Sunday, April 30, 2006

I was late for a subterranean meeting with our gang of poets and the Beijing Actor's Workshop folks. We were meeting to rehearse for our performance on May 7th to celebrate the release of Homonumos, a Beijing literary magazine, during the DIAF.

I was seated in a typical Beijing taxi. One of the older red jobs. The driver's pinky nail was quite long, I noticed, as he asked to look at my directions. The radio was blaring, but not with music. It was some kind of popular talk show. Really, something more akin to a sort of one-man lecture, as no one else ever joins in. Also, there are no commercials. The program continued, unimpeded, for the duration of the ride. Just randomly guessing, perhaps, four out of five cabbies here will be listening to a radio broadcast like this one when you get into their taxis. They seem to be quite popular.

I heard a car horn honking through the radio and assumed it was the addition of a new sound effect in the program, which was generally unadorned by such things, but when it happened again, I realized that the horn was in some way connected to play through the radio. It was a strange sensation. As the radio was quite loud, I would have normally gestured in my Chinese body language to have the volume lowered, but for whatever reason, it just didn't bother me today.

The driver was a quiet serious-looking fellow. It was a hot and uncomfortable day to be sitting in a car, and he had his pant-legs rolled up to his knees. He motioned for my directions a few more times, obviously considering them quite intensely.

"Ok?" I asked. An English word that all Chinese seemed to understand. He continued staring at my small yellow paper through his sunglasses, unresponsive. I questioned him again. "Ok?" No answer. I assumed that everything was in order as we continued down the road...

Thursday, April 27, 2006

podcastlogo1Thought I would just throw up this podcast before going to bed: an audio poem of the sounds of the street around Jishuitan Station. Give it a listen and let me know what you think. You don't need to understand Chinese to enjoy it. More of these coming as I ferret them out of the dusty soul of this city and wrench them from the ghost in the machine...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

It has been warming up here a bit, lately. I'm not wearing my big winter coat anymore and have switched to a lighter jacket. Still on the chilly side, at times, but we're breaching pleasant weather. It's actually quite ugly outside as I write this with a blackening sky brooding, the likes of which are rarely seen here. It sprinkled a little this afternoon for about ten minutes, but not nearly enough to cleanse Beijing after last week's severe dust storms. I was hoping to enjoy some food at a favorite outdoor eatery before tonight's International Open Mic at The Bookworm, but it's looking like I'll have to grab something inside.

It's a long six-day week this week as we work an extra day on Saturday before the May holiday. Holidays aren't entirely holidays in China, as we always have to work these strange makeup days on weekends before or after any holiday. I won't complain too much. We have all of next week off, which is wonderful. Hopefully, the weather will be more accommodating then. Nonetheless, any time away from the 9-5 is welcome time. Angela and me traveled last year, but we have too many things to do this year.

One of those things happening next week is a performance on May 7th with The Subterraneans and the Beijing Actor's Workshop for the release of Homonumos, an international literary, philosophical and scientific magazine an acquaintance of mine is releasing at the beginning of the Dashanzi International Art Festival (DIAF), which also kicks off next week. Hopefully, our event will be added to the schedule of events on their website, but who knows. We're going to record the happenings so they should be available for your viewing pleasure eventually.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Went to see a private screening of a new Chinese movie, Old Barber, directed by Hass Chaolu. The film was a kind of documentary about the life of Uncle Jin, a 93-year-old man who still rides his bike around the old hutongs near Hou Hai in Beijing to give his shaves and haircut house calls. There are typical barber shops here, but it's not uncommon to see barbers like this in an alleyway or along the side of a road in some out-of-the-way place giving haircuts.

The old barber and some of the other cast members were in attendance, as was the director, who introduced the guests of honor before the film began. The little theater was packed and extra chairs were brought in to accommodate the standing members of the audience. The movie finally got under way around 8PM and lasted for about 90 minutes. The plot was a little forced and the film ran a bit long, but the cinematography was strong and the shots of Beijing were exceptional. Following Uncle Jin around Beijing through the film was fascinating, especially in light of the ongoing modernization of Beijing. These old professions, old places and old ways of life are quickly being replaced or made obsolete. It was particularly nice to watch the film if only because I recognized most of the places.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Terror weather and big wind to fear these past few days. Mad dust and sand in the air. Huge gritty gulps of air and dry itching skin. Walking around squinting and trying not to breathe too deeply. Yesterday, upon leaving school, the weather was particularly nasty. There were lots of little white cotton-y bits floating around in the air from the Cottonwood trees or something, too, which made for a heightened level of discomfort. You could see the wind lift giant sheets of dust from the ground and whip it high into the air, a brown haze in the darkening afternoon light, almost as if Mother Nature was trying to bury this city...

