For our last tour through Asia, I designed a shirt with a multi-language conversation between the countries that we visited that could only be understood if all languages were translated. It was silly and I'm not even sure it makes sense the way I intended. But I'm very happy with them. We have a few leftover from the tour for those interested in purchasing them.They are available here: http://item.taobao.com/item.htm?id=7544755228 (The woman in the photo is a beautiful fan from the Philippines and when I was alerted to this picture of hers on her blog site, I was tickled pink to see our shirts getting the best merch promotion we've ever done. I asked if we could use it and she probably thinks I'm a stalker.)
Our show in Halifax is coming up and we are very excited. For those of you who aren't attending the rest of the festival, I wanted to link you to the single entry tickets available for just our show. Thus here it is: http://ww3.ticketpro.ca/event.php?event_id=1579
For our latest trip to Asia, I decided to write daily about our adventures. Usually I reserve these journal entries as dispatches to my beloveds back home while I am overseas. This time, you are all privy to my dumb and artless thoughts. Included in these written journals are also pictures we took along the way. We will add them to our photo section soon.
MANILA. August 23.
Manila is one of the most densely populated places on the planet, coursing 20 million people through its densely polluted streets every day – not counting us tourists. When we first arrive to the airport, I am reminded of trying to enter the United States from Mexico – the lines at the border are long and harried, the security has fearsome artillery, and the families returning home are speaking quickly with expressive gesticulation while sharing juicy oranges. (It is not hard to trace the countries’ Spanish colonial routes here.)
As we wait for Joff outside the terminal, held up as he is by the city’s unbelievably bad traffic, we witness shabbily dressed security soldiers hand off guns to each other to take pee breaks. Dan and I remark that the more things that are “done for our security,” the less safe we feel. One uniformed guard tries to bribe Archie for his “gracious aid” in directing him to buy snack food.
As we drive through the city’s prettily-painted squalor, Joff agrees that when politicians are most known by their nicknames, a country’s corruption is rather “in-your-face.” Joff gifts us with Zippo lighters bearing an engraving of the city’s most colourful transport: the jeepney. These leftover US military vehicles are ostentatiously decorated and overcrowded and beloved as a Filipino point of cultural pride. Dan and I wonder if there’s a way we could export one home to Canada to use as a Handsome Furs tour van.
Despite fast-food ambience, we salivate over barbeque chicken served with soy, calamansi, chili and vinegar. The American and Spanish and Asian influences fight a tremendous battle on our palettes. No one wins except us. Joff takes Dan and I shopping for films (the cinema of the Philippines is one of Asia’s earliest movie industries and it continues to boast some of its best titles). At an Indigo-style bookstore, Joff points out some Tagalog features before taking us to ¡Market! ¡Market! for a selection of rarer films. Since a number of Joff’s friends are directors, he has a wealth of advise for our choices.
Like Vietnam, the Philippines are known for civet coffee, a pungent specialty brew processed in the digestive tracks of weasels, so we have a cup without thinking about where it’s been. The city is swallowed by a storm and we swim through the streets until flagging down a cab. Once inside, the taxi driver brings us up to date on the very tragic breaking news: a Hong Kong tourist bus is being held hostage by a disgruntled police officer. Joff translates the horrific unfoldings and we all brace ourselves for a bad outcome. As we drive around through the rain, listening to the public radio broadcast of the calamitous proceedings, we feel fearful and sad. We hear gunshots echo out from the speakers. The reporter’s voice is distressed and urgent. We feel sick. We stop the car for a while to just listen. Traffic is redirected and we wait and wait before we can get back to our hotel. Everything is happening hastily but facts are not wholly known. We sit in terror. Finally back in our district some time later, Dan and Archie head out to hunt for food. None of us are feeling particularly social. On their walk, a man tries to sell them taser guns and three women try to sell themselves and the boys’ general “sketched-out” feelings are raised to an awareness of insecurity. In their absence, I learn that eight hostages have been killed.
Dogs sleepily prowl through our neighborhood and last night’s storm is wrung out from this mornings laundry. Despite the horrible events of what is now known as the Manila Hostage Crisis, we are determined to brave the metropolis and uncover its less randomly violent facets. And we do. For the most part.
