In the South Hall of the ????Beida (Peking University) library building, Beijing hosted its first annual “Vegetarian Party” on Thursday, May 17th, 2007. I met the organizer about four weeks earlier and I was excited about this event as a way to connect with more vegetarians (or vegans) in my community. Beida is just down the road and so I knew I would be in attendance. Several of my friends had also heard of it and were going.
Funny enough, when I met the organizer, I was with another friend of mine (Will) who is also a vegetarian. Will recommended that I play the event to the organizer (Howard) and we exchanged numbers that night. I never did hear from Howard but I was still keen on attending. After all, I had heard through the grapevine that there would be free food! (Musician Rule #1=always accept free food!)
It wasn’t until Monday the 14th that I also heard through the grapevine that I was performing at the event! Yes, some wires got crossed and Howard thought that Will had confirmed it with me and Will thought that Howard was handling it. It was one of my classmates who told me about my own gig! I have to laugh about it now, as it reminds me of my performance career ten years ago and how unsure everything was.
But, I’m a good sport.
I called up Howard and firmed up the details, prepared some songs and told some friends. No time to do any heavy promotion or anything, but it was a chance to get back out there as a performer in this city and to warm up before my big gig on the 23rd.
When I arrived, the room was in disarray and reminded me of my primary school’s auditorium. A tall stage on one side and chairs that link together like a lecture hall in tight rows pushed to both sides. They had tables in the middle that were being put together for the food and several volunteers were hastily trying to put up posters and prepare the audio-visual material. They had built out a shorter stage made of plywood that brought the performance closer to the chairs (a good thing) and the sound system was still being patched together. All in all, I was early. With sound checks, this is often the case.
Eventually, the sound system was ready for me and I put my pedals together and set my own levels at the sound desk. The sound guys weren’t sure what I was doing but they let me show them what I wanted. It was simple and I easily sound checked and then sat back down to wait some more and people-watch.
People were already arriving.
Eventually, the audio-visual material was running footage from American and European animal rights groups (with Chinese subtitles) and they were showing factory farming and meat production factories. It could easily have been PETA material, but I’m not sure and didn’t get a chance to ask anyone. I have seen such footage before, but one of my Chinese friends had not and he was shocked to see the beaks being snipped off of baby chicks. This, to me, was part of the point of such an event. I was happy to witness even one person learning about these behind-the-scenes atrocities. Because really, it’s all about awareness, right?! The choice is every individual’s to make but the information (with which to make an informed choice) is what is often lacking.
The place was filling up and there were probably about two hundred people in the room by the time the first act was done and “supper” was ready. Were they all vegetarians? Well, my friends weren’t. The curiosity was something, though, and I hope that some of the flyers may have been picked up and the option to be vegetarian was adequately promoted, if nothing else.
The rush to the food table was quite a sight to see. I didn’t even get up but instead relied on the generosity of my friends to grab me some food amidst the disorganized crowd. People came at the table from all directions and it looked like a giant mess. I just hoped that what came back to me was vegan. All the food was made in the western food style such as pizza (not vegan), pasta salad, lettuce salad, white bread sandwiches and pastries. All were pretty tasteless, actually, but I ate what I could, felt a bit homesick when I saw the excessive use of disposal plastic plates and bowls (i.e. vegetarian events back home see their untenable connection to the environment and generally use re-usable or biodegradable supplies), and then watched the next band: The Giant Beanstalk.
They were a scream rock group that had the added flavour of some traditional drumming that was quite well executed. Otherwise, their sound was so bad that many people left during their set. The show didn’t do their profile any favours thanks to the lack of knowledge behind the sound desk and the high reverberant ceilings that swallowed the vocals and tripled the volume of the drums. Still, they gave it their best shot and they never let down the rock’n roll moves or attitude. Gotta give credit where credit is due.
I was the next performer and throughout my show, the sound techs (students) changed everything I had set countless times and I wasn’t sure what was going on. Sound was not at a premium in this gymnasium-style room and so I really couldn’t do much but forge ahead with my quick set and ride my guitar amp levels as best as possible to compensate for their fiddling. Some things never change regardless of country or language!
My friends had never seen me play before and I felt shy that this was the quality of performance that they were seeing, but they were kind nonetheless. (Well, I guess I’m being too hard on myself with that comment.) My voice was clear and audible in the room and my Chinese fared rather well. I also sang a song in Chinese that I have recently learned and it was a huge success. I was professional and relaxed. The room was warm in response and when I finished, I had a few conversations with happy listeners in both Chinese and English. (So, there’s some more positive reflections!)
After my set, some kids were invited onto the stage to talk about how long they have been vegetarians. They were so cute and talked into the mike in simple Chinese so that even I could understand what they were saying.
Then, a little girl of about nine or ten years old came onto the stage. She was wearing a frilly party dress and carried herself with the seriousness of a born artist. She confidently sat behind a “古筝 Gu Zheng” (traditional Chinese instrument) and played a song with a furrowed brow for the now sparse crowd. She was so intent and sweet looking that when she was done there were lots of flashing cameras at her smiling, satisfied face.
What a treat to open for her.
I wish her a long life filled with vegetarian food, good health, and music at her fingertips.