Monday, June 30, 2008

My boys done good!

I too - like so many others - had been sceptical, dismissive about their chances before the tournament. But after the demolition of Russia in their opening game, I was a convert; and I've been rooting for them ever since.

Spain are one of those countries that always seems to have had a wealth of fantastic players, but their team has somehow always lacked the temperament to perform on the big occasions. It's great to see them finally overcome that. It's great to see a new country establishing itself as a credible contender for the top honours (breaking the tiresomely predictable monopoly of Germany and Italy; France have only ever reached that pinnacle intermittently, and now appear to have fallen some way back; Portugal have never quite got there; neither, really, have Holland, despite having had consistently fabulous teams for nearly 40 years; the Czechs and the Croatians have come close in their time, but.....; and England - let's not even mention England!). This is a very impressive, and quite young side; I hope we'll see a lot more great football from them over the next few years. Jia you, Xibanya!

It's been a great tournament. But trying to watch football with a 7 or 8 hour time difference is just killing. Thank god that's all over....... until the next World Cup.

The EURO 2008 comment thread is still open for business, if you have any final observations.

Not quite Rock'n'Roll

One of the bands at Room 101 the other night included a pipa player - that's a traditional Chinese instrument (above), rather like a lute.

An intriguing novelty! I'm afraid I don't think it really worked as a rock'n'roll instrument. There was one number with a brief but ravishing pipa solo for the introduction (redolent of the Central Asian Islamic music you get from Xinjiang and the western provinces of China; also somewhat reminiscent of a Spaghetti Western soundtrack - there is quite an affinity between Xinjiang music and flamenco, a crossover that is much exploited by Ekber Ebliz, the fabulous guitarist with Panjir), but the rest of the time it was just strumming away anonymously on rhythm, and pretty much inaudible over the other instruments.

Still, you have to admire the willingness to attempt something new. And the musician playing it was very cute.

I've seen a couple of Chinese rock bands using the zither-like guzheng (below), and that can work really well (it perhaps has a stronger 'personality', can assert itself more effectively than the pipa amid electric guitars). I like to see an infusion of local musical traditions into rock music sometimes. It doesn't happen enough - even the best of Chinese rock at the moment tends to be very, very derivative.

Bon mot of the week

"Anybody can be a non-drunk. It takes a special talent to be a drunk. It takes endurance. Endurance is more important than truth."

(Henry Chinaski - writer and drunk, played by Mickey Rourke in Barfly; based on the novels of Charles Bukowski)

By the way, the
unattributed witticism that I posted as my Weekly Bon Mot at the start of this month was another film quotation, a line from endearing sleazeball Tommy Basilio (Steve Buscemi) in Trees Lounge - one of the great films about bars, written and directed by Buscemi.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Marjorie Daw

The weather being again too miserably damp and rainy, and the air too heavy with pollution, for me to contemplate straying far from home last night, I dropped in mid-evening at my old stand-by, Room 101.

They were having a hastily put-together mini-rock festival, with 6 or 7 small local bands that I'd never heard of before playing 20 minutes or so each in quick succession. No door fee, so I thought I might as well give it a try. How bad could it be? (Actually, it ended up being pretty good. I'd just missed the first band, but the next four were surprisingly decent. Only the last two sucked - and by then, around midnight, after the excitement I shall now relate, I was about ready to go home anyway.)

Crazy Chris - who, in his short time in our capital, has become an even more notorious bar prop than me - is pretty much a fixture at 101 these days, so I'd been hoping I might run into him there. I had forgotten what a music snob he is: the level of musicianship we can offer here in Beijing is, apparently, beneath his contempt. Thus, he felt driven into exile from 101 last night, and was skulking around the corner in the Pool Bar instead.

Since there was no-one I knew in 101 (only a small crowd of Chinese rock fans), and I had no great confidence myself in the likely quality of the music to come, I entered into a series of text-message exchanges with Chris to try to divine if there was a livelier, more tempting scene at the PB.

Well, what I initially sent to him was the query:

"Any hot chicks at the PB tonight?"

"Man, it's full of hot women tonight." he answered.

Such a phenomenon is not unknown at the PB, but..... well, what with the weather being so lousy and all, I was a little sceptical. And I'm not sure that I trust Chris's taste. So I decided to seek clarification. "Tall, single, non-Chinese, non-psychotic? Any tall, thirty-ish, American redheads??" I fired back (I know what I like!).

"One 36-year-old, but not natural red," he teased concisely.

I have a big, big weakness for redheads (even if it's out of a bottle), but I was still trying to maintain my reserve and dignity. "They've got Creedence on the sound system during the changeover between bands. I'm a happy man here. You've got a tough sell on your hands!"

But the thing was, I was tormented by the thought that maybe, just maybe it was Target A, the focus of my ill-starred 'Plan', the woman who'd made my heart go flip-flip when I'd glimpsed her across a crowded bar months ago, the woman whose image haunts me still, The One. So I queried further, "She's not a schoolteacher by any chance, is she?" I believe The One is a schoolteacher.

"Yes, she is. How did you know?"

"Talk me up. Get her e-mail. Get a photo! (I bet Y [one of the Chinese 'invariables'] has a camera-phone.) Where does she teach?" I replied, immediately rather too obviously interested.

"All girls Catholic school," came the reply.

I was immediately deflated. I wasn't quite sure which school The One teaches at, or indeed if she really is a teacher; but I was pretty sure that there's no single-sex Catholic school in Beijing yet. And this did sound a little too much like one of Crazy Chris's own perverse erotic fantasies. "A tourist?? Disappointing! I was starting to think she was The One......" I commented.

"No, she lives in Beijing," he taunted me further.

This did not compute. I really was pretty damn sure there was no Catholic School in Beijing. But maybe it was very small, or very new. Or maybe Chris had just been confused on that point, or was making a joke.

I think he may have volunteered one or two more pieces of information. I fired off one or two more queries. (I wasn't able to preserve the entire correspondence on my phone, and my memory fails me now, after all the drinks that ensued.) I didn't think this could be The One. But then again, how could I be sure? If she were, then I couldn't afford to pass up the opportunity. Then again, if it were her, after all these months of anticipation and frustration, I'd be scared witless at the prospect of actually talking to her at last. Then again, perhaps this could be a new romantic interest for me. Tall, reddish hair (dyed, what the hell?), a teacher, the right kind of age - it sounded very promising. Very, very promising. Almost too good to be true.

