January 22, 2008

Far Out in The Far East

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CHIIIINNAAAA!!!! WOOO CHINAAAAA!!! We are halfway across the world! Let’s get smashed! Anyway, that’s the general idea when The Sun goes down in a foreign country (or when The Sun goes out). Red flag. No pun intended.
There are approximately 15 million people in the city of Beijing, and 99 percent of them go to bed before you begin pre-gaming. Despite this, we managed to find our way to some hotspots (and not-spots) over the course of our stay in China.
On our first night of going out, we were still quite jetlagged and didn’t feel like braving the 8-lane crosswalks of Beijing without surgical masks or fully replenished flasks. Still, being hearty Cornellians, we wanted to get our drink on somewhere to celebrate the Big Red in the biggest, reddest country there is.
We foraged around our hotel compound, turned right at the TGI Friday’s (after Jonny Lieberman ’08, Sun editor-in-chief, took a picture with a waitress) and settled into the dimly lit and mostly empty Bar George. Quiet British and German murmurs wafted below the paintings that were fastened to the ceilings — it was unclear whether or not the decorator knew that this was unconventional — and the very genial bar-staff stared at us both before and after we ordered.[img_assist|nid=26725|title=Pink ladies|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
The ladies in our group decided to try out two “Pink Ladies,” after combing through the menu. [Note: generally in Chinese restaurants and bars, if there are menus, they will only give you one.] When the drinks arrived at the table, the ice cream-based concoction looked like a Pepto Bismol martini, and tasted much the same. It was slightly reassuring, though, since I was convinced that the authentic Chinese food would persuade me to take some Peptol Bismol during my stay sooner or later.
We woke up the next day after having slept approximately 28 hours, so there was no way we weren’t going all out and getting “fratty” in Beijing. When I took out my Texas Instruments calculator to figure out the mathematics — when in China! — I guesstimated that we were probably the frattiest people in Beijing at that very moment, especially me, and lesser so Jonny.
Showing up with a handle of Barton’s and ringing some doorbells doesn’t work as well in the Far East, though, so for our first real outing in Beijing, we consulted the Lonely Planet city guide Matt Hintsa ’10, Sun senior photographer and voted “Most Prepared” in our China superlatives, had packed next to his Trader Joe’s paraphernalia (long story). Jonny snatched the book and basically closed his eyes, spun around a few times, and pointed to something. Opening his baby greens, he officially determined that our first stop would be a place called Lush. We took the book down to the concierge at the Beijing Friendship Hotel who was, appropriately, quite friendly, and he wrote down the address in characters for us. We swiped some hotel business cards so we could assumedly find our way back, and we cabbed it 40 minutes away to god knows where.
Everything is 40 minutes away in Beijing. We hopped out of the cab by a McDonald’s and had zero idea where we were. It was Ithaca-quality freezing and none of us had the cojones to ask anyone where Lush was, even though we saw a few non-Asian people who, odds are, knew English. One guy outside of a “tattoo” parlor asked Jonny if he wanted a massage, but he didn’t know where Lush was. We saw a neon sign across the street for a hotel and think we might have some luck finding an English speaking concierge thattaway, so we risked our lives to get over to the other side only to find a new and different labyrinth for the hotel’s entrance. After running up and down the street to find this bar and not to succumb to hypothermia, we saw a bookstore café with people crowding on the stairway. Ahoy, Lush. Pretty small, kind of dingy. Rebecca Shoval ’09, Sun managing editor, ordered us some Chinese beers and I vulture for a table. We sat and listened to, as Jonny called him, “the Asian Jack Johnson” but we got pretty bored so Jonny walked up to a guy standing up and asked him if he knew somewhere we could go to dance. As he did this, Rebecca commented to me that it might be a better idea to preface these sorts of inquiries with a “Do you speak English?” and of course, this guy was French Sudanese and spoke very little. D’oh.
