Thursday, July 31, 2008

Another way to get yourself arrested next month

Try improvising satirical ditties about the Olympics, and singing them lustily as you stagger home through the hutongs at midnight.

My first effort (to the tune of Pink Floyd's 'We Don't Need No Education', of course):

We don't need no 'Green' Olympics
We don't need no smog control
No short-term measures from Zhongnanhai
Hey, Leaders! Leave our Jing alone!

All in all, it's all just become such a bore

A riddle

What do SARS and the Olympics have in common?

Answer: They're both disastrous for my 'love life'.

80% of the foreigners leave town. And that 80%, unfortunately, seems to encompass 100% of the women that I fancy.

In 2003, I had spent 2 or 3 months vainly pursuing a strikingly pretty young Englishwoman who showed no sign of reciprocating my interest whatsoever (sound familiar?). I only finally admitted defeat when she fled the city in the early summer. Soon after, I found unexpected consolation in a very nice drunken smooch with a charming American I'd just met; it was a major bummer to discover that she was booked on a plane out a week later.

I quipped at the time that of all the strange catastrophes that have thwarted my romantic designs over the years, this was the first time that all the women I liked had simultaneously left town because of an impending epidemic. (Ah, but then I started getting 'previous life' flashbacks about that time in Minsk in the 1850s when I was just about to get it on with Shirley MacLaine - and the cholera struck!)

This Olympic summer has taken on a similarly deserted feel. Of my present 'Targets', A and B left some time ago, and C is leaving soon. I had recently added a Target D - but she got airborne about an hour ago.

Two more classic text messages

Around 7pm last night the Bengali quizzed me by SMS as to where I was.

I replied, self-mockingly: "I'm in Room 101. With my girlfriend, Stella."

That would be Ms Artois, of course, a full-figured blonde Belgian lass.

I think he missed the reference, at first. Then he ribbed me for starting so early in the evening.

My justification: "The hour of happiness is upon us."

(The latter is one I've had saved in my phone for a while now. I used to use it as a Friday night call-to-arms for Crazy Chris.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Taking a month off!

I have no more work until....... well, after the dratted Olympics, probably.

Not quite true: I am wrapping up the final class of the only teaching I have on at the moment tomorrow, I have one or two meetings about possibly fixing up something similar for later in the year, there are some loose ends on a teacher recruitment project to be dealt with, I have a long-ish but fairly straightforward writing task to polish off by the end of next week, there are a few outstanding fees to be chased up, and - doubtless - many, many e-mails to write on this and that. But this is all fairly low-grade, undemanding stuff compared to what I've been putting myself through over the last 3 or 4 months.

Today was the last day on which I had any significant work scheduled - this month, or for the foreseeable future.

It also just happens to be 5kuai shots night in my reliable local, Room 101. "Why, good evening, Mr Beam. It's so nice to make your acquaintance again."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Xiangqi revisited, rediscovered

For the uninitiated, Xiangqi is Chinese chess.

It's basically similar to the chess we know in the West, but with a few fascinating little kinks, the most appealing of which being that it is played on a slightly bigger board, but with fewer pawns, and the pawns can't take diagonally to bolster each other; in fact, there are great gaps between them, so you can get your big pieces rolling into the action right from the get-go, rather than faffing around for ages building up defensive pawn positions. It's a much more direct and vigorous game than Western chess, and it's usually over much, much more quickly.

It's also far more social than Western chess. You see people playing in public everywhere in this country, in parks and squares and just squatting on the sidewalk. And almost always the players will attract a knot of intent onlookers, who will point and mutter and jeer and make occasional interjections of unsolicited advice.

And no-one seems to have heard of that if-you've-touched-it-you've-got-to-move-it bollocks.

All in all, I just find it much more fun than regular chess.

It was quite an obsession of mine when I first came here. I played every chance I could get, and even took to carrying a small set around with me in my coat pocket during the long cold winter we suffered that year, so that I could always challenge my dining or drinking companions of the evening. And I never missed a chance to take 5 or 10 minutes out to watch a street game. As I have recounted before, it was Chen Feng, the young chef at the restaurant where I hung out nightly during my impoverished first year in Beijing, who really taught me how to play the game. Alas, as migrant workers like him tend to do, after a few months he went back home "to get married". There were a few friends and teaching colleagues who were also eager to try to learn the game in that first year, so I had other regular opponents too - but, as tends to happen in Beijing, they all left. I soon found myself without anyone to play against, and my interest in the game was relegated to the back burner.

Until last night........

The goofily amiable young barman at my habitual early evening (and sometimes late evening) hangout, Room 101, generally gives the impression of being one of the least sharp tools in the box, and his bartending skills leave almost everything to be desired, but...... damn, he knows his way around a xiangqi board pretty well.

Of course, I whinge that I am rusty at the game. And I am convinced that he got a double move in on me at one point. And I did blunder away a crucial piece through not realising which point his piece was on (we were playing with a tiny set, with a ruckled plastic mat for a board, and pieces were easily displaced so as to lodge ambiguously between two points - in Chinese chess, you play on the intersections of the lines rather than on the squares themselves).

Nevertheless, he did me good and proper. It was a very elegant end-game, painfully relentless.

I'm relieved I managed to hold my own for so long. But I really must learn how to mobilise my pieces more effectively (I had two chariots - rooks - on the same file for almost the whole game, and did nothing with them!).

