Hong Kong V: Re-Re-wind

Saturday 10th March

“The train to Shanghai will be leaving in no time,”

announces the station tannoy in perfect Chinglish. Despite my raging hangover, I fall about laughing with Bruce at the beautiful butchery Chinese people make of English grammar. But there’s simply no time.

Fifteen carriages of sleek chrome arrive and we find a seat. Within minutes, a speedometer tells me we are travelling at 300 km/hour, but this is clearly a lie as the landscape of warehouses and squat shacks is passing by in a dreamy meander. And yet, 45 minutes later we have travelled the epic 120 miles to the largest city in the world.

"A stable worthy of Party Horse"

A 4 Star hotel in the megatropolis? Don’t mind if I do! It is the poshest hotel I’ve ever been in; there’s a grand piano in the reception; the room has a chaise long, and there’s a giant gold bull outside.
China can be summed up by two sights on the way to the hotel.
In the subway, we came across new recruits going through their pledge of allegiance. Although just lowly train drivers or ticket inspectors, they had the seriousness of high-ranking officers responsible for the upkeep of their nation. I was scared I was going have my camera confiscated.

"I hereby promise to be punctual on pain of death"

We also saw the goldest car in the world on our taxi ride to the hotel. It’s like the Communist obsession with public displays of power and devotion has been combined with capitalist greed to create a super-society of gloriously tasteless moneymakers.

"The Shanghai makeover"

Gold cars make sense when you consider that the currency on Mainland China is the Renminbi, which comes out sounding like R’n’B. I like the idea of paying in black pop. 50 J-Los? 75 R Kelly’s? Too pricey! (And then to add to the illusion, Harvey and I ‘Cruz’ through a town called Tai O on Lamau Island. Taio Cruz, geddit!)

BreeDee’s double bed is sumptuous, but there’s been a mistake and the extra beautiful bed they ordered for me is missing; Fifteen minutes later a creaky foldout single bed arrives. Luxury.

"I need to get me some bling"

Tonight’s schedule involves Paranormal Activity 2 and a meal out, and my bed faces the hotel door and it’s mini hallway of shadowy cabinets and mirrors.

I am going to have to rearrange the furniture to keep the demons out.
If I can use the chaise long to block my view of the door, I can put the bed sideways so that it faces BreeDee’s. My childhood obsession with Three Billy Goats Gruff is proving useful- I can direct the monster to two far more juicy bodies if necessary.

“What are you doing?” asks Bruce
“Oh, just a little feng shui” I reply innocently
“No. I’m scared.”

When I am satisfied that I have protected myself as much as possible, we head out to the Bund, the waterfront where giant buildings glow with 100 foot screens.

"Retro Spiritual Gesture"

In a side street, we find The Best Shop in the World™. It’s a kitsch goldmine of useless crap at bargain prices. It is here that I find the best thing I have ever read; the blurb written on a pack of girlie cards that is so lost in translation it blows my tiny mind. There are NO typos in this:

“They are young (mostly just turned 20 years old), tender was drawn like a pinch of water; their ignorance (at least seemingly ignorant), the eyes, not too much sophistication; their beauty, like the upside down like a summer rose beings; their fear, even a little dress still confident of exposure. They are so invincible youth, smile blossoming, not to mention a man, and she can not help but read and reread.
Not every man is willing to prison high above the intellectual Mature, nor patience to listen to all young women crooning shallow art songs, stepmother face, office facial, all sidelined.
The greatest feature of the contemporary human will, just do not like to live so hard, because life itself was tired. In fact, although the generation of soft mode does not seem so “mainstream”, all the women around me also admitted that, I hope he can grow into (or at least turned it into an … …) Angelababy it, of course, no one would mind their own to keep forever faces of the children! Yes, youth is always an turbulent forces do not want to admit is not OK. Soft-mode wave struck, is irresistible.”

After reading it and re-reading it, Bruce and I cry with laughter so hard that pity and then concern flashed across the faces of the shop assistants.

“Stepmother face” repeats Bruce at regular intervals, and we fall about, while DeeDee looks on in frustration. Bloody children!
“Office facial- all sidelined,” the surreal sequence of images conjured up to sell pictured of girls in underwear is astonishing.
Almost unable to take any more surrealism, Bruce then found a cigarette case with Osama Bin Laden looking wistfully above the Twin Towers. Emblazoned across the middle of this folk-hero style design was the slogan;


With shaky hands I bought these contraband and downright weird goods. They are so wrong they ought not to exist. Who made them? What twisted translator was paid for their services? The mind boggles.

