Friday, October 31, 2008

More text message silliness

I was just trying to entice The Weeble to join me at a Ziyo gig. I failed, but we had some fun along the way.

"I have an indecent crush on Helen Feng," I admitted.

"I think everyone has a crush on Helen," he returned.

"Yes, but I was first. And mine is bigger!" I asserted.

"Well, I'm certainly not going to fight you for her," he replied, generously.

"Unfortunately, others will. The queue is SOOOOO long," I observed ruefully.

(And a friend of mine used to go out with her. I am so envious.)

A little later, I wondered, "Did anyone ever die of drowning in someone's eyes?"

"Oh yes," responded The Weeble helpfully. "Usually from a boyfriend's fist."

He suggests The Vengeful Boyfriends as this month's band name.

When pumpkins go bad....

Halloween is one of the few American holidays I've never really taken to. However, if you're out partying tonight, I wish you a merry time. Try not to be like this fella, though, eh?

HBH 104

Night merges with day;
Evening's passion gives way to
Morning's regret.

Yes, one of those days......

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Déjà vu

Last night, I looked in at Salud, for the first time since my notorious birthday party last week.

As chance would have it, Zoe's 'Irish' band were playing again. Of course, Nico P and Nico T, my accomplices in arranging the birthday event, were there too. And there was a fair-sized crowd, including a number of friends (one or two who'd been there the previous Monday, one or two who hadn't).

All in all, it was uncannily as though I had suffered a kind of Rip Van Winkle episode after passing out unconscious in the loo on the night of my b'day (something that came dangerously close to happening). Except that, unlike in the celebrated case of Mr Van W, nothing had changed at all: when I recovered and re-emerged, I found that the party was still in full swing 200 hours later!

It was an unsettling thought - for a moment. But after that initial shimmer of cognitive dissonance, I rather enjoyed the chance to reprise the atmosphere of my party night: this time I was sober enough to enjoy it and remember it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


My investigations into the origin of the Sazerac cocktail the other day prompted some recollections on the earliest phase of my interest in cocktail making, when I was an undergraduate at University.

'Cocktail parties' were quite the rage as fundraisers for student societies and so on in my day, and I had many, many brain-bludgeoning experiences at such events; and, indeed, staged a good few of them myself. I achieved something of a reputation for my rare ability to balance profitability with customer satisfaction.

I bought my first cocktail shaker as a Christmas present to myself at the end of my first term. And I began the Spring term by inviting all of my new friends to 'Collections Cocktails' in my room at breakfast time. (At Oxford, 'Collections' are internally administered exams that take place on the Friday before the beginning of each term, to check on how much holiday reading has - or has not - been done. Naturally, we Freshers were somewhat apprehensive about our first encounter with this vicious little torture.) Most people just had coffee and toast. Only a few people joined me in something stronger. But I, of course, had been up since 7 or so, mixing and testing drinks half an hour or more before anyone else showed up; I drank throughout.... and somewhat overran the projected end-time of the party. Indeed, I was about 10 minutes late reporting to Hall to pick up my 'Collections' from my tutor, and I was - though reining it in manfully - quite conspicuously drunk by that time. So drunk, in fact, that I was probably unduly forthright with my tutor. "Are these the Unseens?" I asked him. "No," he replied, somewhat tetchily, "they're the Set Book translation papers on the reading you were assigned over Christmas." "I know what I mean," I said.

Anyway, of all the cocktails I devised during this period, the most successful and the most deadly was tellingly christened the Lobotomy. It was just a variation on the Screwdriver, but the little tweaks I added could turn the drink into something quite devastating.

It was all about deception and misdirection. I added a little Cointreau to the mix (roughly a generous half-measure, to a double measure of vodka), to disguise any smell or flavour of the base spirit with a big hit of orangeyness. I would generally also add just a few drops of syrup, to raise the sugar content even higher: sugar disguises the taste of anything else, and dramatically accelerates the uptake of alcohol into your bloodstream. In the original version, I also defied cocktail conventions by combining unlike spirits - vodka and gin, 50/50 - in the belief that those with particularly astute olfactory apparatus might become confused by the mixed data they received and perhaps conclude that the drink contained neither. (And I do believe it worked; although it is perhaps an unnecessary over-refinement, and these days I tend to make it with vodka only.) I used to boost the alcohol content even higher with a lavish dash of overproof vodka (at that time, soon after the collapse of Communism in Poland, Wyborowa vodka was just making its appearance in England; these days, I gather, the brand is migrating upmarket, but in those days the standard product was not especially nice but a whopping 140°proof - just what you need for spiking drinks). Then, of course, you'd top up (usually a Collins glass; although I have been known to make this in half-pints!) with orange juice - freshly-squeezed obviously preferable in most respects, although in fact the extra sugar and the lurid artificial colourants of lesser brands are more effective in colouring the drink and masking its alcohol content. The final embellishment - and this, I think, might have been the real key - is a splash of lemon juice, to undercut the sweetness. Serve with a few ice cubes, and a thin slice of orange or lemon as a garnish. There you go.

I know, it doesn't sound like much, but...... there is a strange alchemy about this drink. It's very fiddly to get the proportions just so, to perfectly counteract the sweetness with lemon, to completely disguise the presence of the main spirit content, to get the orangeyness tasting natural. Trust, me, if you get this just right, you have a drink which - despite being a good 30-35% alcohol - looks and tastes exactly like orange juice. I used to get people falling-down drunk with this stuff in no time. They just couldn't believe how strong it was.

The most notorious victim of this drink's seeming innocuousness was my good friend, The Bookseller. I threw a cocktail party for my birthday at the beginning of my second year, in which the newly invented Lobotomy was to play a starring role. The Bookseller, a Freshman, was supposed to be attending a getting-to-know-you soirée with the President of our college that night, but - despite my admonitions to the contrary - insisted on coming to my party first, and trying to get as drunk as possible in the space of half an hour or so. The evening ahead was likely to be a particularly embarrassing ordeal for him because he had some distant family connection with the President, and his parents were anxious for him to convey their greetings and to have their boy make a good impression. He decided that the best way to deal with this weight of parental expectations and to soothe the nervousness they produced in him was to insulate himself with alcohol; or, as he put it, to get "stotting drunk". The Lobotomy, of course, undid him. The Bookseller was never much good at genteel small talk, but I gather from eye-witnesses that his conversation was particularly inappropriate in its subject matter and its excessive enthusiasm that night in the President's parlour. That is, until he came over all woozy, and had to excuse himself. He found his way to a bathroom upstairs...... and proceeded to throw up in the bathtub (I do hope he cleared up thoroughly after himself. He probably did, although this element of the story is not recorded.). He then lay with his head propped forlornly on the edge of the bath, contemplating his handiwork for the better part of an hour while he slowly recovered himself. He became obsessively fascinated by the pattern his vomit had made. "You know, it looked just like a map of Australia!" he would be telling people for weeks afterwards.

