Singin' the Digestive Blues in Good Ol' Shanghai

I'm looking back on my previous post about music and realizing what a lame-ass excuse I made about being left-handed.  Musical skill isn't about what hand you use.  It's about discipline.  Lots of it.  And that's something I didn't have enough of growing up.  At least not in terms of being able to sit with an instrument for long, lonely hours hammering away.  But to be fair to my young self, I did play enough to get a decent musical education.  Now that I have a piano at home again, it's like finding a long lost lover and realizing that the passion still burns bright, even after being apart for fifteen years.  I've relearned a couple of Bach inventions and a Chopin Nocturne, Opus 37 no. 1 to be exact, which I could play fair to middling well in college.  I've also been working on some boogie woogie blues progressions, and started up another Chopin Nocturne, Opus 9 no. 1, which is beautiful but damned hard, and I'm still only on the first page.  I think the key to playing Chopin (at least for us mediocre players) is to not get too caught up in all his filigree--you know, the fancy flourishes he liked to use--but to master the basic structures first.  I've also been listening to a lot of Chopin.  Recently I bought a few CDs from the CD shop down the street from the Shanghai Music Conservatory.  I picked up recordings of his preludes, etudes, nocturnes, polonaises, mazurkas, ballades, and impromptus, all by top-notch world class pianists like Claudio Arrau, Rubinstein, Perlemuter, and so forth, and it only cost me around 300 RMB for the lot (around 40 US dollars)--and these are legitimate CDs, not pirated ones.  I'm fascinated by Chopin for some reason.  If anybody can recommend a good biography of the man, let me know.

Well, enough about music.  Let's talk!  The other night at the Oriented party (a social networking party held monthly in Shanghai) I ran into Terry Lee, a guy I'd met through fellow Dartmouth alums, who participated in a singing group we were trying to get together earlier this year (it eventually ran out of steam).  Terry and I talked about organized a house concert.  Apparently they are the rage in the US now.  Our idea is to get together some local singer/songwriters and provide a space for them to perform and get some feedback on their music.  Still in early stages, so more on this idea later.

When I'm not pecking away at the piano keyboard, I'm pecking away at the computer keyboard--trying to finish my book manuscript on the cabaret culture of Old Shanghai.  My publisher is breathing heavily down my neck, hoping to get the manuscript ASAP so that we can begin the publication process.  It's already set to go out in the catalogues for next spring.  The good news is that I'm nearly done.  Just need to polish some footnotes, and complete the intro and conclusion chapters for the book.  I've been looking over some old notes from meetings with my dissertation advisor and have found some helpful ideas to tie things up.  Still, the real challenge is to let go and get it out there.  It's just a first book after all.  Most authors probably look back on their first books and laugh.  Not that this book is a laughing matter.  Twelve years of soul and flesh!  My Iliad and my Odyssey.  Just hope it sees the light of day soon.

Seriously though, I do plan to have the damn thing back to the publisher by the end of this week.  And that calls for a celebration.

Glad that it's a holiday week.  The past few weeks have been pretty hectic settling into the new semester and my new job as Academic Director of CIEE's CGC program in Shanghai.  The students in the program are all in my globalization seminar, and I've already led them on a weekend trip to Hangzhou and Moganshan, which went well according to feedback, despite lack of hot water in some of the rooms at the Baiyun Hotel atop Moganshan mountain.  After the trip, I pretty much know all 42 students by face and name, and I'm getting to know some of their personalities as well.  All in all it's a good group.  No bad apples in the bunch--yet!

Meanwhile I'm setting up our Beijing trip for the first week in November.  I'm hiring the services of Old Beijing superstar Ed Lanfranco, who has forgotten more facts about the city's history than most people have learned, including most Beijingers.  Ed has an amazing local knowledge, and plans to put it to use taking us around to the big historic sites as well as some good old hutong neighborhoods.  Should be interesting to see how well this works out with 42 students.

The other week I had to make an emergency trip up to Beijing, for reasons that are perhaps best left unsaid here, having to do with a certain study abroad program I worked for in the past.  I spent one night up there, and after taking care of certain fiscal matters, got to spend some time with my old pals TR and JS, who are now sharing a pad that literally looks out over the major crossing of Wudaokou.  You can feel all that youthful energy coursing through the walls and into the apartment. 

Naturally we ended up at Lush and then made our way over to Propaganda to rekindle some old times.  But the next morning--and week--I suffered dearly for it.  That is to say, I caught a nasty stomach bug that my wife and daughter had and was destined to be passed on to me anyhow, but probably was catalyzed by excessive alcohol intake.  Well, the next morning I headed out of the hotel to search for a cab, but the roads were empty and blocked by cordons of police, who halted the traffic, both cars and pedestrians.  Turns out the Paralympic Marathon was under way.  After a half hour or so of pointless walking down Zhongguancun Lu, the last of the marathoners came jogging down the road--two men apparently blind, being led by assistants.  After that things opened up again, but in the meantime my intestines were punishing me severely.  The rest of the day went pretty much the same.  Lots of pain and discomfort while having to navigate through the banking system and get myself back on a plane to Shanghai.  I continued to experience a running of the bowels and the usual accompanying pain, misery, and general discomfort for the rest of the week and into our weekend trip to Hangzhou and Moganshan.  It didn't help that the weather was unseasonably hot and sticky, but somehow I pulled through, though the bus ride to and from Moganshan was torture at points.  But to be the fearless leader, one has to put up with one's own misery in silence.

Thankfully my digestive system returned to normal last week, as did those of my family members.  Feels wonderful to be healthy again (knock on wood).  But that's life in Shanghai.

At the same time I was experiencing the digestive blues, my old friend and colleague James Farrer came to town for a two-week visit.  James and I did some work preparing for a conference we are planning for next spring, on representations of Shanghai.  James's advisor Wendy Griswold, a Northwestern sociology prof who is organizing the conference with us, also flew into town and we had a memorable dinner at the Yongfuhui, a posh Shanghainese restaurant in an old mansion on Yongfu Lu, surrounded by rustling pines.  We also had some meetings with some of his sociologist colleagues from Fudan and Shanghai U, including Yu Hai, who had a lot of interesting things to say about the Tianzifang "creative industry park"--a place that I've spent a lot of time at over the past few months .  We also did a bit of nightlife exploration to keep the flame going for our upcoming book, but not nearly as much as last spring.  I did take him to Laris last Thursday night.  If you like being surrounded by a bunch of young, trendy European expats pretending that they own the city, then Laris on Thursday is the place to be.  

On Friday I took a group of seven students on a "historical preservation" tour comparing Xintiandi and Tianzifang.  The latter won hands down.  According to Yu Hai, Tianzifang has generated a lot of interest among the highest levels of local and national government, and may be the new model for urban development.  Yet ultimately it still seems to lead to the eviction or removal of the original residents anyway, even if it's done at a much slower and more organic pace.  Kind of like the proverbial frog in the pot of water put to a slow boil.  While at Tianzifang, I asked a few local residents at the very edge of the development zone what they thought of the whole thing, and they replied that they didn't really understand it.  I thought that was an interesting and telling response.

Well, that about does it for this past two weeks' adventures, or lack thereof.