Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter Weekend

We went to a concert last night by a rocker named Xie Tianxiao, a Mick-Jagger-thin guy who was staging a kind of comeback from his grunge music of a good eight or so years ago. The idea, which came from our friends Rachel and Scott, was that we had to experience at least one rock concert during our time in Beijing, especially since Workers Gymnasium, the concert venue, was just down the street from us.

The experience was slightly more subdued than I expected. I had come to expect a whole lot of technical razzle-dazzle from Chinese performances, glitz, sequins, dancers, lights, sound. But Tianxiao seemed to be taking a page from the Bob Dylan playbook: don’t talk much to the audience, don’t make any kind of big lead-up to songs, don’t show any facial expression, and don’t ever smile.

The audience also seemed rather subdued, at least at the beginning of the show. They sat there and bopped their heads and their light sabers – the entrepreneurial spirit is strong in China – and they even seemed to know all the words to all the songs.  But they mostly stayed in their seats.

Then I figured out why. As what must have been Tianxiao’s most popular song started, some of the kids near the stage started dancing wildly. It was too much for the goons in green khaki lined up at the front, and they grabbed the kids, wrestling them back into their seats. It was all over in a moment. Eventually the kids towards the front did manage to retrieve their enthusiasm, and stood waving their arms for different songs, but I think the incident kind of toned them down just a bit.

One highlight was the use of traditional Chinese instruments, which started out sounding like something from Beijing Opera and moved into a straight rocker song. Here’s a video of part of it. (Please ignore the thumb that pops up toward the end.) I tried to capture the goons earlier, but they had stopped the action before I could start taping.

Bob beat me to the description of the whole event, so I’ll just add that Easter Sunday began with a chill in the air (about 37 degrees) and air pollution that soon rose over 200. So even though there are a few cherry blossoms around town, I’m looking at them through an eye-stinging haze that makes me a little depressed.

On a positive note, my journey to retrieve the thumb drive I left at Friday’s conference resulted in several full conversations in Chinese with drivers. These are still fairly basic themes – how the city has grown, how old my children are, what the weather is like today – but it’s definitely measurable progress. And every driver is delighted to know I’m from America. “Meiguo, hen hao!” they all exclaim. Can’t argue with that.

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