Saturday, July 31, 2010

The weather wins again....

I had been planning to go and check out Lone, the new acoustic venture from Bian Yuan, former frontman of we're-so-drunk-we-must-be-a-rock-band Joyside (I confess to being a little regretful that I never got around to seeing them before they disbanded, although I hear wildly differing opinions on whether in fact they were any good or not). I'd caught this duo once before, a year or two back at Salud, and thought they were pretty good. The only widely-touted musical alternative last night was the third instalment of Zippo's 'Hot List' concert series at the wretched Yugong Yishan, with a fairly shitty bill (Ourselves Beside Me, White - blech!). So, it was a no-brainer, really, for the Beijing music-lover.

Except that the gig was on at new-ish music bar Vanguard (or VA Bar, the 'alternate title' it rather confusingly seems to prefer to use most of the time), a bijou spot at the east end of the Wudaoying Hutong. This venue can't accommodate very much of a crowd (it's more of a jazz spot, with lots of lounge seating taking up most of what little space they have), so booking a 'big name' on an otherwise 'slow night' was a tad foolhardy.

Actually, when I got there at a little after 10pm, the crowd - though much the biggest I've ever seen there - was not yet uncomfortably packed. However, there were more people turning up all the time. BY comped in half a dozen of his friends just as I arrived. And there were 15 or 20 people mooching around in the street outside (having taken 'inside beers' with them, rather than just fuelling up on 3-kuai street beers), which caused me some misgivings as to how well the air-conditioning was holding up. Even if the number of bodies wasn't enough to crank the temperature through the roof (it didn't seem too bad when I ducked inside for a moment), it was already such as to make it difficult to order a drink (although it was a near 100% Chinese crowd, and Chinese punters don't drink much) and difficult to see the stage.

I hung around for 15 or 20 minutes: the crowd was slowly getting bigger, but there was no sign of anything happening on stage, and I sensed that the show was not likely to get going until well after 11pm.

I was already exhausted by the walk to get there through the soupy, rancid, hyper-polluted fug that blanketed Beijing yesterday evening. I just didn't have the stamina to wait around that long on my own - when it was uncomfortably warm inside, stiflingly humid outside.

I gave up on the gig, but decided to detour past Amilal on the way home - a 20-25 minute walk that seemed to take more like an hour-and-a-half. By the time I got there, I wasn't good for anything very much, and didn't stay for very long.

The only plus point from the night's excursion, really, was that 'Scamp', Alus's female kitten who's latterly become extremely nervous and reclusive, was on this occasion too worn out by the heat to run away, and allowed me to pet her..... for the first time in ages. That did more to expunge the stresses of the week than an unplugged rock'n'roller ever could have.

Friday, July 30, 2010

HBH 193

The mind's plains dry out
When the river of beer's dammed:
Drought withers all things.

Yikes, am I really going to go a whole month without drinking?

(Well, no - it's The Choirboy's birthday at the end of next month, so I figure 4 weeks will be good enough. Am I going to make it that far???)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

How are we doing so far? (Resolutions reviewed)

Well, we're a little over half-way through the year now, so this seems like a good time to look back on my 2010 New Year's Resolutions and see how much, or how little, progress I have made on the steep path of virtue I attempted to set for myself back in January.

1) I am going to finish unpacking and get my apartment straightened out by this weekend.

Well, I at least got my kitchen nicely organised and functional almost immediately after first posting this resolution, but.... it took me more like a month to get the rest of the apartment in shape. And six months on, there's an awful lot of stuff that I still haven't unpacked. I gave up on my plans to move again in the spring (I had hopes of taking over a friend's hutong house, but that fell through), but I'm still thinking that I might move.... well, maybe not soon, but one day. The new place has almost no shelf or cupboard space, and I can't be bothered to buy any, so.... all of my books, CDs, DVDs etc. are likely to remain in the packing crates I brought them here in.

2) I am going to have a party at the beginning of next month (February).

Yes, the housewarming party did indeed go ahead as planned - although I was bitterly disappointed by the thin turnout.

3) I am finally going to stop moping about Madame X.

Well, I was doing really well on that, had scarcely thought about her at all in a few months - certainly no moping. Until a couple of weeks ago, that is. Sigh. I'm doing much better than I'd feared, though, making progress, nearly cured.

4) I am going to visit Bangladesh.

Ah well, the incentive for going there evaporated. The Bombshell, my lovely Swedish infatuation, had been working there, and had issued me an open invitation to come and visit, but.... well, she was in the throes of switching jobs, and had a crazy travelling schedule through the first half of the year; thus, she hardly spent any time in Bangladesh, and has now quit the country for good. At least I caught up with her in Beijing again last month.

5) I am going to get a paid writing gig by the middle of this year.

Well, kind of - one of my journo friends has invited me to contribute an occasional column to a website he's set up; but thus far it's very irregular, and promises of payment remain vague. It may well be that I'm to be remunerated in beers on my next trip back to the UK. There are a couple of other, more serious opportunities I've been looking into as well, but nothing has come of them yet.

6) I am going to break myself of my 'pool divination' superstition.

