Carlo chooses to be responsible. He stays behind to re-string his acoustic guitar and prepare for our first show. Dia and I, on the other hand, have no problem delaying our show preparations to find some local cuisine. We take a short cab ride out to the Drum Tower, a popular Chinese hostel, in a quaint little neighborhood of Beijing. We admire the ancient streets with their ornate roofs and old brick buildings falling to pieces (in an artsy way!) I've noticed that a lot of the businesses here use very clear and succinct English names such as "Half Coffee, Half Milk" or "Hair, Nails, Golf". I'm sure tourists, such as myself, appreciate this very much. (And yes, there really was a store called "Hair, Nails, Golf", you know, just in case you want to get your nails done and play golf at the same time.)
We weave back and forth between tiny alleys, and what looks to me like peoples' backyards. There are numbers on the businesses and houses sometimes, but Dia and I don't quite understand how the places are organized. We almost give in and ruin our appetites during our search as our mouths water over glazed-strawberry and cran-apple kabobs. ( I'm sorry, I don't know how to properly pronounce the Chinese name of these tasty, sweet treats that are sold on the backs of bicycles all over Beijing.)
Somehow, we find the restaurant. While our waitress directs us to our table, my purse brushes against the wall. I knock off a light fixture which shatters onto the floor into a hundred tiny pieces. I'm embarrassed. I can see that I've embarrassed Dia as well. We are trying so hard to be respectful in this foreign culture, and I'm not doing a very good job. Clumsy Americans!
After the color returns to my cheeks and my heart stops fluttering, Becca, a friend of Dia's and now a new friend of mine, orders us a spicy meal of peppers and fried goat cheese, tofu skins and mint, and these delicious turnip vegetables marinated in vinegar and Chinese spices. Thank goodness we have Becca to order for us. Have you ever heard of tofu skins? Apparently, one can find them in the U.S., but I never heard of them until I ate in Beijing. I strongly recommend you give them a try if you ever have the option.
After our meal, we return to the hotel. Lobby call is in the late afternoon. I feel jittery and excited as I pack for our first show. I bring a black sequin dress, black flats (I decided against my heels which I normally perform in), in-ear monitors, makeup, guitar picks, a capo, cables, and 9 volt batteries for my guitar tuner. I don't feel ready at all, but in these situations I try not to show my nerves so I don't make Dia nervous. We wait in the lobby for Cindy, the promotor and tour manager for the whole James Blunt production. She's been so helpful, communicating with sound guys and cab drivers and making sure we arrive at the venue on time.
A group of well-dressed, dapper English men walk in through the elevator doors. They must be James Blunt's crew. He follows closely behind, confirming our suspicions. Dia, Carlo, and I fall in line behind them, feeling slightly more important than moments before. We follow them outside to the vehicles waiting to take us to the venue.
Once we arrive, I feel nostalgic walking into the guts underneath the arena. It is so much like the blake Shelton tour back stage: very industrial, very cold in both temperature and vibe. The biggest difference is these back stage areas are filled with stern-looking chinese guards. Dia and I got one of them to snap a photo of us. I swear I caught a smile on his face as we made silly expressions on ours. I could have just been seeing things though…
We run through the songs once before we step on stage. I can't contain my nerves during our performance. So many variables aren't lining up. My in ear monitors sound like we are playing under water. The audience is too polite and too quiet for me to lose myself in. I'm not completely confident that I've memorized the piano songs, even though I've been practicing them at least an hour a day for a month. Long breaths and poor attempts to still my mind don't save me, or us. I feel like a ventriloquist's dummy whose hinges haven't been oiled in years from the moment I played my first chord until the moment I clumsily grabbed my guitar cables and ran off stage. I hope tomorrow's show will improve.