Friday, December 24, 2010

A sacrilegious kind of Christmas

I could start this description of the nights events in several different ways, for example, I could say, behind the blue smokey glow of a candle in the early morning I sat down to type something that could only happen in Shanghai, the shine from the laptop my only companion on this hazy Christmas eve or I can take it a step back, say something like, it was 9:30 on Christmas eve when my How Pong Yo Benny asked me if I wanted to go out.

Now, I’m not a man that starts out a good story with, I was at home reading a book last night and so I won’t start this one out like that either - instead, let me tell you about debauchery, charm, charisma and a game of dice all on a Christmas eve.

I go out with my friend  to a KTV, shiny lights and girls in short sequined blue skirts with smiles in their eyes and Santa hats on top o’ their crowns. I’m antsy and there is a stick up my ass a mile long - I’m just not in the mood to pay some girls to talk with me, to laugh at my dumb  jokes, I’m cocky enough to realize that enough girls do that for free. “Whatever”, I shrug into the cold dark night, cold so damp it hits your bones and starts digging - cold so vibrant and alive you want to invite it out for dinner, take it drinking and put it in a cab when it’s had to much. Cold so dark, so evil that you don’t care if it gets into trouble, just as long as it knows you won’t be there in the pale dark moon to bail it out.
We take the taxi to the KTV on some sort of unpronounceable part of town, I know I’m in for a weird show because as always I’m the token white guy. I’m the freak show, the movie star and the topic of conversation all rolled into one 190 cm package of square jawed harlequin romance.
We go up an elevator and into a room, gaudy, mirrors, smoke drifting up and trying to escape out - Mando pop blasting and bottles of Ballantines scotch half empty, open necked, ready for the end, green tea hovering ever so close, long lines of half watered down glasses snaking around the table, ashtrays lead to ashes lead to corners lead to silken white legs lead to ladies lead to smiles and as I fumble my way in, try to say hello - recognize faces of people I should not have recognized, should not have known and then in a clap and a puff of smoke it begins.
Mei Guo Ren they whsisper behind my blank smile, American  I say back, whispering again, then the new girls they enter the room with a smoke clap - ten of them, each of them prettier then the next, short pink dresses, pink the color of grapefruit and proms, pink the color of the inside of the mouth, pink the color of fingernails and toenails and long summer sunsets, short dresses, long dresses all with name tagged badges hanging behind Chinese bosoms, on old fashioned word that springs to mind in new fashioned sense.
I am the wolf in this story, the unwilling or non-understanding Shark that’s been sent to feed and I don’t even understand the god damn rules.
But, like a crustacean at Red Lobster I pick one out of the tank - the girl that says she speaks English, Good-est.
What more can I do but wring myself dry?
I can’t look her in the eyes as I pick her out of the line up - I can’t see how she looks at me as they take her name card and stamp it like a piece of meat, can’t look at her as she looks at me with a smile and licks her lips as if to say, puppy love, who’s the wolf now?
She sits next to me and we make small talk, names are exchanged, mine should be my go to fake one, Billy, but for some reason I say my real name - my only name as if somehow I can use my own name to get by in this weird situation, this encounter seems less real the more I become a character and so I do.
Logan R Brouse I say to her with an outstretched hand and a glean in my dazzling hazel eyes and it’s god damn good to meet you, I say to her with a glass of tea and scotch in my hand as she puts her arm around me and sits in my lap.
Then it’s that easy to get lost in it - to envelope myself into the character of my self.
We karaoke, we laugh, she pours my drinks and I beat her in dice many, many, many, many times over till I get cocky - till I get exaggerated in my actions, each shot a silhouetted romance on a silk screen, all eyes on me, tallest man in the room and the only one with a story to tell.