Alas, I haven't found the time to play much pool this year. Largely because my usual adversaries, Pool Partner, New Dad, and The Chairman have all been very limited in their availability; but also because I'm suffering with a persistent shoulder injury which is really eating into my confidence in my game. I fear, in fact, that I may have achieved the exact opposite of my resolution here: the near-collapse of my pool-playing mojo may have derailed my sexual confidence as well. It has been a more-than-usually wretched year for me on the romance front: lots of flirtation, but nothing approaching a relationship.

7) I am going to invest in a bar or restaurant.

Still looking.....

8) I am going to complete the Great Wall Marathon this May.

OK, make that next May. I appear to have a severe and persistent patellar tendinitis in my left knee, and have scarcely been able to run at all this year. I am starting to think I may have to take up swimming or cycling (or sex?!) as a way of keeping my weight down instead. But I am going to make one last effort to get back into a regular running habit, starting...... right now.

As for the 10 resolutions that I set myself almost every year, I'm doing pretty well on most of them. Only the regular exercise regime (I have got very fat in the last couple of months!), the regular dinner parties (it just doesn't happen in Beijing, does it? it's so much easier to eat out), and finding myself a girlfriend continue to be major obstacles for me. But there's still, what, 22 weeks to go in this year. There is time to turn things around. Oh yes.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ah, progress!

Sometimes, we're just not appreciative enough of how much easier technology has made our lives.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mojito trough

When did mojitos become such a big thing?

I don't think I'd heard of the damn drink until I came to Beijing. I was first introduced to them 6 or 7 years ago by the rather fine interpretation produced by Mr Cho at Café Sambal; but in those days, not too many other people seemed to be drinking them; they certainly weren't as ubiquitous - inescapable - as they have become today.

Now, I have nothing against the mojito as such. It is a very tasty and refreshing drink, and I'm partial to one myself on occasion.

It's just that it is, well, how shall I put this, a f***ing selfish thing to order in a busy bar.

You ought to have some consideration for how labour intensive this drink is to make - if you're going to muddle the mint delicately (rather than just bashing the shit out of it for a few seconds), if you're going to juice a lime (rather than just mashing a few wedges in the bottom of the glass), if you're going to stir in the sugar properly..... it takes a little time. If you order six of them at once, it takes quite a lot of time. It is not a polite or considerate thing to order when the bar staff are a bit overstretched, when a lot of other people are waiting to be served.

Then, the other night, it struck me - to satisfy these people who want to order multiple mojitos (and to satisfy these people who crave endless new cheap drink promotions), why not have a MOJITO TROUGH? 50 or 80 or 100 RMB for all the mojito you can drink, but.... you have to drink it from a communal trough on the bar counter. (Well, maybe from a mini-trough with three or four friends.)

What do you mean, there are hygiene issues? This is China - if you're worried about hygiene, you should be living somewhere else. How many barmen use a scoop or tongs for the ice rather than just their fingers? And how clean do you suppose the tongs are anyway? And how do they make the ice??

Well, OK, maybe we could get some kind of fancy straw with a little valve mechanism to stop anything dribbling back into the trough. Happy now, Mr Hygiene Freak?

Of course, this is where the money really lies - the One-Way Hygienic Straw. I'm working on some technical drawings now, will be applying for patent soon.

I'm an ideas man, you see.

[Acknowledgements: In an early John Belushi skit on Saturday Night Live, they had a fast-food restaurant where people ate from a communal trough. I think it was supposed to be German food? Couldn't dig the clip out on YouTube.

A bar owner friend was telling me recently that she's contemplating having a 'same glass' promotion to address the irritating mojito orderers problem (or rather, the problem of people who order a mojito... and then a mint julep... and then a John Collins... and then another mojito): cheap drinks or all-you-can drink, provided you use the same glass for everything all night. I like the idea!

I hear Chad has been offering mojitos rather than martinis as his 1-kuai special for the 'First of the Month Madness' promotion at Fubar. I'm sceptical as to how well that works, but.... it's a bold pioneering step in the mass production of mojitos.

And, of course, Huxley at the old Nanjie used to do a 'fishbowl' of cocktails or mixed drinks - 1.5 litres, I think - which was pioneering the idea of sharing drinks through straws, albeit with 2 or 3 close friends rather than anyone who happens to be sitting next to you at the bar.]

Monday, July 26, 2010

A prisoner of the weather

Though I teased The Weeble for being feeble on Friday for declining gig options on grounds of their likely sweatiness, in fact I concurred with him.

I'd really been looking forward to the launch of SUBS' new CD, Queen of F***ing Everything, at MAO Live last Friday, but the suffocating humidity we've been suffering for the past week or so ultimately deterred me from going along to the show. MAO has slightly better ventilation than many live music venues (which is to say some, rather than none), but it gets like an oven with any significant number of bodies in there. On this night, it was scarcely even tolerable to step inside for a few seconds to check out the merchandise. Dozens of punters (the majority of them, in fact, members of other Beijing bands who'd come along to support their friends) were sprawled on the sidewalk outside, wearily fanning themselves and chugging cold beers, drenched in sweat before the show had even started.

I had been contemplating alternative gigs at smaller, less crowded, and perhaps better air-conditioned venues, such as What, VA Bar, and Jianghu, but..... in these conditions, even a short walk becomes deeply discouraging. The next night, I made what is usually a brief and invigorating excursion to check out a few of the venues closest to where I live.... and I really began to think that I would not make it back: the 25-minute return journey seemed to be taking hours, and I was wretchedly exhausted and soaking wet by the time I finally staggered through the door.