Monday, October 27, 2008


Dapper Dan is back.

Well, he was back; but now he's gone again. Although he should be returning once more very shortly, and sticking around for the best part of a year. This is good news, since he is the most refined and erudite of drinking companions (although his self-designed and hand-tailored clothes do offer rather too high a contrast with the thrift-store shambles of my own wardrobe).

On my first - serendipitous - reunion with him a couple of weeks ago, he whisked us all over to Q bar, where he insisted on treating us to a Sazerac. Dapper Dan, in addition to being The Most Elegantly Dressed Man In Town, is also an eminent 'mixologist' - and a good friend of George, the amiable boss of Q (and formerly of Midnight, one of my lamented lost favourites), with whom he loves to trade cocktail talk. The Sazerac, it seems, was a new one on George, and he was eager to get the recipe down right. In fact, such is his ruthless perfectionism, that he poured his first one or two efforts down the sink, as they didn't seem quite right to Dan's demanding palate. Thus, mixing up four of the buggers took a fair bit of time - but it was worth the wait.

I'd heard of the drink before, of course; it's one of the classic New Orleans cocktail inventions, and most of the bars down there advertise it. But somehow, despite all the time I've spent in NO over the past dozen years, I don't think I'd ever got around to trying it.

Though originally, I learn, made with Cognac (a brand called Sazerac-du-Forge, hence the name), by the 1870s this had been displaced by good rye whiskey; and there is today a specialised brand of rye called Sazerac which purists favour for making the drink, although other good ryes are acceptable. It should also contain a few drops of a distinctive bitters, Peychaud's, which is made in New Orleans (its creator, a Creole apothecary named Antoine Peychaud, is also credited with inventing the Sazerac); although, again, alternatives are permissible if necessary (and some authorities suggest that a drop or two of Angostura, in addition to or substitution for the Peychaud's, is an agreeable refinement - although you have to be careful about saying that in New Orleans). A chilled lowball glass should be rinsed with good French absinthe (although during the dark days of absinthe's prohibition, other aniseed-flavoured drinks were substituted; and in New Orleans they still favour a locally-made pastis called Herbsaint). You add a sugar cube with the bitters soaked in (or a teaspoon of gomme syrup, according to some; to be preferred, I would say, since the grittiness of part-dissolved sugar is rarely very attractive), pour in the rye, and wring a twist of lemon over the top and around the rim (purists say you shouldn't actually add the twist to the drink as a garnish, but that's another common optional add-on). It is a remarkably complex and satisfying drink.

It could well become a favourite. If I could afford to go to Q more than once every 3 months.....

A bon mot triple whammy

"Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

"Beer is proof that the Devil isn't all bad."

Froog (19??-20??)

"Don't you know there ain't no Devil, there's just God when he's drunk."

Tom Waits (1949-)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A House Divided

I think I may somehow have omitted this point from my classic summary of What makes a GREAT bar? but it is an important one: unity of space.

I do not like bars that are divided up into discrete areas. I fear one of the biggest shortcomings of my demised favourite bar, Room 101, was that it had a spacious - and utterly irrelevant - upstairs room (complete with its own bar!), which they could rarely persuade anyone to use. I fear that one of the reasons why its replacement on the same site is doomed to similar failure is that the owners are planning to turn the upstairs into a restaurant while downstairs trying to retain 101's niche as a 'happy hour' drinking destination and weekend live music haunt. (It seems to me that that is a very uncomfortable marriage. Diners upstairs are likely to be put off by any rowdiness downstairs, by merely having to enter the premises through a bar which appears to have no strong connection to the restaurant above. Drinkers and music fans are likely to be put off by the swisher clientele having a drink downstairs before going up for a meal. Unless Yann & co. can accomplish some very canny branding with this new venture, I feel that either the bar must prevail and the restaurant fail, or vice versa. Well, no, in fact I would bet that, in that location, both will inevitably fail. Sorry, boys; I love you dearly, but I think it's a hopeless cause.)

My best beloved of Beijing drinking holes, the Pool Bar, is mildly stigmatized by division also. It gets away with it because its upstairs area (which I have scarcely ever used) forms an open mezzanine balcony, and everywhere up there - with the one exception of the snug little lounge directly above the bar - affords a clear view of the pool-playing area down below (and vice versa).

Most British bars, of course, are divided - or they used to be so, until the wave of modernization began sweeping through 15 or so years ago. This may be part of the reason why I hate the idea so much. It was a fatuous outgrowth of Britain's objectionable class consciousness that almost all of the country's pubs kept two distinct bars - the public bar and the saloon bar. The public bar was dark, characterful, and always smelt slightly of cigarette smoke and spilt beer and damp dogs. It had a wood or tiled floor. And, in the bad old days, it was for men only (there are still a few places in the less enlightened corners of the country where this custom prevails: it was still relatively common in the north-east when I was a student.... although that is some time ago now). The saloon bar was always lighter, more antiseptic. There would be carpet on the floor. You could take women and children in there. And you'd usually have to pay a slightly higher tariff on everything for the privilege (a policy calculated to discourage the riff-raff from straying out of the public bar, of course; but I have always been content to be numbered amongst the riff-raff - and I hate paying extra for anything!).

Of course, when I was going into pubs as a kid with my father, it was almost always the saloon bars that we would use. I hated them. No atmosphere, no mystique: it was just like being in your living-room at home, only with a half of shandy and a packet of peanuts. When, just occasionally, my father would take me into a public bar, I realised that this was a whole different world, this was the seedy glamour that conformed to some obscure inborn notion - my 'Platonic ideal' - of what a bar should be.

