Saturday, May 31, 2008

The biggest gig of the year!!!

Well, I'm hoping, anyway.

Tonight is the third anniversary bash for 2 Kolegas, the best (or at any rate, the most charmingly idiosyncratic) of all Beijing's live music venues. This event was awesome in each of the last two years (check out my report on last year's here): umpteen bands, an all-night party, yangrou chuanr on the lawn outside.

It sounds as though this year's event might be a little less sprawling. Only three headline bands are being advertised, and there is supposedly a cover charge (outrageous! 2K has only recently introduced door charges). It's a bit difficult to see how a door charge would be enforceable with - as happened in previous years - a rolling concert that goes on for several hours, and enormous crowds constantly alternating between the indoor and outdoor bars. So..... maybe it is just going to be a more regular sort of gig this time.

Oh, well, we shall see. A night out at Kolegas is always a blast, no matter what. And the advertised bands do happen to be the three best bands in Beijing: Ziyo, SUBS, and RETROS. Well, I find myself blowing hot and cold on RETROS: I rather liked them the first couple of times I heard them - first off at Midi 2 or 3 years ago, I think - but thought they kind of sucked the last couple of times, overdoing the suicidal angst and coming off like Ian Curtis on a bad day. But SUBS or Ziyo are usually worth the price of admission on their own.

And I'm pretty sure there will be at least a few other bands appearing......

I just hope the event doesn't get cancelled by our killjoy police force. All public gatherings are coming in for increasing scrutiny as the Olympics loom. Even setting formica stools and collapsible tables on the sidewalks outside small restaurants seems to have been banned in some parts of the city. "You want to have FUN? And you want to have it in the open air?? Not on my patch, Sonny."

Wish List

I happened to get a sneak peak a little while ago at Martin Barnes's new book of photo portraits of all the leading bands on Beijing's rock music circuit. For me, I fear, this is a must-have.

I'd put it on my Christmas List, but...... well, Christmas is a very long way away..... and nobody buys me presents any more, anyway.

Oh damn - I suppose I'll just have to take myself down to The Bookworm to buy myself a copy..... before they all sell out.

: I got the wrong guy! How embarrassing! I've met the British artist, Martin Barnes, once or twice, and I had somehow mistakenly got the impression this book was his work. In fact, the photographer responsible is called Matthew Niederhauser, and his book is titled SoundCapital. I just picked up my copy from The Bookworm. Hmmm, my acquisition of art books is getting a little out of control. I think I need a larger coffee table.....

Redemption (2)???

The Ian Sherman Benefit Gig at D-22 last night was a very fine affair.

Well, OK, we didn't get any actual music until 9.30 (I knew that 7pm start they'd been advertising was going to turn out to be a rotten fib; but when I arrived at 8.30 I was earnestly assured that The Gar were about to go on at any minute...... Hmmm.), but that's really not too bad. I've had experiences at that place in the past where the show hasn't got under way much before midnight - and that's a long time to be hanging around twiddling your thumbs in a bar where it's notoriously difficult to get served a drink. 9.30pm is an entirely sensible start time. Ah, well, there had been one 'act' a little earlier than that - a knob-twiddling solo experimentalist who seemed to be curious just how shrill he could make his electronic howls and screeches before somebody lynched him - but the main event kicked off around 9.30.

All the bands in a consistently strong line-up seemed fired up to play their best, and it was a little disappointing that they only got 20 minutes or so each. And I think I liked openers, The Gar, best of all, and would have preferred to have seen them further down the bill. Also, I confess that, having seen quite a bit of them elsewhere recently, I found myself a little too weary to stay on for final band, RandomK(e). A most excellent evening, though.

I hadn't wanted to say anything negative about the event in my notice about it the other day, because it was put on in Ian's honour to help raise money for his cancer treatment - and thus I wouldn't have wanted to discourage anyone from going. However, as is well-known to my regular readers, I have a passionate aversion to the D-22 bar: I have almost never had a good experience there before.

The transformation of the place last night was almost unbelievable. Was I just in a positive frame of mind because of the purpose of the evening, untypically generous of spirit, reining in my critical inclinations for once? No, I don't think so. Everything I used to hate about the place has changed. Everything. It's actually looking as if it might at last have become the tolerably decent bar and premier live music venue it has long pretended to be. Whether this is the result of conscious policy (the management perhaps having finally taken on board the criticisms of myself, and of numerous others?) or just a happy accident, I can't say. The cynic in me suspects that it might have been a bit of a one-off fluke, and that the place will relapse into its former direness before long. But let's hope not. For now, it's off the 'Hate List'. And it might just get on to the 'Favourite Bars' list in time, if they can maintain last night's showing.

I knew something was up as soon as I walked in the door...... and heard Lou Reed greatest hits blasting out of the speakers...... much louder than they usually play the pre-gig music, and yet strangely crisp & clear, the bass not going all muffly. The sound remained consistently good throughout the night (although there were some problems of the vocal levels not always being high enough - difficult to get the balance sorted out when so many different bands are on in quick succession); even at the back of the main room, where the sound gets squelched by the mezzanine balcony above, it wasn't coming over too badly. And there wasn't a single equipment failure all night. Not one. Unheard of! The question is, why could they never manage this before? And will they be able to achieve it again in the future? (My buddy, Nat the Producer, helping out in a nebulous 'behind the scenes' way, claimed that he and a friend had worked some nameless magic on the PA before the show.)

There were other wonders on display last night too. The draft beer was some of the best I've tasted in this town. And it was cold. What's more, despite a fairly strong crowd, there was never any problem getting served. This is a revolution perhaps more important than the remedying of the dreadful sound system. In place of the former crew of 6 or 7 or more hopelessly inert bar staff (mostly, as far as I recall, pretty Chinese girls who were treating the job as an opportunity to snag a foreign boyfriend, or friends of the owner who were treating it as a chance to watch the bands for free), there are now just two permanent barmen - but they're really, really good: courteous, efficient, attentive. Yes, attentive! They actually keep a constant watch on the customers at the bar to see who's got an empty glass, who's trying to order a drink. This is almost unheard of in China!! Wherever did they find these guys? Who trained them?? A miracle indeed.

It is quite inspiring, isn't it, life-affirming in fact, that even the most utterly shite bars can drag themselves out of the mire? Will D-22 be able to keep this up? I do hope so.

Friday, May 30, 2008

HBH 82

Outside in the storm,
Windswept hair, sand-blasted face.
Bracing solitude.

I dined tout seul on the deck outside The Den last night. The staff were rather aggressively encouraging me to move inside, out of the gusty winds - but I was finding the blusteriness strangely invigorating. Rather nice to be alone with nature in the heart of the city once in a while.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A concert for Ian

I've mentioned Ian Sherman - the "beardy layabout" who writes the rock music reviews for Time Out Beijing - on here before, when I was teasing him about the occasional obscurity (at least for me!) of some of his references and a slight tendency to over-praise minor overseas bands visiting here (I blame an excess of enthusiasm or optimism sometimes on the ennui that inevitably sets in occasionally from the constant exposure to Beijing's good-ish but rather limited rock scene). I hope that I balanced those good-natured jibes with the sincere compliments in my opening paragraph about him then. I repeat those points now. He is a very fine writer, he's extremely witty, his knowledge of modern music is dauntingly wide-ranging, and his passion for it is really inspiring. He's also a thoroughly good bloke - liked and respected by everyone on the gig circuit here.

