Wednesday, March 29, 2006

DPP trashing green laws

Sorry about the headline, but I couldn't resist.'s hard to look at the Chen administration these days and not thing two steps back. A recent move now under protest has the Executive Yuan attempting to toss environmental standards by the wayside for a new Formosa Plastics steel plant and other heavy industries.

Here is the beginning of a protest letter from Wild At Heart, an organization backed by the Taipei law firm Winkler and Partners:

In response to the Executive Yuan's bold statement to the press yesterday
that Taiwan's EIA process has become the biggest obstacle to the country's
development, and demanding that major cases such as the Central Taiwan Science
Park, Kuo Kuang Petrochemical Technology Corp. and the Formosa Plastics steel
plant be approved as quickly as possible, this statement raises the most solemn
objections. Such one-sided public statements by the Executive Yuan not only
seriously affect the image of the EIA system, but also interfere in the
independent and professional review system.

According to the Organic Law of the Executive Yuan, the EIA committee
is a body under the EPA responsible for hearing EIA cases. It was set up to
comply with the administrative reform requirements for professional, rather than
political, methods of dealing with complex environmental issues, and to break
down the traditional hierarchical administrative system, making policy decisions
through joint consultation rather than acting on commands from higher
authorities. Therefore, the requirement expressed by the Executive Yuan to the
Council of Economic Planning (COEP) and Development, and even to the Minister of
the EPA, to intervene in the EIA process and “give as much assistance as
possible within the legal limits of their authority”, is a violation of
the division of work amongst the administrative authorities
. Neither of these two bodies has any legal authority whatsoever to
interfere in the workings of the EIA committee, except through a change in the law
by the Legislative Yuan disbanding the EIA committee or
transforming it into a consultancy body with no real decision-making functions.

The letter goes on to say that the Executive Yuan has placed direct pressure on the environmental agency to pass certain projects, generally "bypassing the system" and completely trampling [the] image and dignity" of the EIA Committee.

Anyone who wants to read the whole thing email me. I'll be happy to forward.

...but oh, right, THAT'S Beijing

Reading the article in the below post made me late for an interview I did with the director of the Midi School of Music, which is better known for the Midi Festival, a 4-day rock fest on the park lawns of Beijing now in its 6th year (May 1-4). And at the interview who else shows up but someone from the That's Beijing. I won't say who. This is afterall China.

After we got the low down on the fest I shared a cab with him back across town. Of course I asked him about it, and the answer was, "Yeah, Kitto's been out of the picture for a while. That happened three and a half years ago." The tone was half "what a terrible thing" and half "water under the bridge."

The current deal with That's Beijing is this: the business is not a "magazine," because "no foreign interest can own media in China," so they're an "advertising company" acting as a "consultant" to a Chinese publisher who rents them a license. This is basically the same as in Kitto's story, except now he's screwed out of ownership.

The fallout was that "That's title," as Kitto called his enterprise, was split. Now there are different owners for That's Beijing and That's Shanghai, and That's Guangzhou is a sort of subsidiary of the Shanghai mag.

What's it like writing there? "I get censored on a daily basis."

Then we talked about the possibility of my working there as music section editor, which has a nice ring to it, not to mention the terrible portent of working in state media in Beijing, albeit probably the hippest wing. Hmmm.

Scruples about this kind of thing are hardly in abundance. (Remember, the Chinese are "pragmatic" - which is another way of saying intimidated into submission.) Last week a former Taipei Times colleague - yes, the deep green pro-independence newspaper - over dinner told me of having applied for a job with the ultimate CCP mouthpiece, The People's Daily. I was so bemused I forgot to ask about the personal ethics involved there, and anyway my former workmate turned it down. "They only wanted to pay me RMB 6000 a month, can you believe that? I was asking for 12,000, which is the lowest salary I've ever asked for in my life." RMB 6,000 is US$750.

Right. Pragmatism.

But Beijing does on the surface feel so much like any big city, and it forces people to scrap to survive. And in that situation a job looks like a job. Personally I can think of lots of excuses - a chance to the man on the ground covering a hot, emergent music scene; a chance to see the evil machine from the inside....There are afterall, my Taipei Times friend tells me, westerners working as copy editors for the People's Daily. And really, that's nothing but polishing the party line.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Decline and fall of That's Beijing

Actually, the Beijing city guide, That's Beijing, still looks awesome, but one wonders for how long in light of this cringe story of how its creator has been entirely screwed out of his own business:

Related, yesterday's Beijing Evening News had a small story about how Google doesn't have a proper license, as it's sharing a license with some other content provider. The article quoted Google spokespersons as saying that they had cleared everything with the government and there was no problem, and really, you have to believe Google is doing things by the letter of the law as much as anyone is able. It's just that the letter keeps changing due to massive political corruption and greed, so all anyone can do is roll with it. Fortunately they have more clout than That's Beijing/Shanghai/Guangzhou.... The interesting thing about the article though, was that it seemed like the journalists were leading the witch hunt, grilling Google about the shared license relationship saying that the only precedents were merger companies. What unholy pitbulls of power.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Metallica karaoke in Tianjin

Tianjin is a 50-something Korean businessman in a hotel bar singing Metallica karaoke with a Filipino cover band backing him up and rocking it HARD. Now I've seen everything. And I thought Beijing was fun, but nothing prepared me for Tianjin.

I was there on assigment for the European trade journal I've secretly been working for for the past 8 years. Just before leaving for China I emailed my editor,asking if he wanted me to cover any trade fairs, and there was something lame in Shanghai which conflicted with the Swedish punk rock tour, so the North China International Bicycle Exhibition was the one. From Beijing a week before I called the Industry Association that was putting it on, and as expected got a voice saying, "Who? What? No, you don't need to do anything. The opening ceremony is at 9:30am on the 24th. Is that all? Zai jian!"

Good, the formalities were out of the way, so I just waited till the Thursday afternoon before and hopped on a commuter train to Tianjin, "Shanghai of the North," the city of 12 million that is sort of like the factory for Beijing. To be brief, it consists of a train station, a small old town built by Europeans 100+ years ago, and a new town consisting of roads interspersed with rubble, space-age buildings, and concrete-bunker housing blocks. I stayed on a strip of hotels near the International Exhibition Center overlooking a vast empty plaza beyond which a looping rollercoaster sat possibly a mile away. And along this strip in a building with a sign that read "TIANJIN TECHNOLOGY HOTEL" was the warm glow of a neon sign reading "HARRY'S BAR."

I got to my hotel, the Tianjing Grand Hotel, and as expected there were no rooms available. I had called earlier in the day to make a reservation, and was informed by some clerk with a thick, barely intelligible Beijing accent that: "There are only a couple rooms left."

"Ok, I want to reserve one."

"Just call us when you get to Tianjin and see if they're still available."


"Zai jian!"

