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.


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3:18 AM  

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