Somehow the clock goes from 9pm to Midnight and a friend of mine whispers to me, wait till the games start.
They all raise glasses, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen people in the room, saying something about a Merry Christmas and how they hope I’m happy because that will make them happy.
These are not hollow words, in China I’ve learned that people mean what they say here, even the mama san, when she grabs at my gear and aims just a little to short.
Somehow the girls, there are more then I realized, they get me dancing, I’m not drunk but trying to make myself numb as I play by some sort of rules...which aren’t the right ones.
I’m used to Strip Clubs in the states, look but no touch but here, with the girls in pink prom dresses, pink like alligators on La Coste shirts, pink like dark, dark red that’s been drowned in a sea of white, they start dancing and take off my belt, my sweater and I get the rhythm and help with my jacket, my undershirt but they grab for my pants and I stop them, not yet I think to myself as I hang on with one hand on my hips, swatting against a sea of KTV girls, laughing, smiling, eyes that never leave mine, eyes that have seen so many more things then I in good faith could never do justice to on a scrap of paper, eyes that shine back at me, in pairs of dangerous brown hues with smiles that go for miles.
My shirt is off and I thank those same eyes that I go to the gym, that my pecks are peaked and not primeval and we dance as they sit me down, each taking a turn, grabbing my hands and leading them where they may, grabbing me and exploring a American in a way that they had only heard about.
It ends in a short burst of bad music, no sex exchanged, no sex asked for, just a cultural shock to the system - drained out and flushed away in the staircase of the KTV like an old q tip.
Out again in the starless night, the bright sky gods all ashamed to see their unknown brother and I head out with a smile and a nod - a trouble maker back in the blanket of blackness, incognito in the ignition...the cab drives me home and I can finally start my boring story up properly.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Article 4 for metrowize

American or American’t

Welcome back to the stunning conclusion of our decadent night and early morning debauchery in China, where we’re profiling a city that can’t sleep because of the heat and won’t stop because it hasn’t been told how.

When you run into fake liquor at a nightclub, it’s a lot like running into fake boobs at a night club, you smile, you nod and take the ride if you have to, never mentioning the obvious except in whispers that creep out when you think no one is looking.

You can tell when something is fake in terms of booze by the smell - if it’s absolutely rank smelling it’s probably a good indication it’s fake, especially if you’re drinking Macallan which I was. The cool thing is the bottle looked exactly real, the color pitch perfect, the labeling undeniable but as an international bar consultant and professional I could just tell. I tasted it and it was a bad burn, kind of like a mix of rubbing alcohol and the liquefied version of old Cracked magazines, in other words an awful, terrible imitation of something that was supposed to be so much more.

Gold my field guide and head bartender took it upon himself to argue with the staff in increasingly loud Chinese for about 20 minutes, as I sat with the imitator and watched the crowds of people in the nightclub around me, I was the only foreigner or Laowei in the club, that is until my good friend John Jameson joined me from my hip flask and helped skewer the rest of my senses of perception. We abruptly left the night club in what some would describe as a dead run, nothing being fully explained to me but between Golds broken English  something about the Bartender trying to fight him over the fake stuff is all I could get out of it from his panting between cigarette after cigarette on our cab ride to our  spot where shit got real.

We ended up at a KTV called Mr. Smiley  with a bunch of Gold’s friends, which meant scantily clad Chinese girls and scary looking dudes with broken English. Karaoke TV or KTV’s are integral parts of the culture here and it makes sense - who doesn’t like to get completely hammered and sing with their friends to all their favorite songs? Basically it’s a club broken down into a different rooms where you book the room for a few hours or overnight as was the case of the group I joined up with and sing, drink bottles of booze and eat strange food like duck heads and brined pigs knuckles. Now I’m no Andrew Zimmerman so I skipped the delicacies and opted for the hard liquor and fruit tray option.

In Asia they really have their Karaoke act together, there are crazy flat panel buttons you hit to change songs, multiple light switches that change the vibe of the room and if you go to certain KTV’s you also can find some companionship if you so desire. Rawr!

The place we were at wasn’t a dirty KTV much to my chagrin but for about an hour I drank on a bottle of Absolut and listened to the most depressing songs I’ve ever heard. I’ve been to several KTV’s now and it’s always sad sounding songs, to be honest I can’t understand the language and they could be singing about rainbows, lollipops and puppy dogs but it all songs I heard sounds like Joy Division mixed with baby tears. At some point I got so depressed I got up and sang, American Boy by Kayne West and Estelle, which is quite honestly the best song to ever happen to a traveling American boy. That woke everyone up enough to get another bottle and by the time we stumbled out it was about 6 in the AM.

