PART 2 - Made in China
Waking up in a country so different as China is strangely exciting. You know that feeling when you wake up and it takes a few seconds to remember that you are actually in another country, half way around the world. The thing about travel is it gives you such perspective. Insight into a bigger picture. The sign on the floor acts as subliminal programming to keep the population 'happy' (or just good vibes)
Sitting on the toilet and contemplating (as you do) not really sure which button to press to maximise my happiness:
Quick shower, mindful of my skateboard injury (see blog 1) not being exposed to too much water (I was told there are issues with the health of the tap water). I had left home in such a hurry and didn’t get a chance to book my travel insurance in. That came back to haunt me many times on the trip. But that’s another story. Time to jump in a lift and sample the breakfast buffet.
There was very little on this buffet I could recognise. I saw something that resembled chicken and rice and some noodles and a few veggies. I was actually thinking about how many mouths there are to feed in China and where all the meat comes from. It was everywhere but I had question marks on its farming and origins. What was the process? Where are these big animal manufacturing plants based? My suspicion was that blending of animals in some kind of mass factory meat processor may have been happening? This clip opens with my good friend EJ and some of his band members from Areef.
We all meet in the lobby and we were presented with a range of possibilities of how to fill the day in. As excited as we were there was one objective for us as a band. Rehearse. Our new China friends didn’t know that as a collective we had not played a note of music. That in itself was intriguing to me. I love risk and music. Ben our bass player quite directly explained to the lovely Junia, “not sure if you understand but rehearsing is the number one priority”. The look in his eyes conveyed his seriousness and cemented his place as a serious musician on the team
I had been told by my smiling assasin, EJ that there were in fact rehearsal rooms over somewhere (he pointed toward a shopping centre and gives some kind of vague direction). As we took off with some student translators it became apparent they were not really clear about where this rehearsal room was. We ended up climbing the stairs into what seemed like a deserted building and were shown some rooms that had floor to ceiling mirrors, gym pads, table tennis tables but importantly no musical instruments. We were told that for each gig there was a ‘backline’ of music equipment provided for the band. So we restated nicely “we need things like drums, microphones, bass amps, guitar amps. this must not be the place because our friend (EJ) assured me there were rooms full of gear ready for bands”. There were a lot of puzzled looks and the students seemed somewhat distressed about the situation. It was interesting to note that despite being translators, most of the students only had very basic English. We didn’t know that. It became a process of deduction. I decided that I would go looking based on EJ’s earlier instructions. In China you always get confronted by scale. What appeared like a local shopping centre suddenly became Dr Who’s tardis with escalators everywhere, levels upon levels of shops and I quickly realised I was looking for a needle in the haystack. Eventually after hours of running around a message got through about the mysterious rehearsal studio location.
We were led past some graffiti walls into a bunker. When the room was pushed open we were greeted with checkered walls and a whole range of gear complete with tags on it. It was that new! So we began setting up to play music. After some ‘lost in translation’ moments we had a set up happening and started jamming.
Music has this liberation possibility or alternatively it can be excruitiating if it doesn’t gel. From the first few songs it became apparent that the gamble had paid off and there was some inherent music chemistry happening. Coming into the trip I was aware of each individual ingredient for the ‘band’ but still not sure how it would come together ( given we were playing a basket ball stadium show first up on the Wednesday had some concerns). It was great reconnecting with old band mates, new musical brothers and after 3 hours we had the makings of a show coming together. We even had new chinese friends continually standing by the door and taking in this very different brand of musical expression. Needless to say we established very clearly that another rehearsal tomorrow would be crucial again. Upon walking out we wandered into another room where we found out we would be playing on the second night. It was the live house. We were greeted by the sound engineer who promptly offered us cigarettes in a polite but serious fashion. He was mixing the sound for this local band. Apparently the singer sings in a rural southern style. Facinating but unique with some very interesting melodies and this strange chinese trumpet??? Short Clip:
Later that evening, we bonded over some beers and a sumptuous traditional chinese feast.
Everyone opted for an earlier night on day 1.....except Ben and I. We were ready to sample some Heshuan nightlife. We wandered up just three doors from the hotel and went into the first bar. The Chinese don’t really drink that much so there are not a lot of choices. As soon as we walked in we were greeted with stares of amazement. There were no westerners in this bar. In fact there were almost no westerners at all in Heshuan (we saw less than 5 in total through all our travels there). Upon finishing our first beer, we were surrounded by a whole crew of local drinkers. Whilst we had no english communication whatsoever it was clear that having a good time was on everyone’s mind and we laughed away together not quite sure what anyone was saying. In fact I found everything so bizarre I just kept giggling. Almost hysterically. After we put down our first beer, there was a table of drinks and it seemed like all the night club patrons had moved around our table. There were a few well dressed younger Chinese men and we had thoughts they were part of some Chinese mafia. they started getting quite serious around having our attention:
They were harmless enough but they were really focused on getting some social leverage out of Ben and I. Suddenly one grabbed my arm and took me up to the Karaoke stage where an androgynous local singer was performing and requested I dance. "When in China"…so I danced in a sea of neon lights, chinese phonetics and a growing beer buzz. This became known as the bunny dance because at one point I pick up a big bunny side of stage and cuddled it. Why was the bunny sitting there?
At one point, one of the ‘bosses’ as Ben and I had called them even held onto me for some kind of Chinese waltz. Or was he gay? We had no idea what was happening. I kept giggling. Ben tried to leave and he kept getting stopped and ushered back to the table. We were drinking beer from thimble size glasses. Overtime our glass was empty, our friends would ensure a quick refill. At one stage they even placed two cases of beer next to me.
I went to sleep in a haze of Chinese faces, a cacophony of foreign sounds, some karaoke and dreams of pink bunnies. Like Alice and wonderland I had fallen into the rabbit hole.