Tales of the Plush Monkey

Warning: The following story contains disturbing scenes involving a plush monkey and is not suitable for those under the age of 21, allergic to polyester or prone to taking life too seriously. Most of the characters are real, thus their resemblance to actual persons is pretty much to be expected, isn’t it?

He’s five inches tall, full of plastic beans and sports a coat of recycled fibers. He’s the definition of mystery with his Men-in-Black coloring and Mona Lisa-like expression. He’s irresistible to adults, children and zookeepers of all ages, likes to play with his banana and knows how to swing. Meet Zimbu, the plush Beanie Baby monkey with a difference (http://www.beijingboyce.com/zimbu/).

Consider a recent Halloween party: an irate patron struts behind a nightclub, screaming in Mandarin for ten minutes and insulting the mothers of the planet. From the safety of a second-floor balcony, Zimbu hangs over the precipice, at arm’s length, and the order “Quiet!” rings out. Below, the man wobbles, looks up and directs his fury at no person, but at Zimbu, challenging a plush monkey – yes, a plush monkey! – to fight. Suffice it to say, half-pound Zimbu doesn’t stand much chance against a 170-pound human, even a drunken one, but that’s hardly the point. What matters is that Zimbu commands attention. In fact, over the recent Halloween weekend, he received drinks from bar-goers, untold kisses from females and numerous handshakes from males. Here is a recap of five Halloween parties, each one with a “Zimbu moment.”*

The party: that’s Beijing’s bash at Rui Fu

The Crow and I arrived at Rui Fu on Friday at the witching hour of Midnight. This place has a Halloween feel even on a regular night due to the monolithic abandoned residence (haunted house?) out back, the octopi-like chandeliers, and the lighting. Plus, they did a bang-up job installing a pink-lit revolving door into the side of that old building (wait, that’s PERMANENT?). In any case, it’s ideal for a Halloween party.

The 100-kuai entry fee for this annual bash came with two drinks (Freixenet sparkling wine in my case) and enough Halloween sweets to wire half the city. The crowd reportedly topped 600, and Rui Fu was packed and rowdy, with most people costumed. The usual angels, devils, cross-dressers, naughty nurses and assorted dorks were on hand, along with a Yao Ming (i.e. a basketball ball-jersey wearing guy on stilts) and owner Henry Lee as Glandalf or Gargamal or whatever you call that Lord of the Rings wizard (the only character I can remember from that movie is Farto. Or is it Frito?)

This event was not without problems. The free drinks ran out, though late at night, and this led to some arguments between patrons and bartenders. that’s Beijing did damage control by handing out refunds. (Those who paid the cover but didn’t get drinks may email info@thatsbj.com.) On top of this, the overwhelmed Rui Fu staff did not handle the stress well, resulting in further friction with patrons and lengthy waits for drinks. Despite this and the place seeming somewhat out of control, people seemed to be having a great time and this annual party, held the last two years at Tango, remains a must-go on the Halloween circuit.

After mingling for an hour with the masses, The Crow and I headed upstairs, plunked down on the balcony and for thirty minutes watched drama unfold in the parking lot. 1. A man strutted about while insulting everybody’s mother and threatening Zimbu (Henry dealt with this guy). 2. Another man smashed the ends off two beer bottles (I thought that only happened in movies) and waved the jagged edges as his concerned friends tried to restore calm, the scene dragging out so long that it lost all momentum and ended peacefully. 3. A car backed over a case of empties. It was an interesting vantage point, especially given the good company. Such as the guy who came onto the balcony, saw our that’s Beijing entry stickers, snorted the air as if they were scratch n’ sniff and scented with cho dofu, and said: “Oh, you are wearing zee badge of zat’s Beijing. I suppose you are zee magazine’s property.” (I know it’s not nice to make fun of people’s accents, but it’s also not nice to make fun of stickers, and fair is fair.)

“Yes,” I answered. Agreeing can often defuse a situation or, as in this case, confuse it. Le hater de autocollants (stickers) paused, heaved his chest and announced, “I am from France!

“No you’re not. You’re from Belgium,” I answered, hoping the confusion route might yet work. After another moment of perplexity, he again defiantly uttered, “France!

