It’s good to purge.

Ah, the power of positive whinging! (See previous post for evidence of entirely typical Drama Queenery.) I feel so much better for that, so thanks for listening – and if you find me lapsing into my “The Little Boy Who Everyone Forgot” persona, then please feel free to administer a judicious slap.

(It’s my least attractive persona, and one which has dogged me for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, my present circumstances do appear to be activating it in a major way.)

Someone asked what my apartment was like, and I’m pleased to report that it more than adequately fulfils the Troubled Diva standard for acceptable interior design. In fact, give or take the odd dodgy framed print, it actively borders on the stylish. All credit to JP for nabbing it for me before leaving Hangzhou last week; he knows me so well. Why, the place is a veritable symphony of clean lines, clear surfaces, sympathetic lighting and attractive modular seating solutions in exciting shades of beige. And it’s huge.

However, the apartment’s open-plan capaciousness also means that it never quite gets warm enough – and in the sub-zero night-time temperatures which are now upon us, that’s a major issue. There’s a massive aircon unit in the far corner of the sitting-room area, belching out hot air for all it’s worth, but unfortunately this generates as much draught as it does heat, meaning that I can only sit comfortably on the aforementioned modular seating solutions if I wrap myself tightly in my duvet. The parquet flooring is also ice cold, making a pair of slippers the number one item on my shopping list. Which reminds me: I must let my future flatmate know about this.

Yes, that’s right: from Saturday afternoon onwards, I shall be alone no more, either in the apartment or in the office (where, in terms of job function, I have been a solo act all week). Judging by his photo on the company Intranet, he looks like a friendly sort of chap; and as it will also be his first visit to China, I shall be able to graduate from Nervous Novice to Seasoned Old Hand in a matter of days.

This is a healthy development. As a Nervous Novice, I do have a habit of making a rod for my own back – but I think I shall make quite a good job of being a Seasoned Old Hand. Whereas I baulk at marching up to strangers in the office and trying to ingratiate myself into their social lives, I’m actually the sort of person who naturally gravitates towards people in my own position. In social situations, I’m often the person making sure that the quiet one in the corner who doesn’t know anyone is included in the conversation. Show me a lame duck, and I’ll extend a fatherly wing.

(Assuming that he’s going to want to play the role of lame duck, that is. He’ll probably be out playing pool with The Lads down the ex-pat watering-hole on the first night, leaving me huddled under my duvet like a spurned Craig-out-of-Big-Brother, free to explore the finer points of the latest Sufjan Stevens album, or to get to grips with that particularly chewy 6000-word think-piece in the New Yorker.)

*** SLAP ***

As for work – and you know I don’t blog about work, but f**k it – it’s proving to be well within my capabilities, whilst not exactly making huge demands on my time. So thank goodness for the Internet, even if all Blogspot sites are blocked from over here. (Unless they’ve got full RSS feeds, in which case I can pick them up through Bloglines. Still can’t leave comments on them, though.)

Basically, I’m here to conduct what we call “fit interviews” with Chinese candidates for our Hangzhou office. Not to assess whether or not the candidates are Well Fit (I would never allow such considerations to etc etc etc), but to assess whether or not they would be a good “fit” for the company. So I’m not testing their technical knowledge, but determining their English communications skills and trying to get an impression of their overall personalities. The trick is to force them to deviate from their carefully rehearsed – and grammatically faultless – scripts, and to see whether they can provide thoughtful answers to some more unexpected questions. Sometimes this will be over the phone; more usually, it will be face to face. I make copious notes throughout, but what people are really interested in are my decisions: Yes+, Yes, Yes-, Hold, No.

It’s a simple equation of input and output. Each day, the cream of young Chinese manhood passes before my eyes (there haven’t been any women as yet, but I’m sure there will be soon), full of shining-eyed aspiration, eager to please, eager to better themselves, eager for the benefits of working for a fast-growing international company in an equally fast-growing economy, eager “to work hard, and learn new skills, and be good team member, and do my best for your company”.

Each day, I hear minor variations on the same answers, to which I nod and I smile, teasing out fuller answers where required, diligently transcribing their thoughts, experiences and Personal Goals onto sheets of paper which few, if any, will ever read. Finally, as I pass the candidates on for technical tests, I review my notes and – like a lofty panellist on a reality TV talent show – cast my judgement. Their lives in my hands. Or so I like to think, in my more delusional moments.

One of these days, I might actually get round to telling you a little about Hangzhou itself; but I haven’t seen a great deal of it yet, so patience. Now it’s time I donned my fleece and my puffa jacket and my Gore-Tex lined baseball cap and my iPod, and braved the icy blasts of my thirty-minute walk home. I may be gone some time…

Half a world away.

