At 26 and over four years into life abroad, I'm starting to feel a little old to hit the club scene and bored by its repetitiveness. I'm feeling that going out is just generally not worth it: I'd rather be working, knitting hats on a Saturday night, reading Dante, doing crossword puzzles, sitting in my bed sipping tea. To clarify, I wasn't always some shut-in nerd. Even a year ago, I used to look forward to weekend partying—the anticipation, the getting ready, the potential for something or someone new and exciting to come along; the buildup before the inevitable letdown. And even still, every once in a while, I figure ... why not? Only to find the rhetorical question answered, over and over, before night's end.
Tonight, as with most Friday nights, the starting place is Panam(e) because a) it's nearby; b) happy hour is still going; and c) it's the most likely place we might pick up some tips on where to start the night's adventures. From there it's a short walk to S.O.S. club, on the fifth floor of the Brilliance Tianfu Mall—and as foreign ambassadors we're instantly greeted by many of the club's guests as such. Scanning the drink menu might have been a less annoying experience had it not been for the guy who got in my face, eagerly shouting, "May I help YOOUUU?" and "What do you want to drink!?" Then again, given the menu's prices and selection, perhaps not.
What can be said for S.O.S., other than its bartenders seem to think it OK to nip off your bottle, is that its managers put production effort into the club's performances. Dancers perform on multiple stages and are suspended from the ceiling as well, shooting sparks down on customers' heads. Choreographed skit-dances are the norm, with popular themes ranging from 007 to neon bondage fairy Christmas-tree-decoration theme. We watched the five-minute show and polished off our two tiny bottles of Budweiser, looked around, and ... nothing and nobody caught our eye.
What are you going to do at a club if you don't want to drink? It's too noisy to talk; there's no space to dance. Not even anybody interesting to watch. Just what is the point of these places? Next.
At Xiongmao, a foreign DJ was happily bouncing along to something noisy and aggressive and not particularly nice or danceable. We threw our coats down on one of the kegs nonetheless and started dancing around on the empty dance floor—and out walked the one table of people who had been sitting there. We danced for another 10 minutes before dying of boredom whereupon I picked up my jacket to find it was soaked in the inch of beer that some drunkard who had come and gone before us had spilled all over the top of the keg. Great.
Reeking of beer, I called up some other prowlers, got word that some people were going to BABI II.
I'll confess, I've been to the original BABI a few times. But I'd never gone so far as to go to the notorious B-A-B-I II itself. There have been stories, for sure. It's a meat market. Foreigners get beaten up for no reason. It just plain old sucks.
Take one for the team, a voice in my head told me. Perhaps the voice wasn't in my head; perhaps it was coming from my smug co-worker sitting beside me, who would go home in a few moments. Besides, I figured, what kind of reporter would I be if I didn't stake it out for myself? Not one worthy of this publication!
We got in the cab. "To the nine-eyed bridge!"
At BABI II we found more of our kin. Well, whether or not they were kin is debatable, but they were foreign and looking for a party. Protocol for foreigners in these places seems to be to look around for other foreigners, and then go stand by them, whether you know them or not. Apparently the hope is you'll get to mooch off whatever free alcohol supply they've leeched onto. But unfortunately for the freeloading foreigners, local BABI-goers are getting wise to the ways of the waiguoren and aren't as charitable with their Chivas anymore. We tapped our feet and wiggled our hips about two inches from left to right until we noticed the Russian women standing next to us glaring and sashaying far more saucily than we dared, so we hung our heads and left.
Finally after pacing back and forth between BABI II (the boys thought there was a better chance of scoring some booze there) and Sucre (the girls wanted to ogle the allegedly hot Brazilian guys rumored to be there), at 4 a.m., this group of strangers surrendered to the one thing that is constant in Chengdu: late-night shaokao. And then there was nothing left to do but socialize with one another and truly feel the profound disconnect among us. For some, that's an acceptable weekly occurrence; for others, it's enough to make one mad or at least move away, move on, find a fucking hobby.
Considering the average club-goer's goals, the night was a complete bust: I didn't get drunk or high; nor did I dance or get laid. The night didn't leave me with a sense of disappointment, though; it left me with confirmation of what I already knew: The most active nightlife in Chengdu is not to be found at the megaclubs and discos but in my room, as I type away at my computer, the roaches running about and the rats in the walls building their nests. Because just before the sun comes up and all the clubbers have knocked out we're still tapping away impudently, true creatures of the night.