Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Favourite posts from the 2nd quarter of 2009

Another quarterly roundup from a year (and more) ago.

Guided Tour - recommended posts from the 2nd quarter of '09

1)  Compatibility Quotient  -  4th April 2009
I reflect on a recent romance that had rather knocked me sideways.  Pity she had to leave after a week!

2)  A rather long bon mot  - 6th April 2009
... on the unwisdom of lending money to friends...

3)  Meiyou!  -   7th April 2009
The dreaded Chinese word for "We don't have that!"  It really is amazing the stuff that shops and restaurants can manage to run out of here.  More on recent gob-smacking 'bad service' experiences here and here.

4)  I have in mind a business  -  10th April 2009
I announce my intention to stage a Great Nanluoguxiang Bar Crawl, for no other reason than to prove that it can be done (an event which went ahead a couple of weeks later - on the day of the Nanluoguxiang Waffle Street Fair - with quite a gaggle of other drinkers in tow)

5)  I wouldn't have thought it possible  -  15th April 2009
After visiting the Flames bar in the new Wangfujing Hilton Hotel, I am astounded to discover that it is almost certainly the worst bar in Beijing - yes, even worse than Centro!!

6)  Ooops!  -  17th April 2009
Another anecdote about my recent romantic adventure: this time, the story of its potentially disastrous start - the first entry in my popular 'Great Dating Disasters' series.

7)  The Bookbinders' Arms  -  19th April 2009
A reminiscence of one of my favourite pubs in Oxford.

8)  My first memory of China  -  21st April 2009
It's 15 years since I first set foot in the country, so I revisit my recollections of my very first night on Chinese soil (if you don't count Shenzhen, which I don't).

9)  Gan bei!  (Surviving the baijiu ritual)  -  24th April 2009
More reminiscences about that first visit to China in '94 - focusing on how to survive the ordeal of being relentlessly toasted at Chinese banquets.

10)  Geek Wars  -  2nd May 2009
What my younger friends, the techie types, discuss - and Google for - when they take their laptops out to the bar.

11)  Rounds  -  4th May 2009
A little primer on the etiquette of buying rounds.  Some folks seem to be in need of it.

12)  Distractions  -  8th May 2009
During the Great Nanluoguxiang Bar Crawl, I found myself taking a fair number of weird, abstract or experimental photographs - some of them were quite fun.  And I managed not to lose my camera!

13)  Superstition  -  9th May 2009
On one of my first visits to 'The Secret Bar' (actually, Lucky Man - a bizarre Taiwanese whisky bar hidden away in the hutongs), I am tempted into indulging in a silly bit of romantic mumbo-jumbo to try to improve my 'prospects' with the now departed - and witheringly indifferent! - Swedish Bombshell.

14)  A Chinese proverb  -  11th May 2009
My weekly bon mot is in Chinese, for once - and I fret about the nuances.

15)  A new game for you!  -  11th May 2009
A silly in-joke for Beijingers: suggest names for the next addition to Luga's little empire of bars and restaurants around Sanlitun Houjie.

16)  A new concept  -  14th May 2009
A facetious idea for a new bar in Beijing: the world's most environmentally-unfriendly establishment.

17)  HBH 133  -  15th May 2009
This week's haiku is a lament for the suddenly demised 'Pie of 5 kuai' shop - the best snack stall on Nanluoguxiang these past 6 or 7 months.

18)  Danger Doyle's  -  17th May 2009
The worst bar to open in Beijing in recent memory, and a very strong contender in my 'Dead Pool' competition. (And I was soon to have another really awful experience there!)

19)  I couldn't make it up  -  20th May 2009
I reproduce a particularly amusing label from a Chinese "whisky".  (More examples of quirkily named fakery here.)

20)  Great Dating Disasters (2)  -  28th March 2009
One of the worst dates I have ever been on in Beijing - or anywhere!  But it provides some useful lessons for all of us, I think.

21)  Great Love Songs (16)  -  30th May 2009
I finally turn up an old, old favourite - master bluesman Big Bill Broonzy singing Gershwin's Glory of Love (no video, alas; but a gorgeous recording).

22)  Farewell to Nurenjie!  -  31st May 2009
Yet another crazy drinking spree: this time bidding goodbye to the about-to-be-demolished Lady Street 'Super Bar Street'.

23)  A bon mot for the week  -  1st June 2009
One of my most definitive self-composed ones...

I reflect wistfully on how I managed to completely lose contact with the last girl to kiss me (nearly a year before!).

25)  Back to the old school!  -  2nd June 2009
My manifesto for a month of back-to-basics living.  (It went modestly well at first, but I allowed myself too many 'exceptions' - particularly at Amilal; so, the month ended up being rather more expensive than I'd hoped.)

26)  The egos have (crash)landed  -  13th June 2009
The Beijinger magazine's 'Super Quiz' at Tun is a bit of a disaster - largely because the questionmasters try too hard to show off, and make a complete balls-up of things.  The 12 Square Monkeys team leaves in protest before the final round (as do many of the other punters).  I draw some general lessons on how to stage a good quiz.  (And it didn't help that we nearly got into a fight with one of the waiters!)

27)  A strange evening  -  14th June 2009
I become unexpectedly embroiled in a closing down party for short-lived Nanluoguxiang dive Bad Company, and a very alcoholic evening ensues.

28)  Hide in plain sight  -  28th June 2009
Rather belatedly, I discover the strangely inconspicuous No. 8 Beer Garden beside the north gate of the Workers' Stadium, and it briefly becomes a favourite afternoon/early evening haunt of mine as I enjoy my last few days of the Bejing summer before flying out for a holiday.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

DANGER, Will Robinson!

I know I've complained in the past about Chinese girls being unable to drink, but when you occasionally encounter the opposite, that's even more scary.

The other night in 12 Square Metres, a Chinese girl came in just after midnight and ordered a Long Island Iced Tea.... downed it inside 15 minutes and immediately ordered another one....

I decided to beat a hasty retreat.  She was showing no ill effects as yet, but past experience of such phenomena suggests that tears and/or vomit would be ensuing very shortly.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Yet more Beijing sports bar hell

Quite a big football game in the English Premier League on Saturday (7.45pm kick-off for us here in Beijing): up-and-comers Manchester City looking to put an end to table-topping Chelsea's daunting winning streak (and succeeding - yay!).

