China Diary Part I

I have successfully arrived in Shenzen, China. As this is about the furthest afield I have come on my travels thusfar, both geographically and societally (along with, probably, Moscow), I’ve resolved to keep a proper tour diary here on this blog. I’m also unable to access Facebook and Twitter while I’m here, so if you’re looking for pithy updates on my progress, here’s your best bet. Anyways, to business.

I flew from Wellington, New Zealand, to Hong Kong on Thursday. It was another gruelling late-night travel turn-around – the show had finished at midnight, and my taxi for the airport arrived at 3am. While I always bear in mind how fortunate I am to do what I do and travel around the place, there’s no disguising the fact that those kind of schedules are no fun. 4 hours to Sydney, 3 hours hanging around (including being rockognized in a bookshop at the airport, which I couldn’t get my head around because I was so tired), then 8 hours to Hong Kong. Safe to say, I was feeling pretty knackered on my arrival.

Justin met me at the airport. He’s a HK national, but he spent time in the UK and is friends with Nigel, Ben and Tarrant, so he came well-recommended. He’s also leading a drive to bring more live music and touring acts to his city, and doing a great job of it too. We took the train from the airport, which is weirdly located on reclaimed land out in the bay, to the island itself. Hong Kong is, on the basis of 2 days’ experience, an awesome city. The colonial experience hangs heavy, alongside the dazzling steel, glass and concrete blooms of capitalism. The place has a great feel to it, it’s vibrant, electric even. HK Chinese locals are fiercely proud of their city, especially since 1997. There are many ex-pats, but they too have a lot of love for the place, and every one of them has a story to tell. I felt like I could spend a lot more time there.

The first evening, Justin and I headed out for some drinks. We ended up at a private party being thrown by hip-hop mogul Damon Dash – he’s currently mentoring singer-songwriter Mckenzie Eddy, who was booked to support at the show. The party was fun (helped immeasurably by the free booze), if a little industry heavy (no, I don’t have a card; why would I have a card? Jeez). By the end of the night the traveling, the lack of sleep and the booze conspired against me, and I ended up ordering room service in my pants and scaring the waitress. I think I wasn’t sufficiently “street” for Damon’s interest either. Oh well.

Show day began with a hangover. I went for a quick wander through Soho, a cool bohemian-ish area near my hotel, before heading over and checking out a new recording studio on the other side of the island, whose owner I’d met the night before. It was a pleasant surprise to find out that 70% of the area of the island is forrested hills. The stereotypical image of Hong Kong is urban over-crowding, and there is that, but the Chinese hills and the sweeping bays were refreshingly beautiful, and made me feel a whole lot better.

The show for the evening was in a bar called Rock School, which was in the red light district of the city (as many venues are… hm). The owner, Gregory, was an enthusiastic San Franciscan ex-pat on a mission to spread HK live music, and was very excited about the show, to the extent that he bought me a bottle of Jameson especially. Urgh… Soundcheck was fine, everything set up, I got some food and then waited for the show to start. I’m always nervous, playing a headline show the first time I come to a country (or, as in this case, continent). By rights, I don’t expect anyone to know about me or what I do. And like a nervous birthday party host convinced that his friends have deserted him, it’s easy to get a little edgy around the time of doors. In the end, we had an amazing crowd of about 250 people. There were lots of English ex-pats, as ever, but also fans from Singapore, American GIs and crazy punks from Taiwan, and lots of HK Chinese people as well. I was blown away by the turnout, and the show was a whole load of fun. The evening ended in hazy awesomeness.

This morning I got up, had lunch with Justin, and then boarded a suburban train towards the mainland and the Chinese border. Even though my visa was in order and I was well-rehearsed for the crossing, encounters with officialdom always make me feel a little nervous – I start thinking of all the possible things I might have done, or be doing, wrong. Insert nugget of wisdom about the corrosive nature of state power here. Anyways, after trundling through the suburbs as the only white person on the train, I made it to the border crossing sweating hard (although that’s also partly due to the intense humidity here, honest). In the end everything was seamless, and the bored young border guard waved me through (incidentally, I’m increasingly finding myself to be older than “authority” figures I encounter, which is always a little off-putting). On the other side I met Ciga, who is to be my tour manager for the next week or so, and she seems very nice and well-organized.

And there you have it. More to come soon. Incidentally, yup, an election in the UK. All three of the bastards lost, which was briefly heartening (though I didn’t see nearly enough Labour blood on the carpet for my liking). But in the end, who cares? Still no one is discussing the fucking behemoth in the room – national debt and impending economic collapse. Since you started reading this, around £2 million got added to our debt. Fucking hell. It’s nice to be far away from it all, sometimes.

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