Posts Tagged ‘Beijing’
Sunday, June 5th, 2011
Gig day….finally. It’s been a great few days but we are ultimately here to play some music and we are all itching for the opportunity. This show has been balancing on a cliff edge for weeks, teetering and threatening to topple off into nowhere with the government and its various agencies giving it little not-so-innocent shoves every now and then. It’s hard enough to put on a music festival in this country, these types of things are relatively new especially when they involve foreign acts. This particular festival is the brainchild of Youdai, who is a famous Chinese DJ (both on radio and in clubs), he was the first to play western rock music on the radio and is responsible for introducing this generation to scads of new music. Youdai is also a friend of Zuoxiao Zuzhou (ZXZZ) whose song I Cannot Sit Sadly By Your Side we covered on Renmin Park and who also contributed a vocal and lyric, A Walk In The Park, to the album. Zuoxiao is an extremely well regarded artist in China and his music has broken down many barriers, he is also becoming quite popular. When Youdai heard about our collaboration with ZXZZ the idea for this festival was born. Youdai went about the labour intensive process of contacting all of the foreign acts that he wanted to have perform and then after signing contracts with them he had to then undertake the massive job of getting all of the necessary permits and clearances needed from the various government and security departments. This included not only getting the government to agree to specific bands (bands that he had already signed contracts with), but also getting all of the repertoires translated and approved by the necessary departments. An example of the type of detail that he and his team needed to deal with was trying to come up with a translation of our name so that we wouldn’t be ruled out by the censors…our Chinese name is now Cowboy Fan. We also had a couple of songs crossed off of our set list; Sit Sadly because it contained the word “gun” and 3rd Crusade because, well, just because. In any case, he got all of the permits and permissions signed and then about four weeks ago Zuoxiao Zuzhou ended up getting into a political mess and banned from performing live or making any public appearances. At that point the advertising for the festival had already been put out on the street, radio ads had been created all with Zuoxiao Zuzhou’s name featured prominently. The government threatened to shut down the entire festival but a compromise was reached where the festival had to take pull back all of the advertising and take ZXZZ’s name off of it all; their beer permit was pulled; their capacity was limited and they weren’t allowed to sell tickets at the door on the day of show. And so they did. And I’m sure that this is just part of the story, I’m sure that all of the people that are responsible for making this festival a reality have had to jump through more hoops than we will ever be aware. It’s all part of bringing this country step by baby step into the modern world.
We arrived at the festival grounds for soundcheck in the morning only to find a jumble of cables and wires strung all over the place and a lot of stressed out looking tech people. The grounds are massive: an unused, uncared for swath at the south end of the Olympic Park. They don’t do anything small in this country. With a lot of patience and helpful direction, Jared and Tim got the stage set and we were able to do a proper soundcheck. The rest of the morning and afternoon was spent scattered around Beijing shopping for that last gift or taking in one more site. At around 4 o’clock we got a call from the festival saying that our set time had been moved up an hour. The curfew for the show had been moved earlier by the police and one of the acts was not taking the stage in a timely manner so they were booted off the bill. As you can imagine, the turnout for the festival was a little lighter than they hoped but from our point of view we finally got to play, had a fun show and capped off a great week. I don’t think our appearance will result in Cowboy Fan streaking up the pop charts in China but we hope that it will lead to a return to this country and a proper tour to half a dozen or so cities. We haven’t gotten enough of this fascinating country or of its resilient, friendly, outgoing people.
In the meantime our friend Zuoxiao Zuzhou was not even allowed to attend the concert (the large police presence had been given his photo and told to arrest him if he showed up) so it was arranged for us to get together with him at a restaurant after the concert. We had a great night with him, feasting on cuisine from the Muslim orientated province of Xinjiang, drinking lots of beer and sampling some of China’s finest “white lightening”. It was such a pleasure to finally meet him, his generosity was overwhelming his excitement at meeting us was thrilling.
Tomorrow we head home, tired and happy. This is my fourth time here and I still want more and I’m pretty sure everyone would sign up in a flash for another spin through this country. One layer only leads to the next and every layer is as fascinating as the one you just pulled back. Here’s hoping that we get back soon.
See you all in Hungary.
