Monday, May 31, 2010

Froog Solutions (7)

Froog's solution to... not having any free time left to write the materials for an imminent series of lectures:

Get up at 6am to start work..... and then procrastinate some more.

And try not to PANIC!

Bon mot for the week

"When you're single, a date can be trial-by-fire. When you're in a relationship, it's more like the fun night out you never find time to have any more."

Gary (my California-based commenter)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A little bit of a letdown....

I decided against heading out to Kolegas on Friday evening for the first leg of their staggered 5th Anniversary Party. The only big name amongst the main roster of bands that night was Black Cat Bone, who I've heard a gazillion times before (well, and Buyi and Skarving; I like them too, but have heard them a couple of times recently). The weather was a bit discouraging, cool-ish and occasionally threatening to spot with rain again; I didn't fancy being stuck way over on the east side of town if the heavens should open once more. And I was suffering with a sore throat, knew that I had to be cautious about exposing myself to too loud or smoky an atmosphere. (Ah, and then I got side-tracked into having a birthday drink with The Weeble. And then I remembered that Sand [one of my favourite Beijing bands - the only purely Chinese band I know to play blues - although I thought they'd broken up, since I haven't seen a gig advertised for them in three or four years] were playing at Jianghu, so I decided to check that out.)

However, it seems that Friday may have been a rather more satisfying show than Saturday - with a number of bands turning up unannounced to pad out the roster, and the night evolving into an extended jam session which carried on well past sunrise. That sounds rather like the great 1st Year Party I mentioned the other day - perhaps the best party/music event I have ever been to.

I'd always worried that trying to spread the party over two (or three? are they really trying to keep going today as well?) days would result in an unwelcome diffusion of focus, that neither of the main gig nights would be quite as impressive as a single music marathon might have been (and that punters might choose to go to just one night, reducing the crowd size; or might be uncertain as to which night was the 'real' birthday, and perhaps boycott the event out of confusion). However, I had thought that Friday night would be more likely to suffer as a result of this. In fact, it seems, Friday night was so good that everyone was a bit burned out by Saturday.

And two of the headliners cancelled at short notice - SUBS ("tour commitments"?) and Ziyo/Free The Birds (Helen still crocked after falling off stage at the Strawberry Festival three weeks ago? Or a band split-up???). And no replacements were found. That left only two bands, DH & The Chinese Hellcats and Wu & The Side Effects; both excellent outfits, but not much of a bill considering the high expectations generated for this event and the high door fee being asked. (Well, OK, three bands: but it would be kinder not to dwell too much on warm-up act Larry's Pizza. They attempt to sing in English without, apparently, knowing any. Their lyrics - which they seem to be trying to learn and reproduce phonetically, but they're doing it very badly - come across as a burble of barely distinguishable nonsense words. And their gimmick is that they take mellow reggae classics like Wild World and Could You Be Loved, and give them a thrash treatment with bawling vocals and sawing guitars. And they can't even play very well. It evokes the same sort of horrified fascination as watching a car crash. The best that can be said about them is that they only played for just over 20 minutes.)

And that was it. Rumours of a clandestine appearance by Xie Tianxiao proved to be, well, just rumours. (Given that his mid-life self-reinvention seems to have involved abandoning the throbbing grunge of his seminal '90s band Cold Blooded Animal in favour of an anodyne mish-mash of reggae and Chinese folk, this is perhaps not such a big disappointment.) Rumours of various other bands possibly showing up later also, I'm told, came to naught.

Many people, perhaps having heard how late things ran on the previous night, were only turning up at 1am: they missed all the live music.

Other gripes:
Well, although they had more people behind the bar than in previous years, they were still a bit chaotic as to who should be working which bar, and they got overwhelmed by the number of punters for long periods: it could be tough to get a drink.

Those new speaker stacks - just STUPID! Way TOO LOUD for such a compact space. Lots of people were complaining about it last night; and lots of people - even seasoned gig-goers, even some of the rock musicians, even self-destructive young Chinese headbangers - were wearing earplugs. And the eardrum damage isn't even the worst of it. They completely destroy the sightlines. The stacks are so tall now (the old ones barely projected above the level of the stage, so didn't get in anyone's way) that - unless you're right in the middle of the room, and fairly close to the front - you get a severely restricted view of the edges of the stage; from the bar area, you can hardly see a thing any more (well, the whole right half of the stage has disappeared; which usually includes the drummer and the lead guitarist).

The air-conditioning?? Oh my god, are they taking a leaf out of Mako's book and trying to save money by doing without? Or do they need all their electricity outlets to power those outsize speaker stacks now?? The one or two AC units that used to be on stage have been removed. And the ones by the bar and in the main gig area were not in use. It got to be like an oven in there. In fact, rather sadly, both the DH and Wu sets started to empty out well before the end because people just couldn't take the heat any more.

And what was with that excruciating electro-bleep they kept pumping out of the laptop after the bands had finished? I don't think that could be classed as even the most 'minimal' of techno. Was it just a ploy to keep everybody outside?? (It worked!) Painful.

Despite all these disappointments, it was a very large turnout. A very large turnout with a very low average age (well, sub-thirty, anyway; I'm getting very intolerant of young people in my middle age) and a very high incidence of American citizenship. And I suspect a rather high percentage of them haven't been to 2K more than once or twice in their lives. The place really ought to introduce some sort of 'frequent flyer' programme to ensure that us regulars can get served ahead of these interlopers (I know, there are a lot of people who are probably much more regular visitors there than me; but I do make it out there 15 or 20 times a year; and I have been doing so since a few weeks after they first opened..... so, I think I've earned priority status).

Well, I'm glad the lads made themselves a lot of money this weekend. And I'm glad the crowds of young folk hopping around to the DJ on the lawn had a good time. But I have to say, compared to the previous birthday events, this Saturday was a little bit shit.

And I hope to god they'll spend some of their new wealth on dismantling that ridiculous sound system and purchasing something that works better for this size of venue. I don't want to have to be stuffing my ears with cotton wool every time I go there from now on.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


Reflecting further on the bizarre choices among the winners and nominees in this month's The Beijinger Bar and Club Awards, I realise that as the expat population has grown larger in the years I've been here, so too it has become more differentiated, more fragmented.

Back at the dawn of the Noughties, the number of laowai in Beijing was probably only in the few tens of thousands (well, at least if you exclude the very large - uncountable - numbers of Koreans, Japanese, and Asiatic Russians, many of whom seem to have become permanent residents, and who 'blend in' to the local population much better than other varieties of foreigner), and the number of anglophones perhaps only in the few thousands. And because of that compact size, we had a shared sense of identity, of common purpose - perhaps a slight feeling of being beleaguered in the midst of a very strange and occasionally hostile city, and needing to club together for support. Of course, the city itself was far smaller then (with the 5th Ringroad just beginning construction, and very little development out beyond the 4th). And the 'bar scene' was tiny. Well, there were the old stagers: The Den, The Goose & Duck, Frank's Place, the John Bull Pub, The Mexican Wave, Maggie's. There was Poacher's and Jazz Ya just off Sanlitun. And there was the good old Sanlitun South bar street. And that was about it. Houhai didn't start to take off as a bar area until 2003; Nanluoguxiang not until 2007. Even the student enclave around Wudaokou was pretty rudimentary in those days (when did Lush open? '03??). Ditto Shunyi: it was already being promoted as a 'luxury villa' community removed from the hubbub of the city, but all those fancy malls and restaurants and coffee shops that make it such a comfortable home-away-from-home for expat families have sprung up just within the last half dozen years or so.

