Monday, February 28, 2011

The weekly bon mot

"It is important to have something to do that has no purpose."

Friday, February 25, 2011

Jia you, AIS!!

I'm away down in Malaysia this week.

As it happens, I had other reasons for being here (apart from escaping Beijing - although that was a BIG one), but it was serendipitous timing that I managed to get down here for the Grand Final of the 2010 Global Battle of the Bands  -  in which Beijing's very own The Amazing Insurance Salesmen are representing China.

I had worried that I was going to be their only fan here; but I think their even bigger fan Ruby is going to jeopardise her finances and her job by coming down for the weekend.  Jean-Seb has promised to reserve us some tickets, so I guess we'll both be down the front trying to teach all the local kids to yell 牛屄 at the right time.

The contest will take place tomorrow night, Saturday 26th February, allegedly running from 7ish until LATE (well, there are a lot of bands to get through!) at a club called KL Live, which is on the 1st Floor of the Life Centre at 20 Jalan Sultan Ismail, 50250 Kuala Lumpur.

The following bands and countries are scheduled to be taking part:

Brazil                  THE RIVER RAID
Jamaica               DUBTONIC KRU
South Africa        SONSTEEK
Morocco              NOPE
Norway               VOODOO VANITY
England               SCARLLETTA
Belgium               EXPERIENCED
Germany             SHENANIGANZ
Romania             WHITE WALLS
Moldova              ExNN
Ukraine               MAGUA
Russia                 SALVADOR
Nepal                 JINDABAAD
Thailand             LUMINASION
Indonesia           STRANGERS
Australia            THE TILLEGRA DAMNED

I can't help feeling that Norway have the best band name (and Morocco a close second); but, being Norwegian, they'll have ludicrous facial hair and will probably be turning out turgid Viking dirge metal, and so will not be among the leading contenders.  The Germans have the worst name: they sound as if they're going to be either hip-hop or a boy band; perhaps a hip-hop boy band - they're NOT going to be getting my vote!

I gather there is also to be a Malaysian entrant, yet to be selected.  I imagine that means there will have been a local final going on this week.  I couldn't find out where when I was pre-cooking this post before my departure.  With a bit of luck, I will have located it, attended, and put a hex on the winners by the time you read this.

Best of luck to Jean-Sebastien, Maikel, and Mao Mao!  

Rip the place apart, boys!!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Amuse yourselves

Sorry.  I'm away for the week.

You'll have to contrive your own distractions from here on.

I have just put up a bumper 'Best of....' list for the last quarter of 2009 over on Froogville (that seemed to be an especially fertile time for me, for some reason).  See how long you can keep yourselves busy with that.

See you soon, darlings.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The 'Campaign' begins?

I gather one of my blog friends 'tweeted' last week's post about the price of beer etc. in Beijing.

Ordinarily, of course, I strongly disapprove of Twitter and all its ilk, but it does have a proven usefulness in fomenting revolutions.  If the Egyptians can get rid of Mubarak, I think WE can defeat the boogeyman of overpriced booze in our bars.

Get busy, people!

I expect to return next week to a blissful utopia of 24/7 'happy hours' and 'every third drink free'.

Get busy!!

Bon mot for the week

"The world is a book, and those who will not travel read only one page."

St. Augustine  (354-430)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The last days of Redback

I'm not usually a fan of the 'wheat beer' style, but the crafty lads from Matilda Bay seem to have  found the knack of maximising flavour while almost entirely eliminating the cloudiness that usually deters me from drinking these beers: Redback is one of my favourite imported beers here in Beijing, possibly the favourite.

I don't indulge very often, because at 30 kuai (or more) for a small bottle, it's straying into that price resistance territory I  griped about the other day.  However, it is one of the only beers that seems to me to justify that level of expenditure.  Sam Adams and Brooklyn Lager and Coopers and Sol and the rest are only worth 25 kuai.  VB ain't really worth more than 20.  (I'm talking about value as an experience for the drinker here; I don't give a damn how much they're costing the bar owner.)  But Redback..... it is, I think, worth dropping three tens for - every once in a while.

