travels with my barang-barang

Pure Lotus

Posted in Beijing, Chopsticks by ejl on 27 February 2009

We went to Pure Lotus last night for dinner, and as much as people diss the vegetarian option, this place served up such fantastically prepared food that you wouldn’t miss the meat.

We started with a salad, dressed in tangy salty sesame oil scented dressing. Next came claypot aubergines, then hot plate mushrooms, soy-based cutlets, green veg with pine nuts, and quite a few other things that I’ve forgotten about already. We’d ordered so much.

We also had some interesting drinks. E had a kiwi mixed juice, and H and a grape and tomato mixed juice. I had something called Bohdi energising tonic (we’ll get to the names of these things soon enough). The kiwi thing was nice. The grape and tomato, not so nice. My energising tonic was actually a warm drink, and tasted like peanut soup – not my most successful order to date.

Dessert came in the form of a plateful of kumquats in a smouldering lake. A bowl in a bigger bowl of dry ice. Very effective, but slightly OTT.

Which brings us to the names of the dishes. They were named all sorts of esoteric, pseudo-sophisticated nonsense, which made for hilarious narration and quite a lot of giggling. “Milk of mount whatever”,  “I will accept whatever comes my way”,  etc.  If the food weren’t so good, we would’ve walked out quite quickly at the pompousness of it all.

Lucky for them.

All in all, the food was amazing and we ordered way too much as usual. But the total damage came up to RMB530 for 3 people, which is pretty reasonable considering the mountains of stuff we had. The only drawback to the place, i guess, would be the lack of alcohol served and the generally cheesy ‘spiritualist’ music they had playing. But I’m sure one could live with that when faced with veggie heaven.

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Posted in Beijing, Chopsticks by ejl on 24 February 2009

Sunday brunch at the Westin Chaoyang was decadent, to say the least.

Oysters, lobsters, scallops on the shell, prawns and crab. Sashimi, nigiri sushi, handrolls and soba noodles. Dim sum. Caviar and blinis. Char siu, siu yoke (roast belly pork) and peking duck rolls. Congee. Roast beef and all the trimmings. Wonton soup. Pasta. Pizza. Bacon and eggs. Waffles and pancakes. Dessert.

And that’s just a selection of what I ate and saw the rest of my table eat. I’m sure there was a whole section of food that we didn’t manage to get to. The food was fresh and well-prepared, and there was absolutely nothing that didn’t look deliciously scrumptious. If only I had starved myself in the two days running up to it.

All that food, washed down with copious amounts of Veuve Cliquot.

The service was attentive and efficient, without being intrusive. And we rarely managed to get halfway through our glasses before they got topped up again.

For RMB330, that was one helluva brunch.

And drinking from mid-day can only mean that the drinking continues after brunch and well into the wee hours. Another group of Sunday brunchers had the same idea as us, and we ended up having a pretty raucous time.

Next time, though, we should probably try and have our brunches to Saturdays instead, to save all of us the hangover hell on Monday.

After dark 02

Posted in After dark, Beijing by ejl on 20 February 2009

Right-o. So there’s been quite a lot of going out and not so much staying in, as usual. Here’s the run-down of where I’ve been in the last week:

Tun (屯)
Very popular and pretty crowded with a mixed bag of music played by the DJ in his ‘castle’. The bar gets crazy busy, and the place is filled with expats of all nationalities. Not a bad place to people watch, and on the weekends you’re more than likely to bump into friends or friends of friends here than anywhere else. Trying to find it, though, is a tricky thing. It’s located within a warren of backstreets off Sanlitun Street (south) (三里屯南街), and depending on which alley you walk down, it takes a bit of re-orientation to locate it. But not to worry, you’ll probably find someone along the way who is on his or her way there and knows exactly where it is – it might be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Russian club in the Ritan Park (日坛公园) area. I’d heard so much about it that expectations were riding high. Unfortunately we turned up at about 4am, there was barely anyone around, there weren’t any Russian dancers and some Kazakhs were trying to persuade J that swallowing a pebble was a good idea. I might head back again just to see what it’s like packed, but it wouldn’t be my first port of call. Or last.

Located in the Houhai (后海)/Qianhai (前海) district. It might be because we were there on valentine’s day, but there were tables of people with different coloured ribbons tied round their wrist, playing dice and making a ruckus – we might have stumbled onto some form of Chinese traffic light party. Our group was pretty big, so we sat at the table by the door which proved to be a disastrous choice because the door didn’t close properly and it opened directly onto the street. Every time someone walked in or out, we got blasted by freezing cold winds and one of us had to walk over to shove the door closed. We didn’t stay there long, you understand.

Huxleys is a tiny bar down one of the back streets in Houhai. Our large group was barely contained by it, and when we finally got a table that accommodated all of us, found that the heater was stifling and the beers were warm. I’m sure it’s a great place to have a drink otherwise, but we were just slightly too many people for its diminutive size.

Saddleback Cantina
Located in one of the courtyards off the back of 3.3 in Sanlitun, this place has amazing frozen margaritas. They’re not cheap, but they’re pretty strong. Plus, sometimes you get to take home sombreros! The food menu was pretty appealing as well, and I’m sure I’ll be back there again soon to eat as well as drink.

Vics Ladies Night
I think Vics will be my choice du jour for Wednesday nights from now on. Luxe interiors, bar stools with back rests (!), toilet doors with peacock feathers… and free drinks for ladies between 9.30pm and midnight, and two for one on all drinks at all other times. Plus it’s at the north entrance of the Worker’s Stadium (工人体育场北门), which is two minutes from my apartment in a cab. The crowd had a mostly (attractive) Chinese clientele, but more middle-to-upper class types than the uber-rich like at Tang Club. The DJ played a great mix of electro, r’n’b and hip-hop, and the joint was hopping and heaving. Definitely worth checking out when looking for some mid-week clubbing kicks, although if like me you have to work the next day, beware the Thursday hangover hell and avoid the tequila shots at all cost.

Lan Bar (阑)
“It’s designed by Philippe Starck, you know” goes everyone who mentions this place. You wouldn’t know it if you walked into it, though. It’s all glitz and glamour, velvet and chintz, gilt and crystal – very unlike everything you’d imagine a Philippe Starcke bar to be like. But it works. The place has an amazing feel, and the toilets (one must always check the toilets in Beijing) are out of this world with an armchair and a dresser and enough space to hold an orgy in. Tres impressive. The drinks were expensively average – not enough lime juice in the caipirinhas, no orange juice in the Singapore sling, mojitos just lacking that something-something. The gin and tonics were very good apparently, but I’d committed myself to the caipirinhas which were at least made with cachacas and not Bacardi like I’ve seen it done at other places. It’s a perfect place to bring a date or just chill out with friends, but don’t forget to bring your credit card.

Cloudy with chance of rain

Posted in Beijing, Weather by ejl on 12 February 2009

Just last week, China announced that this has been the driest winter it’s had for 50 years.

And y’know, I could see it was true because of all the grey and brown and generally dryness in the air. And Beijing, being just on the edge of the desert and far away from any natural water deposits, has been especially dry. Coming into Beijing on the plane, there was nothing but red sand and rock formations, with nothing green to catch the eye.

A friend of mine told me that he hasn’t seen any precipitation since he got here three months ago. That’s pretty intense. The upside of it is that the skies are generally pretty clear, and I never have to worry about the wet or damp. My shoes never get soaked, my toes stay warm and dry, the hems of my jeans don’t drag through puddles and cold freezing water doesn’t travel up my calves.

This morning, however, I woke up to grey clouds caressing the tops of the buildings. It didn’t really matter, since grey clouds could mean anything. Until now. It’s pissing down with rain, pissy English drizzle-rain at that. Not even proper rain. And it’s looking like it’ll be going on for a long long long long while. Apparently it might even snow.

I guess it’s not that dry a winter anymore. The search for a reliable umbrella shall begin at once.

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MI22 @ Yugong Yishan

Posted in Beijing, Music, Nightlife by ejl on 12 February 2009

The band:

A big bunch of Danish musicians playing funk and jazz. Apparently they’re students of some music conservatory or other, but I’m not too familiar with the technicalities.  All I know, is that they got me foot-tapping and hip-swaying. And they got the rest of the crowd doing the same thing.

I also couldn’t give you a set list, but from what I can remember,  they started off with Marvin Gaye, interspersed it with original compositions and that track by Spiller and ended the set with some Danish funk classics.

I never knew the Danes were big on funk, but we learn something new everyday. And I’m glad I was educated last night on the Danish jazz/funk method, because I had a brilliant time.

It reminded me of nights out to the Effra in Brixton, where there was a real sincerity and honesty about the performance, and it made me feel slightly nostalgic. But then, maybe that’s the nature of the sound. I always feel a vague sense of longing for some days-gone-by whenever there’s jazz/funk on the menu.

MI22’s myspace:

The place:

To up the ante on the longing for days-gone-by, Yugong Yishan is located in an ex-government building of the Qing Dynasty. When I read the plaque, my initial reaction was ‘WOAH that must be a pretty damn old building’ until I was gently reminded that the Qing Dynasty was the last dynasty – i.e. it was still around at the start of the 20th century. (Shows how much I absorbed from the chinese culture and history lessons we were put through at school.) So the building itself wasn’t that old, but still old enough.

Where the actual venue is, is in a long hall with the bar area and seating area on ground level, and then a few steps down to the dance floor in front of the stage.  It’s got a great feel to it, and there are plenty of tall tables although only two or three sofas.  Up a flight of stairs we discovered a lounge with plenty of sofa space, and what seemed to be a photographic exhibition on show.

I’m a bit obsessed with lighting, so of course I noticed the chandeliers in Yugong Yishan – very swedish. They weren’t dainty or delicate in the least, more bulbous and plasticised and bright red, and the bulbs were placed in frosted casings. They were fantastic. Looking up from below, they looked like octopus with glowing ends.

The corridor to the toilets were also pretty amazing. It was lined on one side with very 1920s, tall french doors which could probably fold up to open up the space within, painted yellow and set with frosted glass with a raised geo-floral pattern.

Apparently Yugong Yishan put on quite a lot of interesting nights, with a great mix of music and film, and it seems as if it’s pretty much the place  for the discerning audiences of central Beijing.  I’ve already set my eye on Syndicate’s 5th Anniversary Party in two weeks – it’s all about the drum&bass, baby.

Yugong Yishan’s website:

the big band sound

Posted in Beijing, Music by ejl on 11 February 2009

Going to a live music performance tonight at Yugongyishan – it’s apparently jazz and funk and a whole lotta big band sounds.

Definitely the sort of music for some dancing shoes.

I can’t wait for the brassy instruments and the concentration of the musicians, and the swoops and the beats and the dancing! And seeing as I’ve set all this up as a date , hopefully the music (and my date) will not disappoint.


p/s: review of the place and the band – tomorrow!

After dark 01

Posted in After dark, Beijing by ejl on 11 February 2009

Mid-week, and it all started off with a very serious pub quiz. At an unimpressive bar, with an even less impressive menu and incredibly slow service.

Next up, Mesh Bar in the Opposite House on Sanlitun Bei Lu which always delivers on the strength of their drinks and the quality of the eye candy. If you’re looking for the Beautiful People, grab a drink (or several) at Mesh Bar, and you will not leave disappointed. The seating isn’t the best, the distance between the fixed padded benches and the sofas is just that bit too much, making conversation a strain and requiring everyone to lean forward while balancing on the edge. But the lights are low, and the music is eclectic jazz/down-tempo electro, and it’s got a great chill-out atmosphere.

But of course, being a Tuesday night and with an out-of-town guest, we went to the western gate of Chaoyang Park to Suzie Wong’s, then to Block 8 and the last stop of the night, Tang Club.

It was Latin dance night at Suzie’s, and I took umbrage at having to leave my bag at the bag check. I was also slightly disturbed at the amount of (Chinese?) champagne flowing. So we had a drink, and then swiftly moved on to Block 8.

Taking the lift up the third floor, we should’ve been put on notice when the first person we saw as the lift doors opened was a cleaner with a vacuum cleaner in the tunnel leading to the bar. But we persevered, and asked her if the bar was closed, she said it was open, we went ahead. To our dismay, the place was as dead as dodo. Deader than a dodo, in fact.

We made an about-turn quickly enough, and between telephone conversations trying to get directions to a club in the Russian quarter, we somehow walked through the doors of Tang Club.

It was the space invaders meets underwater world. Everything was shiny chrome or white, but there were lanterns in the shape of octopus and squid suspended from the ceiling. There was also a preponderance of really young, probably filthy rich, Chinese kids. Most of them couldn’t have been more than 17. And everyone was drinking whisky green tea served with a platter of artfully arranged sliced fruit. Love it. The service, however, was slow. The staff don’t really speak very much English, so it was difficult ordering a gin&tonic and a vodka martini, and it all took aaaaaaaaages to come.

The music wasn’t too bad – a mash-up of house, techno and cheesy beats, which is a pretty good mix considering the so much bad music I’ve heard (and shamefully danced to) so far. The crowd was rich and young, and made for okay-only viewing. What it was good for, though, was seeing what the fashion zeitgeist of these kids was. Not that many of them were very stylish (and we’ll get on to that topic another day), but those that were, were split between the London-types and what I call the HK/Taiwan-types and I enjoyed watching everyone standing around and throwing shapes. Chinese boys seem to have a great skinny-hip-action thing going on.

But it was a school night, and we were older than those bright young things, with jobs to go to in the morning where we had to earn our own money to afford those whisky green teas and so we split shortly after 1am.

