class just before this holiday, even if they were still present in the office.

So, there you are, a sound teaching rationale for postponing class until next week.

Plus, of course, I just needed a rest, goddammit.

Plus, I do rather fancy getting completely trolleyed at Kro's this evening.

A small green thing......

...... immediately caught my eye the other evening in my New Favourite Muslim.

It was sitting atop the dish of spicy fried green beans I'd ordered. I thought - hoped - at first that it might have been part of the dish, some innocuous vegetable detritus: a piece of stalk, perhaps, or some of the fibrous lining of the beanpod.

But no, it wasn't. It was a little caterpillar. It was at least dead. In fact, it was deep-fried to perfection. Perhaps it was intended as a garnish?

No, I did not eat it. One has to draw the line somewhere. I have been modestly adventurous in my eating out here - daring to try scorpion, snake, and jellyfish tentacles - but one has to draw a line somewhere, and on Sunday I drew mine at accidentally crisped caterpillars.

I set the demised creepy-crawly aside, and tucked into my beans with barely a moment's pause. I had thought briefly of trying to bring the matter to the laoban's attention, but what, really, would have been the point? I'm sure he would have just laughed, and failed to appreciate that anything was amiss. Ah, China.

And it's still my favourite local restaurant, even if it is a bit shit in some ways.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Losing Midi

There had been some disturbing rumours floating around for a few days, but we finally heard last Tuesday that the great party event of the May holiday, the Midi Music Festival, had been cancelled - allegedly because "there aren't enough policemen available this year to ensure that it can be run safely". (No, of course not: they're all too busy harrassing "dissidents" and organising anti-foreigner rallies!)

This would have been the 8th or 9th staging of the Festival, and over the past few years it has grown into the biggest open-air rock'n'roll event in China. This year we had been promised no fewer than 6 stages (last year, I think, there were only 4). It still doesn't attract any really big names from overseas (this year there was to have been a heavy preponderance of obscure Scandinavian metal bands - Mando Diao? Debauchery??), but it's a great showcase for local bands; and there are often some pleasant surprises in the mix (2 or 3 years ago there was a really awesome Korean day; the Koreans seem to do rock'n'roll really well - I assume because they have grown up with the music as a result of the American military presence there...... whereas China has only really begun to discover the music during the past couple of decades). Most of my friends had been looking forward to this as the highlight of the forthcoming Labour Day holiday week (well, only a half a week this year, but still better than a poke in the eye with a truncheon.....).

I shouldn't have been surprised. The Chinese authorities are famously suspicious of the subversive power of music. And, of course, of the dangers of allowing large numbers of people to gather together in public places (especially if a lot of those people are foreigners). And in general, they're just inimical to the idea of fun. And there is, no doubt, a body of opinion within the Ministry of Culture that is convinced that all the Tibetan troubles were sparked off by Bjork's little outburst in Shanghai a couple of months back. I have an American friend who is a music promoter out here, and he's been having the dickens of a time getting any shows on since then; I rather fear that his business is now going to be in complete hiatus for the next 5 months. That's the Olympics for you!

BOO to the Beijing government!!

More SMS quippage

I received a text messages summons from The Choirboy on Saturday night: "Come to the Yacht Club."

"Who's there?" I queried, suspiciously.

"All of us!" he replied, not hugely helpfully.

"You and your multiple personality disorder!" I retorted.

Well, it made me laugh.

The weekly bon mot

"This is one of the disadvantages of wine. It makes a man mistake words for thoughts."

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

And not only wine, of course.

It is one of the curious quirks of the Chinese that, since their language has only the one word - jiu - to denote alcoholic liquors, they are incapable of differentiating between different types and strengths of drink when speaking English. They have got it into their heads that jiu means 'wine', and thus all alcoholic beverages are "a kind of wine". "Do you know what Jack Daniel's/Guinness/a pina colada is?" I often ask my students. "Oh, yes," they always eagerly reply, "a kind of wine."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Yeats, damn you

A Drinking Song

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That's all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.

W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Twilight Zone

April and early May are always a difficult time for me here in China.

Because I love football.

Because I don't get to see very much of it out here.

Because I always make a point of trying to watch the climactic matches in the English domestic competitions and the European Champions League in these last 6 weeks of the season.

Because these games mostly kick off at 2.30am over here.

This week, I stayed out half the night on Tuesday and Wednesday trying (and failing!) to watch the European semi-final first leg games. Next week (at least it's a holiday week - or the second half of it, anyway), I will definitely have to make sure that I can see the second legs LIVE somewhere.

And tonight, of course, we have the Premiership title showdown between Chelsea and Man Utd. (but at least that's on early evening, local time).

I am going to be permanently exhausted over the next couple of weeks.

Surviving the European Championships this summer will be hard. Euro 2004 nearly killed me! During the last World Cup, I had to quit the country and go to hang with the British Cowboy in America for the second half of the tournament..... but I don't think that option is going to be open to me this year (too poor!!). There are some gruelling times ahead.

The surrogate drinker

Yesterday was the first work-free day I've had in quite a while. It thus became a necessary day of recovery after - as I put it to one friend yesterday evening - "having my 'weekend' in mid-week", staying out till 3am or 4am for three nights in succession.

I had been full of good intentions of using my free day to get out to the Dashanzi art zone (I knew a couple of people contributing to the TimeOut 'Affordable Art Fair', which was opening that day). I had planned to get there early (the show was set to open at 11.30am, and I'm told that last year almost everything sold within the first few minutes - mostly to rapacious Chinese restauranteurs who were buying by the square metre to furnish the walls of their pretentious establishments); not that I had any serious thoughts of buying anything myself, but, you know, it would have been nice to at least have had the opportunity to do so. And Dashanzi's a great place to fritter away a whole day - with numerous galleries and studios..... and quirky boutiques...... and nice little restaurants and coffee shops...... and bars.