Nope, while the weather stays like this, I think I'm going to be holing up at home with the DVDs. I hope there aren't going to be any 'must see' events in the next 5 or 6 weeks; if there are, I'm going to have to miss them.

Bon mot for the week

"All animals, except man, know that the principal business of life is to enjoy it."

Samuel Butler (1835-1902)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

He's back

The Weeble is restored to us, after a recuperative spell back home.... and immediately the inane and salacious text message exchanges are resumed.

Last night, he was complaining that the steamy weather dissuaded him from joining me at any of the music gigs I was contemplating.

"I don't want to be anywhere in a confined space with a lot of hot, sweaty, young bodies," he whinged.

I replied, "I guess I'm going to that Shunyi schoolgirl orgy on my own, then."

And shortly afterwards, "That was a band name, of course."

Friday, July 23, 2010

This busy life!

This weekend sees a CD launch (and at least a couple of other gigs I'd be interested in seeing - all on at the same time, probably), a gallery opening, a birthday party, a housewarming party, a moving-out party, and a leaving party.

A fairly typical schedule for us here in The Jing.

I rather fear something's going to have to fall by the wayside.....

HBH 192

Her name still haunts, taunts:
Mentioned in conversation,
Pricks the heart anew.

Coincidence conspires against me again. After a long lapse of silence, and blessed forgetfulness, suddenly in the last week I've had a string of people talking to me about Madame X. Damn, I'm still a little messed up about that one!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Game of the names

Someone happened to ask me the other day - a not uncommon question, but the first time in ages it had been put to me - what would I call a bar or restaurant of my own?

Then, by one of those odd little coincidences, the very next evening I discovered in an old wallet a scrap of paper on which The Chairman and I had written down some name suggestions in a drunken and frivolous moment a couple of years back. [I believe that it may have been inspired by the "competition" the Room 101 owners announced to find a name for their relaunched and rebranded business towards the end of 2008. I never heard any more of that, and don't know if their eventual name selection did come from a customer suggestion or if it was rewarded in any way. I suspect not. One of the many extraordinary faux pas those guys committed in creating their new place was choosing the deeply crappy name Ginkgo for it. Nobody really knows what a 'ginkgo' is; almost no-one can spell it correctly (it's one of those words that I keep on tripping up over myself); nobody knows what it is in Chinese; and it has absolutely no associations with anything whatsoever. For me, it might perhaps be suggestive of a health-food or vitamin shop, or a massage parlour - but not a bloomin' restaurant!]

A further preamble - I don't at all approve of the idea of a combined bar/restaurant; I believe such places seldom or never really work (another element of the great sequential foot-shooting that Ginkgo pulled off!), and they hold no appeal for me. Now, there's no reason why a restaurant shouldn't have a separate bar area (although I don't think it ever really needs one); and it's nice if such a bar is good enough to draw customers of its own, independent of the restaurant's food; but if the bar gets too good, too successful, it starts distracting from the restaurant, dilutes the focus of the business. It's not easy - or desirable, I don't think - for a bar and a restaurant to co-exist successfully. This applies somewhat even to places that just do 'bar food': if the food becomes too elaborate or sophisticated, if the food starts becoming a major part of the draw, then the place is morphing into a restaurant - and suffering as a bar (it's one of the main reasons that I don't particularly like The Den or The Tree as drinking hangouts: far too many people go there to eat!).

Having got that little gripe out of my system..... here are some of those names I dug up the other day. (I hasten to add that they are not particularly good names [though much, much better than Ginkgo!], being generated as they were by a drunken stream of consciousness, for a particular occasion. I'm still not sure how I'd answer that opening question: what would I call a bar of my own?)

(I think that might have been one of The Chairman's offerings. Sounds more like a cocktail bar or wine bar than a bar bar to me....)

(A natural development, of course, from Room 101.... which was in itself a fairly questionable piece of bar-naming ["the worst thing in the world"?!], but seemed to work out pretty well: it was simple, memorable, and those who knew the reference were prepared to treat it as intended ironically; and the owners elaborated on this quite cleverly - quite obscurely - by producing staff t-shirts with Winston Smith's citizen number on them.)

(Another cocktail bar name....)

100 Flowers
(A very apposite reference for China - though not a very pleasant one. And perhaps a tad obscure for those who aren't au fait with their modern Chinese history.)

(A playful jibe at the French component of 101's original ownership syndicate! Ah, it would be a great name for an English restaurant.... if such a thing could ever exist!)

(Hmm, I see this as being more of a studenty type of place up in Wudaokou - perhaps even a meat-market/disco like Propaganda.)

Rick's Café
(The only place I've ever come across somewhere that takes its name from Bogie's famous nightclub in Casablanca is Negril, at the western tip of Jamaica. Odd. You'd think that such a universally recognisable pop culture reference would have been exploited for marketing myriads of bars all around the world. I wonder if the Warner Bros. goons crack down on this kind of thing?? Not in China, surely?! I'd love to try and do a Rick's one day, somewhere; but I think my conception of the place - though it might include the jazz/cabaret of the movie - would be very different in lots of ways.)

(This is the kind of name that is prompted primarily by the conceits of the interior design team rather than any other consideration: you can see that austere black-and-white theme, can't you? Not a completely terrible name; better than Ginkgo; but not great.)

