Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Chinese drinking poem

Mountain Drinking Song

To drown the ancient sorrows,
we drank a hundred jugs of wine
there in the beauty of the night.
We couldn't go to bed with the moon so bright.

Then finally the wine overcame us
and we lay down on the empty mountainside -
the earth for a pillow,
and a blanket made of heaven.

Li Bai (701-762)

The wonderful world of Chinglish

I just posted this little item on Froogville about Tsingtao beer's special Olympic website,

It's worth giving a shout on here as well, I think, since, well, beer is one of my major topics over here on the Barstool. And also Chinglish.

You see, despite the fact that Tsingtao is now an international company (strategic partnership with that other great producer of gassy horse piss, Budweiser, so I believe), with millions, perhaps billions of dollars in annual revenue, and is increasingly seeking to sell its products all around the world.... for this major Olympics-related online promotional effort it has spent not one cent on having a native English speaker (or even a competent non-native speaker) polish the copy on the "English-language version" of the website. The English is just horrendous; but amusingly so - it's worth spending a minute or two looking around the site, for the cheap belly-laughs it will afford. (Correction: There is actually some decent English on the site [although occasionally prone to a certain floridness of style: check out the 'History of the Olympics' section!], although it's a struggle to get to it since the titles and menus are so bad. And my jibe that the company had spent "not one cent" on native-speaker polishing may in fact be true: I know one of the guys that contributed to this, and I gather he hasn't been paid yet!)

The banner that greets you when you first click on 'English' is the comprehension-defying:
"Chinese never have condensation like this time."


Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Zen Drinker

At the start of this week, I quipped morosely that I only made enough money "to stay drunk".

It was, of course, just a throw-away line, a neat aphorism; it was not intended to be taken seriously. However, one of my 'drinking companions' pitched in, in a rather moralising vein, seeming to imply that this statement was further evidence of my alcoholism or 'drinking problem', along with my famous imperviousness to hangovers. (Initially I misidentified who this commenter was, supposing that this was a pot-on-kettle attack by an associate of mine who really does have a drinking problem.) Since I write about drinking so much on here (and since I am an unashamed fan of - occasionally - drinking to excess), it is only to be expected that I will attract such attacks once in a while. It's not the first, and I don't suppose it will be the last.

It prompted me to mount a defence of my drinking. I feel it had a lot of good points in it, so rather than leave it languishing in the obscurity of the 'comments', I thought I'd reprint it here.


I was kidding about the "staying drunk" thing. I meant I have enough money to get drunk-ish whenever I feel like it..... which is a few times a week (and can cost as little as a couple of bucks each time). Hence, the fact that I spend a lot of time in bars or restaurants does not mean that I enjoy any very significant level of financial security out here. That was my point.

My "no hangover" thing isn't really about "staying drunk"; it's about mental attitude and pain threshold.... as I think I've discussed on here before. After an occasional very heavy night out I might feel just a little fucked up; but I've been really fucked up in my life, so I know it ain't all that bad: I just shrug it off, ignore it.

I am a "serious" drinker in a different way than is commonly intended by the use of the term. I'm almost 'Zen' about my drinking. I recognise that it is an important part of my life, and I genuinely enjoy it - in, I think, a very pure and non-destructive sort of way. I enjoy the places it takes me to, both geographically and in my headspace; I enjoy the people I meet through it; I enjoy the conversations we have, and the ideas it helps to birth.

I don't drink to hide from realities or inadequacies, I don't drink to try and drown my demons, I don't drink out of self-doubt or self-loathing. I'm a "serious drinker", not a "problem drinker". There are very few of us around.

Of course, it's a fine line between the two, and I may cross over it one day.... but I don't think so. I have an 'exploratory' personality, not an 'addictive' one. It's the difference between riding a rollercoaster and driving your car over the edge of a cliff. A lot of drinkers have that 'crash & burn' impulse in them; I don't.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Highlights of my Olympics

As a balance or contrast to my recent Boyce-bashing, "Olympics? Bah, humbug!" post, I will now record just how much fun I had over these past few weeks.

The Elements of a Fun Olympics:

My Top 8 Moments of the Beijing Games

1) Watching the Opening Ceremony in Room 101.

2) Wading through ankle-deep torrents of water with The Choirboy during a stupendous downpour as we made our way to the judo venue on the USTB campus.

3) Watching the Lin Dan v. Chen Jin men's badminton semi-final with a gaggle of Chinese guys on the sidewalk opposite the US Embassy.

4) Watching the climax of the China v. USA Women's Volleyball match next to the chuanr stall by 2 Kolegas.

5) Watching a bunch of little Chinese kids ecstatically playing in the fountains on the Olympic Green.

6) Watching Usain Bolt's storming 100m victory on the little TV behind the bar at the Pool Bar.

7) Watching the thrillingly close final of the Men's Volleyball..... in the comfort of my own living room, with some chips'n'dip.

8) Watching the Closing Ceremony in Room 101.

Yes, that was about it. And alongside these moments of joy, there were many, many moments of extreme suckiness too: the absolutely undrinkable pint of Tiger I was served at Bar Blu, taking hours to get back home from the Olympic venues, CCTV failing to broadcast the bronze medal match in the Men's Football at all, the Holland House's outrageous decision to show hockey rather than athletics on the final night, the Goose & Duck cutting the athletics coverage just before the final two events, the local fans' tiresome devotion to basketball to the exclusion of almost all else.

No, not really a great Olympics experience, overall.

HBH 95

Changed - but charm lingers.
An old friend revisited.
Jianghu once again.

I've been neglecting this cosy little courtyard bar for the past couple of months, so it was great to have an excuse to look in again last night. Alas, there's no music on at the moment, and the place was pretty much deserted (although saxophone god Li Tieqiao did drop in to hang with a few of his muso buddies); but it's still a very mellow place to while away a few hours.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Not so much FUN

I was only mildly annoyed by "Beijing Boyce's" first "The Olympics are going to be such fun!" piece last month. Since then he has parlayed this attitude into a lifestyle, a career, becoming a kind of Da Shan of the bar-blog world - grinning ecstatically and spreading his "fun" gospel to anyone who will listen. This I am finding really irritating! I suppose I should just stop reading him. (Hm, yes, that would be easy enough.)