Over the years of my adolescence, as I started going to pubs more and more, and often unaccompanied by my parents, it began to dawn on me slowly, almost imperceptibly, that the pubs I liked best were distinguished by having tiny saloon bars that were almost invariably empty. A pub with a big saloon bar and a tiny public bar was much less enticing. A pub with no saloon bar at all was the nirvana I was searching for. The Traveller's Rest in Durham was one such; The Black Swan in Oxford another.

And then..... when I first started making regular trips to the States in the mid-90s, I discovered that the unitary bar is pretty much the standard template over there; and many, many of my favourite bars over the years have been American ones.

I think it all comes down to character: as I did say in the What makes a GREAT bar? post, a great bar needs a distinctive personality; it does not need a split personality - but that will almost always ensue if it has separate rooms.

One bar, good; more than one bar, bad.

Easy enough to remember, bar owners? Oh, I hope so.

Friday, October 24, 2008

There are two types of people

People who like parties, and those who don't

Or perhaps.....

People who like me, and those who don't

Amongst the staggeringly lame excuses I have received for non-attendance at my b'day bash this week have been the following:

I had a flight the next day and had to pack.
(Like, you couldn't have done your packing in a couple of hours, before or after you went to the party?? You see, I am the kind of guy who would happily risk missing a flight in order to go to a good party. I am a party guy. These people are not.)

I had a cold.
(It would have to be a really pretty f***ing serious cold to keep me away from a party. In fact, when I'm really ill, I like an excuse to get out of the house: stops me moping, helps me feel better.)

I got too drunk over the weekend.
(You have no stamina, my friend!)

I broke my foot.
(OK, that's a better one. You have my sympathy. But you're not completely immobile, are you? Come on your crutches!)

You wore me out by keeping me up till 4am last night. And I have a flight tomorrow.
(You wuss!)

I had a pool tournament/trivia quiz/Chinese lesson.
(Christ, people! However important or enjoyable these activities are to you, it's not going to kill you to skip 'em for one week - for the sake of a once-in-a-lifetime, never-to-be-repeated event like my party. One of the quizzers did at least come along afterwards. I am deeply unimpressed with the rest of you guys.)

You didn't tell me it was your birthday.
(What difference does that make? I told you it was a party, and I really wanted you to come. You stayed away because you don't like parties. Fine. Leave the birthday out of it.)

I had to work late.
(Come on: nobody has to work late. You didn't organise your time well enough earlier in the day. Or you're unwilling to make an early start tomorrow. Or you're too gutless to tell your boss, colleague, client, whatever, that you need more time. Certainly, nobody has to work so late [with the possible exception of lawyers, on occasion] that they can't possibly come out to a party for an hour or two later in the evening.)

I had to work a bit late, and I thought the party would be all over by 9.30pm or so.
(Oh, really - that's just STUPID. If this had been one of my Chinese friends, I could have understood where such an aberration had come from - but it wasn't.)

I forgot.
(Hmmm - you "forgot". Despite the two e-mails last week, and the text message reminder 24 hours before? I'm not exactly top-of-mind with you, am I?)

I fell asleep.
(I'm not even going to comment. Aaaarrrggh......)

Although we had 60 or so people who came along and had a good time, I somehow always get bothered by the 30 who don't show up (after they've promised they would). I should be encouraged by the fact that most of them were at least concerned enough about it to apologise afterwards; that's an important social courtesy. I am pretty pissed off at those who went absent-without-explanation.

However, when the explanations are this f***ing pathetic, I think it makes me feel worse than no explanation at all.

You didn't come. I get it. I understand. I forgive you. I'm disappointed - but at least I'm not irritated-to-hell by some feeble, unconvincing, and utterly, utterly daft excuse.

Next time: no explanations. Never explain, never apologise is a lawyers' motto. I never used to like it; but, in situations like these, I am starting to appreciate the advantages of it.

HBH 103

Too many late nights
Too many fine malt whiskies
Too many heartbreaks

My week summed up in 12 words. Perhaps the whole of my adult life summed up in 12 words.

I suppose I could take some consolation from the fact that at least my experience has been too rich and varied to condense into a Six-Word Memoir.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Yet another drinking excuse!

Today, I learn, is "Austrian National Day". A day, I imagine, for donning one's best lederhosen and consuming even more beer and sausages than usual. I really wouldn't know, since the festival is apparently unknown to Wikipedia.

I had been hoping to add Eric Cartman's notorious "German Dance" on here as well, but at present YouTube is unusable for me (I'm not sure if it's more government interference from the Commie killjoys I live among, or just the feeble processing power of my antiquated computer). You know the one, anyway: relive it in your memories. That was what we had to do, after all, with our favourite TV moments before the days of VCR and TiVo and YouTube and boxed-set DVDs.

Anyway, I wish a happy day to any Austrian readers out there.

(To my knowledge, I have only one Austrian friend - and he was the one who told me it was 'National Day' today. I suppose he might just be making up his own private excuse to consume a lot of beer and sausages.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Happy Birthday to me!

Well, that was quite a birthday!

I took over favourite Nanluoguxiang watering-hole Salud for the evening. Things were a little slow to get going (lots of people crying off with autumn colds - there seem to be some nasty bugs going the rounds at the moment!), but at peak we had 50 or 60 folks along. I gather a handful of diehards stayed on until they were finally refused further service at around 3am. I had retired to the Pool Bar at around 1am; at 2.30am I found myself unwisely exchanging text messages with The Weeble to arrange a reunion with him; and thus I didn't finally stagger out of the door until something like 4.30am.

My thanks to everyone who came (and bitter recriminations to all those who said they would, and didn't - shame on you!). I hope you had a great time. Thanks also to the two Nicos, for helping me set things up, to everyone else at Salud, and of course to Zoe and the band, who were great (her 'agent' wrung a rather inflated fee out of me for their appearance, but I don't begrudge it). Thanks too to Luke at the Pool Bar, for staying up to see me. And apologies to Luke's Dad, for keeping him up so ridiculously late.

And a blanket apology to anyone who may possibly have been offended by my behaviour at certain points in the evening (bad dancing, worse singing, excessive flirtation). I hope that drunkenness and a birthday are sufficient excuses to earn me forgiveness.

I did perhaps overdo my 'warm-up' slightly. I had planned to kick off my evening with one of the fine single malt whiskies available at the 12 Sq M bar. I nearly gave up on the idea, since I was running a bit late leaving home, and it appeared that none of my pals were going to be free to join me. But, belatedly, a few people did sign up to the plan; and they all insisted on buying me a drink. So, I had 4 whiskies in the space of about half an hour, and was flying for the rest of the night.