I needed time to weigh my options and get my courage up. And I really didn't want to miss any of the bands, who were turning out to be surprisingly good. So I kept up the regular text exchanges with Chris, to try to make sure that he wouldn't leave, to try to make sure that she wouldn't leave until I got there. (We'd begun this nonsense around 10, and I was anticipating moving to the PB at midnight.)

"I'm talking you up! She sounds interested," Chris goaded me.

I confided some of my misgivings to Chris (only some of them, not really the most pressing ones): "The Catholic School thing bothers me. The fact that she's talking to you so much bothers me. The fact that I seem to be using you to chat her up bothers me!!!"

Then, at last, it suddenly occurred to me that I had a simple means of divining if she might indeed be The One. I had first seen her back in February at a gig in Room 101, so I asked: "Has she ever been to 101? Important question!"

"No," came the brisk and dispiriting response from my collaborator.

"Ah, then it's not The One," I sighed, digitally.

But heck, she might be playing coy about it (did she suspect who I was??). Or Chris might be yanking my chain. And, as I had mused just a few moments earlier, she sounded like the kind of person I ought to be interested in meeting anyway. So, I was still pondering heading over there to say hi. But the next band came on just then, and they were pretty good too. And I was getting in a bit of a funk about introducing myself to a potentially very wonderful woman - who'd been 'warmed up' for me by Crazy Chris!

I procrastinated a little longer about whether to quit 101. By this stage, I was feeling under some obligation to keep up my side of the conversation - or to help Chris keep up his side of it (I tried not to think too much about what he might have been telling this lady about the strange friend he kept exchanging text messages with!). However, I was starting to run short of inspiration: "Presumably she's a Catholic? Um, what does she drink? What's her favourite TV show? Have you tried her on the Live Underwear Challenge yet??"

Chris informed me that she was not a Catholic. I breathed a large sigh of relief - I don't feel comfortable with people who are too serious about their religion, and Catholics (well, Catholic schoolteachers, anyway) tend to be. He said he hadn't initiated her into his signature bar conversation, "If you absolutely had to wear underwear made out of creatures that were still alive, what animal would you choose?" I breathed a second, even larger sigh of relief.

The shit band came on. I decided I'd really better bite the bullet, summon up my courage (and my humour, charm, conversational inventiveness), and go and meet this woman.

It was at this point that Chris sent me the message:
"Sorry, man, I was just fucking with you."

"About what? The Catholic School? The red hair?"

"The whole thing. No hot women in here tonight. No women at all. It's all just Chinese dudes."

Dammit, Chris, you suckered me good. Well done.

It passed an evening, I suppose; an evening that at times threatened to be quite dull (his more so than mine, I suspect).

Does anybody get the title reference? You can find the answer here.

Friday, June 27, 2008

An unwelcome sign of the times(?)

I was shocked to discover last night at my favourite Muslim restaurant that they are now charging 4 kuai a bottle for Yanjing beer.

I go in there mostly for the food rather than extended drinking, so I've rarely had more than one or two bottles at a time; and I tend not to pay too much attention to the bill. However, I am pretty sure that, until not too long ago, it was only 3 kuai a bottle.

And even 3 kuai a bottle is, frankly, a little steep. OK, the place has a good location on a trendy shopping street, and directly over the road from the MAO Livehouse music club, but still - it is a very basic hole-in-the-wall dive, the kind of place that doesn't usually presume to charge more than 2 kuai a bottle.

I worry that this may be an early warning sign of the rabid price-gouging we can expect here this summer. Bloody Olympics!!

HBH 86

Beer, friends, and music,
The world of work forgotten,
Drumming on tables.

That's why we like Jianghu so.

A particular pleasure last night was the revelatory accordion recital at the end. For the past year or so, the very beautiful Chinese accordionist, Zoe Wang, has been fairly regularly playing alongside my guitarist friends, Dan and Nico, in their French jazz concerts. However, while she adds a nice extra dimension of Frenchness to the sound, she is usually very much just accompanying the boys: very simple, very muted, leaving all the pyrotechnics to them, rarely doing anything to support the rumour that she is in fact one of the most accomplished accordion-players in China. Last night, for the first time in my experience, we prevailed on her to do a few solo numbers at the end of the evening. And it was just exquisite, spellbinding. Damn, that girl can play!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Night To Remember?

I am exhausted, after a long day of teaching and writing.


With the abbreviated work schedule I am suffering/enjoying at the moment, I find I have nothing more to do until next Tuesday afternoon.

I am going to do my damnedest to stay up all night to watch tonight's semi-final clash between Spain and Russia (which appears to have the potential to be one of the great football matches of all time). After last night's debacle of botched coverage by CCTV5, I suppose that obliges me to head off into the unlovely environs of the Sanlitun bar district to try and find a bar that has English-language coverage of the game on satellite (my favoured 'local', Room 101, has started showing the games, but only on the benighted domestic terrestrial channel, which I loathe, loathe, loathe). Huxley's new joint, Tun, may be a possibility - although I suspect they only have CCTV5 there. The Sunset Grill (where I did catch quite a few English Premiership matches on satellite earlier in the season) would have been a tempting alternative, but I gather that it is closed down at the moment, after some bother with the police (Only temporary, I hope! Surely the sun cannot have set already on Beijing's diviest bar, before I got around to writing about it on here?). I fear that leaves only Rickshaw or The Den, probably my two least favourite of any of the bars that I will actually deign to set foot in at all. Oh well, it's for the football.

Tonight is also a farewell session for my laidback musical friends, the fine guitar-playing duo, Dan and Nico. Like so many others of Beijing's expat population, they have wearied of the outrageous price-gouging that is going on with visa renewals and have decided to quit the country for the summer months. They'll be off at the weekend (kicking off their break with a 'tour' of Vietnam - I am so tempted to go with them.....), so tonight will be their last performance for 2 or 3 months at Jianghu. And I haven't been to Jianghu, my beloved Jianghu, for quite a while now. I've had a Thursday evening work commitment for the past 3 months that has been sapping my energy and my general will-to-live, so haven't often felt up to a night out afterwards; and if I've had to be at work early on a Friday as well, as until recently I usually have, then late, mellow (drunk, stoned) nights with the guitar boys have, alas, definitely been out of the question (when they're really enjoying themselves, they've been known to carry on playing until well after 2am, and sometimes to carry on drinking until 3am or 4am!).