So... I set out towards Sanlitun (more in hope than expectation, as they say) to try to find somewhere to watch the game.

Luga's Villa was nearly deserted, apart from a gaggle of Africans playing pool in the basement.  The TVs appeared to be tuned to StarSports - or something like that, one of those 'general' sports channels that don't reliably show all the major football games.  Anyway, they were showing a motor racing magazine show with less than 15 minutes to go before kick-off, so it didn't look very promising.  And - as usual, as always these days, it seems - there was no sign of Luga himself, and none of his staff had a clue how to operate the satellite TV channels, so.....  [Luga, old chap, if you want to establish this place as a sports bar, you're really going to have to make a bit more of an effort to find out what's on and make sure you are showing it regularly.]

1st Floor gave every appearance of being 'CLOSED' (despite having a rather token, hopelessly inconspicuous sign in the window saying 'Open') - not entirely their fault: the building work on the front of the Tongli Studios at the moment is killing the business of all the tenants.  Despite the scaffolding and piles of bricks and hazard tape everywhere, I ventured inside to have a look.  I had thought they were continuing to show sport on TV there, but it seems that they were just making a special effort for the World Cup; the TV screens appear to have been removed now, and so they have given up on the idea of trying to promote themselves as a sports bar.  Perhaps not such a great loss, since I found - as I have done on every one of my other half dozen or so brief and unsatisfying visits there - that the staff are all elaborately bored and practically catatonic, and can only with the greatest of difficulty be persuaded to pay any attention to customers at all.

The Stumble Inn was.... completely deserted, as always, on its lower floor (I mean, really: neither any customers nor any staff: I wonder how long you could have a private party down there, helping yourself to the booze, before anyone noticed that you were there?).  Upstairs there was only a handful of people.  But all the TVs were tuned to an Australian Rugby League game.  WHY??  Have they already established a significant Australian (and/or rugby) clientele?  From the near-zero turnout that night, it would appear not.  Come on, chaps: the leading Premier League match of the weekend is always going to be a way bigger draw than Rugby League, however many Aussies there are in this town (although there are, I concede, an awful lot; the Down Under contingent have a disproportionate representation in the English-speaking expat community).

The Den was.... also showing the Aussie rugby... on all but one of its 5 or 6 screens.  The remaining screen was just about to start showing the Man City v Chelsea game, but it was in an awkward position, there was no commentary, and the majority of the punters in there were raucous Aussies following the rugby; so, this didn't seem to be a viable option for watching the game either.

The Pavilion is atmosphereless, up itself, and prohibitively expensive (not to mention being on the west side of the Workers' Stadium, which is a horrible area, with its tawdry array of over-priced restaurants and cavernous nightclubs).  I'm not sure if I've been there since the last World Cup (the 2006 one!); and I only went then because I was chasing a woman!

Danger Doyle's is - bafflingly - still in business; but I don't know anyone who's been there in nearly a year.  And it's still upstairs in a mall.  And it is, I'm quite sure (it's almost always a safe bet in Beijing, alas), still stupidly overpriced and completely lacking in staff training.

And so, I yet again had to give up on the idea of being able to watch the English football anywhere in this city.  (The Chairman and I were quite keen to try and catch the Manchester United game last night as well, but we both agreed there wasn't any point in travelling over to Sanlitun to try our luck in any of these SHITE so-called "sports bars".)

On Saturday, as I trekked forlornly from one dismal non-event of a sports bar to the next, I discovered that local football side Beijing Guo'an were just about to kick off in the Workers' Stadium.  I was tempted to go to that instead - but I don't know where to buy tickets any more, since the booth at the north gate was removed a year or two ago.  Thus, it became another miserable, sport-free weekend for me.  Someone I know must have a satellite dish, surely....

Bon mot for the week

"Those who are willing to be vulnerable move among mysteries."

Theodore Roethke  (1908-1963)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Great Love Songs (21)

I fret that it may be unwise for me to ponder too long on the question of love songs when I am trapped in a particularly deep and persistent depressive trough, much of that depression stemming from contemplation of the dismal state of my love life over the past five years.  However, Don't Get Me Wrong by The Pretenders is so irresistibly bouncy that I feel it may just perk me up out of my stubborn glumness.  At any rate, it's not a brooding-on-love-lost kind of song, so I don't think it will drag me down further into the pit.  I don't think there's much further to go.

There's quite a decent live version (well, you know, the usual awful bootleg sound, but a fun performance) by Chrissie and the gang from a 2007 concert in New Zealand (with a pond in front of the stage?!) here.

[Trivia Note:  Chrissie originally formed the band in my home town of Hereford (well, that's where I was born, anyway; I spent most of my early years in little towns and villages in the country round about, and then the next 14 years until the cusp of adulthood in Monmouth, a small farming market town on the Welsh border about 20 miles south of there.  The only other band of any note I can recall coming from there was Mott The Hoople - who were briefly quite a big thing in the early '70s (David Bowie let them cover his All The Young Dudes; and Queen first went to America as an opening act for them!).  However, in out-of-the-way Monmouth, we were quite a little hub of the recording industry.  Nimbus Records had an LP (and later CD) pressing plant nearby, and the tiny Rockfield recording studios at the bottom end of town was where Queen laid down their landmark A Night At The Opera album (not that I remember them being in town; I was only 9 or 10 at the time).  A number of quite big cheeses in the world of rock'n'roll bought country homes in the area - most notably Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant.  And there were some great session musicians who lived around there too, and would often perform impromptu gigs in one of the town's many, many fine public houses (we used to claim the record for the most generous per capita provision of boozers in the UK: when I was a kid, I think it stood at 37 bars for a population of around 12,000).  In fact, I think the first gig I ever saw (circa 1980) was by Nick Lowe, another regular - if not permanent - local resident, playing solo in the Nag's Head pub.  Nick produced the first Pretenders album.]

Friday, September 24, 2010

HBH 201

women drink despair
all in life seems hopelessness
bukowski moments

Not having a very perky week, I'm afraid.  But at least my gloom leads me back to some of the great bleak poems of Mr B.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Run to the hills!

Beijing during a national "holiday" is a wretched place.  (And, oh god, to think that this is but a 'warm-up' for the week-long hell of the National Day celebration just around the corner in October!)

Time to ESCAPE for a day or two!!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

When the pool table tells you to END IT ALL

I was thinking of making this one of my Top Fives posts, but.... I fear there might be more than five items on this list.  I'll do my best to keep it within limits.

