Nuttin Like a Sanlitun Cafe!

I wish more cities had a Sanlutin

The calm before the bro-sis storm
Sister and brother, chilling
and now the battle begins!
Brother going for the headlock
Oh, and this is my favorite!  What Jingmei hates.
Yes, the nose push!
See what happens when you sleep with a hairy laowai?
The Grand Finale: Hair Pull!
You start to grow long black hairs on your arms!
With a good yank to win!

Beijing’s answer to Moscow’s Arbat, Sanlitun is a small street with
cheap designer knock-offs for sale on one side, and a cool cafe strip on
the other. Conveniently located in the Embassy district, its over-run with
laowai and is the principal sunny afternoon and late night meeting place for
the moneyed party set.

Personally, I try to stay away, since too much exposure can severely
dent one’s wallet and Chinese perspective. The drink prices are very un-Chinese
at $3-5 a pop and with all the foreigners you can sometimes, if you’re
drunk enough and squint right, forget you’re in Beijing.

I can’t stay away all together, though, and over the
May Day holidays, I spent three days in a row drinking in the sunny cafes. The
first day, I went drinking whiskey all afternoon with Jingmei’s brother,
Jingsong (Yes, the names are similar. I’ll write about that in the near
future.), after a lunch of Thai food and four bottles of wine. Needless to
say, I was passed out in the back seat of Jingmei’s car by 5pm, waking
late the next morning for another afternoon of pleasantries.

This time around, I stayed away from the hard stuff, and settled for
fresh watermelon juice and a few dozen new CD’s from one of the countless
CD sellers. Actually, unlike normal times when I would look through the
piles and piles of crappy Western music (Cher, Michel Bolton, Backstreet
Boys, etc) for the few gems, Jingsong just bought the whole pile from the
vendor and then shooed him away. Amazing what power Shanghai stockbrokers
weld in China.

That evening, we went to dinner at a Brazilian restaurant on a side
street next to Sanlitun, watching with watering mouths as the chief cut
delicious slices off the roasting slabs of meat. Nothing like the usual
rat meat on a stick sold in the hutong allies.

Once again, I fell pray to Jingsong’s unquenchable thirst for booze and
indulged with him at another Latin place around the corner. Not able to go
too long after the previous evening, Jingmei and I left him early for more
Wayan-recovery time.

The third afternoon found us sipping cold drinks in yet another cafe
after a morning of a boring Chinese wedding and tasty Japanese sushi. We
sat next to a Russian couple in town on business and chatted about the
joys of Sanlitun. They pointed out a fun trait about this city, the
local’s accent.

In Beijing, the locals speak Chinese with a thick accent, adding
‘r’ to the end of many words. One time last November, as Tom,
the swift Chinese language student, and I were headed to a club on
Sanlitun. He spent 10 minutes trying to tell the driver where we wanted to
go, using perfectly pronounced Putonghua, when I busted in with my
street-learnt pidgin Chinese and scored instant recognition with ‘Sanlitor.’

Oh, and if you sit long enough in a cafe on
Sanlitor, you’ll see just
about every single expat in Beijing, even if you don’t wanna see a
single one. Too bad, ain’t it!