Saturday, September 29, 2012

Taking it easy

A few years ago Kronenbourg did a series of TV commercials featuring slowed down versions of classic '80s hits. I'd meant to post this when I first discovered it a year or two back, but it slipped my mind; I was just reminded of it again a couple of days ago. Here's Lemmy of Motorhead reinventing The Ace of Spades as a slow blues tune - and boy, does it sound good! [You can hear the full version here.]

The only other one of this series of ads I heard (maybe the only other one they did?) was Madness performing Baggy Trousers, but that didn't work as well as this. Madness are all about that cheeky-chappy adolescent exuberance; when that energy is stripped away, the song seems rather maudlin.

Friday, September 28, 2012

A little wobble of resolve

I was just starting to think that it would be tough to get through this weekend - haven't been out for ages, The Chairman's having one of his rare weekends off, there are a few decent gigs on around town, an old friend is passing through for a few days - without having the odd drink (in theory, I am only swearing off beer this time, and will allow myself spirits in moderation; but I haven't been tempted even that far for the last week).  And I then stumbled on this on the Internet. I feel it sends the wrong message somehow.

HBH 304

The years all conspire,
Memories crouch like muggers.
Nostalgia's cudgel.

Is it having been here so long? Is it the decision to leave? Is it the not drinking? I don't know, but lately, as the reel of the last ten years plays endlessly in my head, I have often found myself getting quite moist-eyed.

Maybe it's regret and resentment and a sense of waste....

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


I did a post on Froogville last weekend about the unlikely-sounding word mamihlapinatapai. This I had stumbled across as a result of this post by my old blog-friend JES, which referred to the word razblliuto. This, according to many an online source and the book cited by JES, They Have A Word For It by Howard Rheingold (which offered up mamihlapinatapai as its next example), is supposedly a Russian noun for "the feeling you have for someone you once loved, but do not any more".

Alas, the word appears to be unknown to Russian speakers (although an intriguing theory has been floated that it is a corruption of razlyubeno, a verb meaning to fall out of love, and supposedly originates from an episode of the '60s TV spy series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. [American scriptwriters naturally being likely to mangle any attempt at using Russian!]).

My scepticism was immediately aroused by the fact that it doesn't seem to be a very plausible word, since it does not define any distinct concept.

I can't see any value in having a word that means "whatever feeling you have for a former lover". If it meant simply "not in love any more" (as would seem to have been intended, if that "scriptwriter's goof" theory is true), that would make sense - but it wouldn't be an especially resonant word/concept. If it meant - as anguished romantics naturally assume it does - a sense of wistful longing for a lost love, then it would be more resonant; but surely there are plenty of other words or phrases for that?

According to the definition usually given for this word, it is seemingly intended to denote a particular emotion that exists between former lovers. And I don't believe there is any single emotion one finds in that situation. It depends on so many factors - the circumstances of the breakup, how long ago it was, whether the people concerned are now involved with someone else, and so on.

I tend to have a lingering wistful fondness for all of my exes (at least, the ones with whom I was in love) - though not a raging, obsessive passion, nor any urge to try to revisit and revive the relationship. But the range of other emotions we find in this situation is almost limitless: everything from fanatical hatred through bitterness and resentment to complete indifference or strictly Platonic friendship, and out on the other side to a flirtatious frisson of continuing attraction or easily rekindled lust, and, at the furthest extreme, undying adulation.

And though I would have doubted it when I was a young man, I now realise it is entirely possible after a lapse of many years to (almost?) completely forget that you were once sexually intimate with someone.

Furthermore, I think it's quite rare that one finds identical feeling on both sides of the relationship (before or after breakup!).

The (probably mythical) word razbliuto, then, appears to me to lack any definite or useful meaning.

However... sometimes words command our thoughts, and our thoughts may direct our feelings. If a language did have such a word, and it was understood to mean one particular emotion - a useful, healing emotion: a small ember of past love that was capable of engendering forgiveness of supposed wrongs and allowing a continuance of friendship... the existence of this word might work a gentle magic in the realm of romantic relationships; it might condition us to expect, to know that this is how we will feel after a breakup, and preclude the possibility of our experiencing any more powerful and potentially damaging emotions. I think the existence of such a word might be a blessing. Perhaps we should invent one.