Check out the audio file of the Flag-Raising ceremony from my school. It's mostly Chinese, but you might get a kick out of it. Also, the Subterranean Poets finally have an active website. Check it out and send me any suggestions you might have. More content is coming...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Yesterday, looking out the window to check the weather as I usually do when I get out of bed in the morning, I noticed that the air was a little thicker than it normally is, but I didn't think much about it. When I finally went downstairs on my way to work and exited my apartment building, I was shocked.

I thought, as is often the case, that some workers who had been working around the front entrance had simply left their mess, as there was a silty layer of dirt on everything around the front steps and doorway of our building. The air seemed to reflect a strange color. As I emerged from the shadowy entranceway into the supernatural light of morning and entered the parking area, I began to understand what had happened. Every surface was covered with a thick, fine, red layer of dirt. It looked as if it had rained dust while we had slept. I thought, optimistically, that something had happened in our neighborhood, that it was related to excessive construction or something but, as I made my way toward school, I could see that the dust had covered everything. I had never seen anything like it before.

There was as overcast and reddish sky all day long and we really needed a good rain to wash all of the dust and dirt away. Perhaps some were working to do just that. It magically sprinkled a bit in the early evening and then rained a little more heavily later on.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Beijing - Haidian Foreign Language Experimental School - Flag-Raising CeremonyThe flag-raising ceremony at Haidian Foreign Language Experimental School is an important activity for my students. Often, the brightest or hardest-working students are allowed an opportunity to present some kind of motivational or confessional speech of their own creation to their classmates. Over the past two years, as I teach an accelerated English method, I have helped many of my students work on their English presentations. Although us teachers generally arrive at school after this ceremony has taken place, I have observed and even participated in a few of them.

My fifth-grade students are presenting a poem this morning, which seems a little out of the ordinary from the usual flag-raising fare. The poem was composed by the class as a whole and they have asked the two fifth-grade teachers, Mr. Henderson and I, to help them in their presentation of the English translation of the poem. Considering my background, I thought it a nice request and immediately agreed to participate. So Mr. Henderson and I will go to school at 8AM today to take part in this event. We have to share speaking of the lines with the math teacher, another student's parent, and a native-English Canadian student, which means we only have about three or four lines to read, but that's really no matter. Here is a transcript of the poem we will read:
Although I am a flower, it is impossible for me to be the whole spring;
Although I am a drop of water, it is impossible for me alone to form a big river;
Although I am a tree, it is impossible for me to shape a huge forest;
Although I am a rock, it is impossible for me to resemble the greatness of Tai Mountain.

If we were flowers, there would be the world of flowers;
If we were water, there would be waves of water;
If we were trees, there would be green shades of trees;
If we were rocks, there would be charms of mountains.

We are an intact class
and strive for the class
but not just for ourselves.

Facing glories, do not only consider myself;
Before joys, do not only think of myself;
Facing happiness, do not only ponder myself;
Before benefits, do not only count myself.

Whenever in trouble, count me in;
Whenever shouldered with burden, count me in;
Whatever responsibilities, count me in;
Whenever facing adversity, count me in.

If only numerous individuals strive for the whole class,
Nothing is impossible to create.
Listen to the podcast here (4.6MB/18m 47s).

Friday, April 14, 2006

Shaolin WarriorsThe weather has turned cold, again, after teasing us with a string of relatively mild days in Beijing. The past week has been disappointingly cold. Went out with Angela and some of my coworkers last night to see the Shaolin Warriors show at the Chaoyang Culture Center. It was a kind of martial arts/acrobatic performance. There were impressive moments and I enjoyed the show, but it was still a little too over-the-top for my taste.

Enjoying another lazy Friday morning before heading off to work for a short day. I haven't been so lazy, really, submitting some poems, listening to some audio poetry, replying to overdue e-mail, blogging and doing research without interruption. My kind of fun.

Having a tough time getting audio from The Bookworm's International Open Mic and from The Subterranean performances in recent weeks posted to the internet. The problems largely reside in our ineffectiveness in getting the audio files translated to .mp3 files. It's a pressing concern for us, but we're working on it...

Monday, April 10, 2006

A surprise day off from my elementary school alter ego as all of my students are taking a field trip. No complaints here. Gives me some time to e-goof off.

Just wanted to jump on and let you know that I have a couple new poems (with audio) at MiPoesias. Take a listen if you have a few minutes to spare. You can also read another poem on Andwerve. My bio has been criticized recently, as well, so feel free to scrutinize that at your leisure.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Went to Dashanzi last night, meeting the Subterraneans and a number of other people, to catch an art exhibition by Ai Weiwei at Galerie Urs Meile. The son, I believe, of the famous Chinese poet Ai Qing. He was displaying an installation entitled Fragments of a Temple. You can read more about the artist's intentions here. Ai Weiwei is also one of the designers of the New Beijing Olympic Stadium, which takes the shape of a giant bird's nest and is beginning to look quite remarkable. Anyhow, someone suggested that we should make an appearance and give a spontaneous performance, if possible, and that was what we intended to do.

