Saturday, August 3, 2013

An interesting coffee experience...

With my recent purchase of a new apple laptop I have returned to the modern world.  I have spent the last few days exploring the wonders of the icloud, and how my phone, tablet and laptop all work together.  Awesome.

Over the past few months I have been working on many different projects, a few music things in the works (secret projects!  to be announced soon!!) and focusing on learning Mandarin.  I have a great time learning the language - learning a new language is a great way to get your brain in shape.  It has been a long time since I have 'felt' myself learning, but with language, you can see your progress so easily!  I know a thousand Chinese words (although I often mix them up and say the wrong things...) and am currently starting to read and write.  I have this idea that a person does not really ever learn grammar until they start learning their second language... wow, grammar really is a huge pain in the ass, and a difficult thing to learn!  Not to mention Mandarin grammar is fairly easy!  Learning French must be a total pain.  Anyways I speak at the level of a three or four year old, and I am gonna keep on going!  It has been a life goal of mine to really learn another language so that helps motivate me... but I never in my whole life ever thought that I would learn to speak Chinese!

Today an interesting thing happened to me, I thought it was worth noting here.  

I went to have lunch with my friend Henning (professional mixologist from Germany) and afterwards we stopped off to get a coffee.  A daily trip to get a coffee has seriously been possibly the number one thing that has improved my Chinese, I always talk the poor baristas ears off.  They of course must think I am just some crazy guy, I come and order a coffee and while they make it I tell them (a total stranger most times) what I have been doing today, and what I think about the weather and Beijing.  Then they ask me a few questions that I can understand so we chat back and forth until inevitably they say something that I have absolutely no comprehension of.  Then I say "听不懂" (I don't understand) and laugh.  After this, maybe they try to explain what they said to me a different way, but really most times I am not able to learn expressions that easily except from my lovely teachers. 

I do take pity on these poor people having to deal with me, so if I recognize someone that I have talked to before, I try to say something a little more interesting or different than the typical day chit chat.  Seriously, sometimes it is hard to figure out what to say to people, I want to improve the language so I need to use new words but most people always chat about the same things... weather, work, feeling tired, etc.  So my new goal is to move conversations to the next level, and inquire for more information.  When someone tells me now they are tired and want to go home, I am trying to ask "Why are you so tired?" but sometimes I feel a little socially awkward knowing that most likely they will unleash a barrage of Mandarin at me that my poor blast shields cannot withstand, and I will be left dumbfounded.  When people do not understand they get a very specific look, as if gazing or staring at something far away, but really their mind is going through all of its files looking for recognizable words.  I have seen this look thousands of times, and I have myself gave it many times.  I need to name it....

Anyways this was a conversation I had getting my coffee at this new cafe we tried.  Note, it was all in Mandarin.

"Hi!  I would like an Americano and a Cappuccino.  How is your day going?"

"What?"  insert awkward pause, and smile.

"I want an Americano and a Cappuccino."

"Ok, for here or take away?"

"For here, thanks."

"Do you want a hot or cold Americano?"

"Hot, always hot.  I am from Seattle, we always drink hot coffee.  Do not add sugar or milk either, because real coffee is black."

"Oh, you are from Seattle - have you seen the movie "Love in Beijing, found in Seattle"?"  (Or something along those lines...)

"No I have not seen it, but I have heard about it.  Is it good?"

"It is good.  Take your girlfriend to see it."

"I do not have a girlfriend."


Uhh... insert awkward pause, "No why!"  This was in english, people here understand this saying, it is considered Chinglish.  We both laugh.

Then my barista hands me two cups.

"Ok here you go"

I look in the cups, "These cups are empty!" I reply.

"Yes they are, you go make the coffee."


"You make the coffee, over there."

At this point I feel like I am not understanding correctly.

"I go over there, and I make my own coffee."

"Yes, she will help you."  He points to a cute girl who is beaming near a large espresso machine and a million different contraptions for creating different types of bean juice.  



"I am giving you money for coffee... but I have to make it myself?"

"Yes, that is why people come here."


I have made a few coffee's in my life (the official way) because I had a girlfriend who was a barista, she showed me the basic ropes, but I pretended like I did not know how to do it so that I could practice Chinese.  The language was too specialized though, so I couldn't really understand what she was telling me, and we mostly used body language to communicate. 

Then I sat down and drank a great Americano, made by an American in Beijing!  

And I am still astounded at the business idea... I give you money, you give me an empty cup, and tell me to go make my own coffee.  This place was at capacity!  You can make a business out of anything I swear it.... 



P.S. Here is a pick of the band!  Someone had an iPhone and shot this, then we found it!

Friday, June 7, 2013

A different perspective:

Hi, this is Janice, Mack’s mom. Here are my thoughts and memories of visiting Mack in Beijing for two weeks.


I can’t believe how BIG it is.

I can’t believe how Flat it is.

All of these words make up my memories of China. I had no idea what it would be like to go to China, so my imagination got the better of me.   My fears, before my trip, – that caused me to wake up in the middle of the night, were:
  1. Getting lost, not being able to get back to Mack’s apt or find him if we were separated.
  2. Not being able to cross the street (valid fear, I traveled to Bangkok many years ago and could not cross any of the streets).
  3. Eating something weird that would make me sick for the duration of the trip.
  4. The last fear was that I might unintentionally do something wrong and I would get picked up and questioned by the police or the military.
I’m happy to say that my fears were unfounded (except crossing the street, but I’ll get to that later).
Mack lives in the center of Beijing, close to everything –well, as close as you can in a city that huge! He was such a good sport to host his Uncle and myself for 2 weeks. We made him get up every morning at 9am so we could start touring.

The first evening we (my brother Jim came with me to China) discovered that Mack speaks Mandarin! Not just a couple of words, but many words…he holds conversations with people! As soon as we heard Mack speak, we relaxed; he could get us where ever we wanted to go. And he could order for us too!

Jim and I loved the subway, we wanted to ride it everywhere. Once you figure out the line and the stop, it was pretty easy to get around. During the Olympics they redid the directions on the subway so not only areEnglish maps but the recorded voice says the stops in English as well as Spanish. Mack loves the taxi’s and ½ the time we would ride in a taxi and ½ the time the subway. Jim and I hated the taxi because they would never pick us up and it was so humiliating being rejected. Almost like they personally knew something about us that they didn’t want us in their cab. So, when Jim and I started out and about by ourselves (about the 3rdevening) we never took a cab! Only walked and rode the subway.
The first night we could only turn right…couldn’t go anywhere that didn’t have an overpass. No overpass, no crossing the street. The traffic was horrible, many vehicles going super fast and never stopping, and just about 6 lanes of traffic in each direction! To cross the street you moved in a large mass. Cars would never stop for you but would slowly maneuver around you. I hated it and almost had a heart attack several times. So, on that first night we turned right only – didn’t cross the street. The next night we had to cross the street. We waited for awhile, a woman came up near us and started across. I grabbed Jim and we walked next to her. Of course, we were ½ way across (crossed 6 lanes of traffic) and she got a phone call. She stopped at the small traffic barrier between lanes and answered her call. We stood there for 10 min with traffic rushing in both directions in front and behind us. The barrier was about 18 inches wide. Finally a man came up and we walked on his coat tails to get to the other side. He knew what we were doing and smiled at us as he walked away! Whew…and it never got better!
We visited all major tourist areas and they are exactly like every picture you have ever seen…except for the thousands of people. I will just mention a couple of places:
Tiananmen Square: has the mausoleum with Mao’s body in it. Every day from 8am to 11am they raise Mao’s body up from the ? (where ever his body is) and put it on display for the thousands of Chinese tourists to visit. We did not go see it, didn’t really want to. One thing did happen that is worth mentioning. We were walking in the square with Mack’s two friends (who are also his Chinese teachers). I was talking with Hanna – all of a sudden she grabbed my arm and pulled me quickly to the side. I looked behind me and about 3 feet away were the military marching – goose step. Apparently they were yelling for Hanna and I to get out of the way…"Get out of the way, we will not stop, get out of the way" . It was so noisy that neither of us heard it until they almost ran us over. Hanna told me that they would have just ran us over and trampled on us!!! Eeeeeee, ok.
We saw the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven and many other historical places. We went to every park available to see. There were so many people at every place we visited. There were not many foreigners, but Chinese tourists visiting Beijing from the countryside. I have one picture out of 500 that is people free.
There is such a juxtaposition (how come I can’t use that word in my "words with friends" game?) between the old Beijing and the new modern Beijing. Everywhere we visited was the old, historical Beijing within the new, modern Beijing. I can’t even describe the feeling of walking through the Forbidden City and day dreaming about the history. But then, I would bump into someone doing the same thing. That took some getting used to. When I was traveling in Peru and went to Machu Pichu, I spent a lot of time sitting, staring and daydreaming about what might have happened there. I thought I was going to do the same thing in China…but no, didn’t happen at all. I DIDN’T GET TO DAY DREAM AT ALL! Instead, I spent a lot of time smiling at all the Chinese who were taking my picture (thousands of pictures are on the internet somewhere of me, Mack and Jim), saying hello and posing with their families in pictures. I was a ROCK STAR! J
One day we took the Bullet Train to Shanghai, a five-hour trip and spent 3 days there. I think every architect in the world dreams of building a giant building in Shanghai. We saw the craziest buildings in Shanghai and they are starting in Beijing now too. The train averaged 189mph but it went up to 210 too. Smoothest ride ever.
In Shanghai we went into a snow bar…a bar that was many degrees below 0 and had a shot of vodka. We had to put North Face jackets on to go into the bar. Funny. There was snow and ice on top of the bar.
The food was great. Only ate one weird thing, which was Duck’s head. I thought I was ordering duck wings but it was the head split down the middle. It was quite an adventure, and I ate 2 until Mack told me what it was. Then I saw the eyeball staring at me…just couldn’t eat anymore. I ate tripe, which surprised me at how delicious it was. Everything was family style and you could only use chopsticks. About the 4th day I mastered them without dumping food in my lap or on my chest.
We managed to go to the Olympic Park where the Beijing Olympics were held. So windy we almost blew over. It was fun seeing the Birds Nest and the Swimming Cube. We walked the entire park.
We also went to the Great Wall. Tons of people, very steep walking and very odd sized steps. For some reason I thought the wall would be fairly level walking…maybe from pictures that I have seen. We went to the most visited section and it had handrails so you wouldn’t fall down the steep slopes. We also took some kind of tram up to the wall (it was exactly like riding in the helicopter ride at carnivals) which was hilarious. Mack said they don’t really stop, you have to jump in. Yes, we did and it was funny. Loved the Great Wall – I could almost day dream there…
The people in China made it such a wonderful trip. Nothing but kindness was shown to us (except by the taxi drivers that wouldn’t pick us up). Mack has made some great friends and it was so much fun to visit him.
Next year it will be a new place, right Mack?


Friday, May 3, 2013

The Great Philosopher, Confusion.

Confucious says "Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself"
His evil twin Confusion says "Never yourself choose, or impose, or impose upon others detest, things that you."   

Recently I purchased some musical equipment from my guy at and had it shipped to me in China.  Turns out this was quite a hassle in itself... people cannot ship music gear out of the USA without the purchaser changing their address on their credit/bank account to be the destination of the shipment.  I know it does not make sense, but fraud departments now days are so worried about scams that a loyal American customer cannot even call to order gear while touring without having to jump through a million flaming hula hoops.  After convincing the Americans to ship the gear to us, (two weeks after we were charged and officially purchased the equipment) our gear is now in customs in Beijing.

I receive a call from FedEx.  A woman with very little English asked me for my e-mail address, since I am expecting a package from FedEx, I gave her my e-mail address.  Ten minutes later I receive an e-mail, it is copied and pasted below.


1 passport copy
2 please fill the accessory personal letter, another is your air way bill
3 do the personal entry need about 6-7 working days


Weird, okay, great.  I already know where this is going.  I open the attachment to find the following letter.
Please examine closely.

My thoughts on this letter follow:

"Personal effects Explain Letter"

More than the bad choice of words, I was bothered that they did not capitalize the second word..

"Dear Capital Airport Customs:
My Parcel Tracking#______________ Parcels of items for personal use, without any commercial purpose."

What?  Am I writing a freaking love letter?  Dear Capital Airport Customs: I have missed you every day since we last parted, and you tried to screw me out of a million dollars... but it is okay because I am really a forgiving person...

The second part seems straight forward enough, so I fill in my tracking number.  Moving on,

"1.  Statement:"

What?  Am I supposed to write something here?  Or are you telling me 'The following are statements?'

"Package itself does not contain the relevant state regulations to limit or prohibit the import of products"

After living in Asia for an extended period of time, I can kind of make out the meaning of this.  What they meant to say was "Your package exceeds the state regulations on imported products".  That is a nice statement, they told me there were going to be statements coming up!

"Can provide proof of purchase invoice (if not available please state why):"

What?  Are they stating that I can provide proof of purchase?  Are they asking me to provide proof of purchase?  The second portion makes me feel that they need proof of purchase... but since this is under the 'statement' section I hope what they actually mean is "You are now able to purchase invoices provided in a can".

"2. Detail Information:"

Straight forward enough!

"3. Additional instruction:"

I guess I can provide additional instructions for the guys going through my box of very expensive musical gear.  I am sure to write "Break it and I will break you!" but I am also tempted to write "All fake, very cheap" except Sweetwater provided the receipts inside the box.  Damn.

"4.  I already know of Customs Announcement No. 43 of 2010 declared value on personal items can not be more than 1000 CNY limit, I guarantee to avoid similar incidents happen again."

No I did not already know, I do not know how I would know, and I am not sure that I even believe that right now.  1000 CNY is about $150USD, is that really the price limit on something you can have shipped to China? "I guarantee to avoid similar incidents happen again." What?  Are they apologizing for me?  If so, I am not sorry!  However, I definitely guarantee that I will never ever ship anything to China ever again.

"First, individuals mailed items, customs import duties imposed by law, but apply import duties at 50CNY below shall be exempted from"  

Uhhh...  I think what they are saying is anything that has been shipped that is under 50 CNY ($8) is exempt from duty..?  What do you think?

"Second, individuals sent from or sent to Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan regions, items, limit of 800 CNY: sent from or sent to other countries and regions, items, limit of 1,000 CNY."

Ok, so Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao although 'part of' China get even more screwed.  That makes me feel better.

This is my favorite:

"Third, personal mail import and export goods beyond the prescribed limits, should be procedures for returned goods or the provisions of the customs formalities.  However, only one item within parcels and indivisible, although beyond the prescribed limit, the Customs examination indeed personal use, in accordance with the provisions of personal items for customs clearance."





"5.  Base on China Customs'No. 147 decree:  Because I will not be available at customs site during inspection, I appoint Fedex employee to assist customs officer with inspection process."

I definitely do not know China Customs'No. 147 decree, but hot dang!  They must have underlined that portion of the letter because somebody who speaks o.k. English proof read it!  It is good writing, real potential there, and they underlined it because they did not want anybody to accidentally miss the best part of the letter!

"6.  I am willing to bear the customs in accordance with the relevant provisions of the tax levy, about RMB____________.  (total amount of tax based on the final scene customs instructions.)"

This part scares me.  Do I fill out how much I am willing to pay?  Or do I leave that blank?  How do I know how much to pay?  Shouldn't the company have filled that portion in before sending this to me?  The rest of the letter is obvious, but if I sign this and do not fill in #6, somebody gets to fill it in for me and I have to pay however much they say!!  AAAGGGGGHHHH!   Feeling CRAZY!  They are holding $3000US of music gear ransom at the airport

FedEx is a global company, there should be no reason that any portion of their company has some sort of crazy letter such as this!  No instructions other than to fill out and return.  Wow, I am really disappointed.  When I think that I actually paid them several hundred dollars for this confusion it makes me want to jump off my sixth floor balcony!


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Man in the moon


 Today the weather in Beijing is great.  The air is clear, there is no pollution, and it is in the mid to upper 70's Fahrenheit   It is a great day, and it seemed to appear out of the blue after a very cold, very intense, windy winter.  One week I was wearing my heavy North Face parka, and a few days later I am wishing that I had brought a pair of shorts!
My blog writing view
    As I write I am sitting in what is called "Central Park".  Really, it is a sort of expat community, nice apartments surround a little grass mound (the park) and a row of cafe's and restaurants that offer any type of food you can imagine are bustling.  It seems the majority of people living here are brought over by companies, often with their young children.  As a matter of fact, I could be anywhere in the entire world right now.  There are three kids speaking french playing in the rocks in front of me, a Korean family to my left teaching their two daughters how to ride bikes with training wheels.  A mother and her young son from a country in Africa are sitting on the hill, and her toddler son is speaking Mandarin with a playmate.
Busy walk to the subway..
    Then there is me.  I have been dreading writing up a new bio for a few weeks, and I need to write something short and sweet and forego all the bullshit that is usually involved in a musician bio.  I want to write something like this:

I am a musician.  I like music, and many things about music, but mostly the piano.  Right now I play keyboards, and organ.  I like to travel to different places and play what I like to play, which can be anything depending on who I am playing with.  I have a strong affinity for jazz and blues, and I am also kind of picky about those things, so sometimes I enjoy playing other types of music better.  I have spent the majority of my life doing many musical things, and I will continue to do musical things.  If you want a large list of musical things I have done and plan to do, please fill out an application and submit it with a three hundred dollar processing fee.

    Maybe I just replace the I's with Mack and the ams with is, add a few s' here and there, and maybe name drop a few names.... oh it seems so stupid.
    All of a sudden an old man wearing a janitor type uniform is sitting next to me, smoking a cigarette.  His shoes are almost totally destroyed, and his skin has seen a lot of weather.  He has a garbage bag, and a pair of what appear to be very long chopsticks.  He is blatantly staring at my computer screen, even as I write this exact sentence.  "Nihao, jintian tianqi hen hao"  Hi, today the weather is nice!  He says something back to me that I cannot understand and he grins a toothless grin as he takes another puff of his most likely fake Marlboro cigarette.  Then he waves, and goes back to work.  From what I can tell, this man's job is to walk around the park all day long, and pick up little pieces of gravel that have gotten from the path into the grass, and return them to their proper place, among all their stony friends.
    A strange feeling washes over me.  How different our two lives are.  I wonder what his life has been like.  How long has he worked at this job?  Does he have a family?  Where does he live?  Most likely quite far from our current location downtown Beijing.  Does he feel like he is contributing to his society, or does he feel like he is toiling away with such a useless task for hours a day?
    Now my mind is wandering.  How different our two lives seem, but at the same time how similar.  Here we both are.  He is taking a smoke break, I am writing a seemingly pointless blog.  A brief moment, each of us relaxing in our own way.  Neither of us really able to understand each other, but through body language we shared a very interesting, brief, conversation.  Put into words it would be something like this.

"How are you?"
"Good, nice weather today"
"Yea, writing on your computer I see"
"Yea, enjoying your cigarette?"
"Yea, back to work now"

I just realized that I am postponing writing this bio for another day.  That is all.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Why I am having fun.

Why I am having fun.

Yesterday, I woke up at ten o'clock.  I studied Chinese for an hour
and a half - then for thirty minutes I walked around and told complete
strangers my three sentances that I made.  "Today at two o'clock, I am
meeting with a friend to go rock climbing.  I am a little worried
because I am a professional pianist, but last night I had a dream that
I was a fantastic rock climber. So, I decided to stop being scared and
go rock climbing."
Of course, I cannot understand any of the follow up questions to these
sentances, so after spurting off my sentance to a stranger, I promptly
say.  "I do not speak Chinese."  Then, typically after a laugh, I
wander off to find the next victim of "Mack-style confusion."
At two o'clock, I went and met a friend Stella and we actually went
rock climbing.  Neither of us know how to do it, it was a great work
While rock climbing, me and Stella met a man from Austria and a man
from Belgium.  They instantly became friends in a way that only people
who have lived out of their home country can understand.  When Rene
from Austria speaks english, he sound absolutely like a incredibly
famous Austrian/American body-builder, action star, governator, and
this made me immediately like him.  Gaetan from Belgium was cool too,
and gave me some climbing tips!
We finished climbing and went and had some food.  Elements Fresh is a
hip restaurant.  I had a cobb salad, and a cup of organic black
Then I went to work.  At work, I played keyboards for four hours.
Focusing on the organ playing, and getting my band to groove hard.  I
was working with them on our straight ahead jazz feel -- my specialty,
but the guys do not have much experience there.
I decided I wanted to wear sunglasses throughout the whole
performance, so I did.
People think I am way cooler than I actually am, and they want to take
photos with me.  I wore my new sunglasses in every photo.
Then, we improvised a funk jam called "Its not harmonious, to be acrimonious".
After work, I went with the drummer to his next gig.  When I walked
into the bar out in the middle of the Hutongs near HoHai lake I was
greeted by what seemed to be Arnold Schwarzenneger.  "MACK ITS SO GOOD
world, Rene from the climing gym happened to be at this show, no pre
planning involved.  Strange!  He introduced me to two women from
Poland that were his close friends, then Stella came and we had a fun
crew of people!  We all hung out and watched the band, which was
composed of an American/Chinese Trombone player from North Carolina
who studied with Robin Eubanks, a trumpet player from Germany, a bass
player from France, and guitarist/singer from Brazil, and my drummer
JiaJia from China on the drums.  They kicked ass.
I specifically enjoyed a song they played - wo buzherdao buzherdao
uuuh.  neganegazhegazhega.  Hah - come to Beijing for a week and you
would get it too.
Many hours later, near five AM we all went to eat a giant hot-pot
feast!  It cost about forty dollars for all of us to eat some amazing
food!  (Great deal)  We all gave eachother a special easter cheers by
hot-potting some eggs, and using our chopsticks to smash them all
together and say Happy Easter.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Why's English so hard!?

One of the things that learning Chinese (or rather, trying to learn
Chinese) has taught me is that learning English is incredibly
difficult.  As I sit with my friends and try to explain to them the
differences between all the types of 'to' (two, too, to) one of them
out of the blue asks me about the word "O'clock".  Then, my other
friend Tim is asking me about the word "wrote".  He puts it through
the rules he has been taught about conjugation.
I can jump.
I will jump.
I jumped.
I am jumping.
(Wow at this exact moment, I just had one of those moments where I
thought... JUMP must be the most awful, strange word in the english
language.  I actually just confused myself totally, wondering if JUMP
is even the word that my english speaking brain meant to say.  Weird,
glitch in the Matrix.  Be careful, do not say the word jump to many
times, it will mess you up.)
Then he says:
I can write.
I will write.
I writed.
I am writing.
I correct him about writed, "when you've written something and it is
complete, you must say wrote." and he follows up with the questions
"What is written?"  I am by no means an English teacher, and I have no
training in how to teach language whatsoever.  I decide that I will
give a few examples of sentances to show how to use the word written.
I realize as I am making these sentances up in my head, that the word
written is always coming after the word 'have'.  I tell this to Tim.
"But you did not say have when you used the word before" he says.
"What do you mean?" I reply.
"You say to me, when YOUVE written something...   YOUVE shen me yi si
(whats it mean)?"
"You should visit my uncle's website,", we
laugh together.

It is at this time that I give major props to all of my English major
friends, and friends who have taught English as a profession.  I can
explain harmony, even difficult, advanced jazz harmony.  I can teach
people about music, and why some notes fit together and others do not.
I can show people how to read music, and train their hands to play
the piano.  What a crazy thing that is when I think about it.  But
when it comes to language, I do not know where to begin in teaching
others grammar rules, and honestly, I feel like I need a refresher
My friend Jen teaches English professionaly at the UW, she is moving
to Tokyo soon.  She told me this summer "Whenever you are down or
depressed, think about how good you are at speaking English!"  It was
a half joke at the time, but I think back to that comment often
lately.  All those years of english class really did teach me
something, and now it all makes me wonder, English is a very effective
language, but is it absolutely as effective as possible?
The organ was invented hundreds of years ago.  At that time, people
did not know much about erganomics and posture.  They created the
organ bench, a flat piece of wood to sit on while you play the organ.
Warp forward in time hundreds of years and what the hell am I sitting
on every night that is messing up my back?  A piano bench, a flat
piece of wood, maybe covered in some fabric or cushioning, but still a
flat piece of wood.  Tradition smadition, I am working on a new design
Language has been around for thousands of years, and it is evolving
all the time.  BUT - is it evolving in an effective way, and could it
be done better?
Somebody should design a new language, a world language, that
everybody on Earth learns.  All of our current languages have spawned
out of these old ancient ways of speaking, but now we know so much
more about the brain, and the way people think - we must be able to
come up with something better!  Deybis (my bassist) and I have
discussed this, think about it: If every day each person on earth
learned one brand new word, from a brand new written form of language,
(develepoed by earths 'brain bugs' themselves) learning words for the
most common ideas first, in a matter of 5 or so years everyone would
know 2000 words acrossed the globe.  8 years, 3000 words - and since
you learned all the most common words up front, everyone can
communicate, no problem.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Bacon? Sorry no beef today.

Bacon?  Sorry no beef today.

The other day I went to my first Chinese theme park.  The park was called Happy Valley, and it is smack dab in the middle of the city.  It is actually on the east side of the fourth ring road if my directional skills are accurate at all.  As we pulled up in the taxi, I had already formulated my opinions on what this theme park was going to be like.  

The analogy I have been using to help describe how things in Asia are is as follows:
In South East Asia, you travel around and every where you go, every single restaurant offers an absolutely scrumptious looking 'American Breakfast'.  I might have written something about this a few years ago on the Thailand blog.  It is as if all of the restuarant owners in South East Asia took a very big long look at an IHOP advertisement, or a Pancake House menu or even the famous Denny's and Sherris breakfast specials.  So, after doing their 'research' the owners of these fine establishments said "Oh, thats easy, we have all of those ingredients, we will make an American Breakfast of our own and be famous!".  This is where the problem lies.  Although all of these entrepeneurs took a big long gander at what makes an American Breakfast, they never actually ATE one.  They did not know that a typical American breakfast includes pork sausage, not just a hot dog.  They did not taste the juice, so they never new it was orange juice that comes with a typical American Breakfast, they just saw that it was orange, and picked any orange liquid to put in a cup and serve to you with breakfast.  (You would be surprised how many types of 'orange' [as in the color] juice there is.)  They serve breakfast with two slices of plain white bread, but not toast.  They always did the egss correct though, sunny side up.  It is a great case of, "Awww, you ALMOST did it!" and everybody when they are traveling orders one American breakfast, then learns their lesson and switches to pork rice soup.  

Apply this 'copy-cat' method to making theme parks and what do you get?  Basically, a straight up knock off of three or four famous theme parks put into one.  A runaway train ride, a rollercoaster that goes through a huge mountain, a splash mountain ride involving rabits and wolves, a bug world taken straight out of "A Bugs Life" but titled 'Ant Land'.  Kiosks selling mouse ears, and a plethora of depressed looking performers banging on trash cans, or doing dances to pop hits such as PSY's Gangnam Style.  People standing in lines chain smoking, and putting their trash in little decorative jars that are supposed to be part of the rides decor/ambience.  Food carts selling beer and other snacks such as potato chips, strange ice cream, bbq meats and hot dogs (without the bun, on a stick).  Flower beds that are being worked on by masses of laborers, nothing seeming to be complete.  The front sign of Happy Valley looked very sad and dirty, like nobody had washed it since it was originally built.  All the restaurants in the park were empty.  It was a very strange place after being to tons of major theme parks in the United States.

The ambience of the park was just totally off.  It was as if the designers saw what succesful parks in the US were like, and tried to recreate them on a surface level without ever actually fully understanding the system.  It is once again the case of the American Breakfast.  Anybody who has actually experienced Disney Land knows that it is the ambience that makes that place fun!  The happy music, the parades, the characters, the interactive experiences around the park, the well known story worlds that magically have come to life.  Take any of the actual 'rides' out of Disneyland and you have a lame ride at best, but when you are there and in it you have a total experience and the rides are great. 

I am just trying to give you guys a feel for what the place was like.  (For gods sake, the ride commonly known as the 'Extreme Scream' in the US, in which you are launched one hundred eighty feet in the air unexpectedly to free fall back to the surface of the earth in a fit of stomach renching, adrenaline rushing glee, has a COUNTDOWN in China!  A womans job is to say, 3, 2, 1, goodbye.  WELL!  That defeats the whole purpose of the ride, the total anxiety before hand while you sit, locked into your seat, awaiting your unavoidable fate.)  All this whining aside, the important thing is we still had A FANTASTIC TIME.

It was about forty dollars US to enter, which is expensive for a middle class family in Beijing.  We went on a Saturday and the lines were totally short, and it seemed that there were more workers than guests in the park.  The rollercoasters and rides themselves were top of the line, maybe more like things you would find at a Six Flags type of theme park... you know, things that make you want to throw up.  

The winner was a roller-coaster that you are suspended horizontally from, so you fly through the ride as if you are superman.  Really fun.  At one point it does a inverted loop and it has to be one of the craziest feelings my body has ever had! 

We road the "Extreme Scream" four times in a row - I do not know what was better, watching everybody squirm before 'take off' or riding it yourself.  A few times my subconcious was asking me whether or not these rides were safe for someone basically twice the size of a typical Chinese Male, but I just told my subconscious to screw off.  (These thoughts came often when I was hanging suspended upside down, totally being held up by the restraints of a ride...)

Another great ride was called the "Merciless Human Accelerator".  I think a ride can only have such a kick ass name if it is named in Chinese, then literally translated to English via a translation program.  Basically it is a variation on the ship ride that rocks back and forth.  This son of a bitch sways about one hundred and sixty feet up on each side, then twirls at the same time.  This is one of those rides that looked like nothing from the ground, but once you were riding it you knew you were in deep shit.  It just kept getting higher and higher, and spinning faster and faster.  Everybody on the ride was screaming and having fun until the peak hits and you have a stomach renching turn at the top of the apex of a sway.  Then everyone is silent and wanting this personal little hell to end.  Haha, it is actually really funny.  "AAAAHHHHHH, OH MY GOD!  WOOOOOH"  universally becomes "Oh my god, I am gonna be sick."  (I was too, about six hours after the fact).

Me and Deybis convinced our friends Moira and WenWen to come with us through the haunted house.  This ride was really weird, it was  a huge building made up into a halloween style haunted house.  Me and Moira decided to go in front, then Deybis and WenWenin the back.  We busted into the first hallway and I immediately knew what I was in for.  I can not see a damn thing.  Nothing... at all.  I am taller than everybody and stuff is hanging from the ceiling and I have absolutely no idea what is going on.  I must have been wandering off the path, just randomly walking around each and every room until I found an exit.  Moira on the other hand, was absolutely terrified.  Screaming at the top of her lungs, clinging to me like a boa constrictor.  I could not figure it out because I literally could not see a single thing the entire time.  I heard nothing other than puffs of air and Moiras banshee style screeching, and I saw a few hanging bodies or skeletons when I walked into them. 
Apparently I was missing something.  Maybe people were jumping out and scaring us, and I just could not see them, or maybe the puffs of air were terrifying my side-kick, honestly I was so lost.  The haunted house was incredibly long also, maybe 800 meters of walking around a two story building in the dark, fifteen minutes of total confusion.  At one point the floor changed to some sort of mushy, or bouncy material, and at one point I saw some sort of dark figure stop and point at me and then run quickly through a bunch of mirrors to disapear into the darkness again.  
Eventually I drag Moira through to the exit.  "Why were you so scared?  I did not see anything! Literally, I was just wandering around like a fool in the dark"  Moira, who is studying English said "Very scary!"  Then told me in Chinese that she was very scared, and that was a awful attraction.  I couldn't agree more, totally awful.  

It was not until twenty minutes later or so while we were eating some sort of BBQ meat at a little cart that the mystery was revealed.  Deybis tells me that throughout the 'haunted house' ride, he would randomly reach out and grab Moira by the shoulder, or whisper something in her ear, or grab her by the ankle.  "HAHAHA YOU SON OF A GUN!".  While I was wandering around stupidly in the dark, Moira was really having a scary experience (as well as giving me a bruise on my right bicep!  Ouch!), all because of WenWen and Deybis behind us!  I had no idea the whole time.  Apparently their night vision is better than mine.  They never told her, and the only way she will ever find out is if she reads this blog! YOU GOT PUNKED!

There were other fun rides too, but those were the highlights.  Although the park was depressing, our team still rallied and had a lot of fun putting our bodies through a nightmare of loops, twirls, ups and downs.    


Friday, February 15, 2013

Year of the Snake!

Chinese New Years

A lot has been going on, but for the most part I have gotten into a routine of studying, practicing, excercising and performing.  Weekends are long nights here in BJ, and probably once a week I go out and do some sight seeing.  This weekend I am going to the temple fair for Chinese New Years.  Learning Chinese is a slow, tedious process, but I am making progress.  It is great to see myself learning something.  Trying to memorize about thirty words a day now, but I am still researching which method of memorization works the best.  I am using PLECO on the Ipad with the flashcard add ons, that helps a lot.
I live in an apartment now, in ShuangJing - a neighborhood two kilometers south of where I am working, and where I used to live.  It feels great to have an apartment, hotel rooms after a few months are a bit confining.  I have a full kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, laundry room, and patio (for air drying my clothes).  I like it.
My new singer is from Atlanta/Houston - she is great.  We are playing a lot of RnB right now, a lot of classic soul, and some new stuff.  It is fun to be playing totally different songs than I have ever played before, and the band is sounding great.
The other night was Chinese New Years, we got done with the show at 11:45, just in time to see the city of Beijing light up!  Our club we play at is on the 80th floor of the tallest building in town, and let me tell you this town does not mess around when it comes to fireworks!  Millions of the biggest, baddest, fireworks I have ever seen have been blowing off for days.  Check out this video:

Every firework that is shot off is a massive explosion, totally illegal in the USA.  Really an amazing sight.  I jumped in a cab to go to work, and in the middle of the freeway there were cars pulled over and a bunch of guys blowing off these giant bombs right on the freeway.
The Chinese New Year actually lasts about two weeks - everyone goes home to visit their families.  The city right now is dead, stores are closed, places that are typically packed are basically empty.  Beijing felt a little like a ghost town, but now it is livening up again.  My impression of the holiday is going to be lasting.  I received a Happy New Years letter from my Chinese teacher Xiao Ling, some of her words really describe the New Year holiday well.
"....The New Year is very important for Chinese people.  We believe that no matter what has happened in the past, there are always a lot of good experiences to come.  We take this time every year to celebrate the good that is to come into our lives in the coming year..."
Chinese New Year is the major holiday in this culture, similar to Christmas in the United States.  It is celebrated in a similar way as well, people go home and visit their family and friends.  Lots of food and cooking, laughing and hanging out.  It is lucky to give money for New Years, so there are little red envelopes that are exchnged that have money inside.  My impression is that the CNY is not a religious holiday for most people.  It really left me with good feelings, and honestly it feels like a really worthy holiday to celebrate - I think that maybe I like the idea of it a little more than the idea of Christmas lately.  It feels honest, and it feels real.  I do love the Christmas season when I am at home and with the family as well, but this is a very wonderful time of year here, and I really like what I have seen of this holiday.  ( I also know at least ten people who will read this blog would LOOVVEEE to get their hands on some of these rated R fireworks!  Fuuun!  Were gonna go buy some tomorrow!!)


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

FAKE MONEY!? Red Rover Red Rover!

I am the proud owner of 600 FAKE RMB ($100USD).  I do not know where they came from, but I know that I cannot tell a difference between the counterfeit money and the real money what so ever.  The 100RMB note is the biggest monetary bill in China, it is bright red and its value is a little under $20.00.  All the stores here have a machine that checks to see if the money is counterfeit or not so I cannot use these bills at any major chain store or large business...

As a traveler, musician, worker, American living abroad, what should I do with this fake money?  Should I try to give it back into circulation, or do I destroy it on behalf of China and eat the $$$ loss myself?  Who scammed me anyways? WHY I OUGHTA....!!

Can you tell which of these bills is real?

In other news, today in Beijing a new law came into effect.

At all the traffic signals, the yellow light now means that you must be stopped at the white line.  It is no longer a signal warning that the red light is coming soon, but you must be stopped when the light turns yellow or you risk being fined.  Essentially, the entire yellow light has  been turned into a different color of red light.

The immediate outcome of this new law was the worst day for car wrecks in modern history.  People were so scared to get the new fine that as soon as a signal would turn yellow, they would slam on their brakes.  Anybody who has driven in Asia knows that when you slam on your brakes, you get rear ended.  Thus, hundreds of accidents happened through out the day.

My drummer Mico mentioned that this event is exceptionally funny because all the law makers and congress men here have private drivers.  The people who enacted this law have not actually been behind the wheel of a car driving in China in years.  Apparently they forgot what the yellow light was about... slowing down safely, or continuing through the intersection if you are already committed.
So now one can only wonder, are they going to keep all three color lights at each signal?  Why not just switch to Red/Green lights and forgo the entire yellow light?  Or are they going to add in a new color light that means slow down, like Blue?  So you have Green - Go, Blue - Slow Down, Yellow - Stop and last but not least Red - Stop.

Bangkok has a countdown timer so maybe that would work -but probably not as Bangkok has some of the worst traffic problems in the world!  

Is congestion going to be worse now too?  Great, all that Beijing needs is more traffic on these roads!