However, after yet another very late night on Thursday (a farewell session for a rather nice German girl who occasionally hung out in the Pool Bar), I slept in until well past noon...... pottered around on the Internet for a couple of hours...... still felt exhausted, so crawled back into bed for an extended afternoon nap...... and only properly got up at around 5pm. Crawling through rush-hour traffic to the early evening opening reception for the TimeOut show, I diverted myself by sending text messages to a few people, guiltily confessing (bragging?) my shockingly indolent day.

One friend observed tauntingly: "Sloth is one of the best of the deadly sins, isn't it?"

"Yes," I agreed, "and an oddly 'virtuous' one, since it prevents you from practising any of the others!" That, I think, is what my NLP friends would call a "positive re-frame".

The Man In Black (who is, unaccountably, experimenting with teetotalism at the moment) responded more simply: "You're my hero!"

"I drink so you don't have to," I replied (in emulation of the great tagline of my eccentric blog-buddy Tolstoy).

To which MIB said, "That should be your new blog motto."

Yes, perhaps. But I kind of like the banner we have at the moment - it's served us well for 18 months now.

Sometimes I fret that I live too much of my life these days in text messages........

Friday, April 25, 2008

HBH 77

Afternoon waking,
Mid-week partying frenzy:
Getting lost in time.

I'm definitely getting too old for this shit. It's great, but.........

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A tactical error

Running a little late for the party tonight, I decided to take a taxi down to Nanluoguxiang.

It would have been - marginally - quicker to walk, and certainly a lot less frustrating.

When we finally got to the traffic lights at the bottom of Jiugulou Dajie, I timed them to try to establish why it had taken us over 10 minutes to cover less than half a mile, when the traffic wasn't even very heavy. The lights were on a cycle where they stayed green for only 15 or 20 seconds, and then went back to red for a minute and a half. Really. What the f*** is the rationale for that? Moreover, they were superbly out of sync with the next set of lights, a mere 100 yards down the road at the head of Dianmenwai Dajie. Hardly any traffic. But hardly any traffic movement either. Only in China can they accomplish things like this!

It was a great party, by the way. Thanks, Debs.

It makes you think, doesn't it?

Last night, The Chairman and a bunch of his IELTS Examiner cronies launched a Philosophy Corner (like we need another excuse to go out and drink in the middle of the week!). It was an emotional return to his 'roots' for His Chairmanliness, since he was once upon a time a philosophy teacher in an English university. At the inaugural meeting, he gave us a 30-minute talk on the topic of 'faith' (primarily religious faith, and indeed more particularly theistic, and largely though not exclusively Christian faith). Many interesting points were raised; rather too many, in fact, for there to be any clear focus in the subsequent discussion. I was hoping we might get into a full-on Atheists vs. God-squadders fist-fight..... but alas, no.

There was, however, plenty of earnest chin-stroking..... that brought to mind the classic intellectual contest below.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

This week's party excuse

A week or so ago, while on the way to the launch party for new nightclub, The Boat, I had the following back-of-a-taxi conversation with my pal, Dishy Debs:

DD: "There aren't enough parties this month."

Me: "Are you kidding? There's nothing but parties. Look - we're on our way to a party right now."

DD: "No, we need more parties. We haven't thrown a party for ages. What excuse can we find for a party this month?"

Me: "Errr...... St George's Day??"

DD: "Brilliant! When is it?"

Me: "April 23rd, I think. That's, um, a week next Wednesday."

DD: "Did you know that it's also Shakespeare's birthday?"

Me: "No. No, I didn't know that."

DD: "That's an even better excuse for a party, isn't it? The only people who celebrate St George's Day back home are right-wing nutters. We don't want to have anyone thinking it's that kind of thing, to put people off."

Me: "Oh, I don't think that will matter out here. No-one will think that of us. And any excuse for a party will do."

DD: "Right. Well, where's an English venue we could use?"

Me: "How about Fish Nation?"

DD: "Of course! Which one?"

Me: "The Nanluoguxiang one. Much nicer. And close to where we live."

DD: "Yes! Do you think they'd let us take it over for free?"

Me: "I don't see why not. It's always dead mid-week."

DD: "Do you think they'd lay on any food for us?"

Me: "We can but ask. They might do us some chips. After all, 30 people drinking wine and beer all night like it's going out of fashion is going to be a very nice revenue spike for them."


Such is the deceptive ease with which party plans are conceived in this hedonistic city!

Not that I can claim any credit for actually bringing this idea to fruition - aside from a little input as a catalyst or encourager, mostly outlined above. No, this is really DD's baby. But I'm looking forward to it - I think a significant number of good people will be joining us for an evening of "beer & The Beatles" (and just possibly one or two recitations from the 'birthday boy' himself).

"Oi, Shakespeare, NO! I've told you - you're Bard!!"

Monday, April 21, 2008

More wisdom of the txts

One of my gal pals confided to me by SMS last night that her enthusiasm was cooling for her latest crush because "he is so NICE".

You can imagine my exasperation!

"So, 'Nice' is BAD, is it?" I responded. "I get that a lot myself. I think it's the secret of my failure."

Never one to pass up an opportunity to have a little dig at me, my correspondent sceptically rejoined, "Hmm, so it's not just that you're too fussy?"

"No. When I stop being too fussy, they complain that I'm too nice."

It is an old, old story..........

Rain stops play (again)

This weekend, a British theatre company, TNT, was in town performing Hamlet in Peking University (yes, it's one of the few institutions to retain the old Wade-Giles romanization - probably only because they can't be bothered to replace the dozens of signs and crests dotted all over the campus, all over the city).