Mr Boyce seems to have had a whale of a time this past couple of weeks. Because he appears to have had no 'day job' to distract him and was able to go Olympic 24/7. Because he was able to get plenty of tickets to events. Because he was able to rub shoulders with a number of athletes/celebrities (but only by hanging out in the sort of nightclubs I wouldn't be caught dead in, even if Lolo Jones herself invited me). Because he's become a kind of D-list celeb himself for the fortnight, courted by several overseas reporters for a 'Beijing is FUN' quote.

I don't at all begrudge Mr Boyce his moment in the sun. I'm glad that he had fun. I've never suggested that it was going to be impossible to have any fun during the Olympics in Beijing. Heck, I even managed to have a little myself, here and there. But it's all a matter of perspective. I'm definitely of the school that says: "Hey, that glass was at least three-quarters empty."

I am quite confident that London in 2012 will be way more fun (even though I dislike London, and consider it one of the least 'fun' cities in the world). I am absolutely sure that Barcelona and Sydney were way more fun. I suspect that even Athens (which suffered many of the same problems of over-zealous "security", disappointing visitor figures, and local apathy) was quite a bit more fun.

In fact, I'd be willing to bet that the Beijing Olympics were way more fun to experience in just about any major European city - and probably in many other places in Asia, Africa, and the Americas too. Just about anywhere would have been more fun than here.

Amongst the reasons why the Beijing Olympics were not much fun:

1) A large number of my foreign friends had been driven out of the country by the ridiculous visa restrictions introduced this year.

2) A large number of Chinese - including most of the regular staff at several of my favourite small neighbourhood restaurants - have been driven out of the city because they couldn't get the requisite hukou (residence permit).

3) A large number of people - both Chinese and foreign - just got so fed up of all the hype and hassle surrounding the event that they chose to quit Beijing voluntarily for the month of August.

4) Aside from athletes and journalists etc., the number of foreign visitors was tiny - perhaps only one tenth of what you'd expect in a typical August. There just weren't any big crowds anywhere.

5) The local Chinese were pretty apathetic about the event on the whole. Football and basketball enjoy a big following amongst the young. A few other sports - like badminton and table tennis - have traditionally been very popular here. Most of the other competitions produced boredom and incomprehension in the domestic audience. I base my observations on what I found people watching outdoors, when shopkeepers had set a television on the sidewalk for passers-by to gather round (the most fun way to experience these Olympics, in my opinion): opening and closing ceremonies, yes; basketball, yes; football, table tennis, badminton, pretty popular; volleyball, (surprisingly?) not so much; everything else, just about no interest at all (not even in the diving and gymnastics, in which China did well; certainly not in the swimming and athletics, in which it did not).

6) Chinese street life - for me, the single greatest charm of this country - was largely suppressed. Bars and restaurants across the whole city were prevented from putting tables and chairs out on the sidewalks as they usually do. Street food vendors were banished. It's become next-to-impossible to buy a jian bing (a kind of sweet/spicy pancake with an egg and crispy waffle filling), for heaven's sake!

7) The live music scene was suppressed, subdued. The feared complete shutdown of live music venues did not happen (though outdoor music events have been outlawed for pretty much the whole year!), but they've suffered so much disruption and intimidation recently that the programmes they put forth this month were extremely pared down - hardly any gigs of note. And one of my favourite spots, Ritan Park's Stone Boat Bar, has been prevented from staging concerts all summer.

8) Apart from the occasional knot of people watching something on a TV outside a restaurant or xiaomaibu, there's really been very little open-air enjoyment of this Olympics. The handful of big outdoor screens set up around the city rarely attracted much of a crowd, and I gather they stopped operating some of them during the daytime because of the lack of interest (I wandered through the new Sanlitun mall complex, The Village, one evening when China's women were playing volleyball - and found only a couple of dozen people watching the big screen there, and very half-heartedly at that). During the last Football World Cup, every bar in the city bought additional TVs, some got fancy projectors, and many set them up outside; almost every game drew large numbers of fans to watch. That just didn't happen this summer - whether because bar owners didn't think it was worth their while, or because the police discouraged or forbade it. (I don't know how the worldwide TV viewing figures compare, but here in China I'm quite sure that the Olympics is nothing like so big a deal as the World Cup.)

9) The authorities repeatedly soured the atmosphere with a string of petty (and not so petty) repressions and PR disasters: fibbing and faking elements of the Opening Ceremony (I thought this was pretty trivial actually; but the culpability lay not so much in the original decisions as in the subsequent PR handling of the stories); reneging on promises of completely liberalised Internet access; attempting to 'cover up' or downplay stories about the murderous assault on American tourists in the Drum Tower and the crippling of one of the dancers in an Opening Ceremony rehearsal; haranguing (and occasional roughing up) of reporters and photographers who tried to report things other than the sport; the arresting of people foolhardy enough to apply for 'protest permits' (including a couple of grannies sentenced to 're-education through labour'); and the attempt to stonewall through the gymnastics age-faking scandal.

10) Boyce cites a handful of bars and nightclubs where good times were to be had during the Olympics. This rather overlooks the fact that 98% of the other venues in the city were pretty much DEAD this past month. And even at Boyce's award winners, I suspect the "fun" often had not that much to do with the Olympics; places like these would probably have enjoyed some bigger nights, higher times in any regular August.

No, all in all, these Olympics were a big disappointment. We've all spent the last 7 years hoping for, looking forward to THE BIGGEST PARTY IN HISTORY - and it just didn't happen.

I have elaborated a little further on this theme over on Froogville too.