So, we must make the most of it while we may in Beijing.  I hear its distributor is dropping the product from its catalogue.  Not sure if the problem is at the Oz end or the China end or what; I suspect it's just that the distributor feels that it's not selling enough to be worth his trouble.  That's very sad.

Stephen down at MaoMaoChong tells me they have one case left, and after that - there'll be no more.

Unfortunately, I won't be around to help them finish it off, since I'm away on a long overdue holiday.  I enjoyed my farewell Redbacks a couple of nights ago.

Stop me - I'm tearing up.....

Friday, February 18, 2011

Now I've seen everything

Last night, outside El Nido, Xiao Shuai, the genial proprietor, addressed a problem of unexploded ordnance - a major misfire on a HUGE box of rockets - by..... pouring absinthe into the box to revive the feebly fizzling fuse.

It worked!

And the young chap went about it so nonchalantly, he gave the impression he must have used this trick many times before....

HBH 222

Dreaming of escape,
The wild joy of being elsewhere,
Anywhere but here.

Soon, very soon....

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The price issue

I don't want to pay more than 30 kuai for a drink, ever.

Well, unless it's a premium spirit, or a cocktail, or a very generous measure....

But, basically, I don't want to pay more than 30 kuai.  That's where the serious price resistance sets in.

I mean, Christ, that's nearly £3 back home.  I don't think we're yet quite paying that much for a single measure of booze in the old country; and only a little more - in London - for a pint of draught.  OK, so, maybe a few premium brews are getting up towards £4 now.  But that's the UK; that's London.  There's no way drinks in Beijing should be anything like as expensive as they are in the West.

Really, I don't even want to pay 30 kuai.  My gut feeling is that - in this town - a standard spirit or mixed drink shouldn't really be more than 20 or 25 kuai; or an imported beer in a 330ml bottle, come to that.  And a stubbie of Tsingtao - or even of the rather better Harbin or Yanjing - NEVER ought to be more than 15 kuai.

And yet, a lot of places have inched up their prices in the last year or so, are now starting to charge 20 or even 25 kuai for local beers, and 30 or 35 kuai for other basic drinks.... reaching the point where I think very seriously about stopping drinking.  Because I just can't afford it any more.

Take Stella - my principal poison over the past three years.  OK, it's a premium brew, and it has to be imported.  But back in the UK, most of the cost comes from punitive government taxation.  How on earth can it be as expensive here as it is there?  Or anywhere near??  I was complaining the other day that Luga's Villa now charges a whopping 40 kuai for its Stella (which is not, on the whole, well kept); and a considerably less-than-'happy' 30 kuai even during its 'happy hour'.  Nearby competitor 1st Floor charges a slightly less wince-making 35 kuai, but loses brownie points by only knocking a miserly 5 kuai off during 'happy hour'.  I haven't been to The Tree or Nearby The Tree in quite a while, but I think it's 35 kuai there as well.  Oh, I sigh for that great deal they had a couple of years ago at the old Stumble Inn: that 'loyalty card' promotion where, with the progressive discount/every fourth beer FREE, your Stellas were effectively only 22.5 kuai each.  It just goes to show that you can sell the stuff more cheaply and still turn a profit.  My instincts are that Stella ought to be 30 kuai on a regular tariff and 20 on 'happy hour'.  I DO NOT want to be paying 35; and I am certainly not going to pay 40!

Yes, yes, rents are getting crazy in Beijing these days.  But most other costs are negligible (staff?  they work for kibble!); and wholesale prices for booze, even premium imports, are mostly pretty reasonable.  Though we've seen a worrying surge of inflation in the last few years, the cost of living in Beijing is still, for most things, only 20 or 25% of what it would be in the UK - at the very most.  For many things - public transport, locally produced food, a meal in a grungy neighbourhood restaurant - it's only  one tenth or one twentieth as expensive.  It simply does not compute that we should be paying as much - or more - for our booze here in Beijing as we would back home.  (I, for one, am not earning nearly as much money here as I would hope to back home.)