By the way, I notice that the Wikipedia entry on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. that I hotlinked to above begins with the note "THRUSH redirects here." Oh dear. That might cause some confusion for people seeking medical advice.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Drat! Blogger pisses me off again

For the past six months I've had links near the top of the sidebars on both my blogs for a rather useful 'list view' - summarising the last 30 posts on each.

This feature was obtained by simply adding /?m=1 to the end of the blog URL. I'm not aware that Blogger ever advertised this anywhere; so, perhaps it was only ever a fortuitous glitch. And it now appears to have been "repaired": those links now direct only to the regular blog homepage. Damn.

I am particularly saddened by Blogger's withdrawal of this facility not because it was being widely used and appreciated (I suspect it wasn't), but simply because the tip on how to set it up had been sent to me as a parting gift by Tony B, a very entertaining blogger who had also become an e-penpal of mine over the last few years. He was fairly elderly and in ailing health, and he passed away only two months later. I had liked having this permanent reminder of him in my sidebars. Dang you, Blogger!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Froog Solutions (25)

Froog's solution to the embarrassment of being invited to a party by an attractive young woman within seconds of meeting her....

Decline, politely - with explanations, and suitably hangdog facial expressions emphasising one's regret.

Of course, I repented of my foolishness almost immediately, but it was too late. I told JK - a witness to this debacle - that if he ever sees me doing something like this again, he is to intervene by giving me a firm slap.

Bon mot for the week

"There is always something left to desire, and the last thing longed for always seems the most necessary to happiness."

Marie Corelli (1855-1924)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Great Love Songs (35 & 36)

My little post yesterday about the comforting familiarity of being back in Beijing (where everyone seems to know me) of course put me in mind of On The Street Where You Live, one of the best songs from Lerner & Loewe's My Fair Lady. It was my old college drinking buddy The Bookseller (another big fan of musicals - it's NOT just a gay thing!) who first got me into the habit of singing this on the way home from the pub at night during my student days in Oxford... where there were just a handful of streets we seemed to traverse dozens of times a day... and where love seemed always in the air... and where there wasn't very much residential space in the city centre (other than the colleges themselves), so such late-night ebullience didn't seem too likely to disturb people's sleep. After lapsing from the habit for years, I found it powerfully revived on moving to Beijing - perhaps because I am so often walking home drunk at around midnight here. In my first year, particularly, returning each night from the 'Adventure Bar', I would frequently burst forth into joyous snatches of this song on the brief walk home.

Here's the scene from the film, with a young Jeremy Brett playing the infatuated Freddy (although I gather his singing was overdubbed by an actor called Bill Shirley). I doubt if this will stay up on Youtube for long, so enjoy it while you can.

And here's a great instrumental version by jazz pianist Errol Garner.

In fact, largely as a result of how ferociously cold Beijing was in my first winter here (and even in autumn; the second half of October was absolutely bloody freezing that year), it was another song from that show that I found myself singing even more often, the song that has become most associated for me with my sojourn here in Beijing - Eliza's fantasy of simple creature comforts, Wouldn't It Be Loverly?

Audrey Hepburn's singing in the film was famously dubbed by Marni Nixon, although some of her original test recordings of the songs resurfaced some years back, and are, I gather, included in the extras on the latest DVD editions. Unfortunately, I can't find Audrey singing this on Youtube, but you can check out her rendition of I Could Have Danced All Night. It doesn't have the polish or power of a professional singer, but there's a simplicity and zest about it that is as captivating as... well, as captivating as Audrey always was. Fellow devotees of the classic musicals may be interested in this posting, in which the same scene from the film as above is overdubbed with the original theatrical cast recording, in which Julie Andrews was the voice of Eliza.

Friday, September 21, 2012

I have often walked down this street before...

Some years ago, I had been spending quite a bit of time in the Pimlico district of London, just south of Victoria. Well, I had been a permanent resident there for 18 months or so after my return from my backpacking year, bunking with an indulgent college friend; and I'd been a frequent visitor for a few years prior to that. 