I can see this becoming a regular ritual, at least on the quieter nights (of which they have many). But I think I need to get him a bigger chess set........

IPD - the mystery of love explained (maybe)

It could be the secret that Mankind has been searching for all these years - the ultimate key to understanding physical attraction.

I know this guy, The Younger Dr P (junior sibling of my oldest friend, The Egregious Dr P), an eye specialist, who has hatched this theory that the most important component of attractiveness (at least in women.... at least in women that he fancies) is the IPD. That's the Inter-Pupillary Distance, the space between the centre of your left eye and the centre of your right.

Now, of course, we all know that proportion is a crucial element of aesthetics. So, I had initially supposed that the good doctor's theory would be based on identifying an ideal ratio between the IPD and the width of the face, or the width of the eye, or the height of the forehead (or some complex and subtle combination of these measurements, and perhaps others too).

"No!" he corrected me, with a 'mad scientist' gleam in his eye. "It's a constant."

He has a figure in mind, a precise number of millimetres between the centres of the pupils that corresponds to perfect pulchritude. I think he told me what it was once, but I can't now recall. It's probably just as well: such potent knowledge should be kept from the general public - or we'd all be going around with calipers in our pockets, ready to size up potential dates on the basis of exactly how far apart their eyes were.

I confess, I am more than a little sceptical of the doctor's conclusion. I suspect that he has merely found that there is a consistent IPD to which he is attracted; and that this just happens to conform to a certain size of woman and size of face that he is also attracted to, so the proportionality is also perfect. I have fancied women of many different shapes, heights, and head sizes, and I'm sure some of them would have looked, well, funny, if they'd all had the exact same IPD.

Furthermore, I doubt if this can be an objective truth. If there is value in the 'constant IPD' theory of attractiveness, I think it must be in recognising that there is an ideal IPD for each of us (perhaps the same as our own? or do we like girls whose eyes are slightly closer together than ours?), rather than that there's a single standard for the whole of humanity.

It's an intriguing notion, though, eh?

And I can find some consolation in it: Madame X's eyes, alas, are set just a little wider apart than I really care for (although I think it's a matter of proportion, rather than absolute distance). I must try to focus on this fact. Despite managing (almost) to go cold turkey on her since the start of the year, I find that 6 months on I have still not quite shaken off my unfortunate fixation. Sigh.

Monday, July 28, 2008

This week's bon mot

"Alcohol is like love: the first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that, you just take the girl's clothes off."

Raymond Chandler (1888-1959)

[Well, in fact, I think Marlowe says it in The Long Goodbye.]

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Great Love Songs (8)

This is the closing song from Fairground Attraction's 'First Of A Million Kisses' album, Hallelujah, sung by the lovely Eddi Reader. This is a live performance taped for Australian TV in a nightclub in Sydney. (It's terrifying to reflect that this album came out nearly 20 years ago: I am uncomfortably reminded of my advancing senility.)

Friday, July 25, 2008

"Fun" or "No Fun"?

I've been having a bit of a joust with fellow bar-blogger Jim Boyce (well, our blogs really have very little in common: he's mostly ploddingly earnest, reporting openings, closures, and special events on the bar & restaurant scene with much thoroughness, whereas I..... well, I'm just amusing myself.....) over his recent post criticising the foreign media for a spate of stories about "The 'No Fun' Olympics".

I see where he's coming from. He feels these media stories have been exaggerating the impact of measures taken against certain bars and restaurants. He interprets that 'No Fun' banner as suggesting that it will be impossible to have any fun at the Olympics next month. He counters by pointing out that only a relatively small number of entertainment venues have had to close, and suggests that visitors are going to be far less bothered by that than us whingeing resident expats. He also reminds us how many other wonderful things there are to do in Beijing. And he ventures that there are "legitimate security concerns" behind some of the venue closures. So, yeah, pretty much the full Xinhua propaganda package.

His take on the 'No Fun' headline is bollocks - this slogan doesn't suggest that all fun will be impossible, it simply highlights the fact that the government here is taking steps to try to stop people (especially Westerners) having fun.

His representation of the range of 'anti-fun' measures goes to the opposite extreme from the media stories he complains of, and he is guilty of some radical understatement and inaccuracy.

That "legitimate security concerns" line is, I think, arrant nonsense. (One of the things that disturbs me most about some of these measures being taken is that it suggests that the authorities here haven't got a clue about how to ensure real security during the Games, and are just running around madly trying to look busy.)

Worst of all, I am irritated by his complete failure to consider the political motivations underlying these measures. I'm afraid I just found this post glib and facetious - and I told him so. It was also (though probably inadvertently) a riot of arse-kissing Communist Party propaganda.

To my mind, this is not a story to be made light of. (And quite probably, much of the media coverage which Boyce was mocking has itself been far too glib and facetious about this.) If even one bar or restaurant or concert gets closed down supposedly on the grounds of Olympic security concerns, it is too many.

In fact, I think we're well above a dozen now, and it may rise further. Of course, yes, it is just a drop in the ocean of Beijing's diverse nightlife scene - but it's the principle of the thing. It is appalling that this kind of thing is happening. And it would, I'm quite sure, be far worse, if the IOC weren't exercising some restraining influence.

And it really has nothing to do with security. I favour the slogan 'The Mafan Olympics'.

