MIDI FEST 2012!

Jumping in the center of a mass of people doing the same , head banging ,screaming, and jutting fists into the air. This could easily be the scene at most train stations/ coach stations in China but fortunately (surprisingly?) I was not in the middle of this commotion at a public transportation depot.

I was actually watching Michael Graves ( of former Misfits fame) sing Ramones and Misfits songs while Marky Ramone (The Ramones duh!) bashed out on the drums. There were two other guys doing the whole guitar and bass thing too. Sorry guys, I have no idea who you are but you do a damn spot on job of covering Ramones and Misfits songs! You also tour the world and play music. So yea , not too shabby.

Wait a sec. Blitzkrieg Bop? Dreadlocks? Weird costumes? Odd leafy smells in the air?  What would Mao do? Where am I?

Don’t think about the answer to that first question. It would involve some sort of cultural revolution , a purging of the fun seekers, and a foreign devil societal harmonization project.

As for the second question ,it’s been an awesome start to the spring and MIDI festival returned to Shanghai once again for a two-day weekend show at Century Park April 21st & 22nd.

With only one day to spend going crazy , running around , and listening to music , I choose Saturday (mainly to see Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg) to venture out to Century Park.

Being crazy ,like I am , I was probably the only person to ride a bicycle from Puxi to Pudong (including a ferry ride across the river) on that overcast grey day. Fortunately the weather held out and a few feeble rays of sun managed to break through the layer of clouds later that day.

Century Park is definitely an amazing venue for a festival. The park itself is huge but the revelers were kept in check in a small area (compared to the park itself but big enough for the crowd) nearby gate #5.

The security staff seemed to have taken a page from the TSA’s playbook. Noneffective nuisance. A long security line hassle with the agents confiscating my two water bottles and me teaching them how to open a book bag that has more than two zippered compartments. (You’re Welcome!)

Once inside there were two stages : Yuan for electronic music , and Tang for rock/metal. On the path that connected the two there were various food stands (BBQ ,Melrose Pizza) and of course the booze stands. Tiger (Malaysian Beer) and Jagermeister seemed to have things pretty wrapped up. Cans of tiger and shots of Jager for 10RMB.

I spent most of the time at the electronic music stage and chilling out by the river. We checked out the rock/metal stage for a bit and while it definitely had a bunch of people there the Death Metal style screams emanating from the singer had my girlfriend covering her hears and saying it hurt before she ran away.

We stayed at the rock stage just for the Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg show and awesome it was. They cycled through great covers chosen from among The Ramones greatest hits and tossed in a few of the Misfits under Michael Graves songs. It was great to hear “Pet Cemetery” , a song I had pretty much completely forgot about.

The foreigners were all festivaled out with garish costumes , funky dance moves simulating dying fish, and generally being crazy. What surprised me was the amount of hip concert going Chinese that made it out. There were a lot of the standing , staring, brainless zombie types at the edges of the crowd but there were a ton of Chinese dressed up and getting down with it. Props out to you, Green Suit Guy and Pink Suit Girl! (P.S. I can see your underwear!) I was seeing a lot of tattoos , dreadz, crazy clothes, and Chinese girls smoking cigarettes. ( A rarity out of the big cities and not all that common in them)

Another funny thing to note were the Chinese Party Girls dressed to impress in full party dresses , stiletto pumps, and insane amounts of makeup. Eh, sorry not the best choice of apparel for the outdoor (mud pit) festivals. Obviously newcomers. One girl precariously perched on her high heels would dance by carefully picking up one foot about a centimeter off the ground, put it back , and then daintily switched to the other foot while the first high heel sunk slowly back into the mud. Funny stuff. There were also a surprising amount of Chinese parents with young children and even a couple of fisherman who were hitting up the rivers in the park who decided to see what the deafening bass and booming techno sounds were all about.

All in all , an awesome time. Next weekend sees Strawberry Festival swinging into the former World Expo greens but alas, the cashola situation looks to be keeping me from it. There should be a few other music festivals swinging through later on the in the summer. They appear to be getting more and more popular with every passing year. After that , I’m counting down to Kunshan’s ( a nearby city to Shanghai) Oktoberfest! Wooo wooo.

Nanhui Peach Blossoms

With Monday , Tuesday , and Wednesday off due to the bizarre holiday schedule in China and beautiful weather = more time to enjoy outside before the blazing , humid summer rolls in. Yesterday called for a trip to the far , far , outreaches of Shanghai , where nay a Laowai is to be seen. We took the NanXin bus line from Shanghai Railway Station for 2 hours way out into Pudong New District , past the airport , and almost all the way to the sea. Sitting on the bus for two hours to reach the distance outskirts of Shanghai takes longer than hopping on the bullet train to Nanjing!An interesting thing about the burbs’ is even though there are farmers fields and open areas of rapeseed (yellow flower currently in bloom) the fields sit in between high rises and construction of new high rises. Does anyone live in these new apartment buildings? It seems like everywhere in China is constantly building huge buildings on the outskirts of cities. I know China has a ton of people but are is there really that much demand for new buildings in the middle of nowhere? If I have enough money to buy a pad , I’m certainly not going to buy one with no cool amenities around , no access to the subway lines , and a long commute into the city. There are even new communities of American style suburban multistory houses. The Chinese difference though is that they are all clustered together without any yard , kind of defeating the American idea of idyllic suburban living. If you have the cash to buy that nice place you’d be better off moving to America and buying a bigger house for less cash.