I suspect this unreasonable level of pricing is driven largely by inflated rents (rather than the insane greed of bar owners or drink distributors).  I think it's time to MAKE A STAND.  If we start refusing to pay these prices, staying away from bars, drinking only (as we used to, in the good old days) in restaurants.... maybe bar owners would soon feel the pinch.... and would have to start standing up to their landlords, demanding rent cuts.  This is where we burst Beijing's property bubble!  I have my hat pin at the ready....

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I'm not done with that

I think I have complained before about the astonishingly common Chinese habit of removing things from your table - swiftly, surreptitiously, without asking, and quite often without any good reason at all.

Most often, the menu.  This used to be a particular vice at Fubar (although now they seem to have switched to an alternate tactic to achieve the same end - not bringing you a menu in the first place).

The wait staff at 1st Floor have managed to elevate this irritating practice to gobsmacking new heights: last night, they whisked the food menu away from me FIVE TIMES.  Without asking me.  And without offering to take a food order.

I saw which way the wind was blowing and eventually went next door for a doner at Kebab Nation instead.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Last call for Luga...

I had been thinking - after the strange and unexpected failure to open for the Superbowl last Monday (perhaps Luga just didn't know that it was on?!) - that Luga's Villa might have closed its doors for good.

There's obviously something jinxed about that location (and I hear some alarming tales about the landlord!): even The Golden Elephant (one of the better Indian restaurants in Beijing history) and the Handsome Café (awful name, but actually a rather decent little bar in that semi-basement space) couldn't survive there very long - and there have been god knows how many other failed ventures there since.  And the Villa suffers acutely from the 'divided space' problem - with three utterly unconnected floors (and two separate outside seating areas, with little or no service): has anyone ever set foot on the upper floor??

And - for a fairly divey bar - it's just a tad expensive. 40 kuai for a Stella??!!

But its biggest problem, as I've said on here often before, is that Luga keeps on failing to commit to the idea of being a sports bar.

On Saturday, I set out to watch the two big games in the English Premiership that day, the Manchester derby followed by Arsenal v Wolves.  Paddy O'Shea's - labouring under the burden of now being the ONLY (half-way) decent sports bar in town, and being the only place able to offer coverage of the Six Nations rugby competition (albeit a crappy picture from a Slingbox feed) - was completely swamped; when it gets that full, it's really not good for business, because it becomes almost impossible to get a drink!  Hence, I was forced to seek out alternatives in Sanlitun... and discovered - surprise, surprise! - that Luga's Villa was still open after all.

The TVs he's got in there aren't very good, and the small wall-projector he was using for the alternate game produced an unfortunately squashed picture, but... at least he was showing two games at once... and there was plenty of room to sit down.  Things went well enough at first (stupendous goal from Loony Rooney!!)... but then, at 11pm, he unaccountably brought a DJ on (someone I know, actually; lovely bloke - but I can't stand the shit he plays!).  The first 15 minutes of 'tune-up' was excruciating torture, with constantly see-sawing volume and the frequent buzz, crackle, and pop of loose wires in the PA.  Once we got into the set proper.... it was even worse.

I only survived - with difficulty - to the end of the second game by relocating upstairs (which, despite being a more obvious 'party' venue than the basement space, was not where they'd chosen to place the DJ; and which was not, at least at first, playing his godawful 'music' at such a high volume), and then by plugging my ears with balls of paper torn from the edge of a serviette.  It's much harder to attend to  the game and to follow what's happening without an audible commentary (or at least a little bit of crowd atmos in the background); it's practically impossible with the distraction of painfully loud music playing over the top of it (they've started doing this at The Den too - why, why, WHY??).

And if this is a ploy to woo the younger drinking crowd, who actually like this kind of 'music' (and aren't so interested in the football) - well, I think it is woefully misguided.  There were a couple of dozen such youngsters upstairs at The Villa on Saturday - but quite a few of them didn't order any drinks, and they all left at around midnight.  There are too many other bars and clubs in that neck of the woods that cater to people who want to dance - Kai at the low end, Lantern at the top, Kokomo in the middle, and more besides.  Luga isn't going to break into that scene.  And if he tries to attract a pre-clubbing crowd in for just one or two drinks on a Saturday night, he's only going to succeed in pissing off the sports fans.

I like Luga - but he's running this place like a concussed beeLuga's Villa, I'm afraid, is DOOMED.