One bright sunny morning, a cute young German girl - probably a backpacker herself - accosted me on the street and asked, "Are you well-known around here?"

An odd question to ask a stranger! But I quickly realised that she probably meant to ask whether I knew the area well. Indeed, she was seeking directions to the nearest laundromat.

I couldn't help thinking, though, that by now, within this narrow web of streets, I probably was becoming known by sight to quite a lot of people. And in a few of my most regular haunts - the excellent Marmaris kebab house, the Indian corner shop where I made most of my small grocery purchases, the Spread Eagle pub where I played pool at least a couple of times a week - there were people who knew me by name. And I found that cosily reassuring.

I've never felt quite such a sense of 'home' with Beijing - probably because my 'territory' here is far more spread out (although I spend 90% of my time within the area of 4 or 6 city blocks I can readily walk to, even that is much bigger than Pimlico; and I do also range further afield, out east to Sanlitun, Sanyuan Qiao, Chaoyang Park, or Lido, or north-west to Wudaokou, and sometimes even to the more distant 'burbs like Caochangdi and Shuangjing). Another likely reason is the fact that there's such a terrible air of impermanence about everything: favourite bars and restaurants are often forced to relocate or close down altogether within a few years, and the expat community itself is in a state of constant flux.

Even with this much wider geographical range and a dwindling circle of friends, though, Beijing is the kind of place where you do tend to bump into people you know very frequently. When I first got back here 4 or 5 weeks ago, I didn't go out much at first, didn't announce my return to very many people, was trying to keep a 'low profile'. And yet, within my first few days in the city, I had run into (in a variety of locations).....  my old pool-playing mate Ben the Jerry, musician buddies Fluffy and Dan the Man, local bar owner Jeff Ji (not in his bar, just walking down the street), and a raft of other people. So much for my plan of living in seclusion for a while!!

Hmm, this post title sounds like a cue for a song, doesn't it?

HBH 303

It's not the booze we miss,
But the bar's casual friendships,
The cosy glow of home.

This week I have been mostly not drinking. Well, I have been abstaining from beer, at least. I will allow myself spirits, if you force me. But mostly I have been too ill to go out. And I'm missing it already: not the drink, but the society.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Cursed again - The 'Rule of Threes'

Back in town four weeks, so I was due to get ill, I suppose. Sure enough, I was woken in the early hours of Wednesday morning with the beginnings of an itchy sore throat and a raging fever.

After spending most of the day whimpering under the duvet (and catching up on at least some of the sleep I didn't get overnight), I was willing to risk crossing town to have dinner with a friend, but... just as I was leaving the apartment, my prepaid electricity meter (unexpectedly!) ran out.

Queueing at the bank to purchase some more electricity credit made me dangerously late for my dinner rendezvous. And then, just as I neared the restaurant (for which, of course, I had no address, and no good directions), my phone (unexpectedly!!) ran out of credit.

Why do bad things always happen in threes?? It is a strange Principle of Fate.

Unbelievable and terrifying as this may seem (well, it terrifies me), this was the 2,500th post here on The Barstool. Too much! Enough already!! Somebody STOP me!!!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Alas, poor Wudaoying!

We appear to be going through a particularly severe, over-the-top phase of pavement relaying here in Beijing. Sidewalks all over town have been partly or wholly ripped up, particularly in the Sanlitun bar district, making it irksome to travel far on foot. And, as happened at the outset of the global financial crisis 4 years ago, this work seems to be proceeding agonisingly slowly, has perhaps been abandoned for a while in midstream. It is especially galling that in so many places the workmen have laid out rows of loose bricks on the sand, presumably in preparation for the next phase of laying pavement; these are irregularly spaced and often very wobbly - an appalling trip-and-fall hazard. It's better to avoid these stretches of dug-up sidewalk altogether, and just take your chances walking in the road.