HBH 90 (The Chairman's Mojo - it's all in the tactics)

Six straight victories,
Young challengers confounded:
Chairman finds his form!

It still wasn't quite his best. It didn't quite develop into one of the infamous 'Chairmanizings' of the past, where he spanks all comers for the entire evening. He blundered away a fairly straightforward chance on the black to continue his winning run and face me again (I had surrendered far too easily the first time round!). But the guy who took him was very, very good. And The Chairman had seen off 5 other very decent players between me and him. I think the Chairman's mojo is finally on the way back. His form has been woeful for a while now (though, even when he's playing badly, he's still not easy to beat!), but last night's performance, I think, signalled a turning-point.

I had been trying to get the other most formidable laowai player I know, New Dad, to come out as well, but, alas, he was leaving on a short break from the city. He bestowed on The Chairman a new pool-playing nickname, sending us the text message: "Give my best to Tony the Tactician."

"Well, New Dad doesn't need tactics because his potting's so darned good," sighed His Chairmanliness ruefully.

It was a good line, so I passed it on to His New Dadness. "Tony doesn't need potting because his tactics are so good," he responded even more ruefully.

Actually, when he's fully mojo-ed up, The Chairman has both elements to his game (as does New Dad, come to that). But The Chairman's tactics can be really evil......... And they so often look accidental, which makes it even worse to be on the receiving end of.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

My latest PARTY idea

My favourite music bar, 2 Kolegas, has started stocking 'Tibet' beer.

An exciting novelty. Alas, I have to report that it is not a particularly nice drink. The label describes it as a 'Green Barley Beer' - to my mind, 'green' is not a colour that should ever be used in connection with a beer (I don't even like it as a colour for beer bottles; brown or black - or even blue - is much better). As my friend Ben observed, the flavour is uncomfortably suggestive of lu cha (highly sweetened green tea, a favourite cold soft drink out here). Perhaps that perception was misleadingly implanted in our minds by that dratted word 'green' on the label. Or perhaps it just really does taste...... er, not quite as a beer should.

But, you know, anything makes a pleasant change from bloody Tsingtao. And I rather like the idea of buying a few cases of this stuff for my next party - and just giving it away. I think that will make a very enticing slogan for the flyer, don't you?

I think you know what I'm saying........

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bon Voyage

So, farewell then, Crazy Chris.

He was only in China for 9 or 10 months (and only 'on the scene', or on my patch, for 7 or 8 months - having taken a while to start finding his way around), but he left a deep impression. The MP3 playlists at Room 101 and the Pool Bar are enormously improved through his input. And the Live Underwear conversation will inevitably live long in the memory of anyone who was exposed to it.

And yet, entertaining as he could sometimes be, I am not exactly bereft at his departure. He was around just a little too much for comfort: I found it was becoming slightly oppressive, the realisation that it was next to impossible to go to 101 or the Pool Bar without him being there (or, on those rare occasions when he wasn't, without immediately being asked if I knew where he was). Yes, dammit, he had usurped my position as the most loyal customer, the most permanent bar fixture in these places - and I was just a tad resentful of the fact. I'm now rather looking forward to being unchallenged in the position of Customer No. 1 once again (although I fear I'm going to have to endure at least 2 or 3 months of "Where's Chris?").

This is one of the drawbacks of any intimate relationship: the loss of autonomy, the erosion of self, becoming defined primarily as part of a joint entity. For most of this year - in the eyes of most of my bar comrades - I've no longer been just Froog but a part of the Chris & Froog double-act.

Now..... I am reborn. It's a little lonely and disorienting, but I think I'm going to enjoy it.....

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Today I was late for work.

Rather badly late.

This is only the the third or fourth time I have overslept like this in China, and the first for quite a few years. The first time ever, I think, that I have inconvenienced my recording studio employers (and my recording partner, Dishy Debs) in this way.

Considering my wild lifestyle, I suppose one might expect it to be a more regular hazard; but in fact, I am a good early riser. Indeed, I am somewhat plagued by the compulsion to leap out of bed at 7am, no matter how late and drunk I may have retired the night before. The tiredness tends to ambush me later in the day - 4pm: instant coma.

On Monday night, I went to bed before 1am (a fact I wasn't quite confident of, but was able to verify by checking the receipt from my taxi ride home). I slept like a log until 10am. I was supposed to have been in the studio by 9.30am. Worrying.

Then again, I had suffered a minor insomniac episode the night before, and got hardly any sleep at all. And I had gone to bed at 2am or 3am on each of the previous four or five nights (and got up again before 8am each day!). I suppose it catches up with you.

This week, I think, I must treat myself to a few 'early nights'.

Monday, July 21, 2008

This week's bon mot

"When the storm within gets too loud, I take a glass too much - to stun myself."

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A new 'game' for everyone - please contribute

Earlier this week I started a new thread, inviting readers to share with me their favourite misheard song lyrics. I know, such things are easily overlooked amid the morass of other stuff I've posted, so I thought I would highlight it again.

My friend The British Cowboy refers me to a website called KissThisGuy, which specialises in recording amusingly misheard lyrics. So..... you can go there to find some inspiration, if you like; but really, I'd far rather you shared your own experiences with me.

However, I thought this might help to get your ideas kick-started (cross-posted from Froogville) - a brilliant analysis of the lyrics to Christina Aguilera's "Ain't No Other Man" (thanks to my blog-buddy 'Tolstoy' for finding this gem!), created by Annie Varner.

