Yesterday morning I had to wake up at 4:30am in Vientiane, the capitol of Laos, to catch my flight to Kunming China. This was still several hundred km from Chengdu, my final destination, and I had to find my way there one way or another. Upon my return to China in Kunming International Airport I went upstairs to book another ticket north to Sichuan province. Immediately I’m happy to be back; there are no foreigners around, hardly any English anywhere to be seen, and the people at the ticket booking desk don’t speak any English. I had a 30 minute conversation with a group of ex-military businessmen while I waited for them to book my flight which was a blast.
I met up with Tenzin as soon as I returned in Chengdu and we talked for a long time about many things, including leaving and coming back to China. Tomorrow he leaves for Thailand for a month to unwind; off to almost the same place that I’ve been for the last month, for the same reason. But just like I told him: This is the first international vacation I’ve ever taken where I’m happy and excited to return home. Generally I associate the return home with an air of “back to work”. Other things are associated with my return, but that’s what seems to come to mind first, for me. Spending six weeks in Indonesia, Thailand, and Laos was a blast – but two things made it less of a blast for me than China is.
1. The language barrier
I can’t speak Indonesian and my Thai is very poor. I have no chance at reading a menu or communicating to someone who doesn’t speak English, but in a way this isn’t a problem because everyone speaks English. In another way, this is a big problem, because a key element of the adventure of traveling to another country is lost. If everyone can speak English, what motivation do I have to learn the language at all? I tried to learn; I really did, but found it incredibly difficult when there was no other reason for me to learn than for my own pleasure. The result of this futile linguistic struggle was that I’m relegated to being another tourist. I only feel marginally more a part of the community or culture than a group of fat sunburned sex tourists wearing Speedos.
2. Tourism and the local economy
Most of the places where I spent my time in SE Asia survive because of tourism. You can very rarely go anywhere where this isn’t evident. Everyone has adapted to the English language to support the influx of tourists, menus are all in English, and local communities are filled much more with tourists than with locals. Many of these countries don’t produce or export much of anything; tourism is a key element of their local economy. This compromises the culture, especially as it relates to any ethnic outsiders. Instead of a mutual culture exchange with people on the streets, they’re trying to sell me t-shirts. I didn’t come to Asia for t-shirts. That said, it’s great to be back. Everyone is friendly and surprised to see me, and no one relies on me to fill their mango milkshake or tourist t-shirt quota.
I wasn’t back for 4 hours before my cell phone rings; unidentified number. It turns out to be King; the manager of Focus Club in Lanzhou, north in Gansu province. Focus Club was the first club that I DJ’d at in China outside of Chengdu, last spring. I hadn’t talked to him in six months – within 10 minutes we’d reached an agreement for me to perform there on Friday and Saturday. What are the chances? I’m not here 6 hours and I get a pair of gigs out of nowhere from someone I haven’t spoken to in six months. I’m interested in using this time to do a lot of recording and collect and assemble new ideas for music, but I’m happy at the same time that business is great and there are zero concerns about finding work.
I’m listening to the new Boards of Canada album, The Campfire Headphase, which is unbelievable. I haven’t listened to it in its entirety yet, but I’m blown away by it so far.
When Tenzin returns from China we’re getting a new apartment in Chengdu and looking at more longterm plans to relocate south to Kunming, closer to the border with SE Asia. The apartment used to be the home of Chengdu’s biggest mob boss – the place hasn’t been rented out in over a year. I haven’t seen it yet but apparently it’s cavernous – we’ll use the space to build a studio. Tenzin, Jovian, and myself are all getting our equipment shipped over here from America.