It was not easy to find and, after walking around in the entirely wrong area, we jumped into cabs and, following Zhou in the lead cab (one of three in our caravan), finally found the right place. The gallery was beautiful and appeared to be very new. There were quite a few people milling about in front of the entrance, holding their wine glasses and talking or smoking. We entered and cased the joint.

One large room displayed the large wooden sculpture consisting of old remnant pieces of temples, and in another room a video was playing. The sculpture was impressive and large enough to walk beneath and among the large pillars. Zhou asked Ai Weiwei if it would be OK for us to perform, we wanted to perform within and around the sculpture, and there was no problem. After about 30 minutes, we thought it was the right time to strike and off we went. People didn't seem to know what was going on as our voices reverberated in the cement-walled room and we walked among the pillars and each other ranting poetry, but by the end of our performance it seemed like everyone was more comfortable. The gallery proprietor was so pleased that he invited us to eat dinner with him and his friends afterwards.

A few of us had already eaten and we had another exhibition to attend, so Zhou and Jorge went to eat and the rest of us went to the Beijing Cubic Art Center showing a 3-D 'game', entitled Nowhere, which was quite impressive. The gallery was owned by a friend of Angela's. Initially, simply watching the screen for 10 or 15 minutes while we sipped our beers, we weren't too interested. It just seemed like a large empty room with trippy computer graphics projected on the walls and ambient background sounds. Once we realized that we could actually interact with the 'game' by using a mouse in the center of the room to enter different realms, we played for about 40 minutes before heading off for increased debauchery. The designers, who filmed us playing and exploring the game, told us that it had been originally designed to be controlled with a person's hands. Fun stuff!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Beijing - 13 Club - Bob Marcacci - SpotlightFantastic night on Thursday at 13 Club. This is a picture of me on stage. My creative and performance life has been blowing up lately, and I'm a little exhausted at the moment but not dead. I'll take the weekend to recover a bit and move a little more slowly.

Fresh from his brief reading tour in the U.S., Alex Jorgensen was throwing a birthday party and had rented out the bar, a grungy, graffiti-laden bar with a nice stage. He had also scrounged up a number of acts to entertain the masses, among them the Subterranean Poets, a Korean drum group, a blues/rock cover band and some representatives from the Beijing Actor's Workshop. He had printed and distributed a very nice chapbook for the occasion, which he gave away to all who attended.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Weather's almost springing into short-sleeve territory, which is wonderful and mood enhancing. All the trees are turning green or blossoming white and pink, and the otherwise barren winter landscape is dissolving. And that means it's time for another baseball season. My beloved San Francisco Giants open the season tomorrow evening against the San Diego Padres, and I'm hoping to catch a few innings here on radio before I scoot off to school... if I can figure out this time zone vortex...

A friend of mine, Patrick Pearce, another one of the expats up in this piece known as Beijing, has started blogging and you can check out his new licks here. A sometime Subterranean Poet, Patrick mentions us in his most recent entry about the gig at Rain bar on Friday evening, which he organized.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Subterranean Poets followed up their premier performance at Beijing University's Nameless Festival on Wednesday night by performing yesterday evening, Friday, at Rain bar. We were part of a mixed group of entertainers, most of them members of the Beijing Actor's Workshop, and the audience was quite different. We performed a variation of our project, Nameless, more comfortable in a smaller setting, and received a nice round of applause for our efforts. The four of us also had time to read a few of our own poems. I even free-style rapped for a brief minute during one of Jorgé's poems, which is something I've had occasion to do lately. Although I'm not very good at it and by no means a rapper, it has helped me continue to improve my ability to improvise, which is nice exercise, at least. On to more mundane things...

Unusual weather today, as seems to be the case lately. Hazy whiteness out the window this morning and afternoon. We cleaned the apartment after a nice late breakfast. In the waning afternoon, it looked like it was going to rain and the sky darkened. Angela and me left to see a documentary playing at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Femminielli, about the lives of transvestites in Naples in the 80s and 90s, part of the Elettroshock Festival, which lasts for one more day. Angela, having gone to school in Naples, was particularly interested in this documentary as it was filmed in the special city.

A few of my coworkers were in the audience and, afterwards, we all went to dinner together before returning home. After a week of mayhemous late nights and extra-curricular work on the poetry frontier, I'm settling in for a nice relaxing night at home. Happy April Fool's Day!