Ian got sick a few months ago - one of those really nasty things that we don't like to talk about or think about. I was probably one of the first people here to find out about it, since I happened to bump into him at a party on the day he'd had the test, and he felt the urge to confide in someone about his anxieties - even though I'm really just an acquaintance rather than a close friend. Things seem to be going well, and we're all keeping fingers crossed that he's going to pull through fine. He's coping with the ordeal with remarkable resilience, courage, and humour - even somehow managing to keep up most of his writing for Time Out despite having been in America for treatment for a month or so. It was great to see him doing the rounds back in Beijing for a couple of weeks recently. He's now back home in the UK for more treatment, but we're eagerly looking forward to his permanent return here. The 'scene' just isn't quite so much fun without him.

I gather Ian was caught without health insurance, so his medical bills are becoming a massive burden on him and his family. Therefore, the Beijing music community is rallying round to try to help out a bit: all the local record labels - Tag Team, Modern Sky, Maybe Mars - are joining forces to put on a huge benefit gig for him. There's a long roster of bands slated to appear, many of them rather good..... Ourselves Beside Me (terrible name, decent band), Carsick Cars (ditto), PK14 (obscure name, really good band), Arrows Made Of Desire (annoyingly Chinglishified misquotation, but often an interesting band), Randomk(e) (annoyingly incomprehensible name but a very good band), and more.

It's on at D-22 this Friday, from early evening (first band on at 7?? I'll believe it when I see it!) until, I imagine, very, very late. Of course, I'll be there to show solidarity with Ian. And I hope you all will be too. (I'm even setting aside my well-known loathing of D-22 for the evening. Greater love hath no man!)

All best wishes to Ian and his family. Be well again soon, mate.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Great Chuanr Crawl

One Saturday evening a couple of weeks back, we - the lads - finally got around to embarking on the epic Chuanr Quest that we had been planning for the better part of a year, ever since the tragic demise of our former favourite street-eating headquarters, 'The Kebab Queen'. Well, in truth, the "planning" can't have taken more than a few minutes to cobble together, but the combined procrastinations of half a dozen people had repeatedly stymied the project for many months. Kudos, then, to my journo chum, Stroppy Tom, for finally chivvying us into action.

The idea was quite simply that for this one evening we would re-form as an exclusively male drinking clique (most of the guys are married or seriously girlfriended these days; in fact - surprise, suprise! - I am the only one who is properly single any more) and hit a succession of divey hole-in-the-wall Xinjiang joints in the Gulou neighbourhood (long our favoured stomping ground, although I'm the only one of us that still lives here) with the object of finding the best chuanr in Beijing, or at any rate in this corner of the great metropolis.

One member of our merry crew turned up dressed like a Wodehousian dandy (his outlandish ensemble including a pair of golfing slacks that were so tight around the crotch as to be positively obscene). The Choirboy was resplendent in his recently purchased, blazing red 'Team China' Olympic tracksuit top. And Stroppy Tom was wearing his considerably more venerable (and risibly too small) Soviet Union top, now so soiled and holey that it looked as if he might have wrested it from the hands of the elfin Olga Korbut 30-odd years ago.

And I....... I was in my running gear. Tom, you see, had insisted on everyone riding a bicycle; and, as is surely now well known to all my readers, I have a deep-seated fear of bicycles; so, I had had to apply for a special dispensation from our dauntingly strict ringleader in order to be allowed to participate on foot. Although the Dandy jeeringly flouted that rule by coming on his Vespa, and The Suave Bengali (also bike-less, because he couldn't remember where he'd last left his "trusty steed") hitched a ride on the back of that for most of the night. Luckily, we didn't cover very much ground, and I could usually comfortably outpace the bicycles without working up a sweat. My comfort zone, however, shrank considerably later in the evening, as I got more and more full, and more and more drunk; and I was mightily relieved when, after some debate, we finally agreed not to cross beyond Andingmennei street.

Quite an eccentric-looking group we were, to be sure - cruising through the hutongs in our outlandish costumes, employing our various mismatched modes of locomotion. The old Chinese ladies and gents out walking their tiny dogs in the dusk were richly amused by this latest manifestation of the well-known "laowai craziness".

Tom had originally been advocating that we should aim to try out 8 or 10 different places in one session. That always looked an improbably ambitious target, and saner counsels (i.e. me, mostly) were suggesting a more doable total of 5 or 6. I think, in the end, we only managed 4. And none of those really met all of our required criteria: off the beaten track; genuine Xinjiang ownership; space to sit outside during the summer; cold beer. The very first place we went to was aces in almost every respect - except that there was no outside seating, and it rather let itself down with some rather nasty grilled chicken wings after winning high marks with every other form of barbecued animal product we'd tried there. Hmmm, this is proving somewhat harder than we'd imagined.

There will, I fancy, have to be a Second Round of exploration. And perhaps a Third and a Fourth as well. Then, when we've built up a suitable shortlist of potential new 'Queens', we'll move into the second phase of the selection process - spending a whole evening in each one, trying out their other dishes (the quality of their nang bao rou likely to be the deciding factor).

But I can't think of a better way to fritter away the balmy summer evenings.....

Monday, May 26, 2008

Another phantom gig

I discovered this afternoon that - according to City Weekend magazine - my favourite local weirdo musician, Xiao He, was supposed to be playing a small gig at my neighbourhood music bar, Jiangjinjiu, tonight.

I was looking forward to it all evening.

Of course, when I wandered past (a little later than I'd been hoping to) around 10.20pm, there was no sign of him, nor of any gig at all. And it was starting to spit quite heavily with rain, so I had to hurry home.

Xiao He is rather notorious for being advertised for gigs that fail to materialise......

A disappointment, then, but not a surprise.....

Gobsmack Double Whammy

More astounding entries in the ever-expanding annals of 'Bad service in China'

1) A gorgeous day on Sunday prompted the first visit of the year to the rooftop of the nearby Bell & Drum bar - which has a charming roof-deck overlooking the historic Bell Tower square, and, for the last few years, has regularly run an enticing all-you-can-drink-for-50-kuai from 3pm to 6pm on Sundays. Alas, the administration of this offer has always been fraught with difficulty; the staff, seemingly afraid that they will be blamed if their boss loses too much money on the event, try everything they can think of to try to avoid serving you!! Really. It has produced a number of exasperated confrontations over the years (including, on one memorable occasion, me nearly getting into a fight after going behind the bar to serve myself, and on another, my pugnacious buddy Big Frank getting the owner on the phone to assure them that it really would be OK to give him Bacardi in his rum'n'coke rather than the cheap, crappy, probably fake brand they were trying to fob off on him). And it really is a quite ridiculous attitude: wholesale prices for alcohol are so low in this country that it would be almost impossible for someone to drink 50 kuai's worth inside three hours. And yet still the bar staff drag their heels. I have several times got so infuriated by it that I have given up and boycotted the place for a few months - but I keep on coming back, because it is such a wonderful spot for a drink when the sun is shining.

