These first few months, I diligently listened to Pimsleur Chinese lessons and was amazed at the abilities of Liz and Karl, who were quite fluent after a few years in China. The idea of spending two years or more in an exotic bustling city without making an honest effort at the language irked me, so I supplemented my learning with occasional lessons with Shu Lang, the piano tuner Lloyd had introduced me to. She had me copy basic characters like 爱，我，你，音乐 into the little brown notebooks used by schoolchildren here. I reciprocated with English lessons, and had great hopes for her! Alas, her English has not improved significantly. She showed me a photo of her as a young girl, posing in front of her hutong home on a snowy day in the late ‘80s. The home has since been destroyed, the memory of which fuels her rebellious posture towards the system here. She is a great lover of animals and a positive light, and if I took nothing else away from this experience in China, her friendship alone will have made it worthwhile.
On National Day a group of us went to Badachu to check out some Buddhist temples. The air was thick with incense, and this was my first glimpse of Chinese immersing themselves in a spiritual mindset. By the time we made our way to the top of the mountain a cold rain had started and slowly grown heavier. We decided to cut the trip short and amazingly, little Calliope complained the least.
On a sunny day in November I made my way to the Summer Palace, set on a hill by the picturesque Kunming lake in the northwest of the city, affording my first good view of the layout of the city. The site was littered with informative plaques mentioning the infamy of the Eight-Nation Alliance attack on the site, though no mention was made of the Boxer rebellion that provoked it.
I should talk about our setlists during this time. A typical setlist at Bookworm consisted of a couple of Amy Winehouse songs, “Valerie” and “I’m No Good,” Kylie Minogue’s “Cant’ Get You Outta My Head,” Nancy Sinatra’s “Boots Were Made For Walking,” The Beatles’ “Across the Universe” and “From Me To You,” a couple of country songs like “Vaya Con Dios” and “Tennessee Waltz.” I talked Lulu into adding songs like Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors,” and then I’d do some solo numbers like Pixies’ “Wave of Mutilation” and Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.” I hadn’t been doing anything like this in New York, so it was pretty fun and definitely helped me get my bearings in the key nightlife hotspots of Beijing. When we added Jasmine we created some really tight harmonies on Mama’s and Papa’s “California Dreaming” and the Eagles’ “Desperado.” Kirk joined us at BeerMania.
Halloween murder mystery at Matt & Kaci’s was huge fun, as well as a Halloween-day-2 visit to the DRC with Jason Hagberg and Julie Makinen.
Epic birthdays this first month included Alejandra’s and Amelie’s.
After getting settled down at BNDS and starting to compile contacts from my amazing colleagues, it occurred to me that I could have a bit of a social life outside the job. I had already met up with Susan, who Josh had put me in contact with, and I suddenly remembered that Christophe had passed on the contact info for his cousin Imre. I promptly called him up and before long, it was evident that we could offer each other something: he had a wine bar that needed some live entertainment, and I was a musician looking for a venue.
Not even a month in a new country and already headlining a swanky wine bar – not bad! BNDS friends came to show their support and a good time was had by all. I even have the original set list around here somewhere.
Little did I know that a chance meeting from the night before would lead to a more enduring musical project. I went to the Bookworm to check out an act that had been described in the Beijinger as a “burlesque performer,” but when I got there, a Chinese girl was singing covers with a guitarist friend as accompaniment. She had the gift of gab between numbers, and when the set was done, she came over to my table to say hi and ask if I was enjoying myself. She introduced herself as Lulu, and when she heard that I was performing the next night in a wine bar on Nanluoguxiang, she suggested a collaboration. She was not happy to hear that I was getting paid in wine! “C’mon Rob, you’re just going to make it harder for the musicians who have to make a living doing this.” We had a couple of rehearsals at her place near Dongzhimen, and a couple of gigs at Parlor in early October. Early November we played Beermania, then Pandabrew with Gabriel and ET.