In the States maybe this would seem excessive, dark sunglasses on during an early morning Wednesday but here in China, with the new millionaires being made every moment it’s just run of the mill. I freely admit I was a little wobbly by this point but as an intrepid Metrowize intoxicologist I knew I couldn’t cave out to a little sunshine.
Never fear the dawn. We rallied and Gold and some of the fairer sex headed with us to a breakfast spot where I discovered my true love Xialong Bao.

I don’t know if this enchanting dumpling is a breakfast food or a all day food or just mana from heaven but if I could mainline it I would - it’s that good. What we had in that early morning light was a fold out table and 3 small stools on the side walk out front of a little stand with a little menu and two mean looking old ladies and a steamer. Xialong Bao (pronounced Shaolong Baow) is a dumpling with a meaty soup broth inside of it. It’s hot and delicious and if given the option between them or Megan Fox I’d have to disappoint our boys overseas.
Some how during my feeding frenzy I blurted out something about Bajiou, that evil Chinese rice wine that somehow erases memories as it creates new ones in a sorgum cloud of fire water drunken out of lillputian sized thimbles and eagerly gulped down like wine at a Greek symposium.
It’s something I mentioned in passing between bites not something I asked for.

Now, I didn’t want to drink the damn stuff, I didn’t want to order the damn stuff and I didn’t want to finish the damn bottle but someone asked me, Are you an American or an American’t as they poured off the first round. The girls laughed at me and pointed, Gold my head bartender laughed at me and pointed, it was up to me and my all red, white and blue liver to stand up to these communists , which I pointed out to my pong yo’s (i.e. friends) and so I drank. Round after spiteful round at that little stand in the middle of the busy coble stone ancient street I drank and I drank for America till there were 3 passed out girls, two red faced guys who I’m not sure where I met and one bewildered restaurant lady. I was drunk, I was drunk for America. It was my Glen Beck moment.

Somehow at 8 in the Am I hoped a cab and headed back to home, my broken Chinese being belted out over busted baijo breath, bits of Xialong Bao on my shirt, fire in my stomach and the creeping thought that this is what it takes to be an American bartender in Shanghai.

Article 3 for Metrowize

American Bartender in Shanghai
Article 3
By Logan B.
Ever wanted to know what a pinball feels like when it's drank a bottle of counterfeit Macallan 12 and spent the last 6 hours bouncing from massive club to massive club in the hot humid neon filled arcade of a world that is Shanghai? Well follow along with us as we hit the clubs in Puxing, Metrowize style and you too can find out for yourself.
As a wandering rapscallion and part time trouble maker I've always been drawn to dive bars and bottles drank en out of brown paper bags, in the name of science though and for Metrowizes virtue I dared to subject myself to the night club scene in Shanghai, to discover how they do in this part of the world - what follows is an ear drum shattering oddessy of excess, betelnut, short shorts and ultimately Shailong Bao.
China, is over the top - its a mixture of two parts free range capitalism and 1 part communism with some expats thrown in the mix shaken and served neat in a rocks glass with a Tsing Tao chaser - which means, things don't end here - they just go on forever. I found this out first hand when I stepped into my first night club, Muse 2 - it's in the heart of downtown, in Hong Kong tower which is part high end shopping mall and part portal to la la land.
It's packed inside, the Dj's playing nothing but American hits, Jay Z, Biggie Smalls, Lady Gaga the normal club bangers on a massive system that just bleeds bass. I'm not sure if the club is free or not to get in, as a foreigner I find I can just waltz into most places - pretty casually as well. There are pretty women all over the world, beautiful women in some parts and absolutely stunning ones in Shanghai and since it's summer time they've all taken to wearing short shorts, short skirts and mostly follow a less is more attitude with clothing which is exactly the right attitude. The place is chock full of these signature stunners, a smile on my face  and blood being preparing itself to meet with a high alcohol content.
The big thing in the clubs is bottle service presented at your table - which I had arranged before hand - the good thing is the exchange rate is 1 US to basically 7 RMB so a bottle of Ketel One runs around 800 RMB which is a little over 100 US not bad at all for a bottle of booze in a hot night club. The cool thing is that at the clubs they'll have performers do live dance routines to some of the songs - or someone will come out and rap to a hip hop song, all sorts of entertaining things. On top of that they constantly bring you out fruit plates.
Now, I arrived at the club with one of my Bartenders, Gold, who was to serve as my trusted guide for the duration of the nights festivities. We showed up around 12 am and the place was packed - in a city of over 22 million everything is usually packed, this is a good thing. 
At our table they bring our bottle, 6 or 7 cans of Red Bull the Chinese version which is a smaller can, no carbonation and from the little chinese I understand is made with Bull Piss - which I hoping is what I heard because otherwise it's made with a part of the bull which doesn't belong in polite conversation. We start dowing the bottle, people join us, people leave, I find myself happy that the locals haven't yet discovered Ecstasy because I just don't what the effect would be on this many people in a club - what they have though is something called Betelnut. As a side note, I've only read about Betelnut in books and on the web - I've always wanted to try it, I've been waiting for this moment of betelnut discovery since I came to China, that it's finally happened has sent me into shock and awe.
Betelnut is some sort of nut that you put in the side of your mouth and chew on it as you drink, it keeps you from getting wasted no matter how much you drink - you're buzzed but you can down a few bottles and still be ok - it a wonder stimulant, it's legal in China (not the US) and like everything else out here, it's out of control. It give you an energy boost like caffeine but the down side is that it turns your teeth black after awhile. Needless to say, I'm investing in a teeth whitening session when I get back to the States.
With our new found Betelnut powers we left Muse 2 and went to Rich Baby, walking distance, louder bass, more beautiful women lots of singing dudes and this time at our table, fake macallan 12 and dice. There's a drinking game they play all over the place here called Liars Dice, I've seen it in the KTV's, I've seen it at Cafes - basically anywhere there is liquor there are dice and a cup. The gist is you shake a cup with 5 die in it and your opponent does the same, you then try to out bluff your opponent by saying you have a better hand - I didn't get all the rules because I was drunk - but that's the main idea - it's a drinking game so the loser has to drink, heavily.

