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.


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