4.30.2007

ALWAYS LEAN FORWARD, SO WHEN YOU FALL YOU'LL BE HEADED IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION











(photos from the Yunnan province of China, more here)

Still in China. Still trying to get a handle on it. Spent the past week in the Yunnan province near the Tibetan border. Climbed some mountains, wandered in the plateaus, got lost in fields, stumbled into an exclusive resort, met some nice fellow travelers, froze my ass off a bit, and wore myself the hell out. Here's another rundown picking up in Beijing through part of the last week:

- Parts of Beijing look like photos I saw of Beirut after Israel got done with it, completely devastated blocks that used to be neighborhoods. This is due to the demolition of many of the older neighborhoods to make room for ugly high-rises for the Olympics.
- Names of some of the rides at the Beijing amusement park:
* Superspeed Cool-Cool Bear
* Terrifying Waves
* Magic Holy Bird Frisbee
* Sea Panic
* Surprising House
* DJ Crazy Tour
- Dried Kiwi are really good.
- There is no hesitation for people to drive cars, motorcycles, or bicycles up on the sidewalk, so often pedestrians end up having to walk in the (usually large) bike lanes. A bit backwards, but very Chinese.
- I rented a bicycle for a day to reach part of Beijing far from the subway, it was a traditional Chinese cruiser, weighed probably 80 lbs, and had half a front brake. Hence my observation about pedestrians in the bike lane, kept the ride real interesting.
- Being a shy solo backpacker kinda sucks.
- There was a cafeteria-type place near where I stayed in Beijing. A full plate of whatever you wanted was 5 RMB (about 75 cents). It was really good, and one of the few places to get a lot of vegetables (man cannot live on meat sticks alone, even though my mom tried when she was here).
- The beers here are huge, and really really cheap.
- My last day in Beijing there were very strong winds blowing dust and debris all around the city. Hence you would see guys riding bikes with safety goggles and women with silk headscarves that had a light mesh section to fit over the face.
- Overnight trains have 2 classes, hard or soft sleepers. The soft are more expensive, so when I ended up having no option of a cheaper hard sleeper, I was curious what the difference would be. The soft seemed almost identical to the hard sleeper except there were only four people rather than six in the cabin, and they piped in elevator music. . . all damn night.
- If there is ever a need for a consultant on the least efficient way to do something, China seems to be training to be the top authority.
- I came across a bicycle-powered cotton candy machine in Yunnan. The guy running it stood next to it over the tin bowl on one foot while he pedaled with the other. The pedaling spun the machine while a propane torch attached to the frame heated the bottom of the dish and he swirled a stick around inside to catch the sugar fuzz. Pretty damn ingenious.
- Guys in China seem to like to wear suits, even if they are digging a hole in the street.
- While I was wandering around I came across a school yard where about thirty kids were playing soccer. I stopped to watch and was immediately mobbed, each one wanting at least one chance to shake my hand for some reason. They kept saying something every time they did, and all I can guess is that they were making fun of me.
- How awkward can a date be when neither of you speak the same language?
- Bouncing along to Kriss Kross in a weird Chinese bar while a competing live Chinese "polka" act (band would be misleading) plays in the same room.
- Cool tiny three-wheeled neon green cars in Zongdian.
- While I was doing a couple day hike in an enormous gorge, we came across this little old woman. She thought we were the funniest thing she had seen and would not stop laughing, showing off her smile wrinkles and the two or three teeth she had left. A bit later she caught up to me again on the path and motioned for me to take her photo. When I did she stared straight into the camera and looked like she was going to kick my ass.
- Q: How do you find the path on a mountain in China? A: Follow the trash.
- I ventured to a local market in Lijiang. I found the "meat section" and watched them slaughtering and cleaning various animals as they were purchased from their cages. There was one really small cage with four scared scrawny dogs in it. They were still there at closing time.
- While at this market I was staring at some black ducks in a cage, a man standing next to me lifted up a rooster and slit it's throat. In it's death throes the rooster splattered blood (and chunks) across my face. The man didn't seem to notice.

