This is my third trip to Beijing, and it feels a little like coming home. The subway card that I’ve been carrying in my wallet since 2010 still works. My travel companion, Pablo, pointed out I was wearing the same shirt I had on when I met him in Beijing the last time when we were on our way to Mongolia. And the beer is still warm and skunky.
Our plan is to catch up in Beijing and then ride trains to the absolute northern most point in China, which is located in a little village north of the small city of Mohe (pronounced more like Moha).
The first couple of nights we stayed at the Fly By Knight in off the Dongsi Station. Lovely place, although I think overpriced for a hostel. It was nice to stay out of the Qianmen area for a bit, which has gotten so overtly touristy. Although, the locals have a bit of a different take on the overbuilt, brand name, “built new to look old” development. Towards the end of the trip we were traveling with a woman from QiQihaar who had never been to Beijing before, and she loved Qianmen stating that it is so “cultural”. After Dongsi, we did move to Qianmen to try to meet some fellow travelers, and stayed at Leo Courtyard Hostel. I definitely do not recommend it, although the courtyard of the old building is nice, the rooms are cheap, windowless Russian Army barracks.
We’ve both been to the Lama Temple before, but with that obsession with temples of mine, I wanted to go again.
This little lady is 26 meters high, and is carved from a single sandalwood tree.
Walking distance from the Lama Temple, is a less visited Confucian Temple. By definition, the art is less concerned with giant statues as it is with texts engraved in rock and the relics of things used in ritual.
The Summer Palace
The summer palace in the way northwest part of the city is another place I’ve visited before, but Pablo had never seen it. It’s definitely worth visiting, but not on a day like this where the pollution is so bad you can hardly see 20 feet in front of you. Compare these photos to the ones I took back in 2009 on clear day.
Bell and Drum Tower
This is a part of town I’d never visited before, and is a great area to find something to eat.
I don’t know if was a product of the pollution, or the fact that we sure as hell ain’t getting any younger, but we definitely did not have the stamina for walking endless distances and seeing all the sites. Besides Pablo is a Spaniard living in Scotland, he requires Siestas at regular intervals.
Beijing is a city that changes relentlessly, while somehow staying the same.
Last weekend I took a little jaunt into the White Mountains on the Maine Side. Straight up 113 is such a beautiful drive. The Speckled Mt. trail was great, and very damp. So here are some mushroom adventures.
Colin Thubron is a classic choice for the first book in a travel inspired read-a-thon. This one is short, and the only fiction I’ve ever seen by him. It makes sense though, all those characters he’s met and observed in his life that can’t be written about in the journalistic non-fiction format in the way they can be characterized in fiction. To The Last City is the tale of a small group of people journeying to less-visited Incan ruins. A Belgian and his French wife who is half his age, an older British couple whose resentment of each other fills the air, a mis-guided and confused aspiring priest, and the doubtful guide whose job it is to keep all these folks safe and happy.
This is a really good book, but here is quote that really stuck out so far:
” The Englishman lay in his sleeping bag listening to the quick, regular breathing of his wife.
In the faint light, he could see she had placed her boots between them, with her anorak and a water bottle. “
And finally getting around, four hours late, to the introductory questions:
1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? Portland, ME, USA
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? Red Dust, I think. Maybe Grass Roof, Tin Roof.
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? I’m not nearly that prepared.
4) Tell us a little something about yourself! A lapsed traveler, due mostly to my drive to be a musician which keeps me tied to where I’m playing, recording, and also perpetually broke.
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to? I was so excited to realize I didn’t have a gig booked on a Saturday night so that I could participate! Although I do have to go to the studio, and also to work at some point during the 24 hours.
Pages read: 66
Page in current book: 67
Hour six update: Book finished, 168 pages read. Heading out to get some Indian food….
After spending a week staying with good friends Grys and Juan, I’m finally back in my old hometown of Tlaquepaque. I felt welcomed back with open arms, and in some ways treated like I never left. Drank some cervezas with the hombres a la tienda. Got the scoop on the local rock band I sang with sometimes breaking up. A few stores have changed, but mostly it’s the same. Gorgeous, and warm, and delicious.
My plan was to rent an apartment from an English teacher who runs a school and rents some apartments in Tlaquepaque. When I got to the school to pick up the keys, the apartment I was hoping to rent wasn’t ready yet, and the cheaper apartments didn’t have internet. This was a problem since part of my plan was to hole up and write some gig proposals for the summer, and answer some long e-mails I’d been ignoring.
When he asked if I knew my way around at all, and I said I used to live and teach here, his eyes lit up, and I could tell he had a notion. It turned out a teacher was sick and he was in need of an emergency sub for that day and the next. He offered me a private apartment for less than the cheaper place in exchange for teaching two days of classes.
