Dancing In The Dark

Um, I’ve been busy again, and another month’s slipped out of sight into the Beijing haze. Apart from the stifling sauna / oven heat (depending on the time of day), which forces me to buy 600ml bottles of ice cold Nanjing Pi Jiu (that’s beer to you) and sit in my pants under the air con, I’ve been planning my wedding. Yes, I’m married already (see earlier Stamp Collecting blog entry), but that was just paper. Then we did a photo shoot in June. We are spreading it out, see, to seriously increase our Facebook congratulations tally; or in the words of Blackwatertown, to compete with Betty and Dickie Taylor on the number of weddings front (only to ourselves, mind, not several other progressively younger people). But anyway, the wedding’s this month, and things are getting hectic. Various international and north Chinese clan will land in Beijing these next two weeks, and it’s our job to shuttle them into their hotels, brief them on how not to cross the road, and make sure they see the most Beijing has to offer. As well as finding a way to look smart AND not sweat on the wedding day, I have had to source some appalling quality Queen, Michael Jackson and ABBA karaoke DVDs, in the hope that some of my guests might contribute some vocals to the night’s festivities. The crate of imported Spanish Cava should help things along.

Anyway, those are my excuses.

But, I remain the only Fuxingman in Fuxingmen, and here is the latest news (and it might actually end up shorter than the preamble):

As soon as the snow disappeared in April, something happened. Every night at dusk, strange little men all over Beijing started appearing in parks, next to their home made sound systems: bicycles, with huge cupboards bodged onto the back, even huge-er speakers poking out at random angles, like something out of Yellow Submarine. Some have deluxe bicycle trailers, allowing for a sleeker, more sophisticated rig. Most of these guys are old. They presumably have conventions where they get together to compare bodge quality, after they spend the winter building the things in their sheds. No it’s not the refugees from Major’s criminal justice act nineteen ninety whatever it was. They didn’t all run away to China. But they have come to party.

These rude boys fire up their systems when it gets dark, sending a bizarre mixture of Latin, Techno and Europop into the summer night’s sky. And the Wild Rumpus Starts.  Suddenly all the local old folks appear. Or rather they don’t because you can’t see them. It’s dark. But they’re there. Dancing the cha cha, or the tango, or whatever mix of ballroom dancing they feel like. If you stare hard enough into the pitch blackness, you can just about make them out. Filling the whole park, twirling and trotting around. All perms, comb-overs and wide waists, two-ing and fro-ing delicately. But dare you go in…? It seems too exclusive.

It’s the old folks again you see. I’ve blogged about this before too. They’re everywhere. Tai Chi-ing in the morning, playing ping pong in the afternoon, and dancing… in the dark… in the evening. They rule, they’re the boss. They take no shit.

So my obvious question is, who knows what’s going on in there, when the sun goes down? Every time I walk past (there’s a small park right by us, pitch black, booming happy-house music), my depraved English mind wanders. A twirl here, a grope there, a fondle… and onto a new partner. I wonder. Could it all be happening in our very own local park, right beneath our balconies? Maybe this is the long sought after secret behind millennia of Chinese social stability.

And the youngsters can only gaze into the darkness, waiting for their time to come…..

Getting serious for a moment, WHY HAVE WE LOST THIS? Brits I mean. This is where the whole of the local community gets a chance to meet each other and TALK. It’s free (although I’m sure they bung Mr Sound System a few Kwai for his trouble). There is no booze. Inner city or not, you see this all around China. An urban space is there to be USED, and has been designed as such. Not JUST to walk through, sit quietly in, or look at. I’m sure there was a time when people in England met in squares for a dance every night. But because the music changed, somehow it all got confused. There are no complaints here that they’re not dancing to traditional Chinese folk music. They are dancing to banging thumping loud modern dance music, albeit a slightly strange brew. And they like it like that.

Why, at the merest hint of loud music, or social gathering, do we clamp down on it, taking the lone voice of complaint as a higher priority to the enjoyment of the many? Or let bureaucracy dictate that any outdoor event with amplifiers must be sanctioned, insured, risk assessed to the max, and be inoffensive to anyone (impossible).
When it’s an accordion and a man with a beard with his finger in his ear on a village green, it’s apparently OK. Or a raving Christian with a megaphone on a street corner, or even Sunday church bells – why that’s not an offensive noise at all is it?

Britain is too watered down, diluted and stuck in reverse gear. China bubbles. But for how long?

