Saturday 10th / Sunday 11th January
Irish and Chinese pub scenes
Last Sunday appears a bit hazy, but now come to think of it, that’s probably due to the four pints of Plain (Guinness) I swallowed the previous Saturday evening with close friend and business partner P at the swank (for Dun Laoghaire at least) setting of Bordega’s Bar −well it used to be when it first opened as the 40 Foot Bar.
We didn’t mention the ‘A’ (Accurate) word once, except to remind ourselves not to mention the ‘A’ word (we’d our thinking caps on all week long planning our line of attack for 2009 and it was now time for a break, let the hair down). More to the point, there were far too many distractions in the Pub, and I’m not referring to the overly cosmeticized peroxide blondes, or the Chinese bar-tenders speaking in a Dublin dialect…. “How’r yah…what’ill yah ave” and the like. Dalian seemed another planet away. No, the highlight was the barney (argument) between what appeared to be a Concerned Parents Against Drugs parent who over in the far corner of the bar had confronted a peddler of death and destruction, otherwise known as a drug dealer (like their European neighbours, Ireland’s towns and cities are blighted by the scourge of cocaine, heroin, and just about everything else that has caused indescribable misery for so many families). “They were having words”, as we’d say in Dublin, and things were getting a bit heated. Perhaps it was the drink, I initially thought. Nothing too unusual so far until the unremarkable looking parent, a man in his 50s, suddenly pounced on the à la mode dressed dealer, a man in his 20s. All hell broke loose, and fists were flying.
The pub’s brawny, bald and tattooed security people (we call them “bouncers”) excitedly swung into action, burying themselves in the mêlée to the point where it was difficult to make out who was who. In due course, however, the well-practised bouncers emerged from the fray with three louts and the parent, all of whom were strong-armed from the bar.
[As an aside, I just had a rare ‘Niall deliberation’. At least three additional bar brawls and one street fight have been observed by myself over the years, and all in China… :
- In 1989 I was drinking in a bar, one of those cosy diminutive bars typical of Beijing at the time, which was owned by a local Chinese friend and his English wife. Three sinister looking, thug-like, plain clothes policemen dressed in black leather jackets were seated in a dark corner apparently playing cards. They had been following my friend around for weeks. The Government didn’t like the fact he was becoming quite well-known outside China for expressing opinions they considered to be ‘counter revolutionary’, and they were taking every opportunity to harass him. Imbibing with me were BW an Irish diplomat, and Didi, a Nigerian diplomat and Didi. Suddenly a full bottle of beer came hurtling through the air smashing against the wall within an inch of Didi’s head. One of the thugs pretending to be swaggered his way to our table: “Hei ren zou ba!” (black man get out!). We left abruptly.
- In 2000 I was drinking in a bar in Hangzhou with an Italian friend and two local female friends. A thug at the bar clearly very drunk was taking exception to two local ladies drinking with foreign men. He wobbled over to our table and asked the girls to leave, before cursing them in Chinese. The noisy bar Kana Bar turned eerily quiet. We ignored him, which made him even madder. Eventually, still full of bluster he turned around and headed back to his Russian and American friends gutlessly seated at the bar. We thought the intense stand-off was over, were congratulating ourselves when suddenly a wooden bar stool swished by us before crashing on to someone else’s table, whereupon all hell broke loose. Tables and chairs were flung everywhere… The four of us hide under the table before crawling out the door, untouched. Incidentally, the Russian guy at the bar is one of the most feared people mafia types in Hangzhou, while his American friend runs a bar and language school in Hangzhou.
- In 2002 was enjoying the Salsa at Hangzhou’s popular Night and Day when suddenly a large street-level window disintegrated from the force of a street sign post lobbed through it. A fight ensued, and there was a lot of blood… Within five minutes all was over. Apparently, the owner of the bar had fallen out with some local thugs.
- Oh and the fight on a street in Suzhou between two women, squealing like injured pigs, pulling hard at each other’s hair and scratching each other with their long nails, and a crowd of onlookers egging them on, nobody brave enough to intervene, least of all myself.
Curiously in all four incidents, not a uniformed policeman in sight. But I digress…]
Meanwhile back in Bordega’s a sense of normality had been restored, not that the tussle had really distracted us: The pints and the crisps were going down well. We were having too much of craic (as in Irish for “fun” not to be confused with the Crack derivative of heroin) nattering on about our existence when about six members of An Garda Siochana (the Irish Police) appeared from nowhere.
