Friday, September 02, 2011

A momentous month

I suppose, in a way, I started 'blogging' before there were any blogs; or before the concept had become at all popular, anyway.

When I won a scholarship to work as a legal intern in Canada for a year back in 1997, the Internet was only just taking off in the UK, and I didn't yet have a personal, long-term e-mail account. I'd dabbled with e-mail accounts provided by the institutions where I'd been studying law over the previous two years, and in Canada I would have a work account with the law firm I was placed with; but I didn't sign up to Yahoo until the following year. My time in Canada, then, was the first period in my life when I was separated from all my friends for a protracted spell and yet I suddenly had e-mail available to me to try to keep in touch with them.

Although I did a lot of one-to-one e-mailing too, I quickly got into the habit of sending out a group mailing about once a week with a humorous account of what was going on in my life. Many elements of it were lightly fictionalised (such as the wise saws dispensed by the counter clerk at my local Beer Store) or entirely fictionalised (my fantasy love affair with a cub reporter from the local TV station), in an attempt to make the dull life of a young lawyer seem more interesting.

After a lapse of a year or so, I resumed this habit of more-or-less weekly surreal 'diarising' while working in London. After another lapse in e-mail communicativeness (when I suppose I was preoccupied with suing a former employer for significant sums of withheld sales commissions, but didn't have much else going on in my life), I moved to China, and once again sought to maintain contact with all my friends in the UK and elsewhere by sending out a weekly 'bulletin'. A couple of years ago, I rediscovered a whole batch of these, and had the idea of occasionally reprinting extracts from them on here; but I forgot to keep that up after this introductory post. Maybe I'll revive that idea for this 'celebratory month' of my blogs' 5th anniversaries.

The China Bulletins, alas, tended to grow longer and longer - starting off at a manageable 700 or 800 words each, but soon expanding to 1,000 words and more, and before long to 1,500 or so each week. Moreover, despite an attempted leavening of humour, they tended to be rather earnestly factual most of the time; they lacked the surreal flights of fancy that had enlivened my earlier dispatches from London and Toronto. My friends - with mounting family and work preoccupations of their own; and, doubtless, with more and more e-mail to read, and more and more to read or do elsewhere on the Internet too - began to lose interest after a few months. Some, however, loyally continued to read, and to encourage my literary efforts, at least once in a while. And after another couple of years, one or two of them started suggesting that I should take up writing a blog as well, or instead.

At this point - 2004, 2005? - I suppose the 'Web 2.0' revolution, with its explosion of 'user-generated content', had already broken over the Internet, but I was completely unaware of it because I'd suffered such miserably limited Internet access during my first two or three years in China. I didn't have the slightest idea what a blog was. When I began to find out, I was violently averse to the idea of writing one myself. There seemed to be an inherent narcissism in it, of which I strongly disapproved.

But then.... well, my Net connection got a lot better (not great, but better). And I discovered a blog that I actually liked - Imagethief, a blog started by an American PR professional called Will Moss when he moved to China in 2004. I was soon a regular reader; and then, in the natural progression of these things, a regular commenter. And I found as a result that my own aversion to the notion of blogging, though it hadn't disappeared, was much diminished.

There were technical issues to be addressed, however. I wasn't very savvy with proxies and VPNs back then, and the major blogging platforms were all - at least intermittently - blocked in China. I had to wait until I was home in the UK for a holiday in the summer of 2006 to scope out the options. I plumped for Blogger (a choice I've often had cause to regret; though not to the point of revoking it), as being seemingly the largest platform at that time, and the one with the most straightforward user interface.