As I moped a few weeks ago, there's very little worthwhile theatre here (in English or any other language). I don't think there's been any Shakespeare in all the time I've been here (apart from a couple of am-dram productions). So, I was mad keen to go (the more so as I had unaccountably overlooked their first run here a month ago). I had even prevailed upon The Choirboy to go with me (he's a very cultured fellow, under the louche exterior; certain other people I canvassed proved disappointingly uncultured).

Yesterday it rained. All day, without let-up. PKU is a long way away to the north-west. Trying to get there in such weather conditions was an unappealing prospect. The thought of trying to get back again afterwards was horrendous. Our good intentions wilted as the relentless downpour continued through the afternoon.

As I think I have probably mentioned before, Beijing tends to grind to a halt in the rain. The storm drains are completely inadequate (checking on my street as I came home last night, I discovered that there's only an outlet about once every 150 yards!), and instantly become clogged with litter, bits of tree, and builder's sand (ubiquitous at the moment) - so, the city floods after even a mild shower. Yesterday was not mild: we probably exceeded the average monthly rainfall in 24 hours (and April is usually one of the rainiest months). It was hard to go anywhere, even on foot, as there were mini-lakes - 3 or 4 inches of standing water - on every street and alley.

Moreover, it can be next to impossible to get a cab in such conditions. People who'd normally walk or bicycle all try to take public transport instead, so the buses and subway trains become impossibly crowded. Thus, all the people who'd normally take public transport try to take taxis instead. And most of the taxis retire from service. Really. I know this is a common problem in any city in the world, but it is 10 times worse in Beijing. This may be partly due to swingeing new regulations on taxi cleanliness the city has introduced in recent years: drivers can be heavily fined for having a dirty car, and so often prefer not to drive when conditions are too wet or muddy (it seems these rules may only apply - or only be enforced - in the city centre; a couple of times, when taking a cab back from the University district, I have had drivers pull over to a roadside maintenance shop for a couple of minutes to sponge down their hubcaps before they will dare to venture inside the 3rd Ringroad). I suspect that the abysmal driving standards here are even more to blame: the likelihood of traffic accidents becomes intolerably high when the roads are slippery, and many drivers choose not to run the risk (although what in fact tends to happen is that everyone drives so over-cautiously that the traffic moves at a crawl: on a rainy day a couple of weeks ago, it took me 50 minutes to cover a journey that usually takes 20, and the traffic was very light!).

I suppose we are spoiled rather: there is such an abundance of of cabs in this city that you rarely have to wait more than a few seconds to catch one - anywhere, at any time of the day or night. But when it's raining (or snowing), your confidence dwindles that you will ever catch one at all. The Choirboy was eventually persuaded to come out for dinner and a few drinks with me; it took him over 30 minutes to get a cab; in the circumstances, he was quite lucky.

Of course, we had long since had to give up on Hamlet. I cannot reproach myself too much for this decision: the long trek to the north was really not viable in these conditions. I do blame myself for leaving it until the last night of the run to try to see the play. I do blame myself for missing the first run. I do lament that we probably shan't see another professional production of the Bard here for another 5 or 10 years. Bugger! Bloody rain!

A couple of weeks ago, my cultural ambitions were defeated by the good weather; yesterday, by the bad weather. I just can't win.

Bon mot of the week

"When a person can no longer laugh at himself, it is time for others to laugh at him."

Thomas Stephen Szasz (1920- )

An interesting guy - well worth checking out the Wikipedia profile on him. (But whoops - after a week of comparative sanity here in China, Wikipedia is this morning blocked again.....)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Great Drinking Songs (5 & 6)

One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer is a very fine drinking song, and a favourite, I believe, of my buddy, The British Cowboy. And it seems a particularly appropriate choice this week, since I got so outrageously lashed chasing beer with whiskeys on Thursday night (and Friday morning).

Here is the original version by the great John Lee Hooker.

The Cowboy may well object that George Thorogood's cover of the song is even better. It certainly boasts some kick-arse guitar, I grant you that. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a decent version of it on YouTube - well, only a couple of live performances with dreadful sound, and this (just the song, no video).

Therefore, to keep the cranky Cowboy and all you other Thorogood fans out there (do I have any readers in Delaware??) happy, here is the video for his second greatest drinking song, I Drink Alone. Double delight for you this week. I spoil you.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

More mordant txt msg humour

While clearing out some of the old messages in the 'Outbox' of my phone a few days ago, I happened upon this one. As I recall, I sent it from The Den at the beginning of last year (back in the days when I would deign to go there, occasionally) to one of the guys (The Choirboy, probably) who was keeping me waiting. Lonely and miserable (I was about to fly back to the UK for a family funeral), pissed off at my buddies for leaving me on my own in such a dive, and frankly rather intimidated by the Russian working girls who were out in force that night, I wrote:

"The hookers are all ignoring me. I imagine they shrewdly judge that I have neither the wallet nor the penis to satisfy them. I am relieved, and at the same time profoundly depressed."

Alcohol gives us these moments of clarity from time to time.

Friday, April 18, 2008

HBH 76

Jack Daniel's

Insidiously smooth,
No throat-rasp to slow us down.
My friend, my enemy.

My god, last night was a heavy one. I wish I could remember more of it.

I wish I hadn't dropped my phone in the taxi on the way home (at 2.30am). I wish I hadn't slept on the living room floor until dawn. I wish I'd got something useful done today. I wish God didn't hate drinkers so.

I wish we could do it all again soon.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Doomsday Countdown (T minus 5hrs)

So, today is the day......

And I just found out that the work I was expecting to be doing tomorrow has been cancelled, so..... I have even less incentive to exercise any kind of sensible restraint tonight. I sense this could be a 'going home in a body-bag' kind of session.

