China Diary Part II

After meeting up with Ciga, we headed into Shenzen. It’s a startlingly new city – it was a fishing village 40 years ago, but for reasons I never quite got to the bottom of, Deng Xiaoping chose it as the first of his Special Economic Zones sometime in the 1980s, and since then it’s blossomed into a massive, pulsing city, a centre for international trade, a buzzing metropolis. We checked into our hotel and relaxed in the air-conditioning for a while – it’s even hotter in Shenzen than it was in Hong Kong, and I was doing a whole lot of sweating. Ciga is great – she speaks great English, wears awesome shoes and doesn’t trust her government. A woman after my own heart then.

The show in Shenzen was in a restaurant-cum-bar called i Du Tang, which was located in a weird little pedestrianized area of the city that was, apparently, the arts district. We headed over for a brief soundcheck (not all that successful, more on that in a moment) before grabbing some food. Ciga promised me we’d eat a whole lot of real Chinese food while I’m here – indeed, it’s hard to eat much else, and mentions were made of chicken’s feet, turkey neck and turtle. These have yet to materialize on my plate, and I have to say I have mixed feelings about the idea. We shall see. Sated, and newly familiar with Tsing Tao (Chinese beer, very nice), we went back to the venue for the show.

I have to say I had no idea what to expect from shows in China, so I was a little nervous to take the stage. There was a decent seated crowd in the room, many eating food, probably 100 people or more. There was a heavy smattering of ex-pats, but it was mostly a Chinese crowd. I played for around an hour, but I have to say it wasn’t one of my best shows. The sound was pretty mangled, both on stage and off, which certainly didn’t help; I was also feeling knackered from the last few days of travelling. But I think I also wasn’t sure how to approach the show. The crowd were very reserved in their own way, and the honest truth is that it’s been a while since I’ve played to a room with no one who knew the words. I guess I’ve been getting soft in my old age, and on first encountering a virgin crowd again, I basically floundered a little. Thinking back on it afterwards, I used to play shows like this reasonably often, 4 years ago, and it taught me skills that I suppose I have let gather dust. We hung around for a drink after the show and chatted to some cool American guys who were teaching English in China, but I was happy to get to the hotel and hit the sack hard.

The next morning we got up for a Chinese breakfast (much like all other Chinese meals, as far as I can tell) before getting the bullet train to Guangzhou. The train was very fast, efficient, and clean. We rolled through endless suburbs, never really breaking into open country, before arriving at our destination, a city known to the west as Canton. Our hotel for the show was immediately above the venue (always nice), which was an Irish bar called “Hooleys”, run by a Canadian, in China. Do keep up. The venue was nice and homely, the owner (Sean) was a great guy, and the show shaped up nicely. Hong Kong singer Kris Lao opened the show, and then I played a set for 50 or so people – more expats, proportionally, this time round. The show was much better from my point of view – as well as being better rested and in a more familiar environment, I’d done a lot of thinking about how to approach the show, mentally, and felt like I got the balance right.

After the show, we have two days off here in Guangzhou. It’s been an age since I spent 2 days in one place without travelling, and it always makes me feel a little bit surreal. Yesterday we did some pottering around Shamien Island, an enclave in the Pearl River which, for many years, was the only place Westerners were allowed to settle in China, meaning that the architecture is delightful. I’m kind of battling a cold at the moment, so we didn’t do too much with our day. I did manage to have an engaging conversation with Ciga about politics and China today. Interestingly, she said it was definitely a communist country, but couldn’t define that, and hadn’t heard of Marx or Marxism. Similarly, she knew about the Cultural Revolution and condemned it and Mao in strong terms, but knew of nothing happening in Tiananmen in 1989. I think it’s important to try and approach these situations and conversations without the arrogant assumption of cultural or factual superiority, so I was trying hard not to offend, but it was intriguing to see how Ciga saw her country. She also, incidentally, says she does not trust her government one bit. More as I find out about it.

Today I have been record shopping and am about to go hit the old town to see some pre-20th century Chinese streets and markets. Later on, I have a bunch of big announcements to make about US tour dates, competitions, 7″s and so on. But that can wait. Ni Hao, one and all.

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