So, conclusions from this excursion: strike Suzie’s and strike Block 8. Definitely go to Mesh Bar, and try and visit Tang Club – it wasn’t the best club I’d been to, but I’d go back again out of pure sociological/anthropological curiosity.

Extremely loud and incredibly close

Posted in Beijing by ejl on 10 February 2009

The Chinese celebrate the Lunar New Year for 15 days, and as part of the celebrations, the Beijingers have been setting off firecrackers and lighting up fireworks left, right and centre all over the city.

According to Chinese myth and legend, the practice of setting of firecrackers was meant as a way of scaring away the ‘Nian’, a monster that would visit every year and do bad things to the villagers. And so, when they discovered gunpowder and explosives, they found the perfect way in which to prevent the ‘Nian’ from terrorising the villagers – by creating such a racket that any person, monster or animal in its right mind would turn tail and get out of there.

And boy have they been scaring away the ‘Nian’. On the street, on street corners, in building compounds, in the parks – everywhere, anywhere and anytime. It’s 8 in the morning, no problem, we’ll just let off some firecrackers before we go to work. It’s 3 in the afternoon, oh hey that’s a good idea, let’s light some fireworks and not watch the beautiful streaks of light against the sky.

And this being China, there’s nothing stopping them from setting off a long string of firecrackers and then taking a step back (one step only) to admire the popping hissing banging fizzling extravaganza.

Last night, though, was the last night which the Chinese are legally allowed to sell fireworks and firecrackers. And Beijing went WILD.

The firecrackers and fireworks started to seriously come out after lunch.  So, around 2 or 3, I’d begun to hear the sounds of firecrackers going off from my office window and the whooshing noise of the fireworks going up into the air. And the sounds kept getting closer and closer and louder and louder as the day progressed.

On my way home from work, groups of people were letting them off by the canal and on the road. I had to put my hands over my ears for fear of going deaf, but these people loved it! They’d buy the fireworks and firecrackers from the Panda Fireworks stall on the corner, and then nip round the back of it and set them off.  Brilliant.

Walking into my apartment complex, the security guard was standing outside my building watching the fireworks light up the night sky.  I sat in my living room in the dark for what seemed like a long time, just watching as well, the fireworks swooping up and scattering across the sky all across the city from my window.

My awe and amazement at the beauty of it all rapidly turned to irritation, however,  when it was 1am and I was trying to get to sleep, and the infernal beastly affair was still going on.

And this morning, I woke up to find a big cloud of smoke hanging about over the city and the smell of gunpowder everywhere.  And news that the Mandarin Oriental had gone up in flames.

Dangerous times.

the non-touristic route

Posted in Beijing by ejl on 9 February 2009

I’ve been in Beijing a week, and so far most of the sightseeing I’ve done has involved navel-gazing,  international cuisine and peering over empty glasses that once contained some form of intoxicant in various bars. I’ve also managed to go out dancing at an expat bar, where it became glaringly obvious that one of the symptoms in men afflicted with yellow fever is some form of blindness. But, hey, everyone has needs, right? And I’m sure that the girls are lovely inside.

But, back to my lack of touristmo. It’s a slightly odd situation because I arrived last Sunday and started work almost immediately. So I’m not really a tourist, and I haven’t actually had time to be a tourist, much less do very much sightseeing.  From what I’ve heard, though, there isn’t that much to do in Beijing – the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Summer Palace, the lake district  (which I’ve wandered around!) and various parks – so I’m sure I’ll be ticking them off my list of to-dos in short shrift.

What I have managed to see, apart from the lakes, is Panjiayuan Antiques Market (潘家园旧货市场), which is where tourist go to get ripped off on fake antiques. We’d expected it to be pretty rough and dirty, but it was neat and well laid-out, and very civilized. We didn’t hang around long – I was slightly hungover, hungry and un-caffeinated. Not a great combination for haggling and being discerning. Plus, there weren’t any Mao helmets damn it.

So, from dodgy antiques to dodgy street food, we ended up at Snack Street (小吃街) where there was snake on a stick, silkworms and squid, pissing beef balls (潵尿牛丸), pancakes and overly glutinous veggie dumplings (菜饺子) amongst others. I’ve never been too much a fan of the smelly tofu (臭豆腐)or pig intestines(猪肠), so  no suprises that I avoided those stalls assiduously.

After all that insectical/intestical excitement, we rounded off the week where it started, at a bar round the corner from mine with several games of pool and a pint or two.

It’s been an amazing week, and if this week is anything to go by, it’s looking like it’s going to be a fantastic couple of months. It’s all very exciting.

p/s: photos to come when I’ve figured out how to work the internet at my apartment.