In those days (7 or 8 or 9 years ago), everyone hung out on Sanlitun South - regardless of disparities in age or income, regardless of place of residence. 'Year abroad' students from Wudaokou would rub shoulders with big-hitting executives from Shunyi in places like Nashville and Jam House and Tanewha and Hidden Tree. Even lowly language teachers would be welcomed to the party, so long as they didn't talk shop (although they might prefer to hang with the teenage expat brats in ultra-cheap dives like Black Sun or Pure Girl). Oh yes, the old 'Bar Street' was a great leveller. But then it got levelled.

I think it would have lost that unique 'melting pot' character anyway by now, even if it had somehow survived Beijing's merciless obsession with 'progress'. I'd guess that the expat population is now 10 times what it was back then (certainly the number of language students has gone up by rather more than that); average levels of affluence are rather higher (even poor old English teachers are getting paid ever so slightly more these days); and the number and diversity of bar and restaurant offerings has seen a corresponding boom.

It's hardly surprising, then, that there should be less coherence in the community now, and less coincidence of tastes on the nightlife scene. The people who voted for Xiu in those recent awards are unlikely to have much if any overlap with the people who voted for Paddy O'Shea's. And the people who would have voted for Salud (if it had been nominated) would not have overlapped very much with either grouping.

I'd say the main 'constituencies' these days (among Beijing's native English-speaker population) are as follows:

The Embassy Crowd
These are the 'aristocracy' of the expat community, too high and mighty to socialise much with us ordinary mortals. The nature of their job generates a sense of superiority, or at any rate of 'separateness' - and they seem to do 90% of their socializing with staff from other Embassies. (It was different in the olden times, when they might have only a few hundreds or a few dozens of their citizens residing here, and so felt at liberty to invite them all to the Embassy bar for a social evening once a month. [The New Zealand Embassy still used to do this until about 5 years ago; not sure if the tradition continues today.] Now, with thousands of us here - constantly getting into 'trouble' with lost passports, traffic accidents, violent altercations with landlords or employers, etc. - they have to set up professional barriers to discourage us from bothering them. And that on-the-job aloofness too often carries over into their private lives as well.)

The Shunyi-ites
"The rich are different." (Fitzgerald) "Yes, they have more money than us." (Hemingway) "And they live in Shunyi." (Froog)
I have nothing much against Shunyi, really (nothing that a small thermonuclear warhead wouldn't put right, anyway). Nothing, that is, except its isolation and its unreality. It is not Beijing. It is nearly 20 miles outside of Beijing, and it is a completely different world.

The Hipster Rich
Some of the mega-wealthy entrepreneurs and senior executives choose to live within the city proper, rather than Shunyi - largely to prove that they can afford to do so (in huge, renovated siheyuan properties, or luxury serviced apartments). Also, they tend to be without children, and are thus unconcerned about the supposedly fresher air (ha!) and proximity to the major international schools which Shunyi boasts.

People With 'Real' Jobs
The average Shunyi-ite or Hipster Rich type tends to be rather off-putting. They're not necessarily arrogant, but they often are, a bit. And you do get fed up of the smug/cagey way that people won't tell you any more than that they're "involved in import-export". And there just isn't anything very interesting to say about being a manager in an engineering company. However, once in a while you'll meet a TV producer for CNN, or an architect, or a CleanTech consultant, or a lawyer, or an airline pilot - and they are often fascinating, and very nice (if usually hellishly overworked) people.

The Expat Brats
The children of long-term, well-to-do foreign residents mostly have far too much pocket money and parents with a somewhat laissez-faire attitude to letting them go out on the town. There are parts of Sanlitun on a Friday or a Saturday (or a Wednesday or a Thursday?!) night where the average age seems to be below 16.

International School Teachers
A privileged niche class - much better paid than those of us on 'local salaries', but paupers compared to most of the MNC execs. They usually qualify as honorary Shunyi-ites. I fell in love with one a little while back, but it was obviously a doomed prospect; she only came into the city three or four times a year.

EFL Teachers
A derided underclass. Probably the most numerous single category in this analysis, but lacking any sense of group solidarity; indeed, usually lacking even the pride to identify themselves. Most of them hang out in Paddy's or The Den, pretending to have more money than they do; or in the Wudaokou student bars, pretending to be younger than they are. Sad.

The Mandarin Students
There are at least three sub-varieties: the fairly 'serious' ones who are attending a full-year programme as part of their undergraduate language degree; the mostly rather less serious ones who are on a 'study trip' here (usually of considerably less than one year; many of them seem to realise quite early on that this isn't really going to get them anywhere, and just give up on their studies and party); and the mid-life crisis types - on the run from debts, failed marriages, derailed careers - who have convinced themselves that learning Mandarin may be a panacea for all their ills (in this stressful modern world, it seems, such crises can hit any time from the mid-twenties onwards). I despise all three types more or less equally. They tend to be very loud and very brash. And very tiresome in constantly trying to show off the tiny amounts of Mandarin they've managed to learn.

The Planet-Savers
In recent years, more and more of the Mandarin Students have stayed on to find work with worthy NGOs, bijou environmental consultancies, and so on. Indeed, some come here pursuing such opportunities without wasting the time on a Mandarin course first. There are now large numbers of young professionals here in such interesting and laudable (but mostly not very well-paid) jobs. Most of them are in their mid to late twenties or early thirties, and many of them are women. This ought to be my prime girlfriend-hunting milieu. Unfortunately, the aura of worthiness surrounding them can be quite suffocating.

Local Hires
Most Mandarin Students, however, don't get interesting and worthy jobs for NGOs and the like; they just find regular entry-level positions in Western companies (or sometimes, god help them, in Chinese companies). Many young people today - driven by curiosity about the largest, oldest, blah-blah-blah nation on earth, or by naive idealism about China being the 'new economic frontier', or simply by the dearth of job prospects back home - come out here without even much, or anything, in the way of Mandarin skills, and hope to find a job anyway. Most of these people - however good, bad, or non-existent their Mandarin - eventually find something, because there are so many jobs around in Beijing. And most of them are happy to have taken that first step on a career path, to have found a way to stay here. They try not to be too resentful of the fact that 'local hires' only get paid, at best, 20% or 30% of what they'd make for a comparable job in their own country (and this despite the fact that some international 'cost of living' indices rate Beijing alongside New York as one of the most expensive cities in the world in which to live!).