Casual observations from behind a bar

It's funny the little things you notice that are different when making
drinks in Shanghai, the way some of the fruits are exactly the same as the stuff you have back in the states but yet not. For example, the apples are just not as sweet, the watermelon, while pink and vibrant in color is just dull tasting - almost lifeless. Or the imperceptible fact that the water is so polluted that rumor has it that if you brush your teeth with it your teeth will probably fall out due to the high amount of carcinogens and lead in the water which leaves everything to being made with bottled water and questionable ice cubes.
Then there are limes and lemons which are shadows almost of the citrus that we find in the States but this isn't a complaining article, it's just a thought. -a casual observation from someone who has been observing limes, lemons and other fruit related items his whole working life.
Then of course like anything else, there are the good things - fruits and flowers and smells I can't spell but will try anyway,  the Yao Mei berries, little red cherry looking bastards with the texture of the outside of a lychee but yet edible only available in Spring, the fragrant Guo Lai  flowers you can only find in Autumn who's heady smell is like a perfume that lays a heavy mist over the parks and lightens up my tea in the cold,  or roasted Chestnuts over a stone fire sold in street stalls in Winter - the stands and markets become something of an exercise in trust for me, a Lao Wei as I barely understand any Chinese but believe the smiling Wet Market hawkers when they tell me with wrinkled faces, crooked teeth and double happiness cigarette stained hands that yes, the carrots are only 3 Quai  for six, I believe them - because what choice do I have?
Other things pop up here, the fact that no matter where I go, or when I go there I always feel safe. Sure I have seen fights but not that many and none involving me. I've seen some traffic accidents but still I'm not involved. There is no graffiti, no gangs hanging out in corners and while I'm not naive enough to believe there is no crime I just don't see it ever and I'm someone who goes out looking for trouble, who gets black out drunk and walks down the street with thousands of RMB in his pocket without a care in the world down dark alleys and such looking for the sketchy clubs, chasing dragons under the moonlight as I dance with the devil and still I find it safe.
It's the people though that are the real difference, I'm not talking because they are different from me in appearance but in how they appreciate a drink, a meal and their time spent together. 
I'm fortunate to see from my perch behind the bar groups of friends or families or yes, lovers, who can sit at the bar or in one of the sofas at the lounge and really appreciate the time they spend together. That's something I admire in the Chinese that I don't find in myself - the willingness to take the time and hang out with  the people that are important in your life. I see groups of people sitting together for hours just enjoying each others company, sipping on new drinks I recommend, talking, making jokes with each other, texting, smoking and taking a step back, together. On the other hand, I'm like a Shark - always on the move, on to that next spot, meals only taking as long as it takes to cram food in my mouth and chew, drinks being absorbed almost immediately, no sense of pacing, no relaxation, just a constant search for something. Maybe it's a woman or another drink but I'm never still, always restless always going till I'm gone. 
With the new year around the corner maybe it's time we all take a second to stop, share our time with the ones we love, in the end, it's the only tip I've ever had that's been worth anything. 
drinking, bartending, Shanghai, China, expat, nightlife, adventure
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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A night in the life of An American Bartender in Shanghai