Here is a picture of the old folks dancing


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Oral Assault

It’s been a week of heightened senses.
The July August soup-a-bowl is here, when the hot wet air stubbornly sits in the hole in the mountains that is Beijing, and doesn’t move for two months. The fresh breezes and clear skies of June are gone. It’s a free sauna. Men stand around like proud peacocks, t shirts rolled up, displaying varying stages of midrift expansion; the sun disappears completely till Sept; and westerners like me forget their “I’m not going to use my eco-murdering air con this year, I can handle it” sentiment within seconds of walking into the house, ignoring all good advice, to stand, semi naked, like Michael Jackson performing Earth Song, and have a good old dry off under the icy blast. This is the first time I’ve been in Beijing since the Olympics, and it’s brought it all back to me. Nowhere else have I experienced such extremes and variations in weather. There’s a pervading dank smell everywhere, which I can’t put my finger on, but it keeps making me want to clean the bathroom.

In said bathroom at the weekend, this writer gurgled a load of disinfectant he thought was mouthwash. Lack of English label aside, I blame the wife, who happened to be waving the disinfectant bottle around when she told me she couldn’t find any Listerine at the shops. It took me about ten seconds to realise my mistake, and only after I’d spotted pictures of gleaming sinks and toilets on the back of the bottle (stars used to portray levels of gleam). The effect was amazing – I could taste it for days afterwards, and my tongue went completely numb for 24 hours.
It came in very handy the next day though, when I went to see Doctor Wong for some route canal treatment. Excellent dentist that he is, the Chinese have a policy of avoiding anaesthetic injections if they can help it. They probe around, they tap, they start drilling, telling you to tell them if it hurts. The idea being that the tooth is buggered, and maybe the nerve’s gone too…. and aren’t we really a bunch of wusses. All OK actually at first. I convinced myself I could be Marathon man, spurred on by my wife, who proudly outlined how she’d had a whole crown done without any injections or pain killers. As soon the drill started grinding into my tooth I knew I was doomed to fail. I spasmed my body just enough to make Larry Olivier aware that I’d felt a twinge. Give me the biggest injection you’ve got, and make it snappy, I don’t want to feel a thing. I made it very clear.

Later that same day, bottom lip curling down to the left, I was squeezed into a corner of Paddy O Shea’s, along with more English people than I ever knew lived in Beijing, and a smattering of Germans. Football’s coming home pinged out from the speakers, and it was more fanatical than being in a pub on home turf. And very very hot. All emotions (including astonishment) were wildly overplayed, in the knowledge that this small Irish island was the only true corner of England (eh?) in the city. Taxis slowed down to look, people stared in at the truly bizarre spectacle of hundreds of (rather mature I must say) expats who should know better, crammed into a bar singing and shouting and misbehaving in increasing desperation. One young inebriated German, painted of face, decided he would spend the last 20 minutes standing by the big screen. Facing the crowd, and draped in a flag, he kept performing something very close to a certain salute that one just doesn’t do. One put out English woman eventually lost the plot with him, and it looked for a moment like there would be trouble at ‘mill. The bar manager (Paddy?) put his hand on the lad’s shoulder and lead him away from view, obviously gauging the tide of growing resentment, fueled by sorrow.

Friday will be BBQ on my friend’s rooftop. It’s for Canada Day, and he is Canadian of Greek descent. An excellent combination for a BBQ I reckon. I’m looking forward to some excellent smells, to go with the Beijing soup.

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Dyed Dogs

The Chinese love nowt more than their dogs. The small ones are everywhere, being walked, or often carried, or doted on by several old folks down the park (large dogs over a certain size are banned in Beijing, so you have none of that “Pitbull eats baby” crap that you get in the UK). Anyway, because I’m lazy, here’s a bizarre story from today ripped directly from AP, that can be filed under the “can you imagine the uproar back home if…” category. Or maybe it belongs in the “for fuck’s sake” category. I must say, I have not seen any dyed dogs out and about, but then maybe they were in camouflage, disguised as a lamp post or something. By the way, got to love the writer’s name…..
Dog-tired of your pet’s look? Try a doggie dye job

By CHI-CHI ZHANG (AP) – 7 hours ago

BEIJING — Walking into Ruowen Pet Spa is like entering a doggie Halloween costume contest. There’s turtle-dog, zebra-dog, Spider-Man-dog, tiger-dog and even panda-dog.

Raphael the toy poodle runs around in his playpen like any other dog — except his snow white coat has been dyed neon green and is partially shaved with a protruding shell on top to resemble a turtle. He seems oblivious to his unique look but enjoys the attention of onlookers.

