Small World in Beijing: How I Randomly Met Family in a Hutong Bar

There’s nothing more cringeworthy than being asked if you know someone from Ireland because you’re Irish. I remember drinking with Americans that were tracing their roots in Dublin, and they kept asking me if I had ever heard of their great aunt this, great Peter Willy Malone, and whatever they were going on about like “I wasn’t even alive back then mate, and if even if I was, what business would I have out in Roscommon. Nobody from Roscommon wants to live in Roscommon.”

If you don’t know what Roscommon is, keep it that way.

Alas, being asked if you know someone simply because they share your nationality is quite humorous and when it comes to living abroad, chances are (particularly in Asia), you might actually know the person.

Boring Bar Culture

For the most part, bar culture in China bored me. There were some really nice bars around town, and some absolutely vile ones. I lived next to a Mongolian bar where businessmen would awkwardly sip a beer while listening to Rammstein. They weren’t there for the beer or Rammstein, they were there to hook up with a sex worker for the night and had as much suave as a dead cat.

I’m not putting down all the bars in Beijing, but I really didn’t enjoy a lot of them. Hell, in Taipei, I still feel that way because the younger crowds, both local and international, bore the head off me usually. I like small places where you can have some nice drinks and good conversation.

I was really fortunate to find a nice bar in Beijing, though it took me 40-60 minutes just to get to there.

Beijing 2013 : Baochao Hutong, Modernista 

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As fate would have it, I did meet some Irish people in Beijing’s Modernista; a European style bar with fantastic live music and good booze. I’d go once every two weeks for the wine and gypsy jazz, and stay for a good chat.

Honestly, this place was kicking! They’d have live music across many genres of music that always made me feel like I was in a Woody Allen movie (minus the marrying the adopted daughter stuff). The house wine was cheap, the food was amazing, and the aesthetic was divine. You couldn’t ask for a better place. I mean, this is basically a free promotion for the place and I haven’t been there in four years. That says it all!

Running into other Irish in Beijing

In December 2013, I was invited out by a friend of a friend of a friend for some nice drinks in a quaint bar called Modernista. I was also invited to meet some “like-minded foreigners” so to speak. It wasn’t until I came to Taiwan that I realized “like-minded foreigners” actually just meant well-rounded, normal people that live internationally. You don’t too many of those around Asia, lemme tell you that!

Anyway, I pop into the bar, and I meet an Irish couple. Now, you have to understand, for me, a 21-year-old guy living in Asia as a student, and not having much contact with home or other Irish people, really had an effect on me. I was bit over-enthusiastic about meeting some Irish people for a change.

They were a lovely couple and told me all about how they were teaching kids drama and English, how the guy was a musician and for some reason he reminded me of the antagonist from the series Bored to Death (This guy).

We got up to all sorts of banter and it felt very normal. For a while in Beijing, I had gotten into a real lull. I was bored of taking 4 hours of Mandarin a day, and living in an area with only restaurants and nothing else to do. Beijing was a fun city, but there was nothing fun about me at the time though. So I wouldn’t put the city down for my own lack of drive to go out and be a bit adventurous for night life.

Meeting this Irish couple was a nice experience and unfortunately,  I didn’t have a VPN on my phone, so I couldn’t add them on Facebook anyway. After the night ended, we all said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.

Fast-forward to 2015

2015 was a really tough year for me. I had come back from Beijing, was in my final year of college, and I was bored off my mind. Living in a big city with a subway system spoiled me. Then again, I was allowed the freedom to talk about whatever I wanted to and I could access Gmail and Facebook without an error message, and the gnawing thought of being picked up for googling Tiananmen Square Massacre out of curiosity.

Around the end of my final semester, my grandmother sadly passed away and the wake was taking place in my Uncle’s place. I went down, seeing family I knew, some I didn’t know, and some I would get to know.

I got talking to my Dad’s aunt, and she was curious about what life was like in Beijing. We had a nice conversation and a cup of tea and told me she had a daughter in Beijing back in 2013/14. I thought it was awful curious considering I met an Irish couple and asked what her daughter’s name was, and my eyes widened.

The couple I was talking to in Modernista, in the middle of a hutong, in the middle of winter, in the middle of twenty million people, one of them was my second cousin. Or at least I think that is the right way to say it. I’ve no idea how you’d count the children of a parent’s cousin so I am going to stick to second cousin.

Small world but so many Irish

You’d think for a population of only 5-6 million people that you’d never meet an Irish person abroad. I mean, sure, if you’re in London, Boston, New York or Adelaide, you’re bound to bump into an Irish person. But bumping into an Irish person in Asia, and having them also be your family, now that was absolutely mental for me. The otherwise side to that story was that I found out I had three relatives living in Beijing at the time and we all lived 20 minutes apart from another.

I did my best to break out of Ireland, but the more you live somewhere, the more you start to see bits and pieces of yourself everywhere. Sometimes those bits and pieces can be family you didn’t even know existed until your Dad’s cousin tells you at your grandmother’s funeral over Hobnobs and tea.

 

Tomás 孫柯

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