However, Sanlitun's got it easy compared to poor old Wudaoying Hutong at the moment. I hadn't visited this up-and-coming little bar-and-restaurant strip since I got back to Beijing a month ago, so was going to take a stroll along it to see what was new on my way into Sanlitun yesterday. I was soon forced back by all the half-arsed "construction" that is currently rendering the west end of the street completely impassable. I walked along the 2nd Ringroad instead, and checked out the eastern entrance to the street off Yonghegong Dajie: that was blocked as well. The works, whatever they are, seem to stretch along the entire length of this narrow street.

But it's really not at all clear what work is supposed to be under way. There are lots of bricks, lots of sand, and lots of workmen, arranged in clumps or piles or stacks all along the street; but no obvious productive activity. There are no signs I could see that the road is being resurfaced, or that walls are being rebuilt, or whatever. All that seems to have happened is that lots of sand - and, intermittently, lots of water - has been spread over every square inch of the road surface, reducing it to a muddy mess. Of course, this is discouraging any foot traffic. But the ubiquity of the piles of building materials, and the numerous wheelbarrows and sand-sieves and so on ranged along the street, and the gaggles of workmen mooching about doing nothing in the middle of the road, make the street equally unappealing for the attempted passage of motor vehicles. Businesses down there must have almost zero custom at the moment.

One might almost suspect that it's just a 'protection' scam by someone in the local government: an unnecessary and endlessly protracted "road improvement" scheme kills all the local tenants' business; hints are then dropped that a "community contribution", a "voluntary payment" to the "civic maintenance" fund may help to bring these works to a speedier conclusion. In China, this is all too plausible a possibility.

I can't imagine what else it could be!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Fate jabs me in the ribs again

A curious thing happened the other week.

I received an e-mail from someone I hadn't been in contact with for over a decade, someone whose e-mail address I'd forgotten was still in my directory.

Alas, it was not an actual communication, but one of those automated spam messages that indicates the sender's e-mail account has been hacked.

This rogue anonymous mail purported to come from a girl I'd fallen in love with when I was living in Toronto in the 1990s (this one, in fact). And the change of surname on the account announced to me that she must have got married.

After nearly 15 years, it really shouldn't cause me such a pang. And yet it does.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Bon mot for the week

"I like a barman who drinks. It reassures me I'm not being poisoned."

Grover (Josh Hamilton) to part-time barman and perpetual PhD student Chet (Eric Stoltz) in Noah Baumbach's very funny debut film Kicking and Screaming

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A birthday present

Mike over at booksandmusicandstuff - just about my only surviving commenter on here these days - was kind enough to nominate this little blog for a 'Sunshine Award' last week.

Alas, I felt I had to decline the honour, since I don't really approve of these 'meme' things - and I can't think of any other blogs to pass the award on to (you're supposed to nominate ten, for god's sake!). Still, it's nice to get a little favourable recognition. And, since Music Mike is quite plugged in to all this 'social media' whatnot, there is perhaps a chance that his recommendation may bring in some new readers here. I'll keep a hopeful eye on the stats!

It was a happy coincidence that Mike should offer me this accolade just as this blog was approaching another major milestone (drum roll) - its 6th Anniversary. Yes, Round-The-World Barstool Blues started off with this post six years ago today.

I have determined to put the blog (both my blogs) to bed around the end of this year (I may change my mind, of course; but it's good to have a plan) - so, enjoy it while you can. Only three months or so of The Barstool left!!

This picture comes from a diverting 'visual history' of the barstool I found on a photo blog of unlikely treasures called La Dolfina. You might also check out this rather disturbing Scottish design, a barstool supposedly crafted for the greater comfort of kilt-wearers. This Barstool of mine makes no such concessions to your convenience - try not to fidget.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


Now that my great run of birthdays/anniversaries/leaving parties/housewarmings is finally over, I had been intending to embark in earnest upon an extended spell of abstinence TODAY.

But Wikipedia informs me that today is Independence Day for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. And it's also Battle of Britain Day back home in the UK (although I can't ever recall there being any special celebrations to mark this event; it tends to pass completely unnoticed, which is a bit of a shame).

And tomorrow is Mexican Independence Day - which seems like an irresistible pretext to get busy with the tequila.