Soon after arriving in Beijing, this blog went by the wayside. Time to resurrect it! Above, Eric, Sharkey, and Gar with me on the Great Wall, and Lloyd ready for me to serve him some roast lamb off the spit. These were both April 2016. I am now in Gimpo airport, waiting for my connecting flight back to Beijing, after having visited with family the last two weeks in NJ and experienced the horror of the US under Buzz Windrip. My Chinese reading is making very good progress; I’m learning very useful phrases like “commutation of a prison sentence.”
I followed Karl to his Tuesday night Go club. This game confounds me. But I think I didn’t get beaten too badly. Says Wikipedia, “the number of possible games is vast (10761 compared, for example, to the 10120 possible in chess).” I think that is pretty interesting.
Spent some time in the Sculpture Park last Saturday. I was reading “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell. If he’s trying to get me to change the way I make decisions, he needs to try harder. I’m going to stick to crazy. I dig how the trees in the background of the left photo seem to be aping the figures.
When I walked by the Forbidden City, Pavement was playing in my headphones, “I’m the only one who laughs at your jokes when they are so bad, And your jokes are always bad.” I wouldn’t be surprised if every Pavement song, in its own warped way, could explain some oddity about this world we live in.
Busy day! Met my friend Susan for Brunch at the Rug, just across the road from Chaoyang Park south gate. I asked if they did Bloody Marys, but the waiter said they discontinued them after numerous complaints. Apparently people cannot deal with fresh tomatoes in their brunch cocktails. Then headed over to Matt and Kaci’s place for our first rehearsal. We harmonize pretty well! “More Than Words,” “Angel from Montgomery,” and “Nowhere Man” all sound solid. “Timshel” by Mumford and Sons needs some work. I went to the Silk Market to pick up my shirts and ran into Claire; she invited me to tag along for steak dinner in celebration of Gar’s birthday. The restaurant sign reads “Probably the Best Steak in Beijing” and they’re probably right. We then went for drinks and I pulled out the guitar for some Clancy Brothers songs.
Sponge Bob Square Pants Cappuccino.
Brunch with Susan Kwang at the Rug East – yummy omelet with Bolognese sauce.
AUGUST 21 – When my Aeroflot flight neared Beijing, I looked out the window to see mountains unlike any I’d seen before, not terribly large, but completely covered by plant life, almost vertical in many places, misty clouds nestled between them. A Chinese teacher by the name of Tiger picked me up at the airport and took me back to my apartment in Haidian district. It’s a pretty comfy 2-bedroom, lightly furnished, on the first floor of a massive housing complex. I had just been traveling through the Balkans and so was ready for any sort of craziness, but Beijing takes some getting used to. Crossing the Yuquan Rd. felt like sprinting across a football field for dear life. The good thing about the traffic here is that while a car can come from any direction at any time, they don’t drive terribly fast, so you have time to run for safety. My first night here I headed out for dinner on my own with no idea where to go, and not another westerner in sight. I picked a place on Beitaiping Rd. and the waitress was simultaneously amused and flustered at the language barrier. I knew how to order a beer, and to explain that I don’t speak Mandarin, but when you say that, they just keep on speaking Mandarin to you. The manager came over with a translator app, and that helped a bit. When I pointed at various dishes, asking if they were any good, they took it to mean I was ordering it all, and I got a rather large dinner. No problem, they wrapped the rest and it was good leftovers for a few days.
AUGUST 22 – I left my flat and ran into some other expat teachers on the way to take care of our residency visas, new bank accounts, and SIM cards. We made fast friends. Li Ang is our Chinese liaison, and has done a great job shepherding us through the bureaucratic weirdness. Matt, an English teacher, has been living here for a few months with his wife over in Chaoyang, and they took us to a place in their neighborhood for dinner and drinks. Eric, Alejandra and I checked out their place afterwards. Matt makes a very drinkable gin and tonic. They have a one-eyed dog.
798 Art District with Hank, Doug, and John.
Lunch after the silk market. View from the dining room.