, , , , , ,

The Apple store in Beijing is famous for rioting crowds, they look peaceful enough here. But on the day the iPhone 4S didn't launch in Beijing - hundreds of touts fought pitched battles outside. When we visited it was busy but not ridiculous. I'd like to point out I don't endorse Apple products - I hate the iPod I bought, and regularly ridicule the iPhone and iPad for their extraordinary crapness - no matter what their users say.

We head off to Sanlitun by taxi and the good news is that it’s not too far away. We’re dropped off outside a shopping center with Beijing’s only genuine Apple store in it, and we decide to take a wander before choosing our bar stool for the evening.

The first thing that becomes enormously clear is that the district is geared for fleecing unsuspecting tourists. Child pickpockets abound – it’s easy to spot if you know it might happen, it involves mum or dad distracting you while their nipper gently moves round to your blind side to help themselves from your bag or pocket.

My prevention technique for this is simple, a thumb in the top of my pocket blocks my wallet and I have a handle on the top of my backpack – so I can hold it in front of me and move it gently from side to side (ensuring that it will smack any grasping hand away without damaging the child). My chum doesn’t carry a bag of an evening so he has it easier. We exchange some rude words in Chinese with the thieves and hurry on down the road.

Only to be greeted by two gentlemen who want us to accompany them to a strip show. This won’t be happening – firstly because I don’t like strip shows (really – I find it hard to understand how anybody finds them arousing). And secondly because they’re absolutely illegal in China and if there really were a strip show you wouldn’t be shouting about it at the top of your lungs in a tourist district.

In the day the whole area is quiet enough and jolly pleasant - you could take your mum there and she'd like it too. At night however it gets quite a bit rowdier - and I loved it for that.

I suspect it’s a variation of the old tourist scam in Soho (London) – where you end up in a club with an ugly old lady in a bathing costume paying $700 a glass for her “champagne” (fizzy apple juice) and there’s no chance of her ever getting naked. When you try to leave – you get presented with the bill and almost die. An Indian friend of mine got fleeced like this and it cost him nearly a thousand pounds to get away.

However brushing these two incidents aside – I like Sanlitun. It’s like a proper bar area, where pubs serve a variety of cold drinks at reasonable prices. There’s music that doesn’t sound like a cat being strangled (Did I mention I don’t love Chinese pop music? Well I don’t.). You’ll find plenty of live bands that actually seem to know something other than “Hotel California” (a song I once loved – but have heard so many times since moving to Asia that I would now rather listen to the sounds of my hand being inserted in a blender).

We settle down in a little back street place where the barman speaks perfect English – and I nearly die in shock when I find out he’s self-taught and has never been to an English speaking nation. He sounds like a cast member from East Enders. This guy talks us through the area, recommends eating there the following night when everything is half price and brings us two ice cold pints of Tsing Tao for less than a cost of a small bottle of the stuff in a bar in Shenzhen.

It's normally busier than this at night - but it makes for a lovely photo doesn't it? With a bit of luck one day Shenzhen will catch on to the idea that it might be nice to provide somewhere you'd enjoy going at night. But I won't hold my breath as I suspect I'd turn blue and die long before anyone considers it.

Actually compared to Shenzhen’s paucity of entertainment options Sanlitun is amazing. We will return every evening and marvel at the friendliness of the different bars, the cleanliness of them, the quality of the food, the reasonable pricing and their dedication to customer service and drinks that taste like they should. Better still none of this will be conducted to the rattle of Shenzhen’s ever present dice cups.

After a lousy start to the week Sanlitun has perked both of us up enormously and we stay out late – bar hopping and avoiding the flat. Where our next nasty surprise awaits… tomorrow.