Which it also did when we came across a Mr Bean theme café.
“Oh they have them all over China” says Bruce nonchalantly,
“They love him
“WTF!?” I’m sorry, but of all the things to export from British culture, they choose this? Even out of all Rowan Atkinson’s output, this a poor choice. But then I realise that Mr Bean never actually speaks, he just dithers and mumbles like a confused otter. You don’t need to understand English to understand him. Laughing at him is a different matter; why not Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd who are actually funny? Lost in translation again I guess.


There are street BBQs everywhere in China. We pick one near the Indie Club we are trying to find. As I eat the lamb and spiced bread, a gaggle of drunk teenagers run past. Unlike British yoofs, they giggle and play like dyspraxic children.

A teen lesbian couple walk past, one in pyjamas, the other in a floor length coat. They are so cool and cute and fascinating that I want to run away with them, but I am about 2 feet taller and 2 times as old and not cute at all so it would never work out. Oh well; I sneak into a shop and take a crafty photo.

"I Love You"

The Indie Club is packed with Westerners and here we encounter our first bad vibes; a tank topped nonce struts around and tries to provoke Bruce. I get a funny feeling, and then realise it’s that feeling of fight or flight I have all the time back in Sheffield, when you have to prepare yourself for some act of violence before it is acted out on you. For all their blatant curiosity, Chinese people have never felt like threats to my safety.

“This is why I never want to live in the UK again” spits Bruce, “What’s the point of feeling like this all the time?”

We head back to the hotel feeling homesick and also relieved that we’re not at home. As DeeDee unlocks the door, I see a bellboy walking slowly down the corridor towards us and feel rising panic that perhaps he is a ghost and we must get in before he catches up; at this moment, DeeDee gasps with horror at what she sees in our room. I cry out, certain that my careful arrangement will have been moved around by malevolent Feng Shui spirits.
DeeDee laughs like an evil genius and I realise I have fallen for her tricks. Which are far from over.
As I brush my teeth, she creeps to the glass partition and is staring up at me with the terrifying look of a ghoul when I turn round.
So it’s no wonder then when I lie there staring into the dark instead of sleeping. As BreeDee’s breathing slows and they embark up the soft foothills of sleep, I wake them up by saying;

“I’m scared”

like a little child to his parents. They laugh at me but I want my mummy!

“I’m going to get into your bed if you scare me anymore” I warn.

Whatever creepy plans DeeDee had are quickly postponed for another night.

Sunday 11th March

"Indie where are you?"

Shanghai’s Old Town looks the same as it did in Indiana Jones’ day. Unfortunately as he is fictional, so is Club Obi Wan, and the cute 40s facades are now inhabited by cheapo souvenir shops.
After a hard morning’s shopping, we brunch with international go-getters Edie and Toto, who work for a high spec fashion magazine.

“Let’s set up a creative agency,” declares Toto, his enthusiasm swelling to fill the room. “We will have Party Horse as house band, and Edie as stylist”
“And me too!” I bluster in, “I’m a writer…even though I’ll be 10,000 miles away, I can still be a part of it…”
You can’t take me anywhere. As we rush to catch our train, I am still giddy from the sheer ambition of a room full of Edies and BreeDees.
“Let’s call ourselves the Shanghai Flyers” I muse. We can get satin baseball jackets with our logo on the back like the Pink Ladies of pan-cultural enterprise.

As always, my daydreams come at the expense of real problems. The alleged 15 min taxi drive back to the station takes 45 mins, and we miss our train.
Chinese people are the biggest queuers in the world. They are also the biggest queue jumpers. The lines I saw at the train station ticket offices filled me with horror and reminded me of rationing scenes from war photographs. After enduring 30 minutes in one queue, watching brazen chancers edge down to the front and butt in with little resistance, we are told that we are in the wrong queue to change our ticket.

“Right” says Bruce conspiratorially, “We’re not going to let anyone push in this time, ok?”

We make a pact.

We glare around us, daring someone to do it. An old gentleman squeezes down to the front, but is refused entry. He spits a massive globule of phlegm on the marble floor and stalks away. We pump the air in triumph.
Another guy edges forward.

DeeDee looms over him and prods his shoulder. He looks around in self-righteousness as she points behind her at the queue. Unfortunately, it turns out he is with someone in the queue. As we reach the front, another chap comes and leans over the counter, talking over DeeDee to the cashier. We shove ourselves in the way but he continues to talk through the mic.

