Coffee Shops and Night Clubs

Just after I last blogged my very good friend Neil arrived. He used to work at the same school as me in Xi’an, but moved on to another job in Shanghai a year and a half ago. After he arrived on Thursday we went to Park Qin’s cafe for pizza and then downstairs to the bar to meet Nick and Dave.
Yesterday we went to Xiao Zhai to buy some DVDs and then Neil, knowing the city much better than I do, showed me a street with lots of nice cafes. It’s a street called Shi Da Lu a couple of metro stops south of Xiao Zhai. First we went to the Village Cafe because Neil says it has really good burgers, but it was closed so instead we went to the Sculpting in Time Cafe. It was just the kind of relaxed comfortable and friendly place I’ve been looking for, and somewhere I could easily accidentally spend most of the day reading and watching the world go by. It was lunchtime so we ordered food, and then we stayed chatting for so long that we decided to also have afternoon cake and coffee. The lattes were huge and came in a big bowl, and were also much nicer than Starbucks.

Shi Da Lu is next to the Xi’an International Studies University and the customers in the cafe are mainly university students and a few westerners. Typically for a cafe near a university, many people were working away on laptops and using the free wifi, and it was also advertising its ‘Chinese Corner’ language exchange.

It’s been really good catching up with Neil, but a bit strange seeing him in Xi’an. I’ve known him for so long in London that to take our friendship out of the context of London and transplant it into Xi’an seems bizarre!

Later on yesterday we went to Martin’s house for his birthday party. Martin lives down near Xiao Zhai so we seemed to spend a lot of the day going back and forth on the metro. As I’ve mentioned before I’m at a school in the north of the city, and the same company has more schools in the south. There are only eight western teachers at the north school and it can feel quite isolated, but there are 35 or so western teachers at the southern schools, which are all quite close together. Unfortunately the socialising opportunities between my school in the north and the other schools in the south are quite rare, and so it’s been difficult to expand my social circle beyond the few people at my own school. But at Martin’s there were lots of people from other schools, and I’m now starting to remember their names. Maybe next time we meet I’ll remember to collect some phone numbers and widen my social life a bit further.

At around midnight everyone at the party decamped to go to Song and Song, which is a Chinese night club. It’s difficult to know where to begin when describing Song and Song and writing about our night there, but to keep you interested, at one point I was dancing on the stage.

Compared to Fantasy, which I blogged about a few weeks ago and is a western-style club, Song and Song is a Chinese club that I feel deserves a lot of description. Me and Neil decided to get some food before entering, so everyone else had already scoped out our area and couple of tables. Upon entering I ended up standing at a table with Neil and Angelo. Less than a meter to my left was a very attractive woman in hot-pants dancing on a podium at the end of a runway stage, and on the main stage were a couple of performers dancing and singing. It was my first time in Song and Song so I was still a bit mesmerised by the surroundings, but everyone else was totally non-plussed and deciding what drinks to get.

I never quite know what the protocol is when ordering drinks in clubs here. Back home, I’d decide to get a drink, then spend ages queueing at the bar to buy a drink, then try to force a way through the crowds back to wherever all my mates are. But here it seems very few people actually go to the bar and table service is much more common. Angelo was collecting ¥100 from everyone to buy bottles of vodka and mixers. Being a non-drinker, but also not wanting to seem too stingy, I put in ¥50 and in return had two cans of sprite throughout the evening. Now that I don’t drink alcohol I seem to spend a lot more per drink but a lot less overall throughout an evening.

After a couple of songs the dancers and singers finished their set and left, and the hard and fast club music started. The DJ had the image and confident swagger of a professional DJ, but couldn’t mix two tracks together to save his life. Regardless, the music was a combination of energetic western club tracks from five or so years ago and Chinese songs I’d never heard before. After half an hour or so another singer took to the stage and started singing typical Chinese love ballads. It reminded me a bit too much of the night at KTV for me to respect the singer’s talent, but it was at this time that I had an idea. What if this singer could serenade Martin with a rendition of happy birthday. He’d be so happy!

So I mentioned it to Neil whose Chinese is infinitely better than mine and he put the plan into action. He went off to talk to the singer when she’d finished her set, the bar manager, the DJ, etc. Basically anyone who could actually make it happen, but apparently they only sing happy birthday at midnight. Oh well.

Around 2am all the performers had finished and a few random people were dancing on the stage. Manny and Angelo, the two extroverts of the group, got up on stage and started dancing extravagantly. A few songs later and Neil got up on stage to have a dance-off with Angelo. It’s worth mentioning again that I don’t drink. At all. I was stone cold sober in the club. There was a time when I would only dance if I was pretty drunk; in fact I used to see getting the confidence to dance as one of the benefits of drinking. So I surprised myself with a desire to get on the stage and dance the night away. I came to the decision that if the next song was a good song that I knew I could dance to and Neil, Angelo and Manny were still up there I’d get up and have a dance. The next song came and it was rubbish so the guys returned from the stage.

But half an hour and a few more good songs later, Neil, Angelo and Manny were back up on stage with a few other people and I thought ‘sod it, you only live once and it’ll make a good blog post’. So up I got and did a little dance. I don’t know, somehow being sober allowed the rational part of my mind to overcome the shy part.

I’m pretty sure there are no photos or videos of me dancing – and that can only be a good thing – but I have witnesses in case anyone doesn’t believe me!

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