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
Monday, March 15
Wake up at 4 am and take a cab to PDX. 4 am, what the fuck! Why is it so easy to stay up till 4 am, and so hard to GET UP at 4 am? I meet my fellow Thermals Kathy Foster (bass) and Westin Glass (drums), and Anna Lockwood (our sound engineer) at the airport. The crew for this trip is just the four of us, plus our guide/translator who we'll meet in Beijing. We take a two hour flight to San Francisco.
From SF we fly twelve hours to Beijing. The flight is actually pretty easy, a lot better than most flights to Europe I've been on. This might have something to do with the three "razzleberries" (lorazepam) I popped at the beginning of the flight. I get so high that when I watch Precious
that I think it's in 3-D.
Tuesday, March 16
What the hell happened to Monday? We get off the plane and it's Tuesday afternoon. We're met by Simon, a cute chubby-faced Chinese boy who is to be our guide and translator for the entire trip. He speaks pretty fluent English with a slight British accent that he learned from his father. Westin and I will probably have him searching for weed within a day or so. As we grab our bags, a woman introduces herself to us, her name is Christina Li. She was on our plane from SF. She gives us our business card and tells us to call her if we need anything. She says we are her guest in China. She tells us Chinese people are very hospitable, and the food here is not as sweet as the Chinese food in the US. We shall see, Christina! We shall see...
We take a (private) bus into Beijing and check into The Hanting Hotel. Simon takes us for a walk through the DongCheng district, with lots of small bars, restaurants and indie-style boutiques. Anna splits from us to find something vegan to eat. We didn't think it would be easy for her to eat vegan over here but it turns out not to be a problem. Simon takes the rest of us to a restaurant where we eat beef skewers and kung pao chicken, it's actually pretty sweet! Take that, Christina Li! We drink large cold beers (they can be ordered warm or cold) and gorge ourselves on the best Chinese food I've ever tasted. At the table next to us, a young couple sits in silence—the girl cries softly into a large bowl of dumplings. A huge pile of fancy shopping bags is propped up at her chair.
It's 7:30 pm and we are fucking exhausted. But not too exhausted for one more drink. Simon heads out and we find a tiny bar by our hotel. Westin and I drink another beer each, and Kathy orders a cocktail called a "Barbara". It's something like a White Russian in a martini glass. We talk until we've solved most of the world's problems, then head back to the hotel to try and kill our jet lag.
Wednesday, March 17
Westin and I wake and eat Chinese leftovers in our underwear. I know, fuckin' SEXY! And Chinese leftovers are even better in China. The shower is huge in the our hotel room, and there's a sign in it that says "Caution: Wet Floor." Culture shock! They have gravity in China, too.
Westin and I take a short walk around Beijing, stopping only to buy pastries and "Beijing" brand cigarettes (because we're in Beijing) before meeting up with the ladies. We visit the Jingshan Park and The Forbidden City, both in the center of Beijing. Jingshan is a beautiful forest of a park, The Forbidden City an ancient moated Emperor's city turned massive tourist trap. Cynical kidding aside, The Forbidden city is amazing, like nothing I've ever seen before. We stuff our faces with skewered meat, tofu, corn on the cob, yams and fresh fruit before returning to the hotel to meet Simon at 4 pm.
We find Beijing to be not unlike some cities in Europe, in the sense that it is unlike the US in the same way Europe is. Does that make sense? Whatever. My jet lag is kicking in at this point and I am ready to crash HARD. But just like touring Europe, you know that when your jet lag kicks in, it's time to GET TO WORK. So get to work we do. We head to the club to sound check.
The club is called MAO LIVE, and there is a huge silhouette of Mao behind the drum riser. Soundcheck is like any other we've done. If you've ever sound checked, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, you're not missing a damn thing. If you're familiar with the story of Chairman Mao, you know his dream of being immortalized on the walls of a dingy rock club has finally been realized.
We eat dinner at the same restaurant as the night before, and uh, order almost the exact same thing. Sorry, but the kung pao and green beans are just too fucking delicious!
The show goes well except for one thing, the audience is filled with WHITE PEOPLE! Students, ex-pats, hot girls from Seattle, what the fuck? The audience is a quarter Chinese at most. We're told it can be normal for a relatively unknown band playing China to attract mostly Americans. Dude, I did not travel 6,000 whatever miles to play for a room full of English speaking people, but what the hell, they bought their tickets. We (somewhat sloppily) rock their white asses and scramble back to the hotel. It's midnight and we have to wake up at 4 FUCKING AM! for a flight to Shanghai at 7 am tomorrow. If I ever come back to China, it will be only to kill whoever booked our domestic flights here.
(To Be Continued...)
(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