Maybe I'll give up drinking on Monday...

"Sorry, old man. Not following your banter."

Before I decided to illustrate this post with the classic Python skit, I was browsing the Web for some Battle of Britain pictures and turned up a number of interesting sites: Battle of Britain Beacon, The Spitfire Site, Fighter Pilot University, and Barry Weekley Art. Well worth checking out.

Our 'theme song'

Just lately, we've been enjoying a blast of '80s nostalgia down at my local: a number of almost-forgotten tracks from my student days have been starting to come up rather regularly on the music playlist. Who knows how these things happen? Foremost amongst these guilty pleasures has been Twisted Sister's We're Not Going To Take It - an anthem of teenage rebellion which, it seems, I never grow out of.

Friday, September 14, 2012

In a nutshell

Big Nige, on the phone to his wife the other night:

"There's nothing happening here. We're just a bunch of old men, sitting around getting older..."

The man's a poet, a philosopher!

HBH 302

Wrecked night, brief morning.
No shooters after midnight -
A rule not to break!

And yet we so often do. Particularly on a birthday. Dangerous things, birthdays.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Recommended Posts, October-December 2011

Time for another roundup of the best stuff from a year ago...

Guided Tour - recommended posts from the 4th quarter of 2011

1)  A very poignant anniversary  -  5th October 2011
A tribute to my favourite writer (and the very first of my 'Unsuitable Role Models'), Brian O'Nolan, on the occasion of the centenary of his birth.

2)  The worst of it is...  -  6th October 2011
A bitter bon mot born of a long spell of self-imposed abstinence from alcohol.

3)  I want one of those  -  8th October 2011
A video of musician Brad Barr playing a wondrous custom guitar fashioned out of a metal fishing-tackle box. [Hat-tip to my old blog-friend JES for introducing me to this marvel.]

4)  The simple life  -  11th October 2011
I reminisce fondly about my recent holiday experience, drinking in smalltown China.

5)  A Great Driving-The-Blues-Away Song  -  15th October 2011
Father Ted taught us that the Theme From Shaft is one of the most effective pieces of music for banishing depression. I include a link to a great live performance by its creator, Isaac Hayes, and for an embedded video I chose the - even better! - version by the utterly fabulous Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

6)  You'll Never Know  -  21st October 2011
Another entry in my 'Great Love Songs' series, with renditions on video from Ella Fitzgerald and the actress Alice Faye, who gave this moving wartime song its debut in the film Hello Frisco, Hello (unfortunately, this clip appears to have been recently removed from YouTube; I'll have to try and find a replacement).

7)  Little bits of heaven  -  25th October 2011
Some classic Irish pub interiors (some of which I've visited) - from an online poll to find Ireland's best snug bar being run by the Powers whiskey company.

8)  My Top Five Birthdays (in China)  -  27th October 2011
One week on from my latest birthday party, I reviewed the most memorable of the celebrations of the event I've enjoyed over the past decade in Beijing.

9)  Be careful what you order!  -  28th October 2011
I resurrect an old travel piece about one of the things you should avoid in Jamaica.

10)  A moment of cognitive dissonance  -  5th November 2011
Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now - sung in Khmer (from the film City of Ghosts).

11)  HBH 259  -  11th November 2011
I worry that advancing age may be starting to impair my enjoyment of fine whisky.

12)  The Top Five Lost Laowai Landmarks  -  12th November 2011
The things we older expats most miss from the vanished Beijing of the early Noughties.

13)  Another trivia quiz idea  -  16th November 2011
In my quest for a novel quiz format, I come up with the brilliantly-appropriate-for-China idea of bribing the quizmaster.

14)  Sometimes this is how it feels  -  23rd November 2011
I find a cartoon that encapsulates my current mood all too aptly.

15)  Great Love Songs (29)  -  26th November 2011
My favourite blues guitarist, Peter Green of the original Fleetwood Mac, performs Need Your Love So Bad.

16)  Top Five Lamented Music Bars  -  29th November 2011
A rundown of the best live music venues in Beijing that have ceased to be in the last decade.