In China, these elaborate go-betweens are actually a kind of code. The real meaning is: "Ah, you idiot foreigner, if you really understand Chinese culture you will know to just show up and bitch until you get what you want, and in the process you better have lots of hard cash or the right credentials or we will toss you out on your ass." I appreciated this, in part because there is something to be said for a tough culture like that of North China, and alse because I did have the right credentials. Getting a room took only 20 minutes of bickering, and concluded with a grunt slave from the Industry Association usuring me to my room with profuse apologies. I felt justified, asked her some questions about exports and why any white person not writing a doctoral thesis on neo-industrial wastelands would bother coming to this particular trade show - Europe is not a particularly hot export market for 80kg-load rickshaws - then flipped channels until it was time to go to Harry's.

There is an astounding truth evident in Filipino cover bands, and I do not know if it some innate aptitude only Filipinos have for mastering the entire western pop-rock cannon, or proof that rock music is so simple that any five Filipinos can learn all of it within a few years of learning to play instruments. My parteners at the bar were Jerry the Austrian, a man in his late 40s who knew that the real way to party is to crank through two bottles of Jack Daniels with friends and drag random girls onto an empty dance floor, Mr. Lee, who was paying for the Jack and drinking most of it, and Mr. Lee's "companion," a much younger Korean woman with big knockers and an uncovered navel who seemed to be resigned to this as her lot in life.

God it was a dead night. Only a few people in the place. So we requested Deep Purple, Bon Jovi - after Chengdu, Dirtstar might agree with me that cover bands in China do something mysterious for Bon Jovi songs that not even Bon Jovi can do anymore - and when they didn't know "Touch Myself" by the Divynils, it was the old R&B soul classic "Knock on Wood." At the end the guitarist thanked me for requesting this one. He said he knew it was the greatest song in the world when he first heard it when he was five years old. I agreed with him, and thanked him. Then I walked back to my hotel. I have partied deep into the night in an empty bar before and would highly recommend it on certain occasions, but this was not one of them. After Mr. Lee drunkenly emo-ed his way through "Never Never Land," the night was a dead-end alleyway. Even the band was getting ready to leave. And I figured that with only one honest full day of work to do during these six weeks, I might as well do it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Chinese documentary maker jailed

This from the blog RConversation shows that the limits of freedom of expression in China are not as free as the major media often paints them to be:

On March 22nd it will be one month since filmmaker and Global Voices Northeast Asia editor Hao Wu was detained without charge. We appeal to the Chinese government for Hao Wu's immediate release!

What happened to Hao?

Hao Wu (吴皓), a Chinese documentary filmmaker who lived in the U.S. between 1992 and 2004, was detained by the Beijing division of China’s State Security Bureau on the afternoon of Wednesday, Febuary 22, 2006. On that afternoon, Hao had met in Beijing with a congregation of a Christian church not recognized by the Chinese government, as part of the filming of his next documentary.

Read the rest here.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Beijing Journo

I finally read the Rolling Stone China cover story on Cui Jian on the plane from Kunming to Beijing yesterday, and the way they totally elided the man's political importance was pure sophistry genius. The article totally focused on his song Yi Wu Suo You (一无所有) - translated sometimes as Having Nothing, Less than Nothing, etc. - which has a great, great deal of its fame wrapped up in its becoming an anthem for student protestors in Tienanmen Square in the weeks leading up to the June 4 massacre. So Rolling Stone writes the whole story about the song's first performance in 1986 with this aura of divine provenance about how the song was destined for fame because it was just so awesome from the get go, eg. it was only rehearsed once before its TV performance debut and all kinds of stuff like this. Then from 1986 they jump straight to 2006, leaving out all the important history, with one major excuse being that Cui Jian himself isn't willing to talk about it. What a hoot! Of course Cui won't talk about it, my impression being that he's ridden the line for so long and still believes he can do more good on the inside, plus he's famous and revered now so why give that up? The article had one quote in support of the totally naive idea that Yi Wu Suo You was nothing more than a "love song." Interesting to note, when I was recently talking to Hunter Hai - a rocker in his 20s - about this song and the politics of that era, he said the same thing, "Personally, I think it's just a love song." The thing is, there's no "personally" about it. Echoes of the official line - which now seems to be in the hands of rock critics - are a little scary, mainly because they're everywhere.

...OK, OK, I promise to get back to touring with the vegan Swedes soon. Still more to tell.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Rolling Stone China

I have to say Lijiang has my favorite Internet "bar" in China, not because it's got like 200 kids in here playing video games and doing Internet chat at all hours of the day because they all have that, but because you have to walk up a dark, back-alley fire escape to get in. Totally awesome! And free tea in paper cups too.

...Rolling Stone launched a China edition at the beginning of March, something I've been wanting to comment on for a while but haven't had time to. Given that Rolling Stone - What, King Kong on the cover means selling out? - is many millions of frequent flyer miles from the radical alternative mouthpiece it was in the 60s, China doesn't seem such a weird fit. After all, any venture that's 100% gold-plated commercial Beijing seems to be fine with. But the mag is selling itself in an interesting way. What surprised me the most was that the issue has a piece called "Mavericks Renegades Trouble Makers" that leads off with a page and a half by Michael Moore, then goes on to profile a dozen or so (American) mavericks like Hunter S. Thompson, Cindy Sheehan, Kanye West, George Clooney (?), Fiona Apple (?)...ok, so they're not all that radical, but you get the picture. For foreign content, which makes up at least 60%, there's also a long interview with Bono and a 12-page spread on the history of Rolling Stone covers.

In the Forward, the editor, Hao Fang (郝舫) makes it pretty clear that - I'd say the image - they're trying to tap into is the radical 60s Rolling Stone; the commercial-music-era Eminem-covered Rolling Stone is not mentioned. After wallowing in the Rolling Stone "legend" with his opening paragraph, Hao Fang goes on:

Rolling Stone's legend proves that any magazine of distinction is the
perfect distillation of an individual dream. When this dream is shared by a
sufficient number of people, success is sure to follow. In the mad rush of
today's China, everyone harbors dreams, and Rolling Stone will definitely not
ignore the hopes that inspired them. But more often, we will bear witness to the
wonder of these dreams coming true, share the joy and woe of that mad rush, and
urge on those who may be feeling shades of exhaustion by lighting the way
forward through with the beacons of dream creators who've come before and
by bringing new dreamers to center stage before the entire world. We believe
that the transformations in entertainment, culture, and lifestyle in today's
China, and especially those who are bringing about these transformations, are
worth noticing, watching and defending in the same way that Rolling Stone has
previously done with Lennon or Dylan.

Who might the John Lennons and Bob Dylans of the new China be? The cover boy for issue #1 is the oversafe choice of father of Chinese rock Cui Jian, and there is a long article about him that I've been assured by several Beijing rockers says nothing new. There's also an interview with Mu Zimei, the journalist who became famous for blogging about her sex life - like two years ago. Other local content includes a list of where Jay rips off - oh, sorry, gets inspiration for - beats in 10 of his well-known chart toppers. And there's an article on famous Chinese who blog, an essay (by Yan Jun) on how MP3s are changing music, a profile on a Japanese hip hop producer, and an interview with Blixa Bargeld - who's that? - a former guitarist for Nick Cave who now lives in Beijing and has something to do with architecture.