At first, things had looked more promising yesterday. Business is evidently on the up-and-up...... because they have greatly expanded the staff. They used to run the place with only three people, but now they seem to have one woman permanently behind the bar, 5 or 6 young boys acting as waiters, and the young guy who's been there since the place opened 5 years ago (and the only one who speaks any English at all, though still not much) acting as a sort of supervisor. Yes, a promising sign, you would think. But no. The 'supervisor' was hiding away in a back room, and the 6 'waiters' were hanging out amusing themselves downstairs. Get this: there was no-one on duty upstairs, where 15 or 20 foreigners were whiling away the afternoon, and occasionally hoping to get served a drink. NO-ONE. It really was a bit of an effort to get someone to take an order on the rare occasions when they came upstairs to collect dead glasses. And even when they did that, they would keep you waiting for 10 minutes for the drinks..... or forget to bring them altogether.

And when, in desperation after one particularly long wait, I went downstairs myself to collect the drinks for our table....... they would only give me ONE DRINK...... because they could not remember that I was with two friends and that we'd all paid for the 50 kuai deal!!!!

I sense another 'boycott' is in the offing.

2) I was hanging out with a couple of buddies this evening on the deck in front of The Den, and one of them decided to order a round of whiskies. We chose J&B, because that's usually one of the best-tasting basic brands available here, and the one that is least often faked. The first round was just fine. We decided to order a second, "for the road". Evidently they had opened a new bottle. And that bottle was egregiously FAKE. The wrong colour, disgustingly sweet, and...... well, in a misguided attempt to disguise the fact that it did not taste of whisky, the makers had decided to flavour it with something very pungent indeed. I think it might actually have been perfume of some kind. It fairly reeked of vanilla. We didn't even have to sniff it very closely: we could tell it was 'off' as soon as the glasses were put on the table.

The staff, of course, had not noticed there was any problem. It was difficult to explain to them what the problem was. When we had explained what the problem was (my buddies both speak pretty good Chinese), they didn't seem to get what the problem was. Reluctantly, they exchanged the rogue whiskies...... for another glass of the very same inappropriately scented thing! We sent them back again. Eventually, we got them replaced with a different brand, which was OK. The Den, you see, does have much better service than just about anywhere else in this town! Of course, they carried on serving the vanilla-flavoured crap to anyone who was too drunk to notice......

Ah, China......

Weekly bon mot

"They talk of my drinking, but never of my thirst."

Scottish Proverb

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Another night for Sichuan

Benefit gigs for victims of the Sichuan earthquake are happening all over the place just at the moment.

Tonight's event at The Stone Boat bar promises to be particularly fine, with a variety of good bands slated to appear - RandomK(e), Arrows Made Of Desire, Hanggai, and more.

And it's a gorgeous sunny day, and looks like it should stay fine and clear (for once!) into the evening: ideal conditions for sitting outside at the Boat.

See you all there!

Come on, mate - it's for charidee!

Disappointingly, this is one of the few episodes where the boys don't talk about their work for charidee. It is a classic, though. Most of the 'Smashy & Nicey' clips seem to have been deleted from YouTube recently, so enjoy this one while you may.......

Saturday, May 24, 2008


After last week's fiasco at MAO Live, I was pleasantly relieved to experience a modest return to form there last night.

Only three bands on, all reasonably good, the 'headliners' on last - and another strong turnout (though not quite so uncomfortably packed out as the the previous week).

Well, the advertised door fee of 30 RMB had been bumped up to 50 at the last moment (I'm such a tightwad, I resent the very idea of door fees; in the good old days - a few years ago! - you were seldom if ever asked to pay more than 25 or 30 RMB for a gig, and most of the smaller venues were completely free), but they were giving away a free CD of the main band, Queen Sea Big Shark.

I have to say, that was the one big disappointment of the evening - well, the band and their CD. I quite liked them when they first hit the scene a year or so ago, but..... they just haven't done anything to build on their initial promise. If anything, they've become rather less exciting; perhaps they've been playing the same material for too long, and have settled into a rut. Also, I think the 'promise' was mainly based on SEX: their lead singer, Fu Han, is a hot chick, but...... well her stage act has become progressively more muted and her clothes more dowdy..... and, with the element of lust removed, I am shocked to find they're actually rather a dull band. Am I really that superficial? Perhaps I am!

And they don't know how to do endings either. That's a big problem. Most of their songs just stop. Dead. Endings are important, people, even if it's just a big crash-bang on the drums. Give it a little more thought.

They have the beginnings of some good tunes, some poppy 80s synth figures, a little shimmer of surf guitar here and there - but it doesn't quite come together. The worst problem, I suppose, is that they endeavour to sing in English. Alas, Fu Han's English pronunciation is so indistinct that it's usually pretty difficult to tell whether she's supposed to be singing in English or Chinese (and, as I finally discover from reading the sleeve notes, the lyrics are mostly gibberish anyway). No, a bit of a mess, I'm afraid. Bring back the SEX!

At least the support bands, Candy Monster and Casino Demon, were good value. (Why do I feel that Gary must have picked their names for them?)

Friday, May 23, 2008

Money for the cause

Last night's fund-raising party for the Sichuan earthquake victims at Room 101 was a great success. I guess 200 or so people showed up in all (not bad for such a comparatively small bar - there was quite an overflow on to the street out front for a while), and they all gave - and drank - generously. There was a succession of good bands, and things looked set to carry on all night (I had to crawl off home at about 2.30am because I was working this morning - boo-hoo).

I've just been told that the total donation to Red Cross China will be something over 18,000 RMB. 13,000 RMB of that came from door donations and t-shirt sales; and the owners are chipping in 50% of the evening's bar takings of around 10,000 RMB.

Congratulations to head barman, Jackson Bai, for organizing the event. And many thanks to all the great musicians who entertained us for free.

Thanks, too, to all who came and gave money. Getting completely wasted has never been so worthwhile.

HBH 81

Warm smile, glowing skin,
The brightest eyes. Heart flutters,
Knees begin to sag.

Yes, two of Beijing's most gorgeous musical performers were at the 101 earthquake benefit gig last night, a welcome lift to the spirits at the end of another hyper-gruelling week. Alas, these are women so ethereally lovely that I could not possibly presume to 'target' them.

Or could I?

No, no - unimaginably out of my league. A man can only sigh, and dream.

Actually, there was a good deal of gorgeousness on display last night, more striking women than one could readily count. The Choirboy these days has a very lovely and steady girlfriend, and is thus not allowed to count any more - but I think I caught him rolling his eyes wistfully once or twice.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Don't forget!!

The big fund-raising party for Sichuan earthquake relief kicks off at Room 101 TONIGHT at around 7.30.

