Back in LA

I arrived a few hours ago. Haven’t met Eric yet, but I’m with Candyce and Melody listening to music and catching up. I’ve been up for almost 24 hours but I’m not feeling very tired. A few minutes ago I spent 5 minutes browsing through a gas station convenience store, just looking at everything. Culture shock!

Published on March 21, 2006

Speechless

As if tonight, my last night hanging out in Chengdu, wasn’t significant enough already, something incredible has happened.

Not only was there an enormous outdoor party in the same square that we (HNG) performed at last November, but Daddy Dog (5P, NYC) was in town playing at a nearby club. Both parties were awesome and right next to eachother, so you could freely walk from one to another. There was a French/Senegalese hip hop show in town who performed and the show was fantastic. Daddy Dog played a good set, even though it was every bit a commercial club set, and everything was just great. When the outdoor area had to close at midnight, I collected the gear and was ready to catch a taxi home when someone could help me. Everyone was with a girl except for Sascha who was wasted, so I decided to take the gear home myself.

I put the turntables in the trunk and got into the back seat of the taxi. I got a phone call shortly before we arrived and was distracted as I got out of the taxi, resulting in the guy driving off as I realized that I was missing about 80lbs of heavy equipment. It takes a few moments for it to sink in and I become really upset with myself, not understanding how I could forget something so important, even if only for a few seconds.¬† Helplessness sets in and I start an optomistic inner dialogue with myself (‘it was meant to happen, maybe I need some time to understand why’) as I make an effort to relax.

Since I’d known that this had happened previously to Tenzin (several times, even), I called him and asked him for advice. He told me to have a Chinese person call the taxi dispatch and explain what the situation was. With Yayas help I handled that quickly, and then flagged a taxi driver and asked for his help. I didn’t know how to say radio (now I do – dian tai!), but I told him what happened and asked if he could get on the radio and see if he get in touch with someone who knew something. No luck; there was a significant chance that the driver didn’t even have a radio in his car because many don’t.

I anxiously wait in the same place for over an hour making eye contact with all of the passing drivers, hoping that he’ll recognize me and vice versa. He doesn’t show and I become increasingly at peace with the reality that my equipment is gone.

In front of every apartment complex is a security office with guards which are always on call. I’ve never spoken to mine, only given them “the nod” and said good afternoon and such. I quickly befriend a trio of them currently on call and tell them what’s happened. They hang out with me and we talk for a few minutes when a taxi and van pull up.

Suddenly a spotlight is on me and I can’t see. No, it’s a bright light mounted atop a broadcast video camera. What’s going on? Everyone is getting out of the van and a news anchor with microphone in hand approaches me and asks if I lost something. I don’t even really know what I was thinking before it became apparent to me what’d happened, as bizarre as it is. All of this happened at 2 o’clock in the morning.
The taxi driver, upon realizing that I left my equipment in his trunk, called the news station (because this is BREAKING NEWS; sarcasm aside, I couldn’t be happier) and told them that he had some tall foreigners stuff in his trunk. They rendezvous and return to my apartment to get the full scoop; who I am, what I do here, how long I’ve been here, what I think of Chengdu, what I think of Chengdu’s taxi drivers, and so on. I only think they’ll air it because of how happy and shocked I was. I hugged the driver and gave him 500yuan, gave everyone my card, and hung out talking for a few minutes outside on the street.

The guards help me lug the gear up to my apartment and I give all of them big thanks. The question that remains with me is, how lucky am I? I’m invariably seated at the peak of a mountain of luck in my own mind, but some people were less surprised than I was. Tenzins lost gear had been returned to him twice by doing the same thing that I did and Yaya briefly told me about exceptionally honorable taxi drivers that she’s encountered.

I leave in 36 hours and 13 minutes. Tomorrow I’ll show some strangers exceptional kindness and give taxi drivers giant tips all day. I don’t know how else to contribute.

I don’t know what else to say or think; I couldn’t be happier right now.

Published on March 19, 2006

Concert, McDonalds, and Changed Currency

This afternoon there’s a concert in the same public square that we performed at in November, sponsored by the French embassy. It’s promoted by Joe and features a few bands as well as a trio of Senegalese hip hop artists. It should be a ragga-influenced sound; I’ve never heard any music out of Senegal before, and it’s also at an outside venue, so it should be a good time. My turntables are for rent for the show, so shortly I’ll deliver the equipment in the cases.

