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Fenyi, Jiangxi province - 江西,分宜

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

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Tonight’s town, whose name is probably only Chinese jibberish to you and only means something to me tonight and tomorrow and in my fading memory of a great old luguan with wooden floors for half the price we’re usued to (US$0.60/person) with a nice female laoban and a rigourous welcome from a gang of children, is called Fenyi, somewhere in Jiangxi province, but getting close to Hunan province, the capital of which, Changsha, we are bound for - 255km away according to the sign.  In Changsha we will be meeting up with Adam and Jim’s old friends and students from their days living there 2 and 3 years ago.

You might find it interesting, however, to learn that 江西 (Jiangxi in Pinyin) literally means “river west,” better translated as “west of the river” perhaps.  What river, I’m not so sure of.

We’re alive and well, though tired, and less Nakia, as she wrote, she’s in Hong Kong on “business.”  It’s definately not the same without her, something essential is missing from FBR.  We hope to be reunited in the coming week, if not in Changsha, then not too far south of Changsha on our way to the Guangzhou City wedding.  Tired because our Band Wagon is now packed also with Nakia’s disected bike…and we biked long yesturday, 110km instead of our usual 75.  Last night, the busy railroad near our luguan in a very small market town kept me up from 4am; other than that, a great experience of small town life - without street lights, but brand new concrete roads.

I’d like to do more music than we have been lately.  We’ve been plotting to play at Jim’s and Adam’s Changsha college campuses, where interest in our message of global friendship and mindfully low carbon emmisions lifestyles is sure to be ripe.

你好看的懂的朋友!我们今天晚上住在江西分宜,一个比较小的城市。我们往湖南长沙走。在那我们打算看Jim 和 Adam的朋友和以前的学生。我最近注意我们太少唱我们的歌,所以我们今天打算了在长沙的大学唱。我们觉得大学生会最明白我们的信息:国际友谊和不用汽油合石油的生活方式 - 变换到更觉察的生活方式。




The Cozy In Betweens

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

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I sat on a bus yesterday that catapulted me into today faster than I could say “sit back and enjoy the scenery.” But maybe I talk too slow. A writerly friend of mine once playfully called me verbose. Milan Kundera might say i was expressing the“sudden density of life,” a case in which a writer loses sight of the limitations of prose and logic and stuffs his scenes with a surfeit of actions (The Curtain). And that’s why I love Kundera. He puts a name and a face to my narcissism, which, by the way, I had no time for yesterday on the bus.

The minute I sat down with the sun slapping me on the forehead and the whiplash of motored acceleration pinning my back against the seat, I felt very very tired. I bid my comrades goodbye and fell asleep watching the scenery speed by faster than I could ride a bike. I woke up to the scenery latent and slightly agitated by people clanging luggage and skimming plastic bags against my knuckles. Next, the scenery was asphyxiated by an evening scarf as stygian as ink that hung from the windows of the train, which stopped 12 hours short of the 24 I expected and spat me from my top bunk onto the inchoate morning platform like something bitter.

Suddenly, public transportation is making me its bitch, twirling and slamming me into curbs and harsh morning temperatures ever since I ditched it for the slothful, but sexily steady 2-wheeled bicycle that my muscles and crotch have come to know intimately.

I am in Hong Kong now on business if business can be defined by the Olympics, foreigners, small unpronounceable countries, visa expiration dates, consulates, and passport photos. At least that’s what I wrote on the departure form: business. I left the guys behind somewhere in the dusty mainland. I hope that by now they are swigging baijui (rancid Chinese rice wine) with farmers who wear green oversized blazers and smiles pressed into their faces like wrinkles. That’s what I crave now in the midst of arbitrarily stylish boots and balloon skirts, where I must wear my serious city face so people won’t mess with me.

I am in Hong Kong now and the scenery is a passive aggressive flash of neon light suspended above labyrinth alleys flooding with African tailors, Eastern European accents, albino Chinese, and Philippine guesthouses. It rings in the ears like mantras: Do you need a single room? I know where you can get suits made cheaper than in your country. Where are you from? Ooh! Where is that?

Signs are everywhere, ricocheting messages of somebodies’ home; countries left behind: Namaste Indian Restaurant, Forest Green Vietnamese, Sushimasa, Patty’s Irish Pub, the Kangaroo, Tony’s Ribs. Food is the fastest way for a country to get around within another country. The best meeting place for a family of Indian migrants discussing business and counting one’s blessings over lunch. It’s the best way for me to fulfill my cravings of garlic nan and spinach chutney, momentarily forgetting the mainland’s steamed dumplings and tasteless cake.

