Back to Beijing

Forbidden Sunset
Forbidden Sunset

We were up in Beijing for the Labor Day holiday, and it was six days of relaxation and partying. Xianyi and I finally visited the Forbidden City together, although we failed (again) to find our way to the Great Wall. We were just too busy sleeping in each day to bother making the 2-3 hour trip. Anyway, the wall’s not going anywhere. And one of the cool things about Beijing is that you don’t have to go far to see really cool traditional Chinese architecture. The above picture, for example, was taken during our last hour in the city, when I asked the taxi driver to pull over for a minute as we drove to the train station.

midi
MIDI Festival

The highlight of the trip was the MIDI Festival, China’s only outdoor rock festival. We spent one of our days at the four-day show and had a great time. Probably should have gone on other days, too, but it just didn’t work out. While there, we saw a lot of bands, none of whom I was familiar with. But I wasn’t really there for the music, more for the atmosphere. Here you have ten to twenty thousand young Chinese gathering in Beijing’s Haidian Park just hanging out, listening to music, drinking beer and selling wares. Lots of food stalls, people selling t-shirts and handmade goods, and plenty of cheap, cold beer. It was awesome!

Some Band
Here was one of the bands I saw, no idea who they are.
Some Punks
Some punks in the crowd.

Mostly I spent the hours skating on the mini-ramp that Eli’s company had set up on the grounds. I fell down about 20 times but it was great to watch some of the guys there who really knew what was up, like this Swedish dude:

Skating at MIDI

I was having so much fun skating, I pretty much missed all the bands. But we could hear lots of music, so that was all that mattered.

Dropping In

Here I am looking like maybe I know what I’m doing. To see what actually happened, click here. It’s pretty funny.

Positive Vibration

Ziggy Marley
Ziggy Marley

About a month ago I saw Ziggy Marley at the Yunfeng Theatre here in Shanghai. I love reggae music – used to be part of a reggae band, and I still write reggae songs for my blues band – but I didn’t catch a ticket for Ziggy for two reasons. First, because I didn’t want to spend the money. Second, because in the back of my mind I was thinking maybe it wouldn’t be – what’s the word here – genuine?

There is a line of thinking that says Bob Marley was the best thing and the worst thing that ever happened to reggae. The best, obviously, because he put reggae on the map and became an international superstar. But also the worst, because he was so celebrated and triumphant, and in his untimely death became a lionized legend – and the thinking goes, no one will ever be as great as Marley again. Meaning reggae is doomed.

Some say it has played out that way. The eighties were tough times for reggae. Despite the success of Black Uhuru, with famous rhythm section Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare (who played with many, many reggae groups), fewer and fewer people seemed to pay attention after Marley’s death. As the eighties became the nineties, and especially as we moved into the 21st century, reggae has been making a comeback on the strength of artists like Toots Maytal, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Burning Spear and Eek-a-Mouse.

Bob’s oldest son with his wife Rita, Ziggy Marley first gained popularity as the leader of the Melody Makers, a band he formed with his siblings. That got old pretty quickly, however, and for the last few years he has been establishing himself as a solo artist. He came into Shanghai with a ten-piece band (including a Chinese-looking guitarist, who I’m not sure is a full-time member, two backing vocalists and himself), fresh off his success at the Grammys, where his recent album, Love is My Religion, took the award for best reggae album.

Ziggy played lots of songs from the album, including the title track, which I found particularly uplifting. “I don’t condemn, I don’t convert.” Also beautiful and inspiring was “A Lifetime,” as in “A lifetime isn’t enough to love you, a lifetime isn’t enough to live.”

During the show I took a break and caught up with some friends. In a circle of conversation there was a German guy I’d never met who agreed with me that the concert was going well, but complained that Ziggy was “just playing his dad’s stuff.” My first reaction was that Ziggy was splitting it 50/50 between his own and his father’s songs – and that was fine with me! They opened with a great Ziggy tune – I don’t know the name – which talked about the “children of Palestine” and right after that launched into a killer “Positive Vibration” that really blew the crowd up.

Thinking about the German’s comments, I realized that had been my fear coming into this whole thing – that Ziggy’s music wouldn’t be genuine. That somehow it wouldn’t be a good concert. I suppose I had the image of the Melody Makers in my head. I was totally wrong. Ziggy brought some of Jamaica’s finest musicians to China to show us what Roots, Rock, Reggae is all about. As for critics’ complaints that Ziggy plays Bob’s stuff, my retort is: who else is more qualified to play it? And don’t the people still yearn for it? You bet we do.

