Archive | Chengdu

All About Chengdu Outdoor Movie Nights

I took on a pair of exciting new projects at the beginning of the summer – one of them was the Banana Boat, the tricycle-based sound system that I’ve been cooperating with the Natooke Bicycle Shop on. They make custom fixed gear bicycles of remarkable quality and I’ve been doing music for over a decade so it’s been a good match.

We started with a traditional Chinese pedal-powered tricycle (called a 三轮车 in Chinese, or simply three-wheeled vehicle), but we’re stepping up to a fully custom made bamboo cargo bicycle frame. It’s been under construction for about a month, since our original Banana Boat was stolen outside of the bike shop (due to plain negligence, not some crafty thievery).

As soon as that’s complete I’ll post photos and information on how the cargo bike was designed and constructed, but until then I’ll just post a collection of outdoor movie night flyers along with some info on the movie night events we’ve been doing this summer. We’ve done other events with the Banana Boat – group bicycle rides and street parties, but the outdoor movie concept is the one that I’ll focus on in this post.

Chengdu Outdoor Movie Nights

All of these events took place in the same alley in the Yulin neighborhood where I live. Sundays at 8pm we’d show up with our tricycle playing music while we set up our projector and laptop to show the movie of the week. How did we select movies? Each film has nostalgic or cultural value that we felt added meaning to our mostly Chinese audience. On our most successful nights, there were crowds of nearly 100 people, watching English language movies with Chinese subtitles in the Chengdu streets.

Our Equipment Setup

You can’t just watch a movie anywhere unless you have the right equipment for it. And I gotta say, we are pretty much kitted up for this. Here are the pieces that we assembled:

  1. Mobile Sound System: in our case this means two matching speakers to provide stereo sound, with each one having a 12″ woofer to provide clear sound to 100+ people. Each speaker is self-powered, and I don’t just mean that they have amps in them: they have huge batteries in them, too. We can charge these speakers and have about four hours of use before they run out of batteries.
  2. High Powered Projector: we project movies onto the side of buildings and walls. The image can be as large or as small as we want it, which in some cases was as large as 10 meters wide. The projector we use is an Acer with 3,000 lumens that is capable of 720p output. Most of the movies we watched were projected in high definition.
  3. A Power Source: when you’re outside, you probably won’t have access to a power outlet. You need your own power source. Ours is a boat battery, which looks like two car batteries combined into one huge battery. Why use a boat battery? Because it’s a deep cycle battery, which means that it’s designed to provide steady output, as opposed to bursts of electrical output like a car battery. In practical terms this means it lasts much longer. In addition to the battery, we also need an inverter which converts the DC (direct current) power to usable AC (alternating current).
  4. Transportation: for us, this is the Banana Boat. Together, all this equipment is around 40 pounds
  5. Miscellaneous: a laptop to play the movie from with Chinese subtitles set up, cables to connect everything, 20 plastic stools, and a case of cold beer which we unload when we arrive at our destination. When the movie’s over we usually play music on the speakers and throw around a frisbee for a while before leaving.

Outdoor Movies We’ve Watched This Summer

  • Big Trouble in Little China:  incredible nostalgic value to Americans who grew up in the 1980’s, and also an American cinematic perspective on Chinese culture, which differs greatly from China’s perception of itself.
  • Ferris Beuller’s Day Off:  a movie which embraces the most American of character traits: individualism and opposition to authority. Certainly an alien one to Chinese society. As a bonus: one of my favorite movies of all time.
  • Rush Hour: African American and Chinese culture intersect in this movie filled with kung fu and slapstick humor. American black culture will shock Chinese people (“Don’t you ever touch a black man’s radio, boy!”)
  • Breaking Away: a film about a boy’s love affair with bicycle racing, promoted by Natooke. An award-winning film which was nominated for the Academy Award for best film in 1979 (interesting fact: also nominated that year was Apocalypse Now, both of which lost to Kramer vs. Kramer starring Dustin Hoffman)
  • Let the Bullets Fly: the best modern Mainland Chinese movie, in my opinion, and one which is set in Sichuan and features a lot of Sichuanese local dialect. This one was a huge hit for the street audience and many foreigners were introduced to the film when we showed it
  • Napolean Dynamite: the oddball early 2000’s comedy about an oddball American high school student in Idaho. In retrospect, this movie was a little too deadpan in it’s comedic delivery to be really understood by a Chinese audience

