World Cup Fever

Everybody is gripped by World Cup Fever, in China and all over the world, except for large swathes of the United States. Perhaps this is one reason why the US was so unceromoniously slaughtered on Monday night by the Czech Republic. I was watching the game in a loud American-style bar while my wife stayed home. Both of us had worked late and had differing ideas on how to unwind after uncharacteristically long days: she wanted peace and quiet, and I wanted a drink. It was a very exciting evening, although disappointing from the fifth minute when that enormous Czech dude scored a header on us without even jumping. Overall, the game was a complete embarrassment for the USA.

The end of the evening provided more excitement: the bar is located on the 3rd floor and the front door is actually an elevator to the street. Well, it stopped between floors and me and about 10 of my friends were stuck inside it. Only for a minute, though. Turley and I managed to pry the doors open and everybody escaped out to the first floor. No harm done. Probably take the stairs next time, though.

Good gigs lately

Rindy playing guitar

The band has been doing well lately, and had a blowout show at the Live Bar last weekend. Before that, we had a couple of great gigs at Tang Hui, made even better by Eli and Sandro being in town to help us out. Now things will be slow for a while, as Carl is leaving tomorrow, and Nate is going next week. Both won’t be back until August or so. For more pictures and artwork, check out www.organeyes.org, the website of our artist friend Nathan Hall.

UPDATE July 2012: Nathan’s website is no longer active, and light Googling turns up nothing for him 🙁

Photos of Early Reform Period

1979 Summer Palace, Beijing
When the ban on public dancing was lifted, dancing to rock ‘n roll music was still remote. The spectators stood far apart, and injected occasional criticisms. (1979 Summar Palace, Beijing). Photo from EastSouthWestNorth.

After the Cultural Revolution ended with the death of Mao in 1976, and Deng Xiaoping took over the country and decided that economic reform was the way forward, tremendous changes took place in China. A Chinese blogger who goes by ESWN (EastSouthWestNorth) has discovered about 20 fabulous pictures from the 70s and 80s that are definitely worth checking out. This was a time when bans were being lifted on foreign products, as well as on dancing and games; foreign art was making its way into China, and the people were allowed small avenues of expression such as the Democracy Wall. Have a look at these pictures. I found them through a post on Shanghaiist, a great city blog.

Beijing for the Weekend

Hats off to Mao
Hats off to Mao

We took the train to Beijing Friday night after work, a 12-hour overnight ride that was quite pleasant. We got in around 7:30 and met Eli for brunch at a great Western spot (French toast and eggs all around) and then headed to the hotel to check in. Eli had reserved us a room right across the street from his house at Bei Shi Da (Beijing Normal University) which was large, comfortable and affordable. After getting settled, Eli’s roommate Kro drove us all to his pizzaria, where we enjoyed a fine slice of pie and a pint. Kro, whose real name is Ulaf Kristoff, also has a very large German shepherd named Bakka.

The pizza polished off, we left Kro to tend to his business and headed off to Bei Hai, the North Lake, which is a nice public park. There we saw some nice ladies singing opera and dancing around for fun, and also an old man painting calligraphy with water on the pavement.

The park got boring after 20 minutes so we left and went to Nan Luo Gu Xiang, a hutong (old alley) that has a lot of little cafés where we could sit down, drink coffee, and pass out for a little while.

At this point our old friend Jeff Crosby turned up. Jeff was Eli’s roommate in Kunming, which is where we first him when we moved to that city in early 2003. Jeff is a scholar of the Chinese language and has worked as a translator and interpreter since we’ve known him; he now is a project manager for a tea company and recently led a troupe of minority performers back to the US where they performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and other places. We had a round of White Russians to celebrate our reunion (and the fact that we would be bowling later – a little hat tip to the Big Lebowski).

From the café, we all went to dinner on Gui Jie (Ghost St.), which is full of restaurants, and chose a place specializing in suan tang yu (sour soup fish) which is served in a boiling pot of sour broth. This type of meal is typical in China, where diners can dump in raw meat and vegetables to be cooked in the communal broth, and later picked out with chopsticks and spoons and dunked into personal bowls of sauce. But unfortunately, it is a cuisine in which Shanghai comes up short, and so it was a great treat for she and I to once again enjoy a meal of its character and calibre.

Joining us at dinner were Da Hai and Dave, another old buddy from Kunming, who happened to be in town for two days interviewing for a job. Dave works for a foundation currently and is looking for a similar job with a better salary (which means leaving Kunming).

Next it was time for Baijiu Bowling. It’s just like regular bowling, except those rolling gutterballs have to do a shot of China’s infamous “white liquor”, and those who roll strikes can force others to drink. Guaranteed good times.

When the game was through, and we were all getting pretty buzzed, we split up: She left with Da Hai and another photographer friend they had brought along, to sing karaoke. The rest of us went out to a bar called the Hidden Tree. Except Dave, who wisely went to bed to prepare for his interview (he still woke up smelling like baijiu, never really a good idea when going job-hunting but more power to him!)

Kro and Annie, another friend on the scene, had joined us for the bowling and now we all piled into Kro’s jeep and went out for some real drinking. We hit two bars and ordered a pizza somewhere, which was funny because Eli was outside talking on his cell phone (typical) when the pizza arrived and we ate it all before he came back and then told him that it hadn’t arrived yet. He was asking a waitress where the pizza was and she was like, “I just brought it over here” and we all started laughing. To see how Eli felt about it, view this picture. Later on, we were trying to cheer him up, but it wasn’t really working.