Joff takes us to Intramuros, the Old Town of Manila surrounded by high walls and moats. Across from the Manila Cathedral, passed miniature nuns and men selling straw visors and sunglasses, we sit at a fast-food style Chinese restaurant where, again, our palettes are wrestled. We eat the Family Lauriat meal with Pancit but the most exciting part is the Filipino specialty dessert of Halo Halo. The combination of ingredients may sound unsettling (American purple shaved ice and ice cream, Chinese mung bean, plantain, crushed rice, coconut, dried fruit, sweet potato, Spanish leche flan, and corn) but upon its colourful arrival, we are all dying to devour it. It exemplifies the east-meets-west sentiments I’ve been feeling in a surprisingly delicious combination.
Intramuros is rotting and beautiful, given life by the young couples holding hands and the students ambling about in big groups. Election posters are plastered over Havana-style mansions. Armored security vehicles charge down the quiet streets, scaring horse-drawn carriages and cyclists. Ceramic tiled roofs and buzzing telephone wires crowd the overcast sky. We walk the entirety of the old wall, lined as it is by a bizarre American-style golf course, hanging out with Spanish statues and old men taking oases on the mossy fences. At the end of our sightseeing excursion, we find stacked election boxes and their spoilt ballots. I love the city but it does feel desperately corrupt on all levels.
We pass the bus where the hostages were killed and see guards standing protectively in front of the scene. We all realize we are holding our breaths unintentionally. It feels so very heavy. Again the rain overtakes the city and it takes an hour and forty-five minutes to get to the venue. Here, as in Yangon, children turn the streets into slides. Men hide their wares under overpasses. Joff points out the many guarded residences juxtaposed by neighbouring social depravity and explains the “brain drain” equation that he feels paralyzes his country.
At Club Route 196, it takes a while to sort out the sound system, but in the end – as always – we prevail. It is possibly our worst sound yet but we laugh it off … eventually. Joff is earnest and lovely and manages to find a bass amp for us by the time the show goes on, so the show goes off without too many hitches! After a quickly nibbled dinner at a Karaoke club, we do some press but then scurry inside – mid-interview – because the journalist agrees that it’s important to watch the opening band. Arigato Hato are absolutely lovely and kind and frequently mention us from stage and we are so pleased to have them as fans as we are turned into fans of them!
The club is crowded for us. There is little standing room but people manage to dance and dance heartily. I feel very lucky to feel so loved. It is hard for this to be the last show of the tour. I want it to go on forever. I’m not ready for it to be over. My heart feels snagged. After fiery free shots from the club owner, Dan and I saunter over to the abandoned building next door only to discover that it is not wholly abandoned. A makeshift dinner table has been laid over Christmas posters and we imagine ourselves its residents.
At a restaurant near the hotel, we all swap stories about dead friends and relatives and feel very close. The evening drifts into nostalgia until we all realize that we’re just feeling prematurely nostalgic about this very tour. We cheer ourselves up with successive cheers of boozy spirits before heading home to slumber.
MANILA/HONG KONG. August 25.
In the course of our long transit home, our following day is marked by the return of the victims’ bodies to Hong Kong. We watch the live broadcast of the coffins being brought into the very airport we are in. We spend much of the day and night in sad discussion with many Hong Kong nationals. Later on, in our Hong Kong Airport hotel room, we very tightly hold each other. Thankful for our own safety but, as always, sympathetic to the perilous conditions that so many others endure daily. Sleep tight, World, until next time.
AIRPORT HELL. August 21.
What should have been a trouble-free travel day and luxurious evening off was rather badly dampened by a missed flight. We spend countless hours figuring out how the Hell to get from Chiang Mai to Singapore. Though I am still palpably annoyed by the experience, the details are exhausting and boring. At midnight, our skin visibly dry and our lungs irritated from air conditioning and flight take-offs and landings, we finally unroll our limbs onto a cushy queen-sized bed and order noodles.
SINGAPORE. August 22.
Singapore is known for being populated by sticklers for rules and, though I am usually fucking hateful of unyielding natures, it certainly makes for efficient sound checks. There are occasional moments when I’m not sure which taskmaster to listen to but within an hour we have set up and sound checked two different stages and feel ready to play two different shows in one day at the formidable Bay Beats Festival at the Esplanade Theatre. It goes so smoothly it’s not hard to see why this dogmatist nature has been so successful for the republic. The city feels shiny. Positively more modern than modern. Hip people I know tend to hate that aspect of Singapore but I’ve always been curious about what the future looks like. This is the covetable one – the one from the happy movies, the movies that don’t foretell of our more likely apocalyptic frontiers. I like to imagine that it’s possible for many ethnicities to be very wealthy and in well health and suitably fitted in Chanel’s most demure patterns. Like I said, it might not be what I envision for myself but it’s certainly a fascinating mirage. Plus, like anything good-looking, it’s just a façade and underneath there is grit and damage and chaos in equal measure. The fans and the bands at this years’ festival are living proof. de-connector, the Brandals, Mixhell, Hedgehog just to name a few.