Bon mot for the week

"A man is only as good as what he loves."

Saul Bellow (1915-2005)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Great Love Songs (25)

Now, don't suppose that this posting has anything to do with the date in a couple of days.  I absolve myself of any obligation to be 'romantic' for Valentine's Day - by being truly, madly, deeply, hopelessly, sincerely, spontaneously, passionately romantic on every other day of the year.

But I adore Tom Waits, and this is one of my favourites of his newer songs, Hold On; and it includes (at least!) one of my favourite of his lyrics.

Here's a wonderfully slow and gruff live performance in Atlanta in 2008 (no video), introduced by a bit of his characteristic comic banter - from his Glitter and Doom Tour album.

Oh, and here's a very good quality video of a live performance (allegedly from 1999 - I didn't think Mule Variations was that old!) , but the poster doesn't provide details of where.

I'm too good to you! It's because I love you!

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Superbowl that (nearly) wasn't

Finding a venue to watch the Superbowl has become next-to-impossible.

I had originally planned to try out the (consistently well spoken of since it opened... a couple of years back now, I suppose) Irish Volunteer out by the Lido.  However, despite cruising past that area relatively often (DVD-buying sprees at Tom's or Sunday afternoon walks out to Dashanzi...), I have never yet managed to suss out exactly where it is.  And I hear it's a fairly small venue, so I feared there'd be a serious danger of unpleasant overcrowding.  And I found I just didn't have the requisite will-power to schlepp all the way out there on my own that early in the morning.  The reason I still haven't tried the place out in nearly two years is that it's just too damned far away.

My second choice would have been The Brick - but owner Lee had told me he wouldn't be able to open up because of his competing commitment to help run The Stumble Inn (of which I had better say no more).  Also pretty bloody remote from me, but reasonably accessible via the Line 10 subway: I was disappointed to learn that was a no-go.  I heard belatedly that Chad was planning to show the game at Grinders down that way, but... well, I wasn't confident I could rely on that information (does he even have a TV screen in there, much less a satellite??  I wasn't going to undertake such a huge trek just to watch the local BTV coverage on a small screen!)... and it's not a very cosy venue - more wine bar or bistro than bar.

So, my default option - purely on grounds of accessibility and reliability - became Paddy O'Shea's.  But boy, was that crowded!!  You could scarcely get in the door half an hour before the start of the game.  They were trying to redirect people to the Indian restaurant upstairs, but that didn't have a very appealing ambience (and was rapidly becoming almost as packed out as the downstairs).  Even worse, the audience here seemed to be entirely composed of raucous young Americans - who had played the game themselves in high school or college.  Very bulky lads, most of them.  And not adept at manouevring through narrow gaps; I lost count of the number of times I got barged in the back in just a few minutes.  And the handful of diminutive wait staff were completely lost in this burly throng: it was impossible to get a drink.  And the sound system in there is just awful: despite being boomingly loud, it was too indistinct to render the commentary comprehensible.  Time to try other options.

Sanlitun, alas, proved to be a ghost town: Luga's Villa (scene of my Superbowl bender last year) was... closed!! WTF??!!  (I suspect this means the place is on its last legs, if not demised already.)  So were 1st Floor and Bar Blu and the Saddle Cantina, which are the sort of places you'd expect to make an effort to show this.  (So too, apparently, was the Blue Frog, which had been advertised as planning to show the game; although the place is too pricey and too upstairs in a mall to win my consideration.  The same factors weighed against the Stumble Inn [which had, in any case, ineptly ruled itself out of contention by advertising - possibly misleadingly - a 150 kuai door charge!] and the Union Grille; although a couple of people have told me that the latter - despite being uncomfortably full - provided a pretty good experience of the big game.)