The Workers' Flag
(".... is soaked in drink./ It's not as red as you may think...." Oh, how many times did I sing that in my far-off student days? An unusual name, but a very workable one, I think: fits in nicely with the locale in Communist China, immediately suggests a simple but catchy logo/symbol/gimmick.... and might possibly attract an amusingly outspoken clientele of would-be philosopher-revolutionaries.)

(One of my favourites from this little selection. For me, it would fit a restaurant better than a bar - but that was what Ginkgo was aiming to be. It's the Spanish for 'destiny' [the great golfer Seve Ballesteros used to invoke it a lot whenever his winning ways deserted him: "I feel I have many more victories yet in my destino."], so it might prove particularly attractive as a 'date place'.)

The Blackout Bar
(This was in fact a suggestion from my erstwhile drinking companion, the determinedly eccentric young American boozehound Crazy Chris - inspired by his experiences in Korea, where he was never able to remember the name of his favourite late-night drinking den.)

(Now, this could definitely work! A New York cultural reference that will beguile the Chinese punters, and one that comes complete with its own - incomparably groovy - theme song. Oh yes, someone should do this.)

Oh, of course, I suggested Fubar as an ideal name for a bar in China on here long, long ago..... but someone has done that now. (I'm still waiting for my royalties.)

If you have any ideas for good bar names, I remind you that we already have a thread for that - please go and leave your contributions there.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ribfest IV

My old drinking buddy The British Cowboy is holding the fourth of his great annual yard parties in Alexandria, VA, this coming Saturday.

I was seriously - I mean, seriously - tempted to just drop everything and go. I haven't seen the old bugger in ages. And he does knock up some pretty mean barbecue. And I am so hating Beijing at the moment.....

Alas, such spontaneity is denied to those of us who are not wealthy. There's quite a bit of work around for me at the moment (partly, at least, because everyone else is going on holiday), and I'm only just starting to get my finances into some kind of health again after suffering four months with nearly no work at all at the beginning of this year.

Sorry, Cowboy. I would really have loved to join you. I will be there in spirit.

And I give you a pledge now - I will be there for the big one, Ribfest V, next year. Oh yes, my mind is made up.

Have a blast, me old mucker!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The best barman in the world?

Big Nige, an old friend of our laoban JK back in his tour-guiding days, has for the past few months been working as an occasional 'relief barman' down at my beloved 12 Square Metres.

Now, good times are almost always to be had at this wonderful little spot, and I enjoy hanging out there with JK and his Mrs most nights. But when Nige is on.... well, sometimes it just goes to a whole other level.

The big guy and I share a number of uncanny affinities (I was a trifle spooked to learn a few weeks back that his two favourite spots in Oxford were The Black Swan Irish pub and the Hi-Lo Jamaican Eating House - places dear to my heart too, though well off the beaten track: I had the good luck to live in that city on and off for a decade, whereas Nigel was but an occasional visitor), especially in our enthusiasm for music. We can both hold forth for extended periods in appreciation of the genius of Tom Waits (he's just lent me a DVD documentary on the great man); and the other night we were sharing recollections of Hereford's (the city of my birth) finest, Mott The Hoople. JK's standard playlist - 80s-riddled and very middle-of-the-road (Hansen???!!!) - invites frequent derision from the handful of regulars. When Nige is on duty, the selection tends towards the heavier end of the spectrum (his knowledge of 80s British heavy metal is dauntingly compendious)..... and, occasionally, towards playfully obscene lyrics.

When the place is busy, he'll rein in his natural exuberance and avoid playing anything that might upset someone of a sensitive disposition. But he usually works Monday nights, which are often pretty dead. So..... we few, we happy few.... can occasionally let our hair down a bit: customer song requests are encouraged, the lights may be dimmed at particularly emotional moments, and singing along - or headbanging along - is apt to break out frequently.

Last night was a particularly good session: we were all having so much fun, he stayed open an hour or more later than usual - even though there were only three customers left. Thanks, Nige.

[It was all the more welcome for being such an unexpectedly good end to a long and miserable day. I'd had yet another gippy tummy episode the night before, having to get up in the middle of the night to throw up. Then my electricity meter had unexpectedly run out of pre-paid credit, so I'd found myself without air-conditioning, and couldn't get much more sleep. I'd had a gruelling day, rushing all over town in 95% humidity and clammy drizzle, and having to forsake lunch in order to recharge my electricity card. After all that, I was strung out, exhausted, not in a great party mood. Chaotic service at Blue Frog rather undermined enjoyment of their two-for-one burger deal. And a couple of other bars we tried were both completely dead (a drizzly Monday evening: what should I expect?). And premium lager wasn't sitting well on my still-tender stomach. No, I had a very flat feeling yesterday, wasn't enjoying my evening much at all..... until I managed to inveigle a few friends into joining me at 12SqM for 'a nightcap'.... a 'just the one' that ended up lasting the better part of four hours!]

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bon mot for the week

"Oh, wouldn't the world seem dull and flat with nothing whatever to grumble at?"

W.S. Gilbert (1836-1911)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Avoiding temptation

I am trying to give up beer for a little while. Honestly. Starting soon......

Friday, July 16, 2010

So, farewell then....?

I hear Ginkgo has finally gone under....

