Confessions of a Bartender

Pier-André lifts the lid on life behind the counter of the world’s only North Korean themed bar in the Chinese town of Yangshuo

More bars than houses

IMG_20140608_151947I used to live a healthy life, I would go jogging everyday, eat my vegetables, lots of vegetables, and refrain from drinking too much. And then I came to Yangshuo.

Yangshuo is this small town near Guilin city in Guangxi province. If you have travelled in China, you’ve probably heard of it. Once completely ignored, then discovered by western climbers to be “the spot”, Yangshuo quickly became a weird town with more bars than houses and more beer fish restaurants than inhabitants.

It really is an outdoor activities paradise. Trekking, climbing, cycling, you want it, you’ve got it. Although, let’s be honest, I have yet to do any of these activities after five months here. The usual Yangshuo long-term expat will probably live like that — teach English in the morning, climb in the afternoon and drink and smoke in the evening. Rinse and repeat in perpetual bliss. I chose a different life. I stand on the other side of the bar counter, I am the pillar of the Yangshuo lifestyle, I am a bartender.

Working at the DMZ bar, the world’s first DPRK (North Korean) themed bar promised lots of excitement. How is it to pour the cheapest and coldest drinks in town from 11am to 3,4,5 or, 6am? Well, it’s fun. Damn fun, that’s what it is.

Common uncommon sights

Yangshuo is a perfect mixture. On one side, you have a strong expat community, bringing with it all the pizzas, kebabs or falafels you might crave. While on the other side it offers enough China chaos to feel deliciously out of normality. Twelve gangsters fighting against one poor Chinese dude with chairs on the other side of the street, an old lady carrying six live ducks in a net bag or a drunk belgian guy talking for four hours with a homeless person, without any shared language, are some of the common uncommon sights around here.

Yangshuo seems to lure travellers who had big plans of conquering all of China and staying “for just one night” into staying weeks. How many times people came to the bar looking for a train ticket and left a week later, with loads of new friends, good memories, but nothing of their planning done.

Of course, it is still China, trying to pay a phone bill or make business cards without going through six distinct suicidal phases is just impossible. But then, after all the bureaucracy, the unhelpful locals and that guy screaming “hello! motorbike?” in your ear at the worst possible moment, you get back to the bar and laugh about it. For all the pain in the world, there is a drink, for all the missing relatives and friends back home, there is a cool dude waiting for you by the counter.

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Come and meet the regulars

So why don’t you come and meet me and the regulars? Just try it for a while. Come around, meet people, go out, if money is of concern get hooked up with a teaching gig (free accommodation and 1,000$ per month) get smashed in the 6-7 must-go bars of the town. Wake up, drink an iced coffee, see what the town has to offer and get smashed some more. Leave with a notebook full of addresses of people around the world. Learn Kung Fu, cooking or Chinese in your sober moments. Then reward yourself with a cold beer, and another.

And once you wake up, for the sixth time in a row, hungover with obscene drawings on your privates, exhausted. Just jump on that bike and ride through these gorgeous karst mountains and watch the sun rise, because there is nothing quite like it…

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You can get to Yangshuo taking one of the evergoing buses from Guilin city or a sleeper bus from Guangzhou or Shenzhen. From there, getting to the DMZ bar, 41 Gui Hua rd, is a walk in the park. One free drink if you mention the magazine!