Monday, May 3, 2010

A “Red Classic” May Day --- Scenes from a Red-Themed Restaurant

We were working in JM’s office most of the afternoon, even though it was Saturday. One of the proposals we were involved with had gotten past the first round of refereeing and the second round, an oral defense, was scheduled for May 12th. We needed to contribute a few slides for JM and YY’s portion of the project. Besides, somebody needed to work on “Labor Day.”

In any case, JM tried to rope YY into buying us dinner for our labors. And I hadn’t seen JM’s daughter Avon in a few months, so we decided to get a small group together. JM asked Avon to name a restaurant, the better to fleece YY with. Avon politely gave up the choice to my wife. Which is why we ended up with a 7 PM reservation at 红色经典 (literally, “Red Classic”), a theme restaurant northwest of the Summer Palace, on Fragrance Hill Road (Xiangshan Lu, one of the few roads to Fragrance Hill).

We finished the slides at around 4:30 PM. My wife showed up at PKU shortly after that. JM called his wife & Avon to pick us up and we were off, thinking that we can find some place along the way for a short stroll before dinner. Since it was Saturday, we decided to avoid the traffic just outside of the PKU East Gate, i.e., ZhongGuanCun Da Jie (中关村大街) . Earlier YY told us that on his commute to PKU, even the subway was packed --- on a sunny Saturday afternoon, many families headed to YuanMing Yuan and Summer Palace during the day. So we left PKU via the West Gate and avoided heading north immediately. My wife navigated a route that hugged the east and southern portions of the Summer Palace (see map from ditu dot google dot cn).

The actual route we took was a bit more circuitous than the path in red I drew over the map. We passed 3 entrances to the Summer Palace. We saw the entrance to a market (flower and other) and some orchards. There was a small pond with people fishing on one shore while the opposite shore is still being dug by bulldozers. We saw a nice, secluded park where we could see the sun setting behind Yuquan Shan (玉泉山, “Jade Spring Hill”), before we drove along the southeastern portion of the walled government / military complex of Yuquan Shan.

We had heard about “Red Classic” a while ago. Supposedly it catered to the Red Guard generation. But there’s nothing like seeing it for ourselves.

We arrived just after 7 and before the evening’s show. Before the 7:20 PM show, on the main stage, there was an auction of imitation paintings and calligraphic scrolls. The stuff was not very interesting, but the auctioning was loud. (I didn’t see anyone buy a single item.) We managed to place our dinner order before the show began. The cuisine was predominantly from Dongbei (东北, i.e., literally “northeast”). My wife ordered the catfish, JM ordered braised pork (not really Dongbei cuisine, but Chairman Mao’s favorite) , some salad and eggs fried with toon (香椿).

The show began in earnest at 7:20.  The waiters and waitresses handed out red flags and (paper) sickles to the audience, while our dinner courses showed up. (The catfish dish came out in a huge, round, cast iron skillet, which must have been more than 40 cm in diameter!) Most of the waiters and waitresses also participated either on stage or in the aisles between the dining tables. And if I had mistakenly thought the auction was loud, the performance was louder.

The list of songs performed included 丰收歌 (“Harvest Song”), 我为祖国献石油 (“I Offer the Motherland Petroleum”), 大寨红花遍地开 (“Dazhai Red Flower Everywhere”), 延河畔的女石匠 (“Woman Stonemason Along the Yan River”), 夫妻学习老三篇 (“Husband and Wife Learn from Three Old Texts”), 万岁毛主席 (“Long Live Chairman Mao”), 八大员 (“Eight ‘Yuan’”), 敬祝毛主席万寿无疆 (“Respectfully Wishing Chairman Mao a Boundless Life”), 北京的金山上 (“Atop Beijing’s Jinshan”), 对口词 (“Matching Poem”), 山丹丹开花红艳艳 (“Shan Dandan’s Red Blossoms”), 地道战 (“Underground Warfare”), 歌唱祖国 (“Ode to the Motherland”).

(The list does not include the first couple of songs. It was a few minutes into the show before I finally realized that the show included karaoke-like titles and lyrics projected to the right of the stage. The poor English translations in the parentheses above are mine, with some help from translate dot google dot com.)

In “Harvest Song” (丰收 has a stronger meaning of a bumper crop), the dancers on stage performed a harvest dance; in “I Offer the Motherland Petroleum,” the performers showed up dressed as petroleum workers); “Eight ‘Yuan’” credits workers in 8 different service sectors (“售货员、服务员、理发员、驾驶员、邮递员、保育员、炊事员、售票员”, i.e., salesperson, waiter/waitress, hairdresser, driver, postmen, nursery school worker, cook, and [bus or train] conductor/ticketing person).

In the middle of the show, at around 8, there was a short break for the diners celebrating birthdays. And after singing “Happy Birthday” (in both Chinese and English), the crew also sang 敬祝毛主席万寿无疆, wishing Chairman Mao a “boundless” long life. During most of the songs, the audience, especially those who knew the dances that went with the song, was asked to participate. And participate we did. Some of the older diners danced, and by the way some of those cocked their wrists, one can tell that they remembered the songs from the old days. (Poor Avon, who’s only 14, had to endure, in tears, all the singing and dancing, before she gave up and put on her iPod Nano.)

The highlight was the penultimate song, “Underground Warfare” (地道战), which started with a Chinese traitor (汉奸) showing 2 Japanese soldiers the way around, and drawing some serious booing from the diners. Then the Chinese soldiers showed up and finally cornered the 3. (I think this is where JM actually yelled out, “Kill them!!!”).

Unfortunately, the photos I took in the low lighting conditions turned out poorly. But here’s a few more to give you a glimpse of “Red Classic.” 
After the performance, a family photo opportunity for diners on the main stage

Another mural
After the show ended, we stayed around to finish dinner and chatted. YY managed to wiggle out of paying for dinner; JM winded up paying. Avon recovered from the culture shock and brightened noticeably when YY offered to buy her a new iPod (which was immediately upgraded to an iPad with the consent of YY and to the unanimous approval of the entire dinner party). JM, YY, and my wife took turns telling various tales of the revolution, the war and especially the Xi’An Incident. At a little after 10 PM, we were the only original diners left (a few more people showed up after the performance) and we headed back to PKU. All in all, it was a “Red Classic” May Day.


Anonymous said...

Nice photos and interesting story

Allen said...

Got to take my mother in law one day, give her a little surprise, see how she reacts. I think she sings those songs from time to time.....