“Put your hand over the speaker!” I say with a flash of moral indignation, and Bruce obliges. The gent is not even put off then. He continues to gesture and talk through the glass. Finally, DeeDee has our tickets and we leave him to his own devices. Fail!

“Right, when we get to the taxi queue in Hangzhou, we are going straight to the front” says Bruce, his dander up.

And we do. With fake nonchalance, we push to the front, but I am bringing up the rear and can feel daggers in my back. I am too scared to look round, but finally we have a cab and we are running and jumping into it and speeding back home.

Hangzhou is many things all rolled into one; innocent and yet brutal; cute but grotesque; principled yet dog-eat-dog.
On my last night, we visited AJ in his club. It’s a renovated warehouse with a cargo-rail in the middle that bands play on. He was skyping his girlf when we came in, she is studying in London and had dumped him for 4 days during which the extent of his rebellion was to scrawl “No Girlfriend” over a cutout of semi-naked fashion models. How sweet.

"Softcore defiance in a no-porn country"

The toilets had urinals made of old pipes. Amazing, but impractical as it looked and smelt like there was no way to flush the wee away. How nasty.

"A pipe-pissing son of a gun"

While Claudia, DeeDee and AJ taxied it to the restaurant, Bruce and I took a white-knuckle tuk-tuk ride through the city streets. We were all dog-tired which made the surreal meal that followed even harder to comprehend. Here again, you are expected to cook your won food, and I had the humiliation of asking for a special ‘not’ hot-pot to cook my food in. Yes, yes, I’m a wuss.

The problem with this cooking was that all the food shrivelled into nothingness after a few mins in the broth, so when you tried to get it out there was nothing really to get.

As we tweezered AJ’s eel tails into the pot with chopsticks one came to life, writhing in its dish and making me, DeeDee and Claudia scream like girls. Luckily, they were girls. We never really recovered from this horror, and soon after retired to bed.

And finally, a decent night’s sleep under the watchful eye of Popo who seems to have grown used to the smelly giant on the airbed.

Monday 12th March

Up at 6am to catch the 08.00 plane back to Hong Kong. I meet Harvey at Starbucks again in the airport; this reviled coffee shop has become my one stable point of reference in an unfamiliar world.

After 5 days in Hangzhou, I have finally mastered the right way to say ‘Goodbye’ in Mandarin, only to realise that no-one understands me because they all speak Cantonese in the Hong Kong. Typical.

Today Harvey is showing me around Lantau Island, where the airport is situated. We bus it to the Big Buddha at Po Lin, and order coffee from a woman in a swastika apron (yes I know it’s reversed and means Good Luck over here, but it’s still shocking!).

"'You'll get what you're given' is our motto"

“Go To Big Buddha” orders a sign, alright, we’re trying but there’s 100 steps up there and it’s so smoggy you can hardly see the damn thing.

"He's behind you!"

There are wild water buffalo here (“Don’t forget to enjoy their presence!” a sign encourages. Their presence! Almost right, but so wrong…)

"I'm sacred; you're profane"

and incense sticks the size of me;

"I am incensed at the price! (Groan)"

And a sign that says I’m a long, long way from home!”


Get me out of here!

"Where's Wally #2"

Then on to a small coastal town, where cats queue in the post office;

"First Class to Katmandu"

and chrome shacks look out like retro jewellery over the South China Sea, and a market sells freeze-dried aliens

"America chases aliens; China eats them"

I am knackered, but Harvey is an inhuman freak who runs marathons and sails Dragonboats and rips apart puny humans like me with his bare hands. His tales invariable involve a ridiculous situation that he “somehow” ended up in; being half sucked into bogs, being chased by warthogs, wearing a purple wig and wolf mask to Cambridge University lectures. For a genius, Harvey is a damn fool.
We walk across a mangrovey beach where stands a lonely art deco lifeguard station, where a Poirot-era Baywatch could be filmed (slo-mo longjohns)

"No real emergencies please, we get dizzy running down to the beach"

Round a deserted fishing port, ending up in a Turkish restaurant where a stroppy longhaired teenager seethes as his dad chats away to another barrel-chested ex pat. Harvey the alcoholic is plying me with beer again, and I am dog-tired, tired of the constant stimulus and adrenaline of being somewhere utterly unfamiliar.

Tuesday 13th March: 00:35am

The flight home is uneventful; I watch Submarine and Warrior because Esther will never let me watch them at home; I have the luxury of a whole row to myself on Emirates Airbus no. 2 and lie down full length for a nap the duration of Eastern Europe.