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MP3:

Does anyone know who sings this cover?
[updated] Apparently this was performed by Michael Idov live in front of a small crowd that included Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson. Anderson had this to say: "That was the most depressing song I've ever heard."

• Michael Idov - I Kill Everything I Fuck

A place in myspace.

4.19.2007

YOU THINK YOU'RE TOUGH, BUT THEN YOU LEAVE YOUR HOUSE











(more photos here)

Beijing is pretty awesome. And even though it seems like everyone I run into is trying to get me to hand over money in some way or another, I have found most people to be really nice and friendly. Even if it's just how they smile at me as they step on my toes, and then hock up a big one and shoot it just past my leg. It's all part of the package. As is this little run down catching up from the last post:

- Sometimes the tourists are more interesting/entertaining than the attraction.
- Eavesdropping on a conversation about Chinese philosophy (If bad things happen to good people, can there be a god?).
- Selling random stuff in the pedestrian underpasses, including newborn kittens and puppies.
- Getting lost every night in the murky depths of another hutong (old neighborhood).
- Meeting a really friendly group of people on the street one night in a hutong, spend the night discussing history and politics as they all practice their English.
- Having a "Brazil flashback."
- The Chinese definitely have a problem with spitting. It seems almost like something you're supposed to do with finesse, like smoking a cigarette. The part I like is that sometimes you'll be walking down the street and suddenly hear someone loudly choking to death, only to turn out to be an old woman getting ready to hock a loogie.
- The pollution in every city I've been to is horrible. You can see it at night in the street lights and headlights. During the day it can sometimes be a foggy hazy day, even though there aren't really any clouds.
- I keep seeing Jay-Z's face in my mind, mainly because two common phrases in Chinese, "this one" and "that one" are pronounced "jigga" and "nigga."
- Getting chased away from construction sites for the new Olympic stadiums for taking a photo.
- Spending a while watching people take photos of their kids and friends in a park where all the trees were blooming.
- When they play Dylan in the cafe it's soothing. When they play the Shins I get homesick (and I don't even really like the Shins).
- There are little balls of puff in the air all the time. Kind of like a dandelion meets a dust bunny, they are everywhere. On the highway the other day it looked like it was snowing. However they also tend to blow into your food.
- I had a driver one day who wanted me to pay for tolls on top of the pre-negotiated fare. When I refused he found a way to beat it anyway, tailgate a bus at the toll booth and just roll on through behind it.
- Passing a crashed van with the driver being physically held upright just outside it. He was being supported because he was too wasted to stand. This was at two in the afternoon.
- Watching a dubbed version of House of Flying Daggers with the English subtitles also turned on. The dubbing was really good, the subtitles were plain awful, like a fourth grader wrote them.
- Spending a day getting totally lost out in the middle of nowhere looking for a town near the Great Wall.
- The Chinese seem to have a lot of hometown pride. So when they ask about the "Ohio" in my tattoo and I tell them it's where I was born, they're into it.
- Getting taken out for a fancy dinner by two Fulbright scholars.
- Watching as a teenager nonchalantly walks to the corner of an alley, pulls out a folding bed from behind some trash cans, opens it up, and goes to sleep.
- All the stray cats seem to look the same (longish white hair), so every time I see one it seems like it's the same one following me.
- Watching road crew workers digging a hole in the street at night, in total darkness. I could barely tell how many of them were in the hole.
- The diagram on the subway doors in Beijing for "Keep your parts clear of the doors" is a hand pointing a finger with falling blood drops.
- The Chinese also seem to be very into conserving energy, they are really good at turning off any lights not totally necessary (see construction worker example above), but I've found that this also leads to a lot of really really dark tunnels at night.
- I have seen a fair number of disfigured/amputee beggars in the subway, the thing is ALL of them have backpacks with amplified speakers and mics. They seem to do a combo of begging and singing, although the line between to the two can be a bit blurry.
- I had a strange altercation one night. I was wandering in a hutong taking photos, and at one intersection I came upon a young guy selling various meat/shellfish on a stick. I stopped to have some at the aggressive behest of one of this guy's (drunk) friends. Everything was fine, and then an older guy came over and started yelling at me and poking me. I told him I didn't understand Chinese. So he started grabbing at pockets on my jacket and at my backpack. He would point, grab, and yell. So after grabbing at one pocket, I took out the Chinese-English dictionary that was in it and offered it to him. He pushed it away and yelled some more. The other people around were laughing, but seemed a bit nervous too. So then he reached into his jacket, as if he had a gun, shouted and made quick movements toward me. Then he pulled out his hand in the shape of a gun and pretended to shoot me, all the while yelling (of course). People didn't seem to find this as funny. Then he reached back into his waistband and pretended to pull out another gun and shoot me with his finger again. I was kind of sick of this guy at this point, so I pretended to reach into my waistband, pulled a notebook out of my back pocket, flicked it open and read out "I don't understand Chinese" loudly at him. This got people laughing again, although angry dude was clearly pissed. I just ignored his yelling and focused on the meat sticks and eventually he went away.