My China Crisis

I just got back from a bar where they had a bunch of flyers for some upcoming theatre festival. It's all in Chinese, so I'm lost - except for the headline/slogan, which seemed so frighteningly appropriate to me (and to many of my foreign friends here) that I felt I had to record it immediately:

Leave before getting old

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Am I just an 'Inbetweenie'??

Reflecting on yesterday's post where I complained of how none of Beijing's bars really seem to suit me, it occurs to me that The Goodies may have identified my problem some 35 years ago, with their song The Inbetweenies (I think, perhaps, their very first single).

I do find the younger crowd rather crass and vacuous these days; but I'm not yet ready to join the ranks of the middle-aged expats, who really are a bunch of sadsacks, for the most part. I suppose my official age (I wonder if He Kexin would tell me where she gets her passports made) puts me in that middle-aged bracket now, but in my head and heart I still feel much younger (twenty-somethings these days, alas, don't seem to have much to say, or at least not anything that I can comprehend or take much interest in). I try to position myself mostly with the still-zestful mid-30s/early-40s segment of the population..... but that's a fairly slender demographic.

Anyway, here's The Goodies' song. I couldn't find them performing it on Top Of The Pops, but this is a good recording - accompanying an amusing montage of micro-clips of Graeme Garden (the 'boffin' member of the trio) from the show.

Now, sing along with me:

Too old (too old!)- to be a teenage idol!
Too young (too young!) - to be a mother's pet!
Are we (are you?) - just the Inbetweenies
Everyone tries to forget?

I also rather like the later line:

Oh, we can compete with the best
So long as you give us a rest.

You might also want to check out (oh, the bizarreness of YouTube!) this version of the song, lip-synced uncannily convincingly with a Japanese high school anime.

This, by the way, was Post No. 800 here on The Barstool. They just keep on coming, don't they?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I don't like bars

A somewhat shocking realisation, given that I spend such a large amount of my time in them!

It would perhaps be more accurate to say that I do not like the way bars are in China (although I find increasingly that I do not like the way bars are in the UK either.... and it's been a while since I checked out the scene in the States; although the DC/Alexandria area where I usually hang out is not particularly well served, I think - far too much trendiness going on!).

I do not like bars that chase the young'n'trendy crowd by trying to be discos or nightclubs (Kai, Bar Blu, Kokomo, etc.).

I do not like bars that are full of fat, middle-aged, affluent, "Yellow Fever"-afflicted expats (The Den, The Tree, Goose & Duck, Maggie's).

I do not like would-be upscale cocktail lounges (Centro, Q, i-Ultra Lounge, Zeta).

I do not like bars with fucking stupid names (Minty, Lugar, Siif..... and, of course, Centro, Q, i-Ultra, Zeta, etc.).

I do not like bars that look more like coffee shops (the standard model for China: see the Houhai and Nanluoguxiang areas passim).

I do not like bars with KTV/Filipino cover bands (i.e., the whole of that Sanlitun North strip).

I do not like bars that think they can charge anything approaching Western prices.

I do not like bars that think they're so fucking hip and cool and trendy and full of "beautiful people" that they can charge more than Western prices (Suzie Wong's, Song).

That really doesn't leave very much. I suppose that explains why such an overpriced charm-vacuum as Paddy O'Shea's actually manages to do quite well.

In all my time in Beijing, there have probably only been a couple of dozen or so bars that I've had any time for at all, and only a handful which have inspired real affection in me. And the majority of these have been chai'd - or suffered changes of name and ownership, or an inexorable decline in standards. These days I spend about 90% of my free time in just two bars.

I should consider myself lucky: many Chinese cities don't have any decent Western-style bars (I'm still looking for one in Shanghai!).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Another maudlin exchange

I appear to be in the grip of a 'post-Olympics depression' already. Or perhaps it's my ongoing mid-life crisis reasserting itself after a couple of weeks of comparative buoyancy (and non-self-reflection)......

Late on Sunday night, after all the Closing Ceremony ballyhoo was concluded, I came up with the following bitterly philosophical insight.

Me: "I'm fed up with being poor."

Drinking Companion: "You make enough money to live well."

Me: "I make enough money to stay drunk. It's not the same thing."

Bon mot for the week

"It's amazing how grimly we hold on to our misery, the energy we burn fueling our anger."

Matt Dillon (as Henry Chinaski in the film Factotum, based on the novel by Charles Bukowski)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

In search of that Olympics 'buzz'

A search that went on most of this past week or so.... and proved entirely vain.

I hear Kokomo's terrace drew some good crowds, but I've never been much of a fan of the place - the clientele a bit too young, the prices a bit too steep.

Nearby Saddle Cantina was also doing pretty well, I gather; but they only had the one screen (a huge projection on the whitewashed wall of the building opposite their open-air deck), so not much variety in the coverage; and, I suspect, given their predominantly American crowd (and predominantly raucous, young Americans, which can get to be a bit of a pain), that they were probably showing most of the basketball games, to the exclusion of anything else.

The rather larger and nicer roof deck at Bar Blu seemed to be attracting only a scant handful of people, even on their extended Tuesday evening 'happy hour'. Maybe that's because their prices are so high, or because their beer is disgusting skank. At least they'd managed to locate an Anglocentric satellite channel that was highlighting British performances.

Most other places around Sanlitun and Tongli were deathly quiet. Huxley's new place, Tun, seems destined to be a white elephant, and even his old favourite Nanjie has been very slow over the summer. Rickshaw, too, was pretty much deserted the couple of times I dropped in (perhaps they can thank their ridiculous 15% Olympic surcharge for that!). The newer bar street on Nurenjie was even worse: when I cruised by there last Saturday, there were only about half a dozen punters on the entire strip.

