Beijing Boyce III

Welcome to issue three of my yet-to-be-named e-newsletter, featuring

  • Schandlicious
  • Relax at Beer Mania
  • W’s Identity Crisis
  • Books: Those Things Made out of Paper
  • Feng Shui Fiasco at Icehouse
  • The Houston Astros vs. The Beijing Jackhammers
  • We Got Mail!
  • Eat, Drink, Sniff and Be Merry with ASC
  • Stall on the Wall
  • Final Sips, Including Chopschticks, Riverside Café,
    Catwoman, and Big Papi.

I organized my first wine tasting last Friday, so I could try three Schandl wines fresh off the container ship from Europe. These Austrian beauties were imported by Oliver Sedlinger, who is not only a well-seasoned imbiber of grape-based beverages, but also able to charm the pants (figuratively, not literally) off women by crooning Chinese love songs.

The first Shandl up was a dry white — a Pinot Blanc (2004) — with a floral nose. If that description is too plain, here’s what says: “Classic Burgundy bouquet, delicate and spicy, strong on the palate, muscular and Harmonic, fruity and racy, spicy until the long finish.” Um, that’s what I meant. Anyway, this one got a thumb up from my new co-worker Andrew, who has spent more than little time around Pinot grapes.

The next wine was a Rulander Spatlese (2003), which was slightly sweeter, followed by a Beerenauslese Cuvee (2002), which was sweeter yet and close to ice wine territory. I like my wine dry, but more than a few among our ten enjoyed these last two.

In any case, ten bottles of wine (add in some Soave, Valpolicella, Shiraz Cabernet and Cabernet Sauvignon for an entirely unscientific tasting) and three kilos of cheese had us Shandlerious and fellow guests / that’s Beijing bigwigs Mike and Toni dragged us off to Tango for the magazine’s Halloween party. We’ll forgo details on that adventure…

This tasting was a trial run for what I hope will be more events. Many thanks to Oliver for sharing his wines and bringing over the stereo speakers, to Sherry for buying the sausage and Aussie red, and to Isabelle, Diana, Toni, Lana, Asti, Andrew and Mike for making it a fun evening. Many apologies to American Community Club President / General Funster Shayne who we met on the way out of my building — I had no idea she lived in the neighborhood — and was the unfortunate recipient of a few bear hugs.

For more details on the Shandl wines, email Oliver at For more details on the attempt by Oliver and me to write a Beijing-centric version of Sound of Music, watch this space. For now, I’ll leave you with a work in progress, a version of “My Favorite Things”:

The Temple of Heaven / is an earthly pleasure
The Great Wall, quite simply / there’s nothing that measures
Forbidden City / from Dynasty Ming
These are a few of my favorite things

When the taxi / driver’s snarling / there behind his cage
I turn on my Walkman and just drown him out
While outside the red sandstorms rage

(Matt Roberts, could the Ah-Q Jazz Arkestra please cover this?)

A couple of weeks ago, I threw on a jacket and went for a walk on a superb cool Beijing night. After 20 minutes of burning calories, I came across Beer Mania. It’s a modestly sized spot, run by Marc van Bever, and serves up dozens of kinds of Belgian brews and keeps them in a nice glass-fronted fridge so you can “go shopping” and see what’s soon to be in your tummy. Note: some of these beers are in the 10 percent alcohol range and are not to be drunk lightly.

With a dozen small tables and a short bar, Beer Mania seems to be a favorite for small groups of friends. A glance at the menu shows the place serves crepes and a wide range of cocktails. A glance out the window showed three patrons opening packages of Hormel ham and — with each slice neatly rolled up — packing it away. Nothing like processed meat chased down by Duvel. (By the way, I’ve popped into Beer Mania twice more and my first impressions hold true — except for the ham.)

The name of this “Nordic style” establishment — owned by a former Olympic ping pong champion and a professional hockey player, both hailing from the land of Ikea — hints at the identity crisis within. Is it a music bar (the DJ and KTV shows on the tube), restaurant (pine tables neatly set with cutlery), café (with an emphasis on aqua blue and lemon yellow), pub (standup bar and shelves of alcohol), gymnasium (pool and ping pong tables) or knick-knack shop (assorted paddles — signed — and other souvenirs on sale). And while it’s promoting Swedish food, what’s with the lofty goal of having the best malt whiskey and the claim of having a wide range of beers (um, six)? Then there’s the patio outside, a quite serene place with elegant furniture, a water fountain and… a life-sized cutout of a ping pong player. If establishments had personalities, this one would have more than a handful.