That should be an ideal warm-up for the footie later.

And I suppose I ought to get in some food somewhere as well. Perhaps a quick bite at The Muslim on the way to the gig......

Beer Football

Yesterday, I happened upon this rather amusing feature from The Guardian's beer correspondent, Ben McFarland, in which he recreated the fixtures of the current EURO 2008 Football Championships using representative beers from each of the competing countries.

The results show that beer (or, I should say, a nation's beer-making excellence) is an even worse predictor of football performance than my esteemed comrade, The Swordsman.

Still, it was a lot of fun, and quite educational - and it left me with a torturing thirst. Check it out.

CCTV5, by the way, just got even more shit. I was, for once, winning my battle against the soporific magic of The Man-Eating Sofa..... but effing CCTV5 managed to lose the picture feed (twice, or was it thrice?), blacking out a good three-quarters of the 2nd half of last night's semi-final between Turkey and Germany.

They managed to miss all of the goals.

They managed to make the blackouts even longer by allowing their studio pundits to wrap up whatever they were saying - often rather long-windedly - before restoring the picture onscreen.

And when they did finally get the picture back for good - some time after the final whistle - they didn't show any highlights of the game, or even the goals. (They had managed to show replays of 2 of the 3 goals they'd missed during the brief periods when they were managing to provide live coverage, but Germany's second strike is still unknown to me.)

Ah yes, and I'd missed the first half anyway - because my alarm clock had failed to go off.

A pity, because it looks as if the Turks really made quite a fight of it. I will have to try to catch today's daytime re-rerun (although CCTV5 being the bunch of assclowns that they are, they've probably moved it to a completely different time, just for today).

For tonight's semi (and Sunday's final) I think I'm going to have to try and find somewhere that has a reliable satellite link to show the game with English-language commentary (and continuous display of score and time elapsed, and sensible use of replays, and coherent half-time/end-of-game highlights, and no blackouts....).

And don't forget to leave your comments on my Euro Football Championships thread (now running at over 50 contributions).

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Where two obsessions meet

Euro Semi-Final tonight - but only Germany v Turkey, the less inspiring of the two fixtures. Tomorrow I'm aiming stay up all night to catch the game LIVE, with much alcohol on board...... Tonight, well, I might just possibly turn in early and set my alarm for the 2.45am kick-off; but more probably I'll make do with the lunchtime re-run tomorrow (of course, if it goes to extra time and penalties, that would make me late for work in the afternoon - bummer!).

Only 5 more days of this MADNESS left. I will survive. I will survive.

Please note that the football discussion thread just goes on and on. Feel free to join in.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Mildly pleased with myself

The European Football Championships move into their climactic phase this week. Only three more middle-of-the-night ordeals to put myself through. I can make, I can make it.

For the past couple of weeks I have been playing the football pundit (in the comment thread to an early post about my frequently thwarted attempts to watch the games here in China), sparring with a couple of my old University drinking buddies, The British Cowboy and The Swordsman, about the prospects of the various national teams involved.

My friends rashly backed Portugal and Holland as their picks to take the title. I favoured Spain and Germany as the finalists (and I'd like to see Spain win it, I think they can win it, I'm prepared to bet that they will win it - although I have my anxieties that the relentless Teutonic efficiency we've seen so many times before may grind them down). So, yes, I am now feeling vindicated, and more than a little chuffed with the success of my predictions so far. (OK, I am disappointed that my 'dark horse' tip, Croatia, came unstuck against the Turks - but, really, they were monstrously unlucky. And no crystal-ball-gazer can claim 100% accuracy.)

Do please go and check out the thread, and add your own comments before the semi-finals and final.

Bon mot for the week

"Men will always be judged on the amount of alcohol they can consume. And women will always be impressed, whether they like it or not."

Douglas Coughlin (veteran barman - played by Bryan Brown in 'Cocktail')

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A plan of a different kind

No, not that Plan. That Plan is in tatters, ruined, abandoned. The headturning woman who was at the centre of it, with whom I was so smitten a few months ago, has quite disappeared: no new sightings in the past seven weeks or so. (Moreover, she is - I believe - a teacher at one of the international schools. And schoolteachers like to make the most of their long summer vacations by getting the hell out of the city the very instant that their term ends. Hence, I surmise that I am unlikely to have a chance to see her again for another two months. Damn! There's slow progress and then there's NO PROGRESS. This would be the latter.)

No, no, this is just an ordinary, innocent, run-of-the-mill 'What shall we do on Saturday night?' kind of plan.

Well, not perhaps all that "innocent".

My thoughts are tending in the following direction:

6pm Hit my 'local', Room 101, for an affordable pint or two of Stella on their happy hour.

7pm Taxi over to Nurenjie for a bite of supper. Several good eateries to choose from, but I tend to favour BiteAPitta because it has decent draught beer.

8pm Check out the nearby Afro Arena - a new contender for the accolade of our city's diviest bar. It is quite alarmingly basic, but I felt it nevertheless had a certain sleazy charm when I happened upon it for the first time a month or so back. It also has bottled Guinness for 20 kuai a pop, the best deal in town.

9pm Move on to 2 Kolegas for the second day of Tag Team Records' annual 'indie' festival: 6 or 7 decent bands, 4 hrs or more of music; hard to resist.

2pm Return to Room 101 for their wee-small-hours happy hour (now 3am-4am) and - with luck - a live screening of tonight's quarter-final clash between Holland and Russia in the European Football Championship.

5pm, 6pm (god, I hope it doesn't go to extra time and penalties again.....) Stagger home to bed.

It's not a very sophisticated plan, I know; but I think there is a virtue in simplicity. Wish me luck in bringing it to realisation. Damn...... going to be LATE for Step 1 - not a good start!!