Well, except that..... it appears to be still there, still open, still operating under the same name, and ostensibly offering the same kind of fare at the same prices.

But now, it's under completely new ownership (all Chinese, by the looks of it), and with an all-new staff (who probably haven't got the foggiest idea how to make any of the dishes or drinks on the menu).

I'm relieved - and amazed! - for the original investors that they managed to extricate themselves at last from that money-pit; but the place itself will not be much missed.

It was astonishing that this slow-motion train-wreck of a business limped on for as long as it did - producing one of the most spectacular and protracted failures in my recollection of the Beijing bar/restaurant scene. Even in the modestly promising opening few months of its original more-a-bar-than-a-restaurant incarnation as Room 101, it always looked like a doomed venture to me; and a stench of death has been hanging over it for more than two years now, since well before its ill-advised rebranding as the aspiring-to-be more-a-restaurant-than-a-bar Ginkgo around 20 months ago.

I may have a longer post in me some time on just why it was so much of a flop. But for now, I simply note its passing - and allow myself a little sigh of nostalgia for that brief spell in the first half of 2008 when, as Room 101, it was managing to be a welcome addition to my neighbourhood's bar offerings.

HBH 191

The body wears out:
Stomach, kidneys, liver, brain
- It all ages, fails.

I have been sick as a dog for the last week or two. Perhaps it is just cumulative exhaustion, after a string of World Cup-related late nights unfortunately coincided with an especially stressful spell at work. Perhaps it has a psychosomatic component, as I slide into massive depression after a week with no sunlight. Or perhaps it's just that I'm now entering the second half of my forties, and I've been living like a rock'n'roller since my mid-teens.

It may be time to check into a monastery for some serious detox. It may be time to make a will. Or it may just be time to leave China....

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Top Five excuses for not going out with me

Not that I take this personally, you understand. These are generic excuses that most women, at one time or another, have used to fob off most men, in most countries around the world. But there are one or two specific little local twists in this list: I fear that this sort of thing does happen more here in China, in Beijing - at least among the expat community (for reasons that I have discussed in far more detail in my infamous series on Dating in Beijing - links here).

Here we go, then........

The Top Five Excuses For Not Going Out With Me

5) The imaginary boyfriend
Oh, that old classic! Yes, yes, it is a truth universally acknowledged that an attractive woman must already have a boyfriend. And I admire loyalty to a partner, I do; it's a very desirable characteristic in a woman. But, you know, if I've met you 17 times now, in all sorts of different company and different venues, and I've never actually seen the alleged boyfriend (and neither has anyone else among our mutual acquaintances), I am going to start doubting the existence - or, at any rate, the relevance - of said boyfriend. I am going to start suspecting that you just don't fancy me.

4) "You're not going to do much for my Chinese, are you?"
The 'Yellow Fever' phenomenon - the formation of an overwhelming, sometimes completely exclusive preference for Chinese/Asian partners - is generally seen as a characteristic foible of Western men here, but it's not completely unknown amongst the ladies. It's amazing how quickly these choices become fetishised: you try it once, and if it works out sort of OK, it's soon ossified into a self-limiting habit, with other ethnicities completely dropping off your radar. Chinese guys, though, rarely have much of that 'cute' factor that is supposed to distinguish Chinese girls (although I am quite immune to it myself), so the initial impetus for foreign women to get into Chinese guys is almost invariably "practising Mandarin". I suspect that, for many of those who make it a life-long habit, there may often be a certain sense of enhanced power or independence for them as well: the guys are eager to improve their English, get some exposure to overseas culture, show off to their friends who they managed to pull, etc., and perhaps even to try to get a foreign passport - this tends to give the girls more 'hand' in the relationship. And - thanks to the wonders of the language gap - they can just ignore the guy for long periods if he's being a pain. It's a much less common preference amongst women than men (I'd guess maybe around 10%, as opposed to about 95% for the males), but I seem to run up against it rather a lot (I suppose it's more prevalent among the 'lifers' here, and they're the kind of people I mostly hang with). Knowing that you don't fancy anyone of my ethnicity doesn't really take the sting out of the fact that you don't fancy me in particular.

3) Act of God
You lost my phone number. Or your phone. Or you'd forgotten your visa was about to expire. Or you got sent out of town on business at no notice. Or, as John Belushi put it in The Blues Brothers: "There was an earthquake.... a terrible flood.... LOCUSTS! It wasn't my fault, I swear to god!!!" Such things do happen, yes indeed. But I think you probably just don't fancy me.

2) You're busy seeing friends
I am happy for you that you have such a full and varied social life. And I don't at all approve of the sort of women (and men too, on occasion) who abandon their friends when they get into a relationship. But if you're even vaguely interested in the possibility of getting into a relationship with someone, you really have to bulldoze some space in your crowded schedule. Especially with all the time pressure that we're under here in Beijing: yes, we do all work very hard here, very irregular hours; and we party hard, too; and we may not be here for all that long. Indeed you might be leaving in only six months, or perhaps just six weeks, so..... if you're interested in whether anything could happen between us, you can't afford to be wasting time. When days and weeks go by when you've been just "too busy seeing friends" to make any time to see me, you're basically telling me that you just don't fancy me enough (or at all).

And the winner.....