Perhaps all the custom - what little there has been in this tourist-starved August - was being siphoned off by the big sponsors' venues (one has to suspect that the real reason for closing all the clubs and restaurants around the Workers' Stadium was to placate these commercial interests). Budweiser had set up a huge 'Bud House' on the East 3rd Ringroad. The beer, apparently, was free. But this is Budweiser we're talking about, for Christ's sake: that's not really much of a draw. I think you'd have to pay me to drink that shit all night. Not that I got the chance to check this out anyway, since admission was by ticket only and the tickets were being distributed at the Olympic Village - a nice little 'private party' for people involved in the Olympic industry, locals not invited.

The Holland House exhibition area (sponsored by Heineken, and thus colloquially known as The Heineken House) just up the road at the Agricultural Exhibition Centre was originally intended to be similarly exclusive (only Olympic pass holders or people with Dutch passports were supposed to be eligible for admission), but it wasn't attracting big enough crowds, so they threw it open to any old Tom, Dick or Harriet. I had heard a few people say that there was quite a good atmosphere here, but I was a little sceptical; some people, I fear, equate a good vibe with mere numbers. There were apparently some large crowds showing up there later in the evening, after the events had finished, but it was a pretty lousy venue for trying to watch the Games on TV (only two screens: one large one in the small outside courtyard, where there was hardly any seating; one huge one inside, but at the far end of a long, narrow room, and again with very little seating). It was a pretty lousy venue, period. It was a beer tent, for heaven's sake: cheap carpeting, minimal decor, large echoey spaces, tacky temporary serving counters rather than comforting hardwood bars - utterly, utterly charmless (although the snack stalls were offering something that looked enticingly like a Gregg's sausage roll; I resisted the temptation, but enjoyed the brief nostalgia-wallow anyway). And fairly crappy beer, dispensed in tiny plastic glasses, for an exorbitant 30kuai a pop - no, thank you!

The preponderance of Dutch in attendance wasn't a help either; not that I have anything against Dutch people per se, but they didn't have many medal contenders, and so weren't engendering much in the way of audience enthusiasm. About the only sport they have a strong interest in is hockey, so there were a few dozen people there early on Saturday evening - to watch Holland go down to Australia in the men's bronze medal match. However, such is the Dutch enthusiasm for the game that the organisers had opted to show the Germany v Spain final afterwards - rather than any of the evening's athletics! Galling.

This unfathomable programming choice by the Dutch forced my companions and I to head further east, to the new Goose & Duck, out beyond the 4th Ringroad. It's too far away to have a chance of ever becoming more than a once-in-a-blue-moon destination for me, but it has a hardcore following of long-time expats from its previous incarnation opposite the West Gate of Chaoyang Park - it is, I suppose, one of the longest-established sports bars in Beijing. Its new location is huge, and quite well placed to draw in the more affluent expats (who tend to favour the east side of town, nearer to the airport); also, being just off the 4th Ringroad, it was conveniently mid-way between the main Olympic venues in the north and the expensive international hotels around Jianguomenwai in the south, and was thus becoming a popular stopping off point for what few Olympic tourists there were.

And they have lots and lots of TV screens, and a full range of satellite channels - so it should be no problem to watch the athletics there, right? Perhaps even on an English-language channel? Well, er, NO, actually. The new site is continuing the old one's tradition of using dopey, underpaid, poorly trained staff who have no idea how to operate the TVs. And there were only a handful of satellite channels available, none of which appeared to be showing the Olympics - so we were stuck with the shite coverage on Chinese terrestrial TV. We were barely even able to enjoy that. Two of the three screens in the main bar area were showing F1 qualifying, although no-one was actually watching that. The manager, alas, did not have his helpful head on this night; he was preoccupied with a large private party upstairs who were impatiently waiting for a South African rugby international to begin - and he actually cited that as his excuse for cutting the Olympics coverage in the downstairs bar completely: even though the half dozen other people there with us were all intent on the Games, at about 9.30 all the TVs switched over to the rugby; and then no-one seemed to know how to switch any of them back.

We thus missed the climax of the Women's High Jump and America's world record-setting performance in the Men's 4 x 400m. Beyond galling!

I generally take these dismal customer service catastrophes quite philosophically; but my gal pal DD, a huge Olympics fan, completely lost it. We pretty much had to put her in a straightjacket and bundle her out of the place.

Thank heavens for Room 101 on the way home, where I was able to watch the evening's highlights again and catch up on most of what I'd just missed. I have ended up watching most of these Games there, in fact. Good beer, reasonable prices, a friendly welcome, and a big screen right next to the bar (although it is only bloody CCTV - they've lost all of their satellite channels); no big crowds, but there are usually one or two familiar faces in there, and almost always a few newcomers too. It's a good atmosphere, and conveniently near to my home. Sanlitun? You can keep it! Crappy sports bars? Who needs 'em? I've got everything I need right here in the 'hood.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Great Love Songs (9)

This is another of my favourite songs by Tom Waits, Downtown Train from his utterly brilliant 1985 album Rain Dogs.

I have only two things to say about this. Well, perhaps three.

I would give anything to be able to play the guitar like this (I'm not sure who's playing on this, actually. Is it Marc Ribot?): deceptively simple, but the phrasing, the tone are sublime. I get shivers down the spine every time I hear it.

Rod Stewart should be arraigned by the International Criminal Court for daring to cover this.

Anyone who doesn't dig this has no soul.


Friday, August 22, 2008

A life in six words

Blog-buddy and recovering Beijing-ren Leah recently tipped me off to Smith Magazine's competition for Six Word Memoirs.

A nice little time-waster. I haven't made a submission yet, but my opening effort (in a comment on Leah's post) was:

"The happy hours are too few."

HBH 94

Under constant fire
One shot after another
It's not safe out there

As if it's not bad enough that every Wednesday is cheap shots night in my local, Room 101, now, the boss has taken to treating me to random slugs on other nights as well. This has been a heavy week.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

All in the name of Science

Upon being teased just now by last night's drinking companion about the possibly deleterious effects of the rather-too-hefty nightcap I had treated us to, I sent the SMS reply:

"I'm testing a theory that whiskey actually helps to regenerate brain cells. The initial indications, admittedly, are not too promising; but I must press on with this important work."