Bluto - the most "unsuitable" of all 'Role Models'

John "Bluto" Blutarsky - the late, great John Belushi's signature role in National Lampoon's Animal House, definitely one of the funniest films ever made.

I first learned of it through Barry Norman's late-night BBC film preview programme - I suppose in the late '70s, when it first came out. It never came to my smalltown cinema, and I would have been too young to appreciate it then anyway. One moment lodged in my adolescent brain: the bit near the end where a young boy is sneaking a look at Playboy in his bedroom when a curvaceous bunny-girl is improbably catapulted through the window on to the bed beside him, and he looks up to the ceiling and cries, "Thank you, God!"

I didn't get to see the film until I went up to Oxford some years later. It was one of the first of the then regular series of Monday evening video screenings at the Union Society in my opening term. Yep, I had been at University only a week or two when I encountered this life-changing vision of how much fun my student days could be. Well, I think I would have figured it out for myself anyway, but this was certainly an inspiring - corrupting? - example. I often say that I have never looked forward since that day......

And at the centre of all the high-spirited (and mostly alcohol-fuelled) mayhem is, of course, Bluto - the ultimate 'animal' in the determinedly disreputable "Animal House" fraternity. However gross he is ("That boy is a P-I-G, pig."), it's impossible not to love him: he has such a fierce loyalty to his friends, such an admirable intolerance of bullshit, such an irrepressible joie de vivre.

Which is your favourite Belushi moment in this wonderful, wonderful film? Is it the dying fly dance from the end of 'Shout!', smashing the hippy romeo's guitar, chugging the bottle of Jack Daniel's, or "My advice to you is to start drinking heavily!"? It's all there on YouTube. Well, nearly all of it - I couldn't find the cafeteria sequence, alas.

However, I think this is surely Bluto's finest hour - his rousing 'battle speech' before the film's climax.

God, I love this film!

Friday, June 20, 2008


Flamboyant bottle

Sober Bottle

Drunk Bottle

Some mementos of my pilgrimage to the Yanjing Brewery last month.

The one at the top - Golden Rose Beer - is, despite its laughably lurid packaging (blue bottle and purple & gold labelling?!), absolutely bloody delicious: the best beer I've tasted in China. Alas, it is a rarely seen novelty brand.

And yes, I know, the table on my balcony is disgusting. That's Beijing's air for you of late: if you don't clean for a week or two, everything gets coated in a few millimetres of silt. Yugh!

HBH 85

The lost art of getting high.
A beer and a shot!

Yep, I salved my wounded feelings the other day by indulging in a few tequilas. It sure did the trick! Probably the first time I've been drunk in a couple of months - I needed it.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Recommended Posts, January-March 2008

Guided Tour - recommended posts from the 1st quarter of '08

1) Blue Swirl - 4th January

A favourite abstract photograph, and some thoughts on the pros and cons (mostly cons) of digital photography.

2) Irresolutions - 6th January

I review my sorry romantic history and ponder my current 'prospects' (in a poem!).

3) A worrying sign? - 11th January

I confess to my partiality to a particular brand of baijiu.

4) Possible Band Names - a game you can all play - 12th January

The birth of what quickly became my most commented upon post. I hope it will run and run

5) More sage advice - 14th January

Sometimes I come up with my weekly bon mot myself.

6) A warning unheeded - 17th January

I discover an amusing Victorian notice, whose stern moral strictures seem strangely apposite to my recent libidinous encounter with
a quartet of NFL cheerleaders.

Chet Baker becomes the latest of my Unsuitable Role Models. I post a fantastic montage of photographs of the great man from YouTube, accompanied by a performance of Let's Get Lost.

8) Carnival time again! - 19th January

A brief tribute to the smallest but best of the New Orleans carnival season parades, the Krewe du Vieux (in which I have participated three times in the past, and am well overdue another visit to) - includes a YouTube video of the previous year's event.

9) Great Love Songs (2) - 20th January

A lovely song, Gypsy, given a great performance by Suzanne Vega. This is one that has especially strong personal resonances for me

10) A bon mot especially for me! - 21st January

My old friend Snopes comes up with some advice which seems sadly pertinent to my becalmed 'love life'.

11) A dating haiku (HBH 64) - 25th January

This pithy little poem (on why some expat women here have such a hard time finding a boyfriend) serves as a useful summary/index page for my famous (infamous?) series of posts on Dating in Beijing.

12) Vodka on the cornflakes - 25th January

My delightful blog-pal
Moonrat puts me on to the latest intriguing culinary experiments from New York.

13) Heavy Metal hero - 27th January

A fan-boy tribute to mainstay of the Beijing music scene, Jaime Welton, and his latest band, the 'Monsters of Rock' tribute outfit, Bad Mamasan.

14) A dating bon mot - 28th January

A great, great line from
Moonrat's boss, eccentric sage, Robert the Publisher.

15) Bu yao Tsingtao! - 30th January

I kick off my campaign (probably doomed - but you gotta try, dontcha?) to try to eradicate the awful Tsingtao beer from the city's bars, and get it replaced with the much nicer local product, Yanjing

16) Another you-know-who haiku (HBH 65) - 1st February

I reach the point of (just about) giving up on my doomed infatuation with Madame X. As Fate would have it, later the very same day I fall for someone else...... Dangerous stuff, this poetry.

17) The Grapevine - 4th February

By happy chance, I hear about an 'undercover', invitation-only music event in Beijing over the coming weekend - perhaps the greatest music event of the year here: an intimate 'workshop' with blues harmonica legend
Charlie Musselwhite.

18) Party conversation fragments - 10th February

A long night of boozing produces an unusually varied collection of great lines.

19) The Super Bowl - a great sporting event, a great party excuse - 12th February

Observations on my (unexpected) fondness for American football, and on (far more predictable) fondness for daytime drinking. Also, an anecdote about the most excessive Super Bowl 'party' I've ever indulged in.

20) HBH 67 - 15th February

'Bah, humbug!' at the odious Valentine's Day.

21) Ultimate Chopstick Challenge - 17th February

A game you all can play. A very, very silly game.

22) HBH 68 - 22nd February

A haiku about the novelty of drinking ice-cold shots of vodka out of glasses carved from ice. (Photographic proof appended.)

