A group of former PLA soldiers is set to celebrate Army Day tomorrow by offering discounts to patrons of their new bar in Beijing. 'Customers need to pay only 81 per cent of their bill,' said the pub's manager, Wang Xudong, explaining that 81 was pronounced ba-yi in Putonghua, which can also mean August 1 - Army Day. The pub, called Flamingo, has been decorated as a barracks to commemorate the 73rd anniversary of the founding of the PLA tomorrow, while employees - mostly demobilised soldiers - have hung up their old uniforms and helmets to decorate the entrance. 'We do not want to emphasise our military background - the military culture theme this week is just one of our many planned themes,' said Mr Wang, a former People's Armed Police officer. 'Since we opened in early July, we've had customers from all walks of life, with 70 per cent locals and about 30 per cent tourists and foreigners.' President Jiang Zemin, who is head of the Central Military Commission, announced in October 1997 a plan to reduce army ranks by 500,000 in three years to about 2.5 million. The savings are to go towards upgrading weapons and other defence systems. Some soldiers took early retirement while some troops cut from the PLA were sent to the People's Armed Police or absorbed into reserve forces over the past two years. In key party and military meetings during the past three years, Mr Jiang, Premier Zhu Rongji and military leaders repeatedly urged all levels of Government and Communist Party units to help displaced soldiers find new jobs, amid government fears that they posed a threat to national security and social stability. 'All organisations, enterprises and institutions, whatever their form of ownership, have the responsibility and obligation to accept demobilised soldiers,' said a document issued by the Central Military Commission in October 1998. Despite assurances from authorities that the country's rapid economic growth and 'people's enthusiasm in supporting the army' would help laid off military personnel find suitable jobs, many displaced soldiers had difficulty in finding work or settling down when they did. 'I formally gave up my uniform for Beijing's People's Armed Police force on my last day of duty on Friday. I left partly due to my organisation's arrangement and partly due to my own application,' Mr Wang said, adding that he did not want to be a burden to the state. Mr Wang said he contributed a small amount of money to the new pub. The main owner is a former navy officer while another partner is a former artillery unit soldier. 'This is our individual investment, there is no sponsorship from the Government or military,' Mr Wang said, dismissing speculation the pub was a military spin-off. Although the Government has offered some privileges to enterprises that helped to employ laid-off soldiers, Mr Wang insisted they did not receive any assistance from officials. 'I will give priority to former soldiers when I recruit new staff as they are tough, obedient and can endure all sorts of hardship,' Mr Wang said. 'They may be inexperienced in food catering services, but it is not that difficult to acquire basic knowledge of the catering industry. 'We are doing fine in the first month as pub-goers like to try new venues, but to be able to compete in the long-run, we need to attract new customers and keep old patrons,' he said. Mr Wang said he was confident of meeting competition because of the pub's favourable location and its Chinese-style interior design. Serving beer, snacks and light meals, patrons are expected to spend 20 to 100 yuan per head per visit. 'We hope to make a profit within two years and it would be ideal if the goal is reached within one year,' Mr Wang said. The manager said despite his freshness in the field, he did not find the transformation from military man to businessman too difficult. 'The new job is terribly stressful as I have slept only four to six hours each day in the past few weeks. I have to draft a lot of proposals, meet a lot of people and keep chatting with customers. But I am confident that I will get used to my new life in three to five months,' Mr Wang said. 'My edge is that I used to be responsible for personnel management in the People's Armed Police. Such experience is helpful in my management work in the pub: it is always true that if you want to do a good job, you have to first get the right person and know how to deal with them.'