And here's another belated birthday treat for myself: John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett performing their song Birthday Boy (good picture quality, but a lot of distortion on the sound, alas).

And while I'm at it, here's Marilyn singing to JFK. We didn't have quite so much female glamour on view last night - but I did suffer a few moments of heartbreak, nonetheless.

Monday, October 20, 2008

An unanswerable question?

Why are the women who organise speed-dating events always so much hotter than any of the participants?

For once, I have no theory to proffer in explanation. It is one of the world's great mysteries (which is perhaps a suitable category tag for this post?).

Not that I have actually taken part in such an event myself, you understand. Oh, no; I just happened to witness one over the weekend.

I think I may have mentioned before (then again, maybe not; I can't find it in a search of my blogs) that once, browsing in a bookshop in Oxford, I came upon a Mandarin phrasebook, and the useful expression that leapt off the first page I turned to was..... "I don't mind watching, but I prefer not to participate."

I've often thought that that might be my epitaph.

An especially topical bon mot

"Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul."

Samuel Ullman (1840-1924)

There you are then. I told you I was still 25.

The full text of Ullman's prose poem on Youth is here. Worth a look. It was, apparently, a great favourite of Douglas MacArthur's, and frequently quoted by him.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

T minus.....

Only 24 hours to go until the big party....

I probably shouldn't have 'warmed up' for it by having two successive 4am benders. I probably should have a quiet night in tonight.

I probably won't.

(Oops! I didn't.)


I was being good yesterday.

I spent the afternoon looking after a friend's kid. We went to an Autumn Fete at one of the international schools. Beautiful day for it. Very restful.

But then I got roped into a speed drinking competition on the stage. With Baltika 7! Two bottles of the stuff!!

The evening - and indeed quite possibly the whole weekend - started sliding downhill rather rapidly from there on.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Last night was a big SMS night. Here are some of the surreal highlights.

"Wedding in Dalian? Sounds like the next Feng Xiaogang film!"

"I think I'll pass. The last time I went on a 12hr bender with him, I lost my i-Phone. I'm still traumatized."

"I wonder if insurance payouts on lost i-Phones triggered the world banking collapse?" "No. I think it was my bar tab."

(Another friend serendipitously entered the 'conversation') "From a Japanese newspaper: Why would anyone want to use an i-Phone? The technology is so 1998." The i-Phone fetishist: "Nonsense! The i-Phone is deeply sexy, in a way that the Japanese can only associate with tentacles." Me: "Or self-mutilation, or schoolgirls?"

"I've invited most of the Pool Bar regulars to my party on Monday. My plan is to try to get them more drunk than me. It is a flawed plan, I realise."

"I can crochet you a new pair of smalls!" "Oh, come on - who crochets any more? Don't they have nanobots to do that now?" "You're right... Probably only dorks still crochet. But I, on the other hand, am COOL... That's why I knit. So, the offer's still on the table." "Nanobots can knit! I think that's a band name..." "If it isn't, it should be..."

And so on. A crazy night.

Friday, October 17, 2008

HBH 102

We can see, can breathe;
Even music seems purer.
A bar with no smoke.

Yes, Jiangjinjiu last night was suprisingly deserted: only 15 or 20 people at peak, hardly any Chinese, and not a single smoker (well, except for guitarist David Mitchell in the break between sets). It's a bijou venue and easily gets uncomfortably overcrowded. It's also poorly ventilated, and, since about 95% of Chinese men - and a very high proportion of peer-pressure-conforming laowai, of both sexes - smoke like chimneys, the atmosphere in there is often reminiscent of a Napoleonic battlefield.... the band scarcely visible through the fug, although they're no more than 10 or 15 feet away. Last night we enjoyed a completely smoke-free environment: a rare treat indeed!

This was the first time I'd seen the 'real' Panjir in a few months: sadly, I passed on their big show at Star last Sunday because I was suffering with my bad back, and because I couldn't find anybody to go with; and David and Akbar, the core members of the group, have only recently returned from a two-month field trip to Xinjiang, so the Jiangjinjiu Thursdays have been featuring a substitute guitarist for a while. Maybe it was just my pleasure in seeing them back again; or maybe it was the energising effects of the unexpectedly breathable air; or maybe, maybe the boys have drawn fresh enthusiasm and inspiration from their recent travels. Whatever it was, they were sensational last night - one of their best shows ever (and I've seen them dozens of times now, over the last 3 or 4 years).

I taunt you, Tulsa. I taunt you.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Another day older, and closer to death

I am going to have a party next Monday (October 20th). I have been assuring most of the invitees that it will not be too debauched (start mid-evening, wrap up well before midnight), because, after all, it is a "school night" for some people (not for me!). However, I am in fact envisaging a pre-party for 'the inner circle', involving single malt whisky. And a post-party for the diehards, involving chuanr, 2kuai beers, and meng jiu..... and, who knows, perhaps the odd game of late, LATE pool on the way home.

The 'main event' in the middle of the evening is probably going to bankrupt me (but hey, bankruptcy is quite the fashion at the moment, isn't it?). I have asked the gorgeous accordionist Zoe Wang and her Celtic band to come along and do their thing. And I will be attempting to buy all my guests at least one drink (a ploy to encourage timely arrival: I'll run out of money before very long). And I'm still wrangling with the bar get them to throw in a free buffet of some kind. Whatever comes of that, people should probably make their own arrangements for 'main meal' sustenance that night.

Important note: Yes, it is my birthday, but that is just a convenient excuse for a party. I do not like birthdays. I especially do not like my own birthday. Gifts and cards are prohibited. Any mention of my birthday is prohibited. Any queries or speculations about my age are likely to get you a smack in the mouth – you have been warned!

And no, I'm not going to give out any more details than that here on the blog. If you're invited, you've already been invited. I don't want all kinds of trolls and stalkers to crash the event.

If you are 'on the list', I'll see you Monday - you-know-when, you-know-where.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Is that really you??

My god, it's been years. But you haven't changed a bit. Same old thin-lipped, slightly crooked smile; same mocking head-tilt. And, yes, the same smooth curves, the delicate waist.

