I admitted to Micah the other day that he was a part of the inspiration for the 老百姓 snob I wrote about recently. I didn’t mean it as an insult or anything… it was just an observation of his lifestyle in Shanghai.
But let me say a few words in defense of the 老百姓 snob. I think the reason I put forward the effort to be this kind of snob is because I reject the status boost I might get from the stereotypes that Chinese hold about Western folk: they’re educated, creative, high-flying, party hard, and come to take charge. Consequently, I have to actively try to frame myself back into the same “social status” that I would have had back at home: just your average college graduate working his way into the middle class, feeling out of place in places like Rodeo Drive in Hollywood, considering his pocketbook when he dines out, and still having a warm spot in his heart for the street food and home-cooking of his youth. It’s not that the 老百姓 snob is absurd, it’s that he’s more sensitive to taking advantage of people thinking he’s something he’s not.
Not that I don’t realize I’m different; I will take advantage of being a foreigner abroad by taking English-teaching or translating jobs, but taking a higher salary just because I have a white face is something that weighs on my conscience. Maybe a useful metric to live by would be, if I was an immigrant from Nigeria would I have this option (of taking this higher salary, being invited to this party, being asked to take part in the filming of this commercial)?
On the one hand I kind of admire Micah’s stance. I, too, have felt the sort of “guilt of the privileged” on many occasions while living in China. I see it differently, though.
So there’s this show called 超级女声 which the Chinese abbreviate to 超女 and most people call “Supergirl” in English. (Danwei.org, on the other hand, calls it Super Voice Girls.) The show is a lot like American idol. This season it has been immensely popular all over mainland China. Viewers can vote for their favorites by text messaging with their cell phones. This past Friday was the final installment. A huge proportion of China’s TV-watching masses were tuned in.
Inspired by Micah’s entries, I thought it might be a good thing to watch. It couldn’t hurt my cultural understanding of China to watch something that so many Chinese folk were going gaga over. So I suggested to my girlfriend that we watch it. To my surprise, she hadn’t seen a single episode, but she agreed to watch it with me. We decided to watch it at her place with her parents, since they were into it.
Friday morning she asked that I also bring over the PS2. She said we could play video games first, then watch Supergirl. I agreed to that. So I came over with the PS2 around 5pm and we were soon very engaged in a cool Japanese fantasy game called Ico, taking turns playing it.
Soon it was dinner time. We ate, and then went back to the game.
When 8:30 rolled around, my girlfriend didn’t want to quit playing the video game to watch Supergirl. I didn’t really, either, since we were close to beating Ico and I didn’t want to miss the end. Supergirl ran something like 2 1/2 hours, so we decided to play for a while longer. As her parents started watching in the other room, the sounds of cliche, over-played songs started coming out of the other room.
More time passed, and the show was almost over. I didn’t want to miss the grand finale, at least, plus we had gotten stuck on this one part of Ico. So I asked my girlfriend if she was going to watch Supergirl or not. Her response:
> No, I’m really not interested. What’s so special about that show? There have been a million other shows like it, and they’re all the same. *I* can sing as well as some of those girls! Sorry, I’ll pass.
So I caught the tail end, and she didn’t watch any of it. To my surprise, the cute one got the least votes, and I thought she sang the best. The worst singer won. And it wasn’t very interesting watching.
My girlfriend made a good point: there really wasn’t anything unique or revolutionary about the show. It was actually in its second season, and received little attention its first season. Why was it so popular? I wanted to watch it to find out what all the hype was all about, but I think I should have just followed my girlfriend’s lead. She’s pretty smart.
So then we beat Ico. Cool game.
The next day my girlfriend invited 9 friends, male and female (all Chinese), over to my place for a little party. I asked them how many of them watched the final episode of Supergirl. They all did.
I think my girlfriend is the only Chinese person I know that didn’t watch a single episode. She wanted to play PS2 instead. She’s pretty damn cool.
I should be arriving in Tampa when it’s this time there. 5:30am Eastern Standard Time, not 5:30am China Time, that is. (Sorry you have to come pick me up so early, dad!)
It’s the 4th of July. Ever since living in China (and especially since having stayed at ZUCC, unofficial random meaningless fireworks capital of Zhejiang), fireworks are about as special to me as chopsticks. They’re really no big deal at all for me. And I’m normally not one to reflect much upon the meaning of “freedom” or independence from colonial rule on this day.
Still, it’s so nice to be back in a country where I can access any website I wish. Right before leaving China, there was a surge in blockings — TypePad blogs were reblocked, Blogsome (which I had recommended to potential China bloggers before) blogs were blocked, and I was having a lot of trouble accessing Micah’s blog. It seems like the shadow of the Great Firewall is getting longer and darker. (I’ll update the CBL to reflect these new blockings soon.)
When was the last time you felt infatuated? You met a new person, and there was just chemistry and excitement, and you couldn’t wait to see them again. But pretty soon, the spark was gone. You start to wonder what happened. Were you out of your mind before, or are you in a funk now? Pretty soon it doesn’t matter… the infatuation is over.
I have to admit: that’s how I feel about the Shanghai band Cold Fairyland (冷酷仙境).
Don’t get me wrong — Cold Fairyland is an awesome band, and I respect them a lot. They do an amazing and artistic mix of traditional and modern sounds. I also like how they almost never use English, no matter how many foreigners are at their shows.
The first show of theirs I saw at the Ark left me reeling. It was a truly amazing set, paced and executed expertly, driving the whole place into a dizzying climax. I was totally infatuated after that show. The two shows I have seen since then–one at the Ark again and one at the Creek Art Center–have led to me falling out of the infatuation.
I realized that they only have two songs that I really like. Those are their two rockingest songs. The others are cool, but when it comes to music, I have pretty simple tastes. For me, going to a Cold Fairyland show is kind of like going to an art museum to see an exhibit where I only end up liking one or two paintings. It’s sort of interesting, in that artsy “I’m appreciating culture” way, but it’s not exactly fun for me.
After the show on Saturday Brad and I headed over to Tang Hui (唐会). Ever since I first caught the live performances there, Tang Hui has been the only bar in Shanghai that I can say I really like. The shows I liked were put on by the owner, 张笃, a Chinese guy from Xinjiang who goes by the nickname of 竹马 (get it? 笃 = 竹马). He’s also the front man in his own band. He does a wicked cover of “No Woman No Cry” (who would have thought a Chinese guy could do such an authentic-sounding Jamaican accent??), some classic rock, and some cool ska Elvis covers. He and his friend from Xinjiang (who does a great “Nothing Else Matters” cover) also do some amazing rock versions of Xinjiang folk songs. I have no idea what they’re singing, but it sounds great. I thought Shanghai entertainment didn’t get much better.
Well, it gets a little better. Recently Tang Hui started giving this one Chinese woman a lot of time on stage, and she is amazing. She’s got a low, throaty voice, and the way she belts out songs makes for top-notch entertainment. Her songs are covers, and on Saturday night she did a bunch of Nirvana covers. Holy crap, I never thought a woman could do such awesome Nirvana covers. They weren’t even all the ones you’d expect, either — she did a few not on Nevermind like “Stain.” I was enthralled.
I was never really into cover bands before, but damn… that’s entertainment.
P.S. If you go to Tang Hui for the live music, don’t sit in the outer “hallway section.” It reduces the experience by approximately 60%.
拉面 is a kind of Chinese noodle. (Its cousin better known in the West is the Japanese adaptation, ramen.) It’s fun watching 拉面 being made. The process (via About.com):
> To make the noodles, roll the dough into a long cylinder. Rub sesame oil over. Grab both ends of the dough. Twist the dough, and then pull it out, stretching your arms apart. Fold the dough in half. Continue stretching and folding the dough until it forms fine noodles.
You really have to see it to understand. It looks like it takes a lot of skill. I guess it’s not surprising, then, that there could be a school (拉面学校) for it:
As Micah mentions, there’s definitely a slant to the people who were chosen for the portraits and profiles. To me, the slant seemed a lot like, “the Chinese are no longer the backwards Communists you think they are,” and since there are still people with this misperception, it’s good to keep getting that message out. Whatever the message, and however imperfect, I found the collection really entertaining.
Browsing the photos, it also made me recall that back in the day I once discussed doing something similar with Wilson. Probably out of laziness, I never did. But I’m sure there are otherpeople with nice cameras that could do just as good a job as the NY Times if they wanted to.
Micah is also a big fan of Murakami. He recently brought to my attention that the new novel Kafka on the Shore has been translated into Chinese and been for sale already for some time. Hardcore fan that he is, Micah read it in Chinese. The English translation is now out.
The difference in publication dates made me wonder why. Was it a quality issue? Does Murakami value his English-reading audience more than his Chinese-reading audience? Or maybe it’s because Murakami can actually read the English version? I’m not sure if authors approve translations in cases like that. I’m a little curious about all this.
This rash of Murakami links came about when I checked out what Murakami-tagged bookmarks people have in del.icio.us. In a weird coincidence, I also found a short story by Murakami called Tony Takitani involving Shanghai (briefly).
Finally, if all this has interested you in the least, you may be interested in my own contribution to the Murakami links: a Chinese wiki of Murakami’s works. Titles are given as published in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Japan, which yields some interesting differences if you dig that sort of thing.
You hear it every year from your Chinese friends at about this time: “Be careful with your wallet and your bag. It’s almost Chinese New Year, and the thieves are out in force so they can take home something extra for the holiday.”
I’ve only ever had one crappy cell phone stolen from me in China, but I’m extremely paranoid. The possibility of getting pickpocketed is on my mind constantly when I use public transportation or walk in crowds. I guess that’s a good thing, because it keeps me from getting victimized. On the other hand, it makes trekking through town a lot more taxing.
I thought my wallet was lifted on a bus recently as I was distracted by the snow. I even reported my credit card stolen. Carl found my wallet for me under my bed (d’oh!).
When the credit card company sent my replacement card, I got a notice in my mailbox to go pick it up at the post office (for security reasons). It looked exactly like a regular package notice, though, and Carl is expecting a package, so he went to claim it, with his passport as proof of identity. Despite not being me and showing them the wrong passport (i.e. not mine), they still gave it to him! Unbelievable.
Then when I called in to activate my replacement Visa card, I also had to unfreeze my Mastercard card with that bank because it was frozen when my Visa was reported stolen. Hoping it would be quicker, I used the English language service. As proof of identity, they required such difficult information as my home address, home phone number, and cell phone number. I had to make them wait a few seconds while I looked up my new home phone number because I haven’t memorized it yet. (Not fishy at all, right?) They asked my current credit limit, and I got it wrong. They still re-activated my card! Unbelievable.
If this country really gets into credit cards, credit card scamming is going to be huge. Back to the thieving, though.
Micah’s bag just got stolen. It’s really stupid, because all it had in it was kindergarten English teaching materials. The bag itself was probably worth the most from that take. Bastards!
What can you do when surrounded by all this holiday thievery? Well, just be careful. And if you still fall victim? Curse the waidiren! (外地人 are Chinese people that come from out of town. The stereotype is that they all come from poor rural areas and have little or no morals. The Shanghainese are pretty bad about blaming waidiren for all the city’s evils. I enjoy the irony of pretending to join in on the scapegoatery.)
Inspiration for this post: ShenzhenRen’s post on the same topic. (Well, that and my real life experiences.)
Yesterday I met up with some friends to go to a concert. Among them were Brad and Micah. We ate an early meal of sushi. The restaurant played Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do I Do for You” on repeat the entire time we were there. I was served an interesting California roll:
Is this normal for California rolls now?! I gotta say I feel there’s something wrong with mixing cantaloupe and wasabi….
Then we were on to the concert. It began at 7:15 pm. The headliner was Ladytron, and the Chinese bands Supermarket (超级市场) and the Flowers (花儿乐队) played as well. The weird thing was that the headliner, Ladytron, played second, and the Flowers played last. Brad observed that this was because the other two bands were pretty electronic-sounding; the Flowers didn’t really fit in. The Flowers played last so that fans of Ladytron could leave earlier.
Supermarket opened, and was plagued with some sound system trouble. First they had a guy on vocals singing in Chinese, then for the latter half they had a girl on vocals singing mostly English. They were OK, I guess, but pretty forgettable. I’m not a big fan of that electronic sound, but it was kinda cool to hear it coming from a Chinese band for the first time.
Ladytron came on next, and throughout their set seemed afraid to talk to the fans, even though the crowd was 30-40% foreign (read: white). One of the singers managed a shy ni hen gaoxing ma (“are you happy?”) and a few xie xies (thank yous), but not much more than that. The band relied on its music alone to work the crowd, and it worked to some degree. A few of their songs really imparted some energy.
Still, last night’s was not a crowd that any band would hope for. Before the show began I was playing a game trying to find what demographic was excluded. Pretty much only babies. There were old people, middle-aged people, whole families, little kids, young couples, older couples, loners, groups, and foreigners of all kinds. How can you possibly hope to get a good reaction out of a crowd like that? The Chinese were the majority, but a lot of them clearly had no idea what to expect from any of the bands. On top of that, although there was definitely a “crowd,” the turnout wasn’t especially high.
Micah and Brad liked Ladytron all right, I found them solidly so-so. As one of my good friends once noted, I’m a sucker for melodic music, and Ladytron was a little too much of a departure from that on a lot of their songs. “Noisy,” the old folks (not me!) would call it.
The Flowers were last. This was the band I had been looking forward to most, based on Brendan‘s recommendation. I hadn’t heard any of their music before, though. Looking at their logo on the big screen before they came out, I commented that it looked like a cross between the oldschool Atari logo and the Powerpuff Girls logo. After the band came out, I felt like they were a cross Between Green Day and the Powerpuff Girls.
Micah deemed the Flowers purely manufactured music, and I can certainly see his point, but I liked the band. The poppy punk style reminded me of my high school days. One descriptor that I can’t avoid when describing the band is cute. The way the lead singer engaged the crowd (no English, and no apologies) was just plan cute, from his jumping around and trying to get people waving their hands to his failed fart joke. One thing I have to give the Flowers is their effort at trying to get the crowd involved. The other bands (understandably) didn’t really even try, perhaps discouraged by the turnout.
So I definitely enjoyed the Flowers most. I’m going to go out and buy a CD later. Chinese musical attempts like these need to be encouraged if they’re ever going to blossom.
In the past week or so I’ve found myself drawn into a community of China bloggers (or “chloggers,” as Frank Yu of BrandRecon.com puts it). It’s sort of a strange community, “communication” often taking place in the form of blog posts or in e-mails that other members of the community are not aware of. Anyway, this community is becoming self-aware and interlinked. It was kind of cool that as soon as I put up my China Blog page, I started getting e-mails almost immediately, and my site started appearing immediately in other China blogs where it never had before. An attempt at selfless promotion of “the cause” turned out to be self-serving after all.
It’s great to see all the outsider viewpoints on China coming from within China. It’s also quite humbling to see the great logs other people are producing. You’ve got logs embroiled in politics, economics, and world affairs (China weblog and micah sittig, for example), logs chock full of great social insights (Black Man in China seems to be a community favorite), and even one in my own backyard (Hangzhou T-Salon)…. Makes me wonder why people would take the time to read mine! Apparently a few are, though. I never bothered with a counter for this site because that’s kinda beside the point. However, I’ve noted from my webhost’s stats that the visits are going up. I’ll be happy if just my friends and family are regularly checking to see what’s going on with me, but sometimes I wonder… [hint, hint, guys! The clock is now ticking. Let’s see how long it takes you to react to that statement.]