Sunday, June 5th, 2011
Mr Liu showed up this morning (those of you not familiar with Mr Liu should check out the Renmin Park blog). He is a remarkable man and it was a great pleasure to see him again. He is eighty four years old and a twelve hour train trip from Shanghai didn’t even faze him, he could teach us all something about growing old and staying young. He brought along with him his “comrade” Mr Chen, who served with Mr Liu in the air force in the 40’s and 50’s. Mr Chen is a native of Beijing and he was keen to show us his city, so Margo and I headed off on the subway with these two octogenarian PLA vets in the lead. After a very good and cheap lunch outside the Temple of Heaven we said goodbye to the two of them at the Performing Arts Center (a spectacular building) and Margo and I continued on to Tiananmen Square.
It was an interesting day to be walking around Tiananmen Square (check the date and check your modern Chinese history). Unfortunately, the vast majority of the people walking on the square were, no doubt, oblivious to the significance of the day, a testimony to the PR powers of the Chinese Government. Despite it all, Tiananmen Square is an overwhelming space: with the Forbidden City at one end, Mao’s Mausoleum at the other and enormous government buildings running down the sides. The size and scope is hard to get ones head around. Going from the gigantic to the ginormous we headed over to the Forbidden City which is unbelievably vast and on a day like today hot as heck. Open courtyard leads to open courtyard and there is no place to hide from the sun. By the time we emerged from the Palace we were exhausted so we opened ourselves up to the extortion practiced by the cab drivers waiting for the sun-stoked tourists emerging from the City gates and we agreed to pay a driver four times the going rate to take us back to the hotel.
After a couple of hours rest, Pete, Jared, Blair and I headed back out in search of a brew-pub that we heard was hidden somewhere deep inside the same Hutong where we had dinner last night. Blair and Jared used their best Boy Scouts of America tracking skills and found the place. It was tucked away, deep inside one of the residential corners of the Hutong and it was well worth the journey. A very funky little place populated by Americans, Canadians and Brits all jonesing for something other than the German style pilsner that is served exclusively in this country. Bags of hops piled in the corner and tiny little home-brewing kegs scattered all about the place, and man, that IPA tasted good. Our luck ran out when we decided to try an Indian restaurant that we stumbled across on the way out of the Hutong. Horrible, horrible food. Luckily the IPA had dulled our senses. We bribed another cabbie to take us back to the hotel and we put another excellent day in the books.
Saturday, June 4th, 2011
I guess our little get together yesterday with the Performing Arts Troupe was a success because this morning we were invited to drop by the Canadian Ambassador’s residence for lunch: quite an honour and the sort of invitation that one doesn’t pass up. So off we all went to the Canadian Embassy compound, which also houses the ambassador’s residence, and in true Canadian fashion we were treated to an amazing BBQ meal of fresh vegetables and steak. It was a very generous and much appreciated offer: excellent food and conversation and it’s always nice to have a powerful connection or two when you are 7000 miles from your border….a terrific start to the day.
After the meal we continued on our planned excursion for the day which is a visit to the Great Wall. There are two sections of the wall near Beijing that are readily accessible to tourists. We chose the section that is a bit further from the city, about 90 minutes, but it is also a little more natural and it is perched on a spectacular crest of mountain accessible by cable car. This was my fourth time on the wall and it is one of those experiences that never really gets “old”. It is such an iconic structure and such an absurdly grand civil-engineering feat that every few minutes you can’t help but stop, look around and think to yourself, “holy shit, I’m on the Great Wall”. My kids will tell you that the best part about this section of the wall is the getting off of it. In true Chinese fashion they have built a long, winding, half-pipe toboggan run that you can ride back down to the parking lot. It’s treacherous and fun as hell: a little Six Flags entertainment with your cultural explorations.
Back in Beijing we went off to one of the more popular Hutongs and had dinner in a fantastic restaurant that specializes in Yunnan cuisine. The Hutongs are the old neighbourhoods of Beijing which are quickly disappearing. They are made up of mazes of narrow alleyways created by small single floor residences that back on to the alleyways but open up in a common interior courtyard shared by four family residences. This restaurant has taken over one of these shared courtyards and the houses that surround the courtyard, which gives the place a great atmosphere. Yunnan cuisine is all about the spices and so we were treated to a meal of the most unusual and complicated flavours. Blair had the misfortune of swallowing something that wasn’t supposed to be swallowed and which incapacitated his tongue for much of the meal. Jared, Tim, Alan and I decided to stick around the Hutong after our meal to check out one of Beijing’s premiere rock clubs, Mao Live House. Unfortunately our jet lag and hike on the Wall caught up with us and by the time the first of five bands took the stage, we were beat. So we retreated back to the hotel.
