Sunday, March 04, 2007

Day One in the Big City

But first, a brief update from Liaoyang:

Today is Shang Yuan, or the Lantern Festival, which marks the end of the the Spring Festival celebrations, and commemorates some time 2000 years ago during the Han Dynasty when a bunch of villagers tricked an angry god (the Jade Emperor) out of smiting them by lighting lanterns all about their village, thus convincing him that their town was already smoten and ablaze.

For the record their crime was to kill his favourite goose.

Anyway, on this day, according to tradition, everybody hangs red lanterns, there's fireworks (of course) and people eat various festival treats. I would be doing all of this, except that today, on the cusp of spring, Liaoyang decided to treat me to the biggest dump of snow I've seen since I've been here. I had the pleasure of trudging through it this morning to buy a text book for one of my classes.

Alright - back to Beijing.

After our disappointment at the hands of James Bond, we swung by this wonderfully named establishment:


which was, alas, overpriced in one aspect, and completely lacking in the other.

In the morning I headed out to a little cafe/bar called Lush, in Wudaokou (the Wu), the area where I was staying. Now this may be hard to understand for anybody that's never left the comfort of their homeland and lived in a north eastern Chinese town for a decent stretch, but walking into a western style cafe, looking around and seeing more foreigners than you've seen in the last 5 months combined, all in the same place, drinking coffee and eating eggs and bagels and bacon (BACON!) for breakfast is kind of an overwhelming experience. After checking to make sure that it was real, I grabbed a seat at a table, ordered the biggest fry-up they had on the menu, and settled in to generally be astounded. Just when I thought the culture shock was going to kill me, a song by Trinity Roots came on the stereo. So I'm sitting in a room in the middle of China, where there are virtually no Chinese people at all, eating sausages and hashbrowns, and listening to New Zealand Reggae. It was pretty surreal.

After that mind fracturing experience, I kind of pottered around all day, got started on what was to become a serious addiction to the TV series Arrested Development, and then headed out in the evening to a club called D22. Now, in a few years hence, when the Beijing Rock n' Roll scene has exploded and conquered every corner of the world, this will be the humble place where pilgrims will travel to gaze upon the origins of it all. In hushed tones it shall be whispered "I was there man" (even though the records will prove that there were in fact only 15 people there that night and none of them were this guy). This was pretty much the speech we got from the owner anyway (I may be exaggerating slightly for effect, see yesterday's disclaimer) who assured us that the moment of ascendancy was, at the outside, mere months away. In fact, that very night, a lazy Wednesday where they were showing A Praire Home Companion to about half a dozen bored punters, I was informed that no lesser icons than the best singer/songwriter in China, and the best drummer in China (arrived only that day from New York) were in residence and were going to be having a jam later on. But first we got to experience a Flamenco band from Yunnan (China's most south western province) where, by one of those weird cultural accidents, spanish guitar is hugely popular.


The most interesting part of the evening for me (aside from the owner's amusing, and possibly true, anecdotes about owning a bar in New York in the early 80's and seeing such greats as Sonic Youth and Bad Brains 'before they were big you know?') was becoming reacquainted with one of my favourite forms of visual artistic expression: Bathroom graffiti. And, of course, here's some of the highlights:




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