23) In search of 'value' (I) - 29th February

I notice a worrying pattern to my nights out of late....

24) All a man needs?? - 4th March

An amusing poster I photographed outside a bar in Harbin recently prompts some brooding on the scarcity of decent bars in China.

25) Another competition for you - 4th March

I offer another list of suggestions for the Possible Band Names Competition. The further challenge here is to identify the film quotation source for each of them.

26) Anxious times at The Pool Bar - 13th March

I contemplate the promised replacement of the pool table at my beloved 'local' with some trepidation (unwelcome disruption of my mojo just when I've started playing well again!).

27) The Plan - 14th March

A statement of intent about my newfound determination to do something about my moribund love life (later elaborated here).

28) The elements of a pretty decent St Patrick's night - 18th March

Rather to my surprise, I have a good night out on St Paddy's after all - entirely thanks to Luke and the Pool Bar.

29) Great txt msgs of the world - 22nd March

The Plan miscarries horribly, but at least my torture produces some rueful humour.

30) Nasty - 23rd March

An idyllic Easter Sunday is rather marred by another bizarrely crass example of Bad Service In China. Warning: Not for the squeamish.

31) A delayed St Patrick's Day treat (Great Drinking Songs [4]) - 24th March

My planned St Patrick's Day music special is a week late, because of the blocking of YouTube in China for a couple of weeks following the Tibetan riots earlier in the month. Better late than never - I offer a selection of versions of classic drinking song The Wild Rover, the best of which, I think, is a very old one by The Clancy Brothers

32) Another moment of cognitive dissonance - 27th March

I am shocked to discover a picture on the Internet which seems to suggest that Moe's Tavern (home-away-from-home for Homer Simpson and Barney Gumbel) has a pool table.

33) HBH 73 - 28th March

A bitter haiku on my recent romantic disillusionment improbably prompts some research into Web-based 'name generator' toys - and hence we discover my Porn Star Name, my Mafioso Name, my Luchador Name, and more. Another game you all can play.

34) Another three women - 30th March

Just when I had almost given up on women for good, Fate pulls more playful little tricks on me....

The way of all flesh (on a stick)

It would appear that the leading contender for a new "Kebab Queen", as determined by the exhaustive researches of our Great Chuanr Crawl a few weeks back, has closed already.

Such is the relentless, unforgiving pace of change in this city.

Bummer. It looks like we're going to have to start all over again from scratch.

This week's bon mot

"The feelings of desperation and unhappiness are more useful to an artist than the feeling of contentment, because desperation and unhappiness stretch your whole sensibility."

Francis Bacon

(Anyone know if this is the 20th Century Irish painter or the 16th Century English essayist? I'm inclining toward the former. Crappy bloody Internet quotation collections!)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Cruel Fate sniggers again

Through a friend of a friend, I was recently offered a job teaching English to this girl. I have no idea who she is, but I am assured she is "moderately famous" in China (and probably immoderately rich), part of a sexy MandoPop trio. And, yes, she is, clearly, smoking hot.

I turned the gig down, of course. Well, actually, someone else got in ahead of me. But I was going to turn it down, honestly.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Great Love Songs (7)

We're overdue another of my love song picks, and I've had it in mind for a while to post this one - There She Goes by The La's. I don't think I ever heard - or even heard of - the band. My Wikipedia researches reveal that they've now spent a couple of decades failing to keep a stable line-up, cut a record, or keep a major label deal - some really determined avoiding of fame and success going on here, very admirable!

I first heard this song in the mid-90s (several years after its first release, I think) at my favourite sleazy arthouse cinema - the famous Prince Charles, just off Leicester Square in London. While I was a law student, I was heading down there whenever I had a free afternoon - usually at least once or twice a week - and for a quite while this song was a regular on the playlist there. Hence, the song became inexorably linked in my mind with my great love affair (and breakup) of that period - with a ferociously smart Australian graduate student who has subsequently become known as The Evil One.

Anyway, here's the song. 2 mins 30 secs of pop perfection.

Friday, June 13, 2008

A recommendation

Yesterday, I put up a post on Froogville sharing my recent discovery of BoozeMovies, a Blogspot tribute site dedicated to 'Soused Cinema'.

I tend to talk about films mostly over there on the big brother site (and to recommend other websites there too, on the rare occasions that I do recommend any), but I suppose I ought to give it a shout on here too - since the theme of the blog does seem to be so much in keeping with the worldview of our own dear Barstool.

Go and take a look.

HBH 84

Deep with the first drunks
We lie. After the first beer,
There is no other.

No prizes for spotting the reference.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

More pre-Olympic "Harmonization"??

A favourite local bar, Room 101, was closed yesterday. Suddenly, unexpectedly, shockingly.

Since it is one of the few bars in the city to be officially open 24/7, this was probably the first time its doors had been shut since it started up 9 months or so ago.

Not quite sure what the problem was. One has to suspect some sort of petty harassment from the local coppers. Killjoy bastards - there's more and more of this happening as the Olympics draw closer.

The Barman tells me they're back in business today, though I haven't had a chance to stop by in person to reassure myself.

That was a nasty moment back there......

Spurn of the Moment

It occurs to me that this might well become the title for a whole series of posts on thwarted job prospects, neglectful friends, romantic rejections, etc.

A rather lovely American friend, recently returned from a holiday, was hanging out in my neighbourhood yesterday afternoon and evening - and we had been intermittently batting text messages to and fro about possibly meeting up in the Pool Bar later (she's not exactly a 'regular' there, but quite a frequent 'occasional').

There were vexing lapses in the communication from her side. I'd let her know early evening that I was attending a speaker meeting in the Bookworm, but would probably be heading back to the Pool Bar around 9, or a little later, and begged her to let me know if/when she'd be looking in there.

It wasn't until 2 or 3 hours later that she let me know she'd been there since opening time! But, she added, she was now quitting to go off and get dinner with a friend.

I complained that she was TAUNTING me rather too cruelly! I asked her to let me know if she'd be looking in again for a nightcap afterwards.

