Beijing: a night in the life

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SEPTEMBER 30, 2017

When I arrived in Beijing, “Destinations” was the word on every gay exchange student’s lips. It was said the dance floor was a giant trampoline. It was said there were nights when drag queens from Shanghai and Tokyo performed. It was said there was a famous Mojito Man, floor-to-ceiling mirrors, a catwalk. After three weeks in the city, my friend Revyn and I decided we had to go. We barely noticed that it was drizzling when we left our Beijing Normal University dormitory that night.

It was pouring when we got to the club. The line was around the block, and time wasn’t the only thing we were spending. The entrance fee was 80 kuai. I can’t say it was worth the cost. I remember rooms of plush velvet and smoke, men in designer basketball shoes dancing on glowing risers. I remember being grabbed by a wasted stranger who locked his arms around me and started kissing my neck. I remember falling on the dance floor when the beat dropped, and I suddenly realized that we had been standing on a trampoline as everyone else began to jump.

We left the club early. It was pouring rain and the streets were lined with unmarked cabs. We watched a woman in black stilettos and a cocktail dress with voluminous, glittering sleeves walk down the center of the boulevard, get into a heiche, and disappear into the night. A driver pulled up. “How much to Beijing Normal?” “90 kuai.” Too expensive. More cab drivers. 100 kuai. 95 kuai. We haggled. We pled. Our Chinese had never been so eloquent, but to no avail. Standing under a pedestrian bridge with oily water in our shoes, we caved and paid the 95 kuai.

It is difficult to describe the true dynamics of a Beijing rainstorm. The rain falls in heavy sheets that flood the gutters and pelt small Vespas and motorcycles until the car alarms go off. The rain is warm, and people wear rubber sandals rather than soaking their closed-toe shoes in the lake-like puddles that collect between breaks in the sidewalk. The rain is the only thing stronger than the Beijing smog, and like a creation myth, the morning following a rainstorm is a perfect blue. But it was not morning yet.

“Have you ever wondered what it would be like to die in a car crash?” Revyn asked.

“No,” I replied, not looking out the window. Rain was falling in sheets across the freeway and every couple of minutes, the city was lit up at odd angles by streaks of lightning caught between the skyscrapers. The taxi driver changed lanes, spraying water on either side of the cab like a Jet Ski. We were almost back to the Second Ring. It was past 2 a.m.

“Yeah, me neither,” Revyn said as the cab driver turned along the tight curves of the exit ramp. “But it makes you think.”

She was right. It did make me think, but not about car crashes. I thought about the other ways the night could have gone. We could have gone to the hutongs and gotten jianbing, a sort of Chinese crepe with eggs and green onions. We could have walked along the river with its willow-lined curves and white stone steps down to the water where old men fished at night. We could have made chrysanthemum tea in the dorms and played mahjong with some of the other students. I was a little sad, but I knew there would be other clubs. And besides, it’s hard to dance on a trampoline.

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SEPTEMBER 30, 2017

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