Trippin’ at the Hip-Hoppinest Club in Beijing: Propaganda

The first thing you notice is the paintings on the wall.  Cultural Revolution propaganda.  Heroic soldiers, workers, peasants.  In agriculture, study Dazhai.  In industry, study Daqing.  Fine.  We’ve seen it all before, haven’t we?  The relentless commercialization of Maoist imagery.  But in a hip-hop club?  The is a first, for me at least.

It was Monday night.  I’d been working all day in my office-apt, handily arranged by CET at CNU.  I needed to get out and let off some steam.  What better way than to head to the local neighborhood bar-club hangout at Wudaokou 五道口?  An easy stroll, I thought.  I’d forgotten how deceiving the maps of this city can be, and how f*’in HUGE this city really is.  I walked up the Third Ring Road, taking in the wonderful aroma of diesel fuel.  Ah, Beijing.  Broad avenues.  Gas and dust everywhere.  Mad Max.  The Outback smack in the middle of the Chinese capital.  All the roads and sidewalks of the area were being repaved, in classic Chinese style--all at once, in preparation for the 2008 Olympics.
Turned into a side road and found myself on the campus of Minzu Daxue 民族大学。Damn, that brought back some memories.  Hadn’t been there in ten years.  Place was crawling with students.  Dorms jam-packed.  Bunk beds stacked up in the windows.  I’d also forgotten how huge the campuses here are.  

It took a while to cross to the other side, where I wised up and caught a cab the rest of the way to Wudaokou.  I’d heard that Caijing East Road 财经东路 was lined with bars and cafes that catered to a mixed international crowd.
 Only place I was able to find was a club called Propaganda, which had been touted in the local guidebooks as the place to see and be seen.  I’d hardly call it that.  It’s definitely the place to get down and dirty though, if hip-hop is your game.
Funny thing, hip-hop.  It’s getting passe in the States.  Record sales are down.  The bling bling image and the thugs, guns, and girls rap is getting stale.  It lost its political edge a while ago as the big stars sold their souls to rampant materialism.  But here in China, it’s all the rage.  Goes to show that globalization washes over China in long slow waves, preserving little pockets of cultural history.

I arrived at around 10:30.  The place was just beginning to fill up.  On the ground floor is a bar.  Nothing special.  They were playing Braveheart on the bar’s TV screen.  I headed down to the basement where I remained for the next two hours.  Dominating the space is a large dance floor, backed by an elevated DJ booth.  There’s a bar near the stairs, and behind that are couches.  The crowd, mostly men, were all arranged at the edges of the room.  Slowly, and then more and more rapidly, the club filled up with people.  The SP ratio was dismal at first, but by midnight it had evened out.  Students, mostly.  

I went around making random conversation, trying to get a sense of who these people were.  Talked to a Chinese banker, who was drinking at the bar.  He’d been educated in London.  He was there because he’d lost big that day in bond trading.  Spoke briefly with a fellow Yank, who looked natty in a hip-hop cap and Steelers shirt.  He said he was here to rebuild the embassy of a certain unnamed superpower.  Chatted with three French students, who were studying computer science and Chinese at a local uni.  Danced with them briefly on the floor, when a Chinese woman approached me with some serious moves.  Had to go with the flow.  We hipped and hopped for a spell and stopped for a water break.  Turns out she’s from Changsha, but is on her way to Sydney to get a Master’s in economics.  Ended up talking for quite a while to a couple of Chinese dudes near the DJ booth.  One of them is a graphic designer and teaches in a nearby uni.  

The club reminded me of a fraternity basement.  It had that grungy, funky feel to it.  That burnt-out air shelter feel.  Smothered in subterranean sexuality.  Guys were picking up (or at least trying to) all over the place.  Chinese guys, Middle Eastern guys, Korean guys, Westerners--you name it.  The girls were being cagey.  They were there to dance.  Not all of them of course--I saw a few couples walking out of the club hand in hand when I left around 1:30.

Some of the guys were there to dance too.  Especially the Chinese guys.  A couple of them had some serious hip hop moves.  I felt old and sluggish on the dance floor.  I was waiting for somebody to yell “out of the way, grandpa!”

One of the highlights of the night was seeing an American guy do some serious swing dancing with a couple of gals near the DJ booth.  The rest of the crowd made way as they swung about.  He had an eclectic style, with a few salsa moves thrown in for good measure.  Obviously he was enjoying himself and liked being the center of attention.  I appreciated the subversive act of doing a retro partnered dance in a hip hop club.  Would have joined in if I’d been feeling better, but my gut was acting up.

Had a good converation with a very friendly cab driver on the way home.  He talked about the preparations Beijing is making of the Olympics and how proud everyone was to host them.  Went to bed around 3 am.  I was hoping to sleep like a lamb and wake up in late morning, but instead I woke up at 6 am with gut rage.  拉肚子-A common occupational hazard.  Don’t want to second guess the cause。  This is China after all.