Indeed. And tonight just happens to be Jack Daniel's shots night in Room 101.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Recommended Posts, April-June 2008

Guided Tour - recommended posts
from the 2nd Quarter of '08

1) And.... they're off! - 3rd April

One of my most inspired pieces of frivolity: my options for the evening's entertainment depicted as a horse race.

2) Why we drink??? - 7th April

A terrifyingly good quotation from Charles Bukowski.

3) The Plan evolves... - 9th April

Arch-commenter 'Tulsa' goads me into a further elaboration of my infamous Plan for improving my love life.

4) The 'lost' haiku (HBH 24!!) - 16th April

An 'extra' haiku in mid-week, prompted by my belated discovery that I had somehow missed No. 24 out of the series.

5) HBH 76 - 18th April

A haiku celebrating a particularly good - particularly damaging - evening of excess with Jack Daniel's.

6) More mordant txt msg humour - 19th April

I rediscover text message still stored on my phone from 15 months previously: one of my funniest, one of my darkest.

7) More wisdom of the txts - 21st April

A gal pal and I discourse on the mystery of love via SMS.

8) This week's party excuse - 22nd April

My friend DD and I plan a party from scratch during a 10-minute cab ride.

9) The surrogate drinker - 25th April

The Man In Black suggests "I drink, so you don't have to" as the new tag-line for my blog.

10) The weekly bon mot - 28th April

Some wise words from Dr Johnson prompt a little aside from me on the quaint Chinese inability to distinguish between different varieties of alcoholic beverage.

11) A small green thing...... - 29th April

I have a less-than-ideal eating experience at my favourite Xinjiang restaurant.

12) The curse of 'three' - 1st May

Fate taunts me once again in regard to my 'love life'!

13) The Last Table - 4th May

Recollections of the epic drinking that occurred at a Chinese wedding I went to over the May Holiday (along with fellow Pool Bar regular, Crazy Chris).

14) Note to self - 8th May

Will I never learn??

15) Sudden outbreaks of piety - 10th May

Some anecdotes of my struggles with a dodgy knee cartilage (I am sometimes mistaken for a devout Muslim when I kneel on the floor, rocking to and fro and muttering, as I try to pop it back into place).

16) Chinese football fans - 15th May

Having to suffer the company of a horde of Chinese "Manchester United fans" on the final Saturday of the Premiership season brings out the curmudgeon in me - how could it not?

17) The graveyard of good (cultural) intentions - 19th May

I analyse why I didn't actually get to go to any of the concerts I had been planning to see this past weekend - and conclude that it is largely because I have been drinking too much at Room 101 and the Pool Bar!

18) In search of.... the Yanjing Brewery - 21st January

Finally - after 5 years! - I make my long-planned pilgrimage to the factory (lots of photos!) where they manufacture most of the beer that I drink.

19) Gobsmack Double Whammy - 26th May

Two more mind-blowing recent examples of awful service in Chinese bars.

20) The Great Chuanr Crawl - 27th May

'The Lads' and I take on 4 or 5 different yangrou chuanr venues in a single night - the beginning of a Great Quest to find The Best Xinjiang Restaurant In The Neighbourhood.

21) HBH 82 - 30th May

Recollections of a bracing evening meal, consumed outside, in the midst of a violent windstorm.

22) Redemption (2)??? - 31st May

Last night's brilliant Ian Sherman Benefit Gig makes me wonder if the previously dreadful D-22 has finally become a decent music venue - and a decent bar - after all. The jury is still out on that.

23) Weekly bon mot - 2nd June

One of my own, this time.

24) Kolegas birthday gig photos - 3rd June

Some pictures from the awesome 3rd Anniversary concert at favourite music bar, 2 Kolegas, the previous weekend.

25) Bon mot of the week (Wisecrack of the week?) - 9th June

A great line from one of the great films about bars.

26) Man-Eating Sofa 2, Euro Football 0 - 10th June

A very short post, but it became the discussion forum on the European Football Championships - one of my busiest threads ever!

27) Marjorie Daw - 29th June

I enlist the help of eccentric barhound, Crazy Chris, to chat up a woman on my behalf. This is a mistake.

28) Bon mot of the week - 30th June

Bukowski again - this time via the Mickey Rourke film, Barfly.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Beer beats Starvation

In terms of weight-gain versus weight-loss, that is.

Yes, I am shamelessly recycling a recent post from Froogville here. Please forgive me. A slow Monday morning and I'm feeling lazy.

Last week, I got very sick with a dose of Shihuangdi's Revenge. After two days of dehydrating fairly badly and eating nothing at all except for a few Ritz crackers, I found I had lost barely 1kg in weight (although I suppose I was completely inactive for those two days, and sipping quite a lot of stomach-soothing Coca Cola). After two further days of eating almost nothing, but trying to lead a more normal and active life again, I had lost 1kg more.

Now, actually, to lose 4 or 5 lbs (I grew up with the Imperial System, and will always think in it) in the space of less than a week is pretty dramatic, and that is about the most extreme "dieting" I would ever expect to put myself through. Even so, it seemed a rather puny drop in weight when set against the fact that I had - apparently - gained a whopping 3kg over the previous weekend. If that is true, I suppose I must attribute it to a heavier-than-usual indulgence (all that Olympic ballyhoo, you know) in the notoriously waistline-boosting Stella Artois.

Then again, maybe my bathroom scales are just completely up the spout. I can but hope.

Bon mot of the week

"We are shaped and fashioned by what we love."

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

"I'd love a single malt."


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Revenge of the Planet of Beautiful Women

Oh, god.

Last night, on the way home from an exploratory "Is there any Olympic atmosphere anywhere?" kind of wander around Sanlitun and Nurenjie (the answer was pretty much No), I looked in at dependable local, Room 101.