Well, I’m here. Sitting in the Hangzhou office, about to knock off for the day, and feeling… well… more than a little displaced, if you really want to know. Hangzhou looks a lot more Westernised than I had expected: smarter, cleaner, and with lashings of Christmas tat everywhere, amazingly enough. Including around my cubicle, which was festooned with multi-coloured tinsel within a couple of hours of my arrival. They know how to make a boy feel welcome.

However, appearances only go so far. In all other respects, I am a long, long way from anything familiar. Every detail of my life here feels new, and strange, and frequently bewildering.

I thought I was prepared for this. Having made something in the region of thirty business trips around Western Europe in 2003 and 2004, I have become acclimatised to the unfamiliar, and to that Mr. Bean type of existence which dictates that I will pull any door marked “Push”, order the wrong food in restaurants, and lose my keys five times a day. Nevertheless, this trip takes unfamiliarity to a whole new level… and with three weeks stretching ahead of me, the challenge feels all the greater.

Unlike my usual two day trips, I can’t just breeze in and out of the country in default airport-taxi-hotel-office Eurotrash Business Wonk mode. This time, I’ve got to engage fully with my surroundings. I need to establish a routine, but not get stuck in a rut. I need to find ways of enlivening tasks which might otherwise become repetitive. I need to feed myself, but not simply by nipping down to the nearest Pizza Hut night after night. I need to forge alliances, both in and out of the office.

In particular, I need to get a good social life going, and not just shrink into the background – spending night after night in my apartment, iPod tootling away, necking cans from the supermarket and smoking comfort fags to pass the time. The easy option, but also by far the hardest path.

It’s daunting, and I feel a lot more homesick at a much earlier stage than I would ever have expected. Residual jetlag and culture shock are of course playing a major part in this. But each day things move on, falling into place little by little. The people here are more than ready to offer help, advice and company. I’m getting a grip. I just need to keep reminding myself of this.

The pithy apercus and bon mots, and all the wry observational stuff which you’re waiting for, will commence very soon. Just let me find my bearings, and I’ll be right with you.

China bound.

Yikes, where did the time go? I’ve got to be out of the cottage in forty minutes, I haven’t run the bath yet… and I’m blogging instead. If I miss that plane, then it will all be your fault. You do know that, don’t you?

Blogging will continue while I’m in Hangzhou, although I probably won’t have much chance to read anybody else’s.

I’m back in the UK on Saturday January 7th. I’ll also be out of e-mail contact for the duration, at least on my home address; however, my work e-mail address will still be active, for those of you who know it.

What an adventure!

Please be nice to K when I’m away.

That lesbian wedding disco playlist in full – Disc Two.

(Disc One is here.)

1. I’m In The Mood For Dancing – The Nolans.

As I found out when handing the mix CDs over to Maureen (or is it Doreen?) earlier in the week, the disco dancing will actually be interspersed with an eclectic variety of live musical entertainment, provided by various friends of the brides. (The brides have a lot of musical friends. That’s musical, not “musical”. Well, that as well. Oh, you know what I’m saying.)

It is therefore fairly unlikely that every track on every CD will get played – thus putting paid to the worst of my Control Freak notions (see previous post). In which case, it might be an idea to skip straight to the start of Disc Two, where the ever-fragrant Nolan sisters are already “in the mood” for dancing. With an invitation like that, who could refuse?

2. 9 To 5 – Dolly Parton.

This song has loomed large over Nottingham gay nightlife for the past two or three years, by means of a rather cheap and nasty dance remix which speeds dear old Dolly up to positively Smurf-esque levels. This, needless to say, is the original. Absolute guaranteed floor-filler.

3. If I Had A Hammer – Trini Lopez.

A little indulgence, as I used to play this out a lot at my Stop Clause 28 benefit nights, usually nestling somewhere in the vicinity of “La Bamba” and “Hot Hot Hot”.

4. Reet Petite – Jackie Wilson.

One of the wedding guests had a Top 50 hit in the UK singles charts with a cover of this, as credited to a couple of dancing pigs called Pinky and Perky. He did the music, the speeded-up voices, everything. He doesn’t talk about it much, though. Hi, Paul!

5. You Never Can Tell – Chuck Berry.

“It was a teenage wedding, and the old folks wished them well… “C’est la vie”, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell.”

I’m getting visions of lines of wise old grandmas in the corner, nodding and smiling and waggling their fingers at the happy couple. Ee, Doris, who’d have thought it forty years ago? That we should have lived to see the day!