I'd set up a Blogger account on a whim, one drizzly afternoon in West London, but I still wasn't completely convinced that I wanted to use it to launch a blog of my own, or that I'd be able to make things work from China anyway. And, for the first week or so after I got back to China, I was busy with other things. But then, on another dull and drizzly day, a Friday, I found myself at home with nothing to do all day, and began noodling around in my new Blogger account. I think, at that time, Blogger and Blogspot were enjoying a period of open access in China, so I didn't have to bother with sorting out a VPN after all (I soon would); I could dive straight into choosing templates and such. Within an hour, I was ready to start composing posts. But... it was lunchtime; so, I went off to ingest sustenance for half an hour, before returning to my keyboard endeavours for a first flurry of blog-writing: 4 posts in a little over an hour! That was September 8th, 2006, the day Froogville was finally born - a day that will live in infamy.

My initial idea for the blog was that I'd write primarily about my adventures on Beijing's nightlife scene, and about my love of bars throughout my life and the strange and wonderful adventures I'd often had in them. However, in my first week of blogging, I'd found so much to write about that was not bar-related, I realised I was probably going to need a separate blog to address that topic. And I'd always liked the name Barstool Blues, which I'd once planned to use as the title for a 'drinking novel'. Thus, on Saturday, September 16th, my other blog came into existence, Round-The-World Barstool Blues. (Blogger, infuriatingly, having initially told me that the simpler Barstool Blues was available as a title, then changed its mind - although I could never find a blog out there under that name. Worse, it wouldn't allow me, for some reason, to use the expanded version of the name as the URL, and so I had to make do with thebarprop instead. One of the earliest of the many, many bizarre vexations Blogger has thrown my way!)

Since the preliminary work of establishing the blogging account - under the Froog alias - had happened back in August some time; and since I'd been vaguely pondering/plotting the launch of the blog(s), at least subsconsciously, from the moment I returned to China at the end of August; and since I didn't have both blogs up and running side-by-side until the second half of September; and since I feel I didn't really start hitting my stride, feeling comfortable with what I was doing with the blogs until around the end of September.... well, the whole of this month is my 5th Blogiversary, as far as I'm concerned.

I should probably do something to celebrate - but I can't think what. I may come up with something in a while.

For now - a big THANK YOU to everyone who has read or commented on the blogs over the years; and especially to that elite handful of semi-regulars (you know who you are). Even if you've dropped out of the blog-commenting habit now (as so many seem to have done, with the explosion of the anti-social media over the past couple of years), I hope you will return to it just once or twice during the coming month of nostalgic reminiscence: I'd love to hear your favourite recollections of Froogville or The Barstool. Come along now - don't be shy.


John said...

The thank you should be aimed squarely in your direction Mr F for the only blog I ever come back to on a regular basis, heck, ever read... ever!
If you want to try to win the Guinness Record for blisters go for it (although you seemed to imply that you'd already talked yourself out of it when you mentioned that you lose interest in your surroundings after a while walking) but please, please PLEASE don't end the blog. Long may it live come Mayan end of the world, the inevitable burst of the 'economic miracle' (quotes!) or whichever other disaster you prefer.
Truly a clear, sincere (and there's another one about beer) window into a mysterious (crazy?) land going through much interesting times if ever I read one!

Froog said...

Gosh, John, you are too kind. People will think I've invented you. (I know one or two bloggers who are not above populating their comment threads with figments of their own imaginations!)

How did you find me in the first place?

And what is your interest in China? (It's not easy to trawl through my traffic data, but the only really regular visitor of late appears to be from Birmingham in the UK. Is that you?)

JES said...

This is too major a milestone to be shrugged off. I'm not sure what the proper celebration would be shaped like, either... I'd think you, of all people, could come up with a suitable cinematic program(me) in celebration!

Froog said...

Oh damn - now you have me working out a treatment for Once Upon A Time In China...

Froog said...

Further to the above...

An empty parking lot in front of Beijing Airport (the small, grotty, pre-2007 one), shortly after dawn. Three minivan drivers are standing around, waiting for pick-ups from the first inbound flights that day.

One them is relentlessly picking his nose, examining the pickings closely for a few seconds before wiping them on the cuff of his jacket, picking again. The second is methodically chewing watermelon seeds, spitting out fragments of husk. The third is rhythmically clearing his throat, the exact same hawking-rattling noise every four or five seconds, never quite leading to a spit. Several minutes pass with no variation in these activities. Occasionally, a flimsy orange plastic carrier bag scuds across the tarmac, filling the office of a tumbleweed.