I won't be able to get there till about 8.30.

I hope to see you all there!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

In search of.... the Yanjing Brewery

Today I fulfilled a long-held ambition to visit the home of my regular tipple, Yanjing Beer. Their rather grandiose headquarters (below) is an hour or so outside of Beijing, and I took a mini-bus trip out there with a friend this morning.

It was a little worrying that our driver clearly had no idea at all where the place was. He seemed to take a wrong turning at almost every opportunity, even leading us irrelevantly out to Terminal 2 of Beijing airport at one point. It wasn't an encouraging sign that, having picked us up at 8.30am outside The Den, he immediately turned left towards the 2nd Ringroad rather than right towards the 3rd..... and it just seemed to get worse from there. At one point, as we realised we were getting near because of the increasing frequency of beer lorries on the road, I suggested simply following one of these. However, our driver insisted on continuing to try to follow his instincts, with the result that we drove around in circles for a bit longer. Even when we finally got there, he managed to drive right past the main gate, and had to execute one last U-turn in the middle of the road (there had been many by this point). Rather a stressful start to the day.

And I hadn't been completely confident that our excursion would be allowed to go ahead. This was the last of the three days of national mourning the government has decreed to honour the Sichuan earthquake victims, and all forms of "public entertainment" have been suspended. The flags flying at half-mast outside the brewery headquarters were a sombre reminder of this.

It's an awesome spectacle, though. I visited the Coors brewery in Golden, Colorado a few years ago, and I seem to remember that that boasted of being the world's largest single site brewery, or one of them. I think the Yanjing HQ must be even bigger (though perhaps it's not all devoted to brewing beer; in recent years they have been diversifying more and more, entering into the bottled water and soft drinks markets as well) - as evidenced by the funky model of the site below. It is pretty much a self-contained city, with its own full-sized football pitch, and several tennis and basketball courts.

It's all very gleaming and modern (I wonder what I would have seen if I'd managed to come, as I first planned to, 5 or 6 years ago) and highly automated. There are hardly any people to be seen at all. And those that there are (like this poor guy) look severely underoccupied and extravagantly bored.

This is the very high-tech control room, definitely like something out of a Bond villain's lair.

And the man in charge of it all, almost comatose with boredom and not looking as if he has a clue what any of the switches do, is irresistibly reminiscent of Homer Simpson!

Thanks, by the way, to Tracy of the Ambassador Mandarin school for organising this. She has several other out-of-town excursions in the offing. A visit to one of China's largest steel plants sounded particularly interesting (although it is shortly to be relocated further away from the city, so the current site will probably start decommissioning soon; we're hoping we might be able to catch it still in operation if we can go in the next 3 or 4 weeks). And there was some talk of an ice cream factory too. What's that, Homer?
Hmmm, ice cream!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Fundraiser for Sichuan Earthquake Relief

My pal The Barman has been helping to set up a fundraiser to help victims of the Sichuan earthquake at one of my favourite nearby bars, Room 101.

It's all been put together at very short notice, of course; and then there was the further complication that they'd just got around to scheduling it for this Wednesday when the government suddenly announced three days of national mourning for the start of this week. So, the event has now been put back till Thursday. That's this Thursday, the 22nd May - from early evening till LATE.

Most of 101's regular roster of musicians have agreed to come along and play for free. There are supposed to be 8 bands in all, perhaps more. I think my guitar buddies David Mitchell, Benny Oyama, and Jean-Sebastien are amongst the line-up. I'm rather hoping those sexy chanteuses Anna Lisa Hughes and Marie-Claude Lebel will be showing up as well.

There's no admission fee as such, though door donations are encouraged (recommended 30 RMB minimum). They're also selling t-shirts and a bunch of other stuff to raise money.

And....... all the bar takings for the night are being donated to earthquake relief as well.

So, for once, we can all drink in a good cause. Too good to miss!

Important Correction: There was a certain uncertainty as to what exactly the bar's contribution to the relief fund from this event was going to be. Initially it was suggested that it would be the "profits" from the evening, but a number of us regular bar cronies pointed out that this was an unquantifiable term. On the initial mailing I received, they seemed to have switched to the (improbably, dangerously generous) offer of "all the money taken for food & drink". They probably can't really afford to do that, if it's a busy night. The thinking now is that they will donate a fixed percentage of the revenue - to be advertised on notices at the bar on the night.

Please don't think there was any conscious attempt to mislead here. It's just one of those tangles you get into when you're throwing something together in the space of a few days, and English isn't your first language. It's as much my fault as anyone's, since I was supposed to be advising on the English-language version of the promotional blurbs.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The graveyard of good (cultural) intentions

Oh dear!

My hotly anticipated weekend of music was thwarted by a mixture of alcohol, lethargy, and..... Chinese gig-scheduling being just a little fucked-up.

Friday night's rendezvous with Ziyo at MAO Live was a disaster. Now, this is a great venue in many ways: the space and the decor are absolutely right for a small-medium sized rock show, the sound system is superb, the bar's OK, and it's in a very convenient location for me. However, their scheduling (and their advertising) just sucks; and it's getting worse.

This was supposed to be a showcase for Ziyo, who have just launched their long-awaited first EP. According to the MAO website and the other advance publicity, there was only to have been one support act - which would have been appropriate: we didn't want to see anyone else, we wanted to see Ziyo; and we wanted to see them at a sensible time at night. When we arrived there around 10pm, we discovered that some idiot had decided to pad out the roster into one of MAO's occasional super-bills. Now, sometimes these work - if there's a coherent theme, and the bands are all fairly good. On Friday, it was a gaggle of bands who are fairly unknown, and for good reason. And they weren't even being very slick with the changeovers: in the 2 hours or so I spent there, I just missed one band, spent a long time waiting around for the next, endured 30 minutes of wordless bawling (my companion, Brendan the Translator, informed me that this style is called Nu Metal; I couldn't see any point of contact with 'Old Metal', which, even at its most mindless, is usually redeemed by fast guitar solos and a certain self-deflating humour; this stuff just seemed like a particularly dull, tuneless, chugging variety of Grunge), and then another seemingly interminable wait for the next act to show up. At which point, not being able to bear the thought of having to listen to 2 or 3 more Shit Metal acts before the main event, I gave up on the evening and returned across the road to the Pool Bar (two more demerits for MAO: they've stopped serving Yanjing beer in cans, and the other booze options are just a tad expensive; moreover, they've stopped allowing re-admission [although I suspect they don't really enforce this too strictly, especially later in the evening]; the combined effect of these two dumb-ass policies is that when the punters get thirsty, they leave).

If Ziyo were going to be on last (by no means a safe bet in this crazy town, of course), that probably wasn't going to happen until 2am or so - much as I love 'em, they weren't worth enduring any more dross supporting acts, crappy overpriced beer, or sweaty crowds (a further demerit: the place is becoming too popular for its own good - Friday's turnout was the biggest crowd I've seen there, really rather uncomfortably, even dangerously large. A further note to the schedulers: Ziyo can fill the place quite adequately on their own; you really don't need to tack on 5 or 6 other bands who all [however shite they are] might have at least something of a following of their own.). It was rather sad for Ziyo and their supporters, though; I would guess that a good 30% or 40% of the punters there had been driven to leave before the band came on. MAO Live bosses, pull your heads out of your arses, please.