An unfortunate sub-set of the Local Hires (well, many of them, I think, are not hired locally, but their pay is usually similarly miserly, unless they do really well for themselves on commissions): people with foreigner-targeted sales jobs - in things like real estate, relocation services, healthcare, and, oh god, "financial advice". It is a potentially lucrative (though, mostly, probably not) but somewhat stigmatized line of work.

The Frat Boys
A mysterious and very annoying sub-set. I don't know where the fuck these people come from. They could, I suppose, be part of any one of the groups above - although I would guess that the majority of them are Mandarin Students, or young professionals who've only recently finished their spell of being a Mandarin Student and are still behaving in much the same way on their nights off. They are mostly male, nearly all American (they are The Borg: they will occasionally 'assimilate' innocent bystanders into their 'culture'), and fall within the 18-30 age bracket, probably mostly in the mid-twenties. They are very raucous. They drink shooters. They are very raucous. They like hip-hop music. They are very raucous. The word 'like' accounts for almost 30% of their discourse. And they are very, very, VERY raucous. They are the reason why I found The Rickshaw (now mercifully demised) intolerable in the past, and why I continue to avoid most of the places around Sanlitun.

The Small-Time Entrepreneurs
More and more people in the last few years seem to have been bravely taking the plunge in trying to set up a small business of their own. You don't even need to have a Chinese wife in order to do this any more (although I think it still helps). I admit I am envious of these folks. (I just don't have quite enough money to strike out on my own; and the search for a trustworthy partner seems neverending....) However, for every bar or restaurant or t-shirt shop that makes a reasonable return for its owners, there must be 10 that are ignominious failures. And the few that succeed usually get torpedoed within a few years by rent-gouging landlords or treacherous business partners or the dreaded redevelopment notice ('chai'). Oh gosh, yes, it takes a lot of bravery to undertake something like this. Bravery, and a kind of optimism that borders on delusional religious fervour. I don't think I have it.

The Bohemians
A strange and nebulous class. Most, but not all, are still relatively young. Most, but not all, have acquired extremely good Mandarin (not by taking courses in it, but by having Chinese friends or Chinese lovers, and by taking jobs that required them to use Mandarin on a daily basis). Most - well, just about all - live in the city centre, mainly within the 2nd Ringroad (though some have moved out to the distant suburbs in search of more affordable housing). Very nearly all of them are involved in one of the more creative professions: art, music, photography, journalism, translation, graphic design, fashion, writing, academic research. The majority, I think, regard themselves as 'lifers', people who are settling down here for the long-haul, probably for most or all of their working life - and perhaps even beyond.

And where do I fit into all of this? Well, I don't. I am UNIQUE, unclassifiable. I used to be an EFL Teacher, but I have escaped from that miserable life. I've been a Local Hire a few times, and would not like to go back there either. I aspire to be a Small-Time Entrepreneur, but haven't made it yet. Most of my friends are Bohemians, but I fear I don't quite qualify myself. Well, no analysis of this sort can expect to be comprehensive....

Friday, May 28, 2010


Gosh, the city's best music bar (it's not exactly a huge competition), 2 Kolegas, has made it to the 5 year mark.

Their anniversary parties over the past four years have established themselves as a reliable highlight of the musical year: indeed, I would say, they have pretty regularly deserved accolades as Gig of the Year and/or Party of the Year.

This year, rather than just having one - LONG - night of revelry (they typically go from early Saturday evening through till towards dawn on Sunday), it seems they are planning to go all weekend. The details are a bit sketchy as yet (with no substance to the City Weekend listings, for example), but it seems there are going to be formal gigs on both Friday and Saturday nights (and, according to rumour, on Sunday too - although I suspect everyone will be partied out by then), and a more haphazard programme of DJs, impromptu performances, and beer & chuanr on the lawn throughout most of the two afternoons.

Frankly, I doubt if they will ever top the exuberant celebration at the end of Year 1 (I think people were amazed - delighted, but amazed - that they had survived that long with their shambolic management style, obscure location, and inability to actually pay any of the bands most of the time), where there was a good 8 or 10 hours of music, with pretty much everyone who's anyone on the Beijing scene dropping in at some point to play twenty minutes or so.

But it looks as though they're going to do their darnedest with this 36-hour (or 48-hour, or....) marathon over this weekend. I hope the weather treats us kindly (it's been pissing with rain for the past 24 hours, but it seems - touch wood - as though the skies have cleared now).

Happy Birthday, boys!!

I feel a song coming on......

Ooh, yeah, just like that....

Usually, the sensation that Fate is toying with us is not pleasant.

But, just occasionally.....

At the start of this week I was on the brink of taking on a book editing project - 250,000 words to be re-written (oh yes - this wasn't just a straightforward proof-reading gig: the English was absolutely abysmal) in the space of 10 or 12 days.

On Tuesday morning, as I was heading out the door to an early morning teaching engagement at a university, I learned that this job had fallen through. I was, on balance, rather relieved. The promised fee had been enticing, but I really hadn't fancied putting the whole of the rest of my life on hold for two weeks. However, this 'good news' was more than offset by the unhappy discovery that I had somehow lost my wallet - and with it, my last 1,700 kuai.

That evening - hurrah! - I found the missing wallet again (it had been hiding in plain sight all along; don't you hate it when that happens?). Now, you see, I had written it off, resigned myself to it being gone for good, accepted that I was going to have to stay home and subsist on instant noodles for a few days until I next earned some cash-in-hand. So, suddenly recovering it was like being handed FREE MONEY. I felt morally obligated to rush out and spend as much of it as possible at once.

My plan, though, was to indulge in a brief, intense binge at 12 Square Metres, and then head home around 9 or 10pm. I was knackered after a long - and stressful - day and a poor night's sleep, and was desperately in need of an early night. Also, I had been hoping to be able to get up at 2.45 the next morning (4 or 5 hours' sleep? more than enough for me these days!) to catch England's World Cup warm-up game against Mexico. Of course, I wasn't completely confident about when the match kicked off (let alone if it would be shown on the wretched CCTV5), because I hadn't had time to check on any of the sports news websites. And I wasn't convinced that I didn't need a good lie-in rather more than I needed to be reminded how dismal our prospects for this World Cup are.

Nevertheless, that was my basic blueprint for the evening. Of course, it was the Chairman who had told me that the match was on Wednesday morning - and he is notoriously the most unreliable fellow in the world. However, I would likely not have discovered his error had I not got into casual conversation with another Brit in the bar, who happened to mention that the game had been played the previous evening. I was annoyed and disappointed, though hardly surprised at this news; also, a little relieved that I could now enjoy a restorative lie-in the next day, and didn't have to worry about leaving the bar quite so early.

However, I'd already wound one or two tequila slammers and a whisky into me, so was starting to feel quite floaty. And I was feeling deeply, deeply exhausted after all the shit I'd had to put up with over the previous few days. So, I thought I would just stay for one or two more drinks.

And so it was that, about an hour later, around 10pm, I felt that I'd had enough and was trying to ask for my tab. The bar had just started to get a little busy, so I was waiting patiently while the new customers were served. The wait grew into several minutes.... during which time I started to think about maybe having one more drink, for the road. And then.....