There were times when I doubted myself in this conviction. Ziggy’s lead guitarist played most of the show wearing a menacing screw face. He seemed to be thinking, I can’t believe I’m playing “Jammin” for a bunch of white kids AGAIN. But you know what? He doesn’t have to play in Ziggy’s band, does he? As a great man once said, Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride. And there was a special moment in the middle of a forbidden riddim when this same dude broke it down and started toasting over the beats – to the crowd’s roar.

And when they did the epic “War–>No More Trouble” medley that epitomizes the struggle for justice in all the world, I was a full-blown Rastafarian shouting out the words of Haile Selassie himself as Bob had arranged them.

It was a night the GRP should have celebrated together. Props are due to Dave Hoya for calling me up and saying, “I’m in line to buy tickets to Ziggy Marley and I’m getting one for you.” It was a lesson I won’t forget.

A relaxing week

The New Year's Feast
The New Year’s Feast

All week, we’ve been doing little besides eating, sleeping and reading. I finshed one book and started another. Xianyi has been in a blissful mood for days as she constantly feeds on her mother’s cooking. And this little computer and wireless internet are keeping me from getting too bored in between meals and naps.

One of this year’s blessings has been the weather: Chengdu is pleasantly warm and dry. The first year we visited Xianyi’s parents for Chun Jie (2004) was a cold, wet nightmare. It rained every day. The cold was biting, especially since they don’t have any heat except for an electric blanket. In fact, the following year, they bought a space heater just for me because it was obvious how miserably cold I was the first year. And I used it all the time, though it didn’t help much. But this year, it’s been great.

Despite the warmth, however, Xianyi’s mom still implores me to “Chuan yifu!” (put more clothes on) every chance she gets. And her life comically revolves around food. Her last words before going to bed every night are, “If you get hungry, boil some eggs.” One night, after she had retired and we were still watching TV, she called out from the bedroom, “Are you guys hungry? I can make you some rice.” Her food is delicious, though. And she certainly can’t be blamed for her food-centric ways; as a child, she was poor and food was a constant concern. Not an uncommon thread in China.

The other night we went out to see Dan and Tenzin, though we only caught up with Dan. He has been DJing at a local club, which, as it turns out, was one of Fang Bian Mian’s stops on the infamous Tour. It has been completely re-done since then, however. When we walked in, the first thing we saw was Dan at the controls:

Dan the Man
Dan the Man

Besides us and about 50 staff, the place was dead. Such is life on the Tour. The manager, Nick, introduced himself and showed us around his very large, very nice, and very empty nightclub. We had a drink, chatted a bit with Dan, and came home.

I Shot a Tiger

Tiger Woods at the HSBC
Tiger Woods at the HSBC

Here is the picture I was talking about. I got it.

This was taken as Tiger finished his round at the 2006 HSBC Championship in Shanghai. It was on the bridge from the 18th green to the clubhouse. I had been standing there with Yoyo for about half an hour – when we first arrived there was no one there, but by the time Tiger was finished it was well crowded – and I had been practicing the shot on several lesser players who walked by, as well as general staff. See, I was using my grandfather’s old Canon SLR, which is manually focused and which requires the aperture to be set by the photographer. Knowing I would only have one chance to bag the Tiger, I had to be sure I would get it right.

Indeed I did. The focus is perfect, as is the exposure (OK, maybe not perfect, but at least correct). The look on Tiger’s face conveys disappointment – he finished second and may have been thinking about his round here, but probably he was just trying to avoid being photographed. Fair enough. I was, after all, breaking the rules.

Which leads me to this disclaimer: Tiger Woods, if you are out there and happen to read this post, I would like to apologize for knowingly violating the rules of the golf tournament and taking pictures. You know I wasn’t the only one – and I know that doesn’t necessarily make it right. But know this: I did not and would not ever take pictures of you during your setup, stance, or swing. That would be interference. But I must argue that taking a picture of you while walking down the course, or after you have finished playing, cannot really be interfering with your game. You are a public figure after all, and while you have every right to privacy, I think there are times when you have to allow yourself to be photographed. And sometimes the rules conflict with that.

Anyway, Tiger, thanks for coming to Shanghai. You really made my day. If you would like to respond to my ideas about picture-taking, please, by all means, leave a comment on this blog.

Chuck Norris Fan Club: The Final Battle

It has all come down to this.

Two weeks ago, Chuck Norris Fan Club faced its toughest match yet. We were down, 2 games to 1 in a best of 4 series, and with only one player left on the court, we were staring a virtually impossible to overcome 3-1 deficit in the face.

Fortunately for Team Chuck, that one remaining warrior was none other than Bulgarian Dodgeball Legend Yanita Karatchorova.

Facing six opponents, the odds were highly stacked against Yanita, and the fans of Team Chuck could feel the legend of 10 straight victories with no defeats was slowly evaporating from the air. But Chuck Norris had other plans.