On Monday night, I suffered one of my most miserable experiences ever on the pool table.  The elusive 'mojo' - the knack, the inspiration, the confidence, the ready access to one's 'best game' - that had so emphatically returned a week ago, once again went AWOL.  Well, it wasn't completely absent - but that somehow made things even worse.

Here, then, is my list of...

Top Five things that can go disastrously wrong during a session of pool

5)  Your opponent patronises you
He keeps on 'throwing' shots, trying to give you a chance.  You are unable to take any advantage of this generosity, and just keep playing worse and worse.  Irritating.

4)  Your opponent is freakishly lucky
Even when he's trying to give you a chance, deliberately missing pots, he fails to leave you set up; instead, he inadvertently snookers you - or at least leaves you with no kind of a pot on - again and again and again and again.  Frustrating.

3)  You are freakishly unlucky
You manage to pocket the cue ball 3 or 4 times in every game, in the most unlikely and unforeseeable ways.  When you finally get a chance to win a game, you are forced to attempt a tight double on the black into the top corner, and it goes in on the treble - which, in strict Chinese rules, doesn't count, but rather is a game forfeit.

2)  You can't get off the table
The Pool Bar is nearly deserted on a rainy Monday night, and even the couple of regulars at the bar don't fancy a game (because you're playing so badly you wouldn't be a worthy opponent for them).  But one guy gives you a game.  And another.  And another and another.  For two hours.  Until the Pool Partner turns up.  And she, of course, wants to play all night.  So.... on an evening when your game just isn't coming together and Fate is treating you unbelievably harshly and you really just want to GO HOME AND CRY, you end up playing continuously for nearly 5 hours, and suffering existential torture for almost every second of it.

1)  The 'inner game' is mostly sound, but there's a 'disconnect' from the actual game, a tiny but unbridgeable gap between what the mind sees and what happens
You are - mostly - 'seeing' the shots, knowing the angles you have to make and how to strike the balls.  In a world of mathematical abstraction, you are playing darn near perfectly.  It's just not working on this table, in these conditions.  The table has got cranky.  Luke has refurbished it at some point fairly recently; well, he's re-covered it, anyway - the cloth is lush, but the cushions have gone very dead.  And the pockets always have been murderously tight.  It's getting a little uneven in places too.  And the drift of the 'nap', in the humid conditions caused by the rain outside, is, on occasions, quite huge (and, in other circumstances, bafflingly absent).  You're unfamiliar with these local quirks, haven't played enough on the table in recent months.  You know you ought to adjust something about your game, but you just can't figure out what.  You feel as though you're hitting the shots right, but they're just missing...... missing almost every time, missing by narrow margins, but missing - dammit! - missing.

And the combination of these various miseries eats away at your confidence like a worm in an apple.

And even meditation doesn't help.  Usually, if my game is just a little 'off', I can settle myself, work out what I'm doing wrong technically, or find a calmer, more focused, more determined mental state.... or just wait patiently for things to start clicking again, avoid getting rattled by a few bad shots or an unlucky run of the balls.

But the very worst of this Monday's experience was that meditation didn't work; it seemed to make things worse.  I looked inside for my pool-playing genius.... and it wasn't there.  And the superstition returned: the conviction that dismal form and dismal luck on the table are predictive of a wider trend in my life, a plunge in fortunes and biorhythms, the onset of a depressive slump.  And this sensation of gathering doom just kept on getting worse: there was no escaping from it.  Everything I tried to improve my game and my attitude, every attempt to become more confident and upbeat..... fizzled, faltered, FAILED.  But I was trapped there, in my little private Hell; I just couldn't get away; I had to keep sucking it up, had to keep enduring every shitty little trick that Fate could throw at me, had to keep on sucking at the game I so love, had to SUFFER wretchedly.... for FIVE LONG HOURSAaaargghh!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Has it come to this?

Yes, alas, it has.  The quest for a place to watch English football has led us to Touch Nine, an utterly charmless Korean bar concealed within an office building adjacent to Wudaokou station.  Their "Asahi" beer appears to be brewed locally under licence by the Beijing Brewery, so the quality isn't wonderful; in fact, I fear perhaps they've got their hands on some nasty fake stuff (either that, or the chaps at the Beijing-Asahi factory are washing the bottles out with formaldehyde again: just a couple of bottles of the stuff made me feel very ill on Sunday night).  And it's gone up to 20 kuai a pop (it was 18 when I first visited this spot a year ago; and I still have fond memories of a few places where you used to be able to get the premium 'Super Dry' brand for only 10 or 12 kuai).  And we have to watch the game with Korean commentary.

But..... at least we could watch the game.

New favourite hangout in my own 'hood, Sand Pebbles, is becoming a regular spot for watching the F1; but they only have StarSports, a general sports channel which doesn't prioritise football, and only seems to show one or two games each weekend (in fact, it doesn't even seem to show F1 very reliably).  All the places around Sanlitun are stupidly expensive (except The Den, which ambushes you by surreptitiously becoming stupidly expensive at 10pm - half-way through a game).  Danger Doyle's and the (finally) revived Stumble Inn suffer also from having dreadful locations (upstairs in a mall!).  Paddy O'Shea's has spectacularly awful service and can get obnoxiously raucous (as well as being, of course, a faux Irish shitbox).  And Luga's Villa continues to be a complete shambles as a sports bar (I went in with The Chairman a few Sundays ago, just before a major Premiership fixture, and found.... no Luga, no customers, no football on the TV, and no staff who knew how to operate the satellite channels; no-one, in fact, who even knew that there was any football on; we were forced to go to The Den instead; we had very similar experiences there two or three times towards the end of last season as well - Luga's, I'm sorry to say, is now a dead option for watching sports).

Unappealing locations, shitty ambience, obnoxious clientele, lousy service, arm-and-a-leg prices, and - in many cases - no certainty that the event you want to see is going to be shown!  Beijing's sports bar scene is just unbelievably DIRE.  I think I may have to bite the bullet and pay for my own satellite dish at home.  Or goad The Chairman into getting one.

Although I hear a rumour that the nice folks at The Box may be trying to get a satellite hook-up shortly.  Western snack food, decent 10-kuai draught beer, and football on the TV..... and right on my doorstep??  Oh, please, please, please make it so.

Monday, September 20, 2010

All typos mean something...

