The day started with optimism and the morning had a productive air to it. I was up at 8am, listening to a five-part podcast about the crude oil industry. My plan was to leave home in an hour to cover the Beijing International Kite Festival, an annual event where kite masters and enthusiasts from around the world meet to share their obsession and exchange notes.
The festival was to be held at Beijing Garden Expo Park, a former industrial landfill remodeled into to an ecological park. It had stagnant tadpole ponds and the speakers played elevator music. There was a decent crowd and lots of activities, but not many kites. I saw maybe five.
On the long ride back my apartment, my friend Taha called saying his university was celebrating mini water festival, based on the larger one held across South-East Asia for New Year's. The previous week I'd seen many pictures of the festival and in Myanmar alone, more than 250 people were killed during this annual water fight. Use of drugs, alcohol and weapons is common and road accidents, violence and rape are routine. I knew the campus celebration would be a watered down version of the actual festival but it could make for some interesting pictures.
I grabbed a quick bite and made my way to campus. By the time I got there, most of the celebration was over. Students were carrying empty water guns and seemed tired and thirsty. I was too late to the party but I didn’t want to end my day like this.
I napped for a few hours and met Taha for dinner. It was 10:36pm when we realized that we had to reach the club before 11pm to get free entry on the guest list. I brushed it off but he got us moving in less than a minute. I ate my kebab on the way and we dashed for the club after paying the cabbie. We reached the entrance at 11.03pm and they didn’t let us in. The club, V-Plus, is unusually strict about their deadline. Even Taha, who often talks himself in in these situations, gave up and took the elevator down with me. If I was alone, I would have had a couple beers at a bar and headed back home. But that's not an option when you’re with Jan Mohammed Taha.
We headed to the interior of the clubbing district in Sanlitun and found a spot for us to buy cheap drinks and sit outside. We bought a few cans of local beer and sat on the steps by the football stadium. We got a wide angle view of all the clubs and people strutting around in high heels and sports cars. A row of parked cars separated us from everyone else; we could sit here and drink for cheap, pee on the inner walls of the stadium and have our empty cans cleared by the time we came back with more. It was the only way to get high before entering the clubs for a fraction of the cost; a poor man’s paradise.
The rest of the night was a blur but at around 4am, my debit card stopped working and we both had no money to get home. We salvaged whatever we had and bought two egg crepes without meat. The vendor even gave us a discount seeing us struggle for cash. We were definitely broke, but at least we weren’t hungry. The only way to get back was to either hitch a ride or wait it out for a couple of hours for the morning bus. Home was four miles away and although getting back using bike-share was an option, we didn’t find any unlocked bikes and there was no way we were paying a $15 deposit to start using their services.
We made our way to a couple more clubs with free entry and ended up in the waiting area of Lantern; its known for deep house music and its the darkest club I’ve seen. The waiting area was dimly lit with red lights and had two leather couches where club rejects like us could rest. We fell into a light sleep and woke up to an intense fight between the bouncers and a guest. In an instant he was flung across the lobby and beaten up by the stocky men. They were ruthless, kicking him in the stomach and at one point pinned him against the wall. He even tried to run up the stairs but the bouncers pulled him back into the lobby and thrashed him.
Taha and I, half sleepy and shocked, concluded that he might have forced his way into the club. I even tried to talk the bouncer out of it but he couldn’t control his rage. Taha pulled me back just in time and the guest found himself on the receiving end. By this time a Chinese girl wearing a skimpy blue dress and arms full of tattoos squeezed herself between us. You could see she was trembling with fear.
After a few minutes she admitted casually that was used to seeing this happen in Beijing. I wanted to ask her why she’d freaked out if she was so used to it but instead asked her about the tattoos, which were some of the worst I’d ever seen. They looked like sketches a fourth grader would make on his classroom table. She lost it when I asked about her tattoos. She got the question a lot and people always wanted to touch her tattoos; it really pissed her off. What else did she expect to hear hear wearing a sleeveless dress with arms covered with ink? I was puzzled.
Like most of her feelings, she didn’t hold onto this one for very long and I finally asked her a legitimate question. “What do you do?” I said. “I am sad,” she mumbled. This conversation was going nowhere and I decided to nap again. She wanted us to come inside the club and even offered to pay for our drinks, assuming that we had settled the entry fee. On most nights I would avoid such women since most of them are prostitutes but it didn’t occur to me then. We let her lead the way, assuming she knew the bouncer. The look on his face was enough to make us turn and retreat back to the couch. For the next hour, no one bothered us and we slept peacefully.
The sun was out by the time we woke up and stepped outside. It was 7am, but it could have easily been 10am and we wouldn’t have known; our phones had died and honestly, we couldn't care less. I just wanted to get back home from a night that had stretched too long, spanning a little over 8 hours. After gathering barely enough change, we paid for our first entry of the night and made our way to the upper section of the double decker bus.