Thoughts From the Front Row of the Concert

See Michael. See how sweaty and happy Michael is next to band.

See Michael. See how sweaty and happy Michael is next to band.

As the kind of unknown ukulele/mandolin/fiddle hipster nonsense I enjoy tends not to venture to China, a large part of my trip home was to include music. I feverishly scoured concert listings and venue websites looking for shows, gleefully snapping up tickets and planning my attack. If I am going to bother attending a concert, I generally want to attend it as hard as I can. I show up early, I grab whatever beers I need, and then I plant myself in the front row. My feet root to the spot, I set up a tent and a beach chair, and I settle in for joy directly in front of my eyeballs.

Here are a few amalgamated thoughts from the last week, in which I spent 4 of seven nights pressed sweatily against a speaker in a rock club.

–       I am technically in the splash zone. The singer of this alt-bluegrass outfit sweats more than any human being I have ever seen. It has gone from endearingly human to actually disconcerting, and I wonder if I should get him a glass of water. He maybe has a condition. Should we be calling somebody? Getting him on an IV? On another night, Cary Ann Hearst also notes that she and her husband are getting pretty gross and that the front row can probably feel it. “But y’all look like the kinky types so I bet you don’t mind.”

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No Meat, No Rats, No Dysentery: Food Road Rules

Cambodian market food

It will be fine it will be fine it WILL be fine

It had been a busy day of Hangzhou-ing, and we were ready to eat. It was murky and rainy out and we quickly moved from restaurant to restaurant, trying to find any that would pique our interests. The famousest and fanciest of Chinese eateries were long full and boasted impressive waiting lines.

We eventually settled on one tidy, pleasantly mediocre-looking joint. Jen, our life coach and Chinese interpreter, set about discussing what to eat with the waitresses, while another staff member led us to a room in the back. We filed into what appeared to be my grandfather’s dining room circa 1947, and began gathering around the table, which was draped in an enormous doily and then sealed in mylar.

Agnes cringed as she pulled out her chair, and pointed to the skittering vermin that she had loosed. It flexed its pincers or tendrils or legs or whatever at us angrily, unhappy at being disturbed. “That’s a fairly large cockroach,” Agnes muttered, attempting to undersell this monstrosity. If the cockroach had sat down to the meal with us he could have fit in an infant’s high chair and requested a kid’s menu.

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When and Where You Can Photograph My Dumb White Face: A Guide

This was around photo number 43.

Very occasionally famous.

As a flagrantly white person living and occasionally roaming around Asia, I sometimes stick out. Whether through the rarity of the wild honky or through lingering effects of the many times with which my ancestors brutally wedged their big noses into other places, or some mixture of the two, I tend to be an object of occasional fascination and consternation. Why does my hair curl just so? Why is my skin so pale, and why does it ripen like a fresh tomato after exposure to a moderate amount of healthy, life-sustaining sunshine? How is it possible that a human being with my configuration of body parts, complexion, hair texture, and eye shape can manage to breathe, eat, speak other languages, walk in a straight line, and perform simple arithmetic? Truly, it is a mystery for the ages.

As a walking enigma, I am sometimes photographed. I have grown mostly at peace with this practice, as I’ve also taken photos of other humans before, for reasons just as nebulous. (When asked, I will usually tell the person, “Because you look really cool in front of this thing!” This usually does not clarify the situation). But sometimes I am also photographed against my will, captured in perpetuity in a desktop folder entitled White People Doin’ Things. Sometimes people jam a camera right up in my grille, camera-lens-to-eyeball-lens, and they breathe heavily as they seal my face into their personal digital memory banks without my consent.

As such, I present a helpful guide to all the times when it is perfectly cool to take my photo, for whatever weird, crazy reason you might want it.

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Hangzhou Photoglut: Experimental Gloomtography

Hangzhou Title Pic

Behold glorious Hangzhou, city of a very nice lake, some cool pagodas, and actual woodlands! I can barely stand all the nature. Alas, like most weekends of late this particular weekend was shrouded in dark clouds and a hazy mistglob that covered all the lands in grey. Well, being China: greyer. Luckily, the Hangzh’ was still very pretty in its own dreary, spooky way, and I have collected a day’s worth of photography for you to point your oculoids at. Continue beholding.