1) You've had a crazy week at work.
I'm sure you have. But nobody is that crazy at work that they have to work every single evening for an entire week (and, even if you did, then you should be looking forward to the chance to unwind at the weekend - with me). And nobody is that busy that they can't respond - promptly, or at all - to text messages, e-mails, phone calls. Oh, perhaps you really are that exceptionally busy, just for this one week or so. But more probably you're just very bad at time-management and multi-tasking, getting overwhelmed by things, becoming forgetful, neglectful of your social life. And if you can't even make the minimal effort required to maintain the basic social courtesies - acknowledging a message quickly; turning me down nicely if I invite you out, and you really are too busy to go; offering some encouragement by suggesting a raincheck - it does suggest that you don't fancy me. Or that, even if you do fancy me, you're not giving me as much attention and consideration as I merit - and, therefore, you are probably not, after all, the kind of woman I want to be with.

As I observed in that post on dating a couple of years back, amongst the expat ladies in Beijing "too busy" does often seem to mean just "too busy" rather than "not interested" - and they expect you to keep on asking..... five, six, seven times, or even more. I'm afraid I don't have much tolerance for that little game.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Happy Bastille Day!

I haven't heard of any special parties going on to mark the French National Day today, but I daresay there'll be a jolly time down at Salud tonight.... even more than so than usual on their Wednesday live music night.

In honour of the occasion, I reprint this post from two years ago....


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

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

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

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

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

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

A Happy Bastille Day to any French readers!

Monday, July 12, 2010

A free man again!

Unfortunately, it's not easy to deal with a man going through withdrawal, bereavement....

I've just been through one of the most intense, joyous, gruelling, heartbreaking four-and-a-half week relationships of my life. Any ladies I should happen to meet during the next few weeks should be aware that I am on the rebound.....

Bon mot for the week

"One day of practice is like one day of clean living. It doesn't do you any good."

Abe Lemons (1922-2002)

I gather Mr Lemons was a distinguished college basketball coach in America, having a particularly successful spell with Oklahoma City University in the 1980s.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Do you feel a song coming on?

You're once, twice..... three times a loser.....

Ah, poor old Holland, eh?

Part of me really wanted to see them finally avenge, expunge the memories of those two heartbreaking, unjust defeats in the 1970s finals, but....

.... well, actually, tonight Spain were the 1974 Holland and Holland were the 1974 Germany. The cosmic injustice was balanced out at last (slightly), but Holland still didn't win. Their day will come. When they deserve it. This bunch of dirty, cheating bastards didn't - even though they did play well.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Gloatiol to end them all

My old Oxford buddy The Swordsman (about the only person still keeping me company down there on the World Cup thread, since The British Cowboy is, presumably, far too busy preparing for his barbecue of the century next weekend) mentioned the other day that he'd been faced with the comment verification word 'gloatiol' - which I couldn't help thinking sounded like it would be a useful word to describe an over-protracted goal celebration in football, particularly one of those where an over-excitable South American commentator bellows his head off for 30 seconds without a pause for breath. You know the kind of thing:

The greatest of all such gloatiols, though, surely, was this - not from a hot-blooded Latino but from the traditionally more cool and restrained far north of Europe: Norwegian commentator Bjørge Lillelien getting rather carried away after his side had sneaked an unexpected 2-1 win against England in Oslo in a World Cup qualifier in 1981 and deciding to taunt every famous English person he could remember. It's majestic. And a history lesson. Unparodiable, unrepeatable. And so goddamned funny that it even managed to stop us smarting too hard over our shameful defeat.

Friday, July 09, 2010

'Fighting' beer!

I discovered last week that Harry Enfield had reunited with his long-time (and even more talented) comedy collaborator, Paul Whitehouse, for a new series of skit shows on the BBC, Harry & Paul. One of the regular segments involves playing with Nelson's Mandela's saintly image by having him shamelessy shill a range of the most socially irresponsible products (I'm sure they mean no disrespect to the great man himself; and I imagine he'd appreciate the joke - he's a good sport). The one above is my favourite of the bunch.

"Do you want some?"

Another country

Abigail Washburn, the China-lovin' American folkie, is back in Beijing after a two-year hiatus (well, I think she's breezed through the past couple of years, but didn't bring a band or play any scheduled gigs), and is playing tonight..... out at mysterious new venue, The One (seems to have been open several months now, but they do not deign to advertise in the laowai press).

Unfortunately, that is rather a long way away. Way, way out on the east side of town. Beyond the end of the Line 1 subway (they built an extension on this 5 or 6 years ago, to open up some of the more remote 'burbs out there, like Tongzhou; but this additional 'Batong' line is overland, so you have to get out and go through a long-winded changeover at one of the two Sihui stations). I've had a teaching job out that way a couple of times: complete nightmare - it would take 40 or 50 minutes to get back in a taxi, even with clear roads. On the subway, it would take me well over an hour (possibly quite a lot more, given the long gaps between trains once the early evening rush hour is over). That is most definitely, alas, a gig too far.

Or, as I put it to a friend who quizzed me just now as to whether I was going:

"It's in Gaobeidian. I didn't apply for the visa in time!"