The next day we visited Tiananmen Square for some classic pictures with the Mao portrait, which is, by the way, one of the worst pictures they could have chosen to display. Mao has bags under his eyes and looks like he hasn’t slept for days. It is a fitting picture of a man who for most of his rule was paranoid about people usurping his power.

The weekend was over as quickly as it had begun. It was a whirlwind, but well worth the journey.

Football!

Football!

Last weekend we went out and played football at Century Park, and it was just like the old days back on the schoolyard. Going long, running buttonhook patterns (you still think that will fake people out), listening in on the other team’s huddle (“I can go as far as the ball!”), one blitz per four downs, end zones that go on for infinity… as Cartman might say, “So sweet…”

Another game planned for next weekend. View more pictures here.

Green Card Square One

The Line

Above you can see the reason that it takes so long to get a green card or a visa to America. This is the line of people waiting to apply for one or the other outside the US Consulate in Shanghai this morning. This line is there every morning. The people just keep on coming.

As an American citizen, I do not have to wait on this line. And my wife is guaranteed eventual success in her bid for a US green card, unlike the majority of the people pictured above. However, because so many other people are married to Americans and waiting for green cards, there is a bureaucratic backup of approximately one year. Attention loved ones: this is a major reason I do not know when I will be returning to America. Please, for the love of God, stop asking me.

This morning I successfully filed the Petition on Behalf of an Alien Relative for Permanent Immigration to the US. The cost was $190 and many a red-tape hurdle. In fact, I should have filed it yesterday, but when I showed up to do so, I was presented with a brand new list of required documents, about half of which I did not have. So I had to come back today. And even though every document I’ve seen for the last year in my research, including the one handed to me yesterday, has said that the fee was $185, when I showed up today I was told that the fee had been raised. When I asked them if it had changed overnight, they said it had changed months ago. Why, then, was I given incorrect information just yesterday? “Oh, ” said the clerk, in a tone that suggested I should know better, “they never update those forms in Beijing.” It seems the Chinese method of bureaucracy is rubbing off on the American embassy. “Besides,” she continued, “it’s only five dollars.” I wanted to smack her.

We have a theory, one which is shared by many other applicants, that the US government purposefully makes it as difficult as possible to obtain a visa so that many people will be put off by the whole thing and just give up. By making would-be immigrants jump through hurdle after hurdle of red tape, getting these documents, filing these forms, paying those fees, they will weed out thousands of people who just aren’t persistent enough to keep up, and thereby lighten their own load of paperwork. It makes sense. But it doesn’t really work. In China, there is no possible way the US government could design a course strenuous enough to put people off. Not a people who have seen 50 years of mind-numbingly ridiculous bureaucracy become the standard form of government. And it clearly doesn’t work in Latin America, either.

One other funny note about today was the amount of chops the Consulate used on all my forms. I swear, with the amount of stamping, inking, sealing and signing that was going on, I thought I had accidentally ended up at the Ministry of Adoption.

Satisfaction!

The Stones in Shanghai
The Stones in Shanghai

The Stones concert Saturday night was totally awesome, just the absolute standard for what a rock and roll show is supposed to be. They came out with “Start Me Up” and went through dozens of classics, including “Can’t Always Get What You Want”, “Happy”, “Gimme Shelter” and so many others I’ve forgotten. They also threw in a few of their new songs, but usually kept those to the universally popular, like “Love is Strong”. They did “Wild Horses” with Cui Jian, the Godfather of Chinese Rock, who was on the first cover of Chinese Rolling Stone. And they did two encores, the first of which I forgot, and the second of which was “Satisfaction”. We had about 20 friends at the show, we were all sitting together and we rented a bus to take us to and from the concert! That bus turned out to be a great call, because after the show, most people were fighting for cabs in the rain, while we continued the party on the tour bus! Above photo by Charlie Xia.

The Blues are Back

My group, the Georgia Sam Blues Band, was back swinging it Wednesday night at a new club called Shuffle. It was the first time we had played since New Year’s Eve, and featured some new players. The core group remains Knut on drums, Nate on bass, and myself on guitar and singing. Eli used to be our lead guitarist but he moved to Beijing a few months ago, leaving us without a go-to guy during the solo spots. That post was filled by Giles, a keyboard man who can play like Stevie Wonder – he’s amazing. Unfortunately for us, he’s moving back to England next week. He joined us for the Shuffle jam and brought his friend Tony, who is a blazing guitarist. Since Tony will be sticking around indefinitely, we’re trying to recruit him to the cause.

Shuffle is a relatively new and undiscovered territory, down the street from the former Tang Hui pub, where Georgia Sam used to hold court every Wednesday night until it closed in November. The bar is big yet intimate, comfortable and low-key, and they have fantastic musical equipment and acoustics. But nobody knows about it. Last Saturday Nate and Knut were checking the place out and they said that, despite having a live band playing, there were barely five people in the bar. Hence the reason they agreed to give us a gig without even hearing us play. We got a few of our friends to come down and support us, and we all had a fun time rocking and dancing around all night. The manager asked us to come back every Wednesday. Could be a good time.