machu picchu bar owner zhou fei, 31
Chengdu native Zhou Fei started working in bars the moment he finished high school until finally he was able to open his own ("I always wanted to make Chengdu's real folk-music bar," he says). Named Machu Picchu after the historical site in South America, a place he once read about in a magazine, the five-year-old bar is co-run with Gijs from Holland. Zhou Fei also occasionally plays in Chengdu and elsewhere with the folk band Gao. But most importantly, Zhou Fei does what he wants, when he wants.
So it's been said that you don't really like to work, or even stand up to get customers drinks. In fact, you've been called the king of laziness ...
OK. I will tell you. I'm at home. Why should I stress myself? This is a comfortable place, a place where I want to relax with my friends. We are not here to accomplish some great work or earn a lot of money. No. You've known me for five years. I've been lazy here—but I'm talking to friends, having conversations, blah blah blah for hours. This is life.
Don't you need to work before you can relax?
These two come together.
Relaxing is work?
To work is to relax.
So your work is to relax?
Look at me, we are here drinking, talking, singing. Isn't that relaxing?
So would you say you are a typical Chengdunese?
What defines a typical Chengdunese?
What distinguishes them from people in other cities in China is they really understand life. They know what work is, what life is, what home is, what friends are. They need real things—I mean, today after work if they are tired most will not think about tomorrow. Tomorrow, I have to do this and that. After work I just want to relax, chat with my friends, play mahjong, drink tea, play cards. I just want to chill. So the next day they think, "Oh shit, today I still have so much work to do."
And what makes your bar special?
It has a home feeling to it. It's very free here; there is no boss, no waiter. You can make yourself at home.
If the bar gives me the feeling of being at home, I could also just go home, right?
Then why should I come here?
This is a big home! There are lots of friends around, you can chat, listen to music, talk about whatever.
The bar is rather small ...
... and quite hard to find ...
... it doesn't look very special from the outside ...
... so why do people come here?
The [real] Machu Picchu is also quite small and hard to find, but a lot of people want to go. Because it's mysterious. People want to find out what kind of place this is. Also, we have folk concerts.
How do people find out about the folk concerts?
Internet. And fliers. I go to many places to hand out fliers.
You go to many places?
Gijs does. I don't go to other bars these days.
What was the fewest people to ever come to your bar?
One or two a day.
And per week?
I don't know. Every day is a new day.
Is it true that sometimes customers help you?
Yeah. You know, just now I was drinking with friends inside. When they need alcohol, they just grab it themselves. They don't think it's to help me; for them, it's fun. We all have fun. They are enjoying it. They are not working.
During Spring Festival some of your friends cleaned out and remodeled the bar while you were traveling. How do you feel about this?
Very good. But you have to know they are happy doing this. They think it's cool.
Sometimes you also drink your customers' drinks? True?
Way too much. You know. It's a Chinese habit: "C'mon, Zhou Fei, let's drink together, chat. Sometimes I don't feel very well. I don't want to drink, but they are friends. so I say okay. Drinking is not a very nice thing. If you drink by yourself it's nice. But if somebody else forces you when you don't want to, you don't enjoy it. But I have to—this is my job.
So your job is drinking?
People say you constantly have new girlfriends.
Why don't you say a lot of girls have me as their boyfriend?
What do you still want to achieve in your life?
The life I want to live is a simple one. If today I want to do something, nobody tells me, "You can't do that." What I want is to do whatever I want.
Do you want to make Machu Picchu bigger?
Of course. But without the big hassle.
Are you planning to open Machu Picchus in other cities?
Not at the moment.
Like McDonald's, one in each city ...
I'm not a businessman.
Do you ever want to visit the real Machu Picchu?
I don't know. Maybe when I have money. It's quite a hassle for Chinese to go to other places. If you have a lot of money you can go.
Will you close Machu one day?
At the moment I quite like it. So it stays open. I don't know when I will not like it anymore. But if I don't like it anymore I don't want to run it.
Maybe you'll find a good job in an office?
I'm not an office worker. I feel that my life is about freedom. I don't want somebody to tell me, "Do this," "Hey, don't do that" and what time to come and what time to leave. Because of this I like Machu Picchu. I don't want others to tell me what to do. I do what I want.
The interview was originally published in CHENGDOO citylife, issue 25/ July 2009 ("Sichuan").