Traveling often helps you put your native country in perspective. Sometimes it comes in discussions of Quebecois “cuisine”, sometimes in discussions of exactly what a “cardigan” is and why Stephen Harper is a fool, sometimes there are stirring chats on language laws and waste disposal and Alberta tar sands and who exactly governs the North Pole if not “Santa” and then sometimes it turns into explaining who Santa is exactly. One of my favourite things to do on tour is read the foreign English language newspapers to get a dose of what’s really going on in the rest of the world but also to see what’s really going on back home on Canadian turf. Better still: sometimes you luck into an angry noodlemaker who is willing to give you hell about your government giving refuge to two Chinese criminals he’d like to see punished severely and immediately as he pulls pasta into Wuhan’s specialty re dian mien hot dry noodles. Jeremy helps us with translating our responses in Mandarin and by the time the hot sesame paste and green onion is being tossed on the top, his anger has lessened with our inability to defend most things in recent Canadian politics. He brings us warmed soy milk and a free glutinous rice ball and says, ”Bad both ways: Do-everything-for-no-one government and Do-nothing-except-for-few-one government.”
I wish we had more time in Wuhan.
We taxi 1½ hours to the Wuhan airport and drink Fragrant Milk teas before boarding our China Southern flight to Beijing. Nathaniel meets us carrying a Handsome Furs poster and, in his warm welcome, I feel like I am immediately home. Having spent a few months here earlier this year doing some writing, I already feel trepidation in being here for such a short time. There are too many things to show Dan: my apartment, my shady writing spot in Ditan Park, the Russian district furriers, the 798 Art district, the university I lectured at, all the details – touristic and domestic – of my time there. Plus I want him to meet all my friends. I feel a little overwhelmed. He senses my unease and promises we’ll move here soon.
After some quick bao zi dumplings in the Ju’er hutong hood, we ready ourselves for the show at the drive-in/venue 2 Kolegas. I tell Dan about a drunken cartwheel competition I hosted on the scratchy turf after a Boys Climbing Ropes concert. Despite everyone’s best intentions it takes a really long time to figure out why the PA system keeps clipping out but eventually the sound techs, the owner, Nathaniel, Dan and I manage to determine and fix the problem.
In the heat, with mosquitoes crawling all over our limbs, we do interviews with some very well-dressed well-informed beautiful girls and guys. We order over some Xin Jiang food and slurp noodles as quietly as possible to avoid utter confusion on the tape recordings.
Bigger Bang swoons on stage and delivers a hearty and sexy set before we nervously follow their great performance. I tell the crowd that “Hometown shows are amongst the most nerve wracking: I want all my friends to continue to like me.” To my delight, they do.
For the first time in the history of the Handsome Furs career, I know more people than Dan at a show. The D22 folks are there, artist Bo, Carsick Cars Shouwang, my absolute best friends Han Xia/Lydia and Damon are there. I am in utter heaven. These are my favourite people on earth in my favourite city on earth.
Han Xia, Damon, Nathaniel, Dan and I return to Nan Luogu Xiang for beers and bourbons from our favourite shirtless bartender. It is hard not to stay up all night with these folks: I want updates on Lydia’s film, updates on Damon’s petitions about the razing of hutongs, updates on what bands Nathaniel’s bringing over next. My heart is too full.
BEIJING. August 9.
Home is, of course, where the heart is. I am fortunate that I get to bring “home” with me everywhere I go on tour with Dan. But home is also the place one gets to sleep in, do laundry and have their gear fixed. We allow ourselves to be roused by the chiseling and hammering and coal-selling heckles that comprise hutong life in Beijing. Though Beijing is a deliberate capital, square in design, straight lines and right angles, arranged strictly according to compass, gridded out from the Forbidden City, these small little streets of our neighbourhood are windy enough to get lost on in search of early morning snacks and ka fei. Fortunately I have my bearings. Once we have dropped off our laundry, we grab coffees on Andingmen and head to a dumpling spot near my old home on Fang Jia hutong. At Good Repair, Dan gets the jack on his guitar fixed. We wander every side street in order to hunt down the best price on Feiyue sneakers finally settling on band New Pants-owned Bye Bye Disco shop so we can peruse their CD collection too. We bargain for Russian designer Denis Symochev knock offs and I buy a “Top Shop!” jumper. I show Dan my favourite haunts of the Dong Cheng district and we drink fermented yogurt shakes from clay pots to combat the heat. The man from the best bootleg DVD shop near the Experimental Drama School remembers my taste in films and points out his new titles. We sit on familiar stoops and watch the city I love. Dan holds my hand and I sigh a lot. After we have collected our laundry from Nathaniel’s sunny porch, we all head far passed the Drum and Bell towers in search of a prized little Yunan place. The food is utterly indescribable since I cannot fathom the origin of half the ingredients. Wholly, it is the most savory meal of the tour and they’ve all been formidable. It is nice to have had this day off to further enlist Dan as a Beijing devotee. Beijing is big, dirty and frequently inhuman in scale. It is the seat of China’s government. It is not showy or soft. There are strict laws and lawlessness. People often describe to me all the hateable facets of the city. But in my heart, I know we’ll end up here, both loving and hating everything the city has to offer, as one must with any good home. A little domestic violence in the vein of Woody Allen’s old love affair with New York. A love/hate relationship suits me perfectly. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I like a challenge.