Saturday, March 28, 2009
SHANGHAI & NANJING
Part Two: China
Our ferry wades through the poo-water of the Shanghai docks, and the millions of sky high cranes and other giant metal really useful looking objects remind me of Terminator. I stand on the deck and although the air is full of filth and smog, the sun feels nice on my face and I picture my beautiful complexion and envision a near perfect tan blooming on my skin. The true fact of the matter is we're all looking like sea-torn pale-masters fresh off a cruise in the bay of chunks (but feeling pretty proud we made it). We dock. It's over. Yes. I bond in my fake tough older brother persona one last time with the cute chinese toddler by giving him my ipod headphones and letting him hear Lil Wayne repeat the words "fuck bitches, make money" a bunch of times. Him, and his sister share the headphones and after 10 seconds burst out laughing and run around the boat like they've been given a syringe of Jolt Cola. I think they were trying to mimic the music, or maybe I just torched their brains for life. Unsure. Anyways, the customs and immigration are a breeze. I am not asked one question, I press the button "greatly satisfied with the service" as I leave the police desk, and walk to greet our Chinese promoter/tour guides Abe, and Dan (Both Americans living in China who bring bands over for the hell of it). They are both instantly likable and no bullshit dudes and make the right first move in taking us a block from the dock to eat our first meal in China.
I guess its not hard to tell by the looks of some of us that Fucked Up love eating (and being ravers), which I will write about a lot in this diary. If you don't like to hear about food. Go read pitch fork, or whatever. I am pretty certain eating is the only thing we like doing together, although most of the times it is a huge pain to decide what we all want to eat. Damian loves fast food and would eat it for every meal if he could (although he does have good taste). Josh drinks a lot of coffee but is generally the person I will trust the most when it comes to food options. Mike's track record for good eating is pretty inconsistent at this point (like his choice in movies see: Jane Austin Book Club), and has a picky, unadventurous, vegetarian palate. Sandy eats with her bank account in mind and only that, and asks if "the coke is bottomless" at fancy restaurants (but in a lovable way, of course). Jonah knows good food, but tends to walk the path of a man trying to stay fit, a healthy road I could never fully travel. Theres too much delicious fattening food in the world that I refuse to deny. Personally, I try my best to roll with it all and luckily for Abe and Dan we all love Chinese Food. Our first meal includes pretty much what you'd expect from a chinese restaurant. Spicey beef dishes, chinese broccoli, dumplings, frog, 3.2% Beer (weeeak), and to Damian's delight 50 cent 1.5 litre bottles of Pepsi. All of this costs next to nothing and with our stomachs full we hop in cabs to catch a chartered bus which is supposed to take us to our first gig in Neijing.
Let me just say here that most of what you've heard of China is pretty much true, and the driving is no expection. I can only describe it as "NASCAR DRIVING ON COCAINE" , and we hang on for our lives as the taxi's nearly smash into every car on the road and the drivers honk at every car they pass just to like say what up, I guess? We arrive alive at the bus, which is a chartered giant yellow shady thing that seats us and 16 other people who are going to our gig 2 hours away from Shanghai. "Contest winners". Some chinese kids who laugh at us and take our pictures, and seem very nice. Some Australian, love to party, love being in a band types (are all australians like this? I think they probably are) offer us beer as we get ourselves comfortable in our seats. I can't stop staring at this one aussie kid as I try to decipher whether the flaky stuff on his mouth and nose is herpes or ex ma. I settle for exma (because he's definitely not shady enough to have herpes, although he is australian so you never know), and he hands me a candy that will "blow my mind". Turns out to be cubed beef jerky and its rank as shit and I tell him to keep it away from me forever.
We stop at a rest stop to relieve ourselves and chinese guys at the urinals do not attempt to hide the fact they are staring at my penis. No wurries, eh mate.
Eat some sugar cane which is gross, climb back in the bus only to find it won't start. Our chinese driver runs around like a 5 year old hopped up on Lil Wayne trying to fix the problem. Ripping open the floor to get to the engine, making sparks fly, and smoke rise from weird parts of the bus I didn't know existed. The 20 passengers end up pushing the bus accross the parking lot to get it started, and we all jump in the yellow bus like Little Miss Sunshine and we set off again. Pretty hilarious so far. Not sure its sunken in yet what exactly has taken place or where I am, but at least the driver has his ipod on and sings chinese pop songs in perfect falsetto for the next hour. I watch him in the mirror passionately perform the songs to himself, and I tell him I want to french kiss him (no homo) for trying so hard to fix the van and for singing so well, but of course he doesn't understand. A pat on his shoulder "Good Job" works. The Australians in the back sing Yellow Submarine (not kidding) and drown out the Falsetto Chinese Angel. By this time I have eaten a hash cookie and feeling kind of high but not in a good way I watch fireworks in the horizon to a Raekwon mixtape and fall asleep. I awake to Falsetto Phil putting gas in the bus with the engine on, and as we pull onto the highway realize the transmission's stuck in first gear. We drive 10km/h for 30 mins because "Don't worry the club is only 10km away". Abe, and Dan are cool as hell and sort us our cabs at the side of the high way which bring us to the club after a bit of the old Masturbating Nascar Driver's on Coke routine.
