Beijing gets blinged
I’ve been coming to China since 2003. Each time I’ve returned, the city has weaved its oriental magic and stirred something inside me. I’ve be lured by winding backstreets, distracted by exotic smells and wooed by the banter, hustle and chaos of the city. But this time I felt nothing.
Residents cleared their throats and spat on the ground as I made my way down the street, my destination smothered in smog and pollution despite being only hundreds of metres away. The city was cold and not only in temperature. The last of the hutongs that had once filled the city were being loaded into a truck, destined for landfill on the outskirts of the city. In their place were high rises with shiny surfaces and poor workmanship, contrasting harshly with the organic buildings they’d replaced. The city was losing its soul.
But Beijing hadn’t lost its passion.
On a Thursday night in Yugong Yishan, a popular bar in the middle of the city, people were streaming in to see the film.
The film was part of the JUE Festival and Danni, one of the organisers, was hoping that the night would be a success. She’d been a great ambassador for the film and it was her decision to bring Quiza and me out to the screening. It was the first time the festival had invested in a film and she was hoping for a good turn out.
Rows of seating had been set up in front of the stage and groups of high tables and stools were further back behind the sound booth. Random chairs and couches filled the gaps and the 150 odd seats were soon claimed as people arrived. Latecomers sat on steps or stood along the wall, remaining upright up for the whole 90 minutes, happily watching the film from the sidelines of the makeshift theatre.
As soon as Bayarmagnai opened the film with his claims about hip hop’s origins, the room was alive. The laughter and smiles and applause built up an energy in the room, more and more people coming in late and standing on chairs at the back of the room eager to get a view. The atmosphere was more like a concert than a film but luckily the crowd remained silent. Behind me two elderly Chinese men chain-smoked throughout the film.
After I’d answered some questions during the Q’n’A, Quiza came up on stage. An Inner Mongolian musician was helping to translate and the crowd laughed as questions and answers were passed from English to Chinese to Mongolian and back again.
There were over 250 packed into the bar and most of them stuck around to see Quiza perform. After a local MC warmed up the crowd, Quiza jumped up on stage and the room surged forward as Beijing got its first taste of live Mongolian hip hop.
Quiza had the room bouncing and shouting and screaming and when Inner Mongolian folk band, Hanghai, took to the stage, everyone was pumping with energy.
In a few hours we’d travel at 300km/h to Shanghai for the second screening after which I’d head to Ulaanbaatar to plan the Mongolian Premiere. But right now, I was happy to be a punter in a crowded Beijing bar, drinking light Chinese beer and jumping around to the beats of Mongolian hip hop.