The most dazzlingly sexy Russian woman entered the bar and proceeded to flirt with me for the next three hours (no, not that kind of Russian; put those dirty minds away; she was a respectable entrepreneur, here on a business trip). Yes, I am rather smitten. We exchanged phone numbers and e-mail addresses. And she's moving here later this year.

And I would never have met her if...... I hadn't lost that editing job, found my wallet again, got the date of the football match wrong, and taken so long to get my tab. Under any other combination of circumstances, I probably wouldn't have gone to the bar at all on Tuesday night. Even when I did find myself there (and so blissfully disinhibited!), I might so easily have missed her... perhaps by just a few minutes, or seconds.

Spooky! It's almost enough to make you think that maybe everything does happen "for a reason".

HBH 184

French café music,
Background whisper of the rain:
Travelling back in time.

My jazzy friends the No Name Trio made a return to Jianghu last night. They had a Thursday night residency there throughout most of the first year-and-a-half or so that it was open, until they finally tired of playing for free. I had thought they'd been back for a number of one-off gigs there since, but they assure me that this is only their second return since September '08 (the first having been at the beginning of April last year). And this means, alas, that I am seeing them much more rarely, since I seldom manage to drag myself off to the obscurer or more far-flung venues they tend to play now.

The ambience in the little courtyard bar last night was quite magical, as we sheltered cosily from the light but insistent drizzle outside. And it conjured so many wonderful memories of the even better nights I shared with them there back in those early days. Ah, nostalgia.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Did you notice what just happened there?

Over in the sidebar??

Yes, believe it or not, at some point yesterday evening Barstool Blues passed its 30,000th recorded visitor. (And we've already had another 60-odd in the 24 hours since...)

Not that this really means anything, of course. A couple of other traffic-monitoring tools I consult from time to time put my visitor numbers at nearly twice as many as dear old Sitemeter is prepared to acknowledge; but I don't think any of these services attempts to differentiate between people who stumble in here by accident or in pursuit of a Google search term and click through again in nano-seconds and those who actually hang around to read stuff. Moreover, I don't think any of them records feed-reader subscriptions, and I'm sure that's how most of my 'regulars' follow me.

So, it's not a milestone of any substantial significance. Except that it reassures me - just slightly - that people are wandering by here and having a look-see once in a while......

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Reflections on this year's Midi (with pictures!)

Oh, well, three weeks late, but what the hey......

This was the leafy haven of the 'Folk Stage', the chillest spot to hang out, and scene of some of the best music in the whole damn festival - but plagued by sound pollution from the dratted Yen DJ stage nearby.

I'd gone back on Day 2 primarily to catch Xiao He (who I hadn't seen in over a year, I think) play there. The man tends to polarise opinion, with some music-lovers just not buying into the weirdness. And his current obsession with looping samples via a laptop (there must be some new software out that makes this relatively easy to orchestrate; His occasional collaborator, virtuoso saxophone loon Li Tieqiao, is doing a lot of the same kind of thing at the moment) is rendering him less and less accessible, even to his diehard fans. This technology is encouraging his egomania to run riot, as he discovers that he can clone dozens of versions of his musical self through the computer to create whole bands and choirs and orchestras of Xiao Hes; alas, it is just taken a few steps too far. Hopefully, he'll soon tire of his new toys (he seems to tire of everything he tries, and usually sooner rather than later; it's almost always a completely novel show from him, even if you see him just a few weeks apart), and realise that one of him is quite enough. The excessive reliance on the computer - with some of the tracks seemingly pre-recorded, rather than laid down and looped on the spot - takes some of the 'live' feel from the performance. It also distracts from his guitar playing, which can on occasion be quite exquisite. My sceptical companion Ruby was not the only observer to gripe that he should - in the words of the late, great Frank Zappa - Shut up 'n play yer guitar.

Rather as they used to say of Wagner, his set this time had "great moments and awful quarter hours": there were some marvellous passages, occasional outbreaks of conventional melody and even, goddammit, a certain catchiness; but then the spell would be broken by relapses into caterwauling vocals or the introduction of an excruciating electro-bloop effect that would have been more at home on the dreaded techno stage. And it all went on too long (there were only about three or four distinct segments, as far as I recall, each lasting at least ten or fifteen minutes - and they might in fact have been intended as a single, 'symphonic' composition). However, the greatness of Xiao He is that even when he's bugging the crap out of you with his self-indulgence, you still feel privileged to be listening to him. There's more talent in his little finger than in most of the rest of Beijing's musicians collectively; and he's so completely absorbed in what he's doing that he sucks you in too, forces you to suspend judgement for the duration by his mesmerising intensity, conviction, self-belief. Well, he does if he's previously won you over with some of his more audience-friendly shows; BeijingDaze's Badr refused to be converted.
One of the highlights of the first day had been the Stalingrad Cowgirls from Finland - hardly outstanding musicians, but a fun party band, goth-punk sexy. And a Chinese crowd is always easily won over by a a Ramones cover (Hey ho, let's GO!). I think this was about the bounciest things got during the three days I was there.

The 'big event' of the first day, though, was the appearance of veteran British Oi! punk band, Sham 69. Unfortunately, it was starting to get dark, so my photos were all coming out a bit blurred. For some unfathomable reason, they had been scheduled on the secondary Pilot Stage; a fact of which much of the crowd seemed to have been unaware, because they opened up to an almost empty amphitheatre, but there was then a veritable stampede over from the Tang Stage.
The boys still knock out a damn good tune - high point of the whole festival for me.

On the second day, I rather liked Shanghai band Honey Gun [OK, I stand corrected: I ran into Mr Daze this very evening, and he assures me that Honey Gun are a Beijing outfit; I hope I wasn't inclined to overrate them because I mistakenly believed them to be someone else! And I find it odd that I've never seen them - or even heard of them - here in Beijing before. And I wonder who the band I was confusing them with is - could it be that there's a Shanghai band called Love Gun or Honey Bunch??], of whom I've long been hearing good things (but I don't think they've played here in Beijing before). Unfortunately, I only caught the tail-end of their set (gallingly, the scheduled stage times were often wildly inaccurate; one expects things to start running a bit late at events like this, but there's really no excuse for so many bands to have been coming on 15 or 20 minutes earlier than they were supposed to!). I admired their ballsiness in offering a cover of Led Zep's Black Dog - although their guitarist came rather closer to emulating Jimmy Page than the vocalist did to Robert Plant.
Nevertheless, they impressed as a very tight and competent unit, and they had a swagger about them that most of Beijing's bands still lack.
Here I find myself parting company from Mr Daze (who I bumped into a number of times during the festival, and shared a hei che back with on the evening of Day 2). I treasure his blog as an invaluable source of gossip about the Beijing music scene, but our tastes seem scarcely to coincide at all. He raved about the 'death metal with Chinese characteristics' of Voodoo Kung Fu (for me, the gimmickiness doesn't overcome my distaste for the basic genre, and their novelty value wears thin after a couple of minutes or so), and ho-hum British metallers The Prophecy (admittedly they got a great response from the crowd - but Chinese kids are suckers for metal), and Israeli freakshow Asaf Avidan and The Mojos (yeah, yeah, very talented guy, but also massively self-indulgent - and after a while I began to find the affected girliness of his voice merely grating); and, most bizarrely of all, he loved a band called Dude who played over on the dinky little Mao Stage (a bunch of laowai who cover Mandopop ballads, starting out straight but then giving them a thrash-punk makeover; it's the kind of gag that over-eager Mandarin students do for their end-of-term 'talent competition' - and it gets old really quickly; honestly, why would you ever want to do more than one song like this?!). He also goes overboard for Nanwu, who strike me as a rather lame imitation of Secondhand Rose; the antics of their gumby 'comedian' simply irritate me. (I wonder if he's drawing on some kind of 'fool' performance tradition, perhaps from one of the regional opera varieties? There's something similar about the exuberant capering and epileptic twitchings of Shan Ren's Xiao Bu Dian; and, indeed, about that spazzy laowai 'MC' with the execrable Candy Monster - what the fuck were they doing on the main stage??!! - although in that case, it's probably not deliberate.)