Again, a long silence. (By this time, post-speaker meeting, I had been ambushed by some male buddies in Sanlitun, and was happily getting toasted with them - but I was only a 10-minute cab ride away, if the lovely American should happen to drop me a line.) Then, around 11pm, I got another message from her - letting me know that she had indeed gone back to the Pool Bar after dinner, but was now finishing up her last drink.

"Major taunting!" I cried.

"Spur of the moment decision," she apologised.

"More like SPURN OF THE MOMENT," I whinged.

Once more, the story of my life in txt msgs.........


The famous Man-Eating Sofa is in unstoppable form just at the moment. It wiped me out in my dismal attempt to watch the Portugal v Czech Republic game last night as well.

Actually, last night's football-viewing was even more than usually ill-starred for me. I began watching the game in a bar at midnight. Both sides began fairly cagily, and it didn't look like there was going to be any early flurry of excitement, so I slipped off to get a cab home. In the 10 or 15 minutes it took to get back to my apartment, the game had, of course, exploded, and two goals had been scored. It would appear that I probably missed Portugal's opener just moments after I quit the bar (and the Czechs' equaliser just a few minutes before I fired up my TV set at home).

I thought I was then sufficiently excited - and pissed off - to stay awake for the further action, but....... NO, the Man-Eating Sofa had its way with me within minutes.

I woke up just in time for the final whistle. For once, Chinese television showed extended highlights of the entire game almost immediately after it had finished. At least, I thought, I can see the goals now. Well, no: the highlights were so extended that it seemed to take forever to cover the first 7 or 8 minutes I'd seen in the bar...... and I got drowsy again. I did at least catch Ronaldo's opener this time; but then dozed off for a moment, coming around in the middle of an ad break. I couldn't believe I'd been out for very long, assumed that CCTV was showing ads at 'half-time' in the highlights roundup. I dozed off again. I woke up to find the highlights back on. The Czechs had the ball. I pinched myself to keep conscious and attentive for the conclusion of the game. It took me several, sleep-impaired moments to realise that this was now highlights of the weekend's Swiss v Czechs encounter. Bugger!

I seem doomed not to be able to watch any of this tournament - at least, not LIVE. (I did at least manage to catch the 2nd half of Sweden v Turkey on an afternoon re-run yesterday, after I got back from a jog round the lakes.)

A final twist of the knife:
The Portugal v Czech Republic game was shown again in its entirety on CCTV5 at lunchtime today. Blundering upon it by chance, I found that I had - once again - missed the first two goals. Even more gallingly, I judged that I had only just missed them, and was still fairly early on in the otherwise uneventful first half. (Amongst the most annoying features of CCTV5's coverage - yes, worse even than the braying laughter of the commentators, the largely impenetrable Sinicization of all the players' names, and the almost total absence of timely replays of key moments of action during the game - is that they do not display a game clock. Bastards!) This was especially annoying because I had to go out to work before 2pm, and thus seemed certain to miss the 2nd half of the game yet again. Even more gallingly, I discovered that I had been mistaken: we were in fact in the midst of the 2nd half..... and I missed Portugal's 2nd goal while I was taking a shower..... and had to head out of the door just before their 3rd.

Really - Someone Up There is taking the piss........

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Man-Eating Sofa 2, Euro Football 0

Well, that's twice in succession that I've sat down to try and enjoy the first game of the day (a midnight kick-off for us here in China) in the Euro 2008 football championship..... and zonked out before half-time.

I'm still mighty weary, it would seem. Will I ever recover my vim and vigour??

Monday, June 09, 2008

Band Names winners for May

Well, the ever reliable Gary was our only entry this last month - although I guess I'll try to keep the competition 'open' for a while longer, since at least two people have told me they're "working on" substantial entries.

We did also hear from Chad again, suggesting a new possible spin-off game of creating possible band member names. I particularly liked his Rene St. Semaine on lead guitar. (Think about it.)

Gary's selection was as rich and varied as ever, and it's hard to pick an outright winner. Go and take a look yourselves, and let me know what your favourite would have been.

Runecaster, Ill Wind, Night Stalker, and Morituri are all great names for metal bands (I suspect some of them are.....). And the contorted punnery of Mouse Arrest, Rhino Neil, and Rumpled Milk Skin is hard to resist. I think that the Bionic Beach Bums and the Flying Blue Monkeys are probably the most plausible band name suggestions in this batch, but..... well, for some reason, I really like the relatively mundane Uncle Funk. If there isn't yet a band with that name out there, there ought to be - and SOON.

Best Foreign Band Name prize this time must go to Also Sprach Zarathustra.

And our Best Cover Band is Jumpin' Back Slash, a Rolling Stones tribute band composed of IT nerds. Brilliant!

Please - keep your suggestions coming. Try to give the awesome Gary a bit of competition.

Bon mot of the week (Wisecrack of the week?)

"You're a weak man."

"Yeah. That's why I drink it straight. The ice cubes are too heavy for me."

A great line from one of the great films about bars. Who can name it?

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Great Drinking Songs (7)

And another Unsuitable Role Model, too - we haven't had one for a while! Ah, Dino.... He could sing, he could act, he could dance, he could do comedy, he could pull the girls...... and he could do it all while drunk. Well, in truth, I rather think he was just very good at acting drunk on stage, which is something rarely pulled off well. I don't doubt that he was a pretty dedicated drinker offstage, but I like to think that he had it well under control. His public persona always seemed admirably unruffled and serene, and nicely self-mocking, too. And he dressed so damn sharp!

I grew up on all those crazy comedies he made with Jerry Lewis back in the '50s, and then a little later developed a great weakness for the Matt Helm series of spy spoofs in the late '60s (I hasten to point out that this is when they appeared on British TV in the '70s and the '80s!): he was cooler than Bond, funnier than Flint, and he had more and better eye-candy than either of them. Happy memories!

Anyway, here's the great man in later life (1983, I believe) performing his 'theme song', Little Ole Wine Drinker Me. I believe that was one of the many classic middle-of-the-road singles in my parents' record collection, with which I spent many, many happy hours as a small child - I wonder how that may have influenced my subsequent development?? [Alas, that video got pulled from YouTube; but here's Dino's original recording, accompanied by a montage of stills from his many drinking moments in the movies.]

Better late than never....