I checked that Internet old faithful The Death Clock just now, to see if it was wised up to my likely fate. No; it's still predicting a healthy 30+ years of life for me. Mind you, their assessment doesn't take into account alcohol consumption. However, the probably more accurate and certainly rather more fun variant 'death clock' at Long Agony, which does enquire into your vices, gives me a very similar result. Perhaps I really am indestructible??

(By the way, this latter site also has a couple of other diverting questionnaires for you to try as well. Their 'destiny clock' informs me that I am fated to spend 1,159 years in one of the middling circles of Hell after I die, for my minor misdemeanours. It doesn't say what happens after that, though. Reincarnation, I fear....)

Oh well, I guess I'll go and put me The Doors on the hi-fi.... and crack open a beer to get myself started..... So long, folks. See you on The Other Side (maybe).

"Destiny! Destiny! No escaping death for me!"

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The 'lost' haiku (HBH 24!!)

Strange forgetfulness.
Old age or too much drinking?
Memories lost, then found.

Around a year ago, I somehow jumped straight from No. 23 to No. 25 in my weekly series of haiku. A curious omission! I can't believe that I did so deliberately because of its supposedly negative connotations in the local numerology (the Chinese for '24' sounds similar to 'death close by', so it is considered the unluckiest number); I don't have any truck with that shit. No, I think I just miscounted somehow. The anniversary seems like a good time to amend this oversight.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bar Street Blitz

I'm wondering if I should add a new category tag called 'Anxious Times' - but I fear it might soon get too depressing.

We are going through some anxious times on Nanluoguxiang over this past week. Nanluoguxiang - or NLG, as we have come to know it, at least in the realm of the dratted txtspk - is the city's hippest and mellowest bar street, and it's only a 20-minute or so walk from my apartment.

It is home to a number of my favourite hangouts: Reef, Salud, Fish Nation, The Pass-By Bar. It also used to be, until around this time last year, the site of "The Kebab Queen", our most regular hole-in-the-wall Muslim restaurant.

The flowering of NLG in recent years has not been an entirely wonderful thing. The ousting of "the Queen" (and of the majority of the other bog-standard Chinese restaurants that you used to find down there) was emblematic of the excessive - and aggressive - gentrification which is afflicting so much of Beijing in the run-up to the Olympics. And NLG has been one of the most egregious examples of this process: it is way too f***ing trendy for my liking now, aspiring to be a sort of Chinese Carnaby Street, with a superabundance of funky clothes boutiques and curio stores and over-priced cafés having almost completely replaced the grottier, more traditional stores and eateries that used to be there, stripping it of much of its character. Nevertheless, I have to confess that some of these cafés and boutiques - not all, but a few, at least - are really not half bad; good for a bit of idle lounging or window-shopping on a warm spring afternoon, anyway. Most of the new bars are grotesquely naff (in a characteristically Chinese way), but to find even 5 or 6 decent restaurants and watering-holes within a half-mile stretch is pretty unusual in this city - and NLG these days arguably boasts a few more than that, putting it on a par with Houhai or South Sanlitun, and considerably ahead of the main Sanlitun strip or the garish, almost-deserted newer 'bar streets' of Nuren Jie and Haoyun Jie (not to mention the great white elephant that is, or was, Yuandadu Jiuba Jie - are any of those bars still open??). What's more, it tends to attract mostly long-term expats (or short-term tourists from from one of the several budget hotels that can now be found on or near the street), rather than the younger, more rabblesome laowai revellers who frequent those other bar zones. So, the whole vibe of the area is quieter, more laidback, more civilized. It is a great rendezvous spot to have within easy walking distance. It's not the grimily authentic NLG of old, but, despite its pretensions, I still rather like it.

Alas, the other great harbinger of the Olympic Summer that will soon be upon us is...... the authorities getting their knickers in a knot about everything. In the last few weeks, the police presence on NLG has been getting quite ridiculous. Just about every business on the street has suffered several intimidatory visits with complaints about noise, customer behaviour, sanitation, blahblahblah. In more normal times, such visits would only happen once every month or two - and the supposed "problems" could be addressed by the provision of a free meal or a carton or two of cigarettes or a little envelope stuffed with cash. This latest burst of manic zeal from our neighbourhood coppers, however, seems to be worryingly in earnest, rather than just the routine soliciting of "charitable contributions". All kinds of obscure and bizarre regulations are being discovered to threaten bars and restaurants with closure or severely curtail their activities. The manager at Salud tells me, for example, that their kitchen has been declared 'inadequate' - because it accounts for less than 40% of their total floorspace. 40%?? Pull the other one!!

More bothersome than the loss of the kitchen (I don't think anyone ever ordered the food there anyway, except occasionally the complimentary dish of mini tapas they offer you with a pint of draught beer) is the news that Salud has also been barred from hosting any more live music until further notice. Their Wednesday night jazz/blues jams had become quite a fixture of my week over the past six months; I shall miss them. The police are leaning on them so hard that they've even had to dismantle their sound system and stash it out of sight. One can't help but wonder if there's a little bit of institutional xenophobia behind this, because there are plenty of other bars on the street that are still making a hell of a racket with live or recorded music, and they don't seem to be suffering the same crackdown. Salud, however, is the only bar on the street that is foreign-run and predominantly frequented by foreigners, so.......

Perhaps the Chinese bars are suffering in other ways, though. I have heard that the crackdown is pretty universal, and that the aim is not to improve the enforcement of useful municipal ordnances, but simply to force a few of these bars out of business - perhaps because they may give rather too hedonistic an impression of the city to Olympic tourists??

Well, that's one possible explanation, anyway. Although you'd think that if that were the reason, a desire to make the city's bar scene less rowdy and more 'harmonious', that it would make sense to start with Sanlitun, where loutishness, vomiting, and the occasional fight are pretty standard features of any weekend.