On the other hand, he disses Xiao He (point taken, but the man's a genius, and you have to indulge geniuses), Honey Gun (not heavy enough for you?), and Perdel (who, even though they are not exactly my thing - far too bland [and taking the Beatles thing a bit too far with the matching moptops and braided 'Sergeant Pepper' uniforms] - are a really tight band, and benefit enormously from having a frontman who can actually sing [an almost unique distinction on the Beijing scene at present]; I thought they did a superb job of working up a crowd slightly thinned by the first intimations of rain, producing probably the best Chinese performance of the festival). It seems we must agree to differ, my friend.

I think I enjoyed Shan Ren most among the acts I caught on the main stage; although they suffer from a lack of musical identity - playing ska, rap, folk, and most things in between - and are much less compelling in a more intimate setting (I saw them twice again in the subsequent week or so, at 121 and at Jianghu; but without the space for their eccentric multi-instrumentalist Xiao Bu Dian to go cavorting manically all over the stage, they seemed rather humdrum). It was rather odd, though, that almost all of the best acts were playing over on the Pilot Stage. Sound leaking over there from the - supposedly 'main' - Tang Stage seemed to be one long, indistinguishable splurge of metal, with just occasional interruptions of shrieking death metal or rap (hardly an improvement!); after Day 1, I scarcely bothered to swing by the Tang Stage at all.

Another little unexpected gem was happening upon top party act Skarving playing their infectious 'big band' ska and two-tone on the Mao Stage (while I applaud the effort of the Mao staff in creating such a pleasant venue at very short notice, I regret to say that the roster of performers there was very weak, most of them deservedly unknown; I was always tempted to stay for a sit-down and a reviving Jack-and-Coke when I happened by between bands; I was always inclined to keep walking when I happened by while a band was on). And I would really, really, really like to know who the first band on the Pilot Stage on Day 1 were: I was listening to them while queueing for my ticket just outside, and they played an awesome version of the B-52s' Rock Lobster, with some demented drumming and squalling guitar feedback remiscent of The Who; and they followed that up with a fine cover of Bang! Bang! - but then went off stage just as I finally got into the venue.

A few more random snapshots to close with....

This is the 'Red Tent' art installation I mentioned in my earlier (contemporary!) post on the festival - a delightful (and strangely underused) chill-out retreat in the heart of all the mayhem.

Another shot, from over by the Pilot Stage (the Tang Stage is behind, to the left; a small lake lies between the two stages).

This is a view of the rear of the Pilot Stage, seen from the top of the banked amphitheatre seating along the left-hand side (no security at all: if you had wanted to crash the back-stage area to hang out with your favourite musicians - or to crash the stage itself - it would have been the easiest thing in the world..... luckily, everyone was very well-behaved).

And you see, it really does say Changchunyuan Clu..... (the mysterious extension to the festival venue area this year, home to that excellent Pilot Records Stage).

And so, until next year.......

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I'm walkin'....

One of my gig-lovin' gal pals was trying to drag me over to the east side the other night for a show at new(ish) venue, Mako Live House.

I found myself deeply resistant (and not just because the weather's getting hot, and the place doesn't have any air-conditioning.... although that is certainly going to be another major discouragement until around the end of September). The place is beyond the two 'magic lines': east of the Third Ringroad and south of Chang'an Dajie. (There is a third 'magic line' - west of Houhai - which puts paid to Obi-Wan; but there is so little that would entice any foreigner to the west side of town, even within the Second Ringroad, that this one is scarcely ever in play.) I don't like to go outside of the Second Ringroad if I can help it; and I will only go beyond the Third - on special occasions, under sufferance - in the north-west or north-east quadrants of the city, where there are well-established enclaves of 'civilization'. Ditto the south: even within the Second Ringroad, it is strange and unappealing territory, somewhere I'd only ever go for a touristy excursion (Dazhilan, Liulichang, Tiananmen, Tiantan, Panjiayuan...); heck, I used to have a job in an office building on the south side of Chang'an Dajie, and even that felt weird to me - what am I doing on this side of the road?!

My 'world', in fact, is these days essentially confined to the four large blocks between the Gulou and Yonghegong subway stops, and between the North Second Ring and Dianmen Dongdajie/ZhangZizhong Lu. It requires an enormous - and disorienting - leap of the imagination to even begin to conceive of going.... nearly a mile outside of the Third Ringroad and getting on for four miles south of Dongsi Shitiao.

And, really, quite apart from the dubious quality of the gigs on offer, and the tiresome slog of getting all the way out there (and back), why would I bother?

I can WALK almost everywhere I ever want to go. Nearly every decent music club in town is within a radius of two miles or so of my apartment.

Even Yugong Yishan (rarely a venue that I would want to visit) is less than 45 minutes away on foot. My favourite cosy spot Jianghu and the newly opened VA Bar at the far end of the Wudaoying Hutong are barely 35 minutes away; while East Shore Jazz Café, Mao Live House (if it ever opens again; still no signs of life this last weekend - but I'm keeping my fingers crossed) and Ginkgo (if I ever go there again, which I'm seriously starting to doubt) are only 20 minutes away; charming newcomer Zui Yuefang is only 15 minutes away, Jiangjinjiu just 10 minutes; the newest opening in my 'hood, 121 Jiugulou Dajie, is even closer, and the very promising Dashibei Hutong bistro The Orange Tree only a few minutes further.

With such a wealth of music venue choices virtually on my doorstep, only my long-standing affection for 2 Kolegas is ever likely to take me further afield. Sorry, Mako - as far as I'm concerned, you might as well have set up in Tianjin.

All of which seems like a cue for a song....... Fats Domino performing his hit I'm Walkin' with Ricky Nelson.

[The original Fats Domino recording is here.]

Monday, May 24, 2010

Fate's fool

Yes, I am feeling put upon - again.

