June 30th, 2009
I don’t get out enough. No, really, it’s true. I spend far too much time in this small corner of the city, and too much of my spare time online avoiding everything offline.
Anyway, on Saturday, when my wife was at work thanks to some big, urgent project they’ve been given, and I was all alone, I started thinking about lunch. With spectacular timing, Roubaozi sends me a message, something odd about a rugby game. So we agree to meet for lunch at a nearby restaurant where he would try to persuade him to go watch this mysterious rugby game.
Well, having gone, thanks to his dodgy description and inability to remember the name of the place, to the wrong restaurant down the wrong lane, then having figured out through more dodgy description where he was, I trundled off to the right place.
Along the way I passed a woman in the midst of a rather heated dispute with the security guard outside her apartment building. I couldn’t understand a word she said- she had a bit of an accent and in her rage she was utterly incomprehensible. But I felt sorry for the poor guy on the recieving end. She wasn’t just metaphorically tearing strips off him. I’m sure her words were hitting him with such force as to cause him actual physical injury. I can just imagine the headline in the newspaper:
Man Shredded Through Sheer Force of Verbiage
And then finding Roubaozi in the restaurant whose name he can’t remember- 西门烧烤 (West Gate Barbeque), as it happened, I was reminded briefly of my second summer in Beijing, most of whose evenings were spent outside the muslim restaurant on the Bei Yu campus. Many an evening meal that summer consisted of a few kebabs, a salad of some description, and naan, washed down with the coldest lager available. That’s hard to beat for a summer meal. And that was pretty much Saturday’s lunch. Well, I also decided to try their Korean cold noodles, and found myself confronted with a bowl of noodles huge enough to feed an entire rugby team. Naturally, I was soundly defeated by the noodles, and I had to tell the boss that yes, her noodles were great, but next time I’ll bring a small army to help me eat them.
So the goal of lunch, other than nutrition and the simple enjoyment of good food and company, of course, was for Roubaozi to persuade me to go watch rugby with him. Ok, fine, but what game? Oh, must involve the All Blacks, considering he was wearing a black t-shirt decorated with Kiwiana. All Blacks vs Italy. Right, so the result is a foregone conclusion, the only thing left to be decided is how much the All Blacks win by [sidetrack: Does anybody know if Italy has ever beaten New Zealand at rugby? Or is that as silly as asking if New Zealand has ever been Italy at football?].
And the thing was, I was just feeling lazy and didn’t really want to do much more than go for a wander through the neighbourhood before heading back home.
So, where? Lido, he says. No way, too far. Well, it’s either two buses or a 30 kuai taxi. Exactly. Sanlitun. Right, that’s better, meaning closer, but where? Well, there’s the Den… No. …or Danger Doyles. Hmm, new pub, sounds alright, might as well check it out, but I still can’t really be arsed.
In anycase, I would need the wifely consent were I to go watch rugby, so a quick phonecall, and…. Yeah, alright, I s’pose. Been a long time since I last watched any rugby, anyways.
So we both quickly stopped home, then headed off for Sanlitun. Well, opposite the east gate of Worker’s Stadium, more precisely. As I was waiting for Roubaozi outside the building, I couldn’t help but thinking these two had the right idea:
Yup. That’s about the smartest thing to do in this kind of weather. But us humans aren’t quite as intelligent, and when Roubaozi came back downstairs, we headed off in search of transport. Running a bit short of time- I don’t mind missing the national anthems or the kick-off, but you can never miss the haka- we grabbed a taxi.
We walked into Danger Doyles and…. no rugby. Something really weird on TV, but no rugby. No people, either, other than the staff. Right. So what now? The Den. Well, I guess it’s the only option now, given the time. So off to the Den.
I hate the Den, always have. It’s the abode of sifty old men. It’s walls exude ickiness. But it has rugby. We arrived just in time for the end of the Italian national anthem- what a weird-sounding song- then New Zealand’s anthem- boring- then the good stuff. The haka, then the game.
Well, it’s no wonder the All Blacks lost to France in Dunedin. What a mess. Lot’s of stupid, careless play riddled with basic mistakes. It’s a sad and strange day when you find yourself in the Den trying to ignore the sheer ickiness of your surroundings, wondering why so few of the Italian players have Italian names and thinking the Italian team actually deserves the win, or at least a much higher score. But as terrible as they were, the All Blacks were still too strong for the Italians, and in the midst of all that mess, did manage to put together some brilliant play.
I had been wondering at how few people had turned out to watch the game, but if that’s the level the All Blacks have sunk too, it’s no surprise.
Anyway, Danger Doyles was showing the Australia – France game, so we fled the ick and headed back there. That was a much better game and the surroundings were far more pleasant. Still, there were very few people. At most, 5 others were there during the game, and at most only 2 of them were watching, but they didn’t seem very enthusiastic. And as pleasant as the surroundings were, it still seemed kinda boring. Sure, it was early, and sure, it would liven up once the crowd started building up, but I found myself thinking that a lively, happy crowd wouldn’t have made the place any more attractive. In any case, I wasn’t out for a night on the town, just to watch a bit of rugby, and not particularly caring about the third game in Roubaozi’s planned rugby marathon (Lions – South Africa, was it?), I left him to it.
Could this be possible? Did I temporarily travel through another dimension? I made it all the way to the subway station without being harrassed by any ladybar touts!
Did I miss something, or is there no southwest entrance to line 10’s Tuanjiehu station? I wound up walking to Hujialou. anyways, on the subway, straight down to the terminus at Jinsong. And then I stopped in the 7-11 by the northeast exit of the station for a cold can of Yanjing to ward off the heat and humidity and walked home. Down Wusheng Lu, then along the lane that runs along the north side of our estate, with a detour to a public toilet. But that detour wasn’t necessary, I wasn’t far from home and I was hardly about to burst. The thing is, from the moment I turned on to Wusheng Lu, I was surrounded by something far more interesting than pubs and bars: Life. Ordinary, everyday community life. People out strolling, chatting with friends and neighbours, playing chess and mahjongg, playing with the grandkids, grandkids playing with neighbours’ grandkids, young women squatting in shadow visible only by the ghostly blue glow of their cellphone screens reflecting off their faces, people out enjoying the evening. The public toilet, being a couple of hundred metres down another lane, was just an excuse to enjoy the surrounding life for a few minutes longer.
But the weather was utterly suffocating, and so a stop in a local store for another cold can of Yanjing to ward off the heat and humidity was necessary. The usual pleasantries were exchanged- where you from? New Zealand. You’re at BeiGongDa? That’s right. And so on.
There have, in the past, been bars that have created their own sense of community, and there probably still are. There are still bars and cafes I do like to visit on occasion. But none of them can match the simple pleasure of strolling through a well-established community on a summer evening.