Annie (I think I'm in love!) has another similarly wonderful video here - a song apparently called "Silver and Cold" (should that be "Silver and Gold"??) by a band called AFI. This one includes such delights as "O my pitiful wombat" (presumably for "O my beautiful woman"), and "I'll beg her for Guinness" (I was, of course, reminded at once of my bar buddy, The Bookseller).


Don't feel you have to top this. But do please share your own favourite Misheard Lyrics with me here.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bat-shit crazy???

My buddy, The British Cowboy, is having a barbecue this weekend. His rib sauce is the talk of Alexandria, Va. At RibFest '07, the police were summoned to restore serenity to the neighbourhood, but meekly beat a retreat when they discovered the place was full of lawyers (although The Cowboy public-spiritedly offered to discontinue the Johnny Cash element of the entertainment).

This year's event will doubtless be a fine affair too.

I responded to his E-Vite by saying that I might just up sticks and come along on a last-minute impulse if I suddenly went bat-shit crazy and couldn't stand to stay in Beijing one second longer. Well......

It's been a mighty close call. Today has again dawned bleak and drizzly. Yet again. And I was to have been earning US$100 or so for about an hour's recording work this afternoon, but it just got cancelled (apparently the client belatedly decided they'd prefer an American - there's no accounting for taste!).

So, yes, I am deeply, deeply disaffected with The Jing at the moment; and I'd far rather be in Alexandria, Va.; but I fear I've left it too late.

I am already building my plans around RibFest 2009.......

Have a great time, Cowboy!

(Of course, The Cowboy's flyer said 'There Will Be Ribs'...... but I guess 'Here Will Be Ribs' works too. I wanted to clip his name and address off the bottom before posting it, but, for some strange reason, my version of Photoshop has become maddeningly glitchy about what it will and will not let you crop. Another reason for my current state of fume.)

HBH 89

Conversation flows
As merrily as the beer:
Another late night.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Good News/Bad News

The bad news is: The planned evening was a bit of a fizzle.

The good news is: There's always Room 101 on the way home.

The bad news is: My buddy The Barman is having a night off.

The good news is: Wednesday is '5 kuai shots' night.

The bad news is: It's 3 minutes past midnight by the time I get there.

The good news is: The manager is getting a round of shots on the house.

The bad news is: The 'shot of the day' this week is tequila.

The good news is: I actually quite like tequila.

The bad news is: It's tequila!

The good news is: I told you, I like tequila.

The bad news is: I can't remember how many I had......

Strange Nights

It is hard, sometimes, to be a social nexus, a creator of parties, an introducer of strangers, the guy who tries to make things happen. Hard.

Sometimes, you try to set up a stimulating and fun group get-together for 10 or 15 people...... and by the middle of the evening you find yourself utterly ALONE..... bitching over the cost of a bottle of water with the owner of a xiaomaibu next to Yashow market.

Yet, even in the face of such dispiriting mass desertion, we find our moments of consolation: joking with the xiaomaibu guy that his high prices are the fault of the bloody Olympics, viewing the vast foundations of the new Sanlitun Soho development (from the deck at the back of one of the show apartments - I do recommend everyone to try this!), hanging out with the members of one of my favourite bands. Beijing (LIFE?) takes with one hand and gives back with another.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Great Misheard Song Lyrics

I enjoyed another rip-roaring rock'n'roll show from Ziyo last Friday (and, eventually, I managed to find some friends to accompany me: Tennessee Tom and Animator Ben).

One of their catchiest numbers has this very rousing chorus: "Oh, let's burn it down! Oh, let's burn it down!"

Except that....... it does sound uncomfortably like: "All that spunk down...."

Such, I abashedly confess, are the depths of lewdness that the hyper-sexy frontwoman, Helen Feng, inspires in us.

I'm sure my readers have experienced many similar examples of mis-hearing lyrics. This could become another of my great 'audience participation' threads....

Missing a trick (missing a party excuse!)

Yesterday was Bastille Day.

Unfortunately, it was also what - of late - has become my traditional quiet-night-in, recovering-from-the-weekend day.

And most of my French friends seem to have left Beijing. And I didn't hear of any special parties going on to mark the occasion.

Now, I share some of the traditional wariness of the English with regard to the French: they can often be pompous, aloof, arrogant; they can be very antagonistic (or haughtily dismissive) towards the English. But expat life seems to quickly knock off these rougher edges of national chauvinism. We're all in the same boat here in China, so we all learn to get along. Most of the French people I know here are very good fun.

One thing even the most Francophobe Englishman will generally concede is that the French do have the best national anthem in the world - a rousing revolutionary song, with a damn good tune! Our own 'God Save The Queen!' is a plodding dirge in comparison.

La Marseillaise is also one of the best tunes for gargling!! And I've seen this done on British television at least once (can't now remember when or where, though). So, my pretext for this post was going to be a clip of some Frenchmen celebrating their national day with a gargled rendition of their great anthem. Amazingly, I couldn't find a single example of such a thing on YouTube. (Although there is this rather amusing clip of Celine Dion gargling. She's a good sport, Celine!)

So, we'll have to make do with this version, by the great Mireille Mathieu (not sure of the date; the poster on YouTube says it's recent, but it looks more like late 60s to me).

