I think Daniel got tired of showing us around after the second day or so. Kri always had his saxophone and I had my unicycle whenever we would explore the sights of Beijing during the day. Because of Kri’s inquiries about meeting women and me dragging that one wheel all around, we soon were given our chinese nicknames. Kri was Ke Ai (lover boy) and I was Fung Za (crazy one). We would be given dinner at Bennie’s which was a clean polished establishment with black marble, a stage with disco lights, a dj booth, nice table cloth tables with Silverware, a menu with American style Chinese food, a table of smoking card players in the back and a plethora of young attractive and not so attractive girls accompanying Bennie’s friends and various Western patrons of the restaurant.
There was one two top table with a western gentleman giving a younger chinese lady a bunch of gifts. It seemed like he was saying goodbye to her. Was she a temporary girlfriend, escort, hooker? Couldn’t tell. It seemed like our boss Bennie had a thing going for this one girl who was one of three friendly, attractive girls of the group who we later spent a lot of time with sightseeing and such. One spoke English very well, one very broken and Bennie’s girl , the youngest and tallest, not at all.
We noticed almost all the girls we have met and seen had notches carved out of their front teeth. One of the most common snacks the young ladies enjoyed was sunflower seeds. The salt and sand on the shells would carve the notches in their teeth from shelling the seeds, as far as I know, even though it is still a bit of a mystery to me. Many also had black stains on the back of their teeth which apparently is a result of the mother’s given tetracycline during childbirth.
Bennie had two other girls take us for a little tour in town, one of which was the one who received the gifts from the departing westerner. They were not amused on the mission at all, but they did take us to see a large castle made of ice with ice slides and a park on a hilltop that overlooked the smoggy skyline of Beijing. This may have been the time we went to see Tienamen Square and the Forbidden City as well.
They had lunch with us at a place where we had pickled chicken feet and who knows what else. Ke Ai and I developed a slogan for our new chinese culinary experiences; “Is it plant or is it animal?”. The two girls were happy to return us safe and sound back to Bennie’s where the one was busy finding a new boyfriend again and the other disappeared upstairs to the Karioke parlor or somewhere. After a while we all had a mutual respect for each other for being “workers” at the restaurant.
We had a waiter,_____, who looked just like Bruce Lee and had a heart of gold. He took care of Ke Ai and me like we were kings. One thing that wasn’t available in Beijing was limes. Bennie had to smuggle them in from the states so he could make margarita’s at the bar. We met people from all over the world in the restaurant, being that it was in the embassy district. Bennie’s idea for having an “American Chinese” restaurant was that many western diplomats would want to have a place to eat that had silverware.
We played our music which was a mix of jazz standards, originals with a reggae funk style, and some classic covers. We would get requests for “My heart goes on”, by Celine Dion. Later we would discover, where ever we went they would be playing that song in restaurants, department stores, nightclubs, hotel lobbys. “Titanic” was one of the few movies at the time that was allowed in the country from the US. To legally perform music in China as a foreigner, one would have to send a video, pictures, song lyrics translated into chinese to the national cultural ministry office for review and acceptance. We had been “snuck” in on tourist visas which were good for one month, which we would have to get another month extension later on.
We would play our music full heartedly to a basically stone cold audience which varied from night to night. The western restaurant goers would show appreciation, but the chinese business men and card players would not react to our music what so ever. It is tough to give yourself hours apon end as a musician with no reaction from your audience, except when we stopped and paused too long between songs. Heads would turn and grunt, and we would hear things like “Why you stop? Keep playing”. It was bizarre. At the end of final set, the lights would dim, disco lights would ignite, the girls would get on the illuminated dance floor and the dj would play “My Heart Goes On”. Being tired from playing about 5 hours from the beginning of dinner time, we were relieved and would join the fun on the dance floor.
At around 1 or 2 in the morning, we had a driver take us back to the house in the outskirts of the city 30 minutes away in a “breadbox” minivan, MINIvan. Heat and shocks were accessories which he did not have. The ride home at that hour was surreal. The highway was full of blue semi trucks spewing gravel and what ever all over the road. There was also these three wheel harley style trucks with guys riding in the freezing cold with long coats, big gloves, communist style winter hats and flight goggles. The middle of the night was the time goods were transported around the city. All the transport vehicles were blue labeled with big white numbers and characters. We would get home to a smoky room filled with gambling domino players and their girls who “lived” there too.