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MP3:

Duh.

• Peter And The Wolf - Safe Travels

A band's place in myspace.

4.16.2007

WELCOME TO SHANGHAI SCAMTOWN














(more photos here)

Internet has been a bit tricky to find so far in China, especially if you are looking for anything more than a 6 year old PC with a line queued up behind it. I am now in Beijing recovering from a bit of exhaustion-induced illness (I think), and trying to get a second/third/fourth wind to hit the streets again. Beijing has been my favorite city by far, but I have barely had much of a chance to wander much. Yesterday was pretty great, I went with my sister and a handful of backpackers to hike on section of the Great Wall. The part that made it really something was that there was no one else around, we didn't see another human being outside of our group all day. Granted we had to climb up the side of a small mountain to get there, and the Wall was somewhat treacherous in parts due to the state of decay, but damn it was interesting. Anyway, there has been a bit too much to get into detail, so I'll just do another highlight list like I did for Japan.

- The overwhelming response to most food and drink I've tried has been "It's not good, it's not bad, it's just weird."
- Apparently I REALLY look like a guy who needs a Rolex, or a Gucci/Prada/DolceGabana bag. Yes, it is all three together in one bag, I confirmed it.
- Old homes turning to piles of rubble next to huge high rise condos.
- Whenever I pull out my camera and tripod for a night shot, a little crowd gathers around to watch and take turns looking through the viewfinder. Including one time when a mentally handicapped man was getting the biggest kick out of trying to get me to take a photo of this cheerful garbage man, who eventually rode away on a bicycle piled 10 feet high with garbage bags, stacked cardboard, and other flotsam.
- At one point when I was hopelessly lost in south Shanghai I stumbled into a back alley noodle shop to get some food. I sat down at an empty seat and the Chinese man across from me (who was chowing down on a huge pile of tiny snails) proceeded to talk to me in French off and on for the next hour. Unfortunately I don't understand French, but he seemed very friendly.
- One homeless lady asking for money followed me for over three blocks, with one arm extended across the front of me and the other tugging on my shirt. She kept making the motion for food and pointing to her cup, so when we finally came across a restaurant that was open (this was late at night) I motioned for her to wait and went in to buy her some food. When I came back out she was chatting with some guys and barely looked at the bag of food when I handed it to her.
- I got shanghaied into the tea house scam. In Shanghai. Don't trust anyone.
- On the weird food tip, I bought an ice cream bar that looked pretty normal on the wrapper. However it turned out to be some sort of weird butter-flavored ice cream covered in a flavorless chocolate-ish wax with shelled sunflower seeds on it.
- And it seems popular to have toddlers run around in crotchless pants.
- They have some lovely parks all over the cities. Just don't stray from the concrete path or touch the grass, whatever you do.
- One of the main tourist attractions in Shanghai is a walled in garden that used to be off-limits to dogs and Chinese back during colonial rule. I tried to visit on my first day but couldn't find it. Turned out this was because there are so many shops built up around it for tourists now that you have to battle through literal fortress of commerce to get to it.
- Almost got run over by a random police escort line near the big bubble tower in Shanghai. Then watched as a bunch of midwestern looking caucasians piled out of the escorted cars into a hotel.
- They have it set up in the Shanghai subway that a breeze blows through the train car in conjunction with it's speed and movement. I looked for open windows and didn't see any. It's a very solid and consistent breeze down the middle of the car, maybe vents on the top I suppose. It's nice because you don't feel as detached from your movement/momentum.
- Advertising annoyance to a new level: the big river in Shanghai is where you go to view the skyline of modern buildings across the water, probably the biggest tourist destination in the city. So they have a large boat with an enormous video billboard that very slowly floats along the wall with all the tourists while showing ads. the main problem is that this billboard is so big it blocks out a good portion of the view, and goes so slow that you'd have to wait almost 10 minutes for it to pass. Brilliant.
- Sneaky shoeshine guys who try to polish my sneakers while I'm getting directions.
- The most overwhelming thing about China is how rude everyone is, but it is not considered rude here. What I am saying is that what is standard behavior here would be considered pretty offensive to even a NYer. The other thing that boggles me a bit is how calm everyone seems to be while being stepped on, bumped into, hit by a bicycle, whatever. I have not seen anyone give barely a dirty look even when they were cut off and almost run into a tree. You may think NYers are good at letting things roll off their back, the Chinese have made it an art form.

