Monday, June 11, 2007

A little of everything

Big nights out have been put on hold for a while, but the flood gates were opened again over the weekend with some fantastically impromptu 'not being home at a reasonable hour'.

Friday evening I was feeling tired from the week, but with slightly itchy feet. Bumping into one of the new, few expats in the campus I suggested we go for a quiet beer at a local bar. Being new to the area I thought I'd show him some of the more interesting places. There are plenty of expat hangouts in Wudaokou but most of them don't excite me much in terms of a decent night out. They tend to feel cliquey and though I'm happy to sit with a coffee in there on a Sunday afternoon reading or working, I often steer clear of them for big nights.

So, we ended up in Club 13, a very small local music venue where I've seen everything from punk to bluegrass and from ska-metal to electronica (a Korean/Japanese duo who made music with their Mac and children's squeaky toys - A Chinese friend of mine left in a state of panic after a few minutes mumbling something about noises from hell, a fair comment to be honest).

Anyway, the line up for Friday night was metal and though I wouldn't listen to this at home the few concerts I've been to have always had a lot of energy, a fun crowd and lots of amusing hair. The bands on offer were no exception and the hair quota was both through the roof and, on occasion, in the lights.

Between sets we went outside to talk 'the trouble with Chinese' and the history of string theory - always a pleasure.

By a little after midnight we were rocked out and the local area tour continued to the nearby hip-hop club. Another place which, though it may not play my favourite music, is always a good venue to have a good time and people watch - many people taking themselves extremely seriously on the podiums with most others simply enjoying the party. Hip-hop is big in China in both it's home and away forms and the locals really buy into the clothes, the dance moves and even the walk. Well worth going to a Chinese hip-hop club some time to see what it's all about.

2.30 came around and I found myself in a taxi going in unknown directions and ending up with friends in a karaoke club. Another Chinese experience which isn't to be missed. For non-Chinese speakers there's always a range of classic copy-write violating Western songs to be chosen and the ability to sing is not a prerequisite - believe me. In a room with just a few friends, the atmosphere is completely different from the painful full bar of strangers feel in the Western take on karaoke.

Saturday morning take II never really happened but I struggled to get some work done in the afternoon back in the expat bar I'd shunned the previous evening. A few coffees later and I was ready for some real research. Research in fact for my next postdoc position which will be in Santiago de Compostela. A French friend, currently learning Spanish before heading to South America, had told me about a party organised by the Instituto Cervantes which is the hub of Spanish culture in Beijing, and indeed in many other places around the world. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to meet some Spaniards and find out more about where I'd be heading later in the year I made my way by bus (not a trivial task in Beijing) to the East side of the city. This is the side where most expats live and heading over there which I do every couple of weeks always feels like stepping into another world. People are no longer spitting on the floor in the restaurants, the beers cost 3 quid a piece, the music is loud and frequently sung by Filipino duos and the neon is dazzling. Though there is a lot more going on in the East and there are some great events taking place, I wouldn't trade where I live for the 'more civilised' side of the city.

Anyway, the party was enjoyable and the Spaniards and South American's like to party. With free sangria flowing, Latino hips did their thing on the dance floor and popular songs were sung with knowing glances. We spent part of the evening with members of the Venezuelan consulate who, when they weren't salsaing everyone else into obscurity, were a lot of fun to chat with. It was also great to hear people rave about Santiago, though the rain was mentioned frequently.

The party started to die down a little before 2 as people made their way to other nightspots, so we headed to China Doll, one of the most fashionable clubs in the city. One of the lovely things about Beijing is that though there are some pretty decent clubs, I've never seen a dress code at any of them. That may mean that I haven't been to the right clubs, but the staff at China Doll, frequented by local models and businessmen with too much to spend, didn't blink as I walked in wearing my most casual out-on-the-town clothes. The music is laid back, slightly loungy house but on Saturday night it didn't hold our attention for long enough, so we departed for fish and chips, sat outside on a bench in the only authentic chippie in the city. I rarely pang for any food from back home but the occasional indulgence doesn't go amiss.

Yesterday was a little more work, some time at the gym, a fine meal in a local Sichuan restaurant with 6 others in the evening and a very slow after dinner pint in the beer garden, with the smells of street food mingling with the petrol.

Anyway, I thought I'd indulge as I haven't been talking much about social aspects out here recently. This week is going to be busy, my Couchsurfer will be heading off tomorrow, only to be replaced by another in a week or so, English corner should be back on, Chinese lessons continue, student supervision in string theory is on-going and my research leaps about in fun and unexpected directions.

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