Last night Tom had a gig at Fashion, probably my favorite club to play at in Chengdu. The place was packed and I arrived just in time to see Tom finish, sadly. So I hungout near the booth with Tom and a bunch of strangers, drinking some kind of vodka I’ve never heard of that was being promoted last night. The awful music quickly got to me and we decided to leave only a few minutes after I’d arrived there. While there I ran into Aty, a Chinese promoter that I haven’t seen in months. I told him that I’m going back to America and he said to call when I get back; then I remembered the time that I was DJ’ing in Chongqing and he ran into the booth and adjusted the pitch on a record that was playing, so I don’t think I’ll actually call.

We left Fashion looking for a house party at the Soho building, which is a well known modern mall and luxury apartment complex. We searched for at least 30 minutes for this place since neither Tom nor I had ever been there before. We finally find it and after all that search, it’s a slight disappointment. We hardly knew anyone there, so I can only guess that they must be students and english teachers. We buy a few beers from the kitchen and hang out for an hour or so until the rest of the crew shows up. Then I get a text message from Tom clearly stating that the McDonalds outside is open 24 hours and I need to see it for myself. Oh wow!

The party ends and we leave for the McDonalds. Maybe mainlining sugar and starch into my body will remind me of America, I thought. We show up at the enormous empty McDonalds where techno music is playing loudly and there’s a table full of drunk english people; Dave, Tom, and Tony. Tom had given them one of his dj mixes. Next thing I know we’re eating big macs and smoking joints, listening to Toms DJ mix on the McDonalds house speaker system. It was probably the most memorable trip to McDonalds I’ve ever had.

I’m at Tenzins house now with 8,000rmb. Today I’ll convert it to $1,000USD through a mysterious friend of Tenzins named Mr Hu. You call him and he shows up at your house with a wad of hundred dollar US bills, in exchange for Chinese currency. He came here 10 minutes ago and said the exchange rate was 8.1:1, which isn’t bad. Immediately afterwards he says that he has slightly tattered bills at him which he’ll trade for much cheaper. We decided to check it out, so he went home to pick them up and he’ll be back in a few minutes.

I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to call Kat in Vietnam. I’ve tried a handful of sim cards, international calling cards, my house phone, my cell phone, other peoples cell phones, and getting help from Chinese people for fear that I’m misunderstanding one of the menus. I’ve memorized the international calling card number and her fathers cell phone number in Vietnam. Everytime I enter those 20-something digits I’m excited that maybe this time it’ll work, but it seems like I’m invariably disappointed everytime. I won’t give up.
The weather is beautiful today!

Published on March 18, 2006

Ready to Leave

Four more days in China before I leave for California. I’m pretty much all set to go, I just need to find a quick way to convert Chinese currency into dollars. I don’t think I can change it at the airport in Beijing or LA without taking a huge loss, so I’m investigating banks which can help me out here in Chengdu.

My eye has been healed for half a week now and the weather is starting to look up again, thankfully.

I guess all that’s left is tying up loose ends before I leave. I ordered a Dell 2005FP LCD monitor the other day with a $200 off coupon. Hooray!

2005FPW

Published on March 15, 2006

Nuisance of an Illness

The morning before last I woke up with an irritated right eye which quickly developed into pink eye. I somehow aquired pink eye at exactly this time last year, shortly after having first arrived in China. I don’t think I’d ever had it in USA, but now I’ve had it twice within about a year. What gives? It’s really bugging me.

In case you didn’t know, pink eye (conjuctivitis) is an external infection of the mucous membrane covering your eye. Symptoms include sensitivity to light, frequent tearing, and irritation.

I’ve tried to call Kat for two days unsuccessfully. Everytime I call the phone rings and no one picks up. I don’t know if I’m dialing incorrectly or if something’s wrong with her fathers cell phone. I’ll try again today!

Published on March 10, 2006

Potala Palace & The Elusive Chupa

I woke up around noon today and went straight to the ‘Palace with Dave. Potala Palace is probably the most famous sight in Lhasa – not only a 13-storey high engineering feat of the 8th century, it’s also been the home of the Dalai Lamas for thousands of years. Everyday hundreds of Buddhist pilgrims make the trek up the mountain to the worship in and around the palace and it’s various courtyards. The size and scope of the building, especially since it’s build into the side of a mountain and so old, is unbelievable. Unfortunately photographs aren’t allowed inside the building, but half of the building was almost like a museum of Tibetan Buddhism. Not a museum in the sense that it’s filled with school children though; we saw a few Chinese people, but the building was filled mostly with worshipping Tibetans. Each of them had prayer beads in hand and were consumed in a seemingly never ending spiritual chant. All of the monks made sure to carefully touch all of the metal designs on the doorways before entering another room – I wasn’t sure what the signifigance of this was.