By happy chance, I just happened to switch on my TV early this afternoon as a re-run of this year's Champions' League Final was starting on Beijing Television's sports channel.

I had been planning to stay up all night to watch it live with fellow footie fan The Chairman, but.... rather as David Niven once memorably said of Errol Flynn, "You always know exactly where you stand with The Chairman..... because he always lets you down."

Yep, the swine baled on me at the last minute, claiming tiredness, work pressures, blah-blah-blah.

I made a heroic effort to stay out on my own until the kick-off (2.45am for us here in China), but - having started foolishly early with some gal pals in The Bookworm - I was wilting badly by 1am. A Chinese guy in the Pool Bar was confident the game was going to be shown live on the national sports channel CCTV-5, so I thought that, rather than taking a chance on one of the bars in my neighbourhood being able to work out which the right satellite channel was for English-language coverage (this has become more and more complicated of late, and even would-be 'sports bars' like The Rickshaw have been struggling mightily to find the game amid the hundreds and hundreds of obscurely labelled channels at their disposal; my favoured local haunt, Room 101, has repeatedly proven to be a complete disaster at this!), I would endure the Chinese commentary in the comfort of my own home.

Alas, when I got home, I found that the game was not on Chinese TV after all. However, I did get sucked into watching Rafael Nadal playing tennis for an hour or two instead (it turned out, I think, to be a random montage of his recent semi-final defeats; Chinese sports coverage is often unfathomably weird in this way); so, I ended up staying up most of the night, feeling completely wrecked the next day, and not seeing the game.

And, needless to say, despite my best efforts, I did not survive very far into the subsequent day before mischievous sports fans had leaked various crucial elements of the story to me (Brits of my generation will of course remember a classic episode of '70s sitcom Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads where the two sports-mad drinking chum protagonists spend an anguished day attempting to avoid hearing the result of an England international game so that they'll be able to enjoy it 'as live' on TV later that night - many of us have been in similar situations over the years, and it is quite impossible).

I did catch the game in its entirety a day or two later in the Pool Bar, but it was on rather late, and I wasn't giving it my full attention (far too much else going on in PB at 2am on a Friday night/Saturday morning!!). I'm glad I finally got to watch it properly today, even though it was without the keen thrill of uncertainty that makes a live match so riveting.

And now, of course, we have the European Championship tournament about to get under way - another 3 weeks of middle-of-the-night football!! God help me!! Since England aren't involved this time, I'll probably be rooting for Croatia or the Czech Republic....... and saving the all-nighters for a handful of crucial games. Most of the time, I think, daytime re-runs will be fine. Well, that's my plan anyway..........

Friday, June 06, 2008

New 'Picks of the Month' - the story of my love life

I forgot to revise my 'Pick of the Month' suggestions last month, but now at last here are a couple of fresh ones.

From the archives of Froogville I nominate The people I fall for, a thumbnail history of two decades or more (god, perhaps nearer to three!) of consistent romantic ineptitude.

From the Barstool, my new pick is this complementary post on Why I don't have a girlfriend - one of my most commented upon offerings to date.

I hope the little recommendation in the sidebar may draw a few new readers to these posts, and perhaps even generate some further comments. I need all the help I can get on this!

HBH 83

Oasis at last!
Cannonball flop into joy!
A four-day weekend.

It takes just a little of the shine off it to discover that Monday is to be a national holiday here in China (the government is this year reallocating some of the former 'Golden Week' May Day holiday to other more traditional Chinese holidays - on this occasion, it's the Dragon Boat Festival..... well, actually that's Sunday, but close enough), but it's still a very welcome cessation of hostilities after the both-ends-of-the-candle burning riot of the past two months.

I got off work at 8pm last night, and I don't have another damn thing to do until Tuesday afternoon. Woo-hoo!!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The weekend starts here.....

For the first time in, oh, 7 or 8 weeks probably, tomorrow I have a completely free day during the week.

I have no work next Monday either.

And much-buzzed (therefore, probably, by my lights, CRAP... but we shall see) new TexMex-themed bar, Saddle Cantina, is instituting a half-price drinks all night regime every fifth of the month - their Cinco de Drinko. What day is it today? Yes, that's right.

I shall be heading over there straight after work this evening. You may not hear from me again for a while......

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The amazing, invisible That's Beijing Bar Awards

I have just spent 10 or 15 minutes looking around That's Beijing's utterly dire and damn nigh unnavigable website, and have entirely failed to find a link for the online voting form for this year's Bar & Club awards.

If you do follow this link to the form, you won't find any information on how long the poll is open - but I fear it is not very much longer. Perhaps the end of this week??

And I wouldn't have any great confidence that your vote is actually going to be counted. I tried to vote last week, but never received the promised e-mail confirmation (which has to be replied to, before your vote will be counted). So, it looks like a bit of a SNAFU all around.

There aren't really too many categories of any interest to me. They seem to have abandoned the 'Best Barman' award (as being too contentious??), which leaves the 'Hidden Gems' as the only real area for enjoyable debate...... although, of course, we'd rather our hidden gems remained hidden, thank you very much. We don't want the hoipolloi descending on Reef and Whatever and..... whatever......

However, do please go and try to uphold the principles of free democracy by voting for something. And, if you can't, bombard That's with complaining e-mails!

Of course, my own Bar Awards are far more entertaining and insightful (at least for me) because only I get to vote in them! Democracy is perhaps an over-rated concept.

Closing date for voting is supposed to be Monday 10th June (it's right at the very end of Page 6 of the online voting form, rather than at the beginning - or anywhere on the That's website!). Since that is a holiday in China, in practice the closing date was probably Friday 7th June.

I still haven't got any of the promised (necessary) e-mail confirmations that my online votes went through OK, so I have to figure they didn't (none of the THREE attempts).

The link from the magazine's website to the (apparently non-functioning) online polling site was, I belatedly discovered, "hidden" in a banner at the very top of the page (where one tends not to look), which changed appearance so quickly that it was easy to miss the fleeting reference to 'Bar & Club Awards' (this line was on screen for less than a third of the time that the irritatingly animated 'Click here to vote' was!
"Vote on WHAT? I didn't catch that!"). I had ignored it altogether on several visits to the site over the past couple of weeks. There was no link in the article (which, bizarrely, I found - only via a Google search - on the old website,, which I understood to have been completely discontinued long since; it's not possible to navigate from this article to any other page on that site, so it might be the only page still active....) about the awards - no link at all. Crazy.

