This week, I have mainly been going out. Which means that I haven’t visited anything of historical significance, or any scenic spots, but that I am in a good position to give a rundown of Chongqing ‘s nightlife.
As you would expect from a city of 10 million people Chongqing has more than a few places to go and enjoy yourself. Some are good, some are bad and the best is utterly surreal. A popular choice with both locals and ex-pats is the Newcastle Arms (mentioned in an earlier e-mail as the place where I got interviewed for Chinese TV). I still find it a bit weird going in there, apparently they are going to stock Newcastle Brown by the en of the month. It’s kind of a dangerous place, twice this week I’ve fancied a quiet pint (as well as one of the girls who works there) and ended up staying out for the next four hours after bumping into someone I know. This led to a slightly troubling situation when I woke up on Wednesday morning on my bathroom floor with no clothes on. To say I don’t remember how I got here would be unfair, as I do. I clearly remember looking at it on Tuesday night at about 2 in the morning, and thinking that it looked like a particularly comfy place to sleep. What escapes me is how I came to this conclusion.
Another reasonable choice for a quiet drink is the Rainbow Bar. Decorated with translucent fluorescent plastics and UV lights, it is one of the few bars that wouldn’t look out of place in England . I’m particularly keen on the staircase, where one side of the steps are attached to the wall, while wires dropping from the handrail support the other. It’s quite cool (or maybe I’m a bit sad). Aside from the staircase, the most memorable feature of the Rainbow bar are the huge posters of naked women on the wall (and worryingly, in the toilet cubicle). Careful use of the airbrush ensures the women are hermaphroditic enough to keep the censors happy, but may cause the more innocent Chinese man to question years of biology lessons.
It’s quite easy getting a grasp on the bars over here, as they are pretty much the same in principle as bars in Britain (or anywhere else for that matter). The clubs are a different matter. In general they’re divided into two rooms, one’s relatively boring and very much like a club in England with a bar, dance floor and DJ knocking out dodgy Euro-Trance. The other rooms are a bit more interesting. In the centre of the room there will be a stage with various amounts of singing and dancing going on, and around the stage is the bar. The bar staff are all female, and get paid according to the amount of drinks they sell. This tends to make them pretty friendly, even though not many of them speak English. The best thing to do is play the dice game with them, which is basically a drinking game where you bet on the outcome of the roll of 10 dice, of which each player can see 5. The main advantage of this game is that you get very good at counting from 1 to 6 in Chinese, handy when ordering meals in KFC. As the girls get paid by the number of drinks they sell, it’s polite to buy them a drink on every round. I hate to think how much they drink if they’re working all night, but I’ve seen them asleep on the bar a couple of times. The other thing is that some of these girls are prostitutes.
You’ve probably noticed by now that there is a lot of prostitution in China . As well as bars and KTV, Chongqing is famous for the number of shops disguised (albeit thinly) as barbers which are actually brothels. It’s easy to spot them as there is no hair on the floor, but there are lots of girls sat on sofas. I think it’s probably the thing I find hardest to deal with out here, as it leads to lots of really awkward situations. For me the worst has been last Friday, when playing the dice game with a girl in the Reunion bar. We’d been playing for a while, trying to chat as best language would allow, when she leans over and says ‘You understand “Is it worth the money?”?’. I didn’t really hear what she said so asked her to repeat, so she says ‘I like you, follow me’. I worked out what was happening at this point, so I turned her down as politely and friendlily as I could. I like to think that I’m pretty good at getting out of awkward situations without upsetting any of the parties involved, but I really can’t think of declining a girl in this situation without upsetting her. This girl wasn’t working on the streets, she was a friendly and attractive barmaid looking for a bit of extra money. I can’t describe how she looked straight after this happened (I’m finding it quite hard to write this), but I felt absolutely awful about it. I guess this is the downside of being in a country where you don’t understand the rules. It’s really sad.