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MP3:

Bands I liked at SXSW: part 3.

• Panthers - Uncertainly

A band's place in myspace.

4.12.2007

THERE'S NOTHING PUNK ABOUT BEING AN ASSHOLE











(photos from Slaughterama 4 in Richmond, VA)

Finally got the photos from Slaughterama 4 up, here.

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MP3:

Bands I liked at SXSW: part 2.

• Shout Out Out Out Out - Dude You Feel Electrical

A band's place in myspace.

4.08.2007

RUDE IS A RELATIVE DISTINCTION


(he pedals when you bend your elbow)

I have left Brooklyn, and am in China. Unfortunately I lost the power cable for my laptop, so the update on Slaughterama 4 will have to wait. I had a nice send-off in Brooklyn, going to watch Zipco and crew play with tazers and bungee cords + lifejacket + air mattress at some art opening. After that I went by East River Bar to see friendly faces at a Goddamn Rattlesnake show. And then I sat on an airplane for 14 hours. Now I'm struggling to pick up some Mandarin and learning the joys of street meat. More detailed updates when I can find a power cord (hopefully).

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MP3:

Bands I liked at SXSW: part 1.

• Fucked Up - Baiting The Public

Fuck myspace.

4.03.2007

SHE LIKES 'EM DUMB




(Amanda Noa performing at Glasslands in Brooklyn; The Goddamn Rattlesnake wields his bass-weapon once again; Matt of Matt & Kim gives guitar-playing and crowd surfing another go for old times' sake, back then they called him Wes)

Once upon a time there was an art school called Pratt Institute, and there was a band that formed at this art school. The band was called Amanda Noa, named after some girl (who I believe didn't really go for the name). They played house/loft shows attended mostly by their friends and fellow students, and these shows became legendary among their following. Their ability to play their instruments may have been questionable, but their ability to rock was a force to be reckoned with. The grossest, most broken glass, most blood, and most injuries at any show that I have personally attended would probably be at an Amanda Noa show... all in the same show actually (by the way, when a bunch of people sweat a ton in a closed space, with a cooler metal ceiling, the sweat will condense on the ceiling and eventually rain back down on the audience. Trust me). Eventually Amanda Noa stopped playing (I think soon after the infamous "Sword show") and the members went on to other bands, Matt & Kim and The Goddamn Rattlesnake for example. However three years after their last show, they reunited from various states around the country for one last hurrah. Cause you know, they never did get around to doing any Creedence covers back then.

More photos here.

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MP3:

See above text.

• Amanda Noa - Track 01

• Amanda Noa - Track 03

A band's place in myspace.