I remember the night we met. You came into my favourite restaurant* with a gaggle of my younger teaching colleagues, a rather boisterous, lager-loutish bunch. They'd picked you up out on the street somewhere. Heaven knows how or why!

But soon they'd moved on, and you stayed.

I did get very drunk that night. I completely forgot that I'd taken you home with me. Rising, still tipsy and befuddled, to answer the call of nature the next morning, I was at first rather shocked and flummoxed to find the outline of a female form dimly visible through my shower curtain.

I suppose I should have been concerned that you were slumped, completely inert, on the floor of the shower..... but it was still only 4 or 5am, and I was very, very, drunk.

Despite my fatigue and mental confusion, though, I think there was some dark corner of my brain that realised that there was nothing to worry about, that there was a non-threatening explanation behind the situation I'd just surprised myself with in the bathroom.

The explanation was...... well, that you were not quite the woman of my dreams. In fact you were barely even half that woman. You were, let's be frank, a limbless shop-window mannequin.

I adopted you that night to ease the discomfort of the Boss Man in the restaurant - who probably feared that those wild young lads had looted you from a clothes shop, and that the police might descend at any moment and interpret your presence on his premises as evidence of his complicity in a scandalous incident of vandalism and theft.

In fact, it was pretty evident that they had picked you up from a roadside trash heap somewhere. When I got you home, I discovered that you were absolutely filthy - hence my dumping you in the shower. Alas, I then collapsed into a crapulent coma, and utterly forgot - at least temporarily - about who you were and how you came to be with me. I'm so, so sorry. It was not the most romantic start to our relationship.

Why did I name you Cynthia? I forget now. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. Perhaps it was a fragment of my Classical education reasserting itself: Cynthia was one of the many names of Artemis/Diana (also sometimes known as Delia - references to the supposed place of her birth: on Mount Cynthus in the isle of Delos). I'm not sure that I've ever particularly liked the name; but I don't dislike it, either.

I gave you an elevated perch, balanced precariously on top of the microwave oven on my windowsill - to improve your stature (I always worried that, as a mere torso, you felt a sense of inferiority about your height) and give you a commanding view of the college courtyard below.

The police never came to investigate your history or reclaim you for some putative owner. And so you stayed with me, my companion throughout that stressful and lonely first year in China.

I assure you that it was not without regret that I abandoned you in the apartment when I left the college that summer. I was moving in frantic haste, and I had so much other stuff to take with me. And I really hoped that you might be welcomed by my successor; that you might perhaps find him or her a better friend than I had been to you.

I did think about you several times during the following months, and even years. I did, in fact, return to the college the following semester to try to recover you...... but it appeared that you'd already 'moved on', and no-one could tell me where you'd gone to.

And then, this morning, while I was out running around the hutongs, I came upon you once again, reclining by the side of the road. You could have knocked me down with a feather! Where have you been all this time? What have you been doing with yourself? I suppose I shall never know the answers.

It was you, wasn't it? Or do you have a sister??

* It was, of course, The Adventure Bar. Incidents such as this are how it got its name.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A cinematic (comic book) bon mot for the week

"Give me a whisky. I'm starving."

Robert Downey Jnr. (as Tony Stark, in Iron Man)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Sunday poem

We haven't had one for a while. Have we? I'm losing track.....

She spoke of my binge-drinking
As if it were a bad thing.

So much better, I tried to tell her,
Than drinking all the time.
Rather like sex: if you do it every night,
It gets boring, but
Going crazy one weekend a month....

She wasn't convinced.

So much less dangerous, I tried to tell her,
Than my binge-thinking,
Those times when
My head is so seething-full
Of anger and despair and strange invention
I cannot work or sleep or love or
Do anything, except offend people
With the stray thoughts
Slopping out of my mouth.

She stopped calling.

She spoke of my binge-drinking.
That was the last time we spoke.
And her leaving provoked another binge
Of thinking and drinking.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Great Drinking Songs (11)

For me, AC/DC are right up there alongside The Pogues as the greatest purveyors of the sort of nihilistic anthems you just want to YELL along to when you're a bit drunk. Downpayment Blues is another great favourite of mine. And, of course, Whole Lotta Rosie. But this, Highway To Hell, has to be the pick of the lot for a raucous singalong. At an end-of-term party in Oxford, I once sang myself hoarse with this song, completely lost my voice and had to excuse myself from my final tutorial the next day. Yes, I may be on a self-indulgent and self-destructive path but, what the hey, "My friends are gonna be there too."

Here's a great live TV performance of the song, from the band's original late-70s heyday. And, for fans of Brian Johnson, here are the boys rocking out at a concert in Munich 6 or 7 years ago (I think that was probably the last time they toured; they are getting on a bit now!).

Oh - news: I've just learned from Wikipedia that they are about to release a new album, Black Ice. That might be fun. Something else for the birthday wish-list (irresistibly appropriate, in fact, since the worldwide launch date is the same day as my birthday).

Friday, October 10, 2008

A quick plug for Panjir

Guitar maestri David Mitchell and Akbar Abliz returned recently from their trip to Xinjiang, and are geared up for another big Panjir gig. It's become a bit of a tradition over the last year or so that they play a special concert of Central Asian folk music (with their own unique infusions of jazz and flamenco) at Star Live for the major Muslim festivals, extending their regular 3 or 4-man lineup with an array of guest musicians - usually including traditional Uyghur percussionists and dancers.

They've missed the Eid ul-Fitr this year...... but better late than never! They're playing at Star this Sunday evening, the 12th October. Almost certainly the best show of the coming week. Do give it a try, if you're in town.

HBH 101

Familiar barstool,
Habitual 'happy hour' haunt;
A sense of home - lost!

Yes, it seems only appropriate that haiku No. 101 should be dedicated to my favourite demised bar, Room 101. I do miss the place - and its lovely, lovely island bar.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Wanted: A new Drinking Companion


1) Should be well-educated, literate, knowledgeable and opinionated about books, music, films.

2) Should be able to hold his/her drink.

3) Should like proper bars ('dive' bars) rather than twee bars (Chinese-style coffee bars) or pretentious bars (cocktail bars, nightclubs).

4) Should be free of restrictive relationship or work obligations.

5) Should be partial (but not addicted) to late nights/early mornings.

6) Should be capable of responding promptly and consistently to text message communications.

Solid pool-playing ability would be a plus.

