Friday, March 09, 2007

Beijing by Night

Having spent the last 5 months in a town who's idea of nightlife consisted of a gut busting load of dumplings, a few slugs of baiju and a trip to the local bathhouse (not really my scene), one of my first questions upon arriving in Beijing was - “where can a guy get a beer, listen to bad pop music, scare Korean girls and second hand smoke his way through a pack or two of cigarettes?”. Turns out that in Beijing – almost everywhere.

Aside from my favoured musical haunt, Wudaokou offered many watering holes with varying levels of notoriety/quality/price. Further across town there is the famous Sanlitun bar street, the place to go if you want to be hit on by Chinese girls looking for a drink from a wealthy laowai; watch the spoilt, 16 year old children of diplomats and foreign business men hook up (there's no minimum drinking age in China); buy dodgy cigars from street pedlars, or even dodger substances from pedlars just a little off the street; or pay a ridiculous amount of money to some tuxedoed gorilla to step into a gaudily neon lit, 'European' styled bar with soft porn on huge screens and drinks that cost two hours salary. Generally most people just choose to get obnoxiously drunk.

One thing that almost every bar I went to in Beijing had in common though, was their music playlist. I'm pretty sure they produce the Djs at some factory somewhere, all perfectly tuned to spec. The following is a list of songs I never wish to hear again (but I no doubt will, upon my next visit to Beijing)

Dr Dre – the Next Episode

Shakira – Hips don't lie

That one by Beyonce

Anything released by Snoop Dogg in the last 2 years

My Humps (though I never wanted to hear that song ever anyway)

House of Pain – Jump Around (and anybody who knows me well will know how it pains me to say that)

Anyway, in my local area, there were two bars of particular note – Zub and Propaganda. Zub because it had two for one cocktails on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and is owned by a New Zealander (who I didn't get to meet) so stocks that finest of intoxicants – 42 below vodka. Now this will only impress a very select audience (ie those who are from New Zealand and who have some familiarity with China/Chinese drinking customs) but this poster so amused me when I spied it above the men's urinal, that I had to 'souvenir' it. Sorry Zub.


I think its worthwhile to spell out the text here:

So we didn't invent paper

or gunpowder

whatever bro

we still kick the shit out of Baiju

GanBei Motherfucker*

And the small text at the bottom:

Sure. Baiju is great sometimes, like the time I accidentally super glued my finger to my left nut, and let's face it, it's great for removing those stubborn stains that just won't come out, but when I want to take a shot of a clear liquid I choose the spirit that won't polish the glass – cheers.

Bear in mind that this is how a major, publicly traded company in New Zealand chooses to advertise in the (world's largest) overseas market. This is the equivalent of going to France and telling them that their champagne is horse urine and they should all drink our Riesling instead, except that in this case almost a quarter of all people in the world are French.

I think its bloody fantastic.

Right next door to Zub, lies its evil twin, Propaganda aka, The Black Hole.You won’t ever find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. Its the first bar I've ever been to where every patron is given a pat down and a swipe with a metal detector upon entry. The cloak room is staffed by the most stern and hard faced ayi I've seen in China, the décor is dark with neon highlights, booths full of rich Chinese kids drinking Chivas and green tea upstairs, and a grimy dancefloor downstairs, replete with 'oh what did I do last night' podiums and a raised 'browsing' area. The clientèle is an eclectic mix of Koreans, Chinese, and, for some odd reason, the single most stereotypical representatives of each and every other nation you can think of. Seriously. From Kazakh's straight out of Borat, to an overly amorous French guy who constantly tried to start arguments about the All Blacks (but backed down in the face of the Rainbow Warrior, preferring to blame that on the Americans), to a drunk and surly Irishman who demanded to know whether I was of Catholic or Protestant stock, tall West African's in oversized basketball tshirts, seedy Russians with gold chains and mesh shirts, smooth Italians with greasy hair, and of course the obligatory compliment of obnoxious Americans. Then of course there was me, and though reports are inconclusive, I'm sure there were times when I was something less than a perfect ambassador for my own nation.

I somehow managed, perhaps on the basis of a misappraisal of my wealth, to snag a VIP membership to this particular establishment. What this meant was that I was able to enter for free, purchase two drinks for one most nights, and most importantly of all, on Wednesday, I was able to drink as much as I was capable of, between the hours of 10pm and 4am, for the princely sum of 50 RMB.

Just to put that into perspective, 50 RMB, at today's exchange rates is about:

$9.40 NZ

$8.23 AUS

$6.40 US

That's right. For less than $10, you could drink all of the cheap, watered down, nasty hangover inducing liquor that you could possibly force down. It was a terrible, terrible thing.

When in the Wu, our nights would end with a trip to the fluorescent nirvana of the local 7/11, where they had managed to improve upon the timeless classic of Chinese boazi (steamed buns) by replacing the traditional fillings with a small sausage. The non-question 'yo wiener ma?' was slurred many times to the poor store clerks, who were no doubt bemoaning their fate at being assigned to a 24 hour munchie stop nestled between popular expat bars.

When in Sanlitun however, there was no better place to end the night, than a stop at the A Hole.


My liver and brain welcome my return to Liaoyang.

* for those not in the know, Gan Bei literally means 'dry glass' and is a common Chinese toast that you will come to dread. Baiju, the national poison of choice, is explained here.


Shaan Khan said...

Nice blogging about Beijing. Just thought I'd mention that those VIP cards at Propaganda are a load of BS, anyone can get in for 50kuai on Wednesdays for all you can drink(and I think girls get in for less). Otherwise yeah, you pretty much got the place nailed for what it is...

if you didn't get a chance, next time check out KAI/Shooters/Poachers in Sanlitun, as well as The World of Suzie Wong.

Ben S - 笨 said...

Hey way to destroy my dreams of being a Very Important Person.

Kai was okay, but when I went to Shooters, everybody was under 18 and making out. I wasn't drunk enough to be okay with that.