Kun, suffering from a mean-ass cold and lacking any sense of smell, had us booked into a profoundly shitty 招待所 flophouse at Qianmen which looked kind of like a rabbit warren and smelled strongly of mildew. We stayed there the first night – my plane got into Beijing at 10:30 on the night of the 28th, by which point it was too late to go looking for another place to sleep – but the next day we set out first thing in the morning to find a place that didn’t smell quite so much like a long-distance runner’s sock.
Actually, we set out first thing in the morning for a state-run 包子 dumpling and 炒肝儿 stir-fried liver joint that Kun had read about in her guidebook. (I have a thing about eating innards, and refused even to try the 炒肝儿, having misheard it as 炒肛儿, “stir-fried rectum.”) It was a very state-run joint, complete with white-uniformed staff, high prices, shitty service, and, despite what Kun’s guidebook had said, lukewarm and entirely mediocre food. I dithered over whether or not to take a photo – taking pictures always makes me feel self-conscious even beyond the normal foreigner-in-China levels, and the staff looked to be of sufficient vintage to be the types who’d gladly seize my camera, arrest me as a spy, and denounce me in a 批斗会 public struggle meeting – but in the end I stealthed a couple of shots, my hands shivering in the unheated concrete building, and left.
After that, Kun and I walked back in the general direction we’d come from, crossing the street into 大栅栏 Dashilanr*, the footwear-shopping and prostitution capital of the late Qing dynasty. Now it was basically like any other “preserved” street: repaved with bike- and car-friendly artificial cobbles, lined with stores selling Li-Ning sportswear and overpriced teas. Also in abundance were small, cheap hotels. We stopped in the 大栅栏西街第一旅馆, enticed perhaps by its romantic name (“Dashilanr West Street #1 Hostel”), looked at a room, found it pleasant (or at least not unpleasant-smelling) and – at RMB 80 – well-priced, and proceeded to move in. After showers and a brief exploration of our environs – brief because Beijing, despite being on the same latitude as Philadelphia*, is fucking cold – we headed off for a dinner of Beijing duck with Kun’s cousin.
One of the things turned up by our survey was a grubby little ‘net bar of the type that used to be everywhere but has become an endangered species following a June 2002 fire at an illegal ‘net bar and subsequent crackdowns and regulations. It was here that we went to check our e-mail, and here that we found out about the New Year’s Eve show at the New Get Lucky.
The unfortunately-named Get Lucky bar has been a mainstay of Beijing’s underground music scene for, like, forever. Last year, the managers of Get Lucky opened a new branch on the equally unfortunately-named Women’s Street, a not-very-nice strip of upscale restaurants and bars. It is a basically tacky and overpriced place, but still an improvement in almost every respect over the original Get Lucky, which was located in the ass-end of the Chaoyang district and featured overpriced beer, waiters wearing overalls and checked shirts, and a bizarre faux-naval decor (complete with giant ship’s wheel) that did not jive, even ironically, with the punk and metal music emanating from the place’s stage.
I get weekly email alerts from that’s Beijing! magazine about upcoming events. The email bulletin for the week of New Year’s Eve mentioned that there would be a mega-show of punk and metal bands signed with Scream Records (嚎叫唱片) at the new Get Lucky. It promised to be a niubi New Year, and Kun and I decided to go.
I was trying to decide whether to translate niubi as “fucking badass,” to gloss it literally as “cow-cunt,” or to leave it in its Pinyin romanization. I think I’ll do the latter.
As mentioned, niubi literally means “cow-cunt.” The bi in question is 屄, pronounced with the first tone, and is not in many font sets. You can’t type it on a computer (unless you’re using a program like Wenlin), and most Chinese people don’t know how to write it, as it was officially removed from the Chinese character set years ago. It’s written with two components: the ‘body’ radical, and a semantic component pronounced xue4 and meaning “hole.” The frequency of its use is directly proportional to the number of taxi drivers, punk rockers, and foulmouthed schoolkids playing Counterstrike in your immediate area, and it is a delightfully dirty word, one everyone should know.
The first band to take the stage at the New Get Lucky was a band from Tianjin who wished us all a pleasant New Year, and that all our wishes might come true, and then launched into fairly decent hardcore. They played a few songs and were replaced by 泡泡糖, “Bubblegum,” whose name was an entirely fair and honest representation of their music.
More music followed: the high-energy punk of ‘1979,’ weird sampled funk-rap run through a hand-powered megaphone by 工兵, ‘Worker-Soldier,’ and then, as midnight drew near, 夜叉.
夜叉, I think, is one of the cooler names among Beijing bands. It’s the Chinese transliteration of the Sanskrit term yaksa, meaning a kind of demon. I always found the band itself to be disappointing, compared to its name, but on New Year’s Eve, they took the stage, wished us “the most fuckin’ niubi, fuckin’…fuck it, ‘s all bullshit,” and then launched into a rollicking number called “我肏这时代,” “Fuck These Times,” the chorus of which went “我肏这时代！ / 我肏这未来！” (“Fuck these times / And fuck the future!”). And as the band counted down to 2005, “fuckin’ 10! fuckin’ 9! fuckin’ 8! fuckin’ again: 10! 9! 8!–” the crowd went wild.
The next day, the new year inaugurated, Kun and I got on a train headed towards the other side of the country, for Chengdu…