Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Celebrity stalker??

My pal Jeremiah (of Granite Studio history blogging notoriety) sent me a link the other day for An Open Letter To Men - a very entertaining little piece by the striking actress Christina Hendricks (who, I gather, has achieved mega-celebrity in the last few years through her role as the voluptuous office manager Joan Holloway in Mad Men; I still live in sorry ignorance of this series, though many of my male friends have raved to me about its wit and cleverness.... and the generously upholstered figure of Ms Hendricks).

J tauntingly points out that the lovely Christina claims to like Scotch (or rather, to like men who drink Scotch), loathes Facebook, and is a sucker for old school chivalry (I'm English: we invented it!). It does sound rather as though she's sending out a message to ME.

I had been under the impression that you were rather happily married; but if, for any reason (and god forbid), that doesn't work out, please do drop me a line, Christina. We seem to have a little bit of that 'soulmate' thing going on....

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Why women watch sport

It's purely for the ogling, I gather.

(I was going to say 'leching'; but I think only men can lech.)

Now, I know we chaps are often guilty of the same offence when it comes to ladies' tennis or beach volleyball, but.... really, gals, we do try to cultivate some appreciation of the sport as well, you know. With you, it seems as though your only criterion for pledging allegiance to one of the teams in the World Cup is The Shuai Ge Index - how fanciable you find them. That's so superficial, don't you think??

I was informed by one lady friend at the weekend that England had the advantage over Germany in handsomeness (somewhat surprisingly, I thought: some women, it seems, have a strange weakness for the rugged - not to say lumpy - features and fiery intensity of a John Terry.... in preference to the perfectly chiselled profile of a Miroslav Klose or Lukas Podolski), but still weren't going to attract much support from non-aligned female spectators because "Winning is hot." Yes indeed. Oh dear.

[I was amused - and oddly impressed - to hear Li Mei, our lady boss in 12 Square Metres, declare that the only one of the Germans she found attractive was their coach, Joachim Löw.]

Ah, so that explains it...

I have long been fascinated by the Mystery Bar (not its real name, you understand).

It's quite big; not too discouragingly twee (the curse of interior decor in most Chinese bars); indeed, it's quite winningly dark and unfussy inside. And it's in a not unpromising location: on a major road, mid-way between Gongti and Houhai.

With my eccentric predilection for walking home from Sanlitun, I have been past this place many times over the past four or five years. And I have never seen a single customer in there - not one. The two or three times I've poked my head around the door to investigate, the handful of people lounging around inside all seem to have been members of staff. And they were always hugely reluctant to serve me a drink - they'd always claim they were just closing.... whether it was 1am (which it usually was, but that's still early for Beijing) or 10pm.

How odd, I always thought, that the place could keep going so long, with so little custom.

A bar owner friend who's been intermittently contemplating trying to buy the place out told me a little while back that he'd seen a notice in the window advertising for a 'Day Manager', and thought this would be a decent pretext for going and having a chat with them about what their set-up was. Curiouser and curiouser: why the hell do they need a Day Manager when they're not even conspicuously "open for business" at night???

Ah, well, it seems they needed someone to "keep an eye on the girls". "Girls???" I boggled (naively) for a moment. The Chinese friend relaying the tale was struggling for the right word: "Yes. What do you call it when girls have sex with you for money?" "Oh my god, you mean it's A BROTHEL?"

So it would seem.

Mystery solved, then. Although I still don't quite understand why they're so darned reluctant to serve anyone a drink. If they've set up a bar as a 'front' for their brothel, you wouldn't think it would harm business to actually run it as a bar. I suppose they just don't want laowai custom - for beer or broads.

I probably shouldn't name the place - but here's a clue.

Monday, June 28, 2010

They think it's all over...

We're going home, we're going home...
... we're going...
England's going home!

And I really can't say I'm sorry. The drubbing by Germany on Sunday night was, I gather, our heaviest defeat ever in the World Cup finals. And overall, this was the worst performance I've ever seen from us in a major tournament (and I've seen some dreadful ones; although, somehow, we always seem to be able to pull out something for the World Cup; it's the European Championships where we've uusually suffered our greatest frustrations and humiliations). And the weakest squad, too: with no established forward pair, no clear first-choice keeper, no proven wingers, no (fit) holding midfield player, multiple injuries limiting our choices in central defence, and no decent cover anywhere..... well, it was always a case of when (and how emphatically) rather than whether we were going to go out. And with our talismanic forward Rooney completely losing his form, we were, frankly, pretty damn lucky even to qualify out of our group. In our current state, there was probably no-one in the last 16 we could have given a decent game to - not even the likes of Ghana, Japan, or Slovakia, who were also a bit lucky to make it that far.

