Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Halfway Across the World

After an already stunning tour that had taken us all over Ontario to British Columbia, Washington State and Oregon; we were driving to the last state/province in North America to tick off our list - California.

We set up in Blue Lake and drove into Arcata to put up our posters in the independent cafés and shops. Vid was pretty surprised to hear people asking us: 'Spare a nugg?'; you just don't hear people begging passers-by for weed in the UK.

All set up for our gig at the Arcata Playhouse, with a week to spare, we drove further south to some old friends of Tess (now new friends of Vid) in Oakland. The comfortable 18°C (64°F) in mid-November was a bonus.

Here in Oakland was a phenomenal Burmese restaurant, one of the best meals so far on the tour. Although going out for nice dinners with nearly all of the friends we stop with gets expensive, it comes with something that you cannot buy. With the value of friends in mind from before the start of the tour, we had to make sure that we had a separate 'eating like kings' budget to make sure that money never got in the way. Maybe we'll take a little less money home with us but touring is different to working in one place and saving up to go on holiday. We might as well spend some of our 'holiday budget' while we're here, rather than going crazy and eating only gruel.

From Oakland, we head into San Francisco for our next performance at Café International. The gig itself went very well and we had a great response. Walking through San Francisco was shocking. The streets we walked down had the highest concentration of homeless people out of anywhere on our trip so far. Every third person was pushing a supermarket trolley with their belongings. Sure, there are homeless in the UK but it was clear very early on that the UK do a much better job of taking care of its poorest. Though the Brits get a lot of criticism for 'allowing free-loaders to milk the system', you can at least rest assured that, if you do go crazy (or join the army), there are institutions in place that at least aim to help out when you're left with nothing.

Now, we had hit the southernmost point on our entire trip. Generally, on tour, you never find yourself in one place for too long and, after one evening performing in San Francisco, we were already turning around for the long drive back to Vancouver, BC. Still, plenty of stops left on the way.

We spent a couple more nights in Oakland before heading back to Arcata for a beatbox workshop one night and our full show the next. The workshop was hilarious. You have to hand it to the theatre types for taking the improvisation and characterisation to a new level. Every so often in beatbox workshops you get a nice surprise when one or a few of the participants can already beatbox. We had a girl turn up to this one and, what's more, she came alone. You know that somebody has the potential to succeed when they go at it alone and that's something that is a fair bit rarer in teenagers. Props to her. The performance was a hit too, possibly the most laughter we've gotten so far. This time, we'd decided to put the loopstation on the stage, rather than its usual place, out of sight behind the curtain. This added a really nice, honest and open feel to what we do and proved not only to be a great way to show that there are 'no tricks' but also allowed the loopstation to be an intriguing part of the set. If we find the loopstation interesting enough to use, there is always a way of making it interesting to watch too.

Two great nights doing what we love, mountains, redwoods and friends all around us and a quirky yet peaceful town with a logger's bar that has gigantic chainsaws on the walls and a piano made from saw-blades and other logging equipment (that Vid played on to entertain the bar for a good while). We truly have the best jobs in the world.

We head out to a park in Berkley for a day to find dozens of gophers running around. What we didn't expect to see around the corner was a great blue heron feasting on one of them.

From there we drove back up to Portland for a trip to the beach and to spend Thanksgiving with the newly-wed couple we mentioned in our last blog. American Thanksgiving truly is an experience to submerge oneself in. Plentiful in every way, food, friendship, fun and family. Being on the West Coast Vid wasn't left our with his dietary restrictions, there was a gluten-free version of just about everything, even stuffing!

Bellies full we stuffed ourselves into a car and headed back up to Vancouver to re-group, re-pack and gear ourselves up for the seventeen and a half hour flight to China. Movies, check, podcasts, check, scrabble, check, sanity, I'm sure we had it when we left.

The flight was longer than long. We flew China Eastern, why? Because it was cheap. Cheap in every way! The plane was old (there were ashtrays in the arm-rests that still hadn't been emptied), there were two screens the size of match-books right at the front of the plane playing vhs movies from the 80s, the food was inedible and we were sat in the middle of row stench and row shrieking babies. If Tess had had a parachute, she would have used it. Vid as always, cool as a cucumber.

