Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas one and all!!! (and indeed happy Chanukah)

So, first a photo from last weekend when I visited a book fair at the worker's stadium. A lot of rubbish though some interesting overpriced design books almost tempted me.

Christmas day itself this year is a bit of a write-off for me but fear not, the last few days have been great and it's only because of my attempted unpushiness that today nothing is planned. I may find a cafe later and read a good book. This is fine.

So the last few days have included some extremes of parties from the very worst to the very surprising.

Friday night, another guy and myself had organised a get together in Wudaokou (very near where I live) with a couple of the forums. Altogether there where only eight or so of us but an enjoyable night nonetheless. However, on the way to meeting this group I felt it churlish of me to turn down a party I'd been invited to which was along the way. This was a 'carnival' organised by my gym for its members and friends and as I've met a few friendly people from there I thought I'd show my face. It was in one of the largest clubs in the area but I should have been somewhat worried that this party was from 7.00 till 10.30. At 8 it was in full swing, but what a bizarre swing it was. As I entered the main room, lights dimmed, a good few hundred people around a dancefloor and some nondescript music tweating from the speakers, I headed to the bar, ordered a beer and turned to face the crowd. Of the 500 or so people there I was faced with a sea of somewhat surprised people, all holding 'protocol sweat' health drink. I was the only unremorseful alcoholic in the room so it appeared. So we went to look at what was going on on the dancefloor and the answer was ten people wearing Santa hats looking distinctly awkward dancing with each other while the other 490 people looked on delighted. I simply couldn't fathom what was going on but my bemusement was briefly laid to rest as the lone guitar player stopped accompanying the Chinese semi-dance music and the dance floor cleared. After this there was some truly atrocious singing on stage following by a belly dancer with no belly in sight and a man jumping around, semi-clad, fighting off invisible enemies with kung-fu and considerable gusto. After finishing my beer and making sure all the invisible enemies had definitely been pummelled off the stage, I took my cue and left not really understanding what bizzare event I'd just witnessed.

Anyway, the evening improved distinctly with some decent musicians at an open-mike night followed by some fun dancing at 'Propaganda', a new, student oriented (read cheap drinks) club in my area.

Slightly hung-over, pretty tired and in the knowledge that it was Christmas eve, I didn't make it to the Saturday morning seminar in Mandarin on a subject I've seen many times before (the standard model of cosmology). I did make it in a little later to catch up with some e-mails and then head to the gym. At this point I was feeling somewhat disappointed that it looked like Christmas was going to be a complete write-off on all accounts this year. However things soon changed when I chatted to a German friend after the gym and arranged to come with them for Christmas eve dinner. I had no idea what was involved but this option sounded infinitely better than doing nothing. It turned out to be in a well known Belgian restaurant, and our table was a pretty decent mix of nationalities. Of the 16 of us, there were German, Dutch, Polish, Chinese, Singaporean, Maccau and a Brit. My dinner was a very pleasant (though expensive) surprise and I went for one of my favourite Benelux dishes of endives wrapped in ham in a cheese sauce washed down with a decent glug of some Chinese red wine. The people around me where the Singaporeans and Chinese who are all architects working for English architecture companies in Beijing. A really interesting bunch of people and it was very refreshing to chat about things I rarely get to talk about. They're all hugely enthusiastic about design and architecture and gave me a wealth of information about some of the really exciting things going on in the world at large and especially in Beijing. One of them is working on a project which, among the many thousands of building projects in Beijing, is almost certainly the most exciting. He told me about the new CCTV (Central Chinese Television) tower which is starting its ascent into the Beijing skyline. China is one of the few places that something as daring as this project would actually get done because, the company being run by the government has ultimate say-so and there's no possibility of backers throwing the towel in or arguments between rival interests. At 700 million usd it's a vast, exciting, daring design which will be finished by the Olympics and I can't wait to see it.

As an example of the man-power available in China, the 400 thousand cubic metres of concrete for the base of one of the two towers were delivered and deposited by a continues stream of trucks, three a minute, for three solid days... that's it, given enough people, stuff just happens at the click of the fingers, awe inspiring!