[And hey, it's now raining. That means it's gone from being Korea to something more like Hawaii. I know there are a bunch of people who live over that side of town now, but..... really, I think venues like The One and Mako Live are gamely anticipating a demographic shift rather than responding to one. At the moment, and for a good two or three years to come, I would think, they are simply too remote from the major laowai population centres to attract a decent audience for this kind of show. Abby, my dear, please come and play at MAO next time. Or at Star Live again (although the one you did there a few years ago was a bit of a soulless gig: a bit too much space for your sound). Or at one of the warehouse spaces in 798. Or even, god help me, at Yugong Yishan (er, no, I didn't mean that: Yugong sucks for acoustic shows, as you know to your cost). Just, please, not out in the wilds of Gaobeidian. On a Friday evening. In the rain.]

HBH 190

Football makes us fat -
Or watching too much of it,
Drinking all the while.

It has been a fine month, indeed - but I have put on about 10lbs. Ouch!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Froog Solutions (8)

Froog's solution to being perpetually frustrated and disappointed in the romance stakes....

Early retirement. Hang up my spurs for good. I'm no good at this lark any more. One hundred years of solitude, here we come!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Judge not, that ye be not judged

Not so long ago - only a matter of a few days, in fact - there were three different women with whom I was quite invigoratingly in lust.

They've all, in quick succession, managed to pour cold water on my overheated loins.

Yes, maybe I am too picky.....

But, thank god there's still football.....

Monday, July 05, 2010

Glad it's (nearly) over?

The World Cup is pretty much done.

After the game (or three, or four) every day mayhem of the first two-and-a-half weeks, things seem suddenly very sedate again once we reach the quarter-finals. Now, my home team are out [England] (though we never really showed up in the first place), the best team [Brazil] are out, the most reviled and overrated - but potentially dangerous - team [Argentina] are out, and the pre-tournament favourites [Spain] are under-performing (and alienating support with their cheating). We're all now just waiting for the surely inevitable German victory. And the remaining matches are all at stupid o'clock in the morning here in Beijing, so I'm not sure that I'll be watching any more of them live. There's a slight feeling of anti-climax.

I only ventured into Sanlitun a couple of times, and immediately regretted it. The city's sports bars are unbelievably crap at the best of times. I wasn't going to slog all the way over there to pay stupid money for drinks in a crap bar that was also crazily overcrowded. Some people call it 'atmosphere'; but I don't like my 'atmosphere' to get in the way of the screen, or drown out the commentary, or keep me waiting 20 minutes to get served. Vague plans of venturing further afield in hopes of finding a decent bar venue (The Irish Volunteer or The Brick seemed the only likely contenders - although The Chairman tells me he enjoyed watching a couple of games in the Bla Bla Bar up in Wudaokou) were stymied by uncertain weather and general apathy.

My attempt to watch the opening England game against the USA (on an outdoor screen somewhere on Sanlitun Houjie; I'm not even exactly sure where) was a disaster, and I gave up and went home at half-time. I felt so wrecked by the experience (the combination of the super-late bedtime and the 9 or 10 hours of drinking that had preceded it left me feeling exhausted for 3 or 4 days following - I'm not the man I used to be) that I forswore the 2.30am kick-offs thereafter (only catching about four or five of them, at home, after I'd suffered a bout of insomnia, or - fortuitously? - woken up just in time, or got back so late from the bar that I thought I'd see if I could survive at least the first half...), and have relied mostly on CCTV5's daytime re-runs (although I've had a pretty hectic month at work, I have been managing to keep most of my mornings free).

Watching outdoors has been rather curtailed by the weather, anyway: we had a long spell of that New-Orleansy thundery cycle that so often besets the Beijing summer, where we suffer intensely humid days and heavy rains at night.

And I'm not sure that any of the outdoor options were that good. The 'Football City' beer garden at the East Gate of the Workers' Stadium looked like a fun possibility, but it was perversely closing down at midnight (not sure how strict they were about that - did they chuck people out before the extra time and penalties in the Paraguay v Japan game??). Nobody even seemed to know if Ritan Park had an outdoor screen this year (it was much the best temporary open-air venue during the 2006 tournament, with the circular altar enclosure in the middle hosting a giant screen and dozens of food and drink concession stalls from bars and restaurants around town; I don't think that happened this year - or, if it did, nothing was done to advertise the fact). There are some giant LCD screens in some of the mega-malls around town, such as the barely-opened Sanlitun SOHO, but these seemed to me like a rather charmless, atmosphereless kind of venue for watching. The most fun outdoor experience I had these last few weeks was watching the tail-end of the USA v Slovenia game outside a chuanr stall on my hutong.

I'd caught the first hour of that game (intermittently, in the background) at Zui Yuefang, during a gig by my friends Blackwater. I likewise caught a few fragments and highlights, or the odd half-game, at Ned's and the Pool Bar. But this year, for me, the World Cup has essentially meant 12 Square Metres - I've watched very nearly all of the early and mid-evening games there. That's my idea of 'atmosphere': a little bit of buzz, but not too crowded; a mixture of old friends, new friends, and enthusiastic strangers; and quite a spectrum of nationalities (I've enjoyed a Mexico game with a Mexican, a Japanese game with a Japanese, and the Germany games with a couple of Germans). And they had three screens showing two different channels: from the left end of the front bar, you could watch both of the simultaneous final group games at the same time - probably the only place in Beijing where this was really possible, or at any rate easy.