Raphael, named after a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles character, is one of half a dozen dyed dogs on display at the spa in downtown Beijing, which caters to wealthy Chinese who are fueling a booming pet craze in China.

“If you can dream it, we can make it come true,” said Sun Ruowen, who owns the spa and has worked in the pet industry for 10 years.

Sun charges anywhere from $7 to dye one ear to $300 for permanent dyeing and trimming of larger dogs — with most dye jobs lasting six months before the hair grows out.

Once banned by the Communist Party as bourgeois, pet ownership is booming in China, spawning a slew of cat and dog pampering businesses — where pets are treated to pedicures, rose petal bubble baths and massages.

This year, the Year of the Tiger in China, has brought an interest in the dyeing trend — with tigers being the most-sought-after look. From golden retrievers to Pekingese, pets are not just being dyed basic colors but are being transformed to look like other animals, says Sun.

“Dyeing pets is popular in many developed countries like Japan and Korea, but China is quickly catching on,” said Sun, who recently participated in the first national pet dyeing competition in Beijing. She attributes the phenomenon to a “head-turning effect.”

“People already love to show off their pets and draw attention, so a panda-dog walking down the street is bound to turn heads.”

Dog owners say the attention their canines receive has improved their mental well-being. Kung Fu, a 10-month-old Old English sheepdog, can barely make it down the street without swarms gathering to admire his thick coat dyed to look like a panda, says owner Queenie Yang.

“Kung Fu loves the attention, and his self confidence has shot up since lots of pretty girls come up to pet him,” said Yang, a 31-year-old housewife from Beijing.

Yang’s husband decided to dye Kung Fu’s hair after seeing an advertisement from the spa and since Kung Fu’s features were already similar to that of a panda.

From the back, the 80-pound dog, with his black button tail and tan fur, could be mistaken for a panda — with fur around his eyes that have been dyed black to a create a droopy and almost comical expression.

He sits impatiently on a metal table in Ruowen’s spa, waiting for another bleach job of his gray hair, which is now a tan color. His front and hind leg sections have been dyed black, hair trimmed short and patches of hair on his head dyed black and fastened with elastics to look like panda ears.

One veterinarian warned that owners should be careful of damaging a dog’s mental and physical well-being before considering dyeing their pets.

“Owners should seek pet spas that use natural coloring which won’t damage the dog’s hair or irritate the skin,” said Tian Haiyan, who works at the Beijing Guanshang Animal hospital. “Mentally, some dogs that aren’t used to being in the spotlight so may react negatively to the sudden attention.”

While some critics say the new trend is inhumane as the dogs are sometimes forced to undergo hours of unnecessary dyeing, Sun says her products are all natural and it’s nothing more than an innocent dress-up session.

“It’s a confidence booster for dogs and owners,” said Sun. “We’re here to offer them new ways to pamper and dress up their pets.”


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Reality TV takes hold….

…complete with planted contestants. Second highlighted bit is hilarious.

What would SARFT make of Jerry Springer? (Click to view bigger)

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I’ve started riding a bike a lot in Beijing. The roads and cycle lanes are massive, everything is flat, and yes, I wear a helmet (yellow), shades (to stop the dust) and have flashing lights on at night. All this marks me out as some kind of weirdo “laowai’ (foreigner) bike freak – I have so far only seen one other guy adorned in such garb – and he looked like he was practicing for London 2012, as he zoomed past me through Tiananmen Square, tiny spandex arse high in the air, leaving a cloud of dust and a few overturned cabbage carts in his wake.

Once you’re on a straight line, such as the enormous Changan Avenue, with bicycle lanes that dwarf the M25, you’re fine. But, dare to turn left, or simply cross a busy intersection, and it gets much more thrilling. I strongly recommend a trip to the plastic surgeon to get another four pairs of eyes installed at various points around your head before taking this on. I am currently mid-inquiry into such an operation, as the surgeon weighs up the best positions for my new eye sockets, and we haggle over the cost of multiple colours- I’m holding out for 3 for the price of 2 – and night vision (very pricey).