These days, I rather too often find myself drinking (and, even more, eating) alone - or failing to go out at all - for lack of suitable playmates.

Whatever happened to all my drinking companions of yore??


Big Frank had a few too many troubles with women, troubles with employers, and troubles with taxi drivers here, and quit in a huff to try his luck in Korea instead.

The Chairman moved to one of the outer suburbs and got himself a job that required him to work weekends and started working half a dozen supplementary jobs that sucked up almost every hour in the week and had a bunch of friends and family members from back home move out here who make huge demands on whatever free time he does have and found a whole bunch of other people he'd rather hang out with than me (lucky man!) and is just generally useless and unreliable (I love him, but he is).

The Tedster moved to another part of town and got a job that required crazy hours and lots of travelling and found himself a more-than-usually demanding girlfriend. When he first came here and was living in my 'hood, we were close buddies for several months - but now, I scarcely see him from one year to the next.

The Choirboy, similarly, moved out of the 'hood and got himself a serious job and a serious girlfriend. We used to hang out 2 or 3 times a week, but now I sometimes struggle to see him that many times a month. Also, he has a tight-knit group of friends from his early days in Beijing with whom he spends most of his time, a bunch of people that I also know and like but don't quite fit in with. He is, these days, my closest friend out here, but it's a problem to keep in touch as much as I'd like.

The Poet was, for a while, a great drinking companion - but she is completely crazy, and her penchant for staying out all night was just too damned exhausting for an old fart like me. Also, she works ridiculous hours, and lives way, way, way out of the centre of town - so doesn't have that much of a social life most of the time. And our history (she's one of the great failed loves of my life!) makes things a little awkward between us. Nowadays, she's a once-every-six-months drinking companion rather than a regular dependable.

Crazy Chris, of course, quit the country in June. He had filled the drinking companion gap rather too well through the first half of this year, but he didn't quite take to China (he was only 'giving it a try' after becoming disillusioned with Korea after several years) and has left for good. He's now contemplating going off to do a Master's in Philosophy in Norway!

Dishy Debs is a fine drinking companion, but..... well, she is a hard-working single mum bringing up a young son, so she's not able to go out that often or stay out very late; and she generally prefers to spend her rare nights out with her posse of girlie chums ("the Coven", as I call them).

And New Dad is, well, a new dad - and is thus let off the domestic leash no more than a few times a month. Moreover, his pool game is a little too dauntingly good; I need someone who'll raise my game, not someone who'll batter my confidence by beating me every single time.

Amongst the more recent candidates for the position...... The Man In Black works ridiculous hours and is a married man and goes for long spells on the wagon and is a text message delinquent - no reliability or regularity there. The Weeble (I don't think I've mentioned him on here before, and I've only just hit on this nickname for him, but it is stunningly apposite: it was a toy craze in my childhood, marketed with the slogan "They wobble but they don't fall down."), another young American friend, again works crazy hours - but on the rare occasions when he does come out, will go all night. Terrible Tes, The Chairman's brother, is an amiably laid-back fellow (and much more down-to-earth than his sometimes starchily intellectual bro), but.... again, a rather too formidable pool player; and he works far out of town, so only gets to come in on holidays or the occasional long weekend - and so tends to go wild, like a sailor on shore leave (I'm really not into that staying-up-until-dawn thing. I'm much too fond of sleep. And much too fond of "getting things done" during the day, rather than having to sleep in until the middle of the following afternoon.). And then there's Mr Sex, a freelance journo buddy who has lately been a leading contender for the mantle. Unfortunately, his long working hours tend to mean that he doesn't come out that often or stay out very late. He is, moreover, rather annoyingly alluring to the ladies; he's the same age as me but somehow rather better preserved; and he does the roguish twinkle in the eye and the gravelly purr in the voice rather better than me, damn him. I confess to a sneaking resentment of his voice, which is very characterful - and he has 'stolen' the odd listening exam recording gig from me. I fear he's likely to be 'stealing' women from me too! Not a good wingman.

No, the position is definitely vacant at the moment. Please leave me a comment if interested in applying.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Wo Men Ai Ni, Avril!

Avril Lavigne played here in Beijing last night. Apparently, she went down a storm in her first China gig in Shanghai a year ago, so is now back for a mini-tour.

For that first appearance, she learned to sing her recent hit Girlfriend in Mandarin. Well, only the chorus - but still a noble effort. And (not that I'm any expert!) her pronunciation sounds pretty good to me. It's an impressive feat, too, because the syllable count usually ends up being quite a bit more in the Chinese translation, so it can be pretty hard to make the new lyrics fit the music. For this new set of shows, I gather she's Chinesed up some of her other songs too. Way to go, Avril!

Unfortunately, Avril's 'people' seem to have got an iron grip on YouTube: I couldn't find any live concert bootlegs, and embeds are disabled for all her official videos. However, you can check out her 'Chinese version' of Girlfriend (accompanying the original video) here. Quite fun.

No, I did not go to last night's gig myself. It was in the Olympic Basketball Arena: it may be a fine venue, but it is WAY out on the unfashionable west side of town, and far too far away for me to consider schlepping to on one of my traditionally apathetic, recover-from-the-weekend Mondays. Also, I'm not sure what the tickets were going for, but I rather think the starting price for the cheap seats will have been something like three limbs and a kidney.

And then...... well, you know, she's just a bit too young for me - both in terms of her music and as an erotic object. And, oh yes, isn't she married already? (In general, I try to make it a rule not to allow myself to fall for women who are: a) considerably richer than me; b) internationally famous; c) barely half my age; or d) married. I find it avoids disappointment later.)

I mean, sure, if she'd invited me personally, I might have considered going. Or if some freebie tickets had somehow dropped in my lap some other way. But adolescent pop-rock isn't really my thing. Not a thing I'd pay good money for in my present cash-strapped circumstances, anyway.

Monday, October 06, 2008

So, farewell, then......

.... to Room 101.

I can't quite believe it's really gone.

It had become quite a fixture in my life over the last 7 or 8 months (yes, it's featured in well over 40 posts here on the Barstool, possibly even outstripping my other great bar favourites, Jianghu and the Pool Bar), and a very comforting one at that.

Last night, I headed out to grab a bite of supper around 7pm, and I found my footsteps mistakenly leading me - entirely at the unconscious prompting of ingrained habit - towards this now-defunct watering-hole. And, for a moment, a fierce pang of regret seized my heart.