After our early set at the Concourse stage, at which we actively banter against being a band that can perform the expected “Chill Out” music, we eat Nasi Lambek and skewers at a street market stall and then idle a while in the green room with costumed dancing girls. We head to Sim Lam Electronics Mall to inspect all the newly-designed things we can’t bear expenses on. I shrug Dan’s puppydogeyes off by saying, “The future isn’t always affordable, honey…. But maybe it will be one day.” Therein lies the rub: you always have to wait for the future. (I can already imagine readers challenging me with “the Future is Now” speeches so save your thoughts unless you’re willing to spare your dimes on my specific shiny future.)
Back at Bay beats, we watch the explosive Atom pound her drum kit and squeal out lyrics when China’s Hedgehog takes stage. Then, Indonesian rockers, The Brandals, attack the crowd ferociously. We come from the City of Terror, Edo Wallad screams with vampiric delight, while thrusting his crotch into the crowd. As he whirrs the fans into a total frenzy, he demands answers to invasive questions: Are you angry? Are your cocks hard? Are you in trouble? Are you polluted and drunk? Dan and I raise our drinks and promptly get kicked out of the crowd. Apparently we’re not allowed to have glasses within the painted yellow lines in front of the stage. Before Dan can say, “What yellow lines?” I can’t repress the yelling of “You don’t know what my future holds!” Fuck you Singapore and your stupid rules. You can’t control the future.
And they don’t. In fact, no one stops us from having one of the best shows of the tour. As fireworks blare over the bay behind us, Singapore’s notorious stiff crowd lets loose. There is stage-diving and everything. Even despite my brash commentary, our promoter friend Esther (who has earlier joked about her “prudeness”) tells us the show was an immense success. When she says, “It’s the first time we’ve had an encore like that,” I say, “We just stole your “prudity.”
Dan wrestles me to the concrete promenade for being in such a jocular mood but later, lovingly, says, “You dimwit. All you need to know is that the future is ours.” And because it is timed so well and he looks so sweaty and cute, I overlook our combined saccharine dorkdom and fall asleep thinking, “Well if the future is now, it’s pretty dang shiny already.”
CHIANG MAI. August 20.
Our hot breakfast arrives wrapped in plastic. I poke at it a little before figuring out how to unseal my fried rice. Dan’s hallucinatory hangover helps him to say these unintentionally poignant words: “I feel like Charlie Sheen in Apocalypse Now.” And I laugh. A perfect mistake.
Our delayed flight delays our arrival to Chiang Mai but it is beautiful once we get there. Gary takes us to the most beautiful hotel we’ve been to on tour and allows us time to unwind and acquaint ourselves with the circular bathtub built for two. To too grubby punks mid-journey it feels like a spa dream come true.
We rejoin Gary, Archie and soundman Nicki for a Northern Thai feast of crunchy bullfrog, stinging papaya salad and a smoky-heat stewed curry. At Guitarman, we hang out with bar diva extraordinaire Pinky and the boys from Sonnet and Alcohol. Pinky can down a bottle of beer in one chug – “no hands!” she informs me while clapping – and can generally kick the ass of anyone who lacks her salacious breed of humor or anyone who has the misguided sense of humour to think it’s “hilarious to be a Ladyboy.” I am enthralled by her immediately. The rockers from Sonnet and Alcohol have an aloof cool that is instantly broken when I go over and gush about how excited I am to play with them. They are generous and nice but I know they’ll be tough as hell on stage. We take turns shaking hands. I circle around Dan and say, “I feel amongst freak kinfolk.” One gigantically lucky thing about being in this band is that it allows me to meet people who are not like me but are unlike everybody else in a way that I feel a common genuine alliance with. I find this in friends, fans, fellow bands and artists and writers and promoters that have any interest in us. We are surely “not for everybody,”· but the few we are for, I really feel at home with.
