Chinese punk rock and caipirinhas

I just returned from a less-than-raucous night out at what’s supposed to be Beijing’s best bar–Yugong Yishan. I have no idea what the name means, but I know characters homophonic with most of the syllables, which has led me to decide it means The One Mountain for Getting Down to Business. I’ll probably never learn the real translation, so my imagined meaning will have to suffice. It doesn’t bother me very much that I go through the day making associations like these. That’s what I get for living in Chinese imaginary space.

But anyway, at this bar, which _that’s Beijing_ voted Beijing’s Best Bar of 2005, I met up with R., a fellow teacher and an artist from New York who’s become one of my best friends here, our friends M., a graphic designer from Buenos Aires, and S.L., a Chinese speaker from Lima who works dubbing CCTV shows into Spanish for some reason, and a bunch of their friends. The international origins of the crowd don’t stop there, as I spent most of the time chatting with S.A., a girl from Denmark who has two jobs–one with a Danish shipping firm and another as a bartender at a British pub here. C. and A., girls from Kuala Lumpur who are fixtures in this crowd were there, but they were talking to two guys, a Brit and an Italian, who never became even acquaintances (not even in hope of reducing them to initials here).

We were there to hear some “French funky band” perform, since Yugong Yishan is known for its live music shows, but when R. and I got there after a late bite at O Sole Mio, we found out that they were a no-show. Or maybe our friends had just been wrong to begin with. Instead, we were going to witness the debut of a ragtag ensemble. Two punk rockers S.A. had seen play a show a few weeks before were onstage with the bartender as their adopted lead singer. Now, punk in Chinese sounds a lot like punk in English–linguistically indistinct, lyrically unintelligible, and loud. They actually played pretty well together, though, and a couple of us were moving along with the songs. We even shouted and clapped after some of the numbers, since the Chinese audience, which was fairly large for 10:30 on a Wednesday night, still managed to seem entirely dead despite the fact that they could understand the songs and we couldn’t. However, that might actually be understandable. The leader, whose haircut gave him the mien of a Wookie trying to look like John Lennon, announced toward the end of their set that he knew one song in English, and he was going to sing it for all us ladies in the back, who were smoking and drinking our delicious and surprisingly strong-for-Beijing caipirinhas ($3). The song was called, as he announced before beginning to sing it, “All I Want to Do Is to Do You.” That sentence formed the base of the refrain, along with lines like, “Shit for the shitters, fuck for the fuckers, put it in your motherfucking mouth, fill the empty spaces,” all to the strains of a punk ballad. In Chinese, he announced it as a love song. We keeled over with laughter, but gave loud whistles and cheers when they were through. Maybe the Chinese songs were of similar quality–and the Chinese audience slightly less easily amused?

In any case, my sole reaction was to want to film a movie about the punk rock scene in Beijing. It would be ridiculous.

Posted by on August 18th, 2005


BJwoman said

June 11, 2006 @ 3:36 pm

zen master, are you that ali too? I wonder what’s caipirinhas?? Yugong Yishan is a very ancient Chinese fable, is about a so-called “Follish old man(Yugong)” who was determined to move a moutain(Yishan—means “move the moutain”)to somewhere else. He and his offsprings worked on the project for generations and finally successfully moved the moutain to another place. The stroy is just to teach people to be patient and stick to one’s goal.

You guys had a cool night. :)

BJwoman said

June 11, 2006 @ 3:49 pm

I don’t think Chinese would be interested in punk music. They just went there to show their love for “avant-garde music” (Punk is regarded as avant-garde by most Chinese I think). And in the past most Chinese audience would sit through concerts motionless, few would clap or encore. I remember when I was in middle school there came a show biz team from Beijing to my hometown. Those singers tried truly hard to stir up the atmosphere but in vain. No applause, no encore. To make one young female singer feel better I asked for her autograph(first time in my life)hehe..anyway, enjoy your stay in Beijing:)

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