The rest is sketchy; all I remember is an obtuse Manchester Airport train bloke making me pay for a ticket to Piccadilly.

“I’ve got a ticket for Manchester Stations. Surely Manchester Airport is a Manchester Station (you big damn fool)?”
“No sir, we’re in Cheshire”

Stomp, stomp back to the ticket booth, finally the fatty lets me past.

And finally back in Lisa’s house, Esther sobs noisily on my shoulder for a full minute while I look on with the emotional range of a zombie. I need to sleep until I’m in the right timezone.

HONG KONG IV: Hang(zhou) Time!

Wednesday 7th (Contd)

I am in an episode of The Hills directed by David Lynch. In a world of short Chinese people in drab designer clothes and Communist workwear, DeeDee (Euro-vixen and corkscrew-curled fashionista) and Bruce (American-obsessed Scandinavian style-icon) tower above like retro aliens. In their arms is the cutest ball of fluff I have ever seen- Popo the living teddybear. They are a power couple in the style of Brad and Angelina, so I am going to fuse their names and call them BreeDee from now on.
After I fumble my way through hugs and greetings (I am feeling shy as I haven’t seen them for over a year, and I am sleep deprived and spaced out), Popo is scooped up from the floor and we hail a cab. A wide, flat landscape of utilitarian concrete blocks slips past the Toyota windows, and I am feeling very far from home. Amidst the overexcited chit-chat, Bruce tells me that a Western guy was made an example of and executed two weeks ago for having an itsy bit of weed on him. I want to turn the taxi round and go home. But the driver doesn’t speak English and Popo has reached across from DeeDee’s embrace to lay his manicured paw on me, so I’m trapped.

“What’s the gossip from Sheffield?” asks DeeDee excitedly. I can’t think of anything. Sheffield is boring, that’s why I’m here.

BreeDee live in a 13th floor elevatored apartment heated by electric blankets and a looming aircon tower in the corner. Central heating does not exist here, and I get wafts from the toilet of that ginger-spiced ditchwater I overdosed on at Harvey’s hovel. It’s time to crack open the beer and toast my extremest Easternness yet. BreeDee’s friend AJ, a cool club promoter/all round nice guy comes round to stare at their new pet (me).

“What kind of music do you like?” he asks.
All I can think about is the last 3 songs I listened too, 30,00 feet over the Indian subcontinent.
“Tatu” I say
His face falls.
“And J-pop” I add
“Oh” he says, changing the subject.

My credibility is dead. I suppose what I just did was the equivalent of a Chinese guy coming over to Sheffield and saying he liked Irish Eurovision songs. I must remember that irony only works when the thing is taken out of context.

I have been provided with a lush airbed and am knackered, but Popo, who seems to have grown wings in the night, has other ideas. Every time I move or make a pre-snore sigh, he leaps elegantly out of the darkness onto my face before lapping feverishly at my ears with his ice-cold tongue. Eventually I hide myself under the duvet and the attacks cease.

Thursday 8th March

"Gently drizzle with smelly water until sodden. Leave for three months then serve."

It has been raining solidly for 3 months here, and the panoramic view of Hangzhou from BreeDee’s apartment is obscured by drizzle.

“Do you wanna try e-biking?” says Bruce
“I’m not very good with computer games”
“No, it’s like a moped but electric”

Hmm. My riding history is peppered with dysfunction and injury. I used to have a secondhand racer that I couldn’t get up on kerbs with; otherwise I used to borrow my friend’s sister’s bike which took the skin off my thumbs and bent my knees/masculinity out of shape.

“Go on then, but don’t tell Esther” I say. With my confessional impulses, it’s a more of a Note to Self.

An e-bike is basically a slow scooter that you can charge from the mains. They are all the rage in China where a generous third of the road is taken up with cycle lanes. Time to see if I can remember how to ride…

"Close my eyes and think of Chingland."

Battle armour at the ready: ironic hats (AKB48 for me; Russian furry with soviet badge for Bruce), camouflage ponchos, skinny jeans and fuck off boots.

“Oh and the brakes don’t work too great” he adds.

Oh well, what can go wrong in a cycle lane?

But this is China- and everyone is on a bike, moped or ebike. The lane is rammed with merciless speeding locals. I slow to let one past and suddenly Bruce is 100 metres ahead and disappearing in the melee. Shit shit shit!
I am going to have to grow some here. I speed up, overtaking, my bike wobbling with exertion.

Suddenly I’m flying!