Who is designing the website for these guys? It's just
AWFUL!!! AWFUL!!!!!!!

And did anyone see a ballot form in this month's or last month's edition of the magazine? Nope, me neither - and I did try several copies.

I've always suspected that these 'awards' are decided by the editorial staff over a few drinks (and, indeed, very probably decided by which bar owner offers them more free drinks); but this year there is simply no alternative. It has been, it would seem, just about impossible for anyone to cast any genuine votes, so.......

Kolegas birthday gig photos

For once, I was daring enough to take a camera out to a gig with me, so I can share a few images with you from Saturday's stupendous 3rd birthday bash for Beijing's coolest rock venue, 2 Kolegas.

The openers were a derivative but very competent band called (I think) Nuclear - who've I've seen play a few times before on Kolegas' regular Ningxia nights (that's the same westerly province the excellent folk-rockers Buyi hail from).

The second band were even better, although I didn't catch their name, or get around to taking any pictures.

Third up were the sensational Ziyo - another blistering performance from the lovely Helen (although she was a bit too intent on twiddling the knobs on her new keyboard early on).

During their encore I was able to take several shots from right beside the stage, having spotted these guys exploiting this unexpected vantage point.

It was all a little bit too much for one young fan.
(It is amazing how late the Chinese will keep their kids out!)

Then we got angsty dole-meisters, RE-TROS (that's RE-inventing The Rights Of Statues, apparently). I still have somewhat mixed feelings about them, but they play with a lot of commitment, and they are interestingly weird, if not exactly fun. These guys weren't easy to photograph, since they look at each other the whole time rather than at the audience. And I wasn't quite excited enough by them to push my way down to the front.
And then..... oh my god, we had SUBS. I don't think I've ever seen them share a bill with Ziyo before, and I imagine there must be a fair bit of rivalry between them, since they are very similar in style, and both rely heavily on the energy and charisma of their spunky female vocalists. SUBS' Kang Mao more than rose to the challenge on this night: she's always a fair old powerhouse of hyper-kinetic rage but she'd really turned the dial up to '11' this time and absolutely tore the place apart. Breathtaking!!
But men can scream too, you know: Wu Hao gets pretty intense at times as well.

Of course, it may just have been that watching most of the set through my camera lens gave me a more-intense-than-usual concentration on Kang Mao's performance. Or it might have been that I was right down the front - practically on the stage, in fact - braving for once the mosh-pit madness that invariably breaks out at SUBS' shows. Or perhaps it was the lustful reverie inspired by that stripey dress, an inevitable reminder of Parallel Lines-era Debbie Harry (one of the great crushes of my childhood - and, surely, also of just about every straight male in the Western world who came to adolescence in the late 70s or early 80s!!). Maybe that's why I found this set so thoroughly awesome - but no, I really do rather think this was about the best damn show I've ever seen from them.

I was almost totally deaf by the end of it, of course, having been standing far too close to the speaker stack; it took nearly 24 hours before the roaring tinnitus subsided, and I rather fear I may have inflicted some permanent hearing loss on myself. Was it all worth it? Hell, yes!

The very fine Buyi were also slated to appear, and there were rumours of perhaps one or two other bands going on as well. However, since all the bands had played fairly full sets, and the changeovers hadn't been all that brisk, and we hadn't got under way at all (after one of the longest and most annoying sound-checks in history by the boys from Nuclear) until 10pm or so..... well, it must have been well after 2am when SUBS came off stage. I was exhausted. I was drunk. I was deaf. And I was feeling guilty about the presentation I had foolhardily agreed to deliver that morning. So, it was 'Pumpkin Time' for me, alas. I imagine that, as in the previous two years, the revelries at Kolegas continued until nearly dawn. My stamina is not what it once was......

Monday, June 02, 2008

Wisdom of The Choirboy

One of our lovely lady friends is back in town for a while, having managed to land a writing grant to fund an extended holiday for herself.

She is living up to the 'aspiring writer' image by carrying a Moleskin notebook with her everywhere she goes and regularly jotting down observations or snatches of her companions' conversation. This does rather crank up the pressure on us to be continuously witty and insightful in our utterances.

Yesterday afternoon, she turned to The Choirboy and commented, "You said something really good the other day. What was it now? [Consults notebook] Oh yes, here it is. You said: 'Nationalism is like the measles - mainly an infantile disease.' That's brilliant."

The Choirboy modestly responded: "I cannot tell a lie. I think it was Einstein that actually said that. I was just quoting him. The way I probably would have put it myself is, 'Nationalism is GAY!'"

(Please forgive my dear friend his occasional moments of un-PC-ness. He is a very kind and tolerant person, and means no disrespect to our brothers and sisters of the homosexual persuasion. But he is addicted to the use of the word 'gay' as a term of general, good-natured derogation. I have tried to discourage him, but it's a deeply ingrained habit. It's an Irish thing, apparently.)

Traffic Report - blog stats for May

Last month, there were 55 posts and just over 14,000 words on Froogville.

On the Barstool, there were 41 posts and nearly 12,500 words.

Amazing that I managed to keep up such a prolific output in a month when I had so much else on! I really must try harder to slow down.....

A particularly busy month on the Barstool; curious that in terms of sheer verbiage, it was running its big brother Froogville very, very close this time. There were in fact one or two spells of a few days where I didn't manage to post at all, and I only kept up my recent monthly average on my 'main' blog through the ongoing silliness of the 'Daily Llama' series (which is a pretty easy thing to post, after all).

We also celebrated, of course, Froogville's 1,000th (and 1,001st, and....) post, while the Barstool cruised past the 666 mark and notched up it's 10,000th visitor (at least, according to Sitemeter).

Other notable news was that the great Possible Band Names competition finally limped past its 100th comment (I fear I may have to close it down soon, since it appears that only the indefatigable Gary is still playing....).

And my geographical breakdown from Statcounter informs me that I've been visited recently by readers in Tokyo, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and...... Tehran! Who are all these people????