Some kid, I forget in which city but it was while I was on tour with the Swedish Vegan punks, came up to me asking if I'd heard of Blixa Bargeld, with that quavery intonation that implies, "He's famous, right?" Of course I was like, "Who the hell are you talking about?" But the point is, kids here are so starved for information that they will assume anything they read about in Rolling Stone, or any foreign band they see in a club, or any random foreign thing they get half a grip on - is famous.

When I asked Hunter Hai about the new Rolling Stone - which had no major Chinese content I hadn't heard of 2 years ago, and I'm not that in the know - he just shrugged and said, "What do you expect? It's not a fan zine."

One girl I talked to, Shen Jing, who's in a girl punk band called Hang On The Box (which recently got kind of famous because one of their band mates said she wanted to fuck Maralyn Manson, which made Manson like her band, and it was all good for PR but the verdict on their music is still so so...) had a lot of confidence in Hao Fang, who is a senior music critic, universally respected, in his 40s I think, and generally considered above the friend-favoritism that generally plagues music writing in China. So I should have a quote here, right? "I think he'll be very good." Yeah, I'm pretty sure she said exactly that.

And one more thing. Hao Fang also wrote the Curt Cobain biography - the Chinese one of course - which was a very important wave of the wave of Nirvana adoration that swept China in 1996-7 and influenced virtually every band of that era.

Now, I also hear a nasty rumor that Hao Fang (and Yan Jun, and several other influential rock critics) were pressured by Beijing authorities to write things (I'm not sure exactly what) denouncing Pangu after the band fled into exile two years ago after playing a concert for Taiwanese independence in Taiwan. Interesting, no?

As for the 60s veneration, this is the same shit as Wane the college senior writing her thesis on American protest rock. In China you can publish the most radical American writers you can find, and even use them to feed anti-US sentiment, but don't even think about it when it comes to internal Chinese issues. So the big question - for Rolling Stone, Google, and everyone other well-meaning content provider in China - is whether vastly increased access to information and a new critical spirit will eventually help the Chinese read between the CCP lines, or whether the new bourgios literati will just make the deal with the devil go for self interest and self-censorship? I would guess that good will win out in the long run, but I can't help but seeing a lot of the latter for now.

Anyway, Hao Fang ends his little prelude with a faintly nationalistic tone. He had just spent a paragraph talking about the great writers of Rolling Stone Past - he specifically names Hunter S. Thompson, Lester Bangs, Annie Leibovitz, and Greil Marcus - before writing, in the next paragraph:
"These legends actually echo the unlimited possibilities of todays age of
interactive networks and the age of China."

Hao Fang concludes:
"From this day forward, we are likewise sending out a call to our own readers.
Let us here in the East have no regrets in creating a legend for this era."

How to view Blogger in China

If you add: to the end of any Blogger blog address, you can view it from within China.

For example:

Big ups to the people at PlanetLab for offering proxy and a port!

Small Victory in Mailiao

The Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants reports that Formosa Plastics has granted three concessions to workers at its Mailiao, Yunlin County plant in central Taiwan. Excerpts from the latest release as follows:

On the night of March 16, almost 200 Filipino workers went out of the South Gate
of their plant to meet migrant advocates for a public meeting. It was very clear
that the workers were still restive and defied management and even police by
going out of their compound without a pass. Representatives of management had to
negotiate with the workers and the advocates and took down their

The next day, more than a dozen migrant advocates held a
protest action in front of the CLA demanding that the problems of the workers
should be solved. They stated that if these were not met, the migrants most
probably would hold another strike.

The concessions granted by Formosa Plastics are as follows:

1. Workers will have their own bank accounts and would have the right to
get hold of all their take home pay. The allowance system will be

2. Workers will also have the right to remit their own money.

3. Workers forced to be guarantors of their friends going home for
vacation do not have to pay for the airfare of their friends who decide not to
come back to FPC. The guarantor system will stop.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

More Worker Disputes at Formosa Plastics

I fully intend to get back to the band tour, but I keep getting email press releases about this and it is certainly worth passing on. The third workers' strike in a year at Formosa Plastics (FPC) town-sized chemical production campus in Mailiao, Yunlin County, Taiwan happened last week on Mar. 13-14. It was the biggest strike yet. Aparently the Thais and Filipinos have put old grudges behind them and are trying to force collectively bargaining with 1000 or more workers ready to come off the lines. This despite laws that forbid aliens from forming labor unions, their general lack of rights, and all the dirty pressure Formosa Plastics has been able to apply, most notably the case of beating up and deporting Gil Lebria and 11 other Filipino workers after the first strike last July.

According to a recent press release by the Asian Pacific Mission for Migrants, the major demands are as follows:

1. They are against the payment of the brokers fee and
2. Against the payment of the board and lodging fee

Here are a few more excerpts from the (fairly long) release:

The CLA has already admitted in the past although verbally that the brokers
fee is actually a management fee. Meaning it is the workers themselves who pay
for the expenses of the employers for their management costs which are being
done by the brokers....

Migrant workers had to pay for their own board and lodging fees starting
2001 because the employers petitioned President Chen Shiu Bian for this. Their
contention was that they would want their production costs to go down. Before
2001, this was guaranteed free in their employment contracts. In essence this
was a wage cut in the guise of payment for board and lodging.

Dodgy practices workers want to see more regulated include: 1) employers' subcontracting workers to other companies with which the workers have no formal contracts or agreements; 2)financial management, whereby companies have complete control over workers' allowances (i.e. the amount of money they can draw to spend while in Taiwan) as well as remittances (i.e. the workers cannot pick their banks and transfer their own cash, as employers insist that they must do this for them).

A practice that is completely illegal yet extremely common is for employers to hold Alien Resident Certificates and passports - basically as ransom against possible flight.

More from the release:

....Going back to the situation in FPC, if the workers conditions are not
improved, other strikes might occur in the near future. The workers both Thai
and Filipino have already proven in practice that they are capable of doing
this. They are not intimidated anymore by the restrictions on their rights being
imposed by the company.

The only solution would be to have another
negotiation in ! the near future between the workers and management. The workers
should be represented by their own choosing and have the right also to choose
other outside groups like NGO¡¦s to assist them in their negotiations and not
only by their government representatives. [Note: only legislators and government
officials were allowed at the last round of negotiations.] During the last
strike, not one migrant was involved in the negotiation process inside FPC¡¦s
administration building.

The Ever-Perplexing Chinese Internet

The net here is such a feckin' crap shoot I'm not asking why anymore, but I will try to remember to light a couple incense sticks for whatever Daoist god covers firewall tunnelling.