Ok on the festival. We finally arrived at 南汇桃花村 (Nanhui Peach Blossom Village) . Peach Blossom Village sounds like a quiet little hamlet with cozy stone houses , maybe set on the banks of a small river , with old ladies hanging laundry and playing Mahjong but well it’s not quite like that. First of all , it’s not a village at all. There are no homes or residents living there. It’s a peach farm with a small lake and some entertainment options. Like most Chinese “parks” there is a mini amusement park for children , paddle boat rental for the lake , and performances. This place had an amazing stilt-walking show with a really , really , freaky main old perverted guy role. He would walk around and have “fights” with his old lady on stilts wife and pretend to touch her chest and lift up her skirt. He would walk around and scare kids and try to give young girls kisses all while his wife chases him around and hits him with various objects. The two main leads were supported by a large group of younger guys and gals dancing around. A highlight of the show was the people on stilts holding others and spinning around all while precariously perched up on the air. Awesome stuff. Another weird activity of the “village” was the Pig Excercise Meet. There was an obstacle course set up with a jump section , a slide section , and a high dive into water and subsequent swimming section. A man would march around the track with a whistle and the little pigs would run through the obstacles. It was really cute and very ridiculous .

Besides the strange activities , it was great to wander around the park and take in the wonderful smelling white , pink , and red peach blossoms. The flowers weren’t quite in full bloom but it was still really nice. The area also has some little canals with boat rides and wonderful weeping willows lining the waterways. Also a must try in the area are the plum blossom sweet cakes. A sticky glutinous bun is filled with sweet red bean paste and a peach flower flavoring. If you like sweet its awesome.

While the festival was nice , I’d say it’s not quite worth the 55 rmb admission price plus the 2 hour bus ride. If I had a car and made in the drive in the supposed 50 minutes it takes then I’d be all for the festival. If you don’t make it out to Nanhui there are some other flower options in Shanghai.

Gucun PArk  – Cherry Blossom Festival

Shanghai Botanical Garden – Cherry Blossom Exhibit

Century Park – Spring Garden

Gongqing Forest Park – Flower Exhibit

It’s spring! Put away those winter heaters and get those lazy bones outta the apartment!

Spring in Nanjing

This past weekend I took a little trip to Nanjing. Last time there (this being my second time) took place in the bitter cold and the unheated shower room at our hostel was quite brutal. Never before have I been that opposed to showering. This time the weather was infinitely more pleasant. Spring has sprung along the eastern Chinese seaboard! This will last for maybe a month or so and then will come the plum rains and then the humid furnace of summer. Spring and fall are the best seasons in Shanghai but they last for much too little time.

Spring in China is the time to see the blooming flowers as the world awakens from its annual slumber . Why did you have to eat those pomegranate seeds , Persephone??? Around this time Plum Blossoms , Peach Blossoms , and the all-mighty Cherry Blossoms are blooming. As in Japan there are many festivals and celebrations to welcome the sun and nice temperatures back into the hemisphere.

We hopped on an evening no-stop train from Shanghai’s HongQiao station to Nanjing’s South Station which only took 1 hour and 20 minutes. I love the bullet trains here. 250km/h, comfortable , and convenient. Also nice is the fact that the train stations in Shanghai as well as Nanjing are hooked up to the local metro (subway) networks. Shanghai metro from my house to the train station , board a train , and then Nanjing train station to the metro, and out nearby to my hostel in Nanjing.

We stayed at the Sunflower hostel and though not the nicest place ever the location in unbeatable. The rooms were a bit cramped and not quite the cleanest but the 4th floor chill-out lounge and rooftop hangout are awesome. That fluffy beast cat is awesome and the beer selection is quite nice ( I wasn’t expecting to see Samuel Smith’s Brewery pints there but they were) . The prosperous parts of China aren’t the cheapest places to travel in compared to Southeast Asia . For $30 I was expecting the private room to maybe be a bit nicer ( $25 in Phnom Penh gets an awesome boutique hotel with beautiful rooms) but it’s all good. Like I said before , the location cannot be beat. The hostel is smack dab in the bustling Confucius temple , shopping , eating , sightseeing district. The smells of street food waft everywhere , the sounds of shopkeepers trying to make a sale ring through the air, and a festive atmosphere abounds. Check out the lights in the temple area alongside the Qinghuai river. Stunning!

The main purpose for coming out to Nanjing this time was to attend a post wedding dinner celebration / mini-class reunion for my girlfriend’s former high school friend but we took full advantage of the weather to check out some more of Nanjing’s outdoor spots. Originally the plan was to see Niushou Shan , or Bull Head Mountain ,but it’s a bit out-of-the-way and we opted to concentrate on some closer spots.

