Saturday, June 7, 2008

A night at Houhai

Picture from Kevin Reitz's post about the night. Click on the link to see the after shot.

Frisbee golf is a beautiful game for its Manichean nature, a study in dualistic contrasts. For instance, it's played outdoors, mostly in scenic parks, yet features just enough obstacles (like trees) to make you forgo sightseeing. It's a laid-back, easy game, because it does, after all, combine Frisbee with golf, but the objectives are such (hitting a lightpost) that the game will make you sweat. It's competitive in nature, fiercely so if you're with the right people, yet can -- nay, should -- be played with beer in hand. And so it is that a group of us -- Lincoln, Kevin, myself, Joe and Greg (left to right in the above picture) -- went to Chaoyang Park yesterday to enjoy a Friday evening tossing the ol' disc at stationary targets amid moving hazards.

Let's jump to the part where I won, by one stroke (it was two, actually, but we decided prior to the final hole that the winner of a shotgunning contest would get a stroke removed from his score. Joe won). Trailing by one going in the last hole, all Joe needed was to hit a four-foot-high fence from about 30 yards out -- a fence that was on the ground -- but he missed and had to settle for bogey. It was arguably the greatest choke job since Jean Van de Velde in the 1999 British Open, proving more so when I parred and then lost the beer-shotgun contest.

In addition to winning, I didn't find myself in a tree, like Lincoln.

Afterwards there was dinner at a nearby restaurant, then Houhai, a commercialized, touristy bar district behind Beihai Park. I visited three times a couple years ago, when I was here for just 10 days, but Friday was my first time at Houhai this go-around. It's not as debaucherous as Sanlitun, but it has its share of downsides: many of the bars are sparsely populated (the one pictured below with the neon lights was in a district just outside Houhai's main strip of waterfront bars... cool, but also a little depressing), the only single girls are Russian, the Chinese nationals will watch you and laugh in mockery and you'll get spotted from 50 yards away by people who want to lead you into "disco" bars where you can pay girls 100 RMB to "sit" with you. Uh... apologies for the quotation marks. I mean sit literally.

Speaking of Chinese watchers... the group of us decided we'd play a little game called "Watch the Hot Girls" (note: not actually called that), where we'd all turn and stare at any available ladies passing our way (I got this idea after seeing a blond trip over her high heels and collapse in a heap of drunkenness). The trick is we would do it ironically. Of course, after a couple times, a few Chinese people spotted us playing this game and began, predictably, mocking us. It was humiliating and put an end to our little charade.

Eventually, after circling around, we approached the back entrance to Houhai's waterfront bars. After a brief pause at a candied haw stand we trudged on. Several rooms were empty, for renovation or because one can sell girls for company for only so much money, even to desperate, slimy foreigners who would think nothing of dropping 100 RMB for a beer. Lights and lasers criss-crossed ahead of our steps as we gravitated towards some primordial lodestone that spoke to the pulse in our blood. At a bar called Sex and Da City a disinterested girl danced with a pole on top of a bar as a half dozen pairs of eyes of looked up in bemusement like desert creatures spying the moon. We moved on. A woman in red peered out at us from behind a microphone and pulled us to a standstill. We moved on. In front of the Starbucks at the front entrance of Houhai -- you'll remember I said this place was commercialized -- we turned to our return path, the five of us with Yanjings in hand like a bedraggled entourage missing its star.

We came back to the place that housed the woman in red and from the outside street our eyes scavenged the room for her trace. She was at the bar with her back to us, shoulders bare, talking to a laowai. The goading of my companions left me too psyched out to approach this creature filtered behind my burnished haze into the color of desire. Leave it to Kevin to set his beer in my hand and dash in. He conversed, pointed outside, and she looked. He emerged a moment later and asked us to come in to take a picture. Only I accepted.

Further into the night as we moved north along the waterside the air itself turned to smoke, swirling about us in rectitude like destitute refugees in an ashen wasteland searching for a likeness to attach to like suckerfish and call home. We flowed. Down a set of stairs and into the womb of a dying creature, a few signs of life and eyes of life glancing not at but past us, reminiscent of nothing. A man approached us when we emerged and said to follow, and so we did but on our own terms. Joe came again to the candied haw stand and this time we stopped because the attendant stared, pointed and laughed, scratching the side of his face in imitation of a bearded man such as Joe. Joe called him Songwukong -- an ancient warrior monkey who is the embodiment of everything virtuous in this country -- the ultimate compliment in China if used in the right context. This was not the right context but speaking to a man scratching his cleanshaven face one may rightly question the very meaning of context and whether nothing considerate may be said.

Around a corner kicking up dust and through gnarled mandibles of this lair we went and saw the faces of our to-be companions, who could be bought for 100 kuai. Back to the street from whence we approached and again entering Houhai's back gate for one more try in our search for a thing lost to touch, tongue and memory. How it might be found was not our concern as we glided through the lasers and sneered at European tourists we deemed deserving of misfortune.

"Pretty girls." In Chinese: We have no money.

Middle-aged women waved at us as we walked by. Across Andingmen Street and to a small eatery where the beers still came and I asked them to bring out the hottest chicken wings they could make. They smirked and watched from behind the glass as Joe tried it and, eyes expressionless, nodded. Kevin touched one and licked his finger and said, "Don't do it, you'll hate yourself." I took a bite and a moment later through tears was asking them to bring out a third bottle of water, spitting mouthfuls out in the small space between Lincoln's foot and mine until a small pool formed there, incapable of buffering against the next mouthful that crashed down with a splash to prod the world, already hurling with baleful dishevel, deeper towards the universal abyss which is all our demise.

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