Belgium!” I sternly replied. At this point, I shifted my shoulder to emphasize the presence of Zimbu. The man obviously sensed that the power of a plush monkey was about to be unleashed because he retreated. The Crow and I looked at each other, shook our heads in disbelief, finished our Budweiser, and ended a weird, interesting and somewhat scary night at Rui Fu.

The Zimbu moment: The plush monkey received kisses from a half-dozen people, including newsletter reader Nikki, who I met for the first time. The scary moment: when club owner Henry looked as though he might kidnap Zimbu and spirit him away in that gigantic Gandalf (or was it Harry Potter?) hat.

The party: Timeout’s bash at Icehouse
Intrigued by Icehouse’s recent redesign from blues bar to art gallery, and the numerous last-minute SMS and email invitations from Timeout, I popped in around ten on Saturday night. The place was somewhat thematic given that it was as active as a graveyard. Although Icehouse made an effort with the decorations, I was among the few costumed people, and most patrons sat around zombie-like, including a handful getting manicures and massages on the stage, while DJ Daisy futilely played house music for these living dead. Surreal. The 50-kuai entry fee got me one of those ubiquitous Freixenet sparkling wine cocktails. I tried a “Black Magic” (Freixenet and Beamish beer) and then a “Bubbly Mojito” (Freixenent, white rum, lemon juice and mint leaves), and both were decent.

The Zimbu moment: Given that he lacks musculature, the massages were lost on Zimbu, who was annoyed at the apathy of his fellow patrons, save for media bigwig TP, who exchanged a long and hostile look with the monkey (obviously an alpha male thing). I got Zimbu out of Icehouse before the chef upstairs decided to use him for some fusion cuisine.

The party: Champagne Bar’s Yelloween
It was quality over quantity at Champagne, where about 40 patrons were having a great time. There were plenty of decorations and almost everyone was in costume, including a posse of short-panted, red-hatted cowgirls that I saw later that night with their cowboys busting moves at Browns.

The Zimbu moment: Once again, kisses, cuddles and handshakes all around for the monkey. The female wait staff’s vine-like accessories delighted Zimbu, reminding him of jungles back home.

The party: Maggie’s Bar
An incredible number of the female patrons were dressed up as “ladies of the evening” and, as if they were mind readers, most of the males dressed up as patrons of such women. I know, what are the odds?

The Zimbu moment: One costumed lass offered Zimbu a 50-percent plush monkey discount “for the night” because she thought he was “small and cute.” I got him out of there, but not before he made a few cutting remarks that it’s not the height of the tree, but the size of the banana hanging in it.

The party: Browns Scary Halloween
Costumed employees greeted guests outside and directed them up the stairs, which were enclosed and converted into a haunted house. Cobwebs, skeletons and paper pumpkins covered almost every inch of the interior, while boxy ghosts made from the bed-sheets of marketing manager Drew spun from the ceiling fans. Two smoke machines kept the scene eerily fun, though visibility was down to a mere meter at times. This total decoration apparently took five days to set up and cost Browns 25000 kuai. The 100-kuai entry fee included a Hoegaarden, a Jagermeister shot and a bag of treats. I liked the “eyeball martini” concocted by Jackie, with its creepy garnish of a lychee stuffed with a black olive. And what better platform for a costume show than Browns’ bar top? Overall, it was an excellent night, and the key ingredient was not the decoration, drinks or music, but the enthusiasm of the staff that put it all together. It speaks volumes that employees from other bars holding Halloween parties were gathering in Browns by night’s end.

The Zimbu moment: Drew bought a shot of tequila for Zimbu, little knowing that it takes far more than one drink to get this monkey to dance on the bar.

* Note: I have been “monkey-sitting” Zimbu for almost ten years, ever since I lived in South Korea and my American colleague Jen left him behind when she ran off to Berlin to marry some German photographer. At least once a year, she reminds me that I am to return Zimbu someday, particularly as he is rising in value as a collectible Beanie Baby. Unfortunately, she is unaware of the depreciation that can occur for a plush monkey with an adventurous nightlife. Zimbu has been a part of my Halloween costume every year, whether I dress as a pirate, bandit or other miscreant, and thus fallen onto nightclub floors, soaked up more than a few spilled beers and been embossed with a hundred shades of lipstick from affectionate partygoers. When Jen and Zimbu are finally reunited, I have a feeling it will be one of those shocking “You’re not the same monkey I remember!” moments.

(From Beijing Boyce XXVII, first emailed on November 23, 2006)

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