Me and Chairman Mao
  Getting to know you.
In the first sixty-odd hours I've been in country, I have: figured out how to get around on the subway; gone to a place that redefined the term "karaoke bar" for me; eaten at a fancy Italian restaurant, which was pretty good even though the pesto was a little oily; discovered two places to get coffee, only one of which is Starbucks; bought the Bourne Supremacy and The Chronicles of Riddick at a local DVD shop for four bucks or so to add to what is already our surprisingly large pirated movie collection; found a lead on a place that not only shows NFL games, but that I can actually see from the glass-enclosed patio off our living room (which sounds really nice, but will actually be used for the fabulous purpose of drying our clothes once we get a drying rack from Ikea tomorrow); had big, fun dinner at a really good Yunnan restaurant with ten or so people from Microsoft Research Asia; gotten a Chinese rock song called "Super Star" stuck in my head; bought a whole basket of incredibly good steamed pot stickers from a tiny shop by our apartment for about thirty cents; and learned the side streets I can take to avoid the beggars that congregate around Yaxiu Market (the closest place to buy designer knock-offs), which is more important than it sounds because they will follow you for blocks--yes, plural--saying "hello, thank you" over and over and over, although of course they say it in Chinese. Duh.

Two things from the list above that definitely deserve a bit more description: the karaoke bar and the subway. First, the karaoke bar, which could be more accurately described as a karaoke building. Yes, a six-story building devoted entirely to the ancient art of karaoke. The place was pretty incredible--everything was done up in marble, mahogany, and brass. (Well, things that looked like marble and mahogany, anyway.) The room we were in--we had our own karaoke room!--had a huge TV and speakers in the center for everyone to see the song that was playing, as well as two smaller screens that you could use to pick songs and one screen up on a little stage, in case you really wanted to get serious about it. (And if you know me at all, you know I take karaoke seriously.)(Very seriously.) There were also three microphones, one of which was wireless, plus some maracas and a few tambourines, which came in handy during "Hotel California" as drum replacements during the "but they just can't kill the beast" part. Anyway, if karaoke was more like that place in the US--as opposed to a bunch of drunk, middle-aged, semi-alcoholics spilling out of their spandex and screaming the words to the latest Mariah Carry song at the top of their pre-cancerous, smoke-damaged lungs--I might actually think of it as something to do on a weekend night. Maybe.

The subway is also interesting. Not because of the design (it's a subway), or because of the crowds (I've seen worse), but because of the way people act. Basically, the dual concepts of "lines" and "courtesy"--both important in a subway situation--have very different meanings here in Beijing. And when I say different, I mean they don't really exist. At least not in any recognizable form. For example, people waiting for the subway will sort of just mill around the area where the subway door will probably be once the subway car shows up. Then, when it does actually pull into the station, everyone races toward the door in an effort to be their first. This happens even if the subway car is basically empty, which I find pretty odd, although on the plus side the desire to come in first should come in handy at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

When things get really exciting, though, is after the doors open. Not just because everyone who was milling around on the platform is trying to get into the subway car--first, natch--but also because, as you might have guessed, the people who are currently on the subway are also trying to get out through the same door. Chaos--as well as a fair amount of pushing, bumping, and squeezing--ensues. Somehow it all works out, since I've never seen anyone not being able to get on or off, but it's always interesting.

Anyway, I guess that's it for now. I hope to have a few pictures up soon--karaoke, our apartment, and so on--now that our DSL has been hooked up, so look for those. Tonight we are planning to go out to dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant--creatively named Mediterraneo--with some other Microsoft people and also possibly a friend of Holly's from the Peace Corps who is here working with the Department of Commerce. After dinner, we are going out on Sanlitun street, which is also known simply as "Bar Street." You can guess what we will be doing there. According to a local guide book, Sanlitun Lu (North Bar Street) is filled with neon lights and clapping girls in miniskirts, while Sanlitun Nanlu (South Bar Street) is mostly grungier bars that are more popular with foreigners. Since I will be with four girls, I'm guessing we will be going to Sanlitun Nanlu, which is too bad since I would at least like to SEE Sanlitun Lu. For, you know, strictly cultural reasons …

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