Oh, how I'll miss that charming walk through the hutongs, a walk which I suppose I have now been making at least 2 or 3 times a week for the past several months (and usually in both directions, out at the start of the evening and back at the end of it). When I first discovered the place, I had supposed that it was slightly irritatingly distant - a good 35 or 40 minutes' walk away from my apartment; but this was only because I was tending to walk back via the Pool Bar every night, which was a detour of a good 15 minutes (even without going in!). Once I'd sussed out a 'direct route' through the narrow lanes linking me to Andingmennei Dajie (not entirely straightforward: quite a few of them are through-ways between the two major north-south roads of Jiugulouwai and Andingmennei, but quite a few others twist and weave and lead you into sudden cul-de-sacs), I discovered that it was scarcely any further than the Pool Bar - if I stepped out briskly, I could manage it in 23 or 24 minutes (of course, it was always somewhat slower coming back).

I suppose I might come to miss the exercise too; that was a good healthy leg-stretch - especially in a year when the air quality was so relentlessly shitty and my health so poor that I just couldn't keep up my regular running habit.

On the other hand, it might be good for me to wean myself off Stella Artois for a while. That is a very tasty but very fattening beer, and having a supplier in my neighbourhood was leading me into dangerous over-indulgence. Maintaining my svelte figure has been a struggle this year.

Nevertheless, I am a little sad about this change in my life at the moment. And a little disoriented. No, very sad and disoriented.

Still..... one door closes and another opens, as they say. At least now I have room in my life to consider embarking on a new bar-relationship.....

A txt msg bon mot for the week

I had been hoping to hook up with New Dad for a session in the Pool Bar last Friday, but the plan miscarried (although he was, at least, one of the few people to be reliably responding to text messages last week).

When I observed ruefully that perhaps my one-man malt whisky tasting (they have a really good selection in the 12 Sq M bar at the bottom of Nanluoguxiang) had probably taken the edge off my game that evening anyway, he teased me that perhaps it would also take the edge off the pain of my impending defeats.

In a philosophical mood that night (I get like that about playing pool, you know), I countered:

"Defeat is not painful; making mistakes is.

If you play a perfect game, you win. No pain.

Even if you play a perfect or near-perfect game and LOSE (it can happen!) - there's no pain in that. You know you were part of something beautiful. Like that game between PP + QC the other night."

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Radio Silence

The social life has been in a bit of a slump this week.

It has been a particularly bad week for uncommunicativeness. No-one has e-mailed me this week. No-one has phoned me. (Well, I hardly ever get phone calls, anyway. We all exist on text messages these days.) Hardly anyone has sent me a text message. I've sent quite a few, but probably 95% of them have gone unacknowledged. Between Wednesday and Friday I couldn't raise a peep out of anyone.

A few people, no doubt, had gone out of town during this holiday week (although most hadn't). Some may have been otherwise "busy" (unlikely!). Some may have been suffering glitches with their mobile phones or with the SMS network (ah, the easy excuses!!). But no - I think in fact most people are just f***ing lazy about replying to messages.

Have my pleas for companionship really become so pathetic, my demands for attention so tiresome?? I fear it may be so.

The sense of neglect and isolation does rather exacerbate the depression I always seem to feel at this time of year.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

A mystery solved

The latest batch of staff t-shirts at Room 101 bear the cryptic logo/slogan Matricule 6079.

Big Frank, when he was visiting a few weeks back, pointed out that 'matricule' is the French for a registration number - and so it might, for example, be a serviceman's serial number (indeed it is: through the wonders of Google I discover that it was the ID of a sergeant killed in the first months of WWI).

However, I've just realised that it is also Winston Smith's citizen number in the French edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four - so I guess that's the reference, huh? (A strangely low number - you'd think they'd need to use a lot more numbers and/or letters to give everyone a reference number! Realism, George, realism.) Why did it take me so long to work that one out?! My brain is getting old and slow.....

I only solved this riddle on the eve of their Closing Down Party - though, doubtless, it would have been plaguing me for months after the bar's demise if I hadn't cracked it.

The Possible Band Names game CONTINUES!!

Guerilla commenter Gary is keeping the Band Names thread alive singlehandedly! What's happened to the rest of you??

In August he offered us an Olympic-themed selection. I particularly liked Undetectable, Baton Handover Disasters, and, of course, The Funking Fuwas. I had been tempted to award first place to Passport Faker, but on further reflection I find Tears For Lolo just irresistible.

His Foreign Band suggestion that month was Dos Cervezas (it wins because it was the only entry, but a worthy suggestion nonetheless), and his Cover Band was the quite brilliant - The Cultured Clash (a string quartet playing classical arrangements of Joe Strummer songs!).

And last month's list included such inspired lunacy as Mescaline Milkshakes and Sultans of Schwing, as well as a few topical references - Last Year's Mascots, Billion Dollar Bailout, and Moose Shooter. However, I choose as the winner - Lost Marbles.

His Foreign Band suggestion last month was Nunc Est Bibendum (a fine motto for this blog!), and his Cover Band...... The Bleached Boys. Love it!

Please, keep 'em coming, Gary. Excellent work!

I may have to hold a poll soon to determine the overall best suggestions so far this year.....

Friday, October 03, 2008

Not such a great party....

Oh dear.

Some details have finally been announced for the Closing Down Party at Room 101 tomorrow.

It's not sounding that good, I'm afraid. There had been talk of all kinds of special offers on drinks to clear out the stock. These may yet transpire on the night; but all we're being promised so far is a couple of free kegs of Beijing draught beer. Big f***ing deal! I don't drink Beijing draft in there. I don't know any of the 'regulars' who do. And the stuff is so goddamned cheap that many restaurants do actually give the stuff away FREE (or for a very token 5 kuai a pint) all the time. So, this isn't exactly an enticing show of generosity from the owners. (I'm really at a loss as to why they introduced the stuff there in the first place - only relatively recently - since there is very little demand for it, and it only tends to [very slightly] diminish sales of their imported beers.)

Oh, and they're having a DJ! WHY????!!!!