So here I am in a gorgeous private apartment, able to practice, have friends over, and write in peace in the center of a fantastic neighborhood. I even made myself a Mexican breakfast of chiliquiles, papaya, and frijoles.
Several people said they were afraid I wasn’t going to come back from Mexico, and if I didn’t have gigs lined up in Maine and Vermont, I might not. I could live here. But it would be almost impossible to play original music on a regular basis. So here’s to one more week in paradise.
One of these days I swear I’ll get this blog back to being about travel photos and tales. I have plenty of ideas to write about with getting back in the field working on an archaeology project, and having a case of poison ivy bad enough to send me to the hospital, but for now, it’s all about the music.
November Music News
In some sad news, my not-so-trusty Honda Insight that has taken me all around the country, barely big enough for a guitar and a suitcase, was hauled off on a trailer by a nice engineer from Toronto who was looking for a hybrid to fix up. The replacement gig vehicle, actually big enough for a few instruments, amps, and the handsome men that play them, is a jeep cherokee. We took the jeep on it’s first foray to a gig in Hallowell, packed to the gills with gear and people, only to be texted a few minutes down the road by my roommate that my tail lights were out. When AAA proved to be of no help, I called drummer and car lover Dave Burd for some advice. He talked us through changing a fuse, and voila, we were back on the road.
In some even sadder news, as I’m sure most people know, Nick Curran, amazing guitar player and singer, and one of the few Mainahs to make it, died of cancer this month. He was one of the youngest people to ever win a W.C. Handy, played for the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and released amazing solo records. I’ve included a video of Nick along with Dave Burd (the fuse man), and my old friend Hawk Kallweit. It’s a pretty small world, and some folks don’t get to stay in it long enough.
11/1 – Dogfish Cafe, 8pm, w/ Adam Barber on bass, and my bro Kirk Underwood on electric guitar and harmonies.
11/3 – Local Sprouts – organic food and homegrown music – 7 to 9pm, with Adam Barber on Bass and Joe Bloom on harmonica.
11/10 – Local Buzz, Cape Elizabeth, 8pm – with Adam Barber on bass and TBA.
11/16 – Gutheries, Lewiston, 8pm – with Adam Barber on bass and Devon Colella on cello
Vermont bound! Please pass this newsletter on to folks you know in Vermont who are interested in original Americana music
11/17 – Purple Moon Pub in Waitsfield – 7pm
11/18 – The Skinny Pancake, Montpelier, 6pm
11/19 – Radio Bean, Burlington, 6pm
11/20 – The Bees Knees, Morrisville, 7pm
11/23 and 11/24 - Samoset Resort, Rockport, ME, 7 to 10pm – we’re very excited that the Samoset has decided to have music for the off season. Join us in the downstairs restaurant for cocktails and original music.
11/24 – Blue – the Nashville style songwriters round I host every month at Blue will still happen even though I’ll be up the coast. Guest host TBA. 6 pm
11/30 and 12/1 – Samoset Resort, 7 to 10pm, with Devon Colella on the cello.
Also in November is the 20th anniversary of a songwriters’ collective I belong to in Nashville hosted every Sunday by my good friend Kathy Hussey. Although I’m not able to fly down for the weekend to celebrate and pick some tunes with them, Dana Lowe, the resident poet famous for making up poems on the spot containing three random words provided by the crowd, wrote this for me to share with you today:
New England folks: the chance is good
For hearing Shanna Underwood
And her gang come to your town
to lay some lovely music down.
The tickets, relatively cheap;
The mode of transport is by Jeep.
Her poison ivy, some folks say,
is why she’s just itchin’ to play.
Accompanied by the Musical Lads,
her show makes Northern folk feel glad.
She tours the early part in Maine,
then Vermont, when she’s out again!
When choosing towns, Shanna has a habit
of picking names multi-syllabic.
And, if the folks are extra-nice,
she might even play in Burlington twice!
So go by plane or boat or car
to see Shanna and her Gibson Guitar.
(void where prohibited)
c 2012 Dana M Lowe
Hope to see you out and about,
Like on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ShannaUnderwoodMusic/events
I’ve come through Buffalo a few times this year, and feel like I’ve already become entrenched in some friendships and families thanks to my friends from the former Redheaded Stepchild. As my new buddy Tim Pitcher and I were talking over Christmas about the winter lulls and being laid off, we got the idea of booking a bunch of shows together in Western New York. Possibly to Tim’s surprise, I don’t joke about these things, so here I am in Batavia, sipping coffee, trading who knows who stories, and rehearsing for a weeks worth of listening room and coffeehouse style concerts.
