We’re on the road again! This time the PlanB Juggernaut is taking on China. Why China? We don’t have any following here and few contacts, but we figure that if we can engage even a tiny portion of the 1.3 billion population, we’re doing well.
So the next few blogs will be a day by day summary of the stuff we’re doing, both musically and not.
Day 1 – Sunday 15 July
Karen and I had a dream run through Adelaide and Singapore to arrive in Beijing as planned. So about 7am Beijing time we arrive, breeze through customs and find a little Chinese man holding a sign with my name on it, who takes us to the hostel. A pre-arranged car cost ¥220 (about $19), which is fairly expensive compared to the subway, but I considered it cheap when you’ve been on a plane for 16 hours and don’t speak the language or know the city.
We arrive at the Sanlitun (http://itisbeijing.com/china/Index.Asp) hostel and it’s reasonable quality, better than the ones we stayed in during the previous tours to Vietnam and Cambodia. But they scrape every last Yuan out of you with markups on food and services – I guess they need to make a living too. If you’re watching your pennies, buying outside the Hostel is the way to go… a ¥15 beer is about ¥3 outside. The food is very Western friendly and the common area is comfortable, though they have a tendency to play the music too loud while people are eating. I can understand them wanting to be vibrant and youth-focussed, but the common room is full of people (of all ages) who want to eat and talk or sit on their computers. They don’t want to dance, so why not turn it down and let them talk?
Jeez I sound old!
Day 2 – Monday 16 July
The first day after arriving, we did a tour to the Great Wall. In retrospect we should have waited another day or so. It’s quite physically demanding and combined with the heat (around 35°C) I overdid it a bit and was wiped out that night. Luckily they have a chairlift there and (best of all) a toboggan back down!
Day 3 – Tuesday 17 July
Most of the band had arrived by now and so a few of us walked around the back streets a bit to find some locations for Patrick to film some of the clips. Peter and SouYi ordered some soup in a local noodle bar and when I asked what meat was in Pete’s soup, he told me it was donkey. Donkey? Does it taste like Ass? OK, had to try it… not too bad, kind of like a cross between beef and pork. That night we all went to a local restaurant – some of the culinary choices reminded me that we weren’t in Kansas any more. Ducks head soup, Duck tongues, and my personal favourite…
Day 4 – Wednesday 18 July (Rehearsal day 1)
We walked out of the hostel and up to the main road but had trouble getting taxi until we realised we were standing underneath a traffic CCTV camera – none of the cabbies wanted to be seen stopping the flow of traffic. We moved down the road a little more and hailed three cabs to get all the musicians plus instruments to the SkyMusic studios. The rehearsal rooms were well appointed, neat, tidy and there were some guys outside willing to help us with equipment and sell us drinks etc as needed. It’s an interesting model that you don’t see in Australia, and the benefit to the operators is that they are available to sell strings, leads, drum skins, even guitars and amps. And as a result of being nearby all the time, it also means the rooms are better looked after. The only negative was that they all smoke like trains, so when you walk out of the room for a break, you walk straight into a wall of cigarette smoke. They also provided a locked room so we could leave instruments there overnight, which was a godsend to most of the guys as it meant we could catch the subway back to Sanlitun and out again the next morning. ¥2 a ticket and a very efficient system. One word of warning though; when the doors shut, there’s none of this namby-pamby “excuse me sir, I’m trying to shut… oops I’ll try again… excuse me sir…”. No siree, these Chinese trains are “I’m shuttin now Mofo! Git out tha damn way!”. I wasn’t quick enough – damn that hurt. Though I was quicker than Robbie – he missed out entirely and we had to wait for him at the destination station to arrive on the next one.
Day 5 – Thursday 19 July (Rehearsal Day 2)
Another 8 hours of rehearsal and we managed to cover off all 30 songs plus did some really good development on “Three steps closer”, the new song that the tour was named after. We’re recording this song next week and it’s something different again from the band; almost ska. I was a little braver with lunch today (I found a KFC yesterday, princess that I am) and went to the local takeaway for a meal to bring back. This one included a tea-soaked egg that my brain screamed at me not to eat, but as everyone else was devouring them I forced myself to give it a try. It wasn’t too bad, just a bit dry. We were all a bit worn out from the two days rehearsal so we finished about 5:30pm and headed back. When we got back we all headed out to find something to eat and found a Korean restaurant. OMFG, I thought the previous night was authentic!
Day 6 – Friday 20 July (First Gig)
After the two days rehearsal, we all had a lazy day before the gig at Beer Mania for Belgium National Day. This was to be our first gig of the tour and we were the warmup act for the Beijing Beatles(http://thebeijingbeatles.com/), a local concept band who do a lot of work around Beijing. Troy (Jorge Arrowsmith) knew Peter from working in the government years ago and has been a great help to us getting this tour happening.
As far as first gigs go, this was not bad. We had never played with Adrian (keys) or Lachi (drums) before and they both did exceptionally. Pete was positioned next to Lachi and John next to Adrian for assistance. Exceeding even that impressive effort from those guys was Lachi’s brother, Cameron, who only arrived that day. He has never played with us before, wasn’t even here for the two days practice, and sat in with the Horn Dingoes (replacing the Saxophone we usually have) brilliantly.
We got some good feedback and some constructive tips from the gig, plus money and free beer. I could get used to this!