A journalist friend I was talking to last week suggests that there is a more particular reason why NLG is being targeted at the moment. He has heard that there was a big fight there recently (though, he gathers, entirely between young Chinese boys, rather between foreigners or Chinese and foreigners), and one of the kids involved was quite badly hurt...... and, it turns out, connected: his daddy or his uncle is something pretty high-up in the local Dongcheng District Government - and that is why all the bar and restaurant owners on the strip are getting slapped around at the moment. It's only a rumour, but it does sound horribly plausible to me. This is very much the Chinese way of doing things: if somebody hurts you or your family, you have to hurt someone else in return - not to achieve any good, nor even for 'revenge' as such, but just to vent your frustrations and to overcome the sense of impotence.

If this is the cause, the troubles will probably all die down in a couple more weeks - when the kid's out of hospital, and daddy's finished flexing his ego. However, if this short-term, localized problem does segue into a citywide campaign to prevent anything unseemly from sullying the city's image during the Olympics........ well, then we're all doomed.

Monday, April 14, 2008


The new table arrived in the Pool Bar on Sunday afternoon, after all.

This is a momentous event for me, and I had, of course, been facing the prospect with some trepidation.

I am happy to report that the new table is good. Very good. And my mojo seems unaffected by the changeover. In my inaugural session on Sunday night (well, Monday morning) I achieved a 3-1 winning record over The Chairman (although, with the uncanny resilience for which he is justly famed and feared, he did then rally to achieve another victory in the consolatory 'beer game' - or rather, the 'chuanr game' - at the end).

So, business as usual in the Pool Bar. It is the one light of happiness in my life at the moment.

Bon mot of the week

"Not everyone who drinks is a poet. Some of us drink because we're not poets."

Dudley Moore (1935-2002)

Sunday, April 13, 2008


"It's not quite breakfast and it's not quite lunch, but it comes with a slice of cantaloupe at the end. You don't get completely what you would at breakfast, but you do get a good meal."

I am still not convinced about the concept. Maybe the cantaloupe was not quite up to scratch. At least the company made up for it.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Great Love Songs (5)

What with the intermittent access to YouTube in China of late, I have been remiss in keeping up my regular-ish series of 'Great Songs' posts. Time to make amends.

Here is K.D. Lang singing Crying live (and here's the original video of her duetting on the song with the great Roy Orbison).

Friday, April 11, 2008

Tonight's party excuse

Damn, it's getting to be a busy month for events.

Tonight, there is a new bar opening.... and I rather think just about everyone I know in Beijing is going to be there.

It's called The Boat - and it is, unsurprisingly, on a boat. I assume it is the boat; as far as I can recall, there is only one it could be - a rusting old hulk that has been mysteriously moored for years on the Liangmahe canal, just by the northern outcrop of the Sanlitun bar zone (the Schindler's strip). It was for a while an Italian restaurant, but I don't think anyone ever went there (except for special occasions: it made a good party venue). I've enjoyed a few bakingly hot summer afternoons downing frosty beers on the deck, but I suspect the seedily rundown ambience of the place and the total lack of advertising (and the owner's unfortunate habit of sunbathing on the upper deck all day in only a pair of shorts, and occasionally a string vest - he was a great hairy walrus of a man) discouraged anyone from trying it out as a dining venue. Beijing is full of such curious white elephants.

As a bar/nightclub, I think it stands a much greater chance of success. They're certainly pulling out all the stops tonight: there's a live band on the upper deck, and just about every Beijing DJ of any note playing downstairs.

No, it's not really going to be my kind of place, I can tell. They're chasing a younger, hipper crowd.

In general, I hate DJs. However, I make an exception for the wonderful BB, who was the best thing about the much-missed old Nanjie bar; she's a very foxy lady, and her musical tastes are uncannily similar to my own (I mean, when was the last time you heard a DJ play Pink Floyd or Tom Waits?!). I recall I first met her 3 or 4 years ago, when she was still a student at the Beijing Film Academy, and we fell to discussing her dissertation topic - the films of Jim Jarmusch! I think I've been a little in love with her since that moment.

So, there should definitely be some good music. And lots of people. The big question is..... how expensive are the drinks going to be?

HBH 75

Hitting the shot right:
Moment of perfect beauty.
Pool table heaven.

Damn, I was on my game last night!

After much vacillation and postponement, Luke has finally set a definite date for installing a new table in The Pool Bar (well, not a new table - he's decided to save some money by getting a secondhand one; but he assures me that it's in very good condition; and he knows his onions on this, because he's a very fine player himself): this Sunday.

Of course, that means we have to go there on Saturday to bid a fond farewell to the faithful old table..... and on Sunday to christen the new one. There goes the weekend. Again.

Update: It seems the moving guys weren't free on Sunday, so the table changeover has been rescheduled to Monday. The weekend just got longer.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Countdown to oblivion

As I fleetingly mentioned the other day, I had thought that my life was about to end this evening. In fact, I have one more week to 'put my affairs in order'.

The Barman has had The Ultimate Party Idea - and he has, amazingly, persuaded his bosses at Room 101 to put it into action. They are going to have a Jack Daniel's night. Beautifully simple! Why did no-one ever think of this before??

I love Jack. (I went on a pilgrimage to the famous distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee with my gadfly commenter, The British Cowboy, a few years ago. 'Pilgrimage' is not too grand a word: I felt a reverence, a quivering sense of transcendence I have never experienced in a church.)

I especially love Jack when it's being sold at 5 kuai a shot (not much above cost!), which is to be the gimmick for this night of nights.