A new band, Bad Apples, were playing some decent classic rock, including some very passable covers of Hendrix.

Not a very big crowd, though - fewer than a couple of dozen downstairs. But slightly over half of them were women. And not a one of them was anything other than loin-tinglingly gorgeous. There was one, in fact, (Japanese, I suspect) who may just possibly be the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.

It shouldn't happen to an asexualist!

I have noted before, Room 101 is an oddly dangerous place in this regard. I should probably try to spend a bit less time there. It's not good for my equilibrium.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Olympics Opening Night

Well, it's nearly a week on - I have been rather busy (and rather ill) this week, so, apologies - but here's a quick rundown on The Big Night here in Beijing last week.

I anticipated traffic chaos around town, and am somewhat phobic of large crowds, so I didn't feel like heading across town to any of the major sports bars or big open-air gathering places. In fact, I was barely recovered from an horrendous cold that had laid me up for most of the week (this week, it was diarrhoea - I am not a well boy!), so it took some effort to summon up the willpower to leave the apartment at all.

However, my favourite local spot Room 101 is only a 25-minute stagger away, so I thought I'd look in there to see if there'd be much of a crowd. It's a good job I got there early: by 7pm or so, there was a HUGE crowd (I've never seen the place so packed, even for the infamous Jack Daniel's promotion night or the Sichuan Earthquake Relief Concert). They'd actually been taking reservations for the upstairs area! And downstairs, the view of the TV screen was soon largely obscured by the arrival of the promotions team from Omega (just getting pissed on a rare night off; not there to give away free watches, alas)..... although once they'd got settled, they considerately kept their heads down.

I never really got a chance to talk to any of the people upstairs (most of whom seemed to have been foreigners), but I rather suspect that most of them were similarly connected to the Games in some way. I discovered that the Aussie couple beside me at the bar downstairs were local residents, like me. Most of the rest of the crowd that night were Chinese. Regular tourists - as opposed to family and friends of competitors and coaches, former athletes, major sponsors and their guests, members of the press, and professionals in the fields of security, PR and other Olympics-related industries - are just about non-existent.

Nevertheless, the opening night was a very special event. Everyone - Chinese and foreign - wanted to watch it live somewhere; most people, in a bar. I very much doubt if any of the actual competitions - even Liu Xiang's much-anticipated final - or the closing ceremony will draw anything like such a high turn-out. I imagine dear old 101 has been pretty much dead again since. I'll probably toddle along there in a few hours to get reports.

The boisterous throng unfortunately overwhelmed the modest capacity of the air-conditioning on this especially humid night, and it was actually rather cooler outside in the street. I eventually persuaded the boss we might all be better off with the doors left open (provided he didn't think that was going to risk causing any bother with the cops or the neighbourhood busybodies; we needn't have worried - they were all glued to their television sets from 8pm to midnight). In fact, I ducked outside a few times to watch on the sidewalk; the xiaomaibu next door had put its television out on the front step and quite a large gaggle of onlookers, Chinese neighbours and just a few passing foreigners, had formed to watch it, spilling into and soon completely blocking the bike lane (again, you might have thought the police would object to this subversive and unlicensed 'public entertainment' and the potential disruption of traffic it was causing - but they were nowhere to be seen).

And when Li Ning had finally done his lighting-the-Flame thing, the boys from Mr Mojo (who had by this time been patiently waiting on the stage for half an hour or more) launched into a kick-ass set of decidedly 60s-ish blues-rock. My kind of thing!

After my recent indisposition, and after 6 or 7 hours in a sweatbox atmosphere, I was thoroughly exhausted and ready to call it a night before the lads came back on stage for Part Deux; but a couple of my lady friends had just turned up, joining from another (more refined??) venue, and I didn't like to abandon them - particularly as there were no cabs at all to take them home. (I have often observed that Beijing is extremely well-served in the number of its cabs, but..... the whole of Beijing was out that night, and a whoppingly high percentage of them were trying to get home again by cab between 12am and 1am. Heck, there were 80,000 people trying to get away from the Bird's Nest alone [Hmm, did they actually keep the subway running late that night? If they didn't, the scenes around the Stadium exits must have been horrendous!]; that could probably tie up nearly half the city's cab fleet for that hour.)

Eventually, however, I did leave them to their fate. Alas, instead of doing the smart thing and going straight home, I succumbed to a bout of remorse about having neglected my real favourite drinking den, The Pool Bar, all night (and indeed, all week), and found myself - almost automatically - turning right instead of left as I walked out of the front door. I don't think I stayed at the PB very long; just 'the one'; or so; but it was after 3am when I finally got home (and we were only just starting to see vacant cabs reappear on the streets).

It was a fine night to be out and about in Beijing; some good craic, as our Irish friends say. (I know of at least 3 people who chose to stay home all night and blog about it instead. Quite mystifying!!!!)

I'm glad I was here for that. So far, though, the rest of the Games have been a bit of a damp squib in terms of the sense of occasion; the city is pleasantly relaxed and cheerful, but very, very quiet. Perhaps things will pick up this weekend, now that the athletics are under way.

HBH 93

Unfamiliar drought
(Illness taking virtue's place!):
A week without beer.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Here I go, promoting ZIYO again....

There still seems to be very little Chinese rock music on YouTube - and what there is, is very hard to find. And usually of quite abysmal sound quality.

One of my favourite Beijing bands, Ziyo, have recently joined YouTube, but so far they've only posted two videos (Retro Disaster and Helter Skelter, from a performance earlier this year at MAO Live House) - OK, but the sound still isn't very crisp. Come on, guys, a little more attention to self-promotion, please. It surely can't be that hard to hire some half-way decent video (and audio-recording) equipment for the evening and produce a professional-quality 'official bootleg'? Is this really as good as we're going to get??