While wandering home on Thursday night (Friday morning!), I sent a text message to the friend I'd just parted from to try to reassure her that my eccentric choice to walk through the rain without a coat or an umbrella (I had an umbrella, but couldn't be bothered to use it) was not going to result in my catching my death of pneumonia:

The rain is getting easier as I head west.

Well, that was the message I intended to send, the message I eventually did send.

What I keyed in at first, though, was: The pain is getting easier...

What is my subconscious trying to tell me?

Bon mot for the week

"Character is higher than intellect."

Ralph Waldo Emerson  (1803-1882)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Blues for Jimi

Today sees the 40th anniversary of the death of guitar god Jimi Hendrix.  To honour his memory, here's a clip of one of his very finest moments - playing his blues song Red House at a gig in Stockholm in January 1969 (one of the last appearances of the original Experience line-up: Mitch and Noel on exceptionally fine form here too).  And yes, he's here playing a Gibson rather than his more familiar Fender Strat; it seems to work well with a slow blues number like this, but it's not the 'sound' we associate with others of his most iconic tracks.  RIP Jimi.

[I went to see Hendrix tribute act Purple Smog (they seem to have finally settled on this name, after toying with various other 'Beijing-themed' Hendrix song puns such as Orange Haze) at VA Bar on Thursday night. They played a single 1-hour set, and it was some great stuff, with most of his classics (though not this). I gather they were only planning to play a handful of gigs to commemorate this anniversary and then return to the obscurity of their day jobs. I hope they'll reconsider that. They are a kick-ass trio.  There's a clip of them doing Purple Haze on their debut show at 2 Kolegas a few weeks back here (thanks to Ruby over at BeijingDaze for this link).

Before, after, and in the background during (which I could have done without), VA was showing some Hendrix documentaries and concert footage I hadn't seen before - including what looked like a complete film of the whole of this Stockholm gig. It was the Gibson guitar that helped me track it down quickly on YouTube. Awesome, awesome show: I need to get that film from somewhere.]

Friday, September 17, 2010

D-22 doesn't travel

The Chinese have a penchant for codifying everything into numbered lists.  Hence, the latest crop of Beijing bands are coming to be known as 'Generation Six' (this appears to be fairly new nomenclature: I'd be curious to know how well-defined the previous five 'generations' are).  They are mostly indie pop kind of bands from the D-22 stable.

I haven't summoned the motivation to schlepp out to D-22 in about a year now (although it's not really any further away than 2 Kolegas, it's just not anywhere near as much fun).  But last Saturday they were supposed to be hosting a heat of the Global Battle of the Bands competition there, so six or seven of their 'house bands' de-camped to the town centre for the night to fly the flag for 'Generation Six' at Yugong Yishan.  No need to go all the way out to D-22, if D-22 will come to you.  I thought I ought to check out what I've been missing there for the past year or two.

Boy, did that suck!  I should perhaps have been alerted to the general quality of this 'generation' by the fact that the only stand-out band to emerge from among them thus far is Rustic - who impress with their engaging personalities and exuberant stage presence rather than their musicianship.  I thought some of the playing on Saturday was OK, but none of the bands seemed to have a very distinctive style or personality, and all were let down by droning or caterwauling vocals (decent male vocalists are rare as hen's teeth on the Beijing music scene).  I was hesitant to curmudge about this too much, since I only survived half of the show (plodding changeovers meant that it was seeming likely that the event would drag on until 1am or 2am), but I gather it's been widely dissed by other laowai music scene enthusiasts too - one of whom wailed that "if this is the future of music in Beijing, we're in a bad way".

Most of my friends had opted to go to MAO instead, for the launch of a CD by metal band Mo Yi (Descendants).  I should have heeded their advice.  It sounds as if this was a much better show - mainly due to the strong support acts, Mongolian folk rocker Gangzi (who launched a CD of his own at Jianghu just a little while back) and the unplugged version of Spring & Autumn. 

That's another in the long line of disappointing experiences I've had at Yugong. I struggle to remember the last decent show I saw there (well, OK, the last Zippo Hot List night was pretty good - but before that...).  There's a big show tonight for their 6th anniversary, but I struggle to raise the necessary enthusiasm to give it a try: there's a long lineup of mostly very missable bands - the turgid RETROs, for example - and the only thing I'd really like to see is Free The Birds (formerly Ziyo) debuting their new drummer Ubuul; not having any idea what time they're likely to be taking the stage, I don't really fancy standing around suffering a lot of crap while I wait for them.  

[Final, supplementary curmudge:  It's NOT their 6th birthday.  The new Yugong Yishan is nothing like its original - much better - incarnation.  And there was a hiatus of at least three or four months before the new one got up and running.  If Gouzi's going to celebrate the anniversary of his entry into the music bar scene, he really ought to go back to the launch of Loupe Chante back in.... '03, was it?  But we generally record the longevity of a particular venue (in a particular location), not just its name or its 'concept'.  The new - and mostly rather sucky - Yugong Yishan is not yet three years old.  A party in honour of its lamented predecessor seems rather out of place.]

HBH 200

Alone with the night
Walking through rain-hushed streets:
Refreshing walk home.

I do like a nice bit of rain. It can be such a rarity here in Beijing. I like a solitary, contemplative walk when there's no-one else around, too (and there's always someone around, even at 2am or 3am, unless it's raining). Ah, and a 'road beer' from El Nido to accompany me on the way home completes my happiness...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tonight's excuse

Well, you learn something new every day.

I've just discovered that today is the 200th anniversary of Mexico's declaration of independence from Spain.  I suppose that means I'll have to show solidarity by drinking tequila at some point tonight.  Oh dear.

A happy Independence Day to all my Mexican readers!

Damn, it's hard to make a date in this country

And not just an à deux-with-a-member-of-the-opposite sex kind of 'date' but, really, any kind of rendezvous with anyone for any purpose...

Amongst the numerous excuses I've had to suffer for declining invitations to go out with me in the last few weeks:

Having to work late - unexpectedly

Having to work tomorrow

Having to plan/pack for a trip tomorrow

Having to leave the country imminently to renew a visa

Being currently out of town on holiday or business
(Leather Britches, in particular, has been "in Guangzhou" so often lately that I begin to suspect he's just petulantly tit-for-tatting me for the occasions when I've unfortunately had to turn down his invitations to join him for a drink; he is a prickly fellow like that.)

