The third week in China was relatively uneventful at first. Monday morning met us three Swedes hung over and tired after we had spent the Sunday night at a Japanese teppanyaki place. There was unlimited food and drink, and they cooked the food by the table. Most impressive handiwork by the cook, and somehow we managed to down quite a few bottles of sake. The last bottle was just a tad unneccessary, though. Somehow we got through the head-throbbing work day and then decided to have a quiet evening at the hotel, as soon as we had gotten some fast food to munch on.
“Hey, how hard can it be to find fast food here in the Central Business District? KFC is just by the hotel – let’s walk a bit further and search for something else.”
Well, we walked around the corner into the back alleys behind the hotel, and we were met by an amazing sight. In the front there’s a busy road with business people walking around busily, but behind the hotel is a (what looked to us) poverty-stricken area with run-down houses and Real Common Chinese people living their daily lives – completely hiddden from sight to us ignorant westerners. I have to admit that it felt a little like we would end up getting mugged as soon as we walked into one of the narrow passages, but that’s probably just common xenophobia – Beijingers seem to be very kind most of the time.
Tuesday was a slow day. Work and then movies on the computer in the evening; not much else happened. Speaking of movies: it’s irritating how many interesting sites are blocked in China. I’m not advocating piracy here, but I just started watching Hajime no Ippe: The New Challenger and it’s relatively impossible to get hold of the new episodes without resorting to fansubbed releases on torrent sites. However, all torrent sites are blocked in China! And even if I sneakily use a proxy to access the sites themselves I find that the actual torrent traffic is blocked too! Quite annoying.
And even more annoyingly, Lolcats and Cute Overload are blocked as well! I don’t see exactly how these can be deemed subversive and dangerous to the government, but damn you China! I want my daily dose of cute kittens! Thankfully it’s possible to set up an SSH tunnel to a lab server at work through my job VPN, and proxy HTTP traffic through that one. Yay, kitties!
Wednesday was a terrible day. We had a slow day at work – nothing worked as it should – and then we had a bad evening at Houhai. We walked around for ages looking for some suitable place to eat, and we ended up at a bar with a patio where we ordered three pizzas. Unfortunately, only one pizza arrived. After 45 minutes. We asked if the other two were coming, and the waiter looked surprised but only said “Uh, a moment! Coming soon!” It turned out that we had had a communications breakdown, and they weren’t even started. It would have been nicer to say that instead of hoping that we’d stick around for another 45 minutes. We sighed, paid for what we had eaten, and stomped off in search for more food.
We walked even further, and the next place was ridiculously expensive instead. It was even more expensive than Sweden – tourist price at its worst. Another disappointment. By now we had lost our good spirits (despite the gorgeous view at Houhai lake) and just wanted to get a cab to the hotel. Of course, that’s when we realized that – for some reason – all of the cabs present either didn’t know the location we wanted to go, or plainly refused to go there. Strange! I wonder why.
Thursday things got better. We went to a KTV place after work, and was treated to a wonderful karaoke evening, a buffet (with mystery meat) and beer. We learned that if you ask for Corona, Corona ye shall have. We simply wanted a bottle each to have something other than Tsing Tao, but the Coronas kept pouring in after that. I guess that it’s foolish to feel pity for an outsourcing company that benefits from doing work for us, but I still feel ashamed at the thought of how expensive those beers must be to them compared to us.
The karaoke was spectacularly fun, either way! We mixed Chinese and English songs, and some of the performers were very good indeed. One thing that’s quite different compared to Swedish karaoke is that ballads and slow songs are the most popular ones, unlike in Sweden where all the rock/pop classics are sung. I brought down the house with my rendering of Sinatra, but I should have stopped there: Summer of ’69 was way too high for my poor unused vocal cords.
Interesting events and opportunities for mental cultivation are plentiful in Beijing. On Friday we saw the premiere of an interesting version of Swan Lake in the Olympic Water Cube. Classic ballet was mixed with synchronized swimmers, Chinese gymnasts and divers. I wish I had read up on the story beforehand, though – I felt like such an uncultured lout when I realized that I had no idea what exactly was going on in the different acts and scenes.
The Olympic Park is a very pleasant place in Beijing, and very pretty at night when the stadium and the Water Cube is lit. It’s also huge and takes a long time to walk around.
I wanted to have a nice picture of myself posing in front of the stadium. Too bad that I look completely insane.
Saturday we went to Haidian, the electronics Mecka of Beijing. Sweet mercy, there’s a lot of crap there! We found some nice bargains: cute USB fans for 25 RMB, nice headphones for RMB 25 and a media player for 200 RMB. The media player is actually quite good! Its hardware is unknown, and the brand is unknown, but it supports many different music/video/text/image formats and I’ve been using it to watch documentaries on my way to work. Since it can handle video playback without any problems I guess that there’s either a fast > 1 GHz CPU in it, or it has a rendering chip with supports for many formats. The latter is probably most likely.
After that things went downhill. We found Danger Doyle’s, an Irish pub, and spent many hours drinking there. Good selection of beer, excellent rooftop patio, decent food, nice atmosphere. There was a birthday party on the roof, and they had a little masquerade with the theme “dress up as a song from the 80s or 90s.”
I thought we were there a few hours, but the clock was 1 AM when we walked out. About that time my colleagues wanted to go back to the hotel, but I wasn’t done for the night.
I revisited a few bars we had been to earlier, but around 2 AM things started getting…blurry. I distinctly recall talking to a Jamaican and some other people in a bar in Sanlitun, but after that things are very vague. I know that I left the place with some British and American businessmen who called med Sven, and that I lost my guidebook somewhere. (To my dismay! I had made notes of good places in it.) I also know that I played pool in some sleazy place somewhere, because I have a picture to prove it even though I don’t remember it at all.
Then I know that we went outside, and…did something…and went somewhere… Either way, the next thing I recall is that the clock is 8 AM, the businesspeople are leaving for the airport (’cause they have a flight at 10 AM), and that I’m left playing pool in a hotel bar somewhere with two hookers.
I guess that sounds pretty bad, but I assure you that I wasn’t aware of the fact at that time! It wasn’t until we walked out of the hotel bar and they asked me subtle things like “Should we go to your hotel?” and “Have you ever been with two Chinese girls?” that it dawned upon me what their line of profession was. I tried to get some insights by asking them if they feel comfortable with their occupation, and we had a nice little chat until they realized that I definitely wouldn’t do anything naughty with them out of respect to my girlfriend. That concept seemed quite odd to them and we parted ways shortly after that.
It’s an amazing feeling to walk around at 9 AM in the blazing sun in Beijing, broke, no idea where you are, with a drunken smile upon your lips because you’ve had a wild and crazy night.