There's also this intriguing oddity: La Marseillaise performed on a Renault R27 Formula 1
race car engine (anyone know who the driver is??).

Ah, and then, of course, there's this classic scene from 'Casablanca', where Laszlo pisses off the Nazis by leading everyone else in the Café Americain in a rousing chorus of La Marseillaise. (I think there's a similar scene in 'La Grande Illusion' - though it's ages since I've seen it. Alas, if there is, I wasn't able to find it. Some other time, perhaps. Maybe next year.)

A belated Happy Bastille Day to any French readers!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bon mot for the week

"Drink! for you know not when you came, nor why:
Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where."

Edward FitzGerald (1809-1883)

I assume this is from The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam, but it's a long time since I read it. Online quotation lists with no proper attributions are the bane of my life just lately.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A stroke of genius

Crazy he may be, but like many "mentally different" people, Crazy Chris is occasionally something of a savant, blessed with moments of insight and creativity denied to most of us, a begetter of ideas that could change the world.

Last night he persuaded the new manager at Room 101 to restore their much-missed midnight 'happy hour' - for five minutes.

It was a great success. Everyone in the place slung down two drinks in quick succession, got a huge buzz on..... and then felt like staying on for a few more as the prices returned to their regular level. The punters are happy. The bar owner is happy. Win-win.

And then it occurred to me...... if they did this every hour, on the hour, the place might be packed all day. We would never leave.

A scary thought. But a beautiful one.

One day, when I have my own bar, I'm going to give this a try.

A narrow escape

I was invited to "brunch" again today.

I remain unconvinced about the concept - why do you need a meal that is neither breakfast nor lunch?? However, I am always glad of an excuse to meet up with friends, and to eat - and perhaps drink - heartily.

Timing is the issue for me. 'Brunch', as I see it, should be more lunch than breakfast, and only a little - if at all - earlier than a regular 'lunch'..... which, on a weekend, particularly on a Sunday, wouldn't be until the early afternoon, right? If we're pushing the breakfasty aspect, we might bring it forward to around noon, but surely no earlier than that?

"What time?" I queried of my inviter.

"10.30," he said.


Now, I am always an early riser, however late I may have stayed out the night before. But I do tend to stay out very late on a Saturday. And I like to be able to recover by having an unhurried potter about for a few hours in the morning...... sometimes, indeed, for the whole day. It is, after all, the one day of the week when this is always possible.

Also, you know that once you've left the house and met up with people...... well, it's all downhill from there: the chances of getting anything done with the day are over. A 10.30am 'brunch' date (requiring a 9.30am departure and an 8.30am rise-and-shine) is just too darned early. Sorry.

I was going to do my damnedest to make it, though, in the interests of sociability, and all. Luckily my inviter had second thoughts about it too.

Maybe next week. Maybe a little later.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Great Drinking Songs (8)

And another Unsuitable Role Model - I've somehow never particularly become a fan of Keef; but it's hard not to admire his cool, his dedicated hedonism, his unashamed ravagedness..... and the enormous respect he inspires in fellow musicians everywhere.

This YouTube video is a great montage of photos of The Great Man and my all-time No. 1 musical hero, Tom Waits, accompanying the song That Feel, which they composed and sang jointly on Tom's fabulous Bone Machine album - a fine singalong affair, slightly maudlin yet rousingly triumphant. [Well, the original video I posted had pictures of the pair of them; but that, of course, got deleted. This replacement just has pictures of Tom.]

Friday, July 11, 2008

Norman No-Mates

So lonely, so lonely, so lonely, so lonely.......

Best buddy, The Chairman, has just reneged on a projected rendezvous for the third successive time this week (all of them originally his suggestion!). Other best bud, The Choirboy, is enjoying a short break in Tokyo. Most of his regular acolytes are also suddenly out of town: Jesse the Film Guy and The Suave Bengali are both holidaying in Thailand for a week or so (quite independently of each other, they insist, purely a weary-minds-think-alike phenomenon). The Man In Black has no 'shore leave' this weekend. Ron Not Ron is likewise a prisoner of his (virtual) uxoriousness. And The Poet has, I gather, like numerous others of my American friends, grown aghast at the hugely inflated 'prices' being asked for visas this summer, and has fled back to the US for a couple of months.

I am all ALONE in the city tonight. The glorious Helen Feng of Ziyo is playing at my favourite divey music bar, 2 Kolegas....... and I have no-one to go with. NO-ONE. Well, that hasn't stopped me in the past. And it won't tonight.

But, in the past, solitary gig-going has usually been my choice; or, if not, I have at least had the consolation that my regular associates are simply choosing to enjoy themselves elsewhere in the city and I thus have the option of joining up with them later.

I am now starting to feel as though I might become The Last Laowai In Beijing........

And all the beer is skank....

As if it's not bad enough that the weather has been absolute SHIT almost continuously for the past two months in Beijing...... all the beer is going off too.

In the space of one 24-hour period this week, I was served undrinkable glasses of draught beer at 4 different bars. OK, the local brews - Yanjing, Beijing, Tsingtao - always have a high rate of 'failure' on draught (particularly at The Bookworm, alas), but places like The Tree (another beneficiary of my 'second chances' policy this year) and Salud are generally much more reliable than most. And even the Stella suddenly went sour - and the gas that was pumping it started reeking of hydrogen sulphide: now, that ain't right!! - at Room 101 the other night.

