Sitting on Top of the World

Recently we had a new air conditioner installed in our apartment. As we are on the 21st floor, this unfortunately (for the workers) involved a bit of tight-rope theatrics. A team of two men came to our house to install it, a few hours after the hole-drilling guy had punctured through our wall a column of four inches in diameter, for all the wires and tubes that need to be connected between the indoor and outdoor apparatus. When everything was set, it came time for one of the men to climb out our window and sit on the A/C itself, in order to attach it firmly to the outer wall. I asked if it was always him who went out the window, or if his partner ever took a turn. He said only him. He wasn’t worried about the height, because, as he said, he was wearing a harness. I neglected to inform him that if he did slip, the window frame to which he had attached the harness would accompany him on his long descent. He completed the task with aplomb.

Let’s Play Catch-Up

Since we haven’t written in a week, I thought I’d just go over some of the stuff that’s been going on for the last few…

Ryan's farewell dinnerAt the end of July, my buddy Ryan Zhou retired from Sinomedia. Ryan was the main programmer for our site, China Economic Review, and he taught me a lot about HTML and programming, which has helped this blog enormously. So to see him off some of us at the office decided to take Ryan out to dinner at Yuxin, the nice Sichuan joint on Chongqing Lu. Here’s a picture from that night. Ryan is in the lower left. Also there are friends Nathan Green (left), a writer for the magazine, and Tim Burroughs (right), the editor.

Georgia Sam logoAs I mentioned earlier, Zooma gave the band a job at Tang Hui playing Monday nights. His idea was a “return to the 50s” kind of blues night. Well, I didn’t really agree with the whole 50s concentration, but I figured it would be our night to do our blues thing. So we had our first gig this week and it went pretty well. Chen Song, the house drummer, is filling in for Knut until the Viking returns from the North a few weeks hence. Also, our new friend Lukas, a Swede, has taken up the keys in Hot Carl’s absence.

I have to say, for only getting these guys together for one practice the day before the gig, we pulled it off superbly. We even introduced a new song that Nate and I had written the previous Friday, “Brand New Soul (Found in Frisco Gold)”. I taped the show but, in typical fashion, haven’t listened to it yet. As I had to play the lead guitar parts, I was a bit nervous that my lack of skill in that area would just destroy us. And certainly I had my awkward moments. But Nate is very good in helping me out here, when my solo is losing steam, he tends to say something like, “All right,” and that’s my cue to wrap it up. But our philosophy of “Play it Loud and Proud” definitely wins fans in the end. We got a big round of applause after the final songs, and I was truly surprised at the size of the Monday crowd. Looking forward to the next show, in which Eli will join us to turn it up a notch.

My girl took some pictures that turned out rather psychedelic. There were some couples dancing 50s bopper style…

An update to the previous post: I tried to upload the movie “Child Killer” on to YouTube, but my computer went Berserk when I tried to play the DVD on it. I think it had something to do with the sweet label my dad put on it. It seems it’s a millimeter too thick or something, because it kept making this weird sound as it spun inside and then it just slowed to a stop and pretended there was no disk in there. The thing is messed up anyway, doesn’t burn CDs anymore, which is a real problem for my musical ambitions, so I’m thinking about investing in a separate unit. More to come…

Jam at Tang Hui

Open Mic

Wednesday night during the open-mic jamming at Tang Hui Zooma (left) asked me up on stage to sing our old favorite, “Red House”. Unfortunately, the bassist and drummer didn’t know Red House from a purple elephant and when they were supposed to come in they left Zooma and I hanging up there… and hanging and hanging. So we had to abandon it and try some random blues jamming. Which was ok for a while, but the rhythm section kept dropping the beat so much that it was just ridiculous. I was looking at Nate and Yam in the audience laughing their asses off every time the bassist and drummer went violently out of synch, and I just had to smile. And then they just wouldn’t pick up any signals from Zooma and I to end the song, so it dragged on and on and on… even when Zooma told them verbally, out loud, this is it, the drummer was totally clueless. It was the worst ending of any song, ever. I jumped down from the stage.

Luckily the others followed suit, and then I grabbed Nate and Yam and we hopped up there to make things right, launching into some jam tunes we know from some of our gigs together. Yam famously filled in for Knut when we played the AmCham Charity Ball last April and so he was spot on with all the tunes. Plus the guy is a total pro, and a “Hell of a Guy!” as we like to say. We received a generous round of applause at the end of our 15 minutes, and today Zooma called me to say he wants us to play every Monday at Tang Hui, in what he sees as a blues night, a “reviving of the 1950s, where people can dance and sing and shout, you know, Johhny B Goode and stuff.” The Blues are Back. Again.

Taking out the trash

In the space of one minute I was made to face two of my biggest pet peeves in China. Walking into the convenience store, there was a man about to walk out. I pushed the door into the “stay-open” position so as to leave it agape for him. As I half-expected, he simply walked through it, failing to close it behind him despite the A/C blasting inside and the hot day without. The clerk was next to the door and she closed it.

No one here holds the door for anyone or expects others to hold it for them. It is frustrating to have doors swing into your face all the time. But it is nice when you hold the door for an older woman carrying groceries and her face lights up with gratitude.

