Friday, December 14, 2007


I cannot frame in words the sensation of being 36,500 feet over the North Pole, the temp hitting -81 degrees outside, nor can I properly convey the dread of waking up from pill-aided airplane slumber only to realize that there are eight more freaking hours to go before arriving in Beijing and there's no way I can watch The Bourne Ultimatum for a fourth time.

Beijing greets us with images of Yao Ming and Jackie Chan on every corridor. Everywhere you look, there hangs an Olympic veil. Kiosk ads namecheck it, the Olympic Stadium looms large off the highway, construction for other related buildings is everywhere, and even the shrubbery is sheared into the mascot's shape. Of course, that's what we're supposed to see. Someone whispers of poorer neighborhoods cordoned off from outsider eyes. Well, they needn't try so hard. So far, the trip has been but a circuit between the hotel and club.

Seeing Chinese punk bands is a curious affair. There's a prevailance of mimicry for the most part. I'm told that one of the bigger bands around has their Gang of Four act perfected to a tee. One band I catch considers themselves "post-rock" and I must admit, they have captured all the plodding stoic stolidity of Explosions in the Sky and Slint perfectly. The best part of them, aside from their matching frowns, is that the main guitarist rocks sweatpants onstage.

It's harder figuring if the air quality is worse inside the clubs, where everyone chains smokes, or outside, where smokestacks puff through the night and a simple walk down for some street food (oh, man) leads to shortness of breath. Equally hard to figure out is which is more awesome, broadcast Rockets games and inscrutable commercials featuring Yao (one has him blocking a bullet with his bare hands, which was meant for some giant elephant on the basketball court) or CCTV 6, which apparently runs nothing but kung-fu flicks 24/7.