Alas, a number of drinking companions in the Pool Bar had their 'stupid' heads on that night, and I ended up being out till dawn...... and needed to sleep in most of Saturday to recharge my batteries. That may somewhat have depleted my enthusiasm for the Bad Mamasan gig I had planned to go to that night (well, that, and my growing antipathy to the new Yugong Yishan venue, which, I'm sorry to say, has proven to be utterly CRAP). And the rival musical attraction of Panjir at the Stone Boat lost appeal due to the lousy air quality (and the fact that I've seen them 3 or 4 times recently in their new Thursday night residency at Jiangjinjiu; and the fact that it's such a pain in the arse to try to get across town mid-evening on a Saturday night). So, I ended up watching the FA Cup Final in a bar in my 'hood (something of an anti-climax, as you'd expect with a second-rate team up against a third-rate team: all worthy endeavour, but very few decent goal-scoring chances). And then back to the old reliable Pool Bar......... and then to the wee-small-hours 'happy hour' at Room 101....... and then home only just before dawn once again.

After two successive nights of late and heavy drinking, Sunday was a very slow day of recovery..... and I found, yet again, that I was insufficiently motivated to try to make a long trip into town in rush-hour traffic in hopes of taking in a cultural event for which I had no-one to accompany me, and which might very possibly be sold out, and which might of course turn out to be crap anyway. So, sorry, Chris Botti - perhaps you put on a great show, but I couldn't even rouse myself to think about heading down into the city centre until around 6pm, and by that time it was dangerously marginal as to whether I would be able to make it to the start of the show. I really will make a big effort to make sure I catch you next time you're here - honestly. Well, then again, perhaps not. I've been doing some YouTubing to see what I missed - and apparently what I missed is the most insipid Jazz Lite (so.... he was probably a complete sell-out, well on his way to Kenny G-dom or Claydermania here in China!). Maybe I (and my wallet) had a lucky escape there after all.

It is becoming something of a worry to me, though, that the twin we-never-close delights of the Pool Bar and 101 are resulting in more and more late nights for me, particularly over the weekend - it is preventing me from getting anything much useful or cultural accomplished over Saturday and Sunday (this is the third time in only 6 weeks or so that Sunday evening 'plans' have foundered in this way), and sapping my energy levels dangerously during the subsequent week.

Time for a new Resolution perhaps??

Bon mot for the week

"The harsh, useful things of the world, from pulling teeth to digging potatoes, are best done by men who are as starkly sober as so many convicts in the death-house; but the lovely and useless things, the charming and exhilarating things, are best done by men with, as the phrase is, a few sheets in the wind."

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)

And people ask me why I blog....

Saturday, May 17, 2008

April's Band Name winners

A late, but typically excellent entry from the indefatigable Gary carries the honours for last month in the ongoing (on-limping?) Possible Band Names competition.

Wimplunch, Bad Habits (later rebranded as Bored Hobbits!), The Faster Pussycats, The Rehab Junkies, Giant Rabbit Delusion, and The Ganja Four (a Chinese reggae band, what else?) were all fine suggestions, but I think I'll give the prize this time to Empire Of The Senseless (does anyone know what that would be in Japanese?).

My old friend Snopes nearly snuck the victory with another great pun, Cat As Trophy. He also continued his fine run of spoonerisms with Gassy Clowns. And he cheekily suggested The Dilettantes as a band name for myself and The Bookseller!

For Best Foreign Band Name, I really liked my own suggestion of Ajīl-e Moshkel-Goshā (The Problem-Solving Nuts in Persian - explanation in this post), but I fear Gary has trumped me with the beautiful simplicity of Contretemps (why does everything sound so good in French?? Mind you, I bet there is a band of this name...).

For Best Cover Band, Gary offered us Led Balloon, but I think I prefer Snopes's Blunderwall. However, I am reluctant to award any honours to anything connected with the execrable Oasis, so I give the prize instead to another Snopesism - Dazed Dan (Confused)........ a one-man Led Zep tribute outfit??

Please keep playing. We are still awaiting Comment No. 100 on the thread.

Friday, May 16, 2008

A big music weekend ahead

After a busy opening to the year, things went a little bit flat for a month or two (as a lot of local bands were probably gearing up for the anticipated Midi Festival in Beijing at the beginning of May, which was cancelled at the last moment, a victim of pre-Olympic paranoia in this crazy city). Suddenly the music scene is jumping again, with a vengeance.

The awesome Ziyo are back, and, I gather, finally having a launch for their much talked about, oft delayed debut EP. Since MAO Livehouse, where they're playing, is the best music club in the city, and since it's only 20 minutes away from where I live (and 30 seconds away from 'second home', The Pool Bar), and since I have an enormous schoolboy crush on their utterly fabulous lead singer Helen Feng...... well, I feel that is my only choice tonight. More pictures of the lovely Helen here (the text is in French, but I'm sure you can cope). The band also has a rather good page on MySpace now.

I am a little torn, though. My pal Ed Peto of Red T is kicking off his summer season of open-air "Gloaming" concerts at another favourite venue, The Stone Boat in Ritan Park, tonight with an acoustic set from one of the city's most admired up-and-coming bands, Hedgehog. I'd like to support that too, but I'm afraid it's just not feasible to try to take in both - and my loins draw me towards MAO.

Tomorrow I face a similar dilemma, with my favourite Xinjiang-flavoured jazz outfit Panjir playing the Stone Boat and Jaime Welton's magnificent 'Monsters of Rock' tribute band Bad Mamasan appearing at the more local Yugong Yishan. Oh yes, and the FA Cup Final. Something's got to give......

And then on Sunday (if I'm still alive 48 hours from here) there's an intriguing-sounding new jazz trumpet prodigy, Chris Botti, playing at the city's most attractive auditorium, The Forbidden City Concert Hall.

So many gigs, so little time.....

How many 'plans' does a man need?

Another piece of SMS nonsense:

New partner-in-crime, Crazy Chris, quizzed me concisely last night:
"Plan 4 tmrw?"

Since I loathe the laziness of textspeak, I couldn't resist a reproving quip in return:
"Plan 4?? I didn't know we had that many!"

"Oh yeah, we only have the one, right. But I was trying to confuse the Japs." (I told you he was crazy.)

"Plan 9 (from Outer Space) it is, then." (So am I.)

Yep, the 'plan' for tonight will probably be much as it ever is (it's going to be hard to resist that brief window of affordable Stella presented by the Room 101 happy hour.....).

The other Plan, alas, is pretty much in ruins. I added a D and an E to my roster of potential romantic targets, made a fairly serious run at C (to no avail, obviously), suffered a string of taunting, 'fortuitous' encounters with B, and A...... oh, I can't even bear to think about A - that was just a horrible, horrible mess.

