Hey, kids. I’m travelling around ’til the middle of August. I might be able to post before then, but I wouldn’t count on it if I were you. So behave yourselves, huh? See y’all in 3 weeks. My cell phone number is (011 +86) 13 94 509 5424, A call – at any time – would be welcome.
It’s hard to say which hits you first when you get out of a cab onto Sanlitun, the heat or the touts. The latter run after you yelling “Hello? Ladybar? Lady? Look?” and the former is humid and polluted, left over from the afternoon, and will be gone soon.The rumour is that all of Sanlitun will be gone by the end of the year, but that doesn’t stop hip young Chinese and expats from coming here. Bars line the street, some of them slick productions and others lit with Christmas lights wound around plastic lawn furniture. The foreigners generally end up at the former, most of which have live music and fancy drinks.
To the north is Sanlitun proper, also known as Jiuba Jie – “Bar Street.” About a block away is South Bar Street, a dusty alley lined with more college bar-type places and populated by 6 year-old girls trying to sell flowers. Stuff here tends to be a bit cheaper and nicer, and at any rate, it’s lower on the touts.
At River Bar, I meet Christophe, a Canadian consul. He’s from Quebec, and claims that his English is rusty, so we speak only in Chinese. He’s been here for four years – he arrived in Beijing around the time that Sanlitun first sprang up – and comes here frequently. At one point, I complain about the Beijing accent and ask him if he ever has any problems understanding it.
“Sure,” he says, “all the time. But you know, I think it’s something about the northeast part of a country. I’m from the northeast of Canada – and you’re from the northeast part of the States, too, right? So you know, that kind of attitude, like, ‘This is our thing, our accent. If you don’t understand it, then fuck you; that’s your problem.'”
Jukka is from Finland. He owns a Mexican restaurant here in Beijing – he gives me his business card – and supplements his income from that by appearing in bit parts as Americans or British in Chinese movies and TV shows. “Good money,” he says, “but a bit of a minstrel show.” I meet him in Rainbow Time, where I’ve been talking with Sean and his lady friend.
Rainbow Time is closing up – it’s 4:30 – and Sean leaves with his friend to watch the flag being raised on Tian’anmen Square. I ask the waitress if Jukka and I can take our beers with us. “Sure,” she says, “but we have to go. We’re supposed to close at 2.”
So we walk down the alley a little to a shack selling cigarettes and roast chicken. Jukka orders some – “I know the owner here,” he says – and another couple of beers. It soon becomes obvious that he’s had far too much to drink, and so when he finishes his chicken, I announce that I’m leaving – the sun’s coming up – and suggest that he do the same.
When I see him again the next night, he does not know who I am.
Paul sings at Durty Nellie’s Irish Pub, just across the street from River Bar. He’s from Dublin – “Monaghan, actually. A country boy.” – and goes back and forth between the two branches of Durty Nellie’s with his band. They play a strange mix of cheesy mickery – “Danny Boy” and “The Wild Rover” – and trad sets and U2 and Van Morrison covers.
I ask him if people here actually like trad music, and he lets out a sigh.
“I’m so fuckin’ sick of Irish music. All of us are; jaysis. An’ the worst – U2? You like U2?”
“In small doses.”
“I fuckin’ hate ’em.”
He and the others have been in Beijing for about four months. None of them speaks more Chinese than you’d find in the first couple pages of a phrasebook – their vocabulary is limited to “hotel,” “thank you,” “no,” and “beer.”
I have no idea what they’re doing here, and when I tell Paul this, his expression says that he doesn’t know either.