China Diary Part III

The evening of my second day off in Guangzhou was like a whirlwind trip through the different sides of China. We took a cab over to the old town to see some 19th Century (and before) architecture. Ciga and I wandered aimless and happy through a warren of little streets, old wooden bars instead of doors on the buildings, tiled rooves and rickety staircases, hectic street food markets and so on. One of the cultural differences that hit me hardest about China was the different attitude to personal space. The Chinese just shoulder on through in crowded situations in a way that, to my timid Western self, seemed pretty brutal at first. But you get used to it after a while, and actually charging through crowded thoroughfares kind of appeals to the secret part of you that wishes you could do that on Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon. Anyways, after the old town, we wandered off to get some food and ended up in an ultra-modern shopping area, cowering under massive tower-blocks clothed with gaudy neon advertising, KFCs and cool young kids thronging chaotically, everyone with English slogans on their T-shirts but no one speaking the language, everyone vibrant and on the make. It felt pretty exhilarating to walk from one area to the other. We got some great Chinese food, and then headed back to the hotel. Later in the evening we stopped by to catch a set by a Canadian singer / pianist called Tyler (alas, his surname escapes my memory) who’d been at my show a few days before, and who whipped out a brief medley of my songs on the fly for my benefit, which was impressive and flattering in equal measure.

Another solid night’s sleep in the bag, we headed for the airport feeling mighty refreshed for a flight to Wuhan. Wuhan is one of the largest cities in China, an industrial powerhouse slap bang in the middle of the country. It reminded me of Manchester in many ways. Our stay was pretty whistlestop, but great fun. The venue, Vox, was much more of a normal rock venue than either of the other places I’d played so far, and the promoter, Dostav, was quite a character – he’s from Kathmandu originally but moved to Wuhan to get involved in rock ‘n’ roll. He seems to be doing a great job there. After the single best Chinese meal I’ve ever eaten, the show was busy, with a great crowd of mostly young cool Chinese kids, hungry for live music. After a great show and two days’ rest, I was in a really good mood after the show, and tested Dostav’s propensity for drinking as far as I could, with Ciga and some Italians who were at the show. I think I agreed to go play some shows in Nepal at some point in the evening.. Watch this space…

The next morning we got up late. Ciga and I decided we were allowed to have Western food for lunch, but actually ended up getting Chinese again, savouring the memory of the night before. We lunched in a restaurant with fantastically insane English translations on the menu – my favourite being “Slippery Chicken Of Cloud Mushroom Ear” (your guess is as good as mine). Thence we headed to the train station to get a 5-hour bullet train to Wuxi. Boarding the train was another exercise in a peculiarly Chinese kind of mayhem, everyone shoving everyone else, but somehow everyone gets to where they need to be. The train was really great, comfortable and fast, and we swept through some awesome scenery. Like Europe, but unlike the USA, the human imprint on the landscape in China is deeply ingrained – even in the depths of the countryside, you can see crumbling ruins, ancient cuts in the hillside, that are so old it’s almost like they are natural geographical features rather than man’s doings. You really get a sense of how old this civilization is, which in turn only adds to your respect for it.

Due to the vagaries of tour scheduling, we arrived in Wuxi at 9.15pm and basically ran to the venue, where I pretty much walked in, set up and played straight away. Wuxi is not a particularly Westernized city, despite being pretty near Shanghai, so the crowd was all Chinese, and on the quiet side. The show was in a Jazz Bar run by an enthusiastic local guy called Eric. I had fun playing, running through a bunch of new material and some more obscure older songs, as well as some covers. At shows like this, I feel more like, say, a pianist in the corner of a restaurant than someone that the audience has specifically come to see. That was the case with the Shenzen show as well. It’s not necessarily a bad thing at all, it just takes a slightly different mental approach to do it well and enjoy it. On this occasion, I had a great time, despite my stay in the building being so brief. We got an early night, on the grounds that the following day we’d be in Ciga’s hometown, Shanghai. I was advised to save my energy, and being a good little musician, I obeyed my tour manager.

I’ll finish up this diary in the next few days, but I’m going to save Shanghai and Beijing for another entry. I write from Winchester – I just got home, having completed one full lap of the world. I’m tired but happy. I can’t complain right now, it’s such a fantastic privilege to travel around these amazing places and do the thing I love. I’m pleased as punch to be back in England again, I do miss this place when I’m away. And tonight I shall sleep in my own bed. Bliss!

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