On a Friday in Shanghai 
The following account is all true
Get to work, generally make sure the bar is still there and that there hasn't been any revolts or coups going on in the restaurant

Staff meal and I debate between eating the free cafateria style food that my coworkers enjoy, example, Chicken Feet and and spicy "meats" with a side of what is sure to be stomach problems for me or spending 46 RMB at Wagas for some Pasta mei yo dysentery. 

Head to Wagas which is about a block away, pass the Apple store which is always packed this time of day, as is almost everything else on Huai Hai Lu, that is of course, except for my bar

Head back to work for our daily line up with the front of house staff. Talk with my Hao Pung Yo Benny for a bit, he shows me all the cool new apps he has on his iPhone 4, I have a stupid brick phone and so have no apps. Jerk. 

Try working on some recipes, start texting some friends back in the US

9pm - 12am
The bar is busy and we are debuting some new drinks I created, the Xiao Mei Mei being a personal favorite.
I realize one of the good things about what I do is that I constantly get to make new friends, talk to interesting people and generally as long as people are enjoying themselves I can consider my job well done. 

Finish at work and change into my street clothes. It's cold out and I have sweaters and jackets and such, but no scarves, which I need to grab.
Head across the street to M2 to catch up with a couple friends at their table. It's a packed local Chinese style nightclub where bottle service is key. It's way to loud inside and even though my Shong Di Adrian tells some beautiful Chinese women that in fact, I am Ben Affleck - I get a text and keep on moving on, after that is, playing some liars dice and drinking about half a gallon of Johnnie Walker Black Label and Green tea with some local girl with big, black contacts who tells me I am so beautiful and she loves all my films. 

1:15 am
I am starving and the noodle shop across from M2 looks deceptively inviting. I head over and order my favorite, vegetable noodle soup with tofu. This is a real Chinese hole in the wall, with shared seating in a 3 tabled little place. There are little orange stools you sit on that look like they were designed for pre-schoolers. The noodle slurping crowd inside is a mix of taxi drivers, KTV girls and red flush faced night clubbers, I as always, am the only Lao Wei, I'm stared at but for 9 RMB it's worth it. I have some absinthe from my flask and being the tallest and whitest man in the room I make my exit, always leaving them wanting more. 

Take a cab to El Coctel, I know if I'm going out, out I should have at least one good cocktail in my system to wash away all the rubbish. One of the Japanese bartenders is a fan of mine, he caught some Hendrick Gin demonstration I gave a few weeks prior and has a bottle of Fernet specially on hold for me. I curse his kindness. 

2 am 
Hop in a taxi and debate whether I should call it a night or meet up with some friends at a KTV. 
Laugh at myself as I realize, no good stories start with, "well I was home reading one night"

End up somewhere in bootsy  Shanghai at a Haoledie KTV for a friends birthday. Of course they are sining Justin Beiber and being the only Lao Wei again I realize it's my duty to due the Ludacris part, which as can be expected, I nail it.  I'm getting the creeping suspicion that I'm the token white friend

3 am
We have drank a lot of whiskey and I'm feeling woozy - it's time for some Western food and nothing is better then Pizza late night

Head to Velvet lounge for Pizza but the bar is dead - I have an old fashioned and try to plot out my next move. Squinting into the phone and trying to text if anyone is still out. 