And I find I am falling back into pining for Madame X. (Beats head against wall in silent despair.)

HBH 80

All the women leave
The heart's a barren desert
Loneliness grows huge

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The beastly post

Astounding as it may seem, we have now reached 666 posts here on The Barstool.

This was the most amusingly diabolical picture I could find to commemorate the milestone.

Chinese football fans

Are rather annoying.

Because they're almost all Manchester United fans.

Of course they are. Because that's about the only team they've ever heard of.

One of the main things I - and most sentient football fans around the world - hate about Man U is that they are so over-promoted, so unremittingly commercialized. They are the McDonald's of the game: people don't seem to care whether the product is shite or not, because the marketing is so overwhelming.

OK, so, with Man U, the product isn't shite: they do play very attractive football, and they are deserved champions this season. But the relentlessness of their advertising and the smug sense of entitlement that seems to fester at the core of their 'brand'..... and the fact that 99% of their fans don't know their arse from their elbow when it comes to football is utterly infuriating.

I fear this ignorance of the game is likely to be especially severe here in China. Football was scarcely played here at all until the 1980s, I believe. They didn't get a professional league going until the early 1990s. When I first visited in the mid-90s, there was still fairly little overseas football appearing on TV here (only a few random highlights, and a very, very occasional complete game). And even today, coverage of the European leagues and cup competitions is sparse and inconsistent on the domestic terrestrial channels: you can't really 'follow' football unless you have an (illegal) satellite hook-up...... and not many Chinese do. Few of these Chinese fans, I suspect, really know much about the history of the game in England, or even about the history of their adopted club (beyond the very recent past, that is - most of them, I'm sure, don't even know about the struggle of Fergie's early years at the club, much less of the brief glory days of Georgie Best or the tragic loss of the Busby Babes). A fair few of them know absolutely fuck-all about the game, period.

So, it was particularly vexing to have to try to watch the climax (sorry, anti-climax) of the Premier League season last Sunday in a room full of gloating, braying, Chinese Manchester United fans (who would keep standing up and obscuring the big projection screen at the slightest excuse - every time one of their heroes had a particularly petulant moment with the ref, every time Ronaldo fell over, every time Sir Alex stood up to needle the linesman about something.....).

All football fans can be pretty obnoxious, particularly when they are gathered together in a large group. Manchester United fans are especially objectionable, because they are for the most part dupes of a massive marketing campaign rather than discerning lovers of the game. And Chinese Manchester United fans........ well, I reach for my revolver........

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


We know, of course, that there is a particular magic about the number 3 (and more especially, more spookily so for me); but in the last couple of weeks I have started to worry that there may also be a potentially dangerous significance in the number 300.

The Wednesday before last, I realised that I had only 1,650 RMB on me, and, since I was unlikely to be doing any more cash-in-hand work until the following Monday, and was facing a string of party nights out, I was going to have to be a little bit careful with my spending. Just a little bit. I didn't think it would really be a problem, keeping myself to within around 300 RMB per night.

Perhaps it was dangerous to start thinking in those terms, to fix such a spending target so vividly in my head.

I find I have been spending very nearly 300 RMB every time I go out on the town since then. And I have been out on all but 2 or 3 of the last 15 nights. That is a pretty frightening rate of expenditure!

I recall a couple of years ago having a particularly splurgey sort of weekend that set me back 600 or 700 RMB - far more than I had ever spent on such indulgence in China over so short a space of time before. But that covered Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; it included eating out at 'Western' style restaurants for almost every meal; it included doing a week's grocery shopping, putting 2 or 3 months' worth of credit on my mobile phone, attending a CD launch party for a local rock band and a jazz recital by a visiting French pianist at the Forbidden City Concert Hall, criss-crossing the city a dozen or so times by taxi, and getting completely wrecked on each of the three days (especially with the humongous tequila session at the CD party). That was a good weekend.

Life in this city is definitely getting more expensive.

And the really worrying thing is this: now when I spend an evening in with my DVD collection, I start thinking I've saved 300 RMB.

The picture at the top, by the way, was a commemoration of the Tercentenary last year of the University of Edinburgh School of Law.

But that's altogether a far too joyous and upbeat note to leave you on. No, I am severely disgruntled at the rising cost of living (or of dying enjoyably) in this city, and at my own recent abandonment of the righteous principles of thriftiness. It makes me want to SNARL!!!

Monday, May 12, 2008

A momentous threshold for the 'Band Names' thread

I have been hanging fire on announcing April's winners in the Possible Band Names game (sorry, Gary; thank you for your patience) because....... the number of comments on that thread currently stands at......... 99! And I didn't want to take the landmark 100th spot myself with the list of last month's winners, so.......

The opportunity is there for the rest of you. Please, someone, claim that honour SOON.

Bon mot of the week

"Beer, if drank with moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit, and promotes health."

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

But who the hell wants to drink with moderation, Tom? You really were missing the point there rather, old son.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Great Love Songs (6)

A dangerous little fix of nostalgia for me: Shirley Manson (red-headed singers - a great weakness of mine!) of Garbage singing You Look So Fine, a song that my great lost love, The Poet, used to tease me with. I've reached a point where I can listen to it without crying any more, but it still gives me shivers a bit. Let's pretend: happy end. Yes, indeed.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

An unexpectedly good Friday

I had been tempted to have a quiet evening in yesterday, to give me a chance to recover from what had been a more-than-usually gruelling week (in terms of both work and nightlife).

However, I had to head downtown to rendezvous with a friend to pick up the pay for a training gig I've been doing for him (great wedges of tax-free cash surreptitiously exchanged in brown envelopes - I love this country!). And so, it seemed only reasonable to suggest gathering for a post-work gargle to certain others of my cronies in that vicinity (and that's how I came to be prostrating myself on the floor in The Worm at 7pm).

After eating Chinese food all week, I then thought I'd treat myself to a 'Western'-style Friday night indulgence - a doner kebab from Kebab Republic in Tongli.

My friend DD had reminded me that there was a party in Salud a little later, to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of the funky laowai-owned Nanluoguxiang t-shirt boutique Plastered, and I had agreed to meet her there. On the way, I just had time to drop into Reef for a White Russian or two (necessary medicine in this filthy, dusty weather - I am, on the whole, keeping to my resolution to cut down on them pretty well); the price has gone up from 15 to 20 kuai, but that's still by some margin the best deal in town.

Then on to Salud, where I was just in time to catch the speech of thanks by Plastered founder, Dominic, and then a guest turn by bizarre visiting celebrity, Shed Simove (I imagine it was pretty much a re-run of his appearance at The Bookworm which I'd had to miss earlier in the week; he's an oddball entrepreneur who, in addition to contributing to wildly successful British TV shows like Big Brother and The Big Breakfast, is apparently also managing to turn a tidy penny from creating risqué novelty items like Clitoris Allsorts jelly sweets and the Pubik's Cube desk toy). Alas, after that amusing interlude, we got a DJ who was utterly shite. Randomk(e) (good band, terrible name) were supposed to be coming on shortly, but having seen them only a week or two previously at 2 Kolegas, I was insufficiently enthused about staying on (and I gather the police closed them down after a couple of songs anyway).