Two days ago when I got to Lijiang, a high plains tourist trap in northern Yunnan not too far from the fabled Shangrila, I could neither open Google, Gmail, nor make any posts on this blog. It was a massive WTF if there ever was one. would not come up at all - Google!! - which is not only seems sort of like an Internet apocalypse, but it also had me wondering what the hell they were compromising their morals for if their site was blocked by some router for podunk Yunnan? Gmail would also not come up, and was an imitation or a scam, and I eventually found that would come up, but not the English version. Yahoo!, incidentally, came up fine, tho it had an ad-banner sidebar with pictures of naked women that linked to a site for a Peoples Liberation Army hospital for diabetes?! And the biggest pain in the ass, when I logged into Blogger (a Google subsidiary), I got this message (attenuated here):

This blog has been locked by Blogger's spam-prevention robots.....

Your blog is locked
Blogger's spam-prevention robots have detected that your blog has characteristics of a spam blog. (What's a spam blog?)

The link telling me what a spam blog is wouldn't come up, though Chainsmoker, who I was MSNing with, guessed it may have something to do with my posting from China, land of the hacker gangs.

Aparently Blogger had to manually verify that my blog was real, which took two days. Now I'm again "whitelisted." I've got one newspaper article to write first, then I'll finish up on the tour.

Monday, March 13, 2006


Theoretically at least, it was a good idea to take a boat up the Li River to Yangsuo, passing through a place acknowledged as one most scenic areas in the world. So we woke up before 7am to get a bus that would strand us at the dock of tourist trap souvenir stands for an hour before the 10:30-ish departure. Then men paddled flat tube skiffs out to the tourist boats and tried to sell souvenirs through the windows. One of these guys told me he made RMB300-500 a month and had to do this idiotic scam because he didn't have a drivers' license, i.e. a ticket to a better job. Then in Yangsuo we saw the amazingly scenic cliffs, rode bicycles, and paid the locals 2RMB to take photos of their cows - actually they tried to charge 2RMB per cow, and at one juncture succeded in scheming 11RMB out of us for a couple shutter snaps. It was a land of scam merchants.

And decent restaurants. And bargain goods. Stefan bought 4 probably fake North Face jackets, and that's about all I have to say for Yangsuo....We left it on a bus, then in Guilin caught the train for Kunming, with MaD promising us we would get hard sleepers even though all anyone had bought was platform tickets.

The good thing about MaD and Hunter was that they rolled mad cheap. Rarely was it more than RMB40 a night for a room, and often less. For the train from Wuhan to Changsha, they had a friend meet us at the platform with extra platform passes, meaning several had ridden for free - actually RMB2, if you count the price of two platform tickets, and that's basically nothing. The Swedes were paying their way, and they had nairn cash. I think Jonas asked Hunter for a couple RMB for a bus somewhere, at which point he said, "Man, I'm down to my last 20." 20RMB is about USD2.50 - and this was the 5th day of the tour!!! MaD was also talking about moving to a cheaper apartment as he couldn't afford RMB300 a month anymore. It's hard to not call that punk rock.


Yeah, Guilin, you know, it's got all the famed limestone pillars and shit. But let me tell you one thing, never go in early spring. First of all, Guangxi Province, for which Guilin is the scenic hub, is something like China's version of 1960s West Virginia, a backward-ass country of mud and mountains, home to an amazing breed of jalopie - part motorcycle, part tractor, part car. The engines are all exposed and actually cantalevered out at the front of these contraptions, often with a crotch-rocket motorcycle headlight and housing somehow grafted on. The Guangxi jalopies were actually my favorite part of the whole province, which I couldn't get out of fast enough. One thing I liked about them was how Chinese they were. Unlike jeepnies in the Philippines and tuk-tuks in Thailand, which can all be detailed, pimped out, and are at the very least kept bright, clean and shiny, the Guangxi jalopies are basically just covered in shit all the, somewhat mysteriously were the streets of Guilin. The mystery was that they were almost all paved and no one could figure out why they were still covered with muck.

As we were driving in, rain and dense fog obscured all the "world scenic destination" limestone cliffs, and when Wane said something about how shoddy everything looked, MaD came back, "Guilin is a scenic area, not a development zone."

For the third night in a row, we arrived with only a couple hours before the gig, but at least there was time for some oily fried rice. Eating with the Vegan Swedes was always a challenge, and the thing I could never get was how much they loved vegetarian meat, which is aparently not plentiful in Sweden. They said they needed it for the protein, as they were somehow in disbelief that there was no brown rice in China. Yeah, they really thought that. There was no point in trying to explain.

MaD and Hunter Hai were vegetarian too - Hunter I don't know, but MaD seemed like he'd picked it up as part of his correspondence-school punk-by-numbers, or maybe he was sucking up to Jonas or some other eco-punks he'd interviewed at some point in the past. I asked Jonas about it once, and he was at least clear about his Veganism, saying, "It's an ethical thing. What gives us the right to kill animals?" And that extends to the concentration-camp-like livestock farms, dairy farms, etc. MaD, on the other hand, said he was traumatized because he dad always used to kill fish. I may be a suburban-raised white boy, but I still call that a pussy. And, oh, by the way, vegetarian meat is disgusting. We at it at Buddhist restaurants in Wuhan, Guilin and seems to me somewhere else. I don't mind so much that fake fish is made from taro, because I like taro, but I don't like taro shaped like a filet and doused in slimy sweet and sour sauce. If I hadn't been there, no one would have thought to order eggplant or green vegetables. Otherwise I didn't mind the meatless meals. They were less likely to be rancid.

The gig was in a third-floor wood-framed bar that was more suited to acoustic and folk, and it ended up being the weakest show thus far, though still decent with 60 at the door and a few hippy foreign English teachers. As with most gigs on the tour, it was located not far from a college, the Guilin Electronic Industry College would be the direct translation. The opening band was Banana Peel, who's singer/ guitarist- Liu - was the one who'd set up the show. As with SMZD in Wuhan, it was tight black jeans and tatoos, fast and vaguely melodic. The set-up didn't allow for much slam dancing, so the kids mostly stared. Energy levels were muted.

The hotel was in a crappy mud alley around the back, and when we dropped our stuff there before the show, I thought they had just mopped the floors, as there was a film of water over the tile, both inside and outside the room. This was actually condensation from the cold fog that permeated everything, leaving tile water-topped and slippery. The water was still there when we got back, as it was two days later in the Guilin train station where we waited for a train to Kunming that was running four hours late. It was like sleeping in a cold swamp, and within the next two days me, Jonas, and Erik were all sick.

Friday, March 10, 2006


After Wuhan, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and even Beijing, Changsha seemed somehow like a fairly organized city. Aparently lots of mainland celebs call it home; there's also a ubiquity of faux-three-star hotels with massage parlors and saunas and we ended up staying in one in a split building. I forget what our half was called, but the other half was the Butterfly, also the name of my old Taichung standard.

I hit a gentrified tea house for a piece of thick chocolate toast and milk tea for breakfast, and on the way out, I ended up discussing Changsha's foreigner population with the counter girl.