We arrived in Beijing to which would be our home for the next three weeks. A luxurious embassy apartment smack in the middle of the centre of Beijing. Our jet-lag worked in our favour seeing as we woke every morning at the crack of dawn. We were ready to hit the ground running, seeing parks, markets, temples, palaces, hu tongs and oh so many restaurants!

Coming from the West Coast of North America and on the last leg of our trip we decided there is no holding back. From taking a rick-shaw from an old man who giggled as he grazed by every obstacle so close we had to close our eyes from fear. To getting clothing hand-made, made to measure.

Through looking up juggling clubs in Beijing, we met a group of circus fanatics to swap tricks with and made fast friends with one of the organisers. Less than a week later and we're gigging at an event with the Beijing Performers! We both feel so fortunate to have a show that can make a noisy room fall quiet. It was doubly comforting to see that this can work in three continents. Bring on the next three!

One hell of a venue to have performed at is The Temple of Heaven. Vid stood in the emperor's spot outside, overlooking the temple buildings and performed a beatbox juggling skit. What ensued was a frenzy of Chinese tourists swarming around him and taking photo after photo, each person wanting a shot with just them and Vid as well as big group photos.

Beijing is like any other big city, lots of people, tall skyscrapers and pollution... Except the pollution here is more like a brown fog that can hang in the air for days until there is some wind to give us a glimpse of the blue sky. There were four straight days where we were told it was hazardous to breathe in the air and one or two where the pollution rating topped 500. For it to reach 150 is unhealthy. >500 is 'Beyond Index' the current name that has replaced 'Crazy Bad'. Good thing our apartment has high enough ceilings allowing us to juggle and practice without much problem.

There has also been the saving grace of Beijing Hikers. This is a group that every weekend gets out to the mountainous countryside and lead hikes. We were lucky to get to the 'wild wall', a hike on The Great Wall that was on the ancient part that hadn't been restored. As well as to Dragon Cloud Mountain, a mountainous hike along a beautiful river, this provided a welcome break from the city. It is winter here so we were fortunate to see a few frozen waterfalls for the first time in our lives. You wouldn't know Beijing has such beautiful, mountainous countryside if one didn't go on these hikes. It is almost impossible to navigate around the city asking directions to people who don't understand you. Let alone trying to get any information on the Internet that has been completely controlled and censored by the government.

The control of government here is real and scary. For fear of not saying too much within the country itself, lets just say this: Juggling in Tiananmen square, we were surrounded by three cops, a police van and an officer on a segway after four minutes. We weren't juggling to perform, let alone asking for money. It seemed that the issue was really any sort of crowd gathering around the same point.

I don't know how we're going to find some of the food we've eaten in Beijing when back in the UK. Most of it has been great - bullfrog, bee-larvae, duck, ox tongue, chicken kidneys, super-realistic-vegan-faux-meat, snails, sushi, a few mystery meats and sushi with ice cream to name a few.

Our last performance of the whole trip was a guerrilla glow-beatbox-juggle scene in downtown Beijing. We managed to gather a decent crowd and get all the way through before being shut down. It helped that the security guard was willing to wait and watch the last few minutes of the show before coming forward. You know you're doing something right when your show is well received by the people that are employed to move you on.

Tonight is Vid's last night before a twenty-four hour journey back to Bristol. We spent today bargaining in the markets for the last few Christmas presents and seeing a fantastic Beijing acrobatics show. Sure, we're on tour but it's nice to be the audience too. We finished the evening with one last indulgent, 'eating like kings' meal. Nobody does duck like Beijing.

What a fantastic first world tour! Tess is staying on in Asia for a while heading south towards warm weather and warmer art scenes. Vid is back to winter indoors working on a new solo set. We'll see you in March and beyond when we bring Beatrick to the UK.

Happy holidays and thanks for following. A post or two of bonus material may just be in store!