I decided instead to look in at Jiangjinjiu (the most local of all my neighbourhood music bars, less than 15 minutes' walk from home), where the really good Ningxia folk-rock band Buyi were supposed to be playing. I had just missed the end of their first set, and the place was absolutely heaved out (it's a fairly tiny venue, and so, alas, easily becomes unpleasantly crowded and sweaty whenever there's a popular act on); it didn't look promising, and I decided to head home for an early night after having just the one beer. Luckily, the band reappeared at the very moment I was about to leave, so I thought I'd stay to hear one or two songs....... and it was such a brilliant set that I stayed for the full hour (their new drummer is pretty useful; Zhang Wei may not get the gig back - if he ever returns from his European travels). A great, great show - I love these guys. Particularly their tall and gorgeous female bass player! I even bought one of their CDs.

Although Jiangjinjiu isn't really big enough to host bands of this type, this drawback can also be part of its special attraction. Last night, there was absolutely nowhere to stand - except right next to the bar; which is right next to the postage-stamp sized stage. The bar, the area in front of the bar in which I was standing, and the stage all put together comprise an area not much bigger than a snooker table. Yep, I watched the whole show from about 2ft or 3ft away from the band. And the bass player smiled a devastating smile at me. Does she recognise me from all the other gigs where I've ogled her so adoringly?? I wonder.

And then, tired but happy, I wandered home, making it into bed before 1am - which is an early night for me.

Sudden outbreaks of piety

I have a trick leg. No, really. I know I often use this as a convenient excuse for avoiding dancing, but it's actually a fairly legitimate defence - sometimes, if I bend or twist my right knee incautiously, a rogue piece of cartilage pops out of the joint, making it impossible for me to straighten my leg again. It's not at all painful, but the leg - refusing to move within about 15° of straight, as the loose cartilage jams up the joint - is incapable of bearing any weight. It's embarrassing, inconvenient..... and the thought that I might perhaps never be able to pop the cartilage back into place and regain the use of the leg can become quite terrifying.

This is the result of a football injury I sustained nearly 20 years ago. I've had keyhole surgery on it, but..... well, unless you pay top dollar for a leading sports surgeon, it's apt to do more harm than good. On the NHS you get some bumbling junior doctor doing a lightning quick scrape-and-snip and hoping for the best. (It was particularly unfortunate timing for me: I had a medical insurance subscription form on my desk waiting to be posted on the day I suffered the injury! Cruel Fate!) To be fair, I think my surgery brought some improvement; prior to it, the loose flap of cartilage would seize up my knee on an almost daily basis; now, mercifully, these episodes are extremely rare.

But I had one the other day, as I dismounted from one of the high barstools at The Bookworm (barstool blues indeed!). Fortunately, there were not too many people around to witness my predicament (god, the place is dead on Fridays: actually, rather a pleasant change from the usual throngs); just a small group of jeering friends. Unfortunately, I felt it pop out in a rather unusual way (more to the side than the front), and I wasn't at all confident that I was going to be able to pop it back following the standard rigmarole I have learned for dealing with this situation.

The rigmarole is this: I have to get down on all fours; then, slowly pull my body back into a kneeling position, my bum pressed as low to the ground as possible to achieve maximum extension of the knee joints; then, I have to rock gently back and forth and from side to side until I feel the angle at which the cartilage is protruding (not sure if this element of the procedure is really necessary, but I have grown a little superstitious about it over the years); I lean back one last time, extending the knee as far as possible; then I walk forward on my hands, gingerly straightening the leg - until I am poised like a sprinter awaiting the starting gun. If I'm lucky, it will work first time, and everything will be instantly back to normal. On Friday, it took me about 10 minutes of grovelling around on the floor before I got it. While enduring the inevitable barrage of "Mecca's that way" jibes from my buddies, of course.

I was prompted to recall that perhaps the most embarrassing instance of this I've ever suffered occurred on my first visit to China - indeed, on only my third or fourth night in the country. I was staying with my friend Richard at the small university where he was teaching in Hankou. He was putting me up in the university guest house; but, for the first week or so at least, I was having to share the room with two Chinese guys (travelling salesmen, I think). I don't think I'd yet met or spoken to them: they were always fast asleep by the time I got in after midnight, and had departed on whatever business they were about at the crack of dawn, before I was stirring. One night I had to get up to go to the loo...... and the cartilage popped as I was getting out of bed (this is a circumstance of maximum hazard: leg bent at 90°, with no weight on it; I have learnt to be extremely cautious about getting in and out of bed; but I suppose on this occasion I was tired and drunk and not paying enough attention). So, I had to go through the rigmarole right away (well, after hopping to the bathroom for an urgent pee, that is). Despite being ever, ever so quiet about it, I did wake my two unknown companions - who were, I have no doubt, wildly freaked out by my strange behaviour (although they didn't say a word). They were probably thinking, "My word! These Muslims are very devout! I didn't know white people could be Muslims. Did you? Do you think we can switch to another room tomorrow?"

Friday, May 09, 2008

HBH 79

Days were there, but gone
Time helter-skelters onwards
Invisible week!

I know it has been a packed, fruitful, and often enjoyable week. But just at the moment, I am struggling to remember any single detail of it.....

And, sorry, the appearance of the haiku was delayed this week, for reasons which I have explained over on Froogville, but, basically, because I'm crap.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Note to self

DON'T get mashed up on baijiu, cannabis, and tequila all in the same week.

Ah, well..... at least I didn't add absinthe to that list of troublemakers this time around.

I just itemised over on Froogville the enormous workload I've been coping with this week. Trying to accommodate a succession of wild party nights alongside really was not wise.

I learn by my mistakes. I'm always learning what fun they are!

Monday, May 05, 2008

In search of Cinco de Mayo

It is a strange holiday, to be sure - the commemoration of a relatively unimportant battle in what was for the Mexicans, at least initially, an unsuccessful war (against the French invasion of 1862, which for a few years managed to install the Emperor Maximilian, an Austrian princeling, as the country's ruler).

Most Americans I know are convinced that it is a major holiday south of the border, and many even suppose it to be Mexico's Independence Day, or at least a day of similar import. I gather that it is, in fact, far more a Mexican American celebration. Curious, curious.

However, I am partial to an occasional indulgence in tequila (it's not very nice, but it does seem to make you fly more than any other spirit I know), and indeed I am also quite fond of Mexican beer (Dos Equis, anyway; not Corona!); so, I have been looking forward to a bit of a splurge tonight. In fact, I had been sort of planning to whip up a little party of my own, but..... I didn't fancy trying to do something like that in my apartment on a week night, and there really isn't any bar I'd like to spend the evening in but the dear old Pool Bar - but ideas based around that have been disrupted by Luke's not unnatural preoccupation last week with the small matter of getting married (Crazy Chris and I were trying to persuade him to lay in a case or two of Dos Equis and a few extra bottles of tequila, but I don't think he got round to it).