Although summertime is coming to a conclusion, we still have a few outdoor movie nights left. I’ll be sure to enjoy them.

Published on August 21, 2013

Chengdu’s Second Ring Road

Chengdu is a city surrounded concentric circles with Tianfu Square at the center. Currently there are three ring roads encircling Chengdu and major construction has just completed on the second, adding a gigantic second layer to the highway which encircles the city. One side effect of all this development is, as many people have been saying, that traffic threatens the Chengdu way of life. It’s hard to be laid back and stuck in traffic at the same time.

But now that it’s done, it doesn’t feel like such a bad thing. Traffic and pollution have greatly improved and this is now the fastest way to traverse the city. Fingers crossed that Chengdu doesn’t grow to demand seven ring roads like Beijing has.

It still looks and feels strange to me though, like walking down into the Chengdu subway for the first time.

Chengdu 2nd Ring Road

Chengdu 2nd Ring Road

Chengdu 2nd Ring Road


Published on July 2, 2013

A New Bicycle is Born

Natooke Bicycle

After waiting five weeks for construction of the aluminum frame, I’ve taken possession of my new bike.

Built by master bikesmiths Jacob Klink and Larry Adamson at Natooke Chengdu. Some notes:

  • Aluminum frame like my last bike, custom built by Natooke. Their brand is called Flying Banana. The dimensions of this frame are 62 centimeters – it’s a large bike (62cm is the distance of the seat tube, from the center of the bottom bracket to the top of the seat tube). The frame color is midnight blue, Pantone #2748
  • The wheel set is higher quality and significantly lighter than on my last bike. It’s incredibly lightweight. Thin profile rims plus honeywall tires give it a vintage look
  • The seat is a Brooks B17, a handmade leather seat imported from the U.K. The grips on the handlebar are also Brooks
  • Like my last bike, this one is fixed gear, specifically a 4617 – the “magic” gear that many fixed gear cyclists prefer

I love it to death. Big thanks to Jacob and Larry at Natooke Chengdu.

Published on June 23, 2013

Custom Shirts in Chengdu

Over the last year in Chengdu there have been a handful of Tailor Made events in the city, organized by an American expat named Michael. Trying and failing to get a suit made in Chengdu of high quality and reasonable price, he coaxed a group of Beijing-based tailors to visit Chengdu for a weekend, taking orders for custom shirts and suits from dozens of expat customers. Tailor Made was born.

I visited for the first time yesterday and ordered a pair of custom cotton shirts which I should receive in about two weeks. The selection process was a little overwhelming – hundreds of different fabric types, in addition to shirt styles. I took about 10 minutes to finalize everything, choosing a pale blue and patterned white shirt, totalling about $80 US. They offered cheaper synthetic shirts but I’m willing to pay more for cotton.

Tailor Made Photos

Chengdu Tailor Made

Chengdu Tailor Made

Chengdu Tailor Made

Chengdu Tailor Made

Chengdu Tailor Made


Published on June 3, 2013

Mega House Party @ Dojo, May 2013 Recap

A few months ago a Dutch friend of mine who’s the co-proprietor of one of Chengdu’s longest running bars (called Machu Picchu) approached me with an offer. He had a large house on the outskirts of Chengdu that he had tried to run a bar at, but couldn’t make it happen for personal reasons.