"Lots of foreigners in Changsha come here, there were 15 yesterday," she said.

I said that was a lot, and then after the pregnant pause, she continued: "And the police come around here a lot too, because of the foreigners."

"Uh, why's that?"

"To check up on them, of course. That's their job."

"So it's surveillance?"

She didn't understand what I mean, though I'm sure I pronounced the word correctly - jianshi - but I'm also used to saying things correctly and not being understood from time to time, so I let it drop. And got the fuck out of there.

...somehow the train tickets to Guilin failed to materialize. MaD was asking venue owners to set up transport, and some, like this dickwad, were too pretty to bother. So we ended up hiring a mini-bus, which was just as well. Most of the five hours to Guilin there was a highway. It was only the last 100km or so that was like a government highway in 1960s West Virginia, i.e. gravel on either side and mud not far beyond that. The weather was turning cloudy, then rainy.

Our first stop was at a truck stop full of monsterous Russian rigs with excessive payloads. The road situation was shortly to become a mud-and-rust version of the film Brazil, where the vehicles were either megaton rigs or mini-cars not even the size of a truck wheel, only Brazil didn't quite capture the impenetrable smog and ubiquitous muck of Guangxi....But we're not there yet.

I got out when we stopped to stretch my legs and snap a few pictures of the wheeled leviathans, when somebody started getting out of a car that was slowing down as it drove buy. A soldier in fatigues got out, ran up to me, pulled some binoculars (with cool-ass red Chinese star on them) and put them up to my face.

"Look, they're very good."

Scanning the other side of the highway through the fog, I answered, "Yeah, they are."

"OK! 200 Yuan."

"What? No, I'm not going to buy this."

"Um, OK. 150."

"Look, this is military equipment. You can't sell this."

"We need gas. OK, 100."

"Sorry. I don't have any money, and I don't want any binoculars."

Then I walked back to the car laughing. By the time I got there, the army guys had beat me there and were trying to pawn of the binocs on the Swedes. I asked another of the soldiers why they were selling army equipment.

"Our officer told us to do it."



"And he gets a cut."


I'd read about this kind of thing in Harper's. In February, I think, their readings included an interview with a PLA colonel or general talking about how the government had essentially set them free to become a commercial enterprise and make cash any way they could, with predictably bizarre results. Aparently, it's all true.

As we got back into the van and were driving off, sans binoculars, Jonas mentioned, "Yeah, they said they had night vision too. I think he said something about being able to see in the dark."

Damn. Shoulda bought em.


The person I've neglected to mention so far is a Beijing local I'll call Hunter Hai, the roadie/ merch guy. A little more than two years ago in late 2004 his band was possibly the first to chart the waters and do a thorough tour of China, playing about two dozen gigs in 19 cities over the course of a month. Jonas was the roadie then. In the two years since, big China tours are becoming more and more common by underground bands - and only underground bands, especially punk bands, who are more willing to roll into town at the last minute and whip off a gig.

Liu, guitarist/ vox for a punk band called the Banana Peels put it like this in Guilin a couple nights ago: "Rock in China is a really awkward right now. You have punk, metal, and Brit rock and they all do things different ways. Like metal and Brit rock bands, they're more worried about putting up a good image and getting famous. When they play shows, they have a lot of conditions and won't play if everything's not just so. That's why I like punk." And that's why the more commercial attitudes of those other genres keep them from touring, from being populist. This is what I always respect about punk rock. back to telling the story in order. In the morning MaD brought us to wander around the Yangtze River bank in Wuhan - which is actually three cities, Wuchang, Hankou, and Hanyang; we were in the Wuchang section - where a bunch of lao touze, or old fuckers, were milling around en plein air selling fake Viagra, trimming corns off each others feet, getting haircuts, and watching Chinese opera rigged with a red cloth and face paint. MaD took us to a musty dock warehouse full of second hand US clothes that come as donations from American homes to Hong Kong, Shenzhen, then here; it's where punk rockers buy vintage leather jackets and Doc Martins for cheap. Then the train to Changsha.

MaD's girlfriend, Wane, a shy little indie waif with pastel patches on her jeans, has joined us, and on the train she sat down across from me to ask Hunter Hai for advice on her college senior thesis: a history of American protest rock?! So Hunter starts in the 40s with Woodie Guthrie and then pulled out a small notepad and drew up an outline that took the tradition through the Vietnam era, then branching out into black music, the birth of punk, the women's movement, political rap, and so on - I interjected a few things along the way, coz you can't leave out Public Enemy. But mostly I watched and listened. Hunter had a much better grip on the pre-60s stuff than I do, but what's more interesting of course is how this fits into the picture of acceptable opinion and dissent in China. I asked Wane why she chose this topic, and she answered with a typical non-reason: "I'm studying journalism, and my teacher said I could do anything I want, and I'm interested in this."

"Why don't you right about Pangu?" I asked in a jokey tone.

She shrugged and didn't answer.

"But really, your teacher is okay with this?"

"Yeah, it's fine."

We were speaking in Chinese, and the car was fairly full, so I switched into English to ask Hunter what he thought, and he was a little more lucid. First he said, "You can write anything you want now, especially like this, if it's just for education. You can do research into anything. And this is just a college thesis, so it's not like many people will read it." I couldn't help pressing him on the obvious point - that it would be impossible to get away with writing an essay on post-Communist Revolution protest movements in China. He waffled on this for a couple minutes, and then did something I've seen very few Chinese ever do, ignore all notions of face and admit I was right. And for this he won my unlimited respect. "You know, it's true that there are some things where we can write about America but not China." And then, making me feel like a hardline journalist dick, he said, "But me, I don't really care about politics" and started reading the sports pages of a local newspaper - both him and MaD follow all the European leagues religiously, the weird thing being that MaD, who buries his nose in soccer pages daily, claims he has neither a favorite team nor players.

Now this kind of parallel universe agrumentation is just the kind of subtlety the Mandarins used to try suggesting new courses of action to the Emperor without getting buried alive or beheaded, and its popping up now in rock and the much bigger intellectual culture that surrounds it. A lot of people will tell you that rock critics in China are actually more important than any of the bands, and as assbackwards as this sounds, it is probably true - more on that later, maybe. Liu also said bands sing in English so the PSB won't know what their lyrics mean, and English in general seems an alternative universe where you can't (as easily) get caught for progressive ideas.

In case you were wondering, no one will complain if you get onto a train in China, take your shirt off, stand on top of a couple of seats and start yelling at everyone within range. Somewhere after Chibi, the land of rolling hills, escapades, and intrigues of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the train filled up with yokels and we had to stand. Another nuke plant rushed buy, as did a couple of ramshackle brick kilns, and the rice paddies were flooded here, though they had not been north of Wuhan.