In a car with soft leather seats and good – current! – music humming – cleanly! – from the speakers, Gary drives us through hills and winding mountains and thick jungle to where the white elephant died and the temple was erected. We arrive to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep just as the sun fully recedes from sight. Walking up the hill, adolescent girls choreograph a dance routine and families cluster at the entrance steps, holding on to the dragon-scaled railing for prime photo-taking. Once we have climbed the steps and entered the sacred grounds, there is no one left. We all take our own sojourns around the temple, marveling at the fact that we are experiencing the quietest time we’ve had all tour. Even my heart relaxes. And just as I think, “This is as close to spirituality as I get,” Buddhist monks quietly enter and begin a long chanting. I don’t believe in anything except for the potential of everything and, here, I feel that all too rare feeling of hope. I let all my guards take a break and, like a sucker, even my brain stops fighting and my heart takes a pause and I wander around thinking that maybe there’s a point to everything and not all the points are sharp swords. For a while I even watch the monks singing, then I return them to their privacy and myself unto my own. I listen from the speakers and then dazedly drift over to the barrier’s edge. And it really does look like all the stars have fallen from the sky onto the city below. Chiang Mai is a glittering sight. I feel swept off my feet. I read somewhere that writing about beauty is so much more specific than writing about melancholy… which is perhaps why I can never find the exact right words. I can write volumes on a single bruised moment (and do!) but this journaling of the Good Times often has me lost. I don’t know how to be artful when joyous. Hopefully one day (there it is again, that strange emotion), I’ll know what to do with it. I suppose it is during these times that I should put my gnawed pen down and just enjoy… but I don’t know how to do that either… And, with that, I am successfully returned to my forever-conflicted self. Dan and I frequently swap sarcastic autobiography titles: Stab Stab Stab: The Dan Boeckner Story, No Picnic: the Life and Times of Alexei Perry Cox. Be Generous. Too Smart To Live, Too Young to Die. Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Banana. It Was All Exercise For a Good Death. The Mysteries of Pickles and Spice. Condemned to Live… Until Death. That’s Mr. Zero to You. Up here, I’m wondering if I’ll ever figure out how to write the autobiography “How to Be Happy While Alive.” And, for just long enough, I think I will.
We descend the staircase smiling at the monks and the wildly bizarro events of my life then lead us directly into an interview. Fortunately the journalist is thorough and kind and open to sudden gains in spirituality.
Back at GuitarMan, they are forced to close the road because there are so many people in the street but cars continue to squeeze through. Slowly. Honking happily. There is an unprecedented turn out for the show and we are bowled over in disbelief. Sonnet and Alcohol are amazing every minute.
For the entirety of our set, I get electrocuted every time I touch the drum machine. The shocks are so bad, I have to hide tears. It happens so consistently that I think I might die. But because I have decided that there is sooooo much to hope and live for, I allow myself to continue being electrocuted. Over and over. I am too happy to want to prevent this punk show from being pulled off. Nicki tries to help fix the problem. People throw towels on stage to lessen the blows. Pinky tries to find a rubber mat. But most people don’t notice. Immediately afterwards I run off stage and sob into Archie’s arms. (For days, my nerves are frazzled and I frequently wonder whether I’ll get all sensation back between my right wrist and shoulder.) And, in another valuable lesson of the day, I relearn (as I frequently do) that excruciating pain also makes you feel very alive.
Pinky turns a Handsome Furs shirt into a sexy little mini dress and proves to me that she really can do “that thing with a beer bottle.” She wins our chugging competition hands down with no hands.
BANGKOK. August 19.
Mod, Poj, and Paul from Mind the Gap Records meet us at Suvarnabhumi International Airport with the warm grins of trusted allies. Having worked with them on our last Bangkok show, we feel the ease of being in good hands. The skytrains and skyscrapers of the teeming metropolis greet us with friendly culture shock having come straight from the less-developed skyline of Yangon. Between the six of us we discuss the country’s recent (and ongoing) political unrest, cute soldiers versus cute red-shirts, and the label’s most newly signed acts. I feel keenly sympathetic to their various woes and efforts throughout such a tragic time.
As we drive to Siam Views hotel we are afforded the luxury of slow traffic down Bangkok’s Champs Elysees: Ratchadamnoen Street. Mod and Poj are quick to note every slow-passing sight, providing me with historical synopses of each establishment. The Royal Hotel’s Black May demonstrations. The democracy monument. Lottