When did I stop being the leader of daring expeditions? Was I ever?
Last night we were deciding on what to do with our evening after a seemingly endless discussion of what James (Zheng Lei, the frustrated demagogue) and Holly are doing with their English Corner… sorry, English Island. He wants it small like a lecture series about his topics whereas Holly and Wang Yen(?) are more loose about who could be involved. Standing outside the crappy Sichuan restaurant they argued (sans Wang Yen), looking for compromise and issuing ultimata with Xiao Meng helping bitch about Sun Wen through it all.
“My condition,” he said, “is that you agree with me, or else I leave.” I laughed at the authoritarian impulse and how he’s all over exercising it. And Holly’s doing her help people get along and work it out thing while she’s being told to be a “strong leader,” not necessarily her style.
But when this was done with (James grumbling that he guesses if she’s an employee she has to follow her boss) Holly led us down to the building she used to teach in, for a trip up to the roof. That building’s down in Xin Jie Kou, the bright lights big city downtown of Nanjing and she’d been up on the roof once during the day. We took an elevator to the 32nd floor where we met a grey-uniformed security guard who turned us away very politely. We took the elevator down a floor and then found the stairs. On the 31st floor there was no guard, only cameras. We climbed quietly, especially past floor 32 where we’d left a vaguely alerted guard and the door to the stairwell was open. When we got to the top though, we were barred from the roof by a single gate. Padlocked. Down on the 31st floor where we caught the elevator a guard was now sitting behind glass. He didn’t say anything to us.
Then down we went to the Fashion Lady Mall, a cramped neon underground. We entered via Manicure Alley and didn’t proceed too far before Holly got sick of it. It was especially noisy cramped and packed. You felt you had to duck because of the neon ceilings with their shooting stars and constellations.
Then up and out and find a restaurant Holly half-remembered and up another high rise office building headed for the roof. We joined a suited young man headed for floor 23 but went to 27. Xiao Meng stayed back directly below the security camera while Holly and I didn’t care about being caught on video. This elevator was dingier than the last with its mirror walls and tile sunburst floor. And when we arrived on 27 (one below the top, just in case) the floor was dark, a single red power light blinking from the emergency lighting box. The stairs were lit though, and up we went until meeting up with another gate locked with a bicycle chain. This one didn’t even get us close to the roof. At the first one we could see the night outside, hear the wind, just not head out ourselves. This stairwell didn’t seem to require creeping, what with the dark abandoned floors we’d been on so far. That proved to be true on the 28th where it was just as dead as 27. We used our cell phones to light the way to the elevator button and descended. Picked up some people around 23 or maybe 18 and carried them along with us and out the main door and its gaggle of security guards who’d probably noticed us go in (hard not to see a couple of foreigners wandering through an office lobby at 8pm) and confidently ignored them as we stalked out. Holly accepted the fact that most buildings lock up their roofs so we set out for other entertainment.
The German Brauhaus lies beneath the World Trade Center. It’s vast, sprawling around the central escalators with a stage in one quadrant. I don’t know the band’s name but they were Filipino singing in English Chinese and Spanish. Five members, 3 girls one with short hair and a pouty lower lip who seemed to be having fun sometimes (let’s call her Gloria) and two long-haired women who really weren’t. Having fun. They did their lacklustre dance moves because it was their job. Behind them was a dumpier woman not wearing the short red skirt with white tank top combination. Holly thinks she was Gloria’s mom “They have the same mouth” but I’m not sure I saw it. She was DJing and popping in the occasional keyboard bit and some backup vocals.
The star of the show, however, was the guy. Tight red pants. Wife-beater accentuating his nipples. Dyed blonde styled-scruffy hair. Tattoos around his right arm. Red sleeve on his left. And he was a performer. He exuded performance, letting himself snap precisely through his motions while the girls were satisfied to remember what they were doing. He exulted in this, even though they had to use the lyric sheets down to the side for a lot of songs. When he headed out into the crowd for one guy’s birthday he “professed his love” through song, dragged him up and really seemed to want to share the moment, the joy of all this music. In the end the guy whose birthday it was told him he couldn’t love the gay singer - “I love her instead!” motioning to his girlfriend who was capturing it all in cellphone video glory. (Aside: yesterday browsing through Chinese DVDs I saw a flick called See You in YouTube. I wonder why Hollywood is so slow on that.)
There was also a Chinese guy with Phil Spector hair who, though not as talented a dancer, was whooping it up with as much heart as the singer through the Ricky Martin set. I wondered if the personality (because he didn’t seem incapacitatedly drunk) came first and he’d styled his hair in a big frizzy afro or if he’d been born with that hair and had to develop a personality to match it.
The other people I was intrigued with were a young group sitting by the stage on maybe a double date. A tall girl in a Japanese schoolgirl haircut and sweater sat next to a much shorter girl in a truckerish hat and green work shirt kind of thing. Hat smoked a cigarette seeming bored while Schoolgirl was enthralled and a prompt applauder. Across from them were the guys. One wore glasses and a sweater. Cool glasses from where I sat. He focused on the band, paying careful attention. Next to him his friend in a white shirt was singing along to every song, really getting into it. Everyonce in a while Hat would say something to Schoolgirl. They’d clink glasses and drink a bit of their dark beer. A couple of times I saw Hat singing along, her eyes dark holes devoid of excitement. I don’t know why but I fell just a tiny bit in love with her.english corner exploring fashion lady mall filipino band german brauhaus holly nanjing office building security guard the hangman xiao meng xinjiekou zheng lei