As the song says, though, the consistent underperformance of the England team in international football does rather sap your spirits, sometimes almost tarnishes the allure of the beautiful game itself:

So many jokes, so many sneers,
And all those oh-so-nears
Get you down, through the years...

Maybe next time. Or the time after. Or the time after that.....

Bon mot for the week

"Enjoy the little things, because one day you may look back and realise that they were the big things."

Robert Brault

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Reasons not to watch the football in Sanlitun

A number of my friends are lobbying that we should meet somewhere in Sanlitun for the big game between England and Germany tonight.... but I'm not keen.

The only strong argument in favour of such a move seems to be that - for such a potentially momentous clash - it would be useful to have an English commentary (it does indeed render the action much more intelligible; and, strangely, more memorable - the names of the players involved in important moves just don't stick in the mind very easily if you haven't heard them spoken).

However, amongst the many, many reasons why I fear it will be an horrendous experience:

1) Crowds
(I get claustrophobic in crowds: I hate the restriction of free movement.)

2) Yobbish England fans
(Oh, sure, I get a bit rowdy myself watching a game once in a while. I may even scatter the odd f-bomb around when I'm particularly emotional. But I try to be aware of my surroundings and my companions; I don't push ribbing of the other team and its supporters too far. And I keep mostly to humorous abuse. Many of the 'England fans' we have to suffer in this town [and all around the world too, alas] just keep up a constant stream of obscenity.)

3) Chinese football fans
(Almost as obnoxious as English fans - with excessive and inappropriate enthusiasms, mostly based on a staggering ignorance of the game. Most of them, strangely, support England [although they'd support Argentina against us in the next one: no logic, no loyalty!].)

4) Crappy sports bars
(I've complained before about the myriad fundamental failings of Beijing's [comparative handful of] 'sports bars'. I don't think there's really one worthy of the name.)

5) English commentary???
(The crappy sports bars haven't done much if anything to advertise what channels/commentaries they have available. The satellite that had been providing the South African Super Sports channels - our main pirated sports coverage here for the past two years - was 'decomissioned', or something, at the start of this month. I hear varying reports as to whether any alternative pirate feed has been accessed. I suspect a handful of the more successul or 'upmarket' venues such as The Den and The Pavilion may have bitten the bullet and shelled out big money for a legitimate satellite package [unheard of!]. But more rough'n'ready joints like Luga's Villa and Paddy O'Shea's?? There are rumours that some places are trying to accompany the local CCTV5 coverage with English commentary from an Internet feed [we tried the BBC's Radio 5 Live briefly in 12 Square Metres at the start of the tournament, but it was hopeless: constantly interrupted by adverts, and subject to a 3-4 second time-lag!!]. And even if there is English commentary, will the bars be playing it loud enough to be audible above the hubbub of the crowd? Of course not. And will they remember that the half-time and post-game match analysis is also an integral and vital part of the commentary? Of course not!!)

6) Expense
(The Den sneakily lulls you into a false sense of being able to afford it. Its happy hour price regime - everything discounted 50% from 5pm to 10pm - is reasonable, but not particularly cheap; when you suddenly find yourself being charged 50 kuai for a Carlsberg or 60 kuai for a Guinness after 10 o'clock, it hurts. In general, I try to avoid going to 'happy hours' at bars where I couldn't afford the normal tariff; but The Den's 'happy hour' is so long that I am scarcely aware of it having any other price scale - I only ever go there in the early evening, for a 'Western' pub meal on my way to a speaker meeting or something, or to catch some highlights of the previous weekend's sports. No, watching late-night games in The Den is just not within my budget. The Pavilion and Paddy's [and the dismal Danger Doyle's] are just as bad. And I hear some of those places have actually started charging door fees for the big games as well - outrageous!)

7) Cab shortages
(The crowds out in Sanlitun on the couple of occasions I have ventured over there this past fortnight were so enormous that even Beijing's extremely generous per capita supply of taxis was seriously overstretched. In the immediate aftermath of a game, you could be looking at a half-hour wait to try and find a cab; more after the late game, since even hard-working cabbies usually settle down for a little cat-nap around dawn.)