“Things” come at you from literally every angle. It’s just like playing a sped up version of the old arcade game ‘Asteroids’. It’s very exciting to watch, and even more exciting to be a part of. A common technique to perfect is the last minute front wheel swerve, or wobble: You’re progressing smoothly across a large junction. Then at exactly the same moment, you spot the 3 wheel motorized rickshaw coming directly towards you at speed,  in the opposite direction, crazed horn a beeping manically like a strangled sheep in its death throes; and there to the left, standing unsteadily on his bike pedals, his loose wheel squeaking and leaning out to one side, is the man swerving around  with a mountain of plastic bottles so high on his trailer that he can neither stop, nor get going, complete with random unidentified stick pointing out 2 metres at a 45 degree angle. You’ve sussed them, planned your course, you’re OK. But wait. To your right, twirling like a dervish, a permed grandma steps off the kerb, clapping her hands and singing an ancient melody, doing her morning Tai Chi, as she strides like the old China hand she is, blindly and confidently into the furious maelstrom. Keep going, staring each of them in the eye for as long as possible (here’s where you need at least two extra pair of eyes), and (important) maintain your direction and speed. Only at the last minute, when you can feel the warmth of each other’s garlic breath, carried on the waft of air from granny’s clapping hands,  you and the other two bikes do the Time Honoured Simultaneous Front Wheel Shimmy. Grandma drops her shoulder, takes a nimble and strategic step, and you shut your eyes……

Via the 19th rule of Confucious, somehow, you all re-emerge having past each other unscathed, and proceed onwards in your original direction.

The exhilaration of writing the last paragraph has made me want to go and ride my bike. And I think I will attach a camera on the front and take a movie, to post at a later date.

A few weeks back, one of the larger asteroids in my path was Hilary Clinton’s mega cavalcade, with quite possibly twenty vehicles in it, as she sped to wherever she was speeding to try and persuade the Chinese to let go of their grip on the Yuan. The road was closed to all traffic except bicycles (why? I could have easily smuggled a rocket launcher in my rucksack). I gurned into the blackness of each of the tinted windows as they went past, wondering which car she was in. Did she see the grinning Westerner on his funny little fold up, his big white Nike trainers and his massive yellow helmet? I half expected a window to open, a waving hand to emerge, and the former first lady to lean out, shouting “hey, dude, where can I find the best pizza restaurant?” But then a few mini asteroids came my way (random man standing in the road for no apparent reason, limping dog and low hanging tree branch), and I was jolted back to the reality of trying to stay alive.

The cavalcade suddenly did one huge U turn (presumably having decided on the required pizza restaurant), and disappeared into a black hole, leaving all us mini asteroids trying not to be sucked along in its wake.


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I’ve decided – I’m going to make my own Victorian Zoetrope. I’ll put it where the telly is, and I’ll also build a very accurate motor linked wirelessly to my iPhone. It will start spinning every four years in June, and run for about a month. Anyone who looks at it will ne’er look away, nor be able to put down their beer, nor even notice their wife, until it stops spinning – for it will also be a magick Zoetrope. Not only will it hold a man’s gaze, haplessly trapping him in his seat, as if in leg irons,  perplexed as to why he can’t avert his eyes and get on with something more wholesome;  it will also have the power to make the very face grimace hellishly, the body unwittingly contort, and writhe into hideous and ungodly positions, as if under the wicked curse of Lucifer himself.

There will be a dozen different animations:

1. The Over-Hit Long Ball (followed by team mate’s applause / thumbs up);

2. The Desperate Lunge;

3. The Outpaced Defender, red of face;

4. The Head Tennis, followed by Back To The Goalie;

5. The Tumbling Lumbering Centre Forward, falling like an oak, arm raised in plea;

6. The Early Goal (with boyish shiny faces of glee and promise);

7. The Cross Into The Empty Box, with-no-head-there-to-meet;

7. The Lack Of Control, a.k.a. The Perpetual Motion Bouncing Ball;

8. The Goalkeeping Blunder;

9. The Penalty Shootout (with obligatory two or three cannon shots over the bar, to salute the Queen);

10. The Manager’s Scowl, arms outstretched, turning back and forth between bench and pitch, like a great actor of the stage;

11. The Post Match Excuse, with much scratching of nose and ear;

12. The Go Get Another Beer (this is going to be great / this is terrible).


I have in fact now realised that I’ve been tricked, and somebody already built this Zoetrope long ago. They’ve been spinning it to me for most of my life, occasionally substituting some of the faces, but nothing more.


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Bigots, Real Bigots, Blunders, Ballots and Beer

I was going to call this “the view from abroad”, but then I wondered how many blogs have opened with that sorry old line in recent weeks. So I spent about 5 seconds on that slightly rubbish effort.

