“Do you like The Eagles?” Matt asked me last Wednesday online, while we sat in our respective Chinese offices. “They’re playing in Beijing on Saturday, and I have two tickets …”
“I LOVE THE EAGLES!” I said, exaggerating slightly.
Matt had gotten the tickets from his aunt, who is friends with one of the drummers (not Don Henley) currently touring with the band. My friend John was also able to snag two tickets from a family friend, and he was bringing Devin. It was going to be a party.
Hotel California is beloved by the Chinese. This bewilders me. The lyrics of Hotel California are the only interesting thing about the song, and in a country where basically no one speaks English, the song must sound like gibberish. Nevertheless, I hear Hotel California being played all over Beijing. In one particular McDonalds, they played the song straight for two months. (Even if they can’t understand the lyrics, I have to believe that gets boring…)
On Saturday night before the show, Matt, Devin, John and I did what people do before going to a concert: we drank. Devin bought a bottle of whiskey for the occasion, and we mixed it with coke before jumping on the subway. The guys were thrilled I’d brought a purse; it was a perfect alcohol receptacle. We held onto the overhead handrails and pulled bottles of alcohol out of it, while fascinated Chinese people watched. I imagine we left quite an impression. It only got more awkward when Matt opened a bottle of coke too quickly, spraying the contents all over Devin’s jacket.
Chinese people have an interesting relationship with alcohol. Most are missing the enzyme necessary to digest alcohol, resulting in low tolerances and “Asian flush.” Despite that fact, Chinese people love to drink, and are always asking what your “jiu liang” is, your “alcohol tolerance.” The more you can drink, the more impressed they are.
Usually when I see drunk Chinese people, they’re bright red, stumbling outside a restaurant, throwing up in the bushes, lying on the floor, or lying on a stretcher, ready to be driven to the hospital in an ambulance. “He’s drunk,” passersby will say apathetically.
They’re not like Devin, John, Matt and me: westernsers who can hold our alcohol. After finishing off the Jim Beam, we were ready to hit up the concert stadium for some beers. The stadium had popcorn, ice cream, and a Nathan’s Hot Dog stand, but no alcohol. We looked at each other, horrified. No alcohol at a concert? Noooo!
Then, down the corridor, a flash of glass bottles and a glossy tint of rum. We ran. It was a booze booth: small Chinese sales lady, tons of alcohol sitting on the shelf behind her. “How much for a bottle?” Matt asked, rummaging for his wallet.
“It’s not for sale.” The woman said. “It’s just a display.” Matt works for a Korean company and gets paid tons to sit around and be the token American. He’s rolling in money. He pulled out several hundreds and offered to pay well over the price for a bottle.
“No, really.” She said. “It’s fake. There’s no alcohol in the bottles. The government doesn’t allow it at concerts.”
Given that the Chinese are generally incapable of casual drinking, I understood why the government didn’t want 10,000 of them drinking at concerts. That would have been a mess.
Dismayed, but determined to enjoy the concert anyway, we headed to our seats, Matt and I were in the section looking directly at the stage. Devin and John were in a section to the right.
The band took the stage and opened with Take it Easy. We stood up to dance and sing along, (as is customary at concerts). The Chinese around us remained completely still with bored expressions. They could have been watching a documentary on Panda reproduction. Matt and I took it upon ourselves to try and rile the crowd, goading them with our loud singing and drunken swaying. People were amused by the happy dancing Americans, but not about to get out of their seats for us.
The Eagles are an underestimated band. Hotel California and Desperado have been so overplayed, you forget how many other great songs they have: Witchy Woman, Take it Easy, Already Gone. And these old hippy rockers hadn’t lost their talent. Their voices were incredible. I’ve grown up listening to artists who can manipulate their voices electronically; the natural ability of these guys was impressive.
We danced through One of these Nights, Best of My Love, and Peaceful Easy Feeling, the only two people in our section who were standing up. We looked over to try and spot out Devin and John in the next section. There they were, also the only people standing for rows.
It was so surreal listening to music I’d heard all my life, live, onstage, in China. I wanted the crowd to get excited. I wanted them to understand how American this was. To them, buying a ticket to the Eagles was a status symbol. They weren’t particularly impressed by these fat, old, has-beens. For us, it was like flying home.
When they finally played Hotel California, the crowd livened up. Some actually stood and sang the chorus. Their expensive ticket purchases had been worth it.
They ended the concert with Desperado. This thrilled the Chinese. “Desperadoooooo … ” they sang, then mumbled the (for them) inaudible rest of the song.
We left the concert sober, but happy. It had been a great American evening in Beijing. We wandered through the crowds to grab a cab, and passed street vendors selling t-shirts and bags emblazoned with “The Eagles.”
“I think I’m going to buy a t-shirt,” Matt said. We walked over to take a closer look.
“Hey,” said John. “Isn’t that the logo for the Philadelphia Eagles?”
“The Philadelphia Eagles, of the NFL?” Devin asked?
There it was. We were back into China, where knock-off Philadelphia Eagles football t-shirts were being sold at The Eagles concert. Really, which is more American? And does it matter to homesick expats? We bought Eagles t-shirts. And got another drink.