8) The games go on just too bloody late
(Even the 'early game' doesn't finish until nearly midnight here; later, if it goes to extra time, penalties. Even that's a bit of a strain on a 'school night'. The late, late games drag on until dawn is breaking. That's just not doable. At least if I'm hanging out around Nanluoguxiang, it's only a 20-30 minute stagger home afterwards [or a 5-minute cab ride, if I'm feeling that tired/lazy]. That makes the pre-midnight games a very reasonable prospect. Facing a 90-minute walk home from Sanlitun [or a 20-minute cab ride, assuming there are any cabs...] makes even the early games seem very unappealing.

I really, really, really want to see this one with English commentary. But the Sanlitun bars are just so godawful, I can't bear the thought of it. I'm wondering about maybe heading all the way out to the Lido, hoping that The Irish Volunteer isn't going to be too packed.....

Return of the Revenge of the Son of.....

Last night I got home just after 10pm, only a few minutes after the start of the Uruguay v South Korea game in the first knockout round of this year's World Cup.... and settled down to watch on my bewitchingly comfy TV sofa.

Within seconds I had lapsed into unconsciousness - only awaking nearly 4 hours later (right in the middle of that huge and irksome gap between the 'early' and 'late' games).

I really ought to know better by now. Perhaps I should try sitting on a hard, upright chair when I'm watching football at home?

[Of course, it wasn't just the dreamy softness of the sofa that did for me. I had just been drinking for nearly 7 hours at a friend's barbecue. And I'd had a rather patchy and irregular 'night's sleep on Friday/Saturday, having staid up until nearly dawn to watch the Spain v Chile match.]

Friday, June 25, 2010

How not to do it (World Cup edition)

My neighbourhood Mexican joint Amigo (which, for painful personal reasons, I always think of as Montezuma's) is running a 'special' for the World Cup: they're offering a 20% discount on all their drinks.

Hmm. The problem with this is that, prior to the World Cup, they were running an all-evening 'happy hour' promotion (on 3 or 4 nights of the week, anyway) where all drinks were 50% off. So, in effect, they've put their prices up for the World Cup.

And it's not as if they've got a TV for people to watch the games on anyway.

I was going to go there the other evening, but when I reflected on the fact of this small but irritating World Cup price gouge, I became so irritated at them that I decided to eat elsewhere.

HBH 188

Fortune's sudden change:
The emotions burst their dam.
A last-minute goal!

I have known few moments of purer, more intense joy in my life than Landon Donovan's injury-time winner against Algeria the other day. Except perhaps Slovakia's third goal against the Italians last night!

You're going home, you're going home,
you're going....
Italy's going home!

Oh boy, did they deserve that!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

An ideal girlfriend?

Long blonde hair, gorgeous eyes, athletic figure? Check!

And look - she's fetching beer!!

Unfortunately, this lovely young lady is engaged to Germany's awesomely good (and intimidatingly Teutonic-looking) midfielder, Bastian Schweinsteiger, so we must keep any romantic fantasies in that direction sternly in check.

Another reason to root for the Germans tonight, though: they do have some of the most eye-catching supporters. That, and them being too good to go out of the tournament this early (whereas England, to be honest, wouldn't be all that much missed).

[Apparently, her name's Sarah Brandner and she's an underwear model. What is it about footballers and underwear models??!!]

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Curse

One of the many great things about my favourite bar of the past couple of years, 12 Square Metres, is its location - at the south end of trendy shopping street, Nanluoguxiang.

It's a very touristy little locale, but not too obnoxiously so. And there's scads of inexpensive accommodation around there - on the street itself, or very nearby: everything from cheap'n'basic Chinese business hotels to Western-style backpacker hostels, and even a few more upmarket offerings like the Lusongyuan Hotel, a cosy traditional courtyard (just a stone's throw from the bar: we get a lot of people in from there).

Thus, there are a lot of English-speaking transients passing through the 'hood. And, since 12 Square Metres is one of only two Western-style bars on the street (and the smaller, cosier of the two, the only one that's something like a proper pub), quite a few of these people look in on the place.... and find a friendly welcome.

And a significant proportion of these random, one-off drop-ins are strikingly attractive single women (or women playing at being single, travelling without their partners). And it always seems to fall to me to make conversation with these ladies, to welcome them into the 12SQM 'family'.

And these conversations often go far too well. Unfortunately, the ladies are invariably leaving Beijing the next morning. It really is not good for my brittle heart.