I shrugged off the man’s obliviousness and proceeded with my shopping. As I left the store, the same clerk who had just closed the door to save energy stepped in front of me just as I came to the exit, causing me to nearly run into her; she pushed the door open and threw a piece of garbage, and empty cigarette carton, at the garbage can outside the door, which incidentally had a closed lid. It was the kind of lid you need to push in to get the garbage inside. No attempt to push it open was made on her part, she simply threw the carton, which had no chance of opening the lid, at the can. Naturally, the carton fell to the ground beside the can. I was still standing behind her, my forward movement obstructed. She then walked outside, as if to pick the garbage up and place it gently within the receptacle — but no, what did she do, dear reader? She kicked the carton away from the can into the middle of the sidewalk.

Now, I know that littering is a part of China. New foreign arrivals are sometimes hesitant to pick up this habit, as I was, but they eventually catch on, as I did, because it is a way of fulfilling a childhood fantasy: never having to clean up after yourself. When you open a candy bar or a pack of cigarettes on the street, you simply drop the wrapper right where you are and forget it! Someone else will clean it up, who cares? Shopkeepers throw their trash out into the street to be swept up by the street cleaners. In the beginning I came to accept this as a cultural difference and just went along with it; though I felt guilty at first, I got over it. But it was seeing too many ignorant displays as this woman showed me this morning that made me decide: fuck cultural differences, littering is throwing trash on the ground and nobody wants to walk around on a fucking pile of trash!

This lady has thrown the garbage on the ground and kicked it away when there is a perfectly accessible garbage can right in front of her! In fact, if she didn’t like that one, she could have walked all of five meters to another one! There are trash cans everywhere in the cities, use them!

In for a Grilling

This is my piece in this month’s That’s Shanghai about being American in this city.

Uncle Sam

In for a Grilling

Waving the Star-Spangled Banner in Shanghai

Part of living in a foreign land means people often ask where you’’re from. A simple exercise for normal people, but a delicate one for us Americans in China, who learn to take for granted that our nationality will be readily apparent from the moment we open our mouth. We caught on to this after the first thousand times we answered “America”, only to have the questioner roll his eyes knowingly and say, “”Yeah, but where?”” Though we may, in return, feign interest in others’’ specific regional origins, rest assured we are merely being polite; we do not recognize any differences between Essex or Sussex, Nice or Lyon, Austria or Australia.

Americans have it tough. As the self-appointed leaders of the civilized world, we have to be sure we are setting a good example. When we’’re introducing backward nations to the joys of participatory government or entertaining the throngs with films of monolithic morality, we always strive to ensure our intentions are being perceived in the best manner. But though we are saddled with the burden of global empire, we Americans still have our small pleasures. And one of those is living abroad.

Here in China, Americans are afforded a privileged status among foreigners. When Chinese guess what country we’’re from, they always guess right. It must be frustrating for French, British and particularly Canadians to have to repeatedly admit that they do not in fact form part of the planet’’s preeminent population. Just the other day I was having lunch with a Kiwi friend at our local canteen and an old Chinese man asked us to join him.

““America!”” he said, ““Very good!””

And New Zealand? “”It’’s OK.””

Kiwis and other non-American English speakers have further reason to complain. While not entirely opposed to their own native tongue fast becoming the world’’s linguistic medium, they tend to rue the fact that Americans have engineered this development, as we have taken to abusing the language’’s normally benign powers of adaptation to create such colorful phrases as “”I’’m so there”,” and “”Where you at?”” Yet even as greater numbers of Americans are unable to write a coherent sentence, still our words ring out vociferously above those who sing the virtues of proper grammar, as well as those simply trying to eat their breakfast in peace.

America has no cuisine of its own, but rather gets its culinary traditions the same way it acquired its land: by taking what once belonged to others and making it uniquely ours. Thus Italian pasta became our macaroni and cheese, German beefsteak our double bacon cheeseburger, and indigenous maize our microwave popcorn. But there is at least one cooking method that we have pioneered and perfected.

Walking around Shanghai, one could be forgiven for thinking the title belonged to Brazilians; but Americans are the true champions of barbeque. So enamored are we of the charcoal pit that we have demarcated our summer grilling seasons with a beginning, middle and end: three holidays devoted to flying the flag and flipping burgers.

Memorial Day has passed us by and Independence Day is now upon us. Americans everywhere can once again be found outside grilling meat in honor of their country, even here in distant, foreign Shanghai. Whether in the backyards of Hongqiao or the rooftops of Huaihai, there is sure to be smoke rising from an American grill every weekend from now through the season finale on Labor Day -– and well beyond. So if you’’re craving an enlightening discussion of civics or geography, that is where you can find us at.

Maglev, wonder of creation

The Shanghai Maglev

Shown here is the Maglev train in Shanghai, hailed as a marvel of engineering, and indeed it is. Yet due to some poor foresight by the city planners, Shanghai’s magnetic levitation rail system is completely useless.

The maglev was designed and sold as a way to cut travel time to and from Pudong Airport, which in a taxi usually takes about 90 minutes or so. On the maglev, it was and is still claimed, that trip would be reduced to seven minutes, by traveling at speeds of up to 435 km/hour (270mph). Sounds great, right? Except that the location chosen for the “downtown” station is nowhere near downtown. It’s in Longyang, which is still a good hour from the city center by subway. Which means that after you take the super-fast maglev (and pay the 50 kuai ticket), you then have to take the regular metro line or grab a taxi. We did it once, for the experience. Never again.

UPDATE 2012: we actually did take the Maglev again, in 2011.

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 🙁