Of all the videos I've found of them so far (and, on top of the perennial perversity of YouTube's search function, it really doesn't help that they apparently share their name with some East European rock act!), I think I prefer this (although the sound is fairly ropey) - probably the catchiest of all their songs, Indie Rock Is Dead!, a nice balance of tunefulness and raging energy, always a particularly committed performance from sexy frontwoman Helen Feng, some interesting transitions..... and A MASSIVE HOOK! (Honestly, I defy you not to be humming this to yourself after one listen. If you want to hear a cleaner version, click on the audio file of it on their MySpace page.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

The chai Olympics (re-post from Froogville)

I originally posted this over on Froogville a week ago, but I'm afraid it might have got rather lost amid the welter of my other recent Olympics-related blogging, and I like it so much, I think it's worth cross-posting on here.

I've been meaning to do this for a while, but, alas, I no longer have a functional version of Photoshop on either of my computers (hence the dearth of photographs on my blogs of late).

This character - chai - means 'demolish', and it is daubed on the walls of buildings shortly before the bulldozers arrive. Sometimes, you wonder if this isn't about the only warning the soon-to-be-displaced residents get. Sometimes, indeed, the demolition seems to follow so swiftly that I speculate there may be dozens of opportunistic wrecking crews roaming the city, authorised to raze any chai'd building they find and claim a bounty for their good work. (I'm kidding about that, of course. I don't think even the Chinese would try taking market economics to that extreme. Would they???)

The wholesale destruction of great swathes of Beijing - often in a rather chaotic and unplanned way - has been one of the sorriest consequences of awarding the Olympics to China. Many of the most charming and characterful old neighbourhoods have been ruthlessly flattened to facilitate the city's misconceived plans for modernisation. The dreaded chai symbol has swept through the hutongs like a plague.

We've heard a number of unflattering slogans for these Games now, of course: the Genocide Olympics (thank you, Mia - you take the prize for hysterical overstatement), the "1936 All Over Again" Olympics (makes a similar point, but more broadly and more humorously), the "No Fun" Olympics, the Fenqing Olympics (fenqing are the objectionable, hysterical young nationalists who are the Chinese government's unfortunate 'blowback' from years of unremitting propaganda), and (another favourite of mine) the Mafan Olympics (mafan= 'hassle').

But I decided some time ago that people really ought to remember these Games as

the Chai Olympics

because the brutal eradication of so many close-knit communities, the obliteration of so much architecture and history, the foolhardy ripping out of so much of the city's heart & soul, that's what will be, I'm afraid, the one really lasting legacy of the 2008 Olympics.

(Many thanks to my friend The Artist for realising this design.)

Bon mot of the week

"A tavern chair is the throne of human felicity."

Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Great Drinking Songs (9)

Not actually a song about drinking, this one, but a great rousing singalong when drunk - the traditional sea shanty, South Australia. The Pogues did a fine version of it (it was a bonus track on the later CD release of their If I Should Fall From Grace With God album), but I couldn't find that on YouTube. [Aha!  Finally found it two years later - here.  Audio only, though. There's also this live session recording of it by them.]

However, in the course of my researches, I did turn up this rather wonderful little oddity - Fishermen's Friends, a choir (of fishermen, naturally) from Port Isaac in Cornwall, singing it on the beach.

You can also see them performing this on stage, accompanying folk duo Show of Hands. And, just for good measure, here's the tremendous Aussie finger-picking guitarist, Tommy Emmanuel, doing an instrumental version. Enjoy. And sing along.

Friday, August 08, 2008

A prisoner of my childhood

"It's Friday, it's five to five, and it's......."

Well, it's very nearly time to be wandering over to dear old Room 101 to get stoked on the cheap.....

I do hope Olly has managed to get the new satellite gear hooked up so that we'll have a chance to watch the Olympic Opening Ceremony with some English commentary.

New laowai blues-rock combo Mr Mojo are supposed to be playing later as well. They seriously rocked the joint when they played there two or three weeks back, so I'm looking forward to that (although I guess they won't be able to get started until Zhang Yimou's finished doing his thing - how long is that going to take?).

Right now, I'm trying to chase the blues away and get myself energised for the evening with a quick blast of (my favourite Chinese band) Ziyo's EP. Good stuff.

I'll leave it to my University confreres The Cowboy and The Swordsman (or perhaps Little Anthony or Mothman..... or even the long dormant Bookseller?) to explain the opening reference.

New Picks of the Month

I know it's only a couple of months old, but I feel I have to nominate my June 4th post 'Lest we forget....' as the new 'Pick of the Month' on Froogville. While the Olympics are on in Beijing, I think it is particularly important to remind ourselves of the events that took place here in 1989 - and to hope that a forgetful Chinese nation may begin to remember as well.

From the Barstool, I choose The Adventure Bar, a post from April last year celebrating the characterful little hutong restaurant where I spent most of my first two years in China.

Do please check these out.

HBH 92

Balm for throat and head
Medicinal purposes
Another excuse!

Yes, this week I have been mostly drinking to preserve my ailing voicebox. Honestly.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Bring out your dead

Perhaps I shouldn't have made those frivolous references to SARS and cholera last week. I'm getting my karmic punishment now.

There has been little blogging - and almost no merriment - this week, because I have gone down with a stinker of a cold. I can't remember the last time I felt this ill: feeble, lethargic, feverish, trembling, wracked by a vicious headache and aches and pains in just about every joint and muscle; the glands in my throat are the size of apples; I've been sleeping so badly, I'm practically hallucinating.

I went to the Cinco de Drinko on Tuesday (rumoured to be the last ever - boo!), and soon regretted it. I was popping cold remedy pills in between the beers, but it wasn't doing much good, and by 9pm I'd nearly lost my voice; so I had to croak my apologies and head home.

48 hours spent mostly moping under the covers and moaning seems to have taken the edge off it, but I'm still feeling pretty ropey.