The only success the place has ever really enjoyed has been when it has live bands playing on Fridays and Saturdays. Are none of those bands available this weekend? I had been hoping we might have a repeat of the Sichuan Earthquake Benefit, where nearly all of the 'house bands' turned out to keep the joint rocking through the early hours of the morning. But it seems that this is not to be. All we're getting is a sodding DJ. (And what a DJ! It's a French guy, a friend of the boss's. I'm not sure what the favoured term for his style of stuff is, but...... well, I'm sure it's fine if you like that sort of thing; but it's kind of a narrow niche, lacking general appeal - and not very obviously danceable, to my mind! And I just know it's going to be way too f***ing LOUD. They had this same guy play - similarly superfluously, annoyingly - at the great Jack Daniel's Night, and it nearly ruined the evening: he pretty much managed to empty out the ground floor of the bar! Luckily, it was a warm evening in early summer, and we were all able to spill out into the street outside. That might not be an option this time.)

And promotion?? Well, I think they managed to get a small mention in the bar listings of the expat magazines this month - but nobody really reads those, I don't think. They claim they've sent out e-mails to quite a few people - but I think the people that leave their e-mail details tend to be transients rather than regulars (they don't have mine, for example). And I don't think they've asked my pal The Barman to help put the word out (he doesn't work there any more, but remains on good terms with them): he has quite an extensive contact list of e-mails and mobile phone numbers, and managed to get strong turnouts for the Jack Daniel's Night and the Earthquake Benefit Gig purely on word-of-mouth. All I've seen so far are a few not very eye-catching posters (posters that catch the eye, really, only because of the dread word 'DJ' on them!). And, of course, this is a week when a large number of foreigners are going to be out of town, on holiday. Last weekend, or the weekend before, really might have been a better time to throw such a party.

I am reminded that a large part of the reason why this place has "failed" is a certain touching ineptitude on the part of the owners with regard to events and promotion. It was a very nice bar, a very nice bar indeed, but they never really had any idea of how to attract customers to it on a consistent basis.

I have a bad feeling about tomorrow now. I think maybe I'll say my goodbyes tonight instead......

Traffic Report - the blog stats for September

After the Olympic blitz in August, things returned to 'normal' last month (although I worry that 'normal' is still way too prolific for either my good or yours, dear readers).

On Froogville there were 56 posts and nearly 18,000 words.

On the Barstool there were 40 posts and around 11,000 words.

I think I should aim to trim that ridiculous rate of output back by at least 25-30%.

I'm not sure quite what different methods of counting are used, but according to the rather more detailed traffic analysis I get from Statcounter I'm now getting 600-700 unique visitors to each of my blogs each month; that's considerably more than is recorded in the visitor-counter in the sidebars (which comes from Sitemeter; I'm not sure why I chose that in the first place, but I'm kind of stuck with it now - though it is evidently pretty cruddy). Also, curiously enough, last month, for the first time, the Barstool actually edged ever so slightly ahead of its big brother in number of visits - I wonder what can have brought this about.

We welcomed new visitors from Italy and Cyprus on the Barstool, and from Mauritius on Froogville. And I now have fairly regular readers in Dubai and Kosovo. Going up in the world indeed!!

Attentive readers will have noted that both blogs passed their second anniversaries last month. Can I keep this going for another year? I'm not sure. We'll see.

HBH 100

Holidays are bleak:
Empty schedules are daunting,
The dark clouds hover.

The Chinese holidays are perhaps particularly bad for me: there's no sentiment attaching to them for me, no warming nostalgia. There's simply an irritating suspension of normal activities for the week.

Travel within China becomes next-to-impossible, because of the hordes of Chinese tourists. Even travelling around Beijing becomes unattractive, since all the parks, temples, museums, malls etc. are beset by throngs of people. Most foreigners with any money, any sense, quit the country for the whole week. The rest of us retreat into inertia, holing up in our apartments with a stack of books and DVDs.

Such unaccustomed idleness is not good for me. There are too many dark thoughts that crowd in on me when I have this kind of time on my hands. It's a quaint little paradox that what is supposed to be a time of celebration is for me, fairly regularly, the occasion of my biggest depression of the year.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

New Picks of the Month

Time to ring the changes over there in the sidebar again, with some new picks from the archive. This month, I give you a couple of my funniest pieces.

On Froogville I commend to you my wacky dream about The School for Henchmen.

And on the Barstool, I give you And.... they're off!, my decision-making process for choosing what to do with myself of an evening rendered as a horse-racing commentary.


The greatest game

Another fine night in the Pool Bar last night. After a fallow period over the summer, things are starting to take off there again - with some new 'regulars' establishing themselves, and one or two of the old crowd reappearing.

New Dad had summoned me to join him there for a session on the pool table, but unfortunately neither of us had brought our best game with us on this occasion; and since there were so many people trying to get a game, we never actually got the chance to play each other. Some other time.

We were both somewhat eclipsed by the other talents on display last night. Almost everybody seemed to be on dazzling form - except us!

In particular, one of the regular lady players there was playing awesomely well - she must have put together a winning run of 10 or 12 games (against some very good players). She even managed to beat the young Chinese dude who in recent weeks has become the new 'Terror of the Table'. Only very, very narrowly - but she beat him. I was in awe. They were both playing unbelievably well. Everyone in the room was watching in rapt silence, quite spellbound by the spectacle. I think that is quite possibly the best game of pool I've ever seen.

Well...... apart from ones I was playing in myself, of course.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A double holiday!

In addition to being Chinese National Day, I learn that this year October 1st is also Eid ul-Fitr, the Muslim festival that marks the end of Ramadan.

A happy holiday to all my Muslim readers!!

(I think I have a few. Strangely enough!)

Not in the mood

Now that the Olympics are finally behind us, all of the stupid bans and restrictions on our activities are suddenly being lifted..... and outdoor music events - which have been suspended all year - are once more considered 'safe'!

At rather short notice, the Modern Sky record label has managed to put together a three-day festival over in Haidian Park.

I haven't been able to find a lineup of bands online, but I gather that Joyside, SUBS, and Hedgehog are supposed to be playing today - three of Beijing's best bands.

Now, I am delighted that the music scene is returning to normal here at last. And I haven't heard any of these guys play for quite a while now. But...... it's a nasty, drab grey day outside; and Haidian Park is way, way, way over on the west side of town, kind of hard to get to; and I don't have anyone to go with; and...... well, I guess I'm just rundown from weeks of poor health. Apathy, I fear, is going to win the day.

I'll see how I feel after another coffee.....