Sunday, March 29, 2009
Over a week ago I contacted my friend whose twin girls were turning one this weekend.
"What are you going to do for their birthday?" I asked.
"Do you have any suggestions?" he asked back.
Kids don't usually remember their first birthdays though parents usually go all out, but knowing he was busy at work I suggested McDonald's.
That didn't impress him much.
Instead he topped my idea with a Beijing-style celebration.
"We're going to eat at a small restaurant on the north fourth ring road," he said. "We found this old man on the street who does opera so he's going to perform."
"He's going to serenade your two girls?" I asked jokingly.
He texted me the address and I showed it to the taxi driver, who amazingly found it, hidden in an alley in Zhongguancun, dubbed the "Silicon Valley" of Beijing with many IT firms there.
It was a small brick two-storey tea house restaurant with traditional Chinese wooden doors. Upstairs the Chinese-style small tables were formed in a U-shape to make room for a sort of stage area in front.
The birthday girls were dressed up in red embroidered cotton outfits, and parents in Chinese-style jackets too.
The menu isn't a book, or a sheet of paper, but a tray with wooden tablets, each with dishes carved into them. Apparently the ones you want to order you turn over with the red back showing. It's the old school menu that was interesting to see used today.
There was a constant stream of dishes served at our tables, a Chinese-style salad, chicken liver, deep-fried shrimp, cabbage stir-fried with dried chillis, roast duck with lotus root, rice in soup with beef, chicken wings, and many desserts, including a coconut milk pudding shaped like a fish, glutinous rice rolls with a bean paste, and deep-fried dough laced with diced hawthorn.
Needless to say we were stuffed, but when we finished most of the food, the entertainment began.
An older bald man with a few missing teeth made an appearance and began singing old-style folk songs with his Chinese guitar. He also had a woman performing with him too, either accompanying him with a bamboo clapper, drums or voice.
Our hosts even tried to get members of the party to sing too -- with one of the grandfathers belting out a few tunes before he forgot the rest of the words.
Then the duo came out again, this time doing a few skits that were fun. In one of them the woman hides behind a fan speaking the lines while the old man lipsynchs.
The party ended three hours later and we left with a memorable birthday that you'd probably only find here in Beijing.