In the most inspired performance in the history of the Shanghai Dodgeball league, Yanita channeled the power of Chuck Norris directly from his ranch in Texas into her very blood. Charging forward against all hope, she quickly laid waste to three of her enemies, including one of their biggest killers. Having nearly leveled the playing field, she wisely retreated to the rearcourt to dodge her opponent’s counterattack.

With missiles flying in from every direction, Yanita stayed strong and alert, deftly weaving her way between the incoming projectiles, until her enemy was nearly out of ammunition. Then, her enemy wound up with his one remaining bullet and hurled it at Yanita with all his might. Like a lightning bolt of pure Chuck, Yanita stood firm and pulled off what some had considered impossible.

She caught the ball.

The crowd erupted as CNFC’s star player, Jamey Harding, took the court after Yanita had decimated four of the enemy. With only two remaining, it was only a matter of time before she and Jamey cleaned up and evened the score at 2-2.

After such a momentous charge, the enemy was unable to recover and CNFC cruised to a 4-2 victory, extending their winning streak to 11 and keeping their title of “Undefeated for Life” well intact.

Declaring Yanita the Player of the Week was a no-brainer.

After a week of rest (reward for its position at the top of the league), CNFC tonight faces the Dirty Half Dozen in the semi-finals – and assuming all goes well there, either the Golden Balls or the Urban Cowboys in the final. Team Chuck has defeated all these teams in the past. But anything can happen out there.

Still, after all we have been through, having stared defeat in the face so often and come out victorious every time, I have every confidence that the Chuck Norris Fan Club will walk away with its second straight League Title tonight.

CHUCK YEAH!!!

chuck norris fan club

Tiger Mania

tiger

We witnessed Tiger in the flesh on Sunday at the HSBC Champions tournament at Sheshan Golf Club here in Shanghai. Here you can see him lining up a putt on the 9th, but when I get my next role developed I expect to have a much better shot of him, which I shot up close after he finished his round.

It was really a great event. I, who love golf, was bound to have a good time – no surprises there. But many doubted that my lady would be amused at walking around a vast expanse of land for hours on end watching large men hit little balls at faraway targets. The doubters were wrong; she loved every minute.

In fact, this was not her first golf tournament. She accompanied me to the 2004 China Open, also in Shanghai, which gave tickets away for free because Chinese people don’t care about golf Tiger wasn’t there. The biggest name at that event was Thomas Bjorn.

But this one was huge. I guess there were over 10,000 people there Sunday. And media were all over the place, as were the corporate sponsors. They had an area set up to play games, and I took shots of her playing mini-golf and getting a free ten-minute lesson.

The Chinese love Tiger, and some will say it is because they love a winner. All Chinese F1 fans (that I have met) love Michael Schumacher. All basketball fans love Jordan. And all golf fans love Tiger. People become golf fans because they love Tiger. This is not limited to the Chinese at all; it’s a worldwide phenomenon.

I have to admit, the guy is MAGNETIC. Just knowing that I was on the same course as him made me feel electric. When I saw him up close, I felt magic. I can’t describe it. Star power, I guess.

I got tickets by playing up the media angle, getting a pass to the media tent and a free lunch. That meant that I got to go to the press conference the Tuesday before the tournament started, at which Tiger made an appearance and answered some questions. I tried to ask him if he would ever design a golf course in China (he recently announced the formation of a design company), but the moderator never called on me and eventually a Chinese journalist asked my question. Tiger answered in his usual loquacious, noncommital, and media-savvy way.

On Friday he shot the course record, 64, but in the end he didn’t have enough to win, and came in second – the same as last year. And again, a relative unknown won. This year the champ was Yang Yung-eun of Korea, who beat out third-round leader Retief Goosen in the final holes. Cool finish.

Chuck Norris Fan Club

chuck norris fan clubChuck Norris doesn’t shower. He takes bloodbaths. And that is what the Chuck Norris Fan Club, Shanghai’s best dodgeball team, has unleashed upon the league since its creation last spring. CNFC is Undefeated for Life, an amazing run that includes one league championship (the first ever), and a run that was nearly brought to an end last night by the talented Golden Balls.

It was a tense match, with tempers flaring (as they always do when talented teams meet). The Golden Balls had CNFC down 3-2, but the Chuckers wrested victory from their opponents with a thrilling finish that featured a truly inspired performance from one Coley Dale.

It was a battle that brought back memories for Chuck Norris Fan Club. In the championship match last season CNFC was brought to the brink of destruction – yet survived. Though they trailed 2-1 and later 3-2, CNFC came from out of nowhere, much like their hero, to defeat their laughing foes and savor the sweet taste of victory.