Time to concentrate on the task. Everyone has stopped at the junction up ahead. I pump the breaks. Nothing happens. Oh my fucking God! Boots down; H&M plastic soles skidding, the friction nearly setting my feet on fire. Just in time, I slow to a stop.

Bruce points to the left. We are going across the road, through all the kamikaze minubuses and honking drivers. Oh god, I’m going to die. As I gather my wits, Bruce kicks off and glides across unscathed.

I am facing the wrong way and manhandle my bike to face his path. As I twist the accelerator, a minibus hurtles in front of me. The trouble is, and this is not something I learn easily today, as soon as you yank on the handlebar, the bike jumps forward like it’s alive. I find myself edging into the cars and trucks and buses which seems to be daring me to throw myself in front of them. There are tuk-tuks and ebikes and cyclists jostling behind me, honking. Their mini horns sound like melvined nerds compared to the horny bulls of the minibuses.

Bruce has disappeared from view. Unless I want to get lost in a megacity where no-one will understand my cries for help, I have to go NOW. The light has gone green, but that doesn’t mean much because people just go when they feel like it. I edge out, at first hesistant, then realising that the key to this is courage. I yank the handlebar decisively and weave across the road, aiming for the cycle lane opposite, making it and catching up with Bruce, who sits aside his vintage bicycle nonchalantly. His patience is going to be tested today, folks.

Finally we get to Westlake, which sounds like an American mall but is in fact a big wet lake.

There’s big group photo taking place, and I decide to do a Where’s Wally and stand at the back while Bruce captures my photo-bomb.

"Spot the lao wei"

I’m not very good at this game- clearly- half the front row spotted me straight away. Time to make like a local and zhou (groan)

We get a beer (this is an alkie’s holiday) and walk along the rustic wooden bridge, under the amused gaze of Chinese tourists, who have come for the rainy lake but find the perfect camera fodder in us, the freaky lao wai (Johnny Foreigners). Bruce’s communist badge was a particular hit, making girls giggle and old men grimace.

Mao’s regime is a serious matter, but only for those who remember it. For everyone else his ubiquitous Little Red Book and permagrin face are faintly embarrassing, like our Royal Family. Westlake looks like every picture of China I’ve ever seen; still water reflecting the jaunty angles of pagodas; a heron perusing its own shadow; flowerbeds seeded with ornamental cabbages (function over form at all times); a uniformed team of council workers raising and dripping a piledriver in spooky synchronicity. And a Starbucks slap bang in the middle.

The gap between rich and poor is huge in China. Every 1st world skyscraper is flanked by ramshackle 3rd world shacks. Gucci billboards look down on street sellers and labourers who snotgobble and spit as they go about their business. As in Hong Kong, the biggest industry is construction and the skyline is full of bamboo scaffolding and the ambient sound of knocking down and building up forever and ever until China is without end and penthouse suites have recompression chambers and a space view.

As we pose in front of a giant golden Buddha, hordes of tourists are drawn by the sight and snap away. Bruce stands with the confidence of a photogenic rock star, but I am awkward in the spotlight. We are exotic here; our height and old clothes and sallow complexions are anomalies.

"One of is a peace-sign pro. Clue: it ain't me."

I look even paler after BreeDee force me to watch Paranormal Activity just before bed, and I have to lie with my back to the kitchenette in case I see something move there. When exhaustion finally sends me to sleep, I hear a sound like cutlery being moved and sit bolt upright with the immortal words


Which wakes BreeDee and Popo so they can have a jolly good laugh at me. It turns out that it had been Popo ringing the bell signalling to be let out onto the balcony for a wee. My nerves are shot.

Friday 9th March

Today was spent trying to find a Lolita Café that AJ mentioned. Apparently waitresses dress as Manga characters and debase themselves for your delectation. This is cultural curiosity, you understand, not perversion. This is a Japanese import, a land where men’s souls are broken on the brushed chrome of industry, and their sexual desire is regressed into child-worship.

I am becoming almost cocky behind the e-wheel, my AKB48 cap twisted to the side like a 90s street urchin, tipsy on the curiosity of locals.
We find the right street but the numbers are cut-off halfway along, and Bruce set off on his bike to find where and if the street starts again. I wait with the e-bike, plugged in and charging next to two old ladies pruning their miniature plants. After about ten minutes I have the jellifying realisation that should Bruce fail to return, I would be stranded in a vast metropolis where no-one speaks English, with no memory of where BreeDee live and no passport (back at the flat). The trusty e-bike would be my only friend in the world, and I sit on her soft seat forlornly.

