Recently Kelsey and I have taken to having sort of virtual online dates, in which we watch the same episode of an episodic production at the same time while chatting about it with gchat. The first series we are watching in this way is the excellent Mad Men. The first three nights of the past week included watching an episode of Mad Men. Early on in this scheme of virtual dating, we made an agreement to not necessarily have to watch it at the same time while not advancing more than one episode ahead of each other. We quickly discovered that watching an episode at the same time together was about five times more enjoyable than watching episodes separately, so now we reserve it for the same time.
Wednesday evening I met up with Matt Schrader, who was a roommate with me at my first AIESEC conference, AIESEC US Winter Strategic Conference 06 in Dayton, OH. He has been living here for three years ever since coming over for a traineeship and is now, in his words (and at my insistence), a “minor thread” in the social fabric of Beijing. He took me to Fubar, which is an awesome speakeasy that has a secret button and wall at the back of Stadium Dog in Worker’s Stadium near my apartment. We chatted for several hours and enjoyed reasonably priced happy hour drinks, one of which was a generous glass of Hoegaarden. I will certainly enjoy more evenings there, and a few more hot dogs from Stadium Dog.
On Thursday evening Ben, another foreign teacher from his school and I went to a tasty dinner of fish near their school in Xizhimen. That is an easy trip to make, since it’s only about 15 minutes by subway from my own home station of Dongsi Shitiao. After dinner, I hit up Ben’s place for the use of his electric razor for which he has differently sized cutting guards, and he gave me a haircut. It took a while and was risky as hell, but I would up getting a haircut that was about 65-70% as good as the one I used to get at American Haircuts in Atlanta, and my beard was nicely trimmed as well. I have promised him a quality beer for his effort, and since tonight we are going out to Lucky Street I will make good on my offer.
Last night I tried belatedly to whip up a number of trainees to enjoy some dinner on guijie and then go for a road-less-traveled night out in either Gulou or Nanluoguxiang. Only Jon from App State showed up, and as I suspected, the others who promised they’d come bailed by phone or text one by one as the night wore on. Nevertheless we had an enjoyable evening with a cheap but tasty dinner followed by a walk to Nanluoguxiang, where we wandered in search of a bar Matt had recommended to me called Amilal. After getting lost in the winding hutong area, we finally found its nondescript tiny alley entrance. This bar was well worth the search though; it occupies a renovated old Beijing siheyuan courtyard house. The interior decor is very warm and cozy, with colorful and intricately wrought woodwork, comfortable and welcoming chairs, good music (from Dylan to Tom Waits to previously unknown South American bands) and even two or three cats who wander the grounds, making for an overall gezellig experience in the middle of old Beijing. I daresay it has much of the feel of my ideal bar. We met an American guy at the bar who writes for the China Daily, the English-language Party line newspaper in China. Having grown up in Beijing he had a lot of interesting stories to tell about the city. I enjoyed an affordable and tasty Valentin Weissbier from Germany, but what will keep me coming back is 15 RMB Harbin and Tsingtao that top off the excellent draw of this low-key place. So many people want to just keep going to Wudaokou or Sanlitun and have the same too-loud grotesque bar experience, but Amilal is like a haven in the midst of the madness. I can reliably say that few will want to go there with me unless I drag them there, but then they will never look back.
Now I’m off to Lucky Street.