The Sudanese guy turned to his friend and asked her to help us. She was a French-Cuban British emigrate who had also lived in Belgium and now goes to school in China. Hannah was her name and she got super excited that we go to Cornell — the “Oxford of America.” We were all like “wha eva” but she invited us to roll with her motley crew: her and the original guy, a Spaniard, a Mexican and the Spaniard’s girlfriend from the south of China. Suddenly most of the conversations were in Spanish, una idioma que nosotros entendimos. Qué suerte.
We walked ten minutes away to a club called D-22, but didn’t end up going in because they had a cover for non-Chinese people (which apparently is not that un-common in Beijing). Hannah, the ringleader, sported heels and let her discomfort be heard. I was wearing Ugg slippers, and I learned a lot of British swear words. She hailed us cabs for our walk back to Lush since that was near the location of our next stop, Propaganda. The club was one of, if not our favorite, in China. It catered to westerners and Koreans, which we discerned from the languages of the coat check instructions, as well as the framed, actual propaganda it had on the walls. We ordered some Long Islands to bring some Ithaca over to Beijing and busted some moves in the basement dance floor with our new friends to music that we’d heard in every basement on west campus. Fratty, indeed. [img_assist|nid=26726|title=Approaching 2008|desc=|link=node|align=right|width=|height=0]
On New Year’s, we decided it was a good idea to pre-game, for many reasons –– the most notable being that our Cuban-British-Belgian-etc. friend from the other night warned us that sometimes bars in China would give you a Red Bull-like alcohol substitute in your drink, which you wouldn’t even realize until you felt a sickness worse than tomorrow’s hangover. This made sense to us considering all the news we’d been hearing about generally unsafe products coming from China lately, so we entered the hotel mini market (right across from the athletic center where you can play “Snooker Tennis”) and bought a bunch of Coca-Cola, Minute Maid orange juice, some Stoli and a bottle of Champagne. It was New Year’s, after all. Rebecca hooked up her new fake iPod speakers and we had a Neutral Milk Hotel-Warren G dance party while we packed up some of our stuff for our next day’s flight to Shanghai and got ready for that night.
After the four of us used our hotel’s glasses to toast to China, we headed out to Sanlitun (pronounced Sanliterrrr,) which was another one of Hannah’s recommendations. It was colder this time around, maybe because we got lost for even longer. Sanlitun is probably the size of the city of Ithaca, and we had no points of reference except for a Hooter’s. Loathing the idea that we would spend our New Year’s Eve in a Beijing Hooters, we asked a visibly wasted white guy if he knew where Mix (our destination) was, and he mumbled something about it being by the Outback Steakhouse. No joke. I mean, I know technically we are closer to Australia but come on. We warmed up momentarily in someplace claiming to be an “Irish Pub” and basically sprinted in the direction of Outback Steakhouse/Australia. [img_assist|nid=26727|title=After the New Year|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
We saw Mix in the distance, sighed and panted in relief. We walked up to the dangling strips of plastic that are ubiquitous substitutions for actual doors in Beijing, parted them and enter the smoking room with pumping bass. The cover was exorbitant that night since they don’t usually attract foreigners on New Year’s, so we moseyed across the street to Vic’s to see if the cover was any better. I think that America should adopt a policy that clubs across the street from each other should have rhyming names — the Palms and … okay, maybe not.
It’s actually hard to miss said Outback Steakhouse at Vic’s because, well, it cuts the club in half. Both exits are on either side of the restaurant, and the club itself is right underneath where those Aussies eat their steaks and listen to didgeridoos. Nonetheless, the music was pretty good if not uncomfortably loud, and they had some little extras for us to feel at home on New Year’s like glowsticks (brought me back to my time on the Bar Mitzvah circuit) and a giant “2008” ice sculpture.
For all their hospitality, though, we didn’t think they quite understood the concept because after they did the countdown and we all got excited, Rebecca glanced at her watch and it read 11:52 p.m.