Usually, one of the few reliable comforts of life in China is the ready availability of yangrou chuanr - mini-kebabs of spiced mutton grilled on makeshift roadside barbecues.

I mean, there aren't too many ways you can f*** up chuanr, really. Well, yes, you can let your fire go out. Or you can burn the whole restaurant down. But aside from those two extremes, there's not a lot to go wrong. Those little cubes of meat are pretty tolerant of being over- or undercooked a bit. And we get used to a certain heavy-handedness with the cumin-and-chilli sprinkles from time to time; and the occasional smattering of food-poisoning bacilli. We are hardy folk, we adoptive Beijing-ren. We take ever-so-slightly rancid or tai lade meat in our stride as the most minor of everyday vexations. Such trivial shortcomings are more than outweighed by the reliable satisfaction of getting a good fix of fat, protein, and gristle in 10 minutes or less.

Because chuanr really shouldn't ever take very much longer than that, even if the place is busy. If it isn't very busy (or they've got some that they'd already started to cook before you showed up - don't ask!), it could take only 4 or 5 minutes. But 8 to 10 is probably standard. If it gets up to 12 or 14 minutes, the alarm bells start going off.

And that's now happened to me twice - in under a week. Twice, at Muslim restaurants that used to be amongst the pick of the local crop, I've been kept waiting 40 minutes or more for my food, and eventually had to walk out in disgust - and still unfed. And neither of these places was all that busy.

It could just be that the Universe is conspiring against me this month (it usually does, bastard Universe!). But I always like to seek for possible patterns and explanations in the mysterious play of events in the world around me, not merely dismiss unhappy coincidences as the work of a malign Fate or the product of plain 'bad luck'.

Both of these restaurants had been more than averagely good, and thus considerably more than averagely successful. Both had made enough money to take over neighbouring premises, doubling or trebling their business space (one had done this a couple of years ago, but the transformation of the other is, I think, very recent). There may have been changes of management (well, at the latter restaurant almost certainly, I fear, since there wasn't a single face I recognised among the staff there; the long-time laoban is still installed in the other, but had been having a long nap after a late finish the night before, and so wasn't taking care of business). There have certainly been changes of staff: both places seem to have had a 100% turnover of cooks and wait staff in the short spell since I last visited them, and the newbies are little more than children.

I wonder if this is the problem. Either the owners get greedy because of their success, and start trimming costs by hiring inexperienced staff; or, more likely, landlords get greedy because of a bar's or restaurant's perceived success, bump up the rents massively, and force the restauranteurs to start cutting corners madly to try to retain a profit margin. Result: comically dismal service, and interminable waits for food - even when the restaurant is three-quarters empty.

I fear that's it. It wasn't just a one-off or a two-off mischance, but the beginnings of a syndrome.

Having been so brutally disappointed, twice in quick succession, by two of my erstwhile favourite restaurants, I am now rather afraid of trying a chuanr place ever again.

(And when you're tired of chuanr, you're tired of Beijing.....)

Bon mot for the week

"The world is nothing but a great desire to live and a great dissatisfaction with living."

Heraclitus (535-475 BCE)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hot or not?

Call it The Curse of Yugong....

I've just about never enjoyed a gig at the new Yugong Yishan. Last year's Dirty Deeds reunion (rumour has it another is in the offing soon) and the New Year's concert a couple of years back with SUBS headlining stand out as rare exceptions. In general, even if the bands are rocking, the venue disappoints - its unwelcome clutter of lounge seating, its tinny acoustics, its excessive background noise from the bar area, its expensive and mostly fake drinks all conspire to produce a shitty night out. With all these things working against it, I find the place struggles to generate much of an atmosphere, even when there's a big crowd.

And on Friday, for the Marnie Stern show I'd been so looking forward to, it was one of the thinnest turnouts I've ever seen there: far fewer than a hundred in total, I would estimate. OK, it was quite an expensive ticket; but almost all of Yugong's shows are expensive these days, and most of them still draw pretty fair crowds. And it's not as if there was much else going on that night.

No, I began to fear that people knew something I didn't; that perhaps Ms Stern really wasn't much of a draw. I hadn't been all that impressed by the few things of hers I'd listened to on YouTube (although this video for her song Ruler, spoofing Stallone's Rocky, is quite fun); but all of the reviews I could find seemed to be raves, comparing her sound to the awesome Eddie Van Halen, and suggesting that her technical accomplishment placed her among the handful of best female guitarists ever.

Hmm, well, maybe 'best female guitarist' is damning with faint praise (I hadn't heard of any of the other players mentioned in that list, except Nancy Wilson of Heart - who was a sexy gal, but hardly in the guitar god[dess] pantheon). Or perhaps Ms Stern was disheartened by the paltry turnout at the club, and just couldn't be bothered to put forth much effort on this occasion. Or maybe she was off-her-face drunk (she did appear to be chugging the Tsingtaos back fairly briskly). Then again, maybe her recordings rely heavily on multi-tracking (and uncredited session musicians?) and she just can't play like that live. The technique on display on Friday was, well, fairly pedestrian. She has quite a nice tone, but she was mostly playing rhythm rather than lead stuff. And her vaunted finger tapping was most of the time confined to only one or two fingers of the left hand and ONE of the right hand; occasionally it got a little more intricate than that, but most of the time, really, it was just three-finger stuff - diddly dum diddly (a very far cry indeed from EVH letting fly with his breathtaking runs up and down the fretboard, often employing all eight fingers at once, and sometimes too making use of delays to build up live 'multi-tracking' of Bach-like complexity). Add to that an awful squeaky voice, equally irritating whether talking or singing, and it was a severely unappealing act. Her drummer was good, very good indeed; but that wasn't enough to entice me to stick it out to the end of her set.

The evening peaked with the warm-up set by SUBS - fantastic as ever, although struggling to generate much of a vibe with the thin crowd (but at least they managed to draw the few dozens who were present down to the front of the stage). Quite a few punters quit after that, without even waiting for Marnie Stern to come on. I only lasted half a dozen or so songs of hers myself, but I'd say that at least half the crowd had had even less patience than me. I fear she probably emptied the room out completely before the end of her set. Sad. (Look, if you can really rip up a fretboard like all those magazines say, we'll give you another chance. But play a decent venue, like Kolegas or Mao or Mako - or even, god help me, D-22 - next time. And don't talk between songs.)

Anyway, to compensate for that musical disappointment, here's Eddie and the boys in their Hair Metal heyday - Hot For Teacher, from their album 1984 (one of those records that, back in 1984, everyone had); amazing drum and guitar work, and a fun video too.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Friday I'm In Love - explained

Some have complained that my frivolous picture post yesterday on Marnie's tern was unduly obscure.

I had thought fellow rock fans would pierce the scanty veil of my punnery easily enough: Marnie Stern is a New York-based singer-songwriter and axe heroine, and she's playing in Beijing tonight at Yugong Yishan. Not only does she look rather stunning, but I am assured that she also plays the guitar like Eddie Van Halen!