Changsha - it was only about a 4 hour trip - reminded me a bit of Taichung, especially when the venue we rolled up to turned out to be a 10-story mall in the middle of the downtown commercial district. The bar, called 10 and a Half Floor, was a sort of glass skybox overlooking a movie theater, though fortunately the blinds were closed and it worked well as a club. The kids were all pretty well to do and had definitely dropped some coin on fashion - which paid off at the merch booth after the show as well, much to the band's relief. Wuhan and Beijing had been slow. Erik had an abbrasion on his forehead by now from probably smacking himself with the microphone the night before. And of course there was the short plug-in time - we rolled in at 8:30 with warmup bands starting just after 9pm. O well. After the set, Beggo came up to me and said, "Man, there were so many mistakes tonight."

"Yeah," I said, "But they loved it anyway."

Punk rock. It's all about the energy.

Dakou CDs

For one thing, I haven't had my passport checked at an Internet cafe since Shenzhen, so maybe I should just chalk that up to bordertown paranoia, or just as likely, in the interior no one follows the rules....

What I wrote about Dakou earlier is wrong, I think. I got a more plausible explanation recently, which is this: Record companies, CD stores, etc. in the west occasionally dump excess inventory of unsalable or surplus CDs, selling them to developing countries as recyclable plastic. Many of them are clipped with an electric saw - thus the name dakou, make a hole - but many are not. In China these end up for sale on the streets, and the selection is weird, everything from recent (surplus) pop - e.g. Beyonce - to 70s has-beens. Last night in Kunming, I saw a guy selling some on the street for RMB 3, or USD 0.38 per disc.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

DAY 2: Wuhan

When I walked out of the Wudakou flophouse at around 6 in the morning it was still dark and there were small piles of garbage burning in the gutters. I went to Jonas' student apartment, on the 13th floor of a big apartment complex that was for everything like a big New York housing project, including the fact that there were no lights on in the hallways. We stuffed all the gear into a van, and a security guard tried to stop us because he thought we were stealing stuff. On the way to Beijing West Station there was a quick stop to pick up some newly pressed CDs. Otherwise it was just baggy eyes and the sun rising over the dusky urban sprawl, and then the mad crush at the train station, and then into hard sleeper berths stacked three high but comfortable, where everyone crashed immediately.

It was over 1200 km to Wuhan, straight south over pancake flat plains, and from Beijing we first entered Hubei, a province that wraps around the city in three directions. Cell phones went off as we crossed the provincial border, with messages telling people they had transferred to a new service provider. This happened periodically throughout the day, and you could use it to guage progress. Hebei was a land of dirt and dust, a stretch of beige crumbly walls and old industrial collectives where slogans and advertisements were painted on the masonry. Altogether, it looked like a place where you didn't want to stop. The next province, Henan, got greener and fields surrounded the tracks. I slept a lot but still remember passing two nuclear power plants.

Wuhan is in Hubei, where hills started to rise out of the countryside. We rolled in at 9pm and went straight to the gig in taxis, passing dozens of bare concrete husks that would soon be 30 or 40-story buildings. Most streets in Wuhan are covered in 2mm of dust and look like modern ghost towns of square apartment blocks. The Left Eye bar was located on one of these and very near the main gate of Wuhan University, the #5 college in China. We walked through the front door with kids shaking our hands - fuck yeah it's good to be in a band! - and were ushered to a back room with a mahjhong table where we stowed our stuff and the guys got ready.

The gig was solid, another crowd of 150 or so, and the leadup band, SMZD, was fun, fast black leather punk. And after it was over, everyone left pretty quickly. They were all kids. But one local I'd been talking to, a nice agricultural engineering student named Fu Tian, suggested another place to go. "You'll like it," he said, buying me a RMB5 big bottle of Snow beer, the local piss. So I told the band I was buggering off as they went in search of vegetarian food, and we hopped in a cab for Vox, which was virtually unidentifiable on the 2nd or 3rd floor of some anonymouse building in another deserted street somewhere, and then I walked in.

It was like the cafe scene from Star Wars, and I was like Holy shit, what are so many black people doing in Wuhan?! I asked one smiling black girl at the bar where she was from and she answered "Jamaica."

The place was full of Jamaicans, Africans, white North Americans, local rockers and students, and the DJ was pumping calypso, zouk, and non-pop hip hop. There was one girl on the dancefloor with a positively pneumatic butt, the kind that can jerk in about 12 different directions by itself without the rest of the body having to move. This was the proverbial Love Shack. Fu Tian kept buying me beers, as his friend, a pint-sized rocker, got the special musicians' price of RMB3, and I turned each and everyone to the heavens to honor the Merciful Buddha of Random Parties amidst the Vast Wastes that had brought me here.

In the course of the evening, a question had developed to how big Wuhan is. The taxi driver from the train station had told me, MaD's girlfriend, and two of the Swedes that the population was 8 million, to which they said, "Basically, that's Sweden." But the number I believe came from an English teacher from Oregon I met at Vox. He said 10.9 million, adding that it was a "shithole;" according to Fu Tian, Wuhan's mayor was recently quoted as saying the city is the "biggest village in China." This came at 3 in the morning when we were standing in the middle of a six lane road, which was the best way to flag a taxi in the middle of the night in Wuhan. And fortunately it only took about 10 minutes.

Meet Insurgent Kid

Rainy in Yangshuo, and if this tour is going to turn into a fireball it will need more than a bottle Changyu Super Fine Brandy - where can you buy a friggin bottle of Jack in this country? But Dirtstar is coming to Sichuan on the weekend, and in that there is vast potential... the only hitch in the first gig was a drunk French guy who believed in some frogified form of Real Punk almost got into a fight in the rinky-dink mosh pit with one of the throwback mohawk dudeworshippers of the lead singer in whatever the leadup band was. Nothing there. And when it was over some Joe Satriani/ Slash/ Howard Stern-looking white dude was calling himself the Hacker from Hackensack and to come check out his band, then it was, "Hey, we're gonna go in the back room and get high, you wanna come?" Still not in tip top form, I took a pass. And then I saw the bass player, Fredrik, with a mug of beer.

"You drink?"

"Yeah, I'm the only one."

"Thank God."

We clinked containers.

"Yeah, I need a couple just to get ready for a show, and then after to relax."

This is very good news....

...Now maybe this is a good time to introduce the cast of characters:

MaD, Chinese kid from Wuhan, tour manager and backup guitarist. Short and plodding, Internet geek who's into Guy Debord, sort of like the Yoz of the Chinese rock scene except he's too serious to joke around. Check his web site, where you'll also find his zine Chaos. When I first read a flimsy newsprint copy someone had smuggled back to Taipei, I thought it was a bunch of wussy shit, commanding novelty interest mainly for this goofy idea of "anarcho-communism." What I didn't realize was how rare this kind of thing is here, and even though there is not even a hint of a direct reference to any actual government - it's really just some wishful utopianism - MaD says he worries a bit about getting busted, i.e. reeducated, for putting out "a few ideas I think people should pay attention to." Crackdowns have truly kept alternative political thought to adolescent levels. No wonder there seems more room in the fluff of women's magazines and the like, where officially sanctioned commericalism leaves real room to maneuver....But introvert that he is, MaD is on top of things. Every time an organizer fucks up reserving train berths, he's the one that scrambles to fix it, waking up early to go to the train station or wherever and dealing, dealing, dealing....

