Thermals frontman Hutch Harris was rad enough to take us up on our offer to keep a diary while touring China last month. It will appear in three parts this week.
This journal is my personal account of The Thermals' recent trip to China. It is in no way intended to be a historical or political lesson about China. Certain information has been censored for your protection. — Hutch Harris
Thursday, March 18
I manage ALMOST two and half hours sleep. We fly to Shanghai. Meal on the flight is a small salad of peanuts, carrots and cucumbers, with a sweet roll and a muffin. Interesting and tasty. We deplane and finally experience some crazy shit - DRIVING IN SHANGHAI.
Now, driving in Beijing was crazy enough. Like Europe, pedestrians do not have the right of way. Pedestrians are treated as a nuisance to be run off the road as quickly and aggressively as possible. I get the feeling that if you were to be hit and killed by a car the driver would honk at your corpse to get the hell out of the way. In Shanghai, people drive like insane cabbies, and the cabbies drive even worse—like they're trying to kill as many pedestrians as possible before you reach your destination. I swear to god we almost run over at least twenty people on our way to the hotel, including a young mother with her baby, who leaps out of our way as we speed by. Did I mention people are riding bicycles and motorcycles the WRONG WAY in traffic? It's fucking unbelievable.
We check into the Shanghai Anxia Holiday Hotel around noon and crash till 5 pm or so. We walk to the club, Yinyuang LIVE (the name of every club on this tour ends with the word LIVE): a dank, dark rock club with a guy selling meat skewers outside on the street using a skinny makeshift grill. Every time Mr. Streetmeat spies the police he grabs the grill by its tiny legs and runs down the street. Apparently the business of Streetmeat is not permitted here (it seems to be ok most other places we go). Maybe he just doesn't have a permit. Eventually a few cops approach him, scolding him and taking his picture with a digital camera. They argue for a while, then he bribes them in broad daylight! The cops move on and Streetmeat continues to grill.
Supporting us in Shanghai is Hedgehog, a three-piece who are like a Chinese Nirvana doing New Order covers. Very cool! The drummer is a 5-foot Chinese girl named Atom who pounds the shit out of the drums and sings at the same time. Fuckin' bad!
The Shanghai show is much better attended (though still mostly white), and we play an incredible show, I have to say. It's, in my opinion, the best show we've played in a while. We are playing 7-8 new songs a night, it's incredibly fun and refreshing. We get back to the hotel around 1 am and have to wake up at 5 am again, fucking hell! On a side note, the bathroom at this hotel has two windows that show into the bedroom for some reason. You know, just in case you wanna put on a little shower show for whoever you're rooming with...
Friday, March 19
Another bleary-eyed morning, we get on a train bound for Zhengzhou, our next stop, at 7 am. Well, that was Shanghai. We were here less than 24 hours. Welcome to China? No, welcome to TOUR. At least we can say we've been there, right?
The train ride is over seven hours, but it's not too bad, and there's plenty of food served: coffee, beef with rice, Pocky, etc. When we get to Zhengzhou—well, forget about what I said about driving in Beijing or Shanghai—Zhengzhou traffic is THE ultimate clusterfuck! Seriously, you know when you see photos or footage of New York 100 years ago, when the streets are just an insane mess of cars, bicycles and pedestrians? This is Zhengzhou now (and will be Wuhan tomorrow). It's fucking armageddon, with no rhyme or reason to anything in the streets. Cars, bikes and people all intersect with no regard for any lanes or lights, it seems death is at every turn, and always narrowly avoided. It's fucking amazing!
We play at 7-LIVE in Zhengzhou, and to our surprise, most of the audience is Chinese! Of course, there are only 60 or so people there, but it looks good to us! This is why we came to China: To play music for Chinese people. Scratch that, I forgot—we really came to China to EAT! So after the show, we get to eating. On the street the club is on there are twenty or so food carts lined up, all serving different delicious meals. This is the China I've seen on Anthony Bourdain's show. Street food—gorgeous, exotic and CHEAP. Some of the carts have vast selections of meat and vegetables laid out, from which you can choose to your liking and have cooked up in boiling water.
We walk down the middle of a street set up like a huge market. It's ten at night but bright lights shine overhead. In addition to food of every kind, people sell knock-off clothes, shoes, housewares, basically anything you can think of, made to sell cheap and fast. We drink soda and chew on sticks of raw sugarcane. Between the combined six hours of sleep i've had in the last two days, the intense sugar rush, and the craziness that is modern China, I am consumed by an overwhelming feeling of euphoria, like the peak of an awesome drug trip. We all consider ourselves extremely lucky to just be here, and are incredibly glad we came.
Saturday, March 20
We get a full night's sleep for once, and in the afternoon take a train from Zhengzhou to Wuhan. Another seven-hour journey, and this train is a far cry from the modern vehicle that delivered us to Zhengzhou. This train is more like a time machine. Passengers sit facing one another on dingy linen-covered seats, and people are smoking on the train (!) with little or no ventilation.
People in Bejing were surprised to hear we were going to Wuhan: They made it sound like a small village with not much going on. Apparently they are unaware it's a bustling metropolis of 8 million people or so. More insane driving, more delicious food, more warm beer. We have the night off and sleep early.
(To be continued tomorrow...)
(where you can hear the band's hot new record store day single, "Separate"!
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Photos courtesy of Hutch Harris and the Thermals (they may be a bit out of order).