Is this just unfortunate coincidence, or is there some common factor behind it? Is it perhaps the weather? However, the one positive by-product of the smoggy overcast we've suffered for most of this "summer" is that the temperatures have mostly remained pretty low: no sunlight, no serious heat. And it is surely heat rather than humidity that tends to spoil keg beers during the summer? Or are there other factors at play in this that I don't understand??

I fear it is just further evidence of the ill luck that has been dogging me for months......

Born under a bad sign.......

HBH 88

A needful omen
Searching for lost luck in bars
For 88 weeks

According to Chinese numerology, '88' is the luckiest number. I'm about due a change of luck!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

How not to run a bar (3)

When is a 'Happy Hour' not a 'Happy Hour'?

When it's at f@*%ing Rickshaw, it would seem.

I mentioned briefly in my 'What makes a GREAT bar?' post that 'Happy Hours' in Beijing were generally somewhat unsatisfactory, since many of them prefer a two-for-one model rather than simply giving you drinks half-price. This is unnecessarily cumbersome, and puts (possibly unwelcome) pressure on you to consume another drink. It might just work in a country with a developed service culture, but here in China most of the time you simply can't rely on the staff to accurately record how many drinks you've had. 'Happy Hour' means HALF PRICE, people. Everybody knows that.

Oooh, I feel a rant coming on.

Amongst the things that annoy me about some of the alleged 'Happy Hours' here in Beijing:

Having too many exceptions. And not advertising them!

'Happy Hour' should be across the board. That's not a difficult concept. And bar owners apply similar (HUGE) mark-ups to all their products, so it's not like they'd be losing money on anything by selling it at half-price for a couple of hours. (And even if they were - ever hear of a 'loss leader'??)

If you must have exceptions - on your imported beers or more expensive cocktails - LIST them. Prominently.

Rounding up.

I quite understand not wanting to mess around with piddly 5 mao notes - but, really, is it going to kill you to round down? Isn't the whole ethos of 'Happy Hour' supposed to be that, for once, the customer wins?

Rounding up - to the nearest 5 kuai.

Having to pay 13 kuai rather than 12 for a drink that's usually 25 renders me only very slightly less 'happy'. Having to pay 15 kuai really bursts the bubble!

Not following the almost-universal '50% off' rule at all.

Quite a lot of Beijing bars these days seem to be following a 25% or 30% guideline instead. Penny-pinching sons-of-bitches!!

And not advertising this!

The last time I went to the execrable Paddy O'Shea's, it was quite impossible to divine what the basis of their 'Happy Hour' pricing was. They're not the only offender, by any means. Just the only one I can think of right now.

Not having your 'Happy Hour' at a sensible time.

The vile Paddy O'Shea's is again the most conspicuous offender: it starts its 'Happy Hour' at 3pm, but then ends it at 7pm - just when it ought to be starting. That's apt to make the after-work crowd a lot less 'happy'.

Not advertising your 'Happy Hour' time.

In a well-established bar, it seems, you're often just expected to know.

This annoys me time and time again.

Even my favourite local, Room 101, was guilty of this earlier in the year, when they abruptly discontinued their very popular midnight 'Happy Hour' (and moved forward their night-owl 4am-5am 'Happy Hour' by an hour) without doing anything to advertise the fact.

But, ah yes, the top prize for an irksomely non-happy 'Happy Hour' deal has now been claimed by those reliable foot-shooters over at Rickshaw. I'm sure that until recently, their Stella (usually a fairly reasonable 35 kuai for a half-litre glass) has been only 20 kuai on 'Happy Hour' (annoying rounding-up, but not the end of the world). Maybe 25 kuai (annoyingly non-standard reduction, but we learn to live with it). Today, I was charged 30 kuai. Yes, that's a poxy 5 kuai discount. Really - WHAT IS THE FUCKING POINT?? I would rather pay full price. Honestly.

Just take the Stella off your 'Happy Hour', boys. A 5 kuai discount is just a goddamn irritation.

(I had, of course, sworn off The Rickshaw altogether, after this incident last summer. But this year I have been giving it a second chance, and it has been greatly improved of late, particularly in the service [although I still dislike much of its clientele - far too many of the raucous young Americans we refer to as 'frat boys']. This bonkers pricing policy on the Stella may be just the excuse I need to boycott the place again for another 6 months.)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Great Names for Bars (A new competition)

My (recently inseparable) drinking companion, Crazy Chris, was telling me the other day about a bar he used to frequent: a classic dive, open LATE (perhaps 24 hours?), and home to a regular gaggle of hardcore drinkers. I'm not sure if this favoured watering-hole dated from his university days in Chicago, or his previous teaching stint in Korea, or from somewhere else - but it sounded like very much my kind of place.

The best thing about Chris's recollections of this place, though, was the name. He said he could never remember what the bar was actually called, but that he and his buddies dubbed it The Blackout Bar - because the long, late, and heavy drinking sessions it encouraged tended to tear holes in the memory.

That, I think, really is a great name for a bar. If I ever get a place of my own, this is now a leading contender for what to call it. (Avid readers may recall that I have in the past favoured The Pile O' Sand as a distinctively Beijing name for a bar.)

