bar street

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.

Comments (16)

  1. mjumbewu wrote::

    it’s funny. i look at my clock (11:48 PM, July 23, 2002) and then at the timestamp on your post. it appears you’ve mastered time travel, for i’m responding before you actually post your stories.

    – mjumbe

    Wednesday, July 24, 2002 at 3:50 am #
  2. Derek wrote::

    Perfect Execution and Perfect Style. Jeez louise when’s a publisher going to notice this?

    Hi Brendan.

    I remember Sanlitun, theres something o so depressing about the copying of copied images upon images upon images – eventually you get it wrong and by the time you realize it its too late. But at least its live music!

    Wednesday, July 24, 2002 at 10:56 am #
  3. Jenn wrote::

    Now shut the hell up. Loser.

    Thursday, July 25, 2002 at 6:21 am #
  4. Katie wrote::

    I can’t wait to hear the stories of your first real get-together at the Velvet. I already know what they will sound like, but I’m looking forward to them nonetheless.

    (BTW, James and Suzy have habits of playing the same CD’s OVER AND OVER AND OVER. They don’t care if you mess with the sound system or bring your own CD’s. And if you come across a Blink-182 CD–it’s mine. Steal it back)

    Thursday, July 25, 2002 at 11:04 am #
  5. Stewart wrote::

    No, Belinda, I have yet to step onto that godforsaken land as well. But something tells me it might be fun..or life-threatening. Either way I look forward to it one day.

    Friday, July 26, 2002 at 1:01 am #
  6. Your worldliness is starting to piss me off. I couldn’t care less about your drunken bar buddies; where’s the Communist poontang at? You need to stop drinking beer and start getting ass.

    Am I the only one who comments here that hasn’t already been to China?

    Keep in touch.

    Love Belinda

    Friday, July 26, 2002 at 4:09 am #
  7. Anonymous wrote::

    Yo: I’ve arrived in your ancestral home, and the ancestral telephone doesn’t quite work, as such. So this post is for yo momma as well as you. Bruce and Claudia were there, and greeted me with ‘where’s Conal?’ ‘why did Conal not Come?’ etc. Bruce is disappointed becuase he want4edw to show Conal how he can crack his (i.e., Bruce’s) nose the way Conal did last year.

    Saturday, July 27, 2002 at 12:35 pm #
  8. Sinead wrote::

    To Whom It May Concern:

    Brendan’s cell phone number is 011 86 13945095424. Buy a prepaid phone card at an Asian grocery, and share in the adventure. Don’t forget the 12-hour timezone difference.

    When last heard from, Brendan had arrived in Guangzhou after a 37-hour hard-sleeper train trip.

    Sunday, July 28, 2002 at 9:07 am #
  9. Sinead wrote::

    Update: Brendan is in Beijing–at least until Saturday 8/3–and his cell phone card seems to have run out.

    Saturday, August 3, 2002 at 5:23 am #
  10. ron reinoehl wrote::

    I met your Dad and brother in ninth st. a few minutes ago; heard the means of your departure was quite a saga.

    Sorry we didn’t get a chance to talk before you left, but I have enjoyed reading your web pages. You write beautifully.

    Let’s get in touch when you and your new web are settled.

    Monday, August 5, 2002 at 2:44 am #
  11. Anonymous wrote::

    congratulations, brendon, your site has officially been blocked by the people’s republic of china. i had to use a us proxy to get to this site. hope you’re having a blast xiao bairen

    Tuesday, August 6, 2002 at 2:39 am #
  12. donny wrote::

    congratulations, brendon, your site has officially been blocked by the people’s republic of china. i had to use a us proxy to get to this site. hope you’re having a blast xiao bairen

    Tuesday, August 6, 2002 at 2:39 am #
  13. Brendan wrote::


    Whatever. Anyway: I’m in Beijing for another day, at least, and will have some pretty tamade entertaining entries once I get back to Harbin.

    Also, my phone appears to be working again. The gods are smiling or something. Everybody is welcome, by which I mean required, to call.


    Wednesday, August 7, 2002 at 5:19 am #
  14. Bridget wrote::

    Call… right… fuck. I need to add that to my list of things to do. I will at some point, honestly–but it’s probably going to take until I get back to school; my house has suddenly exploded into insanity, one of my roommates is making me drive to Newark so I can say hello, take a futon, and drive back to Philadelphia (long story) and so forth and so on.

    Hope you’re doing well; hope the entire passport thing hasn’t got you thrown in a jail cell yet, blah blah blah.

    Thursday, August 8, 2002 at 7:10 am #
  15. Anonymous wrote::

    Your phone is not working again–get a selection of helpful messages saying that you’ve locked it, it’s not in service, etc. Vaguely Python-esque

    Tuesday, August 13, 2002 at 7:06 am #
  16. Lili wrote::

    Yo B~ I love hearing about all the little things that us native miss. Gotta love the city…

    Wednesday, August 14, 2002 at 4:15 am #