Drive-by flirting - there really ought to be a law against it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The England training programme this week...

If you think that's harsh, come and join my World Cup discussion thread....

Bon mot for the week

"The healthiest competition occurs when average people win by putting in above average effort."

Colin Powell (1937-)

This probably ought to be the training camp motto for the England football team this week....

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Great Drinking Songs (21)

Well, the pessimists say we're as good as out already, after two uninspiring draws; but Slovenia really shouldn't be that much of an obstacle.... and, if by chance we should get our act together and give them a sound spanking at the end of the week, it will be refreshing to exchange - for a few short days, at least - our (probably well-founded) pessimism for a renewed dose of false optimism.

This is the latest re-tread of England's Euro 96 song, Three Lions - surely the best football song ever (possibly the only good football song ever?). It perfectly captures the wistfulness of the England football fan's aspirations, the passionate but unconvinced optimism with which we anxiously approach every big game. (And the accompanying fan video includes a much better selection - and better picture quality, too - of the England team's greatest moments than the 'Top 10 Goals' I posted on Froogville last week.)

[I had wanted to do a 'Great Love Songs' post for the beginning of the World Cup - but the two songs I'd wanted to use were both unavailable. Neil Innes' One Thang On Your Mind (an hilarious Country & Western parody which uses football metaphors to describe the progress of a romantic relationship, and makes fun of the fact that, when single, women disingenuously complain that men tend to be only interested in sex, but, when in a relationship, are reminded, to their great disgruntlement, that most men are actually far more interested in watching sport on TV than in sex) seems to be about the only one of his songs from his superb Innes Book Of Records series that has not been uploaded to YouTube (It eventually showed up a couple of years later!). And my favourite Thomas Dolby song, Close But No Cigar (the marvellous chugging guitar at the beginning is by Eddie van Halen, who guested on a number of tracks on the early-90s Astronauts and Heretics album), which also draws on the imagery of sporting disappointments as a parallel to romantic failure, is barred from embedding. It's a very clever video - worth clicking on the link.]

Come on, England!!!

My football discussion thread is gathering momentum: chip in your thoughts here.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A night off?

Football exhaustion is starting to set in after a week. And it's pretty hard to get excited about match-ups like Germany v Serbia (although it might be a fun way of getting drunk quickly in the early evening, if I start doing 'German shots' - since I anticipate another 4-0 or 5-0 thrashing) or USA v Slovenia (Yanks should take it 1-0 or 2-0, but this is an embarrasingly poor Group, and you can't really fancy anyone here to make much of an impression on the tournament).

I'm not even very motivated about trying to catch England v Algeria. I just haven't got the stamina for these dawn finishes any more. I'll try to catch a re-run tomorrow, and just keep my fingers crossed that CCTV5 offers some coherent coverage for once.

It will be nice to have one evening to do something a little different - a decent meal, perhaps, and then some music. I gather Blackwater (Black Cat Bone's Des McGarry and the No Name Trio playing traditional Irish songs) are on at neighbourhood gem Zui Yuefang tonight: that should be a fun gig.

Line of the week

JK, mine host at 12 Square Metres (where I have been watching most of the football so far this week), observed sourly of Senor Messi a few days ago:

"You'd think the world's most famous footballer would be able to afford a better haircut."

He's probably just miffed because his Mrs is such a big fan. (Hmm, I should probably ask her to produce her own ranking of the participating teams based on the shuai ge index she shares with us in the bar. That might be an interesting new perspective to add to my evolving World Cup thread....)

Mind you, that fluffy moptop he's sporting these days really is a bit of a horror show. Curiously enough, I don't seem to be able to find any pictures of it on the Internet. (Maybe I should try Googling "lionel messi fifth beatle"? No, that didn't work either.)

HBH 187

Football is like love:
Ecstasy, disappointment.
Shots for joy, for pain.

It was perhaps an unwise innovation of mine this week to start having shots whenever there's a goal. We are trying to come up with appropriate national shots for each team, but this is proving very difficult (seriously contemplated dropping into fancy Nanluoguxiang restaurant Saveurs de Corée for five minutes to celebrate Korea's half-time comeback goal with a nip of soju last night, but settled for a whiskey instead [a fake one it was, I fear: felt rather ill subsequently...]); we may just have to settle for the regular selection of spirits and shooters.

I am also trying to limit it to teams that I like - otherwise we could all be getting very drunk watching Germany....

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Happy happy Frat Boys!!