There were no set plans for after the dinner but the architects were all heading to a party in the 798 art district and I was welcome to come, so I did. 798 is a large area to the East of the city which used to be a vast assembly of munitions factories which worked as a commune, housing, and feeding an army of factory workers to arm China in the time of Mao. These are no longer used but have been converted into a really exciting group of studios for local artists. This is the sort of thing I really hadn't expected to exist in a place like China but there's a flourishing bohemian community of modern artists, experimental theatre groups and bizarre music production which is, at least to some extent, tolerated. So just before midnight, we arrived at one of these studios and sat down in the cafe, darkened, with atmospheric music, Czech cinema projected on one of the outside walls, drinking some excellent wine produced by the owner of one of the buildings and chatting about the fascinating projects going on at the moment. We also looked around the studio which was of a furniture design company, or so I thought. However, all the furniture appeared to be in a completely different styles and there seemed to be no coherence to the design. China, land of reverse engineering has many companies like this. It's not a design company in reality but they take design classics and make replicas for a quarter the price of the real thing. There were a few very famous pieces of design that I did recognise but I was assured by my architect friends that they were all very very well known pieces in the design world. It's a strange mix of a very bohemian feel with what is essentially an engineering company with the facade of design. Anyway, we stayed till almost two, toasting the newly arrived Christmas and chatting, including talking about a ski-trip which I'm going to go on in just over a weeks time. There are many ski-resorts with an hour or two of Beijing and I'm thoroughly looking forward to giving snow-boarding a go.

So because last night was such an interesting evening with great people, I'm not too bothered that nothing is arranged for today. Shortly I will go into the office to chat with family on the webcam as currently I can't connect at home and after that I will see what's going on in my favourite cafe. Certainly a different Christmas day but I had fully expected this when I came out here and am not disappointed with spending a chilled-out afternoon not watching the queen's speech. Plus, I've just opened my presents from my family and now have a fine selection of Christmas food and a fleece scarf which have bought a big smile to my face.

Merry Christmas to all.



So of course, as plans always change, I ended up going to the temple of heaven this afternoon. A great Christmas day stroll through some very impressive buildings and beautiful tree-lined avenues. A few photos including me along with brand new scarf.

Chinese traditional singers doing their thing.

Strange stars on the end of each twig...a possible Christmas tree for the non green fingered?


Anonymous said...

Merry Chrimbo Jon 'The Boy Biscuit Schockolate Choc-Chip-Shop Shock-Jock Hockey Puck Nick Nack Paddy Whack Trip Trap' Shock! Sorry your little gifts from the boy Cherry and myself didn't arrive in time, but they should be with you soon(ish). I raise my glass of champagne and transmit to you wirelessly the season's greetings! Sounds like you're having some awesome times there already - can't wait to jet on over and see for myself. Merry Christmas!

Michelle said...

Merry Christmas Jon!

I love the pic of you at the temple of heaven.

Luca said...

Merry Christmas ...

I've always wondered what would be a holiday, so celebrated (almost) everywhere in the western world, in the far east.

Btw the building looks terrific ... are many new modern and with daring design buildings in Bejing?

Unknown said...

SC - I wait with baited breath for whatever disgraceful gift you and the boy Cherry have sent in the knowledge that your last present was highly highly illegal!

Michelle - a very merry Christmas to you too. I can only put the good picture down to fine camera work.

Luca - China is in a strange state of transition at the moment. The younger generations are beginning to embrace Christmas (in it's commercial guise) while the older generations don't like it at all (to a large extent). There are decorations everywhere, piped Christmas carols everywhere and people in most restaurants are dressed in Christmas costumes but come Christmas day, it's just business as usual. Certainly no Turkey and all the trimmings though that may be down to bird flu!

Most of the new buildings coming up in Beijing seem to be going up as fast as possible thought there are many interesting designs around. I think it's mainly because it is a government building (essentially) and of course because they're trying to impress come 2008 that this one is particularly outstanding. Already much of Beijing looks like any other densely populated city with skyscrapers as far as the eye can see. I hope that the government does have the foresight to begin more of these daring projects.

Anonymous said...


Have you seen 2046 yet? I saw part of it at the Watershed a year ago or so. "Beyond me" doesn't begin to explain quite how utterly lost I was... If/when you do see it, could you post a resume so that I can pretend to people that yes, I have seen it, and yes, I do understand it. Perfectly...

Anyway, all the best to you. I feel like I should be paying a subscription fee, your chat is genuinely interesting (apart from the Physics in italics bit!!)

Happy Chrimbo


Unknown said...

TH - many thanks and Merry Christmas. I'll do my best with the 2046 review. There are still some bits of In the Mood for Love that I'm a little confused about but I'll see what I can do.

I'll keep including physics bits and bobs when they I fancy baffling/intriguing people but quite understand anyone who wants to skip said paragraphs.