I moseyed by The Den, which - just before kick-off - seemed, surprisingly, to be not that full.  Pretty full, but not jammed-to-the-rafters full like Paddy's.  It might have had something to do with the two goons on the door, who seemed to be trying to extract a 50 kuai door fee.  I understand from someone who went a little later that this was supposed to be a special 'breakfast' deal, and was not compulsory - but that's not what they were saying to me at 7.30am.  He also told me they had a special deal on some of the beers - Beijing Draft and Carlsberg for 15 kuai, or something like that.  Again, NOT advertised outside, or mentioned by the guys on the door.  I hadn't fancied paying an extra 50 kuai (even if I was going to get some free food with it).  And I'd been worried that regular morning prices at The Den would be in force, and thus prohibitively expensive (their 'happy hour' tariff isn't really cheap; just a tad lower than other would-be 'high-end' bars these days, but not CHEAP; the double price they charge most of the time is just outrageous).  But I don't think even the 15-kuai beers offer would have tempted me in: the draught beer there has been disgustingly skanky every time I've tried it in the last couple of years or so.  I rather think they're getting their kegs at a discount because they're beyond their use-by date (and/or they never clean their lines).  No, The Den was not appealing.  Only one more possibility left to explore, and that a very outside chance....

I'd heard that Chicago Bears fans had been enjoying some of the playoff games in secret lock-ins at Hooters (the Chinese owner, apparently, supports the Bears), so I thought I'd give that a try.  Indeed, it was open.  Well, kind of.  The boss still hadn't remembered to open the front door 10 minutes after kick-off, which perhaps accounted for the fact that there was only one guy there watching with him.  And despite assurances that the game was to be available with both Chinese and English coverage, the TVs were only showing BTV (perhaps he meant that you could still just about hear the original American commentary at low volume underneath the inane babble of the Chinese presenters?).  Then I looked at the menu and remembered why I never go to this place - 28rmb for a stubbie of Tsingtao???  No, thank you.

I toyed with the idea of getting a cab out to the Irish Volunteer, but in the middle of the Chinese New Year holiday there are very few cabs out and about around Gongti at that time in the morning.  So, I found myself giving up and taking the subway home.  At least I was able to get a jian bing for breakfast at Dongsi Shitiao, and I made it back just in time for the start of the 2nd quarter (though, of course, I'd missed the Packers storming to an early 14-0 lead).  After a while, I became quite adept at 'tuning out' the distracting Chinese commentary (although at times it could become overpoweringly obtrusive:  "That guy just got kicked in the nuts - HA-HA-HA-HA-HAAAA!!!").

Hell of a game!  The Packers had me sweating bullets in the last couple of minutes - but I had remained robustly confident through most of the game that they would prevail in the end.  Go, you Packers, GO!!!  (I've long had a soft spot for them; an inclination reinforced by fear of verbal or physical battery by my bud The British Cowboy if I dare to express any interest in or sympathy for any other team!)

[I'd been a little surprised - nay, mystified - by the size of the turnout at Paddy's.  It's not a great bar, and not - usually - a very American bar.  I hadn't known that the enormous Goose & Duck sports bar - a staple for Eastsiders - was closed for renovations!!  Or that The Den would have surly doormen discouraging people from entering.  Or that Luga's Villa would be CLOSED.  Or that just about everywhere else would be closed too.  There's been a huge increase in the number of Americans - young Americans, especially - in Beijing in the last few years; but there's been a dramatic withering in the number of sports bars.  I rather fear that I'm going to have to watch the Superbowl at home every year from now on...]

HBH 221

Less 'resolution',
More absence of cause for joy:
Dry Januaries.

And February, too, this year.  Not that I've been completely 'dry' - oh no.  But my consumption recently has been way down.  Since Christmas, I've been out to bars approximately as many times as I would in one or two weeks at most other seasons of the year.  My liver and wallet are grateful; my soul is not.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Froog Solutions (12)

Froog's solution to the 'problem' of being - still - single as the dreaded V-day approaches...

No, I jest.  I wouldn't be caught dead...

Well, actually, I have been meaning to give this a try - just in a spirit of fun and curiosity, you know - for a good long while now, but... my misgivings about the kind of crazies who might go along to these things with serious intentions of finding a partner are multiplied tenfold on the eve of this great Ersatz Romanze-Fest.  In March or April, maybe; but this weekend - I think not.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Cruel Fate mocks me again

Some time ago, I conceived a terrible crush on a woman I kept on seeing in bars.  Well, I saw her a handful of times - but in quick succession.  Unfortunately, it was always in music bars, so there was never really an opportunity to strike up a conversation with her (she always seemed to be with a large gaggle of friends, so was never accessible even during breaks in the music).