My English friend Lizzie sent me this the other day. I was going to transcribe it into my World Cup comment thread below, but...... bloody Blogger doesn't allow picture attachments in the comments. Oh well.

It is 'the English way' to be magnanimous in victory and dignified in defeat. However, being held to a draw by a shit team that you really should have steamrollered seems to be something of a grey area in this code of manners.

I really wouldn't have minded so much if I hadn't found myself watching the game in the company of several thousands of Frat Boys - who had probably never seen a game of football (or "soccer", if you must) before, and weren't paying close attention to this one, but were braying 'YOU-ESS-SAY, YOU-ESS-SAY!' very loudly throughout. It was kind of like Sanlitun's version of vuvuzelas.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Rueful witticism of the week

"How is life treating you?" needled an American friend the other day.

"It's slipping through my fingers and getting behind me rather too quickly," I returned sourly.

I had been assuming that he was taunting me about the "soccer", but in fact, it seems, he was ignorant of the weekend's sporting debacle and was innocently enquiring after my state of mental health. Sorry, B.

Bon mot for the week

"Pleasure is often spoiled by describing it."

Marie-Henri Beyle ('Stendhal' - 1783-1842)

Oh dear. Perhaps I'd better give up blogging then.....

Sunday, June 13, 2010

String him up

The pain of supporting the England football team over the past 40 years has been such that not even the surprise and delight of a fine early goal does much to raise the fans' spirits. Our brief elation is undercut by a lurking dread of the adverse reaction that is surely waiting for us just a little later, the karmic measure of sudden woe to outweigh our unexpected joy. We remember, for instance, the 1982 tournament, when we opened with the fastest goal in World Cup history against France, but then failed to make much further impact and crashed out in the second group stage (which they were trying instead of a knockout 'round of 16' that year). The few occasions when an early breakthrough led to an exuberant rout (beating the Dutch 4-1 in Euro '96, beating the Germans 5-1 in that qualifier in Munich in 2001) fade in the memory in comparison to all the times when a promising start was but a prelude to disaster. So it was last night: a brilliant goal by Stevie G after just 5 minutes, and I immediately felt that sinking feeling in my heart - Hmm. Nice. So, what's going to go wrong?

But, oh boy, I did not anticipate that. I am ordinarily a very kind and forgiving sort of chap. I do not approve of the media pillorying our sportsmen for rare lapses of concentration in the heat of competition. I would normally advocate giving players a chance to rehabilitate themselves, to atone for a costly error.

And with outfield players, I think that approach usually works. A fiercely competitive spirit will drive them to try to compensate for their mistakes, to redeem themselves with a flash of genius that may turn the game around again.

With goalkeepers, it doesn't work. They have too few opportunities to make a decisive contribution during the course of a game; rarely more than a handful, sometimes only one or two. And their performance is so sensitively dependent on confidence: one terrible error - however untypical or unlucky - generally leads to a string of others.

Not only that, but the goalkeeper's confidence has such a huge influence on every other area of the game. If the keeper makes a huge foul-up, his defenders lose faith in him, and get more nervous on the ball. The opposing team sense a possible weakness, and are more incisive, more self-confident in going forward. And, above all, nasty and regrettable though this is, the fans will go after him, taunting, teasing, mocking, abusing. In a major tournament like this, the support of the travelling fans can provide a huge boost to the team's morale. If you lose their confidence, dampen their enthusiasm, the whole team's performance may suffer as a result.

And that really was The Most Awful Goalkeeping Error In The History Of Football - to fumble a shot for which you are in perfect position, and which is not particularly hard, and which is not bobbling over the ground.... and then not recover the error, but actually help the ball over the line with your half-hearted lunge after it. Honestly, that was so bizarrely, inexplicably dreadful that it immediately raised doubts as to whether our man had been knobbled by a Malaysian gambling syndicate. If I were Fabio Capello, Rob Green would have been on a plane home at half-time. He certainly shouldn't be starting any more games in this tournament (even if he were in fact our best goalkeeper, which I don't believe he is).

Of course, the real misery of last night was not Green's howler, but the fact that despite a good start we were not able to assert any superiority over a pretty poor US side. This has been a regular failing of England sides through all the years of my suffering them: they may raise their game unexpectedly against sides who are better than them (oh, the exhilaration - and the disbelief - after a fairly poor tournament, of finding ourselves outplaying Germany in the 1990 semi-final!!), but against weaker teams we huff and puff and fail to blow their house down. It's frustrating, embarrassing, wretched.