Having a Chinese lesson

Having a martial arts lesson

Feelingly poorly/tired

Being too hungover from last night
(The Chairman's perennial excuse for spurning me these days; although The Weeble and The Choirboy have been known to invoke it rather often as well.)

Not being able to get a babysitter

And these are just the people that did reply.  A good number of the folks I tried to entice to join me in merriment just ignored me completely - perhaps assuming that their @froog Twitter messages had alerted me to the urgency of their unexpected work crisis or the sacred immoveability of their Chinese class.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Weeble Solutions (10)

The Weeble's solution to the problem of new favourite haunt El Nido being continuously under threat of closure because the neighbours - not unreasonably - object to the amount of noise there after midnight...

Invite the person with THE LOUDEST VOICE we know to join us there at midnight.

Thanks, Weebs.  Outstanding work there.  Luckily, the laoban is a forgiving soul.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

And other reasons why

A friend was asking me the other week - incredulously, needlingly - why I don't use Twitter.

Well, I've already dealt with this topic once.

On this occasion, my further responses were:

I like to cling to the illusion that I have 'a life'.  Joining Twitter would be the final surrender of that dream.

An Internet-capable phone = intolerable expense + intolerable risk of loss  (Hmm.  Much like a girlfriend.)

I'm a long-winded so-and-so.  I can't express myself adequately in less than a couple of hundred words.  Actually, doing so in much less than a thousand words is difficult for me.  Trying to say something in 140 characters is ridic

Yes, I was conducting this conversation by SMS.

SMS I like, because, despite its excessive brevity, it is at least a targeted, one-to-one form of communication.  It's the vanity, the narcissism of Twitter that irritates the crap out of me as much as its inconsequentiality.  Most people have nothing worthwhile to say.  Even if they have got something worthwhile to say, they can't usually say it very well in such a small number of words.  And yet.... they insist on saying it anyway..... and plastering it up on a 'virtual billboard' for the whole world to see.  Or ignore, as the case may be.

The corollary vexation of Twitter at the moment is that it's become such a dominating fad amongst the tech-geek types that they've come to use it as their primary - often just about their only - means of communication.  And they're not even self-aware about this.  They don't realise that they've withdrawn from contact with you because you happen not to be on Twitter.  They don't realise that they're spurning you by failing to get in touch by e-mail or SMS or phone call any more.  They don't even seem to realise that they're being bloody rude by never returning your calls or e-mails or text messages.

I don't think there is any feature of the modern world that I DESPISE quite so wholeheartedly as Twitter.

So, please, don't ask me to join this community of the braindead.  And don't tell me how much you use it.  And don't tell me what an interesting 'conversation' you were having on it the other day.  Or we're going to stop being friends.

A moment on the pool table

I've been bitching for a while - ages - now that 'my game' has deserted me on the pool table, but.... on Sunday night it finally returned, with a vengeance.

It may have helped that I wasn't taking it all that seriously:  I'd just looked in at the Pool Bar hoping for a quick game or two with The Choirboy, but had to beat one of the local sharks to get on the table first (and, later, had to throw one, in order to get off the table again).  It certainly helped that I managed to find a decent cue, for once (about the third or fourth one I tried): rather too light and not quite arrow-straight, but pretty darned true, and with a nice tip to it as well - and it just felt good in the hands.

Whatever it was, I was almost immediately 'in the zone' - relaxed, confident, not having to think at all.  After months of floundering around, not knowing quite where to hit the balls to get them to go in the pockets any more, suddenly I could remember again: every time I got down over a shot, I could immediately see where to hit it.  I didn't sink everything I attempted, but I did make most of them - including a few real stunners.  Striking the ball very sweetly.  Working the position quite well too.  After being such an infrequent player this year, I wasn't reading the table well; I was particularly hopeless at doubles, which are usually my speciality... but it didn't seem to matter.  Soon I was drawing a gallery of approving spectators.  And even that didn't put me off my stride.  I was having such fun.

And then... The Choirboy - somewhat fortuitously - left me completely stitched up, the cue ball in amongst a cluster of his balls near the top cushion while my last ball was way down the other end of the table.  The ball was in a temptingly pottable position, near the mid-line of the bottom left corner pocket, about 8 or 10 inches away: but it was completely obscured by an intervening ball.  Other balls were blocking every conceivable path to it: I couldn't play a natural doubling angle off any of the cushions; I didn't have room to attempt a swerve shot.  I was well-and-truly stuffed.

Except for the jump-shot option.  This is not a type of shot I like.  I have very little experience of playing them, since I grew up playing snooker, in which they are illegal; and, even in pool, where they are allowed, I generally refrain from playing them because of the danger of 'bruising' the cloth.  It would probably be fair to say that this is a shot I know how to play in theory, rather than feeling that I can play it.  But on this night, I felt I could play it.  My mood was so perky, I felt I could make any shot I went for.

It was a tough shot; nearly 'impossible'.  There was a lot of distance between cue ball and object ball.  And the intervening ball was very close to the cue ball, necessitating a steep take-off.

But I felt I could make it.  In fact, I paused, I broke off as I was about to play the shot to quip with The Choirboy that I'd only recently watched The Color Of Money again, a classic film about pool sharking (a Martin Scorsese-directed sequel to the even better The Hustler) in which a young Tom Cruise played a very similar shot - a shot which I'd always wanted the opportunity to replicate.

And then I played the shot.  And my ball disappeared into the pocket.  I almost didn't look back at the balls after chatting to my friend: I didn't need to look at the shot, I just knew where I had to hit it.  And I hit it.  The thought and the action were one.  There are few more blissful experiences in life; perhaps none.

And I didn't just hit it.  I hit it perfectly.  With jump-shots like this, it's very difficult to judge the flight of the cue ball.  And, particularly with a steep take-off, having to raise the cue ball high off the table to get over the intervening ball, there is the likelihood that it will bounce like a Barnes Wallis bomb - perhaps bounce clean over the object ball, or bounce off the table.  It will inevitably bounce at least a little bit; so unless you manage to land it precisely behind the object ball, you won't get a clean contact.  If the cue ball is rising on the bounce, or still descending, when it hits the object ball, you get unpredictable 'squeeze' effects - the object ball won't move off at a 'true' angle.  Even if you do get the cue ball striking the object ball while moving  near-enough horizontally over the table, you still often tend to get an ugly-sounding contact - a 'kick' - with this kind of shot.  You feel you've done well if you hit your ball at all.  If you actually manage to get it moving more or less towards the pocket, any spectators will be moderately impressed.  If the ball rattles violently in the pocket jaws, and then finally deigns to drop over the edge - well, that's a 1 in 10 or 1 in 20 outcome; it ain't pretty, but you feel fairly chuffed with yourself anyway.