In the past couple of years, I've been invited to house parties by American friends on this day (falling over the weekend was useful!).... but I haven't got wind of anything of that nature taking place this year. And the year before that, we hung out on the roof terrace at The Mexican Wave - Beijing's oldest "Mexican" restaurant, but expensive and not really very good (though it was at that time under the management of my friend G, and for those few months enjoyed a significant improvement in the quality of its food and the generosity of its happy hour). Alas, there is really no decent Mexican food to be had in Beijing (well, I hear there's one promising restaurant out in the upscale expat ghetto of Shunyi, but that's far too far away). I suppose we might try Texas Tim's BBQ (so-so food, but a good party atmosphere), or the newly opened Saddle Cantina (I hear it's a bit on the expensive side), or maybe the old Saddle (completely unchanged, except in its name - Luga's - and now being run by the Chinese guy who used to be an under-manager at The Rickshaw), or......

Well, we'll see. It will be a highly improvisatory sort of evening, I think. So long as the Margaritas flow, I shall be happy.

And it is a pretty fair bet that we will end up in the Pool Bar by midnight.

Such a pity I have to work tomorrow!

Bon mot of the week

"Do not allow children to mix drinks. It's bad for them. And they tend to use too much vermouth."

Steve Allen (1921-2000)

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Traffic Report - blog stats for April

There were 53 posts and 16,500 words on Froogville, and 43 posts and just over 11,000 words on The Barstool in April.

According to Statcounter, Froogville saw new visitors from Slovenia, Zimbabwe, and Malaysia last month, while The Barstool (somehow!) attracted attention in Taiwan, New Zealand, Egypt and the Ukraine. Welcome, all. Please say 'hello' next time you drop by.

A first

On Saturday night, Luke's dad actually asked us to leave the Pool Bar so that he could close up.

Well, OK, it was actually Sunday morning. 4am on Sunday morning. And Crazy Chris and I were the only people still there.

But this has never happened before!

The Last Table

It may take me a week or more to recover from the last few days, and particularly from Friday.

My affection for the wonderful, wonderful Pool Bar is now more firmly cemented than ever; indeed I feel that I have quite literally become part of "the family" there after being accorded the privilege of being invited to join the young owner's wedding celebration. Luke and his bride, Yvonne, are an exceptionally attractive young couple, and it was a very moving event. (I particularly enjoyed their kitschy video re-enactment of their love story, entirely based around the bar. Apparently he first got to know her by offering to help her when she was struggling to park her car in a narrow space right by the front door. And later - according to the movie version, anyway - he proposed to her beside the pool table. My favourite bit, though, is the first time she ventures inside the bar and surveys its divey-ness with some suspicion.)

Luke came through the multiple toasting and hazing which Chinese bridegrooms have to endure with remarkable steadiness. I rather think he had taken the wise precaution of filling his bottle of baijiu with plain water. Luke's dad, on the other hand, was drinking like a trooper. Yes, Luke's dad - now officially The Coolest Person In The World - in addition to his many other astonishing talents, can also drink. He was toasting each table in red wine - admittedly not very big glasses, but there were 20-odd tables. After that, he got seriously busy with the beer, chugging a 25cl glass down in one on at least 3 or 4 occasions (I was about the only person attempting to keep up with him on this; and I was failing). He had quite a few shots of baijiu with us as well. And he really didn't seem to be very much the worse for wear after all that.

By 2pm or so, most of the guests were departing, and Crazy Chris (the other representative customer at the event) and I were thinking that we too should be on our way. But Dad summoned us to join his "survivors' table"....... and then proceeded to round up every undrunk bottle left in the place. There must have been 15 or 20 bottles of beer and at least 3 bottles of baijiu. Dad's attitude seemed to be: "I've paid for this; we're damn well going to drink it. Nobody leaves until it's all gone." We did just about manage it - although the hotel staff ejecting us from the banqueting hall at 3pm may have saved us from the last of the baijiu. I was finding the room quite spinny by this point, but Dad...... well, what can I say? The man has the constitution of a rhinoceros.

5 hours later he was opening up the bar. Well, OK, he was half an hour late - but we forgive him.

Congratulations to Luke & Yvonne, and much happiness to them.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

More txt msg nonsense

May 1st is a bit of a non-event of a 'holiday', for the locals, I think, as much as for us foreigners. For those of us stuck in the city, especially for us music fans deprived of our usual annual treat of the Midi Festival, it was hard to find anything to divert ourselves..... other than self-harm through alcohol.

I tried to entice one American friend out for the evening. He queried what was going on.

"Nothing...." I replied tersely.

"That was a 'nothing' rich with ennui!" he responded a little later. Yes, indeed.

At least May 2nd was enlivened by having a wedding to go to.

That, of course, entailed 3 hours of intense drinking in the middle of the day. After which, I felt the need to return to the safety of my apartment to recuperate. My drinking companion, Crazy Chris, who'd also been at the wedding with a visiting Aussie friend of his, had lobbied for a walk in a nearby park as a recovery plan, but the sultry weather and lousy air quality had militated against this for me. However, I was soon starting to regret my decision to attempt to return home by bus, since I got bogged down in heavy traffic and took the best part of an hour to complete what should have been a 20-minute ride.

I vented my frustration and despair via SMS to Chris - largely to prevent myself from lapsing into unconsciousness on the bus.

He taunted me that the park was lovely.

Searching for some consolation in my hellish situation, I returned: "Well, at least I shall be able to throw up in the comforting privacy of my own bathroom. Eventually."

He retorted: "Yes, but here in the park we can sell tickets to people to watch us puke."

"Please don't do that!" I replied.

"What? Puke, or sell tickets?"

"Don't puke. If you're gonna puke, by all means make money off it."

I hasten to add that neither of us did puke, nor, I think, was very close to it. But baijiu does have a nasty way of repeating on you.....

Friday, May 02, 2008

Chinese Weddings


I am still alive. Therefore, I have exceeded my expectations.

However, it is 4pm and I am completely wrecked.

It was lovely - but I'm glad this doesn't happen too often.

HBH 78

The ashen light spreads
The city yawns and stretches
Going home at dawn

I'm going to feel terrible for three or four days, I'm sure..... but it was worth it: that Chelsea v. Liverpool semi-final was one of the greatest games of football I've seen in years.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The curse of 'three'

Last night, just as I was struggling to renounce my 'Plan' and settle back into an unambitious and untroubled asexualism, I suffered a particularly strange and taunting experience: quite by chance, I ran into all three of my would-be romantic 'targets' out on the town - all within the space of 20 minutes! Of course, circumstances were not conducive to me actually talking to any of them (surrounded by a sea of guys; mounting bicycle to go home; surrounded by a sea of guys, and about to go home). God is messin' with me!

Well, three is a magic number, of course. (Damn - why doesn't YouTube have that great Adidas ad from a few years back with all the football tricks??)

Bad magic, in my case.