Last Friday was my first birthday in Beijing. Friends of mine here put together an evening of dinner and dancing to celebrate. We started the evening at Middle 8, a Yunnan restaurant off of Sanlitun Bar Street, near the embassies, for dinner. When the friend who was doing most of the organizing told me that the reservation was for twelve people I started laughing and said that I don't even know that many people in Beijing. Her response was to start to list names - and to remind me that some other people would have liked to join us but were out of town. She was right; I know more people here than I had realized.
Our table of twelve shared a lovely meal of eggplant, subtly spiced fish, potato pancakes and other dishes, accompanied by five-flower tea tasting of fruit and other berries and a bamboo carafe filled with Yunnan rice wine.
Dinner conversation was conducted in a mix of languages (English, Italian, Chinese, Spanish) and our table was visited by some other friends who were in the neighborhood and wanted to wish me well. After the meal was over we were relaxing, enjoying each other's company and conversation, when I was surprised with that ritual of birthday celebrations worldwide: a birthday cake and flaming candle. I should have expected it but I didn't. A German bakery up near Chaoyang Park named Konstanz Bakery made the very rich sacher torte that we all ate with glee.
After the restaurant closed a smaller group of us walked two blocks to Salsa Caribe, a latin and Caribbean themed dance club. The house band performed salsa, merengue and bachata (I can't even fake dancing to that one) and a DJ spun reggaeton and other dance beats from Latin American and the Carribean.
After dancing until the wee hours I left my friends and walked home, a forty-five minute walk that was mostly along the eastern side of Third Ring Road, during which I walked by numerous construction sites that are operating around the clock in order for new buildings to be ready for the world to decend upon Beijing during the Olympic Games in August. It was a beautiful early spring evening, pleasant for walking and observing the city around me.
It was a lovely celebration.