Our last show of the week will be on Wed. at a fantastic little venue in Corfu, NY called The Union Hotel. It’s an old fashioned bowling alley/bar/music venue. As opposed to my favorite venue in Maine, Bayside Bowl, The Union Hotel in Corfu is genuine retro. The bowling alley is so old you have to keep score on paper. Snoops, the owner, made me feel like a star, and took me for a tour behind the scenes of the pin machine. I got to play pin monkey and photographer for a while.
Tonight: Saturday, February 18th, Black Eyed Susans, Angelica, NY 7:30pm
Tim and I will be pickin’ acoustic original tunes in Angelica. I hope to see some of the folks I talked to at LLBeans on the phone who live in the area!
Monday, Feburary 20th, Nietzsche’s, 8 to 9pm
Nietzsche’s is a Buffalo music staple. Following the showcase will be an open mic. I’m really excited to hang out and here what is happening on the Buffalo scene.
Wednesday, Febrary 22nd, Union Hotel, Corfu, NY, 7:30pm
Beer, bowling, and country music. What the hell else do you want?
This is a new venue in Buffalo that looks great, and sounds better.
How would you feel if this were the view from your backyard? After a little while, the mountains probably go the way of everything else. Not even noticed while going through the motions of doing the dishes and obsessing about the roof, but every once in a while being striking again over a cup of coffee. Heading out into the mountains has been my plan for falling back in love with Maine. While Portland, to me, is a great little town, it also reeks of stagnation and extreme class separation. I feel like my own history is erased as I pop coins in the meter next to the same shops (thankfully still mostly locally owned), feel a sense of deja-vu from ten years ago, and remind myself that I have been to Mongolia in the meantime. There is a Maine outside of Portland, and it is like another world.
My brother commented earlier this year when I was observing that for economic reasons I will be “stuck” in Maine for the time being, that I’m more comfortable when in survival mode. Never one to be an adrenaline junkie, I don’t think that’s quite it. It’s not the rush, but the adventure of the unknown; a first-hand acquisition of knowledge and experience. I am still seething from a comment made by a friend earlier this week that implied there is something inherently wrong with me for avoiding settling down. I feel the same way about people who shack up in their dream house and begin the process of erosion that familiarity works on our senses and perspectives. There must be a middle ground where connections can be maintained, but the mountains don’t fade into the background of the everyday.
So off to ramble in the White Mountains near Evan’s Notch. I was looking for a short hike called The Roost, but I couldn’t find the trail head. The Caribou trail had parking, and a clear map, so I headed off. I was planning to make a loop around that was described as Caribou to Caribou MT to the Muddy something-or-other trail. What this heavily wooded trail lacks in views of the surrounding area, it makes up for by following a river that it crisscrosses over several times dotted by waterfalls.
It took me significantly longer to get through the Caribou trail to the head of the Caribou Mt. trail than I thought it would. But at this point I wasn’t going to not see a summit after a couple of hours. I half ran up the first part of this trail into what turned into a mythical scene of short pine trees, mosses, and the start of a granite instead of wooded landscape.
As I sat down to enjoy the view and finally eat my hard-earned sandwich, I realized the sun was looking awfully low. I double checked my time, and noticed it was actually an hour later then what I had thought I’d read the first time. Shit. I was at the very least two hours away from the car with exactly two hours of sunlight left.
Here is where the adventure of the unknown mind took over, and was insisting that I continue with my original plan of completing the loop. But when I followed the trail marker, it dead ended. A cliff on one side, and extremely dense bushes and pines with no trail on the other. I backtracked and tried again, but the same thing. I was going to have to backtrack down the trail I came up. Something I never do if I can help it when hiking. I realized a quarter of the way down the original trail, that this was the best thing that could have happened. Not only was it significantly darker in the woods, but I moved as fast as possible because I already knew where I was going, and the landmarks in my mind kept me motivated and with some idea of how far out I was. I even patted the half way marker and called it old buddy outloud as I passed it.
Perspective changes instantly when the conditions change. On the way up I was plodding along feeling the thrill of each new water fall and getting up each rise. On the way down, I was racing against time, and each landmark turned into a checkmark to get to next. All the things that were in my car, and not in my backpack, that would be useful if I did for some reason get a stuck kept flashing through my mind: two flashlights, two sleeping bags, a reflective heat blanket, a tent, a pocket knife…..
I made it back to the car at 4:42, the sun set yesterday at 4:18, although I could still see well enough. The tree stumps had only just began turning into boogiemen and wild animals. When I got back to the car it was pitch dark in a matter of minutes, and promptly began pouring.
So much for my life in Maine becoming routine.