This shot wasn't like that.  This shot was perfect.  The cue ball took off cleanly, easily clearing the intervening ball a few inches in front of it; it landed directly behind the object ball, and did not bounce at all (the contact killed its energy); it was a sweet, sweet contact; and the object ball flew straight down the centre of the pocket without touching the sides - like a rat down a drainpipe, as my old dad used to like to say.  Perfect.

That was certainly one of the handful of finest shots I have ever made in 30 or more years of playing this game.  And I think it was probably the flashiest.

Of course, I worry that 'the secret' of my rediscovered form is that it was after midnight, and I'd been drinking for nearly seven hours....

Monday, September 13, 2010


Last Friday night, I was surprised to run into most of 12 Square Metres regulars (well, the youngsters, anyway: T-base and his crew... and Crazy John... and one or two other 'irregulars'... et moi aussi, of course) at winningly grungy new music bar, Hot Cat Club.

Later, just down the road from Hot Cat, I found The Weeble's coterie of translators had deserted Amilal en masse for chill sidewalk cafe, El Nido.

Do we really abandon our long-time loves so easily, just for some cheaper drinks?  I fear we do.

Bon mot for the week

"Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom."

Søren Kierkegaard  (1813-1855)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Great Drinking Songs (22)

I hadn't heard of Norwegian "deathpunk" band Turbonegro until recently, but their classic ranthem All My Friends Are Dead is becoming one of the highlights of Nigel's 'Special Mondays' down at my local, 12 Square Metres.  Sometimes, when you've had just a few too many beers, you want a jump-up-and-down shout-along like this to wake you up again a bit.

This is a fan video composed of clips of the cheerfully self-destructive Bam Margera and others of the Jackass crew.  Don't try this at home.  Or in the bar.  Or anywhere.

[And wouldn't this make a great theme song for a zombie film?]

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Another strikeout for 2K

I used to love Dos Kolegas to death, but this year, alas, it's been in something of a nosedive - a  succession of bad experiences: erratic programming (no bands at all in August?!), lack of honest disclosure about the scheduled lineups (so, all the advertised bands have cancelled, huh??), wildly unpredictable start times (either unexpectedly early or stupidly LATE, but never anywhere near the advertised time), and then that overambitious 5th birthday extravaganza which ended up being a bit of a chaotic and disappointing shambles (at least on the Saturday; still quite a fun night out for those who were happy with a DJ on the lawn, but the live show was a HUGE letdown).  And still no air-conditioning??!!  (OK, the weather's getting cooler.  Doufu donning a t-shirt is an early sign of winter.  But it was uncomfortably muggy last night, enough to require a little bit of kong tiao.)  And THOSE BLOODY OVERSIZE SPEAKER STACKS - that obscure half the stage and drive half the punters to cower by the doorway!!

Last week, I went over there hoping to catch well spoken of Danish 'experimental percussionist' Emil de Waal supported by local maverick Xiao He.  At 10.30pm or so, there was no sign of either of them arriving, and no word as to when they were expected.  A skinny Chinese kid was on stage teasing excruciating electro-bloops out of a laptop - at the ear-shredding, brain-pulverising noise level which seems to be the only volume setting of which the new sound system there is capable.  Having forgotten to bring earplugs, I had to quit the room in a hurry and join the thin band of punters twitching in pain on the far side of the lawn outside.  It was pretty obvious that nothing was going to happen for at least another hour, so I left.  I probably should have asked for a refund, but I don't like to make trouble.  And I am sort of resigned now to the fact that going to a Kolegas show is a bit like playing Russian Roulette - only with the good outcome being the 1-in-6 chance; more likely there'll be no show, or a crap show, or a show starting way too late to be worth staying around for.  So, this time was a dud; but my chances of the next show being worthwhile should be increasing....

Well, no, not really.  I tried again last night, for a heat of the new 'Global Battle of the Bands' competition.  I'd been wary of the fact that this didn't appear to have been advertised anywhere in the usual listings, was just a word-of-mouth kind of thing; and of the fact that the 'main' Beijing heat is scheduled for D-22 tonight.  I was right to have been suspicious: only three bands had opted for the 2K heat, which made it a bit of a pointless exercise.  And it was all over by 10.30pm - which, given the venue's recent history of rarely getting a show started before 11pm or midnight, was probably about the time that most punters were setting out to try to get there.  The sound engineer did seem to have rediscovered the '9' or '10' setting on the dials rather than the usual '11', but it was still uncomfortably, dangerously LOUD for prolonged exposure without earplugs.

The first band up were actually pretty good.  They had a frontman who just handled vocals (a rarity in the Beijing scene) and did a fairly decent job of it.  And they'd learned a lesson about stage presence from last year's unlikely champs (not just Beijing champs, but China champs and world champs!) Rustic.  They even managed to sing in just about recognisable English.  Unfortunately, I have no idea who they were, because no-one was announcing the competitors' names.  I suppose we were just supposed to write 'Band 1' on our voting slips.

I figured the chances that more than one of the bands would not suck was pretty low, and.... sure enough, the next act up were dweeby and charisma-less, with droning vocals.  Things seemed to pick up a bit during the instrumental break, but by then I was outside on my way to search for a cab.  My ears were already starting to bleed and I couldn't summon the enthusiasm to take a chance on 'Band 3'. (The bands were only allocated 8 minutes each, and didn't seem to be exploiting that to the max - just playing one or two songs, and wrapping up after 6 or 7 minutes.  The whole competition would have been done and dusted in well under an hour.)

Another fairly dismal night at Kolegas, then.  There have been far too many of those this year.  In fact, the last really good show I went to there was back in September or October of last year.


