travels with my barang-barang

Lime Crime

Posted in Beijing, Chopsticks by ejl on 8 May 2009

if you’re in sanlitun and decide to get munch at Bocata’s, i’d highly recommend the sandwiches and salads, but avoid the lime smoothie at all cost.

it’s basically lime smush. there weren’t any pips, but the little green leathery bits of skin were annoying. and they get between your teeth like nothing else can. they also made the drink taste slightly bitter.

or maybe i’m just being grouchy about it because what i REALLY wanted was a lime margarita. 


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workin’ it

Posted in Beijing, Miscellany, Yellow Fever by ejl on 26 March 2009

Yesterday evening, J and I attended a networking event hosted by various Chambers of Commerce. We thought we might be able to get to know some other expat professionals in Beijing, so it was 85% a social exercise and 15% a work-related event.

On both counts, initially – FAIL.

Socially, most of them were male and middle-aged. Okay, maybe not middle-aged, but definitely not mid- to late-twenties like J and I are. And the male part… well, J was hoping to score some lady-friends. First comment of the night from J as we walked in, “this is really cock-heavy”. I’m sure we’ll return to this topic of how cock-heavy Beijing is, but we’ll leave that for another time.

The men were, for the most part, not that yummy. Even the ones that looked relatively young, in their early- to mid-thirties, just didn’t cut the mustard.  Ok, they weren’t all ugly, there were one or two fitties, but I was more intent on getting to that scallop canapé. They weren’t so handsome that I’d pass on those grilled scallops. As a result, cock-heaviness aside, I didn’t chalk up any man-friends either.

Work-wise, we just weren’t in the mood to be plying our trade. And the crowd didn’t seem to be interested in talking to lawyers. Look, we know how we get work, and it’s not by passing our cards round at some networking event. It’s by responding to RfPs and by sitting on panels, and also by undercutting everyone else on our fee proposals.

But, just as we were giving up on the enterprise, we got to chatting to a girl who worked for an energy MNC. After our introductions, and about 5 minutes into our conversation, she’d already invited us along to her massage appointment (?!) but we were so taken aback that all we could do was mumble and decline the invitation. She’d also asked if I liked Chinese boys and on hearing that I have no preference one way or the other said she’d introduce me to her male friends. She, on the other hand, liked white meat, which was probably why she invited us (i.e. J) to the massage.

Massive WIN for both J and I.

So, we don’t think we’ll be going to any more of these networking things any time soon. They’re rubbish. For us, anyway.  They’re not particularly well-suited hunting grounds for my industry or my social life. 

But this girl, we’re seeing her this weekend for dinner and drinks, so who knows what might develop? Maybe J will score with the lady, and I’ll get to know some cute English-speaking Chinese boys. And highly unlikely, but perfectly possible in the world of infinite maybes, she might pass some work our way (after enough wining and dining, perhaps).

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the long and short of it

Posted in Beijing, Kultur, Miscellany by ejl on 25 March 2009

When I was back in Singapore two weeks ago, one of the first things I did was to go get a haircut at Artica in Far East Plaza. Juno’s my guy and he does amazing things with my hair, so much so that I trust him enough to just let him get on with it while I sit there in the chair without my glasses on and space out (because I am blind without them and can’t see shit when they’re off).

I enjoy the experience of not really knowing what I’m going to end up with, save for the few parameters that I usually set him – something that can look professional but also be dressed up or down, not too short, no straight-across fringe. I also think he enjoys the freedom to experiment, because most of his customers seem to either only get a trim or they’re there to straighten or perm.

Anyway, the last time I’d cut my hair was back in July, when I was last back in Singapore (are you seeing a pattern here?), and so by this time my hair was around my shoulders and I’d been tying it up and pinning it back in the most severe lawyer-like fashion. And this has been how most of the girls I’d met here in Beijing have seen my hair – up and back, all the time.

So when I met up with some of them over the weekend, they were, of course, taken aback by my dramatic change in hairstyle. I didn’t mind, I’d been expecting it. Friends who know me long enough are used to my periodic long-to-short hair transformations, and no longer blink at my turning up with a new haircut, but new friends, well… they’ve got a lot of learning to do.

What I didn’t realise, though, was the cultural significance of a haircut. The meaning of such a haircut was told to me in a very serious manner, with handholding and all. I was told that in China, girls don’t usually cut their hair unless there was some great emotional distress occurring in their life, e.g. a family tragedy or a break-up. No wonder the looks I’d been getting from my Chinese colleagues, somewhere between curiosity and pity. That explained everything. Everyone had been thinking that I’d gotten my haircut because something terrible had happened in my personal life but were just too polite/reserved to ask.

(I think this reaction also has something to do with my Chinese ethnicity, again. I’m sure Blondie over there wouldn’t be getting those pitying looks if she had a haircut. But moving on.)

Now that that’s been clarified, I must remember next time I get a haircut to announce that it’s because I got bored and not because something bad has happened. Just to save everyone the time and energy expended mulling over whether or not to broach the subject of my maybe-tragic-life, and also to stop the staring and save myself from feeling like a sideshow freak.

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After dark 04

Posted in After dark, Beijing, Chopsticks by ejl on 24 March 2009

Belated updates because I’d been having off-site meetings till stupid o’clock almost everyday last week. But fear not, the gruelling work schedule has not reduced by much my eating, drinking and the carrying on of other debauched activities in bonny Beijing.

The more interesting picks of last week:

St. Patrick’s Day
It was Paddy’s Day and I was stuck in a conference room till 9.30pm trying so hard not to poke that American lawyer’s eye out with a pencil stamped with the name of a state-owned enterprise. The moment I could leave, I was in a cab directing the driver home while negotiating three different phone calls to pinpoint a location for good ol’ fashioned Paddy’s Day drinking. The original plan was, of course, Paddy O’Sheas but reports came through of it being ‘heaving’ and ‘too crowded’ and ‘too much effort’. And so it was that I stopped at Luga’s Villa to meet up with a bunch of folks who’d had two hours of drinking on me, and did my best to catch up.

Somehow, at some point, we ended up at Chocolate and there for the first time I witnessed the dancing girls. DANCING GIRLS. Whee! And there was champagne. And silly drunken dancing! And tumbling into a cab at god-knows-what-time in the morning.

Suffice to say, the hangover was pretty bad the next day and I suffered greatly sitting back in that same conference room I’d left only 12 hours before trying to make sense of the negotiations around me. Thank god for painkillers and coffee. And Touche Eclat.

Thursday is not lao-wai-day
Having spent Wednesday evening still hungover and feeling sorry for myself, we decided to explore somewhere completely out of our drinking zone. We went to WuDaoKou (五道口). Which we now conclude is (1) way out in the sticks, (2) a very long and expensive taxi ride home and (3) not somewhere I’d want to be drunk on a weekday night.

We’d heard about Propaganda, and so we went in search of it. Found it, hung out in it, left shortly after. Strike 1 – overwhelming smell of salty popcorn. Strike 2 – strange dance floor layout. Strike 3 – patrons weren’t good looking enough to compensate for their lack of enthusiasm on the dance floor. We also stuck out as obviously being the only non-PRCs in the place who weren’t students.

So we headed to Bling in the Solana complex, although we didn’t really know where it was and had to be (mis)led there by a 老外who also didn’t really seem to know where he was going. We ended up there, in the end, after having to stop and ask some movers and then a security guard. The 老外 we’d followed was heading to Bling because his PRC girlfriend was performing a nunchuck dance – we watched in awe, it was extremely impressive. I also saw the tallest broadest Chinese guy in my life, with impeccable tailoring (he might have been the 老板 or the 经理?) – more impressive than the nunchuck-dance, I tell ya.

Other than that, the drinks were good but expensive. The crowd was pretty good-looking but also verging on the obnoxious. There were some other 老外around, but they were the sorts that I’d try to avoid at all costs and who were just behaving like sleazebags. The dancefloor was empty and the place was just seemed rather soulless, although the soullessness might just be a result of it being a pretty quiet night.

Q Bar on Saturday evening. We stopped by after a hotpot dinner at Haidilao (海底捞) for a quick one-two, and seriously if you want a good caipirinha go to Q Bar. It’s even better than the one I had Lan Bar, with the right graininess of sugar and tartness of lime and actual cachaca instead of Bacardi. I’m sure the crowd was getting better too, but my friends were being lame and all crying off on account of ‘tiredness’ *rolls eyes* and so we left and went our separate ways. I managed to squeeze in two episodes of The Soprano’s before heading out again (to the raised eyebrows of my security guard) to SLT for more drinking.

Champagne brunch at the Westin Chaoyang on Sunday, again. They’ve upped their prices, so now it’s about RMB450 a head, which may or may not include whatever surcharges they decide to slap onto the bill. The level of service also seemed to have fallen off slightly, although no major complaints and still great food and lots of champagne. I might hold off on the Westin Chaoyang for a couple of weeks and try somewhere else just to get a broad overview of the brunch action in the Jing.

in other news

Posted in Beijing, Miscellany by ejl on 9 March 2009

Will also try and post reviews of the places i’ve recently eaten at (Da Dong, Le Petit Gourmand, Metro and others) sometime soon. When I can.

Posts are thin on the ground at the moment due to a great number of all-day client meetings that took place in the last two weeks. This week might be similarly placed, and I’m off on holiday to Singapore on Thursday.

But I’ll do my best to write something while travelling from east to west Beijing at 8am tomorrow and Wednesday.

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After dark 03

Posted in After dark, Beijing by ejl on 9 March 2009

Chocolate Redux

I’ve written about Chocolate on Ritan North Road before, and it was a less than celebratory review. However, I’ve now visited it twice more – once on a Saturday night and another on a Tuesday night – and my view of the place has changed.

Unlike my first trip there, these times I arrived relatively early and stayed pretty late. My companions and I were drinking at the same pace, so there wasn’t a passed out hippo or a completely wankered crazycat to deal with when I was stone cold sober in comparison. There was also a variety show with dancers in big costumes, a fat lady that sings, pole acrobats/dancers and the live band. There were also quite a lot of people around, which made voyeuring that much more exciting (which one’s the russian mafia kingpin? which ones are the ladies of the night? check out those trousers! etc).

So, it’s a fun place when all that’s happening. I should perhaps just stop turning up at 5 in the morning and expect it to be a hive of debauched activity. The party seems to get hot sometime between 11 and 3, and peters out slowly but surely after. But, for the lingerers, it stays open till 7am and tumbling out of the place at that time, taking the escalator into the morning light, is probably one of the most surreal experiences I’ve had in a long time.

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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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