But my senses are overloaded in this megalomaniac carnival. I’m too used to brown rice paddies, the candy green of tea bushes, the soft tresses of corn fields and sugar canes.

This is probably why I am fighting to push my writing fast between the time it takes for my laptop to run out of battery in this socketless café franchise, in between frantic sips of froth from a parched paper cup before the steam stiffens, in between the insipid drawl dripping between taffy mucked teeth that talk about the rich suburbs of Dallas over my shoulders from the other table. Elvis is on the speakers above my head and a red two-tier bus is having problems moving its massive hind from the minute parking space in front of the glass wall of this socketless café franchise. 

My mind is immersed in the memory of the books I saw at an English bookstore. Delillo, Marquez, Murakami, Achebe, Kundera. My mind floodlighted with the thought of all these ideas summersaulting onto the shelves like an animated puzzle coming together. If I could I would lick them all one by one.

This is like Shanghai again. Everything is too immaculate. The ketchup sits in shiny plastic bottles. Skinny Malboro lights sit between the fingers of skinny girls and skinny boys in skinny jeans and anime hair, clinking hips beneath the bamboo scaffolding. The shiny plastic signs and the white walls of the 7 Eleven’s glimmer like a jar of candy in a doctor’s office.

I feel safe enough to stay here all night if I have to. Chocolate covered matcha cakes and Japanese Pocky’s are sealed in plastic covered boxes. They are sealed so we can eat them.

There are signs everywhere telling us it’s safe. There are signs with girls in smoldering eyeliner nonchalantly hanging off the shoulders of boylike male models in tuxes, laughing, simulating good clean fun. Signs telling me it’s ok to come into this hotel and that bakery where the best blankets and the best treats lay awaiting me like a nipple to a newborn. Signs become symbols of security in a big, bombastic city like Hong Kong.  They have meanings deeper than their message.  I seek them out like I seek out food. 

But i know that i am homeless without my bike. I wonder around waiting for Monday, loosing myself through the alleys. The scenery screams and slithers beneath my senses like wet cold through a coat, creeping in through the button holes and collar until I am completely exposed. I struggle to capture the fleeting moments of people walking by, but all they do is blur. This city is too big for me.

The thing is when we ride bicycles, I never have time. We must ride, we must talk to the locals, we must see the moving landscapes, the billboards, the sugar canes and the farmers and the mountains. We must experience. The signs in the countryside indicate towns and distances in Chinese characters and numbers. The billboards sport propaganda messages to protect the environment that will be used to give Chinese citizens better homes. We glimpse monumental images of cooked dogs on plates and stock photos of the same Lithuanian blonde smiling on store signs.

We cannot get too involved in our own thoughts while riding less we get distracted and slow our strides or get sucked beneath the wheels of a moving trailer. We cannot get involved in owning things. We own nothing. We share everything, even our time.

I’ve grown accustomed to squeezing myself in the tender in betweens, knees to my chest, book on my knees, body cradled in a bed covered with luggage and loose clothes and open guitar cases. I’ve gotten comfortable with sliding sideways in the 5 minutes it takes to stop and pee or ask for directions or fix a flat.  I wake up at 5am while the others are still sleeping and fit my words in the tight urgency of the morning fuzz, where I must be terse if I am to outrun the REM that will eventually pull my comrades out of their delicate sleep and into the embryonic morning with me. 

In the city, I am dwarfed by the larger than life humans laughing down at me from their skyscraper wallpaper. Everyone looks different here and I’m not sure what language the passerbys are speaking. Indonesian? Vietnamese? German?

 I am alone. No one looks over my shoulder to see my notebook. No one asks me where I’m from unless they want to sell me something. No one cares. Not even me.  I am wearing my city eyes like dark car tints. I am alone and my time to myself is vast. I make sure to keep it that way, dodging soliciting Indians inviting me in for puri and dosa. I have a mission.

With my bike temporarily amputated and stuffed into the trailer (that Adam affectionately calls the hearse), I crawl into the box that is my hostel room, and sit Indian (ok, Native American) style at 2am, typing steathily while my teammates are dreaming in the mainland and everyone else in Kowloon, Hong Kong is downing vodka and dancing to a deaf hip hop beat on a Saturday night.