[On a more positive note, it appears that they have just been able to take over the small space adjoining the rear of the club (god knows what it's been used for all these years!), enabling them to extend the length of the main room back a few yards and to put in some - long overdue! - extra ladies' loos.  A promising development.  If they can get a little better at advertising (and updating!) the lineups for their shows, holding bands to their bookings, and getting things under way at a more sensible and consistent time; and if they can slash the VOLUME levels by about 25%-30%, and cut the height of the speaker stacks down by a couple of feet or so, so that people can see the stage again.... well, they could easily regain their place as the city's favourite music venue.  As it is, with the arrival of the very promising - and rather larger - Mako Live within striking distance of the Line 10 subway, the resurgence of MAO, and the opening of great smaller venues, VA Bar and Hot Cat Club, right in the heart of the city... I think they're going to struggle to survive.  They need to start getting their act together, and fast.  The loyalty and affection I've built up for the place over 4 years of great times there has been very nearly used up.]

Friday, September 10, 2010

Dial it down a little

As my pal Ruby observed a while ago (yes, she's now a regular stringer for the DazeMedia Inc. empire), our favourite little hutong music bar Jianghu has been having a lot of bother with complaints from the neighbours recently.  Two or three gigs in quick succession got shut down.

This might have been because they'd only fairly recently got around to removing the plastic roof over their courtyard (it is nice to be able to look up at the stars on a clear summer's night; but being open to the sky does let a lot more noise leak out towards the apartment buildings nearby).  It might have been because Tianxiao the laoban had been on holiday, and hadn't been around to do his customary smoothing of ruffled feathers (or greasing of local policemen's palms?).  Or it might just be that one or two new people had moved into the 'hood and been unpleasantly surprised to find that they were living next to a live music venue (you'd think that, after nearly 4 years in operation, everyone would have adapted to the situation, achieved a modus vivendi).

Then again, it could be to do with that swank new mixing desk they've got - and the young dude who mans it, and invariably likes to set all the knobs to 11.  Really.  The last few times I've been there, the volume settings have been ridiculously loud - almost uncomfortably so if you're inside the main room, far louder than they need to be for those listening from the courtyard, loud enough to be heard quite some way away down the street.

Come on, chaps, if you're having (potentially venue-threatening!) neighbour relations issues, the least you can do is turn things down a little.  Not UP.

Salud is often guilty of the same insanity.  Almost every week their Wednesday live show gets shut down by the police.  Almost every Wednesday they cheerfully start up again when the police move on after 15 or 20 minutes.  But, rather than moderate the sound levels a little (or try to keep the door closed!), they actually seem to have been cranking things up over the past few weeks.  The Mama Funker gig this week was just RIDICULOUS: really painfully loud.  I had to quit after about a quarter of an hour, and my ears were still hurting for most of the following day.  I noticed - and subsequently was told about - several other people leaving, or choosing to listen from outside on the street, because the noise level inside the bar was intolerable.

In general, I love my music bars, and I'm intolerant of cranky neighbours.  People ought to accept that this is the kind of neighbourhood they live in; if the regular noise levels are becoming too annoying for them, they can either buy some double-glazing (does this exist in China yet? surely there's got to be an opportunity there?) or move out.  But if music bar owners are going to be so perversely, recklessly insensitive about HOW LOUD they play their music, my sympathies will switch.  In particular, both Jianghu and Salud have lately been playing their piped music as loud or louder than their live bands.  That's just dumb, and antisocial; there's no need for it at all.

What pisses me off even more than over-sensitive neighbours or over-loud music, though, is the haphazard and ineffectual 'enforcement' we see from the local police.  They never seem to do anything about piped music, although, as I just said, this is often louder than live music (and, even if not, tends to have heavier bass, so can be even more of a noise pollutant).  And they're always picking on Salud, while conspicuously ignoring the (almost) equally loud Chinese venues that have recently opened either side of it (well, OK, they're not nearly as loud as Salud has been recently; but they are fairly loud - and, during the summer, their frontage has been entiirely open to the street, so their noise carries more easily); nor do they ever seem to do anything about the nauseating 'elevator music' blasted out into the street from Guitar Bar a little further up the road.... or the occasionally raucous piano singalongs at Backwards.... or that guy with the enormous ghetto-blaster who sells hip-hop and techno CDs on the corner of Gulou Dongdajie, who's surely the worst offender of the lot (hideous 'music', VERY loud, and in the open air... and obstructing the highway), but has presumably paid up the requisite bribes (sorry, 'licence fees') to be allowed to set up his stall there.  This does suggest a racist bias in the policing approach, as Salud is the only large 'foreigner bar' on the street.  (Or perhaps it's just that Nico declines to make the suggested contributions to the Policemen's Welfare Fund....)

What we need here is a bit more self-awareness and sensible self-restraint from music bar owners.  And a credible and consistent policy from the authorities: clear guidelines on acceptable volumes for music (live and recorded), and on times when it can be played, and a fixed range of penalties for breaching these (rather than the present impotent huffing and puffing interspersed with occasional random closedowns).

[That reminds me..... I must take my earplugs to Kolegas tonight.]

HBH 199

Young boy with guitar
Singing to an empty bar
- Unexpected joy!

An astonishing chance discovery, this: in a city where the rock bands are almost invariably distinguished by the mediocrity of their vocals, I drop into a deserted music bar on a slow mid-week night and find this young man with a sensational voice entertaining five of his mates.

An uplifting moment.  But also kind of depressing, when I reflect that this might well prove to be one of the best gigs I'll see all year.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Mmmm, bacony!

In searching for some pictures of Texan 'deep-fried beer' at the start of the week, I turned up this, surely the ultimate in irresistibly unhealthy eating: Cheese-filled, Bacon-wrapped, Beer-battered, Deep-fried Hotdogs. Mm-mmmm.

I think these could woo JK away from his devotion to Fatburger.

I wonder if Chad would consider adding them to the snack offerings at Fubar??

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Free is not necessarily good

As I've mentioned before, with regard to the horrendous "free vodka cocktails" promotion run by doomed Village nightspot Club Le Zazou during its 'soft opening' around the turn of the year (the place had to rebrand itself as Club Le to try to extirpate the disastrous impressions it made during its first couple of months; as if adopting an even more ridiculous name is going to help its chances!), I think 'FREE drink' promotions are generally a bad idea.

Chinese businessmen don't see the value of promotion, and don't like to 'lose money' on such events. So, any place with Chinese owners or investors advertising such an offer is almost certainly going to be cutting corners, pulling as many dirty tricks as possible to reduce its costs - providing drinks that have little or no alcohol in them, and whatever alcohol there is probably being nasty (and often quite toxic) ersatz booze (as was the case with the Le Zazou opening - despite Absolut ostensibly being a sponsor/co-promoter).

