I have been busy finishing an illustration while attending rehearsals so my full exploration of Beijing has been confined to the evenings when Jim is free to join me.
We have been thrice to an upscale mall called "Sanlitun Village" which has an apple store and nearly every other franchise you would find in the US, McDonalds, Le Sportsac, etc. But we didn't go there to shop, really! It has to be the most expensive place in Beijing, costs just the same as a fancy mall in NJ. The cab ride takes us past the panorama of modern Beijing, part Miami part Dallas. Skyscrapers everywhere but spaced out more than Manhattan. In fact, it looks much bigger than the big Apple! The national bird of China is said to be the crane, the construction crane, and they were everywhere. Hopefully the urban planners realize they should preserve some of the old before it is all gone. What tourist wants to see only modern malls? But back to the one mall I kept seeing...
The first time we attended a 9th year party at Hatsune, a Japanese restaurant. The place was mobbed and almost half the party was foreign born. I met a young tall Austrian, Raphael, who is managing a jazz club and hotel in the art district. A friendly Chinese business man pressed his special projects card on me, he is apparently in construction. The owner of Hatsune, Alan Wong, was born in California and came to China ten years ago. He is a friend of Kemin's (one of Jim's cowriters). I spoke to a friendly young Beijing woman whose English wasn't quite up to telling me much but we smiled a lot at each other. The scene was so expat bar, full of mostly young chic types...for entertainment some drummers played lion drums and then 4 sumo fat suits were handed out to the owner and friends. It was so funny to see thin elegant girls climb into the ridiculous costumes and wrestle on the floor. Unlike a similar bar in Manhattan, I was treated as a person of interest. People wanted to exchange business cards with me...perhaps as a foreigner I represent potential investments? It was refreshing to not be met with the usual 20-something's disdain or avoidance of elders.
The next time we headed to Sanlitun Village it was to have my nails done, along with Louis St. Louis (music director), at a chic spa, Lovely Nails, just around the corner from the mall. Louis has more stories about show biz than an encyclopedia has entries. He has met EVERYONE and worked with many stars, John Travolta, Olivia Newton John, Ann Magaret, and on an on. But as interesting as his stories about others, he is himself an interesting story! He told me Jim is one of the most talented lyricists he has met in a long time! Some of his songs could be instant hits! He and I sat in adjacent chairs as dainty women sawed off our calluses with super-sized files. I was sure I'd lose a shoe size by the time they were done. I let Louis help pick a deep purply magenta for my fingers and toes. It just seemed to fit the mood, Louis brings out the diva in me. He had his back waxed, I sank into the upholstered chair as my polish dried and watched koi swim in a tank, their scales as glittery and my nails.
Jim took photos of me being primped, but alas, the next day his camera was lifted skillfully from it's velcro case on his belt, as we strolled the neighborhood around our hotel, and we lost all the photos he took.
The third trip to the mall was to go to the nearby, found at last!, Bookworm, a cafe, event space, and bookstore. It was everything Jim had said it would be. I loved it. Walls full of books, a lending library as well, tables galore, views (it is upstairs and has windows that show the sparkling lights of the curving and torqued modern buildings in the area) and a western style toilet! A book discussion was just winding up in one of the rooms. I heard bits of questions about philosophy and religion and wandered away, didn't sound like my kind of book judging from the earnest discussion.
I have been having pains in my stomach, not Ghengis Khan's revenge! but jabbing acid reflux. So I went with one of our translators to a traditional Chinese medicine shop and was given two types of pills to take for two weeks. One appears to be a root turned into tiny ball bearing sized brown pellets, I take a table spoon of those a half hour before two meals a day. The other pill I take three a day and it has the color and flavor of a dehydrated lump of instant minty beef bullion. I am already feeling better.
The Chinese we are working with, both the actors, tech, and creative team, are remarkably generous and warm. They really want us to have a good time. Last night Jim and I and Mark Allen were invited out by the talented guy, we call Ben, who is putting together the score with the chinese lyrics in a program called Finale. He can do a rubics cube in nine seconds flat. He is also a drummer and both the translator (age 20) and a friend "Idy" (19) who joined us were his students. The friend also speaks English. We were treated to dinner at a traditional restaurant that had members of the Beijing opera singing in a stylized warble to two stringed instruments. The food was, well, terrific, and conversation flowed thanks to the two translators. We were a bit upset that Ben was treating us but were told this is the Chinese way, we could pay next time. It is a concept, guanxi, that involves planting favors and building networks of friendly connections. Hopefully I learn how much to accept and give so I can be a good visitor.
Next we went to a hutang (alley) district on S. Luogu Alley full of shops and bars. The bus we took was as modern and clean as the subway. And, as always in China, more people are employed to provide services than in the US. Someone had a job to take tickets as well as someone else to drive the bus. We left behind the ancient gate and lion statue and the bus took us a few blocks to the famous hutangs. The old north south street we walked is unbelievably ancient! But it reminded me of Greenwhich Village, a bit touristy but full of fine goods and crafts. The single story buildings, fronts opened into shops, made for a warmer more human sized window shopping. I bought some tea and looked at blank leather and board bound books using tan paper inside with images of Mao--Andy Warhol style--on the cover... The first bar had some loud drunk Americans playing a game and cursing their luck or wins in the same vocabulary. Bleary and weaving they chugged and played on. Oh how they made me wince. The second bar, where we were joined by two more friends, was nicer, we could talk more easily and ate popcorn and I watched the men and one translator get a bit tipsy. The couple that joined us were really cool, he is a musician--traditional guitar--and she is in graduate school learning how the brain makes connections, the sociology of affection studied in the lab. She plans to do a post doc in the US if she can.
Mark Allen (composer) did a bar game with Ben where he said if Ben could copy everything he did, then Ben could pay, but if he missed something Mark did, Mark would buy the round of drinks! We were all laughing at their antics. Mark did a little sleight of hand and won.
The bar was full of cigarette smoke, as was the restaurant, the streets. It was odd to feel like I'd gone back in time to a place where second hand smoke gave me a fuzzy second hand buzz and dry throat, I sure don't miss it. A lot of young Chinese smoke. Of course, a lot of young Americans smoke too. Idiots.
Before she left to go start college in Toronto, Kemin's younger sister Rosy played Rachmaninoff for us on the rehearsal grand piano. Kemin accompianed her on the other piano. What a talented skilled family they are. Rosy has a wonderful mix of sweetness and sarcasm. We enjoyed her so much. She plans to major in cello, not piano. I'm sure she will be terrific.
I am loving it here. Beijing is a city to rival any other world city. I only wish I knew the language better.
Wish you were here to see all of this!