Sunday, February 24, 2008

Live at HIVE

Played a show last night at HIVE in Luang Prabang, Laos with London's DJ Errol Brown of SumoBrown. Errol dropped in tracks that his friends in London had sent him that day on top of my improv.

Errol was supposed to play the night before, but his girlfriend got sick so he came the next day instead. I asked him if he could scratch, and suggested we play together. It worked out really well for having just met and we intend to work together in the future. Errol is moving to Sydney but said he could hook me up with gigs in London. So after Asia maybe we'll fly Oasis Hong Kong to London and play a few sets before heading back to the states. I'm hoping we can chill with our couchsurfer friend Laggi and Valerie's college buddy Dan Zinner in London.

(Note: Oasis Hong Kong airlines went out of business soon after this post.)

Friday, February 22, 2008

People to Do, Things to Be, PLaces to Talk to

OK I've been asked by several people to blog more about our travels. Basically, we've been touring around Asia, partly to spread the gospel of Cousin Isaac and partly to look for a place to settle down for a year or so. One of our goals was to be budget conscience and not spend all our money. Another was to meet people and be social. Of course I also fully intended to play shows and promote my music...

Here is a quick take on all the places we have been so far...

Hong Kong ( Week 1: Sep 13-20, 2007)
We got to HK and spent a few hours in the airport making use of the free wifi and sipping smoothies from MIX as we braced ourselves for what we knew would be a hot, sticky, smoggy, expensive, and crowded city.

We got up the courage to leave the airport and made our way to our guesthouse in Kowloon's TST neighborhood. TST is bustling with bars and clubs, clothing and jewlery stores, cafes, etc. Mainly, one has to avoid the touts who come at you from all directions trying to get you into their tailor shops and fake handbag stores. It's like a video game trying to dodge them.

We found the guesthouse, which took up a few floors of a building that also housed a massage parlor (totally legit foot massage) and a no so legit brothel. It took us a while to figure out that it was a brothel- the first sign was when we saw a man being led by a tarted-up girl from one apartment to the next. Then there were the groups of men who would avoid eye-contact and change their mind about whether to go into a room every time they saw us in the hallway. Our room was small but it had aircon, internet, hot water and we only ever saw one cockroach. The brothel was an added bonus.

We got the Octopus Card which works on the MTR, busses, trams and ferries and rode them to all the tourist spots- the peak, the midlevel escalator, the big buddha on the hill, the ladies' street market, and wandered around various neighborhoods. Though we were hot and sticky, we were having fun being tourists.

The only major snafu happened two days into the trip: the e61i's web browser stopped working and it took me several trips to Nokia "care" centers to understand that they could not help me at all, even if I paid them. Nokia has no worldwide warranty and they cannot even refresh their phone's software outside of one's home country. So even though the phone was sold by Nokia unlocked, as a "World Phone" it cannot be repaired worldwide. Luckily, after calling customer service in the states, I was able to reset the phone using a code which finally got the browser back up. But I was incensed that I had to spend so much time figuring this out.

I had also driven Valerie crazy with all the visits to Nokia so I placated her by agreeing to hunt down veggie restaurants with her. Luckily, Chinese veg food is abundant and sometimes even excellent. Also, HK, being super westernized, we were even able to obtain Dagoba chocolate and organic Aloe Vera gel. So while we were annoyed, we were at least eating well and comforted by our western amenities.

Music-wise, before we left I had emailed several clubs but not one of them had returned any of my emails. I figured there might be a language barrier. Luckily, Kay, a couchsurfing contact got me a meeting at the Fringe Cub and we talked about doing a show sometime in the new year. I followed up after the meeting with email, but again, no reply. Perhaps email is not the preferred method of communication in HK, or maybe they just don't like my music. Who knows.

Anyway, I didn't have time to worry about it though because we were running around so much. Laggi, a twenty-something couchsurfer who works for Oasis HK airlines- (how cool is that?) took us around and hipped us to things like the mod lifestyle shop "Delay No More" which transliterated sounds like "Fuck Your Mother" in Cantonese. He proved it when he said the words in English and a few heads turned around in surprise. He also confirmed our suspicions about the brothel- the pink light was the giveaway. Yesteryear it would have been the yellow signs, some of which are still proudly displayed in the streets of Kowloon.

We went with Laggi to the horse races, lost all our money, and I believe I was mistaken for an Australian by a Aussie jockey who patted me on the back and said something which I didn't understand but took to be brotherly. That's when I got the idea for Aussie Bob- a travel show host who spouts inane bullpucky- videos to follow.

Next Up: Taiwan...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

People to do, Things to be, Places to talk to, part II

(Sep 20- Oct. 1 )
A week later we were in Taipei, scheduled to stay with our couchsurfing host Yuying, a retired teacher who was great fun. She said she could pick us up from the station where the airport shuttle drops you off. All we had to do was go inside the station and call when we got in.

But by the time we got into town, it was 1 am, raining, and the bus had dropped us off by the side of the station where they were doing construction so the doors leading into the station were blocked. We found a 7-11, which was not hard since they are on every corner, and spent a good half hour trying to figure out the payphone's card system until eventually a nice man let us use his cell phone, and even gave us money for a cab. This was our introduction to the wonderful friendliness of the Taiwanese. They are so great.