17)  Great Love Songs (30)  -  3rd December 2011
The Cowboy Junkies cover Bob Dylan's If You Gotta Go, Go Now.

18)  'Bye to The Bone?  -  6th December 2011
Sad news - Beijing's favourite laowai party rockers, Black Cat Bone, announce their retirement. As a reminder of all the good times they gave us, I dig out a clip of them rocking out at a blues harp convention in Jianghu some years ago.

19)  Top Five Nearly But Not Quites  -  10th December 2011
As the time draws near for my traditional year-end Bar Awards, I post a preparatory discussion of some of the more interesting recent additions to the scene (quite a lot of overlap with this later post on the year's 'new arrivals') - places that many folks might nominate as a 'Bar of the Year', but which I feel aren't quite cutting it.

20)  Why I'll probably NEVER go to Blue Frog again  -  13th December 2011
A particularly hellish experience persuades me to finally renounce Beijing's most overrated burger restaurant.

21)  See what you missed!  -  17th December 2011
I was lucky enough to catch the 'Gig of the Year' at CD Blues Café (it had been almost completely unadvertised), a wonderful collection of jazz and blues musicians visiting from Chicago. The highlight was a blues guitarist called Junior Boy Jones. Here's a video of him in action.

22) A labour of love  -  23rd December 2011
I anthologise my jazz music collection for the owner of my new favourite local bar.

23)  Christmas (anti-)cheer  -  24th December 2011
For the holiday I post Christmas Sucks, a blackly comic seasonal song performed in the style of Tom Waits and Bauhaus' Peter Murphy - an odd little treat from the splendidly named band, Porn Orchard.

24)  The worst business card in the world?  -  27th December 2011
I think so! Hideous design and completely illegible. Of course, it could only be for a Chinese bar.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Looks like I picked the wrong week...

... to quit drinking... or.....

I thought I was out of the woods of temptation last week, and was going to be readily able to embrace my resolve to quit drinking - beer, at any rate. But this week I've found myself facing another leaving party and another birthday and another housewarming. We're just too darned social in this town!

But next week I'm giving up EVERYTHING - oh yes!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Bon mot for the week

"Friendship is a harmonious blending of mutual, private bigotries."

Edward Ashenhurst

A great line, but its author appears to be uknown to the Internet. 19th century, I would guess, but I've come up blank. Any ideas?

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Great Love Songs (34)

I discovered April Smith and The Great Picture Show by happy chance a month or so back when I was on holiday in England (the song below was being used to accompany a montage of clips promoting a tranche of upcoming shows on Sky TV). I gather they're a Brooklyn band who've been knocking around for a few years now, and put out their debut album Songs For A Sinking Ship in 2010 (with the help of fan contributions through Kickstarter!). Their style is not easily summarised; apparently one reviewer described it as "spaghetti burlesque" - which is a great phrase, but I have no idea what it is supposed to mean. A pleasantly eclectic mish-mash: a little bit indie, a little bit folkie, a little bit swing jazz. [Check out more of their music here and here.]

This song, Wow and Flutter, was a little difficult to track down from having heard only brief snatches on a TV trailer: the title - strangely! - is about the only metaphor for the experience of infatuation which is not included in the song itself. It's an infectious little number, zippy, fun, sexy, happy-raunchy (you can listen to the studio version here). I'm curious to check out more of their stuff.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Something new

Hanging out at roadside barbecue stalls has always been one of my favourite things to do in Beijing, or anywhere in China. But, wherever you go, it's always a nearly identical experience. I'd long ago given up hoping for any novelty from a chuanr joint.

But I was dining at such a place a few nights ago with some friends down in the Shuangjing district of south-east Beijing when we found that the food choices on offer were decidedly non-standard.

With a Chinese-only menu challenging our limited collective powers of character-recognition, we plumped for xia (shrimp), qiezi (aubergine), mantou (bread), and "small roast bird".

