August 17, 2008 9:18 AM
Q&A: Blogging After Dark
But he's still losing money on his blog. For this, he blames one major expense.
"I pay for all my own drinks," he said.
There's no end in sight for the Beijing Boyce blog, though, he said. He's been here in Beijing since 2004, working in communications for an NGO. The blog's only been up since the fall of 2006, but he says that traffic is as high as ever, with thousands of first timers here in the city looking for tips on a good night out.
I sat down with Boyce in the Sanlitun district on Friday to talk about how the definition of "a People's Olympics" includes $.73 beer, crazy Beijing drivers, media hordes for meat-on-a-stick and whether Mao would get free cover at the city's most exclusive clubs:
I have to ask: You've been posting on the blog about all of the media who've tried scorpion. What's the attraction?
I think it's got the shock value to get readers to open the newspaper, and it's very visual. I always say, what would be the western equivalent? I just can't think of one. Maybe a hot dog?
Off a street cart in New York?
Yeah, but it's not just quite the same. Just the novelty of it, the freakiness of it. In fact, most locals do not eat that. They eat it as much as much as a Scottish person in the U.S. eats haggis. Maybe haggis is a good equivalent. Do people regularly eat haggis?
I'm not sure. With thousands reporters coming to Beijing, at any point before the Games started, did you say, "Oh, no, they're all going to go to the Night Market to eat scorpion?"
Actually, the greatest thing is the number of local writers who are telling me, Hey, the head office is making me write about this, don't put me on your list. So I actually made the headline for one of them, "They made me did it." To be fair to the reporters, a lot of them to balance it by saying that it's a touristy thing, and that this is not something that locals eat every day.
The Chinese shut down some bars and clubs in advance of the Games. But has the nightlife here in Beijing really changed this month? Are you seeing anything noticeably different?
The number of places that are shut down have been few, and we knew about them back in February. We knew they would be closed, and we knew security reasons would be cited. Frankly, it's pretty much been business as usual, to a degree I'm surprised at. I thought there might be even more of a crackdown. But almost every place that I frequent is open, and is open past 2 a.m.
I think the only difference that we're seeing is more rowdy Olympic tourists. I won't name any particular countries, but I saw some pretty aggressive behavior out there last night. But for a pub-crawler like me, it's pretty much the same as it's always been.
There are three Olympic beer sponsors this year. Do we need Tsingdao, Yanjing and Budweiser to all sponsor the Games, and if not, which beer should be the official sponsor?
I think we should have all three because one of the unspoken values of these Olympic venues is that a cup of beer is 5 kuai ($.73), less than a U.S. dollar. And you have your choice of three beers. This is the one "People's Olympic" aspect that I agree came true. If I had to pick one, I'd pick Yanjing, because it's the Beijing beer.
Other Chinese blogs go to great lengths to avoid censorship here in China. But your blog's content is basically unblockable. What's the fun in that?
I could've written a blog about my musings and adventures in Beijing, as hundreds of other people did, but I wanted to do something useful, which is where to get a good martini, who's got the best happy hour and what bars have the best vibes. So I don't tend to get nailed by the censors too often.
But on the other hand, the posts that have gotten the most traffic are the ones that were the most sensitive, like the story about the banning of the blacks and the one about the drug raid I witnessed in Sanlitun. Those two are the most traffic I ever got.
On the topic of wine, I've never heard of the fertile wine regions of China before. Are there fertile wine regions of China?
The problem is you've got a market here where cheap wine dominates, which doesn't give a lot of inspiration for quality. But some of them are starting to make good wine, some of the smaller operations. . They're starting to explore more and more regions. The problem is, finding the combination of weather, soil, labor and technology for a good mix.
You know, outside of Beijing, there are 30 or 40 wineries, and they have to bury the vines under 30 centimeters of soil because they might freeze. Could you do that in America? No, you couldn't afford the labor. Some places, the soil has got too much acid, or the rainy season overlaps the rainy season. Those are all challenges.
I think the biggest challenge is that huge companies dominate here. In California, small companies have a chance. Here, how do small companies even get shelf space?
In 20 or 30 years, will there be a great Chinese wine?
I don't know yet. It's just too hard to say. But one interesting thing about China's wine is that 8 percent of the market is imported bottles and 21 percent is imported bulk wine. Where's that wine going? So when you open a bottle of Chinese wine, are you drinking bulk Chilean? Bulk Spanish? This is the biggest problem for the consumer. You just don't know what you're drinking. And how are you going to make a great wine in a country that does that?
I'm surprised that bars haven't been hosting more drinking tournaments that are Olympic related.
I think that Beijing is just a more laid back, practical drinking city. I keep getting these comparisons of Sydney and Beijing. I don't know how you can compare a fun-loving, democratic, pre-9/11 Sydney with a very controlling, autocratic, post-9/11 Beijing. I don't think we're going to see the same kinds of fun, but you are going to see a lot of fun. It's just going to be in a very Beijing context.
The thing is, fun is more than drinking. It's going to the Great Wall, it's trying Peking Duck, it's shopping and it's watching the traffic.
I do feel fortunate to have seen it before they took half the cars off the road.
Well, it's still pretty bad. There's less traffic, but the driving skills haven't improved. Actually, I think that it's gotten worse. They've got more room now.
Since it is the Olympic season, if you have an opportunity to go on a pub-crawl with one Olympian, who would it be?
I would pick Serena and Venus Williams so I could console them on their disappointing singles losses. I'm a huge tennis fan, and I'm sad that they're already out.
Any good consolation bars here in Beijing?
I don't believe so.
BOCOG has been pushing a lot of people to the Hohai area, but is there an area that still feels very much like a true Beijing nightspot?
I dislike the Hohai area very much. I think it's been decimated of late; it's been watered out. But if I had to take someone on a pub-crawl of places that evoke Beijing, we'd start at Stone Boat in the afternoon in Ritan Park. It's a Qing Dynasty resting place that's been converted to a bar and café. Then we'd go to Nan Lou Gu Xiang, which is a touristy backpackers street full of bars. Then we'd finish at Suzy Wong's. It's got a lounge with a traditional Chinese décor. It's got the opium den feel.
After these Games end, what happens to all these bars and restaurants that opened up specifically for the Olympics?
I think there will be a huge consolidation. There are too many bars and clubs and restaurants and hotels that have opened in the last year to be sustainable. We're already seeing new clubs that aren't even that busy during the Olympics. So what happens to them after the Games?
Did they expand too much and too quickly?
I think a lot of people got greedy. They basically invested in food and beverage, hoping to get a big payoff. But it hasn't worked out that way.
If you could get a drink with Mao, where'd you'd take him?
I would take him to new China Doll. They have a really good mix of locals and foreigners. They've got a good mix of clientele. They also have a good mix of local designers and foreign investors. Everyone says the Chinese aren't creative, but seeing that place disproves that.
I think they evoke a very positive spirit. I think it's a very colorful and exuberant place, and I'd like to see how he'd react to that. They've got sexy people, party people, fun loving people, and I think that's a very nice edge of China to see.
And you can smoke there. He's a big smoker, right?
I think so.
And they have a VIP lounge.
He'd get free cover?
10 percent off.