Friday, December 12, 2008

The Bar Scene In Beijing is Weird

A couple of researchers I met in Wuhan were up here doing some work in Beijing this week. This gave us an opportunity to get everyone together for dinner at one of our favorite little alleyway restaurants. Desi and the kids were happy to have the chance to meet my "dog eatin'" buddies.

One of the guys also doubles as my "drinkin' buddy." So when Li Zhenxi suggested we go out after dinner for a few beers, I was game...except for the fact that I know absolutely nothing about night life in Beijing. No worry...Li Zhenxi took charge, and before I knew what was happening, there we were in a cab, heading to Sanlitun's bar street.

Yet again, the sequence of events that followed boggled my mind...

Upon entering the bar of Li Zhenxi's choice, we were greeted by the sight and sound of two young women and a young guy up on a stage, belting out Chinese songs, both classic and modern pop. These were not your ordinary karaoke crooners, but rather "professional" performers, trying to get the party started and, most importantly, bring in business.

When the karaoke set was finished (after a truly phenomenal number by Li Zhenxi and a regular old off-key performance by another patron...no, not me!), down came the equipment, and up onto the stage came two new "professionals," this time a male and a female both dressed in knee-high leather boots. It was only then (between sips of my 80 kuai beers...that more than 10 bucks a pop, for those of you keeping score at home) that I noticed the two poles on the stage. You may recall that, before moving to China, I posted about the pole dancing craze that is currently taking Beijing by storm (click here for the story). Well, I got to see the hype unfold in person. Kind of reminded me of an Olympics gymnastics meet, or a performance by a troupe of Chinese acrobats, complete with athletic spins and well-choreographed moves. I just couldn't disassociate the whole activity from its unsavory American context (and those leather boots were an ever-present visual in that regard).

Then there was the young woman who, seemingly out of nowhere, appeared at our table and sat down next to me. She proceeded to ask Li Zhenxi, in Chinese, if I would like to have a drink with her. My answer came rapidly and emphatically...

A little while later, as we got up to head back out into the cold Beijing night, the karaoke trio were back on stage for their next set. One of the female singers began to belt out, in heavily accented English, a song you may have heard of..."Hey Jude." Great song....absolutely crazy context...

~Steve

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