She wasn't dazzlingly beautiful, but there was something about her that immediately got under my skin - as if she fit some obscure paradigm of 'perfect womanhood' hardwired into my brain.  There was an uncanny sense of familiarity about her, as if I'd met her before somewhere.... had known her all my life.  And this odd sensation was utterly compelling: I couldn't take my eyes off her.

But I couldn't contrive an opening to talk to her.  (The whole sorry story - or most of it -  can be found here.)

I tried to redeem myself after the hopelessness of the first encounter where I'd suffered a bunny-in-the-headlights paralysis in her presence.  I made a plan to try to track her down again, find out who she was, speak to her.  A whole series of plans, in fact.  They all came to nought - sometimes in quite interestingly disastrous ways (she didn't turn up to a gig I expected she might do; or she turned up with twenty friends, an impenetrable human wall; or she might have turned up alone, but I'd had to duck out with a dose of bad bowel; or.... well, on one occasion, one of her friends started hitting on me - which is about the most awkward kind of obstruction that can possibly present itself!).

But then she abruptly disappeared.  After a month or two of comparative ubiquity, suddenly no further sightings.  I had gathered that she was a teacher at one of the international schools (well, supposition rather than confirmed 'intelligence': I knew some of her apparent 'friends' were), and those folks often move on to new schools, new countries fairly frequently.  I assumed that  was what had happened with her.  I think, in fact, I'd heard a rumour to that effect (as I said, I was on terms of nodding familiarity with a few of her friends - though not to the extent of actually knowing their names.... or daring to ask them for hers).

The trail had gone completely cold.  I was convinced she must have left the country.  And perhaps it was just as well.  It was probably a doomed prospect anyway.

Except that.... a few nights ago, I saw her again.  For the first time in three years!

And NO - I didn't speak to her.

Monday, February 07, 2011

How not to do it (Superbowl edition)

I noticed in the Agenda listings magazine the other week that the Stumble Inn was advertising a 'Superbowl special': 150rmb!!  Reservations recommended, it said.

Well, I certainly had plenty of those.  Reservations, that is.  The other kind.

The wretched Stumble made such a poor first (and second and third and fourth and fifth) impression on me that I've long since completely given up on the place: upstairs in a mall, a bad space (units designed for boutiques or restaurants, not bars: high ceilings, big windows, ugh), bad decor (I like low lighting; but, without the pool table light, those tiny spotlights they have upstairs aren't enough for you to see the food on your plate, or your hand in front of your face... ridiculous!), chaotic service, overlong beer list (I hate the affectation of this 'Try all 100 of our beers' gimmick: I'm not going to do that because I know you haven't sold 92 of them in months and they're going to be well past their use-by date), high prices.  A hopeless case - I can't see it surviving the year.

I did, in fact, find myself wandering around Sanlitun in search of somewhere to watch the Superbowl this morning (more on that fiasco later in the week, perhaps), but.... it didn't even occur to me to check out the Stumble Inn.

To be honest, I'd just completely forgotten about its existence... because it's upstairs in a mall (the same failing that led me to ignore the possible claims of Blue Frog and the Union Grille).  But if I had given it a moment's thought, I think that stupid bloody advertisement would have put me off.

The only reason, really, to have a flat fee for an event like this is to discourage overlarge crowds.  If given a choice between a venue that is free and a venue that's demanding something-for-nothing, then A LOT of people are going to prefer the free option (hence, The Den drew a much smaller crowd today than Paddy O'Shea's; but maybe that was a good thing; and maybe Paddy's should have considered demanding a small door fee to stop the crowd getting quite that big!).  Most places that do something like this only charge 50 or 80rmb, and they usually throw in a breakfast buffet (sometimes with unlimited coffee or juice).  However, bearing in mind how much revenue they can bring in from early morning boozing, they could well afford to give away a modest breakfast for nothing; the function of the door charge, I maintain, is essentially to keep the numbers down.