If this is true, I fear she is likely to become another of my hopeless rock crushes. The most excellent SUBS, fronted by Beijing's own sex-bomb punk princess, Kang Mao, are supposed to be one of the acts opening for her, so there's likely to be a whole lot of swooning going on in Froog's world this evening. Hence, I was put in mind of my favourite Cure song....

All clear now? See you at YGYS later.

HBH 183

Foolish indiscipline:
Drunk, seduced - by computer!
Dreaded 'all-nighter'!

I got rather drunk on Wednesday, enjoying laowai blues-rock cover band Deuces Wild at Salud until after midnight. I staggered home full of good intentions of going straight to bed, but..... somehow lapsed into an obsessive YouTube marathon.... and was dismayed to find the dawn suddenly breaking while I was still slouched in front of my laptop.

Still feeling wretched 48 hours on. I am getting too old for this shit.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Friday I'm In Love (I expect, I hope...)

I think you know what I'm saying, Beijing rock fans....

Power I don't want

When The Weeble once again resorted to his (these days, far too common) excuse for not coming out last night, that he had been overdoing things the night before, some chiding was clearly in order.

"I deride your manhood," I told him. I should probably save that text message for future use.

In fact, I'd originally written "I decide your manhood", but luckily I spotted the unfortunate typo before I hit 'Send'.

That would have been a far more intimidating message, but that really is not the sort of power I would wish to yield. "No aspirations to divinity here," I reassured The Weeble (or perhaps myself...).

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Signs of life

MAO Live House still hasn't reopened as hoped. They had been advertising a regular gig schedule again for the past 10 days or so, but it seems that was a tad over-optimistic of them.

However, when I walked past this evening, there were finally some positive indications: the manager was there supervising some building work - putting in some new doors and windows by the look of it, presumably to comply the the "fire regulations" which were allegedly the source of their problem. Looking to be back in business this weekend. About time! Welcome back, boys.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bon mot for the week

"For my part, I will have only those glorious, manly pleasures of being very drunk, and very slovenly."

William Wycherley (1640-1715)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Great Love Songs (19)

For some reason, Fly Me To The Moon has been running around inside my head for the past few days (dreams of escaping from a suddenly rather too stressful Beijing, perhaps??). Wikipedia tells me that the song was written in 1954 by one Bart Howard, and was initially called In Other Words (interesting - I wonder how many other songs have been renamed because their opening line proved to be more arrestingly memorable than their chorus hook or whatever other phrase the songwriter had originally chosen as their title?). Of course, Mr Sinatra did a pretty good version of this, and the great Nat King Cole too. And just yesterday, the inimitable JES (apparently becoming my Web-pimp in addition to his myriad other roles) introduced me to the lovely Polish songstress Karolina Pasierbska, who also does a nice job on it (her scatting is enhanced by an opera-trained technique - have a look at her website for more information on her).

However, the definitive performance remains this by the one and only Julie London (great vocals and a fantastic arrangement).

[JES did a fabulous post a few months back on Julie's Cry Me A River, part of his occasional What's In A Song? series. He followed up a few days later with a supplementary post on other recordings of the song. Check those out.]

Friday, May 14, 2010

And the winner(s) is/are....

The Beijinger Bar & Club Awards last night were every bit as much of a travesty as I'd expected. Unfortunately, unlike the previous couple of times I've been, it somehow wasn't even much of a party - perhaps largely down to the venue being uncomfortably hot and overcrowded: many people preferred to mill around outside during most of the event, and almost everyone made a bee-line for the exit the second the last result was announced.

Mako Live House was an odd choice of venue: extremely remote for most people, and a little hard to find; and really not quite big enough for an event of that nature. And they have no air-conditioning?? (It showed some foresight on the part of the organisers that fans were being given to everyone upon entrance; without that, things would have been quite insufferable.) The place shows promise as a music venue: a good space, good bar, very good sound system, and none of the lounge seating that ruins Yugong Yishan; though I fear the high ceiling and bare walls will harm the acoustics; and with no air-conditioning it's presumably going to be unusable for at least the next three months. (Mako is, in fact, uncannily like the 'ideal' music bar I had a series of dreams about a year or so ago. Am I developing precognitive powers in my old age??)

In other respects, the organisation of the night was a bit lacking. Some goodie bags were in evidence, but I'd guess that 90% of people left without one, because the collection point wasn't very obvious, and nothing at all was being done to advertise their availability. Security, always a bit lax in previous years, was on this occasion completely non-existent. No-one was checking credentials at the door, you didn't need a pass or a name-badge to help yourself to the freebies on offer inside, and they didn't even seem to have a list of the invitees. If you could find the venue, it seemed, you were welcome to just walk right on in (that may have been one of the reasons for it becoming so overcrowded). The food was shite (and not much of it): tasteless burritos that contained 80% or 90% rice (and were being prepared in a single tiny toaster oven, which necessitated cutting each burrito into four or five pieces - using tiny servings to try to accommodate more hungry punters), and 'tamales' that seemed to contain nothing at all. (The sushi, I'm told, wasn't bad; but fish makes me puke.) The free cocktails seemed mostly pretty nasty too (cinnamon vodka?!); many folks were preferring to pay cash at the bar. (At least there was a plenteous supply of free Stella and Hoegaarden. And I'd taken the precaution of getting well-oiled before I came.)

Worst of all, the PA wasn't loud enough, so the comperes couldn't get much rapport going with the crowd, and it was hard to hear some of the results. I found it a bit irritating and confusing too (although I've seen it in previous years, so really should have sussed things out a bit more quickly) that there were so many 'winners'. I can't recall if this was exactly how they did it in the past, but this year they seem to have given two (or sometimes three?) consolation prizes - termed 'Outstanding' - in each category as well as the top award.... so, nearly everyone's a winner. It was just a bit confusing at first that the hosts were introducing these secondary prizes not as 'Runners-Up' but as 'Winners'; in fact, most of the time they seemed to be saying, "And the winner of [inaudible] is...." followed by two or three bar names; and then the actual WINNER. The business about "Winner of the [runner-up prize] of 'Outstanding Bar' in this category" just wasn't coming across at all. (And the distinction between 'Outstanding Bar' and 'Best Bar' isn't intuitively obvious if you've never been to this ceremony before; they really should have taken more trouble to explain this at the outset.)

As I've bitched before, the categories, nominations, and voting were in many cases quite ludicrous. Karl Long from Paddy O'Shea's was acclaimed as the Bartender Of The Year, despite never having set foot behind the bar (as he observed himself with commendable candour when picking up his award, "I can't even pour a fucken glass of water"). Fubar's Hendricks & Tonic was named Best Cocktail (it is perhaps the best G&T in town, but it's hardly a cocktail). And the utterly wretched O'Shea's took the prize as Best Sports Bar - which, since it was soundly trounced by the (very new, and far from flawless) Fubar in the Best Bar category, can only be taken as evidence of how miserably served our capital is for sports bars.