The Gardai have been a source of public dissatisfaction for years (some would say deservedly so, while others would say the Force shouldn’t be judged on the indiscretions of a few black sheep) on account of past recklessness including bribery, beatings (they were particularly partial to a good old-fashioned riot, especially the anti-Establishment anti-Globalisation protests run by a motley mix of Guevaraesque leftist students, anarchists, greenies, students, and other ‘new-age’ thinkers where they could swing their batons at will), doctoring evidence, being a little too close to certain politicians, and bumbling ineptitude.
How times have changed. After this particular Saturday night, no more will I paint all Gardai with the same villain brush, but rather they have earned my wholehearted admiration and respect. Watching them vigorously go about their work with a strong sense of purpose and duty it was clear to me this ‘new look’ Irish police force, dressed in their standard issue anti-stab vests (they don’t carry guns), has learned not only to be politely civil (they now speak clearly enunciated English, as opposed to heavily accented country-speak!!. In the 1980s a UK publication referred to them as akin to thick lumps of red meat from the mountains of Kerry, ape-like), but projects an appearance that is able-bodied, robust and confident, a clear force for the thugs, who of late seem to gaining the advantage, to reckon with.
They courteously asked several men who they suspected of being involved in the fight to join them outside, while at the scene of the initial argument a Garda was down on all fours minutely searching the floor…. Hopefully, in his haste to defend himself from the irate parent, the ‘merchant of death’ had dropped enough traces of the misery he peddles for the Gardai to take him off the streets for a few years at least.
But really, for what they have to deal with in a daily basis I say “hats off to the Gardai”…which reminds me of the time in my youth when a friend of mind, the worse for wear after a few post international rugby match drinks too many, grabbed the hat off the head of a Garda, and started sprinting down the road.. the Garda gave chase but after about thirty meters was huffing and puffing. Not anymore.
Still what I actually did on Sunday is still a bit obscure (now blaming the void in my brain on the jet lag)… I remember the delicious dinner of stuffed pork cooked by Mum and the bottle of Romanian red wine.
Investing in an Investor and ‘Cast-iron guarantees”
Ah, another rare ‘Niall deliberation’ has occurred. The call from Tim S, the prospective investor in ‘A’, which brought me to my senses with a thud:
“I talked to three potential investors, and they won’t be putting their money into A unless you can provide them with a cast iron guarantee of a return of investment…. but I consider what you are doing in China to be the future for Ireland”… So says Tim S. who had recently lost his shirt to the tune of €300,000 from investments in AIB, a leading Irish bank tethering on the brink of collapse (I was quick to tell him I’d lost an additional part of my clothing in the hugely over-hyped Marrakech, a memory which still touches a raw-nerve, so we’ll leave that one there).
So the NSP team that is A have put together a solid investment proposal for a business which based on some of the exciting programs coming together at last will see investors being repaid with a nice big interest within 24 months. I am told by the movers and shakers in Ireland’s investor community that 12 months ago, given the scope for two of the key projects we are working on, and the specific plan to build a strong, stable and well-branded business, we’d have had investors queuing up.
Now the buzz term used by the private investors, venture capitalists, and banks when turning down an investment proposal or a loan request is there need for a “cast iron guarantee” of return on investment. Of course this is pure nonsense. Nobody can give a 100% guarantee about anything these days.
The reality is the fear of much worse financial turmoil to come, and no person, company, or bank wants to part with money they already have. With banks not lending and investors not investing, or, worse, tightening the screws on ordinary people and businesses, they have already loaned to or invested in, there is a burning need for Government to restore confidence by decisively taking the lead in stimulating demand. Alas the half-hearted Irish Government appears like a deer standing in the middle of a dark road dazed by the headlights of an oncoming juggernaut.
Like many people running a small business, Sunday’s sleep was troubling at best: the ‘A’ dream roller-coaster analogy trundles forward at full-speed: front seat passenger (the buck stops with me), white knuckles (hanging on for my dear life, trying to keep my eyes open), massive loop-the-loops (stomach churning highs and lows), followed by huge senses of elation and delight as the roller coaster flattens out and the expected calm returns. Yes, I am looking forward to looking back and telling myself “yes the journey was hell, but the sense of achievement, having endured and succeeded are much more important than the pain and hardship, which we’ll eventually chalk down to experience”.