The Stumble Inn didn't even appear to be advertising a free breakfast.  And heck, for that sort of money, they should have been throwing in a free-flow of beer as well!!!

150rmb just to walk in the door???!!!  Get out of here!

That line about 'reservations' was a bit of a sick joke as well.  I sympathise with bar owners wanting to try to avoid overcrowding, and wanting to know how much provision they may have to make for extra staff and laying on food; and, yes, it can be very difficult to predict just how many people might to turn out for something like the Superbowl, but.... reservations for a thing like this don't really work; at best, they're only going to give you a very rough basis for calculating your likely trade, not a precise final figure.  Most people aren't going to think of making a reservation.  And many of those that do will be doing so only on a provisional basis (perhaps making multiple - non-enforceable, no-penalty-for-cancellation - bookings at several different venues around town); they may change their plans at the last minute, oversleep, watch the game at someone's home...  The only major impact of trying to secure advance reservations is that people who show up without reservations are likely to be treated rudely by poorly trained staff - turned away altogether, or corralled into a cramped corner of the bar for an hour or two until it becomes apparent just how many of these 'reserved seats' aren't in fact going to be used.

I believe the Stumble Inn, despite its many shortcomings, is starting to do modestly well with the weekend Shunyi lunch-and-shopping crowd; and it may have drawn in a modest crowd from that core customer base.  Given the dearth of other places showing the game, they may even have drawn quite a decent crowd - catching some of the forlorn Paddy O'Shea's overspill, perhaps.  But my bet would be that they abandoned that absurd 150rmb entrance fee idea.....

The weekly bon mot

"There are two types of women - high maintenance and ridiculously high maintenance."


I fear I am repeating myself again, but I couldn't find this in a search of the blogs just now - not amongst the bons mots, anyway.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Great Drinking Songs (26)

It hadn't occurred to me until a few days ago (in the bar, of course) what a perfect drunken singalong the Queen classic Bohemian Rhapsody is - everyone knows ALL the words!  (It's a great 'air guitar' piece too!)

Here's the original video:

And here's a great live version from one of their big Wembley concerts in the '80s.

Here are the boys from Wayne's World singing along....

And here's a Lego version....

Here's an arrangement for classical guitar, played by Edgar Cruz:

And finally, the world's weirdest cover band, Hayseed Dixie, doing their thing with it...

Update: I later discovered that Pink does a surprisingly good version of this too. Faye Wong's take on it, though, is painful.

Further update: Weird Al Yankovic has done it as a polka - which takes barely half as long! Inspired!!

Friday, February 04, 2011

Weeble Solutions (11)

The Weeble's mental approach to enduring the CCTV Chunjie 'craptacular' with his future in-laws....

When quizzed by SMS as to how he was surviving the ordeal at around 11pm on New Year's Eve, he responded:

"Apathy, and thoughts of drink."

HBH 220

Against the boredom,
The enormous loneliness...
Drink's a flimsy shield.

I am hating this Spring Festival - even more than previous years.  I wish I'd made good my escape at the start of the week, as I'd once 'planned' to (people kept offering me work, dammit!).  I'm so depressed, I can't even summon the motivation to drink!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Year of the MechaRabbit

Yes, today is the beginning of The Year of the Bunny - surely the lamest of all the Chinese zodiac animals!  You have to pity anyone born in a Rabbit Year.  Even the many, many Chinese friends and students of mine that I've asked about this over the years have always failed to come up with any positive qualities associated with the poor creature (the Vietnamese, I learn, prefer to represent this phase of their calendar with the characteristics of a 'cat'!).  The most promising suggestion I ever received was, "Well, they're very.... nervous.  In a good way.  You know, um, alert to danger."  Hm, yes - I'll take the Tiger any day, thank you.

However.... each of the Chinese zodiac animal years is successively combined with one of the five elements - Earth, Water, Fire, Wood, Metal - to produce a complete cycle of 60 years.  And this year is the Year of the Metal Rabbit - which may not mean anything particularly wonderful within the construct of the Chinese superstitions, but to a flippant foreigner it sounds way more butch than the Wood Rabbit or the Water Rabbit.

And so, I give you.....  The Mighty MechaRabbit:

Have a great year, everyone!!

