Numb in China, part 2: 中南海 中南海 抽烟只抽中南海
In the ruins of the Beijing punk scene
Bart Simpson once asked: ‘What happened to you, China? You used to be cool.’ For the entire history of the concept, cool has essentially been an American product, even if its manufacture was occasionally farmed out to subsidiaries in France and Japan. Despite some heroic efforts, the Soviet Union never managed to produce cool at anything like industrial levels. But what about China? Was China, in fact, once cool? Is it still cool now? Is cool simply an index of assimilation into global culture, or are indigenous cools possible?
From now until September, Numb at the Lodge will be in China, investigating these questions and more. Paid subscribers can join us in a brain-melting tourist odyssey across the past and future of Chinas real and imagined. This is a travel blog now.
Today I’m writing from outside School Bar in Wudaoying Hutong. I’m here to see what the vibes are like in Beijing, and they are not good. They are also not bad. Beijing is vibeless. The city simply has no vibes.