And, of course, it tends to encourage reckless overindulgence - and consequent bad behaviour - from the punters. You want people to get a pleasant buzz on; you don't want to get them falling-down/throwing-up/come-outside-and-say-that drunk. Free drinks tend to get people hopelessly drunk - and ill, and violent - very fast.

Moreover, I believe there's very little chance of a free drink promotion encouraging people to purchase any more expensive drinks or to stay longer at your bar. Where there's a special offer on certain drinks, some people will always think, "Well, I don't really like those drinks. I might have one or two, because they're so cheap. But I think I'm happy enough to pay regular price for something else, so long as my friends are having a good time drinking the specials." But when the special offer is FREE drinks, that rationality almost always breaks down: the price differential is too great. People will drink any old shit if they think they can get drunk without spending a cent. There's a similar phenomenon too, I think, at the end of the special offer period. With a cheap drinks promotion, people are usually willing enough to start paying regular prices when it comes to an end after a few hours. But when the drinks have been FREE, it's too much of a psychological hurdle to go back to paying - paying anything - for them. With 'free drinks' events, most people cane them for all they're worth, and then go home immediately afterwards (or to hospital, or to prison); they don't stick around in the bar for the rest of the evening.

Worst of all, free drinks bring out the worst in human nature - in the punters especially, but also sometimes in the staff. They destroy the reciprocity - and the respect - in the staff-customer relationship. It's an unfortunate truth that most people don't show a lot of respect to people who are giving them something for nothing - they don't have to, if the people are obliged to give them what they're asking for without any reciprocal obligation on their side to hand over some money. And the unhappy corollary of this is that people tend not to respect people who expect/demand something-for-nothing from them (particularly when the people demanding their freebies are being arseholes about it - which they usually are, especially if they've already had a few drinks).

'Free drink' events, I find, always generate a bad atmosphere. People get too drunk, too fast. The staff get over-stressed. Everybody gets impatient and irritable. And, almost inevitably, a few people will end up getting abusive and violent.

With a 'cheap drinks' event, that hardly ever happens. People enjoy getting drunk - perhaps very, very drunk - but they don't go crazy and behave like teenagers at their first keg party.

Chad Lager at Fubar perhaps had this in mind when he decided to have a nominal charge for the special cocktails at the 'First of the Month Madness' parties he's been running for the last 6 months. The trouble was..... the 1 kuai charge was purely token; and it wasn't even really enforced that strictly (once it got busy, punters were expected to dump their loose change in a jar on the bar under an 'honours system'). It was far too little to obviate the 'bad behaviour' problems I just outlined. Those drinks were in effect FREE. And murderously STRONG!! Naturally, bad things ensued.

After last Wednesday's shenanigans, Chad has decided to discontinue the event. I hope he'll eventually reinstate something similar - if he charged, say, 20 kuai for cocktails like those (well, maybe something a bit nicer, and a bit less potent), I don't think he'd have nearly so many problems.

Monday, September 06, 2010

It shouldn't happen to a pretzel

The Weeble kindly sent me this link last week to what is evidently the Internet's big food story of the moment. There's a fuller account here from the Dallas News.

Apparently, over the past decade or so, the Texas State Fair (getting under way at the end of the month) has been promoting a competition to find the most innovative deep-fried food. Past artery-clogging champions include such improbable/impossible-seeming combinations as Deep Fried Coke and Deep Fried Butter.

Ah, but one of this year's front-runners is.....
Deep Fried Beer.

Not an easy thing to pull off, as you might imagine. Its creator, Mark Zable, spent three years on R & D, suffering many leakages and spillages (and ensuing fat-fryer explosions) along the way.

The secret, you see, is that you can't just put liquid beer directly into the boiling fat. Of course not, silly! No, you have to encase it in something first. Mark has developed "a salty pretzel-like dough" which is sufficiently waterproof and crisps up nicely. He crafts this stuff into ravioli-like pockets, fills them with beer, seals them, and dunks them in the fryer for about 20 seconds. Producing this.....

As Mark says, "Why would you want to drink beer, when you can eat it?" Well, that's obviously a rhetorical question. Many answers might be offered, none of which, I think, would be supportive of his proposition. I hope he'll come up with a better advertising slogan if the product takes off. (Or maybe it's just naff enough to work? Maybe irony is the new sex in advertising??)

Well, Mark's 'superfood' has been selected as one of the finalists in this year's contest - which actually runs ahead of the
State Fair, and is called The Big Tex Choice Awards: the winners (two prizes, for tastiest and most creative) are to be announced on Labor Day (that's today!). He's up against some pretty stiff competition in the form of:

Fried Chocolate

Fried Lemonade

Fried Caviar

Fried Club Salad

Fried Frozen Margarita

Fried Smores Pop-Tarts


Fried Frito Pie

I suspect the last two have the best chance in the 'taste' category. But anyway - good luck, Mark!

Footnote 1: If you're going to be in Dallas at the end of the month, you can enter an e-mail draw on Mark's Fried Beer website to win free samples of his new product at his concession stand at the State Fair.

Footnote 2: There's an interview with Mark on this blog, Smokes and Booze (which just might be my 'Blog of the Month' recommendation for September; I haven't delved into the content too much as yet, but you have to love the forthrightness of the title!!).

Footnote 3: You can watch Mark making some of his deep-fried beer pockets in this brief report on CBS online.

Footnote 4: There are some other pretenders to the title of the first 'fried beer' food product, but.... well, the recipe mentioned at the bottom of this article on Mark's fried beer pretzel-ravioli looks absolutely disgusting and features merely a beer-infused batter rather than plain beer (it's on a Korean food blog called Zen Kimchi, but it appears to be written mostly by Americans, so we shouldn't blame the Koreans for the awfulness of this one); as does this recipe - much more promising! - for what look like prawn crackers, but are in fact 'beer crackers'. Ah, the endless inventiveness of the human race!

Footnote 5: The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has ruled that Fried Beer may not be purchased or consumed by persons under the age of 21.

Footnote 6: As I suspected, the Deep-Fried Frito Pie won out (narrowly over the Smores Pop-Tart) in the 'Best Taste' category, but Mark's Fried Beer triumphed as 'Most Creative'. Way to go, Mark! You have to feel a bit sorry for the Lemonade and Margarita entries, though, which must surely have used a very similar process.