Saturday, July 31, 2010
Friday, July 30, 2010
When the river of beer's dammed:
Drought withers all things.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
1) I am going to finish unpacking and get my apartment straightened out by this weekend.
2) I am going to have a party at the beginning of next month (February).
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.
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
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
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.
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
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Friday, July 23, 2010
Mentioned in conversation,
Pricks the heart anew.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
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....)
(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.)
(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.)
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
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.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Monday, July 19, 2010
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Friday, July 16, 2010
Stomach, kidneys, liver, brain
- It all ages, fails.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
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
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??).
Monday, July 12, 2010
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Saturday, July 10, 2010
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
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?"
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.]
Thursday, July 08, 2010
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
Monday, July 05, 2010
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??
Saturday, July 03, 2010
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.
Friday, July 02, 2010
There were 35 posts and around 11,000 words on Froogville.