Nanjing at Night

There is a thread going on over at The Straight Dope asking the fairly straight forward question of “do you go to bars alone?” The verdict seems to be it is quite common among many. You can now add me to the category of ‘those who hang out AT the bar, IN the bar…alone”. In my defense, I don’t do this often, and it is usually done in a response to one of the following a) too much time spend at home on the internet, sizing photos and other website related work b) I want to hear some good live tunes c) I want a good beer d) I gotta ‘figure-things-out’ and want to do it alone, but not ‘really’ alone…I also have developed somewhat of a small crush on the hostess of this particular bar (as does every full blooded male who steps into what is known as the Blue Marlin) and I’m honestly a little ashamed of it given that I know way better and that after four years of successfully avoiding these situations and playing it cool and smart in the Asia bars…I fall into the trap. A little embarrassing.

So, a killer live act, tasty brews, and friendly staff make the Blue Marlin Bryan’s solo bar of choice in Nanjing. Prices at the Blue are slightly higher than the average watering hole in Nanjing, which helps prevent (to a certain extent) foreign riff-raff elements. Yeah, I know that is a slight elitist remark…

I found my spot at the bar, conversed with some staff, drank my Erdinger dark, requested some very well done U2 covers (I’m on a U2 kick at the moment) from the band and pondered the situation. Around 11:30 I began to feel better and decided it was time to hit the old dusty trails. Last time I extended my limit beyond two Erdingers resulted in unintended consequences and I wasn’t looking to repeat that situation this time around. So I wandered out in to the chaos that is 1912. Upon exiting Blue I immediately observed four security personnel dashing (in a perfect single file) up towards the taxi stop. 1912 has developed a reputation for some very, very interesting “fights” (unfortunately also as a place where foreigners routinely get their asses kicked gang-style) and given that they were running in the direction that I was going anyway I thought I would take a second look at what was going on.

As expected a mob of around twenty to twenty five people had congregated around the taxi terminal. In most other cities around the world, entertainment facility personnel usually have biceps larger than my torso, combat boots, headsets, shades and will generally break one if half if one is even thinking about causing some sort of trouble. In Nanjing these elite forces consist largely of 50 year old men wearing white steel helmets and high visibility vests. Naturally you can imagine the intimidation factor. Fights in Nanjing usually consist of a lot of shouting and threats of “I’m calling XXXX” which will predictably be met with a response of “oh yeah, well I’m calling XXX”. This will usually continue until someone falls down because they are too drunk to continue with the next “My dad is bigger than your dad” comment. Meanwhile the trusty side-kick is usually in everyone’s face with a mobile phone filming the whole situation.

This was a fairly standard shouting match – albeit without the presence of the crying girlfriends (from what I could see) – although a little 50 pound kemosabe was documenting the whole thing before he had his mobile smacked out of his hand by a surprisingly pro-active security guard. An ambulance appeared and some dude was strapped into a gurney, much to the dismay of the chief antagonist who was forced to stop his pow-wow with security and turn his attention to reaming out the paramedics.

An unintended consequence of this disturbance was a complete block of the taxi loading area causing a very large back-log of taxis which had extended way back into Taiping Bei Lu. Of course, there was a fender-bender which resulted in what was looking to be another ‘fight’.

Given the precarious situation of the taxi loading lane, I decided it would be best to catch a ride home up by Zhujiang Lu and proceeded to walk the two or three hundred meter distance. In an omage to Forest Gump, I figured that since I walked this far, I might as well keep on walking.

Cities, obviously, are completely different environments at night and Nanjing is no exception. One the largest disparities between developing and developed cities is the range of activities one can find at night through out. With the exception of downtown areas, 24 hour 7-11 gas bars and the occasional neighborhood pub, North American cities are rather devoid of any street action after 10pm. In terms of entertainment, Nanjing shuts down around midnight, but there remains a surprising amount of activity on the streetscapes.

From the corner of Taiping Bei Lu I made the trek down Zhujiang Lu to the McDonalds on the corner of Zhongshan Bei Lu. One the way I was almost hit by a moped with a driver glued to his mobile phone, witnessed a naked man run screaming across the street and was solicited for sex in front of the Mr.O’Bread near Dan Feng Jie. The funny thing about solicitation is the approach. Usually it’s an older woman who hangs around the open square area that is characteristic of the massive department stores that are popping up all over the place. Because the street is not terribly busy, these entrepreneurs are easily spotted from at least a block away. They might not spot you as quickly, as their line of sight is dependent on their circular path of motion around the square. In my case, I was sniped at about 100m, the circular walking pattern changed into a slow line towards the side of the square where the intercept was to occur. However, in my case I don’t think I was recognized as a foreigner until about 30m. You can almost pinpoint the exact moment that I’m recognized as a white guy based upon the speed of the approach and the actions. The woman essentially slowed to a snails pace realizing what was coming up, sort of turned a bit to the left, then to the right, shuffled a bit, turned her head back to the direction with which she came…but it was too late…she had already committed and to back down now was to lose face. So the intercept continued…

“Ni hao shuai ge…ma – saw – gee?

“bu yao”

“ah….tee heee heee” (with stereotypical hand over the mouth)

So I continued my journey, fuelled on some McD’s coffee and stopped for some street food on the corner of Zhujiang Lu and Zhongshan Bei Lu. A visit to China is not complete without experiencing a 1am dinner on street. This particular troupe of stalls was large enough to warrant their own Snow beer girls who were surprisingly busy hobbling around from table to table with of arm loads of piss-warm beer. I stopped for the meat=sticks…kebabs of mutton and beef cooked over carcinogenic charcoal. Business had been brisk this night as the navigation to the kebab kiosk was hindered by mine fields of used Styrofoam containers and enough kebab rods to justify a giant game of pick-up-sticks.

From this corner up to Gulou was largely uneventful. I was seriously considering a visit to Castle Bar…then I remembered that it was Castle Bar. This establishment is the only place open in Nanjing after 1am, the only place (in a city of 3-6 million) with a dance floor, and is the place where all fun and party loving (clearly not me, this night) folk end up. It is also the bar referred to by an old ex-US Navy sailor I had met there as the “filthiest bar he has ever seen”.

After recalling that statement I choose against attending any Castle festivities that night.

From Gulou, I exited the main streets and entered the alley environment that is my block. Around this time of night the alleys are about as dead as any typical suburban street. One thing that will always remain in my memory is the unique smell sensations characteristic to every cubic meter of air in China. Oh yes, and the fun doesn’t stop there. If one is interested in additional odor experiences one must only visit the same location at different times of day. In my alley community, street drains are not for the efficient collection and channeling of storm water in an effort to prevent flooding but rather a convenient location with which to dump all of the day’s liquid and or solid wastes. To quote Han Solo “What a wonderful smell you’ve discovered!”

Back to my xiao qu (apartment block) past the sleeping security guards and up into my 23 year old crumbling building.

More Everest photos 🙂

One Response to Nanjing at Night

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