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.”