And it was a revelatory experience. I passed on the shrimp myself, since things of the sea disagree with me, but my companions assured me it was excellent. The aubergines were roasted whole, giving them a smokey, charcoal-y savour, and were dressed with an unusual, pleasantly garlicky sauce - not the bog-standard sweet'n'spicy yuxiang you usually get. And the birds, though tiny, were quite delicious, with a crisp, very salty skin and a slightly gamey flesh - like dark turkey meat. We speculated that they were quails, although I seem to remember that quail I've eaten in England years ago was slightly larger and rather different in taste. It could be "quail with Chinese characteristics", I suppose, a distinctive local variety; I note that the dictionary contains a number of different words for quails or "quail-like birds". I'm pretty sure the menu just said "small bird"; so, I suppose it might just have been whatever they happen to have been able to catch recently. Anyway, I'll be back to try that again - should probably order two or three each next time, to make a more substantial snack.
This chap seems confident these were quails; 
and they do look pretty much the same as what we ate

The real highlight of the meal, though, was the bread - a style none of us had ever encountered before (and two of my friends were seasoned tour leaders, guys who've been everywhere in China). It was Twinky-sized, had a crisp, glazed crust, and a fluffy centre - similar to, but lighter and less buttery than a croissant. It had a spiral or circular construction reminiscent of a croissant too. A Chinese croissant? Whatever next?! Damn, they were GOOD! I will be on the lookout for more of those. [I couldn't turn up any pictures of this type of bread online, despite a good long look for some.]

HBH 301

Addiction is easy
To break; but habits are hard -
The core of our lives.

I don't think I've ever felt a compulsion to drink, nor have I suffered any physiological or psychological dependence on alcohol. In fact, at the moment, the desire to not drink is very strong in me, far stronger than any 'inner urge' in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, I just don't really have anything else to do with my life.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Qixi, schmixi!

Qixi - a traditional Chinese festival which has evolved over the past decade or so into a "Chinese Valentine's Day" (and you can imagine how much I detest that idea!) - fell a couple of weeks ago this year. I had been thinking of writing something about it then, but I had no Internet access. In fact, I had been meaning to write something about it last year, but didn't get around to it because I was travelling a lot in August. So, this post is 13 months late. Ah, well.

Last year, "Lovers' Day" came around rather earlier, near the start of August. Its date is set by the Chinese lunar calendar - the easily memorable 7:7, the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.

I happened to be down in Yunnan at that time, and had been happily unaware of the imminent tsunami of slush. But as I wandered around Kunming on a sultry summer's evening, it became very obvious what was looming. Almost every shop seemed to have converted from its usual business into being a florist's for the day. Either that or a teddy bear shop. Or a chocolate shop. Many places were covering all three options, with huge displays of teddy bears, boxes of chocolates, and flowers outside. Many were also touting heart-shaped helium balloons. On more than one occasion, someone had thought it cute to suspend a teddy bear from a bunch of balloons with a string knotted around its throat. To me this seemed macabre, like some coded gangland threat - and a sinister omen for the night of "romance" ahead.

Bars and cafés were all hoping for a bumper night. Many had forests of pink helium-filled balloons outside, sometimes even fashioned into heart-shaped arches, to advertise their festive spirit.

But their hopes, it seemed, were being disappointed. Every single one I passed was completely deserted. The bar touts mooched dejectedly outside on the sidewalks, fretting that their labours all afternoon in erecting balloon arches had been wasted.

Still, it was early in the evening. Perhaps things would pick up later, after sundown. I decided to distance myself from all the balloon-festooned venues, and retired to one of the few restaurants that appeared to be having no truck with this nonsense.

I was upstairs, reading a book, not paying very much attention to my surroundings. I was vaguely aware that the sun had gone down, and that there had been a rising amount of foot traffic on the street outside. Then I was roused from my reverie by a sudden ROAR from down the street. It sounded like the growl of an angry mob, and my first thought was that two groups of lads were about to have a rumble - perhaps provoked by an argument over a young lady. But then I realised that the noise was not outside on the street, but inside a nearby bar. In fact, there were similar noises coming from almost every bar. Now that I started listening, I realised that there were sounds of agitation coming from downstairs in my own venue - so I went down to investigate.