Jonas, at 32 or 34, is the band's old man, tour treasurer, and drummer. Maybe the only one without tatoos. If this was baseball (cinema), he'd be Kevin Costner's character in Bull Durham. He's been in bands since 1994 and touring somewhere once a year. Metallica once offered to fly his brother, former lead singer in an underground famous band called Refused, to Stockholm to hang out with them, and when bro met Anthrax, they asked to have his picture taken with him; and it goes on: Tom Morello and Vincent Gallo while in Sweden asked Jonas' bro to come chill with them, and basically he couldn't be bothered....back to Jonas: highly personable, cool, takes things in a reasonable and slow manner, almost like he's sedated, but drums with a bit of fire. And oh yeah, he's a straight-edge Vegan.

Erik, the lead singer, has a tatoo of a chimpanzee with an AK47 slung over its shoulder on his right forarm. I asked where he got it, and the answer was "It was just, like, an old t-shirt I had like 5 or 6 years ago." No special meaning. A couple other tats as well. Also straight-edge Vegan, he's skinny, internal, and the perferct image of a punk frontman on stage - a whirling dervish, a man possessed, an Ian Curtis.

Stefan, massive forarm tats and black-died hair and for the last couple days wearing a black metal t-shirt where the script reads DRUG FREE. Nice guy, I talk with him a fair bit, yesterday about straight edge, which he says was a fair sized movement in Sweden a few years ago but has died down a bit. He drank till he hit the legal drinking age, then gave it up. Straight edge is mostly a personal thing, a reaction against punk's hypocrisy of calling for social change while being massively fucked up all the time. He's actually just a fill-in guitarist, as Jonas brother (Dennis, a different brother) couldn't make it. His other band is somewhere between punk and metal.

Fredrik, bass player. Thank god he drinks beer. Also not a Vegan, but vegetarian, as is Stefan. A young dude and a pretty regular guy, rock 'n roll wise.

On to day two....

Monday, March 06, 2006

TOUR DAY ONE: Club 13, Beijing

This was Mar. 3. At dinner the previous night with banker boys, my contact the tour manager, I'll call him MaD, finally bothered to call me to let me know it was on. About fucking time, but fortunately I was sedated by all the 10-inch prawns I'd eaten and barely excitable. Somehow I didn't expect it to happen, but it has....

I showed up at Club 13 that Friday afternoon. It's in Wudaokou, the rock 'n roll neighborhood abutting Beijing University that's been minorly glorified by wanks at Newsweek, Time, because they probably saw some kids with mohawks standing outside a club and drinking beer or clear rice liquor. Big shit. I saw that too, and it's hard for me to give much big cred to fashion punks who if you talk to them are as skittish in their eyes as jack rabbits; they got spiky hair because otherwise they wouldn't have any personalities at all. And besides, the scene is anchored by foreigners, who made up a good chunk of the crowd of 150, as they probably have been doing all along, because like the bar manager said, "We like them because they get more excited." In other words, they're not fucking voyeurs like they locals.

But I'm getting ahead. When I showed up at something like 4 in the afternoon the Swedes were doing soundcheck, and fortunately the music was good even though the band name is terrible: Insurgent Kid. At least what was coming through the amps was high energy, skater punk rock, some updated tradition of Agent Orange and Minor Threat, though I still don't know if they listened to those bands. They grew up with Metallica, and today in the van they were playing Bruce Springsteen:

"I got God on my side
I'm just trying to survive
What if what you do to survive
Kills the things you love

Good music for the mudshit byways of Guangxi, but again I drift ahead....

I didn't really talk to them until dinner, and I knew I should be there for the initiation of bottle draining and smoking something without asking what it is. After all, they were young and heavily tatooed.

But when I sat down next to the guitarist, Stefan, my gut turned when I saw the tatoos across the knuckles of his 8 fingers (thumbs of course excluded). It read:


At which I could only go Holy Fuck, this is obviously not going to be Dark Funeral. Those fuckin dudes rolled with Meth Daniels, crystal meth dissolved in duty free Tennessee whiskey. But this is going to be - and then the drummer, Jonas, getting ready to order, is like, "We're all vegetarian. I hope you're okay with that. Actually two of us are Vegan."

Talk about shattered illusions. Clearly rock and roll has changed, died a thousand deaths.

"Oh sure. Actually I'm fine with that."

It's kind of true, actually totally true. I am fine with it. And no question about it, these are all very cool guys. But damn if this wasn't going to be a different kind of tour....


...a backlog of posts to come, as THE TOUR HAS STARTED and it's helter-skelter, in a disturbingly sober way....

DAY TWO IN BEIJING a band called Reflector invited me to rehearsal. When I met the guitarist, TJ, driving a plastic imitation Vespa on some random street corner, he told me he'd thought I was Taiwanese from talking on the phone. Course my Chinese is not good enough to fool anyone in Taiwan, so it must be the accent that's confusing. I heard a similar story about a Beijing white guy coming to Taiwan.

...Reflector's guitarist is out of jail now, actually has been for some time, but for those POTS readers who remember Andy O'Brien's first article (before we even began posting English language content online), he got locked in the hoosegow for hitting some Beijing oldskool punk over the head with a beer bottle. Like his bandmate TJ said, "He knows kung fu."

What happened is this, and I bring it up because there's still a lot of misinformation floating around Taiwan rock circles about the motives behind the attack - nationalism? "Not at all": This is Lee Peng talking, the guitarist who got thrown in jail, and I will assume he's pretty damn sure what the fight was that he got locked up for. "Those fucking punks, they stole a drum pedal" - from Fire E.X., a Taiwanese punk band from Kaohsiung - and that's pretty much the end of the story.

Pretty much. TJ said the Taiwanese kids also brought beer in the bar from outside. "It was fucking stupid. Fighting over small shit." And then there was some backlash involving mafia going to the bar where the fight happened after it was all over, and Reflector got blamed but said they had nothing to do with it. TJ: "Look, we're famous, we don't have to do that. I said to the bar owner, 'Who's more niubi, you or us? Us.' Man, he's the one who looked like a fool."

So Lee Peng was held, detained, jailed, or whatever for half a year, and it was not prison, just the city jail. I can't really claim to understand the penal system here, so I'm just taking his word for it. He said he was in a big communal cell and had to stay there basically until his case went before a judge, at which point he was let out. That took six months, and he said he had to pay RMB 50,000, "mostly for lawyers, but of course a little for the judge. Ha ha."

I asked him what it was like inside, and he just kind of shrugged and called it an experience. "It was not so bad. And of course it was good to get out." I've talked with now three Chinese who've done recent jail time and read several more accounts, and it seems pretty common that those who've been through prison, work camps, and the like don't bitch about it much. Complaining about human rights just means more trouble I guess, so sealing it inside becomes a habit.

After band practice - Reflector is very tight BTW, one of the hotter bands on the circuit, and unlike any underground band in Taiwan they can actually live off music - Lee Peng invited me back to his place, which is a very cool mini-courtyard home in an old Beijing neighborhood, Dianmen. He's got a baby still not one year old with his French girlfriend, a sweet little family and they love the little dude. We drank tea for a while and the cold, clear winter sky went from pale to dusky outside the plastic sheets that covered the windows....

....I walked into a record store near there and asked if they had any Pangu, and the girl told me they'd sold out. She had nothing bad to say about the band, said they'd get the CD in again soon. I was like 'Really?' The interesting thing is that not as many people as I'd thought actually know that Pangu is in exile or that they even played Taiwan. Reflector had heard vague rumors but wasn't really sure till I told them. The woman in the CD store didn't seem to know much either, and I don't think I told her...

...dinner was high grade teppanyaki with a crew of American-Chinese guys plus associates, most in finance, one working for Microsoft, two for a cable network, and one for a cell phone content provider that had just cancelled a contract with the said cable network, making for a drama that went nowhere but a minorly interesting discussion on intellectual property - I say minorly interesting mostly because the people who were having it actually worked for big companies that owned intellectually property. The only real Nazi was a South American guy from the cable network: "No! If you Swingbox our content from the US to your computer in Beijing, you are stealing!"


Fortunately this ended up somewhere else, at a rundown hotel ballroom called the Hollywood something which was full of Russian and Mongolian prostitutes that were so scary me and the banker boys all flocked to the pool table, which cost USD 12.50 an hour on top of the totally ridiculous USD 5 cover charge we had paid. But after all, there was the ambience. The Monglolian prostitute that ended up trying to talk us up was named Anu, and she spoke both bad Chinese and bad English, but at least she had fake tits. We asked her various things: where are you from? what do you speak better, English or Chinese? and, the only interesting question, can you ride a horse? The answer was "yes."

At one point, when nobody else was listening, I pointed at all the bankers boys and asked her, "Hey, which one of them do you think has the most money?"

I don't really like talking to prostitutes because all they really care about is are you going to fuck them and pay for it, so I figured I'd at least ask something we could speculate on, her probably better than me. Cause really, shouldn't this hooker be able to smell Amex platinum?

She pretended she didn't know what I meant, so I repeated it slowly in Chinese, then in English. Then she wrinkled her face and got up and left.

After that a Russian woman named Olga handed me a card listing her title as "Fashion Designer" and said it would cost RMB 800 "to take a girl out for a short time."

"Gee thanks."

"Just keep my card."

"Yeah right."

"Put it in your pocket."

Then we left.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


NOTE: I hear there are some comments popping up, and many thanks for those, but I still can't actually view my own blog. I can only post.

BEGIN: With a case of food poison rising in my gut like bubbles in a cold lava lamp, I wandered the Forbidden City for three hours through the Beijing freeze. There was still snow in a few shadows from yesterday's dusting, and had my gut not been wrenching (and had the Chinese forgotten to shove strangers for a day) it could have been totally serene.

Awesome as it is, the palace is some of the most paranoid architecture I've ever seen in my life. Don't know the kilometer count on all those high-walled narrow corridors, but the Emperors were living like rats in a maze.

...burp. Glad it's abating.

My last day down south I made a day trip to Guangzhou. Bao-ping, a tall, indie girl who works for an online music mag, and her short-haired and stylish friend Neko took me first to see the dakou CD shops, where the smuggled CDs nabbed by customs end up for sale with sometimes a hole punched in the case. Prices are pretty cheap: 10-20 RMB. Bao-ping: "Without this, people here wouldn't know music." Weird selection though: Hall & Outs, Japanese jazz, Offspring... you have to search a lot.

I wanted to go to the local record store, and that was a perfect hole in the wall with 10 cats and piles of dust everywhere. Most of the CDs were previously opened, which made for easy sampling. I ended up buying 2 for 30RMB (USD$4), one a self-burned disc with sloppy handwriting, a badly xeroxed cover, and a broken jewel box, the other a fully professional product.

Part of my purpose on this trip is to see how Chinese kids now view Pangu, the hardcore band from Jiangxi that went into exile after playing Say Yes To Taiwan in 2004. After the CD shop, I did meet a couple people with something to say about them. The first I'll just call dude. He knew the band, respected them but wasn't terribly into them, and had no idea that they had to go on the lam in a quest for political asylum. So I told him. And I also said I got the impression that lots of kids now hate Pangu for selling out the Homeland. He didn't really take that view. Covering his mouth, he said, "You know, but what they were singing about was real."

Speaking even lower, under some loud background noise, he continued, "Have you heard about Shanwei?"

I said yes. Shanwei is a small village in Guangdong Province and the site of a recent massacre. Residents had protested after failing to recieve compensation from corrupt officials who had appropriated their land to build a power plant. After months of peaceful protests, the guards opened fire.

"I'm from there. My mother still lives there," said the dude. "Do you know how many people died."

I said that western media reported around 30, and that I'd seen pictures on the Internet. This had made news.

"The official estimate here was 3 dead and a 4 or so injured, but I know that's not true," he said. "That's not what I've heard. What you say sounds about right."

I had expected south China to be more receptive to Pangu. This was where they began to make a name for themselves, and it is far removed from the ultra-political mindset of Beijing. After all, Guangdong is where in the early 20th century Sun Yat-sen repeatedly came to foment revolt, and even though he flubbed almost a dozen of them and became a notorious threat to the throne, the anything-goes southern province was kind to him, and he was able to keep trying.

I met another guy, a vaguely metal-lookin guy in a limp black sweater with a red Mao pin on it. He said he wrote internal reports for the Communist Party in Beijing, but other people said that was bullshit. Anyway, I'll call him Sen. We got into a discussion of how rock concerts by their very form mimic political rallies. Basically, you've got this lead singer up there broadcasting his message (music/ propaganda) at a bunch of passive receivers, or that's at least what 70s stadium rock was about. If you think about it, there is a resemblance there to any Fascist rally, and we agreed on this. But Sen's conclusion was that music was dead so he put his lot with some pie-in-the-sky ultimate democracy, which was basically one of those absolutely unrealizable ideals Chinese intellectual culture seems so enamoured of, especially if you have to damn the practical consequences to get there. I said the smaller the show, the more interaction there tends to be, and anyway, society needs some leaders.

As part of this fairly useless debate, Sen brought up Ao Bo, Pangu's lead singer, saying that he knew him. "He's just a fool. He has no idea what he was doing." There was no animosity there though. The idea was that Pangu - who sang about killing communists and destroying the country 5% of the time and dirty streets and shitty lives the other 95% - had gone as extreme as they could in China and nothing had happened. So they went a step farther - Taiwan. And that's what got them in shit up to their eyeballs.

On the whole, Guangzhou was hardly damning of these dudes. Beijing, I expect, will be totally different.