The supplementary stroke of genius is the competition: a free bottle of JD to be given to the lady wearing the shortest skirt that evening (or perhaps - even more devious - to the gentleman bringing the lady with the shortest skirt). I hope I can persuade a few of my gal pals to take on this challenge (though I daresay - as the ladies tend to be strangely immune to the charms of Mr Daniel's fine sipping whiskey - I shall have to stand them a significant number of mojitos or V&Ts or a bottle or two of Gordon's gin in order to secure their co-operation and have a chance of walking away with the prize bottle). It should be quite a night.

However, the somewhat odd decision has been taken to stage this event on a Thursday. Perhaps they were worried about the event being too popular and the place being trashed if they did it on the weekend. Or perhaps they just didn't want to cut across their regular live music nights on Friday and Saturday. It's a bit of a mystery. But..... for happy-go-lucky freelancers like me who can unilaterally decide not to work on Friday, this is no discouragement. And I think I'll be able to round up a fair contingent of reckless party animals who will be prepared to endure one day of hangover-at-work (or pull a 'sickie').

Yes, this hedonistic extravaganza - hastily put together - was originally slated for tonight..... but I think they realised that there hadn't really been any opportunity for the word to get around, so it has now been fixed for next week, the 17th.

I am counting the days, counting the hours.

So long, it's been nice knowing all of you.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Plan evolves...

Tulsa told me the other day that she thought perhaps she had met The Plan.

Silly Tulsa! How can you 'meet' The Plan?? The Plan is abstract, not concrete; an idea, not a person. Heck, it is so wilfully imprecise, so infinitely flexible that it does not even amount to a definite series of projected actions - it is more an attitude of mind. Or perhaps a 'mission statement'.... and we all know how nebulous and worthless those are!

It is a general strategy for attempting to revive my long dormant, long thwarted love life. Now, yes, it does centre around certain people, the likeliest (I wish!) candidates for possible romance, my current loci of lust. And there is one in particular, who I suppose we might designate as 'Target A'. I am pretty heavily smitten with 'Target A' - but, habitually pessimistic of my chances, I am allowing myself to contemplate possible contingency options: Targets 'B' and 'C'.

There is no way Tulsa could possibly know - or even guess - who any of these ladies is. Darn it, I scarcely know them myself. In fact, in the case of one of them, I do not know her at all, have never yet spoken to her, do not even know her name (although I think I do know one of her friends, and am wondering how to get an introduction via her). In the second case, I have known her by sight for at least a couple of years, but have never got up the courage to say more than an occasional bashful 'hi' to her. And in the third case - well, damn, superficially the most promising prospect, I suppose: I've met her 3 times, have acquired her name, and have even given her my phone number (uncommonly pushy of me); I did not, alas, get her phone number (I'm not that pushy), and she has not yet used my contact details to pass on hers, as she promised she would; so, probably not really very promising, after all.

Perhaps I need further backups, Targets 'D', 'E', and 'F'.

I am hoping Tulsa has secured contact details for this lady she met who she thought had Froog appeal. I think I need as many people pimping for me as possible. Anyone else care to assist???

A new 'Pick of the Month'

For this month's blast from the past here on The Barstool, I nominate 'The Vomit People' - a favourite story from my University days (and not as gross as it may sound, honestly). Hmmm, possible band name?

And on Froogville, how about 'The Secret Customer Service Manual', an early entry in my now discontinued 'Where In The World Am I?' series.


I had been expecting my life to end (at least with a bang, not a whimper) this Thursday.

But..... I now discover it's going to be next Thursday. Phew!

Monday, April 07, 2008

March Band Name winners

A slack month for this contest, last month. Nearly dead, in fact.

I hope the great Possible Band Name challenge hasn't run its course already. It's looking as though I need to do something drastic to draw in more readers......

However, despite the recent lull, we did still have a couple of particularly fine contributions from the 'regulars', Snopes and Gary.

Even with so comparatively few suggestions on offer, it was again difficult to choose the winners.

I especially liked Perturbed Turtle (an inadvertent suggestion from my blogfriend, Jeremiah), Live Underwear (credit to my new drinking buddy, Crazy Chris - there's a reason why we call him that), Xanadu Express, Rogue Mail, Candy Rabbit, Tighten Your Belts, Funktathlon, The Hip-Hop Replacements, Gnome Alone, Caste Party, and the wonderful, wonderful Billion Dollar Brian (I do hope that wasn't just a typo, Gary).

And I almost feel there ought to be a special prize (or a new category?) for Gary's creation of The Ale Marys - "a beer-drinking folk trio of former nuns".

I was very tempted to once again award the 1st place to my old friend Snopes for another wonderful spoonerism: Dane Breath (marvellously appropriate, as he says, for a Heavy Metal band - who so often seem to "feature large Scandinavian gentlemen of doubtful personal hygiene").

However, after being bridesmaid-rather-than-bride for the first two months of this competition, I feel I really must honour Gary this time; and I think he gave us a more-than-worthy winner in Freudian Sloop (a Ship of Fools? Or a Ship of Tools? Hmm, either of those might work as band names.....).

Actually, it's going to be a clean sweep for Gary this month, since he also takes the prize for 'Best Foreign Band Name' with the (not entirely in a foreign language, but never mind - it's brilliant) Desperate Messieurs. OK, that was the only entry in this category this month - but I think it would have been a deserved winner in any company.

Snopes had a fine 'Best Cover Band' nomination with The Ersatz Eagles (I feel sure they must already exist....), but Gary trumped that with Just Can't Kill The Beast. I really can't think of a better name for an Eagles cover band. Gary, you deserve extra brownie points for definitiveness.

And on top of all this, we have yet another potential new category starting up for Dalai Lama puns...... although I feel that probably has rather limited mileage. But hey, prove me wrong.