I had quite forgotten, but the Italian Super Cup - the showpiece opening game of the Italian football season, between the winners of the previous year's league and cup titles - was being played in Beijing that day, between the two Milan giants, AC and Internazionale. The game was live on TV, and of course everyone was watching it.

So much for Qixi! I suppose it is possible that young couples might have arranged to go out together after the game. But that seemed unlikely: the crowds of football watchers were almost exclusively male, and after an evening of exciting bonding with their guy pals - and consuming rather more beer than the limited Asian alcohol capacity can cope with - the prospects for an intimate à deux with the girlfriend appeared severely unpromising.

I was strangely gratified to find that for the young urban Chinese male football trumps "romance" so emphatically. That is as it should be.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

New Picks of the Month

Reviewing the posts from three years ago this month was a bit of a depressing exercise this time, because I was reminded that September 2009 was a month of utterly disgusting weather - the warm autumn sunshine we usually get displaced by a neverending August of soupy humidity and pollution - and morbid preoccupation with the looming 60th Anniversary Celebrations of the founding of the PRC. This September is threatening to be similarly drab and oppressive: the awful summer sultriness - which usually breaks promptly at the start of the month, and occasionally by mid-August if we're really lucky - is still obstinately hanging around.

Anyway, September 2009 was a month of restricted - and mostly very glum - posting. Nevertheless, I will stick to my tradition of resurrecting a couple of picks of the best.

On Froogville I nominate In the not too distant future..., a post from the very beginning of the month. It's a humorous observation on Internet culture which is in fact one of my favourite posts ever - but seems to have garnered no attention whatsoever.

On Barstool Blues the choice is even more limited, but I think I'll go for You know you've been in Beijing too long... (god! I was saying this three years and more ago!), a funny piece of dialogue between myself and a favourite barmaid.

Traffic Report - the blog stats for August

Crikey! Despite being 'on the road' at the start of last month, and despite having no bloody Internet access for much of the first two weeks I've been in China, I somehow managed to keep up a pretty hefty amount of blogging.

There were 28 posts and nearly 13,000 words on Froogville.

There were 24 posts and 7,000 words on Barstool Blues.

This, however, might be the end of the road for my blogging. After years of enduring numerous assorted glitches and gremlins and interface inanities serially visited upon me by Blogger, the goddamned platform has just malfunctioned in such a huge and unforgivable way that I am thinking I'll have to try to migrate to another blog host... or else give up this frivolous hobby altogether.

Monday, September 03, 2012

A double bon mot for the week

"Without habits, life is just chaos."

Brad Greek (1960-2011)

"Without bad habits, life is insipid."


Sunday, September 02, 2012

Gosh, has it really been FIVE years??!!

Well, no, not for me, it hasn't. Apart from a few brief exploratory and fairly unmemorable visits in the spring of their first year, I didn't start hanging out in 12 Square Metres until the occasion of their 1st Anniversary Party - four years ago today.

From that day on, though, it quickly became a central part of my life. God, at times I really don't know what I would have done without it. Left China, probably....

Anyway, the talk of leaving China is rather more urgent and earnest now for nearly all of us; and, given the way Nanluoguxiang is going, the bar itself surely can't last another year.... so, today we're going to party like it's THE END OF THE WORLD. Because it is, kind of. Very nearly the end of an era, anyway, an important and fondly remembered period of my life.

I've been having a bit of a nostalgic wallow in the songs of The Beautiful South lately, having rediscovered a couple of their early albums while I was on holiday last month. This has long been a quirky favourite of mine, from their Blue Is The Colour album: it's Paul Heaton having a bit of fun with a Tom Waits impression (both in the lyrical style and the vocal delivery) - Liar's Bar. I've been looking for this on YouTube for years, but it's only recently started appearing. This is a rather good live performance from a short-lived Channel 4 music programme of the mid-90s called The White Room.

These lines seem particularly resonant when I think of the odd community of waifs and strays our little bar has attracted over the years. Indeed, they might well be my own epitaph! [Full lyrics here.]

He's a worldwide traveller
He's not like me or you
But he comes in mighty regular
For one who's passing through