The first area visited was YuHuaTai park aka Rain Flower Platform. It’s a very nice combination of parkland with a Martyr’s memorial and museum.  Weren’t expecting that one , huh? At the time the spot was inundated with marching swarms of what seemed to be every single middle schooler in Nanjing. This week we have to work (and students have to go to school) Monday- Sunday and then have the next Monday , Tuesday, and Wednesday off.  All for the next week’s tomb sweeping holiday. The students (all in uniform with teachers) were probably all at the park for a class outing due to the upcoming QingMing Jie (Tomb Sweeping Holiday). The crowds didn’t faze me and this time it actually added to the experience. The students were amazed by the foreigner. I heard so many kids talking about me (in Chinese) and so many kids were turning around looking , smiling , and shouting out things for me in English. We had fun with them also , pretending to walk in line with them and yelling things back at them. One note however, it’s not quite polite to yell out Hey Boy ! in English at a 23-year-old coming from a 14 old. A little ESL lesson for ya kids.

With the weather as beautiful as it was our next stop was also a park. We consulted our Nanjing street and tourist map during a lunch of Zhenjiang noodles (amazing and cheap) and decided to head to a park near the Changjiang (Yangtze) river. The park wasn’t all that amazing but it was a nice spot. It was full of the ubiquitous couple wedding photos and featured a weird little Dutch friendship town with a windmill and some houses that seemed straight out of suburban America. When I walked up the steps and gazed at the little demo house with the yard I couldn’t help but feel marooned back in those Mentorian side streets.

After strolling in the park and exhausting ourselves it was time to run to the wedding dinner of Aimee’s classmate. These affairs are a bit strange with a microphone wielding host getting people to play all sorts of weird games , giving out prizes, making fools of the bride and broom , and playing cheap pop music. We slipped into the back relatively unnoticed until our table pressured Aimee and myself into participating in a game. The host upon noticing my strange foreigness decided to take full advantage of it for the crowd. I hate getting in front of people and making a fool of myself. I much prefer taking it all in on the sidelines so imagine my distress upon having 60 eyes upon myself speaking Chinese into a microphone and trying to follow the directions of a game involving dancing around the room to a song. Holy shit. Well needless to say, I survived it and looking back it was kinda fun.

The next day it was time for some more enjoyment of nature. We went back to the spectacular forested Gold Purple Mountain park on the north side of Nanjing. Last time we had visited the Ming tombs , took the cable car up to the top of the mountain and visited the Purple Lake. This time our target was the Meihua (Plum Blossom) Hill. It’s the right time of the year to see plum and peach blossoms.  The ongoing flower festival showcases 35,000 plum blossom trees in 120 varieties — including China’s oldest — scattered in a 250-acre zone. It’s an amazing display of pink , white, and red blossoms in a full 360 degrees view. Well , a view of flowers and people of course. It is , after all, China.The crowds where nowhere near as bad as the ones encountered last year in Shanghai’s Gucun park’s Cherry Blossom Festival (which I intend going to again after this stupid work weekend with a break on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

After walking around for a few hours we were getting pretty exhausted so we took the metro back into town. To the trendy Xinjiekou shopping area for some needlessly expensive cool food. Spicy ,vinegar, jellyfish ? Check. Fresh green peppercorn frog? Ya got it. $5 spinach ? Bring it on! We took our time and relaxed over this great dinner. Then it was time to head to the hostel grab our things and make our way to Nanjing South Railway station for the trip back to Shanghai. Had a few brews on the train ride back and grabbed a Subway veggie delight back at Shanghai Hongqiao station. Mission accomplished ! Now time to start the 7 day work week before QingMing Jie. (Sighhhhhh….)

The Wall Yet Stands!

 

Change , change , change , change is in the air. The temperature has been creeping upwards ,the sun has come out after nearly a month of straight cold, grey, rain and the cherry blossoms are just starting to emerge.  Changshou road’s 4 eastbound lanes have been shutdown and traffic re-routed. One night there was a courtyard the next night a new 3 lane road was paved to compensate for the new construction. Just like that, overnight. One day I look from my balcony and everything is normal , the next day a new 3 lane road. Craziness. Later on this summer a new subway line will be open right on the corner of Changshou and Wuning roads. I , however, will be outta here in 3 weeks. A new apartment woo hoo!

Last summer upon returning from the Yunnan and Laos travels I read , much to my chagrin, in That’s Shanghai magazine that my favorite graffiti spot on Moganshan lu would be coming down. New developments and investments would be destroying the classic graf wall. It was supposed to be down by the end of last year . Shit weather and work have kept me away from the area but last weekend I checked it out and the wall yet stands! The adjacent building’s facade has been newly constructed and finished up but so far Moganshan’s wall is still up. I have no idea how long that will last or maybe the destruction has been called off. Who can say? I do leave you with some nice new photos though. Enjoy while it lasts. And I swear the rest of the Cambodian trip will be written up soon!