6. Wake Me Up Before You Go Go – Wham!

The last time I put a mix CD together for a disco – which turned out to be a good 50% teenage lesbians, but that’s another story – this was the biggest floor-filler. Mine not to question why, but I’m hoping for a repeat success.

7. Love Shack – The B-52’s.

Personally, I’ve always find this more than a little irritating. But then, one or two key tracks aside, I’ve always found The B-52’s a little irritating. (Wacky! and Kooky! don’t really do it for me.) Still, no wedding disco complete without, etc etc. I’m mixing out of this at the false ending, straight into…

8. Hey Ya! – Outkast.

…which makes for a very effective follow-on. This is the last of the run of ultra-uptempo tracks, as we slide into…

9. Take Your Mama – Scissor Sisters.

Something has just occurred to me. Of the four contemporary tunes thus far, three (Darkness, Timberlake, Scissors) have recently been performed on the telly by Shayne from X-Factor. How bizarre. I have no ready explanation for this.

10. Love The One You’re With – Isley Brothers.

Time for a brief respite from the cheese. This might clear the floor – but then again, Will Young covered it on his second album, so the recognition factor may still be high. Works well rhythmically after the Scissors.

11. Justified And Ancient – The KLF featuring Tammy Wynette.

Another special request from the brides, who know it simply as “Moo Moo Land”.

12. A Little Respect – Erasure.

Hurrah, it’s the Late 1980s Pop section! Which continues with…

13. Take On Me – A-ha.
14. Open Your Heart – Madonna.
15. I Think We’re Alone Now – Tiffany.

Cripes, is that the time? To coin a phrase, I shouldn’t be sitting here and talking to you like this. Not when there are garments to be folded. So let’s quickly whizz through the rest of Disc Two, which is entirely devoted to late 1970s disco. If all goes well, then tracks 18 through 20 should induce a particuarly Loved-up Communal Sisterhood vibe…

16. Knock On Wood – Amii Stewart.
17. Blame It On The Boogie – The Jacksons.
18. Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now – McFadden & Whitehead.
19. We Are Family – Sister Sledge.
20. Love Train – The O’Jays.
21. Don’t Leave Me This Way – Thelma Houston.
22. I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor.
23. Feel The Need In Me – Detroit Emeralds.

To be continued – but only if I get a break from the garment-folding.

How many more “farewell” evenings can a man take?

Last night’s itinerary: straight bar, tranny bar (*), gay bar, lesbian bar. How very inclusive. But just how did I end up singing karaoke in the lesbian bar at twenty to two in the morning, keeping my friends hanging around WAY past their bedtimes, politely waiting until my number came up?

I believe there might be photographic evidence. Let’s just hope it never surfaces.

(What’s that? You want to know what song? Let’s just say that it was wildly inappropriate, and that its wild inappropriateness only dawned on me halfway through the first verse. Stony faces all round. Probably. If I had dared to look at them. All very Phoenix Nights.)

A nice night, but this has got to stop. Get me on that slow boat to China.


(*) Well, I say “tranny bar”, but that’s stretching the definition somewhat. Remember George’s Bar in Broad Street: Nottingham’s last outpost of true Bohemia, which closed its doors for good at the start of the year? Well, the regulars all had a bit of a reunion last night: on the site of the original George’s, which has been knocked through into the Revolution franchise next door. (Every major city in the UK has got one now. Worse luck.)

Yup, we’re talking serious Circuit Drinking territory here: vast armies of bar staff, all pouring gallons of fluorescent industrial chemicals into vast buckets and swilling them around before decanting them into gigantic glass tumblers and charging a small fortune for them. A glimpse into another world. How we shuddered.

Thankfully, the old George’s crowd managed to commandeer a whole section of the “old” territory, approximately where the loos used to be, well away from the ebb and flow of the Pride Of Nottingham binge drinkers. (Binge drinking? We’d never do that.) All my favourite trannies were out in force, including the (very) senior member of the community in her usual teensy-weensy micro-skirt, and the charming couple who use kettles for handbags, all fighting to be heard over the hideous hardcore breakbeat cover versions of “Whole Lotta Love” and “The Sound Of Silence” (ha ha, very funny). It was all a far cry from Ethel Merman’s Disco Album and dancing on the tables to the Chicago soundtrack.

Through the newly installed skylight, we could look up and see Alan‘s bathroom window, three storeys up. “Shall I go upstairs and piss on everyone?”, he quipped. No, dear. Best leave that for another night.