I hope the suggestions will keep flowing. The original thread is now very near to 100 comments - way more than any other post of mine on either of my blogs (in fact, probably very near as many as the total number of comments on all my other posts combined!). So, I hope we can burst through that threshold soon - and keep on going.

Why we drink???

"Frankly, I was horrified by life, at what a man had to do simply in order to eat, sleep, and keep himself clothed. So I stayed in bed and drank. When you drank, the world was still out there, but for the moment it didn't have you by the throat."

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994)

A great line..... but I hope I never get that bad.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Booze 1, Culture 0

I happened to discover on Saturday that Ireland's PanPan theatre company was in town this weekend with its touring production of Oedipus Loves You, "a 21st Century take on Sophocles's famous drama".

There's very little decent theatre in this town (hardly any in English), so I was keen to try and check it out - and dismayed that I'd very nearly failed even to be aware that the play was on. The beginning of the month is a very bad time for visiting artists to put something on, because we laowai generally only find out about such events from the expat listings magazines..... and they only come out at the beginning of the month (well, usually a day or two from the end of the preceding month)..... and it usually takes us a few days to get around to picking up a copy. Thus, there's a 'black hole' at the beginning of each month where we're woefully unaware of anything that's going on. Heck, some of us even missed Norah Jones when she played here a couple of years ago, for precisely this reason.

And at least Norah had some advance publicity (billboards the size of a house; but the actual date of the concert wasn't very prominent on them), whereas this theatre troupe seems to have arrived in town entirely unheralded. Putting out handbills in a few expat-friendly restaurants on the weekend of the show is not going to draw in many punters.

I'd already missed Saturday's performance when I picked up the handbill. Sunday was the last show. I had no idea where the theatre was. It was a bothersomely early start (Sunday tends to be my main day for going out for dinner, late and leisurely). I didn't have much time to enlist any friends into accompanying me. The omens were not good.

But I set out on Sunday afternoon with the handbill in my pocket, and about a 60% expectation of making it to the show (and maybe even dragging along one or two other people). However, a lazy afternoon of rooftop drinking was passing so pleasantly that we didn't really want to quit until the sun went down; by which point it was too late to make it to the play. And we were all ravenously hungry, so we retired instead to The Muslim for an enormous nang bao rou and several more beers.

So much for good intentions.

It's months since I last got a decent fix of culture.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

My life in txts

Last night, I was, alas, stood up by the friend I was supposed to be having dinner with (journalists, last-minute work crises - sigh). I attempted to arrange a back-up plan with the guy I was meeting later for the concert (he ducked out too, domestic crisis - sigh).

In response to this second spurning, I sent the philosophical text message:

"So be it. Froog dines alone. Again. Probably on beer!"

Friday, April 04, 2008

Got Beer?

I have rather the reverse problem.

Hence, I should probably head over to the Happy Hour at Room 101. Be seein' ya.......

Traffic Report - blog stats for March '08

There were 58 posts and nearly 19,000 words on Froogville last month.
(I know, it's hard to keep up, isn't it?)

There were 40 posts and around 9,000 words here on The Barstool.

The number of posts was perhaps slightly inflated by a few 'cross-posts' (mostly about the recent censorship problems I've been having) appearing on both blogs. And there seems to be an emerging tendency for me to throw in more short posts, especially on The Barstool. In general, though, I think I've hit a fairly steady rhythm now. I probably did so almost from the outset, in fact: if I review the month-by-month figures since I started blogging, I find that there were 'exceptional circumstances' at play in every month where the number of posts was much lower (or much higher) than this. Monthly post output on Froogville is typically something in the 50s; on The Barstool, it started off around 30, but with the increase in the number of shorter, more frivolous posts (and regular features), it has nudged up towards 40.

Some predictability in life is reassuring, isn't it?

According to the Sitemeter 'hit counters' in my sidebars, the number of visitors is very stable - at around 160 per week on Froogville and 120 per week on The Barstool. However, the rather more sophisticated tracking service I set up at Statcounter (which I can hardly ever be bothered to go and check) cites figures about 30% or so above that. After a little bit of experimentation this afternoon, I think I have established that Statcounter records visits via the proxy I am currently using, but not those via Anonymouse (and, presumably, not via certain other proxies either); whereas Sitemeter, I think, is unable to log visits via any kind of proxy. And I think neither of them tracks feed subscriptions. So, the total number of my readers might be very mucher higher.

The more detailed data on Statcounter can prove horribly fascinating, potentially addictive. I learn for example that someone in California got a return on The Barstool for his Google search for "supermodel thighs" (although it was way, way down the results, so will never have been seen). I was baffled by this, and had to follow the link back myself to discover that we have Tulsa to thank for this (a comment of hers on my notorious Asexualismo post).

And the most enthralling part of the statistics is the 'visitor map', which shows you where in the world all of your visitors were logging on. Alas, this graphic does not seem to be dowloadable; but here is the breakdown for Froogville for the last couple of days in table form.


United Kingdom

United States

United States

Los Angeles
United States

United States

United States

New York
United States

United States

Korea, Republic Of

United States

British Columbia



United States

Santa Rosa
United States

State College
United States


British Columbia


United States

Salt Lake City
United States

United States


United States

New York
United States

Villa Park
United States


United Arab Emirates

New York
United States

Palo Cedro
United States

San Francisco
United States

New Jersey
United States



I know about my clusters of followers - mostly old friends - in the UK (mainly London, Oxford, Edinburgh), and in the north-east United States (worryingly absent so far this week!). But Manila, Malacca, Galway, Oslo, Manila..... and all those other places in unfamiliar parts of North America!! I've got one in Nigeria as well, who drops off this list because his or her location is non-city-specific. Who do I know in any of these places?? Who knows me from there?? Please, stop lurking and say hello!