Just another typical day on the road…..
Friday, June 3rd, 2011
Oh man…what a day…it’s days like today that are the reason that I love being in China. Events just start to roll in at you, wave upon wave upon ever intensifying wave and soon you realize that if you try and fight it you’ll drown, so you just have to relax and let the current drag you to where it will…you might as well enjoy the ride because you can’t stop it.
A few weeks ago we were asked by our promoter and host, Youdai, if Margo and I would be interested in visiting and performing for the China’s Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe (http://www.mydream.org.cn/en/index.aspx). June 1 is Children’s Day in China and he felt that this would tie in nicely and be a much appreciated gesture. Travelling half way around the world for one show is all about the adventure and the experiences, so you need to open yourself up to whatever comes your way and so we quickly agreed to the visit. We arrived at the Troupe’s building at 10am and were greeted by a large group of anxiously waiting teachers and administrators as well as a large group of photographers and TV news video cameras. We were quickly whisked in to the building and down a hallway which was lined with the performers all decked out in their costumes, clapping rhythmically as we shot past them, and then into a full size rehearsal/performance room where, sitting patiently on plastic chairs, awaited more administrators, invited guests and representatives from the Canadian Embassy. In the front row were four empty chairs for me , Margo, Blair and Youdai and before we could catch a breath, the show began. What followed was a string of beautiful performances by blind musicians and deaf dancers. Traditional Chinese ballads segueing into a medley from the Sound Of Music, by way of a Star Wars-esque bar-scene jam, followed by a modern dance piece, then another performance by the band, along with a full costume change, a classical ballet performance and then the most extraordinary “Dance of a Thousand Hands” and it all ended up with the full troupe singing We Are The World, waving Chinese and Canadian flags and hauling Margo up to join them….welcome to China, now we know we are out of town. Extraordinary, surreal, sublime, absurd, even psychedelic considering our internal clocks are still 12 hours behind the local time. And then it was our turn. The Troupe gathered round the walls of the space, Margo and I moved to the center of the floor and did our four songs, plinky-plinky-plink…East meets West and East kicks West’s ass: an incredible start to our adventure.
Following a brief tour of the performers dormitories we headed off to an amazing lunch with Youdai and his friend/co-worker Johnny Hutong an ex-pat Canadian from Kitchener who is now a DJ here in Beijing. We then drove to Youdais offices which are housed in the 798 Artist Area: a former factory that has been turned into an enormous center for sculpture, fashion, photography and painting all scattered among galleries, cafes, bars and funky little retail outlets. It’s an amazing complex filled with the energy of Beijing’s exploding art scene.
Then back to the hotel….a much better dinner than last night at a restaurant that specializes in Peking Duck….an after-dinner stroll through the Olympic Park to gaze at the Birds Nest and then….bedtime. Not a bad day.
Thursday, June 2nd, 2011
I still find it kind of magical that you can walk out of your front door in the morning and half a day later find yourself checking in to a hotel on the other side of the earth. Yeah it’s a lot of effort, and it does weird things to your body and it aint cheap, but what a better world it would be if some Galactic decree mandated that everyone had to visit the other side of their planet to get a glance at how the other half lives.
It wasn’t a bad flight by modern day standards. It was only delayed an hour, there was very little turbulence, the in-flight entertainment system didn’t pack it in and, as far as we know, the flight crew didn’t fall asleep at any vital moments. The only slight hic-up was that Jared’s bag was “disappeared”, not lost, disappeared…gone without a trace (as are the $800 worth of microphones that he was carrying in it). Just in case you were wondering, it takes five movies to fly from Toronto to Beijing; The Kings Speech; Biutiful; The Town; Blue Valentine and The Dilemma.
After checking in to our hotel, some of us went for a stroll around the neighbourhood in search of food. We decided on the one restaurant that had an available outdoor table and a menu with pictures. After about a half a dozen or so cultural faux-pas we got our food, matched them up to the pictures and puzzled our way through them. The overall consensus was that it’s hard to complain about quality when you’re only paying $40 for food and drink for five people. Then it was back to the hotel to see if we could trick our bodies into to going to sleep for the night. Tomorrow the fun really begins….