... Some time later, inside the terminal building. One of the Chinese minivan drivers is scanning the arrivals board. All flights are listed as 'Delayed'.

... Much later... a group of weary, bemused Western European travellers emerges through the 'Arrivals' door, among whom we recognise the charismatic British actor Jason Statham. One of the drivers is lolling against the railing beside the door, holding a piece of cardboard with the word 'Station' clumsily written on it in felt marker. JS notices the sign as he walks past, does a slight doubletake, then attempts to ask the driver if he is waiting for him. Driver insists he is waiting for a 'Mr Station'. JS sees which way this is going, and agrees that he is Mr Station.

... Some days later, in a small neighbourhood restaurant in central Beijing: six or eight seating booths, only a few of them occupied by Chinese diners. The lights suddenly go out. The owner shuffles around, one by one lighting the candles which had already been put out on the table for such an eventuality. When he lights the last one, he is mildly shocked to discover that it reveals the glowering face of JS in one of the booths that had previously been empty. JS makes several attempts to order a beer in bad, toneless Chinese. The owner looks at him in bafflement. 'Beer!' moans JS despairingly. The owner's face lights up in recognition, and he replies in fumbling but serviceable English, "Why didn't you say so?" JS rolls his eyes slightly.

... The next morning. JS is teaching English to a group of Chinese teenagers. He has brought along a hammer, with which he mimes that he will smash any mobile phones he sees being used in the classroom. Three students immediately try to SMS their friends about this hilarious behaviour, and duly have their phones smashed. The students are reduced to stunned silence. Some of the girls weep.

... A few weeks later, Mid-Autumn Festival. JS, now known as 站老师, has been invited to an all-night Karaoke party by his female students, who take it in turns to make gauche attempts to seduce him...

... Two months later, the end-of-semester 'thank you' dinner for the foreign teachers. The evil Dean of Studies, jealous of JS's popularity with the students, challenges him to a baijiu-drinking duel...

Antonio said...

Happy 5th birthday Froog. Having been privileged to witness (indeed use) the keyboard from which the blog is most regularly posted, I can personally vouch for the hard life that it has evidently led. Barstool is of course a classic, with the observations about the social mores of drinking being as accurate as a Scotsman's gin measure. I look forward to many more years of reading, and indeed contributing. That's if I haven't fallen off my own barstool.

Froog said...

Thanks for looking in, Tony.

Give The Bookbinder a kick for me!

JES said...

Oh jeez. Very very happy that you linked to this from the more recent post. If I'd missed it...

It took me a couple of beats to get the "Station" joke. (I'd always thought his name was pronounced STAT-m (short "a").) Once I caught on, of course that was one of my favorite bits.

It's probably time to update your portrait in the Cast of Characters post. Paul Bettany always struck me, at least, as way too colorless a performer to play your part. Statham: huge improvement. Especially if you're harboring fantasies of hand-to-hand combat with a fire hose.

Did that scene with the students' mobile phones really happen???

JES said...

P.S. You know, an interesting series of post to complement the Fantasy Girlfriends ones would be a series called Fantasy Selves. Statham would probably be on a lot of guys' lists. I've never seen him interviewed or otherwise offstage, so for all I know he's a complete nimrod (as the saying goes), but he always seems so self-possessed. For latter-day men who are far too often possessed by outside forces, that seems like a state of special grace.

Froog said...

I feel sure something like the mobile phone incident must have happened somewhere, sometime. It has somewhat the status of an apocryphal tale in the TEFL community. I have fantasised about doing it so often that I have difficulty in recalling whether I really may have done.

Statham does indeed appear admirably composed. It might be better not to enquire into whether his public and private personas are in harmony.

Oddly enough, I don't think I've ever fantasised about being someone else.

Except maybe Paul Auster...