We spent a few days in Taipei over which we did some walking in the hills, the usual touristy bits like the night market, a temple or two, etc. We managed to meet up with Raman Frey of Frey Norris Gallery from SF, our former roommate and Seoul Brother (Valerie and Raman had met in Seoul a few years back.) Now Raman was in Taipei on bidness, checking out the art scene after a jaunt to Beijing in which he managed to buy about a billion pounds worth of gallery catalogs- each the size of a coffee table book. How he manged to get them home I will never know.

Anyway, Raman speaks some Mandarin so Yuying taught him how to sexually harass people in Mandarin, which I forget but the translation is "I want to eat your tofu." Given that Taiwan's national dish, Cho Dofu (stinky tofu) is the nastiest, stinkiest most toilety thing you can imagine, this seems like a pretty hot pick-up line.

Here we see Valerie chowing down on some Cho Dofu.

From Taipei we headed down to Taichung, a college town of sorts and stayed in the expat-chic digs of Dane, Theresa, and Ugo who were excellent hosts. After getting drenched in a downpur, they took us to a BBQ for the moon festival where we sat on little plastic kid's stools which broke under our weight. We cooked on a tiny square grill on the sidewalk, where everyone normally parks their scooters so you usually have to walk in the street. During the moon festival, BBQing is done all over the city, while people set off illegal fireworks. Actually, even barbecuing is illegal apparently.

Later that night we drank in the park with some of the neighborhood teenagers. The leader of the gang, whose name means Fish, is in a death metal band called "Cheese." In Mandarin, it sounds like "go to hell." He'd rather sing speed metal, but his guitarist only likes death metal. Fish taught me some Spanish, having spent a year in Costa Rica living "La Vida Pura" (Pure life.)

A few days and towns later we took a narrow gauge train to Alishan, a mountain that the Japanese had logged to death during their occupation of Taiwan. They replaced most of the thousand or so year-old red Cyprus with Cherry trees. Now there are signs posted that it is an artificial forest. It is still beautiful however. As you go up the mountain you pass tea plantations where they hand pick oolong. The train passes through 3 climates- "Torrid," (Tropical?) Warm and Temperate. The "temperate" zone is nice and cool, a welcome respite from the horrible heat below. At the top it feels like being in Santa Cruz, except instead of the Redwoods, they are Red Cyprus. (There are still a few left.) Apparently, the train is one of only 3 in the world that reach the top of a mountain.

So, the big tourist attraction at Alishan is to take the train up to the top of the peak at 4:30 am and watch the sunrise. You get packed into the train with hundreds of Taiwanese tourists who seemed to come out of nowhere. Everyone pushes and shoves to get into the train even though everywhere else in Taiwan they cue up like civilized human beings. With everyone packed in, the train just sits there on the platform for twenty minutes while you get asphyxiated by the diesel exhaust even though they claim it's a steam train. By the time you reach the top of the mountain, it is already light out, though technically the sun has not risen over the peak. Tour guides scream into megaphones as the hordes snap photos. It's patently absurd.

But Alishan has it's charms. We stayed in a great little guesthouse run by a Taiwanese tea baron and his family and took a walk through the Red Cyprus along a wooden walkway that led us past little shrines and over suspension bridges and what not. If we lived in Taiwan, I'd want to live in the mountains.

After Alishan it was back to Taipei, where for some reason we decided to stay at a cheap hostel that the rough guide book recommended instead of calling Yu-ying who said we could stay with her again. Big mistake. It was nasty- the bed was a dirty foam slab on a box spring and you could just feel the bed bugs jumping on you, even though apparently there weren't actually any bedbugs. There was however a giant cockroach, so we slept with the lights on. The next night, we were supposed to stay with this guy Neo, an event planner who has toured California and Kentucky as part of a cheerleading squad, but we demurred because we had to leave for the airport very early the next day. So we left the squalor of the hostel for the relative luxury of a two and a half star hotel which was worth every penny of the NT$1200 (about $50 USD.) Except for the schtinkwasser coming out of the tap, it was grand.

All in all Taiwan wins for friendliness, food, and convenience. It feels like a cross between Japan and Vietnam in a way. There are scooters everywhere, but you can cross the street. There are vegetarian restaurants all over the place which are quite good and usually pretty cheap. It's also inexpensive and easy to get around. The best part are the people, however. Taiwanese are generally warm and friendly and are not out to rip you off. If you look lost, they will help you, even if they don't speak English. If it weren't for the humidity, I could easily see us living there and learning some Mandarin.

Next Up: Japan...

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Laos Now Brown Cow

OK so we got back to Singapore and I got my laptop and xiosynth, etc out of storage at Sleepy Sam's hostel where we had to crash a few nights before staying at our couchsurfer's place. Did I mention It's social networking for travelers who stay at each other's pads for free. Brilliant.

Anyway, got the gear, chilled in Singapore a few days with some couchsurfers who Valerie talks about in her blog, wheelybag. Then headed up through Malaysia and checked out Malacca, Kuala Lumpur and Pennang before heading to Laos' Vientianne, Vang Viang and Luang Prabang. Now I am woodsheding in LP trying to get my chops up and a set together to start playing shows again.