A little while back, Beijing nightlife cataloguer Jim Boyce suggested a number of bar names on an Olympic theme, the best of which - for a pair of side-by-side drinking dens, of course - was The Parallel Bars.

Since our venerable Possible Band Names game seems to have run out of steam a bit (not that I'm giving up on it just yet, mind you - if you have new suggestions for that thread, please share), I think I should institute a new competition - to find the best name for a bar.

Immediately I can envision 4 major sub-categories: bar names that already exist, and completely novel name suggestions; bar names that have specific relevance for Beijingers, and bar names that might work anywhere in the world. (No sci-fi characters or letters of the alphabet, please!)

Let me have your thoughts.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Yet more text message silliness

I was having a drink the other night with a rather nice young woman who works at one of the Embassies. She mentioned that she was the designated 'duty officer' for the next few days. This means that she gets to carry around a special phone - which must never, ever be muted or turned off - which anguished citizens can contact via a special number (if they can discover what the number is!!), as a sort of emergency helpline service. (Of course, if you find yourself in some dire predicament, you can't expect much help from your Embassy beyond a few soothing platitudes. I have bitter experience of this myself.)

Having learned that my friend was currently the go-to gal for citizens-in-crisis, I couldn't resist firing off a few jokey text messages (to her own phone, not the 'special' helpline one).

"Help! I am a prisoner in a Shanxi brick kiln. And that nasty man has taken my passport away."

("Haha!" she replied.)

"And then the lady from the Embassy laughed at me! You'll be sorry when the story gets into the papers."

Then, over the weekend:
"Day 3 of my captivity. I have now made 7,058 bricks by hand. I have blisters. No sign of a special forces rescue team yet! Is this what we pay our taxes for??"

"You don't pay any taxes, do you?" teased the Embassy gal curtly.

"Oh, so I'm being discriminated against because of my lifestyle choices, am I??"

This one could run and run.......

Bon mot of the week

"Every night is an all-you-can-drink night. It's just that sometimes they don't charge you so much."


Sunday, July 06, 2008

Can the Band Names Game survive??

Well, it seems the answer is 'Yes', if regular winner, Gary, has anything to do with it.

Last month, distracted by the European Football Championship, I hadn't given any thought to the Possible Band Names competition, hadn't dropped in any reminders about it in my day-to-day posts here and on Froogville (as I usually try to do). Hence..... we went through the entire month without any new entries.

That is..... until Gary (now, apparently, decamped to the States because of the all-too-common 'visa issues' we're suffering here in pre-Olympic China) once again chipped in (on the morning of 1st July here in Beijing, but I think we'll give him the benefit of the doubt: he claims it was was still the evening of the 30th where he was writing from).

The cheeky fellow plundered his inspiration this time from phrases my buddy The British Cowboy and I had traded with each other in the course of our discussions of the football (Really! You can find these band name ideas anywhere!!).

I think Johnny Matador (my nickname for the ultimately victorious Spanish team) takes the top prize this time; although I also rather like Big Lad Gomez (strangely, a German rather than a Spanish striker - and not a very good one) and Romulan Benchwarmers.

For a 'Foreign Language' Band Name, Gary suggests Carpe Diem. (Is that the first time we've had Latin?? I think it probably is.)

And for a Cover Band, he gives us The Sax Pistols. (Punk rock given a light jazz makeover?! I fear this is almost certainly happening already, somewhere in this mad and terrible world.)

Saturday, July 05, 2008

More Olympic craziness

"Stop having fun, m'kay? Fun is BAD, m'kay?"

We've known for a while that all the bars and restaurants within the Workers' Stadium complex are going to be closed down for the whole month of August (not just while the Games are on, for the whole month). Remarkably - untypically - progressive and considerate of the authorities, that, giving people a couple of months' notice that their businesses are going to be quite unnecessarily FUCKED. I mean, yeah, sure, the Stadium is one of the Olympic venues - but it would be perfectly possible to control access to the stadium itself without closing down the wider complex; or, at any rate, to only close the place down while an event is actually in progress (I think it's only being used for some of the football matches). And what exactly is such a frigging 'security risk' about an entertainment venue anyway?

Also, of course, there is some uncertainty as to what the "Workers' Stadium area" might be taken to encompass. The Pavilion, a large sports bar just across the street, is obviously running scared - it's plastered with posters imploring its patrons not to do anything that might attract the unfavourable notice of the police. If the ban is extended to venues on the perimeter roads, then we might have to do without The Den as well (no great loss for me, but many will miss it). And Hooters - oh my god!

Live music is also under suspicion as a possible source of "unharmoniousness". A couple of the main venues have been very hesitant about finalizing their programmes for this month, because of concerns about whether live shows might get nixed altogether. And my favourite outdoor venue, The Stone Boat in Ritan Park, has just been shut down with next-to-no-notice - at least for its music shows (I'm not sure if it will be allowed to continue to operate just as a bar). Unspecified 'security concerns' have again been cited. It's that outdoor thing, you see: I mentioned a while back that 2 Kolegas was not being allowed to have any of its music outside on the lawn this year. It would seem that the country's leaders fear that it is but a small step from grooving on down to music under an open sky to marching on Zhongnanhai with torches and pitchforks. (Anybody got a pitchfork they can lend me?)