We're late for the gig, and pretty much walk right on stage. We're playing the equivalent to my local bar in the east end of Toronto (Jimmys RIP), except replace the leslieville weirdo's and alcholics with about 40 chinese punk kids, 5 white people, and a bar lined with what could only be Hookers. I'm pretty good at vibing places, and turns out I am right about the working girls when I ask Abe later. The show is hilarious. Kids dance like aliens, jump really high in one spot, girls blow us kisses, and babes with boyfriends get on the small stage to take pictures with us (ME). Our guitars are out of tune the entire set, and by the end Damian is covered in Ice Cream. Pretty good gig.
I hold in vomit as we get off the stage, and we all end up at Mcdonalds next door (only place close to eat [also: Hookers at Mcdonalds too]).
Dead tired, and delirious we finally check into a hotel and fall asleep.
After 6 hours of sleep I wake up feeling pretty well rested. Abe brings Mike and I buns with vegatables and beef in them. They are delicious. Extremely clean tasting and exactly what I want. This guy is awesome, looks like Dave Byrd from Striking Distance meets Will Ferrel (Sorry Abe). Today we have a day off to explore Nanjing and at night catch an overnight train to Beijing. After failing to work the chinese television, and finding out Chelsea beat City 1-0 (lame) we leave our bags at the hotel and go for lunch. More rice, and beef dishes. Some chili beef soup type dish, which is amazing, is followed by steamed greens and some chicken that tastes funny and I push to the side. I am not really afraid of getting sick in China and plan to eat as much strange food as possible but I just can't eat certain types of meat when it doesn't taste well handled and good quality or at least bathed in flavour to mask it's decay. A fish soup is the last thing that is brought to us and Damian and I spend 10 minutes digging through bite after bite trying to find the eyes. We find them both. Tastes awesome, and makes for a good photo that will clearly get me like 30 pokes on facebook.
The next few hours are spent walking around taking photos. We take cabs (a 15 mins cab ride will cost you 3$ in china) to the Nanjing museum to find out about how the Japanese slaughtered 300,000 chinese people in 1934 but it ends up being closed so I just walk around taking photos of Chinese babies (add BEN COOK on facebook to see my entire Chinese Baby photo collection). Once I start, I can't stop. They are so cute, and they're cheeks are so big and their mothers or grandmothers seem so happy to have their baby be photographed. Also, its really easy because they are pointing at my white ass anyways as I walk by because white people "look like monkeys".
Where we are has finally started to settle into my brain, culture shock has ended for the time being, and I feel honored to be around the honest and friendly people of China (and their cute babies). Although they are very serious, and quite calm and cool you can't walk into a restaurant or walk by a group of people without waves and welcoming smiles. Of course they are also probably laughing at us because we are fat, hairy armed, and look like monkeys but still.. Great people, the Chinese.
We walk the steps of a temple, and are greeted by monks who take our picture (I think they just liked Sandy's ass) and we get a great view of Nanjing at the top. Buddhist Temples and the smell of their incense always makes me feel very calm, and grounded (Duh). Abe and I swap stories of our Kung Fu training (before "punk saved my life" I was obsessed with Kung Fu and trained at Spadina and Dundas for 3 years at a non english speaking club where they beat the shit out of me for a few weeks before realizing I was serious) and walk back down to street level. Josh wins this day for trying the most street food. We split some sort of chinese crepe type thing. Egg, flower mixture, cilantro, chilis, cooked on an extremely hot cooking stone. It's decent. We walk through the biggest out door food market I have ever seen. Mike eats Mango Steam, and dried Kiwis with rat shit on them. I watch fish get their heads chopped off, and we eat the best dumplings I have ever had (this changes later when we eat dumplings in Chang Sha)) at a hole in the wall in the middle of a crowded Nanjing apartment community. Avoiding getting killed by people on scooters, I roar at little kids who freeze wide eyed at the white monkey man then scramble away laughing. More street food, tofu cubes and pepsi shoes. We hit an internet cafe which causes my inhalers to be cocked and ready due to paint thinner fumes and too many cigs. Dudes play rpg's with flying ponys and elves (COOL), and we're finally off to the train station. More food before the train, more laughter from the staff at our clumsiness and hairy faces. Josh and Damian eat the cold chicken feet appetizers. Damian "isn't sold". I can't eat one as all I can think of is last Halloween when this sexacious shorty I know was walking around the party with a garbage bag full of them telling people to put their hands in. I almost got into two fights when people accused us of trying to spread salmonella. Most people aren't very fun, are they?
We're warned to watch out for pick pockets in the train station. No one steps to us or our pockets, and we board the train and head straight to our bunks. Tiny top level beds with 2 beds below us. 12 hours on this thing to Beijing. Jonah lies across in the bunk next to mine already deep in the steamiest steam train dreams. I pick his pocket for 5 bucks. Goodnight, sucker see you in the Maoning.
I'd like to add that today my mother posted on my facebook wall "Survivor, man". I can't tell if she's really getting into Survivor back home, or thinking her son is the shit for traveling around the world. Mental note to ask her when I get back to Toronto.