I grew up exposed to Buddhism as far back as my memory allows me to recall, but I still feel like a fake when I pray in a Buddhist temple among¬†career¬†Buddhists who spend their life seeking Nirvana. Many of them have calouses on their foreheads which are a sign of their¬†religious devotion. It makes me feel more like a white guy who doesn’t really know what’s going on, but at least I don’t beg for money. Buddhism and begging seem to go hand in hand whether I’m in Thailand or Tibet. Still, it’s hard not to marvel at that kind of life-long commitment to peace and spiritual harmony.

After leaving the Palace Dave and I returned to the Tibetan market to continue our search for the Tibetan robe known as the chupa. With each day we become farther from the Tibetan new year and shops and restaurants are starting to open again for business. Today was our lucky day. We found the jacket chupas available from one vendor and I explained to him what we were looking for. He led us through the market and down an alley, into a locked room filled with chupas of all shapes and sizes. I confirmed that we wanted male chupas (chupas for females are more common) that extended below our knees. Within a moment he produced exactly what we were looking for at a reasonable price. We didn’t negotiate at all, and bought them immediately.

Between the conclusion of our chupa search and navigating the hallways where a dozen Tibetan Dalai Lamas have called home, this has been as successful a day as it has memorable.

At 6am tomorrow morning we depart for Chengdu.

Published on March 5, 2006

Final Tibet Gig

Tonight was my final night of work on this particular trip to Tibet, and it was in a KTV-like disco. For those who don’t know, KTV is an acronym which stands for drugs, prostitutes, and monotonous, mind-numbing house music. I wasn’t really that excited once we’d arrived there, especially after the relative excellence of the previous two gigs in a more standard club environment. The equipment was terrible – not only did that not have turntables, but they didn’t even have turntable-emulating CD players. No sir, only a rack-mount Denon dual CD player which didn’t read all of my CD’s properly. The crowd was also really fickle – one moment the dancefloor would be empty and the next it would be so full you couldn’t fit another person on it. It had its moments though; when Dave did his fire dance I played Intergalactic by the Beastie Boys which he apparently hadn’t heard in years, and got so excited dancing around that he had an asthma attack. The fire poi flying around him ate up most of the already-thin air around him, apparently. We both laughed about it a few minutes afterwards.

Published on March 5, 2006

Club Babi La – It's a Request!

Last night all of us performed at the same club. It was pretty similar to the previous night except for a few details; I played Baby Got Back while the girls did their dance and I finished with Santeria by Sublime. Also, ten minutes into my set (which was mandated as house/breaks) a Tibetan approached the booth and handed me a piece of paper. I folded it open and it nearly perfect english it said:

“Can you please play hip hop, PLEASE. IT’S A REQUEST”

It was scribbled in huge letters on a bar receipt with a pencil. I will keep it until the end of time. I met a few more Tibetans who spoke fantastic English (in addition to Chinese and Tibetan). Another fun show – the last one will either be tonight or tomorrow. Monday morning at 10:30 we take the hour long bus ride to Lhasa airport and return to Chengdu. This Monday will mark exactly two weeks until I return to Los Angeles from Beijing. I’m trying to make it to Vietnam before that, we’ll see how it works out. I asked Tingting to check on flights for me today when she can; in return I’m bringing her cool stuff from Tibet.

Today Dave and I returned to the monestary surrounded by the Tibetan market looking for a Chupa. This is the traditional Tibetan jacket/robe that we’ve been looking for several days for. It’s difficult to find at the moment because we’re in the middle of the Tibetan new year celebrations, which don’t include keeping your shop open. We got much closer today than we had before, but couldn’t find exactly what we’re looking for. Kim has reassured us that we can find what we’re looking for in the Tibetan district of Chengdu with the help of her Tibetan husband – it might be the best shot that we have now.

Last night after the gig the 5 of us returned to the hotel but weren’t really tired. Dave and I went with the two Chinese jugglers (Mr Wu and Mr Gu!) to the internet cafe that I’m at now. This place is enormous and constantly packed – I’d estimate at least 400 people at any time of day. They were anxious to compete against us, we think of national pride. Warcraft 3 was a close match, but counterstrike was even closer. For anyone who’s never been to China, counterstrike is nearly a religion here. People play it everywhere, constantly. At first Dave and I were losing badly, but after an hour or so we were able to refine our strategy. By the second hour the competition was intense and the game was neck and neck, but we were always one or two games behind. We finally caught up on the 95th game – we ended on top, 48 games to 47. It was a tremendous victory that we didn’t reach until 5am. When we walked back to the hotel the path back to our hotel was still lined with prostitutes and we saw several large pools of blood on the street. First one, then another 2 blocks down. We couldn’t figure out what had happened, but it was a lot of blood.

It’s a request!

Published on March 4, 2006