Monday, December 11, 2006

Indeterminate states of consciousness

I'm in a cafe on a Sunday evening, slowly working my way through the all you can drink for a pound menu (all soft drinks so as far as I'm aware I'm not poisoning myself as is quite possible here). I've just finished a few hours work, though hours, minutes and days feel much of a muchness to me currently.

It's been a tiring but enjoyable weekend and I'm writing this in the few moments break while working as I'm not expecting much time to breath over the coming week or so.

Friday night started as many Friday nights here do: stuck in traffic in Beijing's non-stop rush-hour (my patience levels for Beijing drivers diminishes by the day). Eventually we made it to the karaoke palace to indulge in the free buffet and meet a swathe of new people.

This was a breakthrough event for me in some ways. I'm regularly surrounded by only Chinese but this was the first time I could take part in any real capacity without using English the majority of the time. This was partly because I was rather a novelty and so I was, on occasion, barraged with questions in Chinese left, right and centre. Some of which I managed to understand and answer with moderate proficiency. This shouldn't be taken out of context, it really was still very basic Chinese but there were moments when I didn't feel completely out of my depth.

The mix of people were from the TV and movie industry, several actors and actresses from one of the national movie channels, program buyers and sellers, a producers daughter (12 years old, to whom, at some unspecified date, I am obliged to chat to in English) and a theoretical physicist. One of the men had spent some time in Russia and when he was told (not by me) that I could speak Russian the mix of languages quickly escalated to completely incomprehensible levels. By the end (after the usual 'how much can the foreigner drink?' tests) Russian conversations were reduced to names of Russian places and 'Ochen harashoa' - very good. I'm not convinced that in the many hours I was there he realised that I understood almost none of what he said.

The actors and actresses were, unsurprisingly rather good on the microphone and this gave me some breathing space in which to save face. I did succumb to a few numbers with the actors doing a fine job of not looking in pain.

Post karaoke we headed to gui lu, ghost street, which has a huge selection of late night restaurants (something which is lacking in most of Beijing - many places are closed by 7 in the winter) and we hotpotted it through till around 3 in the morning.

Saturday day seemed to disappear by the time late lunch had been eaten and an hour doing some work in a cafe had been disturbed with pan-pipe versions of simon and garfunkle and the Righteous Brothers muzaked almost beyond recognition. We had another date with the TV execs, this time at Beijing's battle of the bands. Turning up at Tango club after a dim-sum meal at the superb restaurant next door we stood in a huddle of around 40 supporters for one of the bands, for whom the lead singer is the producer's sister's brother. Most of the bands were the usual, enjoyable, Mando-rock but the particular band we were supporting used a selection of Chinese traditional instruments and singing techniques, modernised into a sound which was actually superb (In a future posting I'll write about some of these instruments and techniques which are often very alien to Western tastes). I have a recording of the event which I will attempt to load up here when I can. Both luck and talent were on our side because they won, meaning that they will be heading to Malaysia for an international event.

Post battle we went to play pool for a few hours before heading to Banana club for a repeat of last year's gig with Carl Cox. Though written in overly-self-conscious tones, my review from last time stands and Beijing remains the city with the most enjoyable clubs I've ever been to. Eleven years on from my first dance floor experience (Josh Wink - Higher State of consciousness at a small club in Western-super-mare) I still get the same buzz when the crowd is euphoric and the base beats are rearranging your internal organs. Such feelings will presumably fade in time but not just yet.

So, getting back at about 4.30 this morning and enjoying a reasonably number of undisturbed hours of sleep I'm back to the present.

Time has done funny things again and it's now tomorrow so I should probably go.


Benjamin said...

Work hard, play hard, they say, Jon. Sounds like a lot of fun all round. A proper weekend, that.

Unknown said...

Hi Ben,

That they do say but it seems that they don't have to do theoretical physics. I'm working well this week but my body clock is a bit skewed. With an early start tomorrow to give a one and a half hour seminar the other side of town I'm struggling to keep going this evening.

Still, all good fun and I hope more to come.

Hope to chat soon,


Anonymous said...

Good luck with the Chinese. There's ALOT of it to learn but separating yourself from other foreigners can help!!
Cheers, Nik

Unknown said...

Hi Nikeroo, thanks for popping by.

Learning Chinese is pretty intimidating! I'm not sure that it's about there being so much of it though. In fact I find that understanding the degeneracy is the big difficulty. I've read that there are only around 400 monosyllable sounds (excluding tones) that it's possible to make in Chinese. The system by which most concepts are made of two monosyllables is relatively simple to learn to speak but it does make context so important.

You're absolutely right that immersion is the key but it's quite a leap to make. I'm not there yet but there are moments.

All the best,