Here in the (newly relaunched) CCTV newsroom in Beijing, they have been going big on Nick Clegg. Young fresh-faced strong-of-jaw honest Clegg. Ever since the first TV debate, I have been asked many times “from where did this clean cut polished performer spring forth?” Even though there is a lack of really in-depth analysis of the UK election as a whole (not surprising really, we’re in China), little coverage of the voting process, the political system, and not much about the policies (are there any policies?), they are pretty keen to focus on the personalities, and to pick on on the media worthy ups and unfortunate lows of the campaign. And there seems to be more far attention given to this election than many others around the EU. Perhaps because we’ve had the US-style TV debates, perhaps because of the possibility of a hung parliament. Perhaps our politics are more entertaining and (still a bit) raw… perhaps everyone just loves queer old blighty.

I still find it interesting that media here doesn’t shy away whatsoever from reporting democracy in action in foreign lands (and also street protests in foreign lands). People accept it as just normal stuff that goes on abroad. Maybe they think we’re all insane. It doesn’t necessarily seem to put certain ideas into people’s heads…..but I’m sure it doesn’t need to. But then I wonder if it is really fully understood, by some here anyway. It sometimes very hard to get a real viewpoint. I was recently informed in no uncertain terms that China had bought full democracy to Tibet. In fact this was also stated by the government as fact in a rather prominent speech recently, and was therefore true. When I questioned the use of the words “full” and “democracy”, citing their definitions in the Oxford English dictionary as my sources,  I was told it was China’s version of democracy, but that it was democracy nonetheless. A bit like how I was also told that the endless repetitive reporting of various presidential handshakes was “the Chinese way” of journalism…………………… and some more dots I think …………………………………..

I think I am being unfair in fact, and there is a huge amount of real and intelligent political understanding here. There is also a very sad and passive acceptance of the reality of the situation. The problems and practicalities of day to day existence, and the total lack of power that most people hold are topics too weighty for this little, slightly wayward blog entry.

Back to the point!

And so Nick Griffin has made his inevitable debut on Chinese state TV, discussing his rather particular take on the hot issues concerning Barking, East London. Perplexed bafflement followed, and the most telling comment was “there’s something very nasty about that man’s face.”

We’ve had a whole 2 minute report on the monster raving Loony Party’s pub manifesto launch, complete with pedal boats up the Thames, air con units facing outwards, and painted politicians faces. I had to explain their philosophy and very raison d’etre not only to my Chinese colleagues, but also my American, Canadian and Australian colleagues too. We’ve had the last Prime Minister’s questions, which I have to say made me feel very homesick. We’ve had Blunderbus Brown’s Bigot Bother, with the full audio repeated many  times last week, followed by contrite apology. And so on….. it’s all been there, bar the in depth Jeremy Paxman stuff, as I say.

It’s all very balanced, and each party has to get the same amount of coverage within a report, as with any good state Broadcasting Institution.

I almost spat out my cabbage (not a euphemism) when I heard today’s clip from Mr Brown. What has happened to this guy? “Let justice roll like water, and righteousness flow like a mighty stream” he thundered, as he waved his arms about like a neurotic John McCririck. This is really a sorry sight, this is someone who is clever, a bit too clever, but not good in front of a camera, being forced to play a media game (which his ‘good friend’ and predecessor helped to create), while at the same time being clearly mentally exhausted. Desperate. It looked like King Kong trying to grab the planes as he falls off the Empire State building.  It honestly sounded like a defiant suicide note, and I’ll say again, seemed very very sad.

On a lighter note, just time for a quick hotpot update from a previous blog. Xidan eat-all-you-like-and-more-crucially-drink-all-you-like-for Y40 was visited by three Englishmen and one non drinking Chinese. Despite the place having an apparent 90 minute time limit, we managed to be the last customers not only in the restaurant, but also in the entire shopping centre, having spent 2 and a half hours eating and guzzling and talking loudly. But my fears of the “open tap” policy on draft beer (you go up and help yourself) being altered in the wake of our visit were unfounded. Everyone smiled. Ah, the Brits are here, how lovely. I somehow think we were not the first enthusiastic foreigners to discover the place. Of course we weren’t. We were positively encouraged to go up for more, making me wonder if they throw it away at the end of the night anyway. Everyone waved us a pleasant goodbye as we shuffled off into the night (I think).

There was a recent article somewhere about why expats in Beijing end up drinking so much (ominous). Well Xidan Hotpot and others of its ilk clearly shares some of the blame.

Meanwhile, in breaking news, the same three Englishmen have persuaded the American owner of a bar called The Brick to open on Friday morning at 7am, serve a fry up, and stick BBC World on the telly for the election coverage.


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