shu and joe

nights out when i should have stayed in

Published on March 8, 2006

At 7pm on a Friday night, it takes approximately one and a half hours to drive 10 miles to the eastern part of Beijing. Traffic snarls past narrow alleyways, overtakes pedestrians and tries the patience of many. I sit, legs pressed to leather upholstery, absentmindedly nodding to a dancehall CD smuggled in from Antigua.

At the Guizhou restaurant, the food flares with heat and oil and the flavors of rural villages. The peppers redden lips while the beer flushes our faces and supposedly, deadens the lethal effect of the spice at stomach-level. In the center of the table sits a gurgling pot of jalapeno-laced soup filled with a whole fish, eyes and lips included. The bacon with chili and peanuts is the first to go while the spicy cabbage and pork comes in close behind. The table bows under the weight of endless dishes and emptied beer bottles, piles of fried rice and platters of scarlet-flecked vegetables. We eat until we’re full and then begin again, wastebands pressed against bellies, eyes misting over with steam and smoke.

Reggae seems to be the soundtrack for the evening as, hours later, I find myself sitting in the corner of a local bar staring up at a coterie of Caribbean performers. For a moment, it’s easy to imagine we’re on a Carnival Cruise complete with cloying tropical drinks and ear-jangling steel drums. As the ship rocks from bow to stern, I fumble my way to the deck’s bathroom with dampened palms and a newfound urgency. Droopy-eyed, muddled, land-legged, I think I’m going to be sick. Really not well, in fact.

Then the electricity goes out and the lights dim to black and the crowd cheers in unison and I gulp air like a mudfish.

Filed under: Beijing, China, Eat and Drink, Nightlife

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