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Seeking Lonely Mountain Peaks for Companionship, Fun, Nothing Serious

So Long Huangshan

If this mountain is cool with being alone, why not you?

The bus from the hotel to the Huangshan transport depot was brief. The other teachers from the school had risen early with visions of a hearty hike before them. According to guide books and a thorough wiki-ing, the steep walk could be evaded by cable car, and one could be treated to the splendours of a half-dozen mountain peaks and hours of trudgery without ever having to climb up one long, bleak side of the mountain itself.

A few of the others balked as I purchased the single ticket to the alternate destination. They were a posse of eight, forging up into the wilderness and the unknown of China, while I was one, alone. I would be solo on a mountain for hours, with no real knowledge of my companions or when I might meet up with them. I had a decent, though vague, reconstruction of a Google map imprinted on my brain which I would consult along with my compass. I had a good book, a nice camera, and money to purchase water and goods on the mountain top.

I had no companions and no one to talk to. Cell phone reception would probably be spotty at such altitudes. I would definitely be on my own. I waved my goodbyes, shouldered my backpack, and soldiered on.

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Horrifying Personal Calamity: A Necessary Ingredient in All International Travel

49-56

Climb on board! Each seat comes with a free serving of despair.

“But did you actually like India?” everyone seemed to ask.

It was a fair question. Every time I described India, I usually started with my first impression of the country. The long, circuitous route from the airport into central Delhi, the roadway thick with vehicles diverse in wheels and dimensions, the cow burrowing her head into the flaming pile of garbage while rummaging for some nosh. I relished the grim, gritty details, the number of times I stepped in feces of indeterminate origin, exactly how many times I contracted scientifically-innovative new strains of diarrhea, the many and various attempts to grift me of all of my money and earthly possessions.

The crowning glory in every string of India anecdotes was our journey to Jaipur. The sojourn was a 17-hour ride crammed haphazardly into glass capsules in a rattling deathtrap manned by a driver with an itchy brake-foot. At the terminus of our jaunt was a series of hysterical mishaps involving alleys crawling with braying goats and half-naked children, each of them screaming at us. We climbed into four different rickshaws, each which was trying to rip us for our dwindling supply of rupees, and as we climbed into the last we were sure we knew the face of madness.

I, in fact, really liked India.

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Hey Guy, Check Out This Sick Prayer

Overall, most of the people assembled for the Hindu self-mortification ceremony were very into Will’s dancing.

Rooftop Party

Sorry. Was this a private function?

We had stumbled, as we often did, into something rare and special and probably not meant for us. Boisterous and expanding across a rural roadway, we heard loudspeakers and shouting and joyousness, and we buzzed closer like moths driven to a technicolour flame. We had taken the ferry away from Yangon to Dalla for the day, and each rural roadway so far had proved fruitful and interesting and unexpected. We were drunk on sackjuice and adventure, and the sound of a party lulled us in.

I spied the goddesses long before we saw the hooks. I pointed out Lakshmi surrounded in parasols and bright orange petals, and then I pointed out the gentleman on the rickety wooden kitchen chair. Iron crescents slid in the skin of his broad, dark shoulders, and he grit his teeth and stared into the distance. Maybe he was on sackjuice as well. We realized instantaneously that this was probably a private religious ceremony, something sacred and honourable. Our baboon presence, with our flip-flops, DSLRs, and SPF-60, was at best ancillary to the nature of the celebration. We turned to go.

Hands grabbed at us, dabbing paint on our faces, smearing our palms with ruddy brown and red. Everywhere townsfolk reached out to shake hands, ask how exactly we managed to stumble into a Hindu religious festival in Myanmar. We shrugged, as while this situation was kind of becoming a custom for us, it was probably not for the residents of Dalla. We motioned towards the exit, which was the dusty road from whence we had first walked, and the people around us scoffed and waved. A pshaw, as though saying, “So soon? But you haven’t even seen the best parts!”

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