To be frank, I've never been that much of an England fan. We didn't even qualify for the World Cup Finals during my '70s childhood, so I found myself rooting for Scotland in those two tournaments instead. I am now aware of a disloyal impulse in myself to hope for an early exit, so that I can just enjoy the football without having to take an interest in the fortunes of an habitually under-performing team who, even performing at their peak, are probably not deserving of a place in the last four.

And Rob Green must go.......

Friday, June 11, 2010

Top Five gigs to AVOID

We haven't had a Top Five for a while, so here we go with a music-themed one.

Well, it's more of a Bottom Five, really - the five most overrated bands we have to suffer on the Beijing gig scene. Hmm, and it might end up being a Bottom Six. So, sue me! My blog, my rules.

Beijiing's Top Five Most Overrated Bands

5= Hedgehog
Oh yes, there are many worse bands I left off this list, but the criterion here was overrated. Hedgehog are (or were - I've heard scores of rumours lately that they've split up, are getting back together, are contemplating changes of name/personnel/style, etc.) a tight little unit, and the energetic playing style of their tiny female drummer Atom is undoubtedly charming. But that's about all there is to them: they've only ever had a handful of songs, most of them sound the same, and the lead guy can't sing to save his life. This band's exaggerated popularity - particularly amongst laowai - is really pretty hard to account for.

5= Queen Sea Big Shark
The lead singer is - sometimes - quite sexy, and is growing in confidence as a performer.... but not, alas, in competence as a singer. Their decision to write and perform most of their songs in English is a woeful mistake, as all they seem to be capable of is Chinglish gibberish. And the occasional smattering of surf guitar isn't really enough to make their sound 'distinctive'. I thought these guys showed some promise when I first saw them 4 years or so ago, but unfortunately they have made absolutely zero progress in that time. Lately, though, laowai observers seem to have been starting to talk them up as somehow worth listening to. I can only assume that this is the result of their having now achieved 'veteran' status: some people falsely suppose that there is a correlation between longevity and ability.

4 Ourselves Beside Me
If Hang On The Box were still going, they would certainly have been in this list. Some people reverence their place in the history of the Chinese music scene as the first all-girl rock'n'roll band here - but, god, they were terrible. However, they were terrible largely because of their extravagantly self-promoting but egregiously untalented 'singer', Gia (her new band, Girl Kill Girl, don't make it into this list because nobody thinks they're any good!); the guitarist and the drummer were actually very competent (and could sing too, although they rarely did so in that lineup). Many of us had hopes that this, the guitarist's follow-up venture, might perhaps prove to be a decent band. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to nurture those modest hopes for very long, because they were adopted as one of the 'house bands' at the megalomaniacal Michael Pettis's D-22 bar, and thus we were soon suffering a tsunami of hype about how they were going to be 'the next big thing'. They're rather emphatically not: they're navel-gazing, self-satisfied, and very, very dull. And they usually do that pretentious thing of refusing to establish any contact with the audience at all, staring resolutely at each other throughout their sets (or, on a few occasions, playing with their backs to the audience).

RETROS (Re-Inventing The Rights Of Statues, they used to call themselves, although they seem to have given up offering that explanation/expansion of their cryptic acronym now) are musically a pretty good band. But they're a bit too up themselves. And a bit too monotonous. And a lot too depressing (think Joy Division - on a bad day). Their lyrics are very heavy-going, and often a bit inept. And, worst of all, like Ourselves Beside Me (above) they perform in a solipsistic trance, looking only at each other, completely ignoring their audience. They probably sound quite good on CD (particularly if you're gearing yourself up for an overdose of pills and vodka), but their live shows are desperately drab affairs.

2 Lonely China Day
This insufferably pretentious and self-satisfied trio oh-so-nearly made the top spot. I only refrained from putting them there because I have doubts as to whether anyone (in China) really thinks they're any good. I understand they're starting to gather quite a following overseas, and their sales are pretty much keeping their tiny label, Tag Team Records, afloat. But the last two or three gigs of theirs I've been to see in Beijing have been deserted. They can play a bit; and if rambling (semi-improvised?) experimental prog-rock is your thing, you might give them a go. I've given them a go a number of times, and they've never failed to disappoint: the occasional great - or at least interesting - moment, but long passages of painful tedium. The video art back-projections that sometimes accompany their gigs are usually the most interesting part of the show; when they perform without these, it's very difficult to give them more than 15 or 20 minutes of your attention. And their shows run 2 or 3 hours (allegedly; I really don't think anyone can ever have watched a whole one)! And not only do they look only at each other through most of the gig, they're usually wearing headphones as well - lost in their own smug little world; we might as well not be there (well, mostly we're not).