But 12 SqM won't be staying open until dawn for the last four games, so I'm somewhat at a loss. I've kept my schedule fairly clear this week, but.... I really don't know if I can be bothered to stay up all night for games I could just as easily watch at breakfast time the next day (assuming, that is, that CCTV5 doesn't unfathomably decide to dispense with full re-runs now). I'm not sure what to do. Maybe I should consult THE COIN??

Anyway, it's been a damn good World Cup. And I hope we've got one or two more great games still in store for us.

Come on, Germany - finish what you've started!!

A topical bon mot

"The English like supporting underdogs - because it recreates the disappointment we experience in following our own side."


Saturday, July 03, 2010

Everybody loves Brazil

For the gorgeous women who proliferate on the beaches there.....

Though lady friends tell me their chaps are quite dishy too. Some of them, anyway. Kaka's a handsome lad, right enough, but he looks about fourteen, doesn't he?

But most of all, we love Brazil because they play the best football - joga bonita, 'the beautiful game'. With the one bizarre aberration of 1974, Brazil have been clearly the best team - or one of the two or three best teams - in every single World Cup since the 1950s. A few may carp that it gets boring, always having this expectation that Brazil are going to be favourites, likely winners. I don't see how you can get bored with excellence. Brazil play football like no other country; they produce more prodigiously gifted players than any other country; and they do it consistently. And they play in a free-flowing, often exuberant attacking style: they are a joy to watch.

Alas, the downside of being perpetually the best team in the world is the weight of expectation this imposes on the Brazilian players - and the gloomy foreboding that, more often than not, unlucky disappointment is going to be their lot, rather than deserved success. Brazil have won 5 World Cups, yes, more than anyone else. But that's only 5 wins out of 16 tournaments since the Second World War, and they were pretty much the best team in every single one. It only takes one particularly inspired performance by an opponent (or an unpunished excess of agression from one), or one piece of ill luck to tip a game against you..... and suddenly you're out.

And so it was last night. It was a superb performance from the Dutch, much the best we've seen from them this year; but Brazil were still the better team. If you played that game in 10 closely parallel universes, I doubt if the Dutch would win it more than once or twice. But in our world, they did - and the lovely Brazilians are out. The current side may not be quite as awesome as the Pelé/Jairzinho/Tostao or the Socrates/Falcao/Zico or the Rivaldo/Ronaldo/Ronaldinho teams, but they're pretty damned good - and it would have been nice to see them in the final again this year.

I am very, very SAD about this result. (And not just because I failed to predict it!)

Friday, July 02, 2010

New Picks of the Month

A couple of new recommendations for the sidebar, from the summer of '07 (when the blog was young):

On Froogville, I commend this piece, Judgement, on why we expats in China bitch about things here so much (excessively?). It's also worth checking out this related (short) piece defiantly celebrating my own opinionatedness, IMLTHO.

And from Barstool Blues, I give you my observations on Service In China (don't omit to read the comments as well: they include an anecdote about an extremely amusing put-down from one of my almost-girlfriends).

Do check these out - and let me know what you think.

Traffic Report - the blog stats for June

Well, thanks to a particularly busy spell at work, and to the distractions of the World Cup, my rate of blogging was slightly curtailed this last month.

There were 35 posts and around 11,000 words on Froogville.

Barstool Blues was running it neck-and-neck in frequency (34 posts in all), but managed fewer than 8,000 words (despite a few very long posts, the majority this month were very short, several of them picture posts only).

Gosh, did I really keep my output down below 20,000 words?? That must be the first time that's happened in...... ages.

Well, no. There was also the 'hidden post' of my World Cup discussion thread, where I've been doing most of my writing for the last three weeks: to date, there are 83 comments on that, 64 of which (and a good 90% of the verbiage) are mine; and they boast a cumulative wordcount slightly in excess of the combined total for the posts on both blogs. Egad!

As to my global reach, Statcounter informs me that I have had my first look-ins from Argentina and Costa Rica on Froogville....... and from the Islamic Republic of Iran on The Barstool (I hope they didn't get into any trouble!). It's a funny old world, eh?

HBH 189

Rare, but regular,
Welcome apparition:
Once-a-month woman.

It appears that my newest 'romantic interest' could be a tantalisingly frequent visitor: a promising basis for a friendship, but not for anything more, I fear. Cruel Fate,....

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Cruel Fate strikes again (triple whammy!!!)

Well, I finally got around to asking a woman out (sort of; I needed the help of an intermediary). And she said yes. I was very excited.

But then.... The Russian, who wasn't supposed to have been returning to Beijing for six months, turned up again after barely four weeks. I go for months, years at a time without being really interested in a woman (or having one reciprocate the interest, at any rate), and now, suddenly, I have A CHOICE??!! Cruel Fate, why do you mock me?

But then.... I was 'spared' from having to make such a difficult decision by the reoccurrence of a long-standing but long-dormant sciatic problem: I ricked my lower back on Monday morning (while bounding out of bed a little too enthusiastically - that's what 'a song in the heart' will do for you!), and have scarcely been able to hobble from one end of my apartment to the other since then. Cruel Fate,....

[And if there's one thing worse than suffering lower back spasms, it's suffering lower back spasms accompanied by a hacking cough. The atrocious air quality in Beijing over the last week has led to an unseasonal reappearance of the relentless tracheal itch we know as 'Beijing Throat' (usually a bane of the winter months). Sleep has been in short supply this week.]