It was nice to see so many friends from the bar scene there (including the lovely Lixian, last year's Barmaid Of The Year, back in town for a few weeks). I was extremely happy to see my friends Stephen and Stephanie pick up an Outstanding Hidden Gem plaque for Mao Mao Chong (it really should have won something for its cocktails as well, though). And I was pleased too for Chad & Co. of Fubar picking up the Best Bar award, one of the evening's few deserving winners (for me, there are a lot of things about the place that don't quite work; but the idea of founding a bar on the principle of quality-booze-at-reasonable-prices is an almost unique initiative in Beijing, and deserves to be commended). [All the results here.]

Apart from that, though, the evening was a bit of a squib. I was relieved to get back to 12 Square Metres for some more serious drinking - in non-hothouse conditions.

Bad decisions

My friend JES recently sent me this link to a 'live traffic' view of central Beijing on Google Maps. Of course, it's no great surprise to those of us who have to live here, but even so, it is rather disturbing to see this graphical confirmation that much of the city centre - the whole of the northern half of the 2nd Ringroad, and the eastern side of the 3rd Ringroad especially - is snarled in near-permanent gridlock.

And last night's The Beijinger Bar & Club Awards were being held in Mako Live House (about the remotest and most obscure venue they could possibly have chosen!) way out on the east side of town. I knew there was bugger-all point in trying to get there by road during the rush hour, but.....

A lady friend of the folks I was going with had insisted on offering us a lift in her car.

Well, she didn't have enough room for everyone, so I thought I was off the hook - I'll go on the subway and get there half an hour before you. So long, suckers.

But JK, the sternly autocratic boss of 12 Square Metres, was quite insistent that I should hop in and ride at least as far as the point where they were picking him up.

I knew it was a bad idea, but I was trying to be friendly and amenable (rather against my nature, you know).

Now, our lady driver for some reason didn't want to execute a three-point turn and drive out of the south end of Nanluoguxiang. (I suppose we wouldn't have been able to turn east until we got to Houhai half a mile or so away, but at this point Dianmen Dongdajie wasn't too busy. Maybe it's prohibited to drive south on Nanluoguxiang, but plenty of people do it, and we were only 20 metres from the bottom of the street....)

Some of the side-roads may be closed to traffic, or one-way only (I've never really paid attention to this), but not all of them. I really don't know why we went nearly all the way to the top of Nanluoguxiang before hanging a right. And then, by cruel mischance, we happened to have chosen a side street that was particularly badly blocked with clumsily parked vehicles.

So, it took us nearly ten minutes to reach Jiaodaokou Nandajie - the southbound lane of which was completely gridlocked. Again, I'm not sure why this street suffers so especially badly. You'd think that, in the rush hour, traffic would be trying to escape the city centre, heading north, but.... well, on this one street, there's a ton of southbound traffic and hardly anything going north. Strange.

Anyway, it took us well over 10 minutes to reach the bottom of the street. And we didn't have any opportunity to pull over into the left-hand lane (although our driver hadn't taken account of the fact that we needed to, anyway). When we finally got to the bottom of the street, instead of attempting an illegal but not terribly difficult left turn from the outside lane, or heading straight across and going around the next block (a long way, but the road ahead looked mercifully light on traffic), our driver unaccountably elected to turn right..... on to Dianmen Dongdajie, which 20 or 30 minutes earlier had been uncannily devoid of traffic, but was now completely log-jammed (at least in the westbound direction, not so bad coming back). It took us a long, long time to get down to Houhai where we could make our U-turn and finally start heading back in the right direction.

So it was that, nearly 35 minutes after setting out, we came to pass the south end of Nanluoguxiang again - giving us an effective average rate of progress of only 1 or 2 metres per minute.

I jumped out at Zhang ZiZhong Lu and took the subway.

HBH 182

Bubbles do damage,
But get your buzz on early:
Tequila slammers!

Sometimes, there's just no other way to start the evening.....

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Some new Bar Awards categories

I'm planning to go to the prize-giving bash for The Beijinger Bar & Club Awards 2010 tonight (planning, hoping.... of course, the bouncers may exclude me if they suss who I am!).

Since awards of this kind in Beijing are always a bit of a sham and a shambles, I'd like to suggest a few new categories of awards they could use in the future.... so that the organisers could make absolutely sure that anyone who did somehow manage to cast a vote knew exactly who they were expected to vote for.

Here, then, are my alternative awards for tonight....

New Hotel Bar That's Spending Most Money On Its PR Budget

Winner: Xiu
(Of course. I don't know many people who've been there even once. And it's too stratospherically expensive for most people to consider going there more than once. Yet it's managed to get itself nominated in numerous categories in The Beijinger's phony awards. A fine piece of hyping!)

Best Russian Nightclub In A Basement (In Yabao Center)

Winner: Chocolate
(Of course. If we didn't add that final rider, there is a chance that some people might - quite justifiably - cast their votes for Absenta or Elephant II instead. Chocolate probably draws more of a mixed crowd, but I prefer the more predominantly Russian clientele, the air of middle-aged ennui and casual criminality that permeates those other two.)

'Bar' That Spends The Most Money Hyping Its Burgers (In Solana)

Winner: All-Star
(Without that rider, I suppose Blue Frog might be in with a shout - but I really don't think they've done nearly as much money on PR and promotion as All-Star.)

Best Hip-Hop Nightclub In Solana

Winner: Bling
(The only way to make sure they win something. And a label guaranteed three times over to ensure that I never set foot in the place!)

Most Over-The-Top Decor Designed By Philippe Starck

Winner: Lan
(Lan obviously craves the 'Best Decor' awards, expects them as of right, but sometimes misses out. I think I've identified the problem.)

Most Well-Established Cocktail Bar That's Too Busy For Its Own Good At The End Of The Week

Winner: Q Bar

New Cocktail Bar That's Managed To Alienate Most People With Its Pretentiousness And Poor Management

Winner: Apothecary
(I can't see them winning anything else.)

Hardest-To-Find Japanese (Not Taiwanese) Whisky Bar

Winner: Ichikura

Hardest-To-Find Taiwanese (Not Japanese) Whisky Bar

Winner: Lucky Man

Hardest-To-Find Mongolian (Not Japanese Or Taiwanese) Whisky Bar

Winner: Amilal
(Alus deserves to win something for creating this little piece of heaven in the hutongs.)

Best Bar That's Also A Library

Winner: The Bookworm

Bar With Most Permanently Wrecked Owner

Winner: Tryst
(Is there any competition?)

Music Bar That Most Laowai Have Heard Of Outside Of Wudaokou

Winner: Yugong Yishan
(You see, I wouldn't mind them winning stuff if it were actually appropriate...)

Music Bar That Most Laowai Have Heard Of In Wudaokou

Winner: D-22

Best New Bar In The Workers' Stadium Complex

Winner: Fubar

And finally.....

Most Promising New Bar That's Opened Too Recently To Be Considered In This Year's Awards But Will Be Too Old For The 'New Bar' Category Next Year And Probably Won't Be Quite Good Enough For 'Best Bar'

Winner: 1st Floor

What's that you say? Where's the element of surprise? You're expecting to be surprised tonight??