I quickly hid the terror in my eyes when Bruce rounds the corner with the news that the street never carried on, and the Lolitas will have to remain a fantasy.

DeeDee finishes work at her fashion empire early and we go to Central Perk, an exact replica of the café from Friends. Upstairs, there’s Joey and Chandler’s room, complete with lounge chairs, and the girls’ flat with picture frame behind the door. The weird thing is that each room is full of Chinese twentysomethings who go silent when we walk in. I start to wonder if these are actually their private rooms, and we have just trespassed.

"My attempt to do hiphop hands leaves me looking like a spazz. Is that unPC? Well, so is China!"

Downstairs, the coffees are ridiculously expensive (£5!), and a pixellated screen plays endless episodes of Friends next to classic Chinglish graffiti in coloured chalk. This is kitsch from the other side of the screen.

"To be loved..."

May as well get our money’s worth- photosesh!

"America, re-imagined by China and enjoyed by passing Europeans"

Tonight’s dinner is at a Korean restaurant- I’ve eaten out every night on this holiday, and that’s the way Harvey and BreeDee live because it’s so cheap. Now I find out why- the food’s brought to you raw, and you’re expected to cook it yourself over a big hob in the centre of the table. There’s no point complimenting the chef, because it’s me (and I can’t cook)!

"We bring the food; You cook it!"

Westerners are still a rarity in Hangzhou, and they all go to one bar: Ellen’s. The walls and ceiling are covered in graffiti from Americans, Brits and continental Europeans. There is one toilet for the lot of us, and the place is rammed with drunken ex pats and TEFOL teachers by the time we get there.

BreeDee’s friends are a motley crew; the French Canadian happy-sad duo of Eddie and Jacques; Dutch-Chinese Harriet, Home Counties girl Claudia and her beautiful eyes, and Chinese-American Fran.

“Chinese people get so angry with me because I look like one of them but can’t speak a word of Mandarin” says Fran.
“My Korean girlfriend is giving me grief,” moans Jacques like a sad puppy, his eyes permanently latching onto drunk voluptuous girls.
“I play blind-guitar” says Jacques, “I get a call saying they need a white guitarist for a gig and I meet up with whoever else they have called up and on the way there we try to figure out if there’s any songs we all know how to play. One time we played at a fashion show next to a swimming pool, and all we knew was Amazing Grace so we stretched it out all night. They loved it.”
“They call me the white goddess” says Claudia, “because I’m 6 feet tall and blonde and they’ve never seen anyone like me. They stop in the street and stare.”

After my travels with Bruce, I can imagine how this must feel.

Our destination tonight is KTV, another Japanese import: private karaoke booths, hundreds of them in a gold and marble palace with all the taste and restraint of Liberace’s bathtub. It has its own supermarket, where you fill your trolley with cheap booze; our party (BreeDee, Eddie, Harriet and Claudia) um and ah about how much of what to get, before deciding on 2 bottles of vodka, cans of Fanta and umpteen beers.

“Whatever you do, don’t forget which room you’re in” warns DeeDee, “I did one time and I wandered around for hours before Bruce came to find me.”

The corridor stretches forever; each room looks the same, each one filled with drunken singing and childlike, uninhibited laughter.

Now, as I have said before, I do not do public singing. I don’t even sing in the shower in case someone hears.

I start to down vodka oranges like there’s no tomorrow.
Before long, the microphone is shoved in my face to the sound of Bowie’s Heroes. I love this song, why ruin it with my voice? The mic is passed to Harriet who looks confused.
“I don’t know the words,” she admits.
From nowhere comes the urge to croon, and I grab the mic and am thrust into the sweaty, undying love of being a hero for ever and ever. Bruce’s perfect key keeps me afloat while I ham it up, fist in air and voice going up and down like an impassioned yoyo. I look round and instead of horror, I see amusement and even pleasure.
Yes! I think, this is GREAT!

"The importance of being earnest"

Sadly, everything I sing after this point is only an echo of this triumph. My attempt to sing All the Things She Said by Tatu is especially diabolical, since I can no longer remember the words or how the song goes even though I have listened to it 5000 times.
We are joined by Bubu, radical art student and babyfaced sweetheart who currently sports a monk’s haircut and robes. She sings Chinese pop with single-minded passion and I want to adopt her as my daughter/sister/teddybear.

"KTV siblings"

I fall asleep instantly when we get back to the flat, Popo probably having his way with my ears as I lay like a corpse, smiling inanely at the joy of my first public singing in, like, ever.