Benny, our host and boss introduced us to a middle aged Chinese American, “Daniel”, to be our guide and translator. We were taken to the compound, about 30 minutes from downtown, where we were to live for the duration of our 2 month stay. Concrete house within neighborhood surrounded by concrete wall and guard at gate. On the other side of the wall was shanti town, slum, outskirt suburb of red brick single story buildings.
We were shown the room where we would share with two single beds, a couple standing closets and heavy iron radiator. My first impression when seeing the beds, was “nice box springs, will they be bringing us our mattresses before we retire for the evening?” But no, those were the mattresses. After the first few nights, I quickly learned to tolerate the cloth covered plywood planks as home sweet home. The bathroom had a tub with hand held shower and no curtain which made washing a dexterity test in itself.
We were invited to have late breakfast with the other occupants of the home who stayed up till early morning hours the night before playing chinese dominos. There was some kung fu show on the tv, and one of the English speaking men at the table said he was an actor in the film we were watching on the tube. Breakfast was a cultural experience, as all of our meals were. Some kind of baked or poached carp fish, with steamed pork dumpling, and veggies of some type was what our house friends had for breakfast, every morning.
After a few days tasting the local speciality breakfast, Kri and I decided to go shopping for some familiar breakfast items like cereal, milk, orange juice, toast bread, eggs. We went to a gigantic supermarket with so many mystery food items labeled in characters, wrapped in plastic that it was nearly impossible to figure out what kind of food was in those packages. We did manage to find some bread, eggs and orange juice as far as I remember. The kitchen at the house had a stove, rice maker and a wok. We figured out how to make toast in wok. One has to press the slice of bread down into the curve of the wok with your fingers till it’s nice and golden brown and then flip it and repeat.
Taking a bus into the city the first day was a feast for the senses. All the people, and the stores with chinese characters. Couldn’t make out what anything was. Kri had studied some chinese in college and did point out some words that he recognized. People were taking naps, at bus stops, on the bus, at restaurants, anywhere was ok. We passed by a hand painted “Thank God It’s Saturday’s” restaurant right next door to a familiar franchise TGIF.
We did start to notice many McDonald’s and KFC’s which did start to tempt our cravings after two weeks of our american chinese food restaurant where we played nightly.
One of our first missions was to post a stack of rack card sized flyers of our nightly music performance around the city. We pinned and stapled our flyer on as many telephone poles, apartment lobbies, tourist areas as possible. Our’s was the only entertainment flyer that I remember seeing displayed in public.