March 15th – Arrive around 1pm – 2 hour train to Nanjing
Nanjing – Castle Bar – 6pm sound check / 9pm show
March 16th – Morning do a little sightseeing
Evening take the overnight train to Beijing
March 17th – Morning sightseeing – Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square…etc..etc…
Beijing – Yugong Yishan – 6pm sound check / 9pm show
March 18th – Afternoon leave for an overnight train to Wuhan
March 19th – Morning – Wuhan sightseeing, etc…
Wuhan – Vox Bar – 6pm soundcheck / 9pm show
March 20th – Morning – train to Changsha (Chairman Mao’s hometown)
Changsha – 4698 Bar – 6pm soundcheck / 9pm show
March 21st – Morning – flight to Shanghai
Afternoon – sighseeing
Shanghai – Logo – 8pm soundcheck / 12am show
DAY ONE SHANGHAI and NANJING
Hi. We are finally back from tour after starting with 10 days in the UK with The Bronx, that ended with our own secret warehouse party, an early morning flight to Japan, a show there with 4 days off, a portion of the tour that would culminate in us getting onto a 48 hour ferry that would take us to Shanghai, China, where we had booked 5 shows. We’ll start on the boat.
We went ahead a few months ago with booking a tour of Japan, China and Australia after we got an offer from the promoters in Japan that would make flying 14 hours in either direction for one show worth it (which is almost exactly what happened). While we were booking shows in the other regions, I felt much like an easters military strategist, knowing that for capitilation of the entire region, there had to be a flashpoint. This we already had in Japan, and we spent the next few weeks wrestling with the domino theory and waiting for Australia and China to fall. We ended up getting a great offer for 3 shows in Australia, but when we started to buy plane tickets, reality set back in, and nothing could make it work. We knew now of the possibility of China falling as well, because the money we earned in Australia we were planning to pay forward on getting to China. On tour in the US, about a month before we needed to get on the outgoing airplane, we were in Denver, upstairs in the bathroom hallway of the club we were playing, looking for flights, as we had been doing every day since we decided to head east. As it stood, we had one way flights from London to Tokyo, and no idea how to pay to get back to Toronto, and no idea where it would be from. Australia as off the list. Somehow, we managed to find relatively cheap tickets to Toronto from Shanghai China. We were on the horn immediately to our friends Dan Yotive and Abe Deyo in China who would be working the tour for us. Even though nothing was booked and the proposed tour was less than 2 months away, they assured us they could make it work for everyone. We bought tickets and splayed that nights show.
Fast forward a few weeks and we’re on a high speed train to Osaka. Our plan now hinged on a 48 hour boat ride from Osaka to Shanghai, which is the cheapest option for making that journey. No one we spoke to had ever heard of it. We were very skeptical, worried about the border, etc. No one even knew why it took 48 hours. The boat ride was great until everyone got sick. The first day was spent eating and playing ping pong. The 2nd day for the most part being sick in the bathroom. The overnight waves were high and frightening. Each room had a window and at night you could make out the faint and massive great swirling beneath you that would pummel the deck and try to lift you from your sleeping bed.
On the last day we woke up early and watched as the boat maneuvered up the Huangpu river into the heart of Shanghai. On the way it felt like’d we gone back in time as the river edge was all grey military bases, the river itself filed with small tugboats or ships carrying cement or sand. There were boats everywhere. In the distance was the Pudong Skyline, and we ported in view of some of the largest skyscrapers on the planet.
We all spent a good part of the boat ride nervous (among other things, like getting stabbed by the irate Chinese man we initially shared a room with, until he berated the starwards enough to let him change rooms) about crossing the border. We had tourist visas, but it’s china, we all thought. We walked up to the desk, handed our paper work and took them back stamped in about 10 seconds. At the end you press a button to grade your attendants performance. We all chose “very satisfied”.
We quickly ate (even though this restaurant had pictures of each of the about 150 dishes they made, including a bowl with a turtle in it covered with rice, I’m not going to describe this meal for reasons that will soon become obvious) after meeting Abe and Dan and went to catch what they told us was a “chartered bus” they had got for the short trip to Nanjing, which is where we would play our first show. After almost 3 days in the void with no outside contact, I was pleased with this result:
After last summer’s fiasco, I told myself I would never get on another bus with the intention of using it as a tour vehicle. But yet on the other side of the world, I slowly trod up the steps to another yellow, stuffy and decrepit bus, this time in China. Here is a video of this particular journey.
The bus was filled with the 6 of us, Dan and Abe and like 11 other people. Things started going from basically from when the key filled the ignition. We drove south and headed into what looked like a heavy industrial area mixed with apartments and small bight cities every dozen kilometers. The first thing you notice here is the air – the smog is so think and hangs so low that it should have an address. We start seeing fireworks going off in the distance every few minutes. The whole country feels like a giant tinderbox where every possible atom is about to explode somehow.
Meanwhile in the bus, the driver is revealing his character – after the gear shifter breaks, I see him smoking and talking into a cell phone at the same time. To make things a bit calmer, he’s made his ringtone into the sound of a cop car siren, but louder.
We make our first rest stop to buy sugarcane. There are several cops on bikes circling us like Mad Max..we’re not nervous? We keep spitting spend sugarcane on the road like everyone else and wait for the driver to fix the bus. He opens the top of the engine through the drivers seat like opening a can or sardines, gets underneath it, etc. As you can see from the video, we had to push the van back into gear and run into it as it drove to get back in. We’re back on the road, trying to relax, and the driver is singing Chinese pop songs at full volume. Kids are sitting everywhere, on the engine, between the seats, there is crazy food all over the place. Nikki from STD is telling stories aboout the Chinese version of facebook where she calls the cops on her friends for speeding all day and pulling vegetables out from their gardens. We’re all confused about everything at this point.
About 10 kms from Nanjing, the driver stops for some reason to fill up with gas (which he did with the van running). We were’t hoping to stop again after what happened the last time. Of course, the van doesn’t start for a bit, until he forces it and decides to drive us the rest of the way in first gear. We’re going 5km/s and hour and we still think we’re going to die. He can’t stop the bus or it will break again, and it can’t go any faster…he’s tugging at the gear shift so hard it might wrench off, opening the engine while smoking, etc. It takes us 20 minutes to drive the 4 kms we were away from the toll station, so the van stops right beside a massive group of pictures warning against unsafe driving (pictures featuring the wreckage of Priness Diana, people ripped in half on the highway, the Titanic sinking?). We wait there for taxis to take us the rest of the way. Another van is chartered to bring everyone else home, which we learn later CRASHES.
We were obviously super late, so we got to the club in Nanjing and starting playing almost immediately. Despite no one in the dive knowing us or are music, we got a standing ovation as we walked from the stairs to the stage. We played at it was weird. We play lots of covers, play out of the smallest amps every, see lots of women, some taking pictures of themselves standing next to us while they play, weird mosh moves. We all have a great time.
After dinner is next door at McDonalds where I guess a guy picked up a prostitute? I spent the rest of the evening waiting downstairs at the club as the bar turns into the loudest disco I’ve ever been to, replete with 40 somethings slowly swaying to hard american blog-house.
CHINA Day Two
DAY TWO NANJING (Or Nanking, or whatever) AND BEIJING
So late that night we get to our first hotel of the trip, which ends up being pretty nice and costs about $20 American per room. We wake up kind of early when Abe brings tasty buns to our beds – these dim sum looking buns that don’t seem cooked ever because they are pasty white, but filled with either spiced vegetables or I guess also meat. We’d find more types in Shanghai at the markets later that week that were so meat-juicy they needed straws, and little orange ones that looked like mini pumpkins. Today is our first day off (after a grueling one day of touring) so we’re ready to go see what China is really like. Josh gets a drink from the fridge in the hotel lobby and breaks the lock, at which point all the porters and bell hops start to flip out..its like a small almost plastic lock, but we give them money to buy a new one anyway. It’s like 11am but Abe thinks it’s time for lunch, so we stop at a restaurant almost as soon as we leave the hotel. The thing with eating in China is that we don’t speak Chinese or have any idea what any of the food is going to be like, so meals are always us sitting around while Abe orders all these different plates of stuff for like 10 minutes.
One of the first things they bring out for us today is fish-head soup, which we all assumed would be like something out of Indiana Jones where you just get this murky bowl of liquid where these eyes roll up to the surface and startle you. Instead it’s this mash of cartiledge and sauce and ends up containing only two eyes, which Ben and Damian spend the entire lunch rooting around in there for. I guess they were full of grit or something. I ate white rice and boiled spinach stalks, a local delicacy that would be mine to enjoy for almost every meal for a week. The other thing about us eating food in China is that we are 8 white people, so after the staff brings us our food, they kind of hang around looking at us and taking pictures, because apparently it’s that crazy that we even exist, let alone want to order fishhead soup from them (“want” being a relative term for some of us, obviously).
After we eat we take cabs (30 minute cab ride is like $7) to the Nanjing Massacre museum, but it’s closed (it was supposed to open like the next day…) so instead of learning something we walk around and watch babies pee onto the sidewalk and look fat, which is still kind of learning something I guess. We learned that in China, your baby has a slit in the back of its pants instead of a diaper, and that if you are baby, it is cool to just pee anywhere you want. Also, if you want, you can have your dad aim you at a garbage can on a bus, and poo in that, it’s no big deal, thats what the garbage can is for. But seriously, a lot of people were killed in the Rape of Nanking, and now Japanese and Chinese people hate each other. Now YOU have learned something.
We go to a convenience store nearby (not sure if they are actually called that, I do know they are called “Party Stores” in Michigan) and gawk over the strange and wonderful flavours of chips they have – Mango, Blueberry, Cucumber. We can’t believe it, but also don’t get any of them, cause that is gross. The chocolate chips (“crisps”, not the good kind of chocolate chips) in England were bad enough.
We get in another cab, at this point we feel like rockstars (oh wait..) cause we’re jumping in and out of cabs like they are bumper cars (which they kind of look like, and also we can’t believe we don’t see more accidents than we do cause driving here is ridiculous) and take it to some mall so Damian can look for Pepsi shoes. I know that sounds ridiculous, but on the 3rd floor of some shopping mall we find the Pepsi athletic goods store. What a confusing country. Also I have in my notes that this mall contained “more babies”.
Next on the list is some temple. We’d visited some temples in Japan, and if you ask me, if you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all. This one was up a really steep hill and overlooked the back part of Nanjing. It was very peaceful and I think had a large bell at the top. There were a lot of suspicious looking monks ambling around, and I say suspicious only because they were all taking pictures of us with their cell phones. and smoking cigarettes, which kind of makes us feel like we’re actually the monks, and they are the tourists from New Jersey, but I digress. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking up and down long stair cases, sitting in those chairs that look like hands, ringing bells and then Sandy got kidnapped by King Kong. We’re ready to leave, so we order like 50 cabs and just tell 48 of them to just hang out and be cool cause it’s so cheap, and we head off to Thinkpad town.
I’ve just learned that Lenovo is 27% owned by the Chinese government. Notebook computers are very popular in China and the district we arrived at had about 50 stores in a row that just sold them (and one men’s fashion store that featured “Acrastutum” brand clothing). I go into one store to inquire about and compare prices (having just purchased my own notepad computer specifically for this trip) and am greeted with a round of “Welcome to Acer Store” from all the employees inside, but immediately turn around and leave, because there isn’t a computer in the entire store. We then watch a woman trick a baby with a remote control toy car that has lasers coming out of it. The baby chases it for a while (almost onto the road at one point) and then pees onto the sidewalk.
We make our way to this massive fruit and vegetable market, which is one long hallway full of dozens and dozens of stalls almost half a kilometer long. We see stuff we’ve never seen before in a market, like buckets full of eels, (according to my notes, “tons of eels”) fishheads everywhere (ok we saw a bunch of those in the morning), lots of turtles, stalls that seem to only sell impecable livers, mangosteen (the Jewish mango), etc. Everyone gets these weird crepe-like things. The street food in China is often so different from western food in conception but so close in nature that it’s like the gourmand version of a bad translation. You can imagine buying crepes on the street in Paris filled with meat or sweets (like I did in a giant arcade in Osaka the previous week) but in China they have these bizarre street crepes that have coriander and an egg on them, some sauces and then they break a weird cracker into it, and then fold it up and give it to you. As if they are just making it up on the spot.
We all want to use the internet so we can wikipedia “chinese crepes” so we go to this strange building where in the lobby the two security guards are huffing glue. We take the elevator to the 4th floor and after using Abe to negotiate our way through the most Kafkaesque login process on the planet, use the internet surrounded by one hundred Chinese guys playing warcraft, and the alarming smell of paint thinner. We manage to get ourselves out of the building before we pass out from the dangerous fumes and go to do like the 10th thing just during this one day.
It’s almost time for dinner so we take the presidents cab to the train station and stop for more food. It’s dark and dusty and we imagine ourselves in the bad part of town. Abe tells us, as he will tell us a hundred more times this week, to watch our pockets at the train station because of pick pockets (and presumably, Ninjas). We all do, especially me, because my pockets are full of dried kiwi that I don’t care to lose. Again, our meal is comprised of 100% things we’ve never heard of, and the entire staff laughing at us and taking pictures. Occasionally a fireball from the kitchen. We saunter across the street to the train station and almost miss it. It’s a sleeper car, because we’ve got a 12 hour overnight journey to Beijing and it’s full of guys and families and everyone has this crazy tea thats hot water and like so many herbs. My bunk is about 9 feet off the ground and like 5 inches from the roof but it’s cool. I try to sleep comforted by the soothing sounds of adult contemporary communist Chinese elevator music for about 2 hours until they finally turn the lights off and we can’t wait to wake up in Beijing.
DAY THREE BEIJING
We wake up on the train all thinking its like 11am and like every other day on tour, we’ve slept in and miss our chance to go to a record store and Whole Foods before we get on the road, and then the music kicks in and we remember we’re still in China and even though the sun is streaming through all the train windows and there are men drinking thermoses full of herbs and hot water and playing weird cards and looking surly, its only 6am and we’re just closing in on the suburbs of Beijing. The music from the night before sounds a bit more exciting this morning because we’re starting to pass communist architecture and peasants toiling in the fields and generally being more Chinese than we’d witnessed before on this trip. The more weakminded of us almost convert on the spot, right in the crammed hallway of the train.
The suburbs of Beijing aren’t like Oakville. We see mostly farms with periodic cement villiages, a real dusty scene. As we close in on the city it just gets hazier to the point where it’s like a fog when we get off the train. The station here is massive in a way the other’s haven’t been. We happily trudge through the underground tunnels that take us to the road in crowds of hundreds or thousands. The hallways are as big as highways and are filled with people who seemingly were all also somehow crammed into our train, but for the first time on the trip we start to get the sense of China we had all envisioned before we got here, the stereotypical crowds, the smog, the communism. We get out of the station and see our first traffic jams..then sit in one for an hour. More than 15 million people live here and we’re getting to know a lot of them off the bat.
We get another ok hotel just off one of the main tourist shopping streets. Later we’d find a lot of guitar stores with brands we’ve never heard of, equivalent weird streetwear clothing stores, lots of shops with Japanese style toys and other brick-a-brack. The first thing we do is eat after we drop off our bags. They eat buns and meat and I eat what I’ve been craving after for a few weeks – whole wheat bread with butter that I buy from the fancy bakery next to our place.
Then we’re off to the Lame temple to get some mind sense. Abe knows how much we are into religion generally, and Confucianism specifically so we’re hitting as many temples and Buddha statues as we can. This one has one of the biggest in the world. It’s a giant 3-storey statue carved from one piece of sandalwood. I’m a hippie and a punk so I figure it would have been more impressive just as a piece of wood, because it still would have been pretty big. Also I think this one is wearing lipstick or something, and has a lot of colourful sashays bandied around its sandalwood carved body. It looks pretty peaceful though, maybe because it’s crammed into a really tiny dark room and people are giving it fruit all day and it can’t tell how smoggy it is outside. We go buy Cokes and popsickles and head to the next place.
Which turns out is really cool. We learn that Beijing is laid out sensibly. The Forbidden City is generally in the middle, flanked on all sides by other sites of interest. The new stuff, like the Olympic Village and the Gibson Guitar office, and out on the fringes and are impossible to get to. More on that later. But this afternoon we’re going to one of the subsidiary sites, the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower, which are situated a few kilometers directly north of the Forbidden City. The drum tower is closed, but would offer a sick view of the south if you could get up there. We take the steepest stairs I’ve ever traversed in my life to get to the top of the Bell tower, which are worn out from thousands of visitors over hundreds of years and it ends up feeling like we’re trying to walk up a thousand year old tilted set of ivory piano keys, which actually sounds kind of steam so we just try not to think about it. Once we’re up there there is this giant bell and a lot of plaques trying to explain the convoluted story of its origins. Apparently there was a lot of honour involved as well as a princess sacrificing herself, but in the end a wiseman that knew it would work all along, and in then as a result a giant bell got made. And it is really big. One of the plaques I think said you could cook like 50 soups inside of it, which is what it was used for for the first 300 years.
From there we meander back to the hotel to get ready for the show. It’s at a pretty big club. The walk from the hotel takes like 4 hours, and we’ve got our instruments slung over our shoulders so it’s even more brutal. We soundcheck and go eat again. There’s a street near the venue with lots red lights so we go there. The meal consists mostly of fried bees and Sprite. We head back to the show really late and a cool band is playing. We play at like 2am and there are a lot of people there from all over the world it seems. Ben makes friends with some traveling artists from Denmark or Finland. I take a cab home and fall asleep.
DAY FOUR BEIJING TO WUHAN
The hotel has no windows or noise so I wake up at some point and have no idea what time it is. Me and Abe visit the supermarket next door. In China you can find endless bins of different kinds of pickled plums, but not much cheese. I get the kind with the happy cow on the front. We round everyone else up and make our way to Tiennamen Square. We take two cabs again, and there is always the risk that we’ll just get seperated and lost. This time the ride is kind of long as the route snakes around the end of the Forbidden City. As soon as we see one big brick wall we think we’re right outside. After 15 minutes of driving around it the driver drops us off at a tourist taxi depot, and we’re not sure where we are. It’s smoggy and there are lots of people around, and there is a vaguely squarish structure next to us but we still can’t be sure. We wait around for 20 minutes for the other cab but it doesn’t come. Damian immediately gets hustled for a $5 Mao watch that doesn’t work. We decide to just look around on our own and walk north towards the buildings. Turns out we were in the square after all, which is just south of the Forbidden City. On all sides are massive buildings, cultural museums, Kentucky Fried Chickens, Maos Tomb, ect. To get inside the actual square you need to go through military checkpoints, just tents with guards. The hustlers are more annoying. We walk through the big wall that seperates the square from the City and every few feet of the bridge there is what we think are plain clothes officers, except these ones look like 15 year old pissed off Chinese kids wearing fake Gucci sweatshirts armed only with fire extinguishers placed a few feet from them on the ground. Kind of surreal to imagine what would call them into duty, and what they would end up doing. Once we’re inside a hundred people immediately ask us if we need an English tour guide. We kind of do, but say no anyhow. Plus we’re busy looking for a payphone to call Abe to find out where they went. Damian finds one inside but its on the other side of a fence thats being looked after by a military guard. We keep walking north through various levels of gates and walls and borders but never actually make it inside the actual city. We double back through the tunnels. You can’t cross the streets on ground level since the streets around here are so massive, so you use tunnels. Inside there are more guards and checkpoints and we catch glimpses of open doors in the walls, which reveal even crazier smaller tube-style tunnels that I guess weave underneath the square for who knows what. I buy a popsicle and the lady tries to make me buy 10 at once, which I try to explain I have no use for.
We’ve been milling around this area for almost 3 hours and we’re tired and hungry and can’t see anything and still have no word from the others or how we’re going to get back to the hotel. We didn’t really see anything we were trying to see this afternoon but we just want to get out of there. We get to the final gate to enter the city but we’ve all run out of money and there isn’t an ATM machine for 20 miles so we just fuck it and turn back. On the south side of the square we try to call them from a hotel payphone, which doesn’t work, a regular payphone, which you need a phone card to use, and eventually get through to Abe from a phone inside an alley that costs 30 cents to use. Damian later makes me pay him back for my share of the call. Abe is at a job interview and doesn’t really know where the others are. We find a cab and double back to the hotel.
From there we find everyone else and we get back in a cab to go to the Birds Nest, which is what they call the stadium built for the olympics, because it looks like a birds nest. It’s in a really brutal area, sort of off the side of a highway straight north of where we just were. We take a mentally vexing subway ride there and have to walk for 20 minutes through the haze. We have to push our way out of the train. I buy a slice of pineapple that tastes like soot and bum out. All the pictures you see of this place on postcards and websites we’re convinced must be photoshopped, because standing right next to the thing all you can see is the haze. We realize we haven’t seen a clear sky since we got here. The building itself is quite impressive and looks like it was wisked together by some giant steel baker, but sits in the middle of this really depressing potemkin park, with a dried out river, trash everywhere and brown grass. There are left over snack areas manned by people who look like they are still there because no one told them the olympics are over. It’s a bit out of the way so it’s kind of empty and just looks dismal. Which is a shame, because the two buildings here, the birdnest and the pool building next to it really are feats of modern engineering and among the most interesting public buildings in the world but within the context of their surroundings just look dismal and oppressive. Just west of the stadium is a long public road that seems to stretch out forever in either direction and is full of people selling crystals and kites. The whole area just reminds of us Scarborough.
We get back to the hotel in time to jump into another set of taxis and take the long ride to another huge train station to catch our train to Wuhan. At night the smog comes in handy because cities here are lit up like no other and the haze gives the light a cinematic quality that makes everything seem a but more surreal and fantastic. The station we’re at is the biggest one I’ve ever seen and is flanked by hotels that take up entire city blocks and have makeshift temple structures on the roofs that try to push light through the soot and have it just hang there and glow. The second cab is late again but this time it only takes ten minutes to meet up. It’s dark and we’re ready to go.
DAY FIVE WUHAN
Wow it’s been more than two months since we were in China, and we’re still talking about it – can you believe that? Anyhow, the first thing you probably think of when you hear about Wuhan, is that you’ve never heard of it. Neither had we until we saw it on the itin. It was described to us as “a small city” in China all tour, which means that only 9 million people live there, which means it’s bigger than any city in the country we live in (Canada). We did a lot of typically Chinese tourist shit in this town, so stay tuned.
The day started off really early again, since we were woken up by the rousing notes of communist pop music blaring from the small sharp speakers on our train. The station was had a more pronounced gritty feel…it was dark and subeterranean and seemed to be dripping gunk and asbestos everywhere. As soon as we passed under the tracks and left the station Abe immediatly got into an argument with like every taxi driver in the city simultaneously. We just watched as he delt with a barrage of bodies and prices at 6am. The city was an hour cab drive away so it was todays’ first big fare. The ride took us through a long land bridge that brings you from the outskirts to the metropolis. We saw the mist rising from the lake and the herons and swans frolicking in the dew.
We get dropped off infront of our hotel, which will turn out to be the only real sketchy dump of the tour, which is honestly what we’d been preparing to endure every night. But we had swell places every night except for tonight. We’d booked this place because it was in the same complex as the club so it gave us a lot more freedom to muck about in the town. It was on the 17th or 18th floor of this big dilapidated office tower. There was a bright alley way directly below the first balcony of the building where all morning vendors were preparing for the night – Wuhan is also known as the capital of street food in the country. Ben and Jonah went to get some kind of soup and I hightailed it upstairs to get changed. Even though the entire bathroom was covered in black mold and the carpets were wearing holes through the layers like old billboard adverts falling away from their signs to reveal ads from 10 years ago, and the matress was filty and as thick as a paperback novel, the tv cable had like 20 english channels as well as a next-day repeat of a Liverpool game so I watched that on my tiptoes trying not to touch anything in this obviously condemned abode.
We split off into groups again to go sightseeing. Abe had a real suprise for us this time – we were off to see another temple. After walking through Wuhans soot atmosphere for a few seconds we jumped on a bus and took it for about 45 minutes along one major road to get to Yellow Crane Tower, which was actually pretty sick. Like most ancient things in China, the Tower has been rebuilt several times over the years so it gives off the old-new vibe, and also has an elevator inside it. It’s supposed to give a great view of the city and the Yangtze River, but you can’t see 10 feet into the view because of the smog. We were about a quarter of a mile from the river at this point and still couldn’t see it even though it felt like we were as high as an ancient Chinese cloud. Anyhow the tower was great and is a dead ringer for the last level of that Zelda for super nintendo. We paid our respects and hung a pair of trainers from the top of this thing and then took off to the river.
Since we weren’t physically inside the river, we never actually saw the thing because of the smog. We crossed the bridge for a bit and got tired of walking and turned around to go watch Chinese Opera underneath the bridge. In China, when you are old you go hang out under the bridge with like 500 of your facebook friends and watch these serene opera productions while woman hand out cigarettes and weird snack foods that look like folded pancakes and get your haircut for free by haircutting students. Josh and Ben managed to do all of this stuff I think, plus shoot bbguns at balooons on the staircase back up to the main street. It was a weird day. On the bus ride back, we saw a dude point his kid at a wastebasket on the bus and the kid did a number 2. On the bus. Into a garbage can.
We had lunch at a Muslim eatery, which is quiet common in China for cuisine. It’s small shops that sit only a few people and you get noodles custom made – you choose the size and shape you want and then watch as the cook turns a blob of dough into all these crazy noodles with his hands. They toss it into broth for a few minutes and then add cilantro and hot pepper sauce and it’s really elegant cooking and looks easy enough to trick you into wanting to try and open your own hand made noodle store in north america until you realize these kids starting slinging noodles before they could talk in the high plains of Russo-Mongolian China and bring themselves to a state where the noodles are just an extension of their already noodle-like fingers and arms and you could never make a profit charging 75 cents for a bowl of noodles anyway. But it was good and cool. I tried to replicate the experience in Shanghia a few days later and asked for the soup to go but wasn’t paying attention and when I got back to the soup I found a bunch of broth and and egg and noodles stuck together inside a plastic bag and really felt like I’d wasted 50 cents that afternoon. But I digress.
We went back to the hotel to relax before soundcheck and listened to an animal that sounded like it was the size of a water bison make it’s way Alien-style through the heating vents in our safari hotel. Incensed, we made our way through the labarynthine hotel to the club on the bottom floor. I was tired of waiting for the elevator because it only came up to our floor every 10 minutes and was right next to a service desk manned by a crazy woman who kept yelling at us in Chinese every time we walked past, and it’s real hard to get into crowded stuff in China anyway, because it’s shank-or-be-shanked over there as you know, so I decided to brave the stairs. As I made my descent and the lights got dimmer every storey down I felt like I was becoming a character in a bootleg copy of that movie Silent Hill and when I got to about the 10th floor the lights were almost completely gone, as were the numbers so I had no idea where I was or if I had indeed descended as far down as actual hell, which is where it felt like I was…I opened a door on what felt like floor negative 164 after walking down stairs for what felt like 6 hours and found myself in a surprisingly serene internet cafe, except no one looked at me and there was also no other door in the room so I had to keep going…I quickly doubled back up the stairs and got back on the elevator at like floor 12 and waited another 10 minutes for an elevator.
The show was at a place called Vox and was cool. Like in Tokyo, all our gear was neatly set up before we got there and already turned on for us and everything. I can’t remember anything else about the set.
The next day we visited a huge outdoor spiralled mall that apparently had the longest pedestrian walk way on earth, which we were all incredulous about. What we did find were a lot of stores that sold duck-neck which is a delicacy but at a store just looks like piles of brown carnage piled high like in that movie Aliens. It was gross.
Day 6 and 7
So we left off as we climbed into our beds in the most heinous hotel rooms in the Eastern Hemisphere. Today our plan was to get on another train and take it to Changsha, as you can see from the itinerary just above this paragraph. Also you might notice that this is where Mao is said to have been born, apparently. It’s also the capital city of the Hunan province, which is a place where a lot of stinky and crazy food comes from, just like every other city in this strange country. And just like every other non-major city in China, it has way more people than the biggest cities in Canada.
We get to the show an immediately lose Damian, who we later learn managed to find a cheap toystore directly beneath the venue and scored some 10 cent action robots that did a light show. As soon as the rest of us walk in the door the promotor starts yelling at us in Chinese and English for being late, because the start of the show got held up. While we wonder why he needed to wait for the opening bands to start playing until we arrived, one of them starts getting ready to play, so we sit back and watch. It’s a mixture of weird American screamo, and our own assumptions about what teenage Chinese bands should sound like. The best part was that after our set they came over to tell us what American screamo band members we all look like. I apparently look like the singer of the band FINCH.
That evenings most important events took place after the show. We had met some of Abe’s friends from Wisconsin or something, who were going to take us for some legitimate Hunan cuisine. We walked through a temporary electronics market set up on the street (it was past midnight on a school night and the main streets were still full of vendors and teenaged babes hanging out on their boyfriends tiny motorcycles) on our way to a giant restaurant tucked behind some industrial building. As usual Abe orders 9 million different things, 2 of which will be vegetarian, both of which will be boiled spinach. Meanwhile the table is filling up with more kinds of fried meat and seafood that Noah’s Ark, and to add to that, one of the bearded white dudes gets up to go get some “hot” chicken wings from a street vendor outside to bring back to add to our menagerie. Keep in mind that we are inside a restaurant and we’re basically ordering in more food. Plus the place is filling up with people trying to sell us beer and other drinks from the street.
The wings kid comes back and basically kills Damian Ben and Jonah. Damian wigs out and accidentally wipes his spice-impregnated fingers all over his sweaty head, which then breaks out full in hives. Jonah is crying. They are the spiciest wings on planet earth. Meanwhile I’m digging into what I think is slices of marinated potato, which turns out to just be huge impractical pieces of ginger from a dish that was mostly sauce and frog-legs. The room is kind of spinning since we’re all eating the most flavourful hot shit any of us has ever seen, everyone is smoking like 10 cigarettes. They bring out the stinky tofu, another regional delicacy and understatement. It smells like manure, without hyperbole. Ben chastises me for not trying any, but it’s as grey as used charcoal – something I would sooner eat, might I add – and just as hard. It looks like small chunks of sizzling meteorite basted in anus. I pass. Ben takes a miniscule bite, and the dish goes generally un-noticed by the rest of the group. Anyhow, we need these morsels of energy to fuel our train the next day.
An army of small lobsters and crayfish are presented to us next. They are all wearing top hats and do a cabaret dance on the table before laying down to be consumed. The restaurant has become so smoky that I can hardly see my hand infront of my face. We’ve had endless bottles of beer and 7-UP, mountains of white rice. Four hours later we pay our $30 for the meal and are poured back onto the spicy streets. We go to an American style donut place, which ends up being gross. I do not remember how we got back to our hotel, or even what it was like. Probably amazing.
The next morning we set out for another train station. I had been secretly lobbying Abe since day one of the tour to arrange to take a train to Shanghai rather than an airplane, because the last thing I need on this trip is to board a flying machine after being on multiple steam-powered trains and buses and taxis that underwent engine repaid while in use. It makes sense for us to take the train anyhow, so on we go. Interesting things happen while we wait for it at the station. I get pineapple beer (which is actually just pineapple juice with maybe .001% beer, kind of like a mild pineapple shandy) and they find something that looks like freezer-dried dog feet. Then an odd thing happens. Ben and Sandy find a kid in possession of a duck – in a bag. He’d apparently spent his time waiting for a train punching it. What a weird place.
We get on our final train of the trip and settle in for an 8 hour ride. I re-watch the Liverpool Man U game from last week again and then run out of laptop batteries. I charge it for a bit in the bathroom so I can watch 30 rock or something, and then get bored. A car ahead of us a woman is playing the flute to sheet music to the bemusement of the entire train. Sandy and Jonah star drawing pictures of everyone and Jonah’s inability to draw sends him into paroxysms of laughter that could only come from being holed up on a train speeding through the vast reaches of rural China. Every few minutes a food cart rolls up the aisle and I get this huge thing of fresh fruit. Ben’s got some soup crackers that taste like soup. 900 games of euchre later and we get to Shanghai just in time for the worst torrential downpour in recent memory. It’s still early (ie 11pm) so we head to the hotel and wait for the rain to chill out a bit before we go wait at the club to play. We arrive a bit after 1am and are welcomed by a subcultural United Nations. Shanghai feels like what New York or LA must have been like during the 70s and 80s before culture was so defined – it feels so fresh and new here, like no one knows whats going to happen tommorow, but that people from all over the world have come to live here and find out. Dozens of nationalities must have been represented at this show, from all continents. Teachers, children of diplomats, travellers. Also there is like 300 people there, spilling out into the street. We chill by the door and watch the world parade show up from taxis in the rain.
We play our custom party-shambolic set, which means we mix in as many pedestrian good time covers as we know, and try to deal with the fact that none of the amps, nor the PA actually really work. None of it matters because no one cares about us, they just want to have a good time. We slog on and it’s one of the best shows we’ve done and we only had to travel half way across the world (and then back then next day) to play it. We all get kind of privately emo and it puts a lot of things about our short career as musicians into perspective. We kind of don’t want to stop playing, but do anyways. It feels really great to be playing music in China. We all hang out at the bar for a while and just breath in the great mixture. Damian and Jonah head out into the city with Abe because they fly out the next morning, the rest of us go to bed because we’re staying for a few more days to chill. It’s been the craziest, most improbable but memorable and worthwhile tour we’ve ever done and we all feel humbled and greatful to have been given the opportunity and would recommend it to anyone with half the chance to come here.
Also when me and Josh went to get suits taylored, Abe wheeled a girl: