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.