The list for The Barstool is almost identical (loyal readers following both blogs - I do like to see that!), except for the addition of Mexico City, Riyadh, and St John's (Newfoundland). I never would have guessed I could attract such a diverse and cosmopolitan following.

Please, please, if you are from one of these exotic places, do leave a comment to introduce yourself the next time you drop by.

HBH 74

Exhausted, testy;
Dark circles under the eyes.
Too many late nights.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

And.... they're off!

Quiet Evening In moving into the lead now, Quiet Evening In starting to pull away from the pack.

The rest of the runners are still bunched up, nothing much to choose between them - except for Poker School who, of course, got left at the starting gate today.

Cheap Eats At The Muslim is the best of the rest at the moment. Then its Late Night At Jianghu, Cultural Outing and Fancy Restaurant. Avalanche Of Shooters still looking dangerously strong just behind them - this one often takes us by surprise, seems to go best on a Wednesday or a Thursday.

Behind them it's Pool Bar and Noisy Rock Gig, both looking a little sluggish today. They've each had a great run of results just lately, but you have to feel perhaps they've been over-raced.

Bringing up the rear it's Pick-Up Joint: didn't get off to a very good start, and now starting to lose touch with the others.

Approaching the final furlong now, and Quiet Evening In appears to be fading. Never likes to have to make all the running from the start, and it's starting to take its toll now. Cheap Eats At The Muslim is going to overhaul her soon. But Cultural Outing and Fancy Restaurant are both looking very fresh, perhaps benefitting from having been rested for a couple of weeks; they're now coming on very strongly at the finish. Cheap Eats At The Muslim has the lead now, but Cultural Outing is right behind..... and Fancy Restaurant is making a tremendous surge down the outside.

Oh, oh dear, Cultural Outing seems to have a problem: Cultural Outing has thrown a shoe and has been pulled up. It's Fancy Restaurant and Cheap Eats At The Muslim fighting for the lead now. Cheap Eats still has it by a neck, but Fancy Restaurant is coming on strongly.

But wait - Late Night At Jianghu is suddenly making a storming run on the rails. Got boxed in at the back there for a while, but has suddenly come through from nowhere and is rapidly gaining ground in 3rd. Then it's Pool Bar in 4th; Avalanche Of Shooters still hanging in there in 5th. Quiet Evening In now 6th and still going backwards. Then it's Pick-Up Joint from Noisy Rock Gig bringing up the rear, both looking rather out of touch now.

And as they enter the home straight I think Fancy Restaurant has got a nose in front, but Cheap Eats At The Muslim refuses to be beaten...... and Late Night At Jianghu is finishing very strongly indeed, nearly drawing level with them now. It's a thrilling finish, it could be anybody's race, and as they come to the line the winner is............

Well, in my world - it could be all three of them. Decisions, decisions.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Anxious Times

Anxious times at Jianghu

I have commented already on my disquiet at the removal of the rather fine, high, dark wood bar from the rear of the main room at Jianghu. This change has, as I feared, crucially affected the ambience of the room. In the past, anyone sitting at the bar on the high barstools would invariably face the performers on live music nights; and this would, I believe, help to concentrate the focus of other punters seated in front of them, at a lower level, towards the stage also. Now, the rearmost 'booth' of bench seats which has replaced the bar is rather too removed from the stage.... and people in this back corner, chatting and paying little attention to the music, insidiously encourage a similar attitude to spread through the rest of the room. The response of the musicians or the management seems to be to crank up the PA to painfully loud levels (I suppose they may also be trying to cater to the fact that these days very often people are trying to listen from outside in the small adjacent courtyard).

Even worse, there has been a significant hike in the drinks prices. It's still not too unreasonable (some of the measures are very generous: the hefty gin & tonic remains a bargain); but when you've got used to a place being one of the cheapest bars in the neighbourhood, a sudden 5 or 10 kuai increase on every item on the menu is quite a hard psychological blow. I fear this may be discouraging the Chinese patrons especially. There used to be a crowd of youngsters (including The Stylish Girl, The Chairman's and my Christmas crush) - students from the nearby Central Academy of Drama, I would guess - who were 'regulars' there, but now seem to have deserted the place. The last few times I've been, it has been almost all laowai in there. This may be good for Tianxiao's business, but it does considerably diminish the charm of the place.

It is, I sense, now becoming a little too widely known, and moving inexorably 'upmarket'. We have had a wonderful, wonderful year there - but I fear the really good times may now be over. Alas and alack.

Anxious times at The Pool Bar

Oh, please god, may the same thing not happen at my beloved Pool Bar. Luke is trying to drum up more custom. He has finally put a listing in That's Beijing. Another expats listings mag, City Weekend, hasn't yet added the place to its bar directory, but has just given it a modestly prominent plug via a featured customer recommendation extracted from one of its online discussion boards.

Now, I don't believe anyone really consults these directories when looking for a new bar to try. I certainly don't (a feature article might be different! Oh, no; please, no, no, NO!). But, oh, I hope we aren't about to get swamped. I want Luke to do well financially (and I am making my own, not insubstantial, contribution to that), but..... it's a small bar. The level of custom it enjoys at the moment is just about right. With more than about 20 people in, it starts to feel uncomfortably crowded.

The regulars are contemplating the need to mount a defensive campaign - perhaps having at least one of us on station in the bar at all times, ready to curmudge the bejesus out of any would-be new punters who venture through the door.

Really, people - move along, there's nothing to see here. It's not a good bar at all. Most of the time, it's just me and Crazy Chris propping up the bar here, talking nonsense, contesting The Barney Gumbel Award (or arguing, as last night, about which one of us would be Norm and which one Cliff....). GO AWAY!!!