I am fan of David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’. The symbolism in his work and idea of anomie has also fascinated me. In his work reality is easily broken down in an instant with the use of the profane and excessive. It was in this light I remember fondly the weirdest night of my life when I lived in Beijing. It was a January night and I had decided to take a friends offer to meet him in a bar called Modernista. It was a Spanish Tapas bar and by far, my favourite bar. I had been drinking their steadily since seven o’clock and make quick work of the beer and whisky that was coming my way from people I had just met. It had been one of the best nights I had in a long time in Beijing and I really just let myself get loosened up with alcohol. By the time it was ten o’clock, I was inebriated to the point that it didn’t matter if I had drank anything else, I could not feel drunker after being this drunk. By 12 o’clock I started on pints of water to give myself of a less intense hangover the next morning. My drunk side is very considerate that way.
I had about two hours to get sober and find a taxi. I must have drank several litres of water, though it is impossible from memory how many pints I had drank because memory isn’t serving me now. I had still taken the odd shot from my new friends. From tequilas to whiskeys, with every shot I drank its alcoholic worth in water. Finally it was two in the morning and the bar was closed. I gave my new friends hugs and long handshakes and laughter and said ‘bye’.
I began staggering through the narrow streets which were fitted with a one lane road. The buildings were one story high and grey. They were more like houses than apartments and this was the old way Beijingers lived. I was staggering and humming to myself until I realized I was being a bit loud. I was walking through past the residents of people and I had to shut up least I be on a news report as a drunk foreigner who was allegedly shouting ant-government slogans. It has felt like an eternity making my way through these narrow streets that are locally called ‘hutongs’. I always wanted to live in a hutong. I never felt like an apartment was ‘home’. On the ground floor things felt more accessible and in case of a fire I could jump out of the window and not impale myself on a bystander.
There were a few lampposts every now and again and a weird buzzing noise would harass my ears every couple of meters. I had kept looking behind my back in case a car was making its way up the road. Growing up in the countryside, I was use to one lane roads in the dark and knew the procedure for when a car was coming, but in China I wasn’t sure what to do. Eventually I made it to the end of the Hutong and found the subway station I had arrived from. Of course the station was closed. Most stations close between 11.30 pm to 12.30 am and makes getting home after a night out a bit of a hassle. Perhaps having night services might be a good way to make jobs.
I already knew I had to get a taxi home but I did not know how long it would take. I could not hide the fact I was a Westerner from the taxi men as they slowed down to pick me up and swiftly drive off. They probably assumed I couldn’t speak Mandarin, or worse yet I was too drunk. A friend had told me in Shanghai he got into a taxi so drunk he passed out and the taxi man brought him home for the night and put him on the sofa. The next day he had to pay the taxi man the equivalent of 10 average fares to return to the city because the taxi man lived in the suburbs.
Every taxi driver refused me and I was starting to get a bit worried. I could probably spend the night In the 24 hour McDonalds down the street. The homeless usually plop themselves on the second floor and sleep in the back away from attention. I had on occasion bought them a Big Mac meal and made conversations with them. It might not be such a bad idea when I began to consider it. I was frustrated that out of nearly 10 taxi’s which drove past that were vacant, none of the drivers would stop for me.
Across the street I saw two figures emerge. I knew they must have come from the Chinese bar that was down the street they were coming from. It was a nice place but the atmosphere still felt like it was trying to be Western when it should’ve been what it wanted to be. That is not to be condescending of course, if they wanted to give the place a Western feel with a Chinese twist then go for it. But it had to be said, the atmosphere was this typical plastic American experience I had learned to dislike a long time ago.
The two men who emerged looked my age and we made eye contact immediately. I could tell they were not locals. Usually on even most empty streets, local Beijingers or people who have lived in Beijing long enough would ignore you as anyone else. It was new people to the city who would more than likely approach foreigners. They called me over and shouted at me in Mandarin if I needed help. I replied back with a firm ‘YES, nobody will pick me up because I am foreign’. I greeted the two men and went to shake their hands. The first fellow had a good grip and smiled. The second fellow was missing his right arm up to the shoulder. It was at first awkward when I extended my right hand out to greet him but we both laughed about it a soon as I realized my mistake.
Things were starting to get a bit surreal for me at this stage. I was still drunk and I was in the middle of a street with two guys from out of town telling me they are in the business of conservationism and they admire me because I am the only foreigner they have ever met who spoke Mandarin. I in turn replied I was studying in Beijing and was extremely drunk. They gave me their business cards and hailed a taxi for me. The taxi man couldn’t drive away this time because I was already in the front seat. I had assumed two men I just met were going to split the taxi with me. Instead they gave the taxi driver my fare and told him to go quickly before I realize. Of course I knew what they were saying and tried to object but the taxi driver set off and I waved the two gents goodbye.
I sighed a bit and looked to the taxi man. Like most of you know, it is expected of a taxi man and the passenger to strike up a conversation. In Beijing, most taxi men ignored passengers, with a few exceptions. A friend met a guy who use to take a photo with every foreigner he gave a ride to and let them see his scrapbook of people he met from all parts of the world. For the most part I had met a few taxi drivers whose tongues were not so firmly planted in their gullet.
One taxi man told me he would not like his daughter to marry a black man because the skin looks dirty. Another told me that the true way to a woman’s heart is through conveying emotions and that relationships fail because the emotions are not truthfully exchanged. I had everything from a racist, guru and now, religious taxi man. This time I was with an evangelical taxi man. He knew I could speak Mandarin because I was shouting ‘don’t pay for my fare, don’t, don’t!’ loudly before he set off. He handed me a Bible with certain paragraphs underlined. Although I am an atheist, I thought it was weird for a Christian to desecrate their own holy book. He asked me if I had found God’s light, to which I replied ‘yes’. Even though I was drunk I still knew yes or no he was still going to preach to me. At least with a yes reply he would not be using a negative tone with me, which would ruin a nice night out. So I said yes for smoothness.
He then told me ‘that bible I just gave you, read a passage for me, I have never heard a foreigner read the Bible in Mandarin’.
I agreed and began reading a passage about somewhere in Egypt. I cannot really remember. I was getting all the words right and my tones were not that bad. His face was lighting up with joy and he even let out a few giggles. He thought it was a real novelty to have a foreigner read the Bible to him in his own language. He kept saying things like ‘you are amazing, so good! You should be a missionary!’
It felt like a goddamn eternity I was in that taxi reading to the guy and it was funny at first but it soon began to just feel weird. He was not slapping the wheel shouting ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ and swerving a few times out of joy. My eyes were wide open out of fear at times and he had taken my appearance of shock as a reaction to his devotion. I really thought, Jesus Christ, why didn’t I take the blue pill God damn it.
We arrived at my apartment complex and he grabbed my arm tightly and told me ‘your friends only paid half the fare, but it is okay. Thank you for reading to me’
I nodded and got out of the taxi and remembered to hand back the man’s Bible. I was still in a weird feeling of limbo between what had just happened and where I was now. Between the one armed man hailing me a taxi and a devoted evangelical making me read his Bible while shouting ‘hallelujah’ and ‘yes’ whilst also swerving on the road, I had one of those nights that felt like it wasn’t going to end.