Saturday, May 29, 2010

Beijing nightlife, an expat's paradise

China is perhaps easy to criticise, to pick holes in and to find fault with. There are inconsistencies and contradictions as the nation tries to move into the 21st century. Every country has its faults, and China is no exception. But while there are many aspects of life in China which are uncomfortable there are many things which make life exciting and pleasurable.

The Internet may offer a world of frustration, especially for expats who are used to going anywhere on the world wide web. But away from the virtual world there are many distractions that can make life, at least in the big cities, an interesting experience. Beijing is well known for being steeped in history. The Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Great Wall, Temple of Heaven and countless museums are a major draw for tourists. The parks are pleasant to walk in, especially in summer, and some such as Beihai and Jingshan offer fantastic views of the city.

But beyond the obvious tourist destinations there are the bars, restaurants and clubs which offer an escape to Beijingers, expats and tourists alike. Most bars are clustered in the east of Beijing around Sanlitun, though there are a few hidden gems scattered about in other parts of town. Once virtually unthinkable in China, the bar scene in Beijing is vibrant and exciting. Drinks are not cheap however. Most ordinary Chinese would be shocked at buying a 330 ml bottle of Tsingtao for between 30 and 50 RMB [£3-5 /$4-7]. But for expats and foreign tourists, price is less an issue.

The bars are sometimes simple drinking establishments, but many offer food and entertainment. Some are themed such as Paddy O'Sheas, an Irish bar which offers Guinness, though at prices many Irish would scoff at [60 RMB / £6 / $8.80 a pint/568 ml]. Many are sports' bars. Large TVs displaying sporting events from around the world draw in large crowds especially on big occasions. Others of course try to attract customers with live music.

The Den is one of the few bars to open 24 hours a day and also offers the longest 'happy hour'. A noisy sports bar, it is always crowded with mostly foreign clientèle. Drinks are cheaper than many other places and food is good. There are 'secret' bars, such as the Fubar, hidden in the basement of the Stadium Dogs hotdog café. Billed as Beijing's first speakeasy, customers enter the bar by pressing a switch which slides back a faux wall. A novelty attraction maybe, but the great cocktails and atmosphere also help pull in the customers.

There are specialist bars, such as the Ichikura, an establishment which offers dozens of different kinds of whisky. A German bar, slightly off the beaten track, is popular not only amongst foreigners, but also the Chinese. Der Ladgraf offers a wide range of beers from a Köstritzer Schwarzbier to a Weihenstephaner wheat beer. Their extensive menu also keeps clients from going hungry.

Of course there are the bars that set out to entertain. Whether its the Mao Club which pumps out rock music from domestic bands or the rather expensive but eclectic mix of bars along the Qianhai lake, there is always something going on. The Lan Club will keep people dancing well into the early hours with heavy club mixes and live entertainment. The Nashville, situated in the north-east of town, offers a more rock and sometimes country feel. Its regularly billed Phonograph Band strike out western hits from the 1960s through to the 90s from the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Oasis.

On a lighter note there are places like the CD Jazz Bar or the neighbouring Blues Café & Bar. Or if the mood takes you there is always KTV, or karaoke. Not so popular in the West, karaoke is fantastically popular in China. Even the smallest of towns have a KTV bar. But this is unlike the karaoke seen in Britain where drunk patrons embarrass themselves in front of dozens of strangers as they struggle to perform Robbie Williams' Angels. In China it's a more sober affair. Groups of friends will hire a room and each take it in turn to sing their favourite songs. And here singing means singing. There is not the screeching and sarcastic efforts seen in the West. In China this is serious, but nonetheless entertaining fun. Customers may of course purchase drinks and food is also on offer, sometimes as a buffet or delivered to your room.

If there's anything one misses about China, it is its bars, food and entertainment. 

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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