And so, in the top spot we have.........

1 Carsick Cars
The classic example of D-22's relentless over-promoting of a ho-hum act. These guys won a 'Band of the Year' accolade a couple of years back (I think it was the City Weekend one), which proves only that this is the one Chinese band that most laowai who don't really go to gigs very often have heard of. Jeff Zhang is a decent guitarist (though hardly stellar; frankly, I'd rather see him tighten up his basic technique than indulge in all this experimental torturing of his instrument with chopsticks and staplers), but he still can't sing for toffee. And, apart from the vapid but infuriatingly catchy Zhongnanhai, they haven't managed to come up with any memorable songs. Being banned from sharing the bill with Sonic Youth a few years ago was the high point of their career, an unexpected PR coup that probably explains whatever 'popularity' they continue to enjoy today - because it sure as hell ain't the music that's doing that.

What do these bands have in common? Well, they all have even-worse-than-average-for-Beijing singers (and that's bad). And three of them are distinguished by a perverse refusal to engage in any way with their audience. But what about the names, eh? Do the names not all SUCK mightily?

This is why band naming is so important. I'm not quite sure what the linkage is, but it's definitely there: bands with terrible names are almost always terrible bands.

HBH 186

A month of late nights,
Days of confused weariness -
Chained to the TV.

Yes, oh god, the World Cup is upon us.

Last time, the pressure of trying to watch games that didn't finish until around dawn here in China practically killed me; I had to give up at the half-way point and fly to America, where the games all played during the daytime - far more civilized.

I'm excited, yes; but the excitement is tempered with dread. The next four weeks are going to be very tough.....

I'm supporting Spain.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

My run of ill luck continues

Yes, I find myself still oppressed by the most astonishing restaurant bad karma.

Yesterday lunchtime, I decided to try out a promising-looking Western-style coffee bar next to the gate of the university where I was to be working in the afternoon.

The place only appeared to have one main room and a couple of side rooms, but.... the waitresses kept managing to find somewhere to disappear to. There were several of them (far more than a place of this size seemed to require), but it could be damned hard to find one. The main room where I sat myself was worryingly deserted for long periods. A mystery.

I managed to get hold of a menu and place an order fairly quickly (I only had about 40 minutes before I had to be at work, so was in a bit of a rush), but then.... well, they forgot to bring my Coke for about five minutes or so. A worrying start, a disturbing intimation of what was to follow.

After another five minutes or so, they brought some cutlery and a small complimentary bowl of (utterly foul) beef broth.

Then the waitresses all disappeared again. Another ten minutes passed with no sign of my food order, so I tracked down a waitress to try to find out what was happening. Without even checking with the kitchen, she assured me that my food was on its way, that it would only be one more minute. I was not convinced. (Well, at least she remembered what my order had been; I took some encouragement from that.)

Another five or six minutes passed.... I had been there nearly half an hour, and there was still absolutely no sign of my food (which should have been ready in no more than ten minutes).

It was only with some difficulty that I eventually managed to find a member of staff to whom I could explain that I was leaving now (and would not be paying).

It beggars belief that anywhere could be this incompetent, but in China, alas, it is a fairly routine phenomenon.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Let's get quizzical

We had an inaugural quiz at 12 Square Metres last night - one of a number of ideas boss JK is thinking of trying out to boost attendance on the traditionally 'slow' Tuesday evenings.

Visiting trivia-meister Gentleman Jim (one of the Amilal Bohemians, slumming it down our end of the street for this one night) unsurprisingly emerged as champion, although only after a tie-break question on cricket - which probably unduly favoured this Brit over The Weeble, who doubtless knows everything there is to know about the World Series of baseball. I narrowly missed out on this tense play-off - because of my fatal indecisiveness (or perhaps just embarrassment?) on the topic of 'porn stars'.

The individual format is, as far as I know, a unique offering in Beijing, and may prove appealing to the more hardcore quizzers who have long been secretly tortured by uncertainties as to whether they really do contribute the most correct answers in their regular team events. Now, finally, here is an opportunity to put their value to the test.

The questions on this trial night were perhaps, overall, just a tad too dauntingly obscure (no-one got anywhere near 50%!) - but it was a satisfying challenge. I imagine I'll be back. After all, it is in my 'hood.....