Success, I head to Mao to meet up with some girls I know. At this point I'm happy I don't need to wake up in the mornings

3:30 am
Stop in front of Mao and get some street noodles, for 5RMB per dish they are awesome, I don't know what is inside so I just point at what I want - I spend 15RMB gorging myself. 

3:40 am
Just before I walk into Mao a friend of mine at the Beaver Bar next to it waves me down, it's a Nigerian guy I know and he has a bottle of Jack Daniels that he needs some one to help him drink. I'm not a big JD fan but I help him out, for America. 

4:15 am
Run into a Taiwanese girl I know outside Mao and we head inside, I'm super amped on America and we buy a hookah and a bottle of Champagne at a booth. She practices her English as I practice not falling asleep. I snap to with a few red bulls and a some American music

6 AM
It's really time for bed, the sun is up and the birds are chirping, out on the street the former French Concession looks like someone took a bag full of party kids, shook them up and tossed them out on the road from a high altitude. There are people passed out everywhere, drunk models drinking Champagne and lost Germans singing songs about the heartland. 
There is a word for it, something to describe the polaroid of a moment but all I can think about is my bed or someone's bed, or just a bed. 

6:15 am
It's really bright and I'm finally headed home, another evening in Shanghai conquered. for a bu hao lao wei. 

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Monday, December 6, 2010

"Thank you and I hope you enjoyed the ride, please make sure you have all your baggage before leaving" parrots the cab driver as I get out of the cab. I've got 106 RMB worth of DVD's and it's a Monday night. There is something so sincere in his voice, like he wants, no, like he needs to understand exactly what he's saying back to me - the machine voice of the computer attached to the cab mimicking every mouthed vowel and constant of his happy tired face.
"Mei Guo Ren" I say, as he stops at my place. The only shared language we speak is the turgid version of Chinese taxi language that I can utter out behind whiskey stained lips.
We've drank 3 bottles of Jameson, import only, the real stuff - not the fake, burn your eyes out and singe your nose hairs style fake booze that is so common place.
I take a deep inhale of the cigarette, fake smoke enters the mouth, through my lungs, burns like newspaper burns, fast and toxic, exhaled in a poorly constructed, 'O' and it's all I have to show for the evening.
The blinding white screen of the laptop in front of me, not truly transcribing the events, like a phonograph - eerily recording the sounds.
Oh, what sounds they are, vapid splashes of color playing on the LG TV to a '60's style groove as 'Our Man Flynn' plays on the flat screen in the rented apartment on Xing Guo Lu.
James Coburn is practicing his karate as languid trails of off white smoke hang lazily in my cramped two bedroom.
It's a cold night, silent and empty, alone to the warm embrace of almond eyed Chinese girls, skin brown and soft in the moonlight. Lights are scarce as I sit alone, a modern cave man, the only fire burning is in electrodes and diodes.
A lost refugee of the night, struggling against the enormity of the situation.
We've followed the words of Tyler Durden, we've reached rock bottom and started to dig.
On the other side though is a world we never could have imagined.
Close your eyes as I take you with me...

The street I live on is lined with trees, oaks or maples I'm not sure which but the former French concession is sick with them. A block down, past the piles of dead amber leaves and shaved tree trunks lies the C store with steamed buns and DVD salesmen outside.
I'm trying to paint a portrait in prose about the world outside of me and all I can capture is the blank, never ending promise of the white screen in front of me

Sunday, December 5, 2010

On Models, Mayhem and Soap

It's strange out here in the middle Kingdom, the crowds and the language leave me feeling like a single melting ice cube in a giant glass of single malt scotch. There is so much to discover out here that I don't know what parts of myself are melting away into the mix.
Most of my nights are spent around bottles of familiar spirits, then it's the women, Asian women, Lao Wei women that share my mornings, my afternoons and dreams. Hauntingly absent from any sort of schedule but depressingly familiar all the same.
This week was no exception, it's just an odd world of indulgent sex, of friendship with the strangest people and the occasional green tea flavored condom or toothpaste.
There is so much the same between the US and China and yet like Cucumber and Mint flavored Lays potato chips, so much is different.
I've been here 8months and am starting to see this place as my home but who if not what am I becoming? I know it's a trouble maker but that's someone I've always been. I feel like I'm on the cusp of something out here, the verge of some new exciting whirlwind and I don't want to get off before it's to late.