Even though Mrs P had returned about once a year, I hadn’t been back to China since we left in August 2007. Upon my return, I immediately regretted not having gone back sooner.
After three months living alone in New York, I boarded the plane for Beijing around 5pm. I had just received, the day before, a Kindle e-reader from Mom as an early birthday present, and I was downloading books and magazines for the flight while putting back beers in the airport bar. What a great device for travel!
Let me tell you: no matter how attractive the price, I will avoid at all costs in the future flying Air China. I have become accustomed to having a personal TV screen in my seat for long-haul flights; not available here. They have a single screen for the whole cabin, the “entertainment” they choose is horrendous, and the screen flickers and distorts the colors to boot. The plane was so old it had ashtrays in the armrests!
I was connecting directly to Chengdu and should have landed at 10pm; delays for “weather” meant I didn’t arrive until nearly 3am, with most of that time spent in the Beijing airport. But I arrived!
For the next week, I did little else besides sleep, eat and read. A typical day involved waking up around 7 or 8 (ok, I slept in the first couple of days) and making coffee, then sitting down to read for 3-4 hours. Mom might make me a boiled egg or a bowl of tang yuan, then go to the market. Dad would get out his game board for “Five in a Row” and study a book of strategy, playing practice games against himself. Mrs P might be reading as well, or working on her thesis. When Mom returned home, Dad would start chopping and slicing everything she’d purchased, and she’d cook a big lunch which we’d all sit down to around noon.
These lunches were the highlight of the day. Typically they’d involve six or seven dishes – ribs, duck, fish, and several bowls of greens. Dad and I would drink beer or liquor, and sometimes a family member or friend would show up to share with us. Xiao Niang (Mom’s sister) was a frequent guest. After the meal, we might take a nap, or go for a walk. In the evenings we’d either read or watch TV, or else meet up with a friend of ours (there are a few still around Chengdu). It was most relaxing.
Labor Day weekend we flew out to Shanghai to see the old crew. Party weekend! First, to Brad’s restaurant, where he is no longer working for anyone else but has his own place, and naturally it’s awesome. There is no greater feeling in a restaurant than sitting down and being attentively taken care of without ever looking at a menu. Course after course flowed from that fine kitchen until we had to beg the man to stop; we literally couldn’t eat any more. He came out to see us and said, “You guys are waving the white flag, eh?” We sat there and drank wine the rest of the night, and once the other guests had left, Mallon brought out the guitars.
That was a lead-in for Saturday night, when we officially got the band back together for a rocking gig at YuYinTang. Nearly everyone who ever played with Georgia Sam turned out for a spectacular evening – Eli, Adam, Yam, Fabian – and we had some new dudes who brought it to a whole new level. All due to Nate’s very meticulous organization and motivation skills, we were able to pull off a crazy show that had people going mad. For a small taste, check out this cover of Zep’s No Quarter:
Good times with family, good food, good music, good friends. What more is there in life?
Back in Chengdu, a crew of Mrs P’s friends helped me celebrate my 31st birthday in style, bringing me a cake in the middle of a music club and singing for me. We had such a great time. It was all over too fast. When can we return? As soon as possible, as far as I’m concerned.
Postscript: I did manage one more city on my way out. Since, in my infinite wisdom and prudence, I had booked myself an overnight layover in Beijing on the way home, I was able to hook up with both Sam and Jeff for one last night, drinking beers in a hu tong until the wee hours and stumbling onto the plane at noon, “a little bleary, worse for wear and tear…”