On a more upbeat note we did our ambassadorial bit for a girl in one of the other bars. She was playing the dice game with a local guy, but he kept telling her to come closer, and then stroking her face etc. I was sat next to him, and for a while you could tell that the girl wasn’t exactly enjoying it, but that she was tolerating it. After a while the guy turns to me and starts laughing while indicating that he’s going to (I hope pretend) hit the girl. I made it pretty clear that this wasn’t funny, he backed down a bit and the girl looked happier. After about 5 minutes he started grabbing her face again, which she was pretty upset about. I tapped him on the shoulder and told him to stop, which I was slightly nervous about doing. I know that if this situation had come up in England , a)The bouncers would have stopped the bloke a long time ago, and b)If I had said anything it would have resulted in a fight. Fortunately out here it just meant the guy apologised and stopped (at least for the next 5 minutes, when he started again and promptly got ejected from the building). I really realised that night the extent to which all the English guys out here represent the UK (It’s a shame they’re a bunch of engineers really). It gives you a real feeling of responsibility, and I’m thankful everyone treats the locals well (although I hate to think what Nigel is doing for our reputation. He’s my boss once removed, must be about 55 and has just got his leg out of plaster after falling off a table while dancing).
The girl in that last story works in a club called Golden 2000, and it is this place that is the highlight of Chongqing ‘s nightlife. Unlike anything you’ve ever experienced, the best description I’ve heard of it is that it belongs in a Stanley Kubrick film. The entrance looks like you’re walking into an office bloke, complete with security guard on reception. Get into the lift and go to the fourth floor, the only indication of what awaits the number 2000, hidden in a tangle of Chinese characters. On leaving the lift you enter the dream world. UV lights a room that manages to be both upmarket and seedy. The type of place that should only be visited by single men is dotted with couples out for a romantic evening. The doorways are pure Indian restaurant, topped with a domed arch. The walls are covered with Greco-Roman style plasterwork, while the seats are covered in leopard skin. A stage comes into the centre of the room, which hosts dancing girls, singers, strange games of audience participation in which the winner receives popcorn, and some sort of skit show with worse acting than any school play, and more lavatorial humour than any school playground. The dance floor is hollow underneath, allowing you to experience dancing on a trampoline.
The thing that is hardest to get across is how this place; which contradicts itself with every conversation you have there and every corner you turn, fits together in a way that makes you wonder how every other club can get it so wrong. I think the thing is that there is no other time or place where it could work. It will be destroyed if it becomes popular, yet could collapse at any moment with only a small drop in trade. If it was in London it would lack the atmosphere of hope that seems prevalent in China , yet Golden 2000 never lets you forget how low a man can sink. Utterly surreal. Clubbing in England will never seem the same again.
After Golden 2000 I couldn’t do much else this week. I did manage to give myself a dead arm trying to kill the insect that flew up my sleeve. I think the bruise I got was well beyond the capabilities of even the most devious butterfly (for that is what flew out, unscathed, after I had finished). Fried tendons turned out to taste as bad as you’d expect (I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that a clever grocer at some point in Chinese history decided to promote the rankest food as ‘delicacies’. The list includes chickens feet, fish head, rooster crops (you know the bit on the back of their head), testicles and a lot of things that I don’t recognise). I went to the hairdressers for the first time in 4 years, and ended up getting a massage (and no it was not that type of massage, it was a head massage in an upmarket establishment). The barbers own haircut did not inspire confidence, but it turned out OK.
I also spoke to Ben about moving in. I decided to stop being a miserable git and ask him to move in, but he had gone off the idea. It all worked out fairly well, as I get to continue being an old git, without feeling like one.
So to this week, for which I have two ambitions. The first is to get round to buying a knife and fork. This may not sound like much, but if you try eating all your meals for the next four weeks with a teaspoon, proper cutlery will be a fairly exciting prospect. Bitter experience has shown me that teaspoons and noodles are not a good combination.
The other is to get Ada out for a meal with me. She works in the Newcastle Arms, is fairly pretty, but when she smiles her eyes are just stunning (I tried to get my (male) friend to explain this to her in Chinese, it was very embarrassing). She’s agreed in theory, but doesn’t know when she has a night off. She also doesn’t speak English, so we’re working on some kind of double date arrangement. Loads of the (English) guys out here have told me that you tend to pick up the language pretty quickly when you get a foreign girlfriend. They call them horizontal dictionaries. I half understand what they mean, it will be useful to have somebody who can prompt me when I don’t know words.
Take care all, I’m enjoying hearing all your stories
PS I just found out that I’m going out for a meal with Ada, her friend and Ben, my mate, on Friday night. Should be fun