Having many of my own projects to attend to, my approach was to assemble a cast of collaborators to cultivate a venue to host events throughout the summer. After weeks of trying to pull together all the pieces, it looked like it was going to fall apart.  But at the last moment, it came together and we signed a contract on the house.

Now that house is called Dojo, and last weekend we hosted our second event there, which we have been calling Mega House Party. In a nutshell, it emulates the American house party experience in Western China, usually with stunning accuracy.

Some Dojo Highlights

  • There are three areas of music, and 8+ DJs who perform at each event. Chengdu’s best, of course.
  • A VJ on a projector casts a large image upon a white sheet on one side of the house
  • Barbecue and live graffiti outside
  • A monster sound system in the main room, with two 15″ subwoofers
  • Chinese, Laotian, and locally-brewed beer
  • Fire poi is a regular fixture
  • We prepare and sell food, include homemade pizza and deep fried Oreos
  • So far each event has drawn 300+ people

The May Party Flyer

Dojo May partyI’ve been designing and printing event flyers for years, mostly for Disco Death events. When everyone was making A4 size posters, I begun making one meter-tall feature film size posters, which were 300dpi Photoshop files that were multiple gigabytes in size. In 2013, big posters are pretty common in Chengdu. So once again, I’m taking the next step and doing something new, that’s never been done before in Chengdu: digital-only, animated flyers. This will be the first of many.

It will be interesting to see how many people will be doing this by summertime 2014 – I expect it will be a lot. However, since there are few flyer designers in Chengdu, the technical hurdles of creating this kind of flyer are a bit higher. This month’s flyer is around 70 frames, which demands a new workflow that I haven’t yet mastered.

At the May Event

At this event, we cooperated with the Natooke fixed gear bicycle shop in Chengdu to host the after party for their Kill the Hill event on Longquan Mountain. In layman terms, Natooke hosted a fixed gear and single speed bicycle race up a mountain (meaning no mountain bikes allowed) and held the award ceremony at the house.

Around 6pm a mass of 60+ rainbow-colored fixed gear bicyclists swarmed to Dojo like bees to the hive. Everyone had a blast. The next event is in two weeks on Saturday, June 15th.

Photos from the Night

Fortunately I had my camera with me at this months event and had the opportunity to capture a lot of photos. As it got later into the night and I started playing music and drinking more, I stopped messing with my camera. With any luck, next time I’ll get photos that span the entire night instead of the first few hours. Still, I look at these photos with great satisfaction. The two Dojo events that we’ve hosted so far have been the best parties that I’ve seen in Chengdu in my seven years here. I’m proud to be a part of it and share American house party culture with an international audience.

Here are a handful of photos, with more at the link below:

Fire Poi @ Dojo

Graffiti @ Dojo

Graffiti @ Dojo

Bikes @ Dojo

Hotdogs @ Dojo

Poi @ Dojo

Smoke @ Dojo

More photos here: Dojo May Photos

Bonus: Fire Poi Youtube Clip

I captured a brief clip of one of the fire poi performers and uploaded it to Youtube:

Published on May 31, 2013

Sunday Cruising

Chengdu Banana Boat

Cycling back to Chengdu yesterday from Flower Town, with the Banana Boat (the tricycle) in tow. We attached bicycle tire tubes to the side as handles to help it get up hills. Cycling on that thing when it’s filled with cargo is tough.

In this photo, from left to right: Chris, me, Larry of Natooke, Justin, and Mandeep. Photo taken by Adrien (who took this photo on his birthday) of Fun and Bike.


Published on May 27, 2013

Summertime in Chengdu Photos

Larry Natooke Chengdu

Chinese Chess in Chengdu

Chinese Gallagher

Larry Natooke Chengdu

Brooks saddle Chengdu

Natooke fixed gear bicycle Mandeep Chengdu

Natooke fixed gear spokes

Hise's Kid Chengdu

Chengdu tea market

All taken over this previous weekend. The weather has been incredible recently and I’ve been enjoying every minute of it.

Published on May 20, 2013