I won't be venturing out for any pre-Olympic parties tonight. And I rather fear I won't be going anywhere to watch The Big Show tomorrow either. Rats!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Cinco de Drinko OLYMPICO

There's a new-ish Tex-Mex place in Sanlitun called Saddle Cantina.

To be honest, it's the kind of place I don't love: too large, too darned popular, a little too expensive. However, since it has only been open a few months, and I've so far only been there three times (once without stopping to drink anything), I'll give it the benefit of the doubt for a while longer.

It does have one wonderful saving grace: in emulation of the great Mexican-American holiday of Cinco de Mayo, it has a special promotion on the fifth day of every month: Cinco de Drinko - AN ALL-DAY HAPPY HOUR.

Now, this is likely to engender just the kind of riotous excess that the authorities here want to stamp out during the Olympics. I am very surprised that the event hasn't been banned. But, as far as I know, it hasn't. So, I'm heading off down there to check it out shortly.

I hope to see many friends there.

This could be THE big pre-Olympic party!

Monday, August 04, 2008

We few, we happy few

Crazy Chris e-mailed me the other day to check how things were going in The Jing without him. He commented that the place had already been beginning to feel pretty deserted when he left a couple of weeks ago, and wondered if things were even worse now.


The other day, when The Choirboy and I breezed into Room 101 to meet up with The Bengali after our traditional Sunday evening chuanr fest, we were the only customers they'd seen all night. A trio of our journo chums showed up shortly afterwards, but they really were just having 'the one' on their way home from a busy day of news-manufacturing up at the Olympic Village.

The Pool Bar was not that much livelier: only a handful of the diehard regulars, the quietest Sunday evening I've seen in there for a long time.

Friday and Saturday were very quiet too. And the main bar district of Sanlitun seemed extremely subdued on Friday - although admittedly I only passed through briefly, and relatively early.

Yep, our wonderful government really has done a pretty good job of purging the city of 'undesirable elements' - like foreign barflies. Things haven't been this quiet since SARS.

Hark, is that the rustle of a tumbleweed skittering down the street?

Traffic Report - the blog stats for July

There were 54 posts and around 16,500 words over on Froogville last month.

There were 41 posts and just over 9,000 words here on the Barstool.

I discern no particular variation (much less increase) in the traffic figures, and commenting has been disappointingly scarce (all of my one-time 'regulars' - with the exception of the ever-faithful British Cowboy - seem to have deserted me, or at least to have reverted to 'lurking'). However, there was a HUGE - inexplicable! - spike in visits to both blogs on Friday the 11th of July. I wonder what that was all about.

We also welcomed new readers from Sweden, Finland, Malaysia, and the Philippines. And I now have a fan in Kosovo.

Thanks for reading. I hope I'll find something entertaining to say during the upcoming craziness of the Olympics.

Bon mot for the week

"Falling in love is like getting drunk. A relationship is the hangover."


(OK, I've used this one before, kind of; but it bears repeating.)

Sunday, August 03, 2008

A new favourite text message

"I am going to Room 101. Soon. And for the rest of my life."

I think I'm going to keep this stored on my phone, for regular use.

Yes, such is the way I salve my misery and despair. After all, if you're going to have your mid-life crisis in a strange and under-developed country, thousands of miles away from most of the people who care about you..... you might as well have it in a bar.

Claude reigns!

Or indeed, Clawed Reins. (Hmmm, a Possible Band Name?? That reminds me......)

Yes, I am a broken-hearted punster.

Saturday, August 02, 2008


This oddity was turned up by my old Oxford pal and Websurfer extraordinaire, 'Keith Tolstoy', some time ago. I assume it's a road sign advising of the hazards of 'concealed entrances' opening on to the main road. Well, what else could it be? A wonderfully warped warning!

Of course, for me it suggests something else entirely. And the caution is timely.

The Eternal Pursuit

Here is a story I've cherished for years (probably apocryphal, but what the heck?).

When Charles de Gaulle finally stood down as President of France, he and his wife met the foreign press corps to answer questions. Neither of them had outstanding English, but they did their best.

When Mme de Gaulle was asked what her hopes were for their years in retirement together, it is said that she responded:

"What I want now is ze same sing I 'ave alwayz wanted. All I want is a penis."

The assembled journalists, of course, were momentarily stunned into silence.

Luckily, the General intervened promptly, and so saved his wife from the awkward follow-up questions that were looming:

"My dear," he said. "I sink it is pronounced 'appiness."

My favourite mispronunciation story, ever.

(I've always wondered, though: did the General simply mean to correct his wife's faulty stress pattern, without twigging what she'd actually said? Probably we will never know. Well, it's probably not a true story anyway.....)

Anyway, once again the hour of happiness is almost upon us. Or perhaps I should say the hour of a penis......

Friday, August 01, 2008

The long goodbye

Wednesday night was a more-than-usually strange one for me in my local, Room 101. I was stuck there on my sad old lonesome for a couple of hours at the start of the evening, with only the prospect of a game of Chinese chess with the barman to distract me.

Then, all of a sudden, a whole bunch of my friends turned up, and we had quite a jolly time for a couple of hours or so. But then they all abruptly left again.

But then a whole bunch of other people I knew appeared. It was getting on for midnight by now, so I was trying to extract myself, but...... well, it just took me so long to say hello & goodbye to these three or four separate acquaintances, probably a good 20 minutes or so. And I'd finished my last drink before I embarked on this farewell tour of the bar. As soon as I finally hit the night air, I realised that I was by now furiously thirsty again, and I'd only made it a few yards up the street before I turned automatically on my heel and strode back into the bar to order one final glass of Stella.

Well, it might have been two. And then the boss bought me another one...... just as everyone was finally about to leave; so I found myself chugging my last beer, once again all alone, just as I had been for my first few.

Strange indeed, but mostly fun.

Anyway, I can't recall ever before having realised that I haven't finished drinking for the night seconds after departing for home - hence
this week's haiku.

HBH 91

The siren call tempts,
Making it so hard to leave:
Always one more drink.