There’s more to life than having a fork in one hand and a cup of wine in the other (though not much). Thus, we dedicate the next 300 words to books. It was miraculous to find — among the bestsellers, half-assed language learning texts and various other tomes at the foreign book shop in Wangfujing — a copy of Don Marquis’ Archy and Mehitabel. It’s based on two characters introduced in Marquis’ column in 1916: Archy is a cockroach who types stories each night (no capital letters; he’s too weak to press down that giant shift key) and Mehitabel is a cat working on her ninth life. It was cutting-edge humor at the time and an extremely hard book to find now. But they had it in Beijing. What are the odds? Words of wisdom from Archy: Prohibition makes you want to cry into your beer / and denies you the beer to cry into. ~ Someone asked me what three books I would want if stranded on a desert island. After careful thought, I picked Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles (for his simple and inspiring prose), Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (for his advice on surviving in a foreign environment) and The Best of Penthouse Forum (for I’m assuming I’m stranded alone). ~ Speaking of Bradbury, his 1948 classic makes for interesting reading since it’s about humans colonizing Mars, which he has happening in 1999, thus leading to some interesting entries for 2005. I won’t spoil the ending, but you might end up drawing some parallels from Bradbury’s take on culture clashes and your own East-West experiences. * Alex Pearson at the Bookworm says her hottest selling books are One Billion Customers by Jim McGregor and Foreign Babes in Beijing by Rachel DeWoskin.

Icehouse got its name because during the Qing dynasty the place was, surprise surprise, an icehouse. Maybe that’s the problem. After all, if it had good feng shui, then emperors past would have used it for a dining room or guest quarters, instead of a place to store frozen water. I know, I know, the lounge is partially owned by Handel Lee, who is associated with all that is high class in Shanghai and Beijing. Thus my discomfort is obviously due to a personal deficiency in taste. Even so, I’m not the only misfit, because numerous other people have found Icehouse to be too boxy, too flat, too vacant, too much like the cement-floored, soulless events room in my hometown’s ice hockey arena (of course, only I made this last connection).

While I’m griping, why does Icehouse make it so hard to tell apart the men’s and women’s toilets? I went into one toilet only to run into a woman. I headed into the other toilet only to run into — another woman. I then realized that the first woman was cleaning and went back. The result is a terrible dilemma: either I have to use valuable memory space to remember which toilet to use or I have to start wearing adult diapers. And it’s all the fault of Icehouse!

Finally, there’s that hallway, which I’m guessing is 80 meters long. It’s impressive going in, although some oxygen tanks along the way would be nice for the less fit. But coming out, especially if you’ve had a few drinks, you could end up bashing your head off the walls a dozen times and/or be sober by the time you reach the door.

Okay, to be positive, I know some people who like Icehouse and I’ve had a few good times there, too, notably at the Chopschticks event a month ago and at that’s Beijing’s launch of their 2005-6 Insider’s Guide to Beijing a few weeks back. The latter event featured Grey Goose vodka and thus there were plenty of happy people, including one magazine editor who described Icehouse as “fanstatic!”

But still, the feng shui factor remains. I dunno, Ice House reminds me of the New York Yankees baseball team. They spend outrageous amounts of money on their product, they have lots of strong backing and they have a good customer base (Icehouse has Chopschticks comedy shows, ASC wine tastings, Beijing Cheese Society events, etc.). All the stars are aligned, but something just doesn’t feel right…

I skipped going to the Goose and Duck for game one of the World Series and instead headed to John Bull Pub. As one friend said, “Let’s give the place a chance.” First, let me praise the breakfast: three savory mini beef patties, three slices of crisp bacon, a mound of fried mushrooms, two eggs, two slabs of toast and hash browns. Price: RMB50. Someone came over from John Bull’s sister establishment, Sequoia Café, with samples of their warm, moist, freshly baked muffins. Except for Clemens being out of the game too early, things were going well.

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