Monday, June 07, 2010

The Bombshell's back....

And I'm gonna be sorry....
Hey na, hey na.....

A bon mot for the week

"I'm always too busy making new mistakes to have any time for regrets."


Saturday, June 05, 2010

The List grows and grows

I've just put up a slightly revised and expanded version of my Constituencies post - dissecting and categorising the English-speaking expat community - over on Froogville here.

Please go and check it out. And add your own suggestions for further 'types' - particularly if you think I've somehow missed you out.

High Anxiety

The mood in the city has been understandably somewhat subdued over the past few days. Police and chengguan have been out in force, generating a casually intimidatory atmosphere of Don't even think of trying any funny business. And the numbers of people out and about, enjoying the warm summer evenings, seem to have been rather depressed as a result: the normally thronged bar strip of Nanluoguxiang has been fairly quiet this week.

Poor old Salud seems to be having a particularly hard ride. The police have been pretty regularly closing down their Wednesday night live music shows over the past few months - although usually it's just one patrol car showing up at 11 or so, and after a few minutes of grumping the boys in blue will sidle off to do some other party-pooping further up the street, and the music gets going again for another hour.

This week, we got two regular squad cars and a jeep - 7 or 8 coppers in all - and they stayed parked outside to make sure that the gig shut down for good.

At least they didn't show up until something after 11pm. And Jean-Seb and friends, anticipating such an eventuality, had started fairly early and played one continuous set right through - so we got well over an hour of music. A great little show it was, too: Sunny was in particularly exuberant form on his djembe, and it was nice to hear Mathieu doing a little electric blues for a change. And their rocked-up version of Summertime is becoming quite the showstopper.

It's a pity that these great moments of joy invariably seem to be soured by the pointless and heavy-handed policing which is such a constant background to our lives here.

Friday, June 04, 2010

HBH 185

A time to reflect,
All revelry put aside:
The saddest of nights.

I always get very emotional at this time of year, and didn't really want to post anything yesterday or today on my 'party blog' here. There'll be a couple of posts over on Froogville later today about the anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown. Please check them out.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

New Picks of the Month

Time for some more recommendations from way back, two posts from three years ago this month that are worth a second look.

From Froogville, I choose this early 'classic' - Bad haircut, bad karma (particularly - painfully - apposite at the moment, since I am once again about to undergo the traumatic ordeal of trying to get my hair cut).

And on Barstool Blues, I point you towards this piece about my Ideal Job.


Traffic Report - the blog stats for May

Another month in which The Barstool was lock-step with its big brother Froogville, tieing it for number of posts almost day by day - largely because of the exceptional number of major music events this past month, such as the Midi Festival and the Dos Kolegas 5th Anniversary Party.

Both blogs finished the month with 42 posts (a satisfyingly Douglas Adams-y number); but while Froogville's wordcount reached a fairly typical total of a bit over 15,000 for the month, Barstool Blues was well over 20,000 words. Whew!

Although I have been much busier on the work front of late, the 'bad habits' of excessive blogging I fell into during the slump of no-work in the first quarter seem to be persisting. Really need to get out and enjoy the summer breezes a bit more.....

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

More erudite than thou

I asked The Weeble the other day if he knew anything about the religious views of Flann O'Brien, a great Irish humourist whom we both rather revere.

In the midst of a self-deprecating protestation of complete ignorance, he threw in the wonderful aside:

"Well, of course, he did have that Manichaean thing going on."

Ah, Weeble, you're one of the shining successes of the home schooling movement. (And your father, I take it, was an Encyclopaedia Britannica salesman?)

I couldn't have put it better

One of my regular drinking companions down at 12 Square Metres (and an occasional haunter of these pages) has just done a guest post over on Beijing Boyce on her 5 Favourite Bars.

It is a very fine selection. Almost exactly what I might have chosen myself. Almost.

I still haven't introduced her to the stupidly pricey but agreeably uncrowded (er, empty) and most-hidden-of-the-hidden whisky bar, Lucky Man; or the 'cherry tobacco' bongs and nearly-free booze of boho backwater, Treehouse; or the familial welcome of the dive bar perfection that is the Pool Bar (where, by the way, they also have both Tom Waits and Johnny Cash on the playlist); or the I-can't-believe-that's-really-a-bar quirkiness of Thong.

She's young. She's still a newbie. Give her time.