With this in mind, the latest bright idea of the authorities is to clamp down on roof terraces. All the rooftops on Nanluoguxiang, I'm told, are going to have to close. And that's as of next week! One suspects that if this measure is deemed a 'success', it will quickly be extended city-wide. Currently, this is no great loss, since the city's cloud-seeders seem determined to give us two solid months of rain prior to the Olympics. But during the Olympic month itself, this is just unbelievably fucking STUPID. The numerous rooftop bars are a wonderful place to while away a sunny summer's day, and are one of the city's most attractive features. But the keynote of Beijing's Olympic preparations is not promoting tourism (pained, hollow laughter - what tourism?? That's probably worth a whole other post of its own!), it's about CONTROL, CONTROL, CONTROL.

The police are in a panic about drunken and high-spirited behaviour being highlighted by the world's media in August; so they are looking for any excuse they can to restrict the bar scene - and that is likely to include contriving reasons to close down some bars completely (Maggie's - the city's oldest and most popular expat brothel [I kid you not] - was the first and most high-profile victim; but there will be others, I'm sure). We're also starting to hear rumours (just bar owner paranoia? Let's hope so!) of massively reduced opening hours being imposed soon.

As with so many of this government's inept attempts at micro-management, measures like these are likely to prove severely counter-productive. Let's see: deny people their regular sources of pleasure; leave them walking the streets because there's nowhere else for them to go - yep, that's how we start riots in the rest of the world. Hitting businessmen in the pocket is an inspired addition to the mix that could well serve to politicize the unrest. What we have here is a recipe for revolution.

Well, if they try to mess with my beloved Pool Bar, I'll be taking to the streets!!

Friday, July 04, 2008

Today's drinking excuse

Felicitations to all my American friends!

I am not aware of any special celebrations going on in Beijing tonight, but I'll do my best to dig up something.

HBH 87

Drinking with strangers;
Fleeting friendship sealed with vodka;
Russian at the bar!

I looked in at 101 for 'just the one' after getting off work (a little early!) last night, stayed for the tennis...... and then the big chap in the corner started buying me shots. The latter part of the evening is all a bit of a blur.

The Stoli, I fear, was not all that it should have been. Today, I am suffering - not with a hangover (because I don't get those, remember?), but a fake-alcohol brain injury.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

I'm FREE!!!!!!!

Today, finally, it ends. The torment of evening teaching that I've been putting myself through for the past four-and-a-bit months (for the past three months, in a particularly unrewarding setting: trying to teach a bunch of braindead, uncommunicative, unmotivated software engineers who can barely speak a word of English) will be over after 8pm tonight.

I am soooo HAPPY! (I really must promise myself never to accept a gig like this again. Working in the evenings is just miserable.)

I shall probably celebrate by getting extravagantly drunk immediately afterwards.

For now, I shall pre-celebrate with a little burst of The Soup Dragons.

New 'Pick of the Month' selections

On Froogville, I nominate this 'classic' entry from my 'Where in the world am I?' series - The Curse of the Three Adjectives.

And from the Barstool, I choose Certain Substances, an account of my fond but infrequent relations with cannabis.

Older and obsessively loyal readers, please revisit these. Newer, more dilettante readers, please go and take a look for the first time.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Back in the old routine

The middle of the week has been a bit of a black hole of late - especially since Salud was prohibited from having live music a few months back. Now, thank heavens, their regular Wednesday evening gig is reinstated (although they've moved the 'stage' on to the mezzanine balcony, well away from the window right next to the street where it used to be; and they're very nervous about keeping the front door closed at all times to contain the sound): last night, it was French guitarist, Mathieu.

On the way home, of course, I stopped in at the Pool Bar. Big mistake! Quite a crowd in (farewell session for one of the international school teachers, who account for quite a number of the semi-regulars), and my pool nemesis, New Dad, was there for the first time in some weeks, and somewhere near the top of his game. Rather gallingly, I played like a god at the outset, got well ahead, but then got worn down by his safety game (never get too far ahead!) - nearly, but not quite. My mojo is toying with me.

Quite like old times.....

Traffic Report - blog stats for June

There were 52 posts and around 18,000 words over on Froogville last month.

Here on the Barstool, there were 38 posts and getting on for 11,000 words.

In addition, there were a whopping 57 comments on my EURO 2008 football thread (at least three-quarters of them my own!), with a total of 7,500 words.

If you add in one or two contributions to The BookBook, my various comments on other blogs, and my guest post on Moonrat's EditorialAss last week, I probably wrote nearly 40,000 words last month (and it had felt like a rather sluggish month, because of the depression I'd been suffering! Perhaps depression in fact feeds the urge to write?). What I really need to do is trim that back by at least half..... and devote the other 20,000 words to THE NOVEL (or the short stories, or the travel book, or whatever 'it' is going to be).

We don't seem to have attracted as many exotic new visitors as in recent months (but - hello, India and Pakistan!), with the UK, the US, and the 'unknown' hordes of proxyland providing the bulk of my readers - although The Barstool (perhaps because of that football thread?) did bring in isolated visits from Spain, Germany, and, er, Finland.

What will this month have in store?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

I second that advice

I included a link to this in my post on Bluto a couple of weeks back, but I couldn't resist embedding the clip.

Right now, the great man's 'advice' seems to be our only option for survival. Beijing has become a nightmarish, BladeRunner world of perpetual drizzly twilight, and I fear this is likely to persist for most of the coming month. I think drinking heavily is going to be our only lifeline to sanity.