[And don't miss this superb holiday video I just put up over on Froogville.  If a system of government could be overturned by a joke, this might be it.....]

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Let the mayhem commence!

Around midnight tonight, this is what Beijing is probably going to look like again (despite the uncommonly slow start we've had to the overload of firecrackerage in the last week or so, and so far today).

I found it quite fun the first three or four times I witnessed it; but now the novelty has decidedly worn off.  Now it's just a case of "I wonder when it will be quiet enough for me to get some sleep?"

And there is bugger-all for the laowai to do in China for the next week.  Taxis come to be in very short supply, especially later in the evening.  All music gigs are suspended.  At least 70% of all restaurants are closed for at least a few days, some for a full week or so (and those that remain open are overflowing with Chinese punters).  A lot of my favourite bars are out of action, too, this year: 12 Square Metres and MaoMaoChong and Sand Pebbles aren't opening tonight; El Nido and Salud I'm not sure about (will probably be doing a recce early evening); Amilal should be OK, but it's not really an all-evening-session kind of a bar.

I am sorely tempted to just lounge around at home.  Except that I've just done that for at least 10 of the last 14 nights, and I'm starting to get a little bored with it.  And except that the DIN from outside will probably make it impossible to enjoy any quiet indoor activity like listening to music, watching a DVD, or reading a book - at least between 11pm and 1am!

No... I think I'll have to take my chances out there.  I just hope I can find a cheap bar somewhere in the 'hood that is still open but not jammed to the rafters.

Too good to be true?

My spies up in Wudaokou tell me that Laowai's (the major addition to the student bar scene this past semester; long overdue a review on here, but I've only made it out there two or three times so far...) is giving away a 300rmb voucher to anyone who shows up for their Chinese New Year's Eve high-jinks tonight.

WHAT???  Well, that's what I'm told.  I assume it's a raffle prize or restricted to the first 10 people through the door or something; and quite possibly dependent on forking out a hefty door fee as well...?

It's almost intriguing enough to prompt me to schlepp up there to take a look.  Almost, but not quite.

I would be grateful if someone (someone other than The Chairman, whose word is not to be relied upon!) could give me a report on this.

Later.....  Ah, well, I'm told it's actually a two-for-one deal all night... with an additional sweetener of a 30% discount for every 100 kuai you spend. So, that works out at a 60% or so discount (if you maximise the opportunity presented by this offer - good luck!!).  That is very tempting.....

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

New Picks of the Month

More forgotten 'treasures' from three years ago this month...

From Froogville, I choose Self-destructive tendencies, an itemisation of the various sickeningly dangerous behaviours we tend to see in relation to the setting off of fireworks during this month-long madness of the Chinese Spring Festival.

And from The Barstool, I go for Party conversation fragments, a surreal collection of soundbites from a particularly long, good, weird evening, that had started with a friend's birthday party and meandered on through a gig and a couple of favourite late-night watering holes....  (Although I was tempted also by this poignant record of a passing - unrequited - infatuation, commemorated in a haiku over at the 'Ville around this time as well.)

Traffic Report - the blog stats for January

Crikey - I still seem to be keeping up a ridiculous rate of output: nearly 1,000 words a day, on average, across the two blogs.  If I channelled all that industry into something more saleable.... I could have a novel done in three or four months!

And that wasn't the half of it.  Well, not quite.  I also knocked out something like 20,000 words for assorted training materials, and took on a slew of heavy-duty editing tasks that probably totalled at least that much again (and seemed like 10 times more!).  I worry I may be bringing on carpal tunnel syndrome....

Anyway, the stats:

There were 37 posts and around 18,000 words on Froogville last month.

There were 33 posts and over 11,000 words on Round-The-World Barstool Blues.

In my visitor breakdown from Statcounter, I discover that - after long being cruelly ignored by the denizens of The Great White North - I suddenly have regular visitors (to both blogs) in Canada.  Even more intriguingly, The Barstool seems to have acquired a fan in the small Croatian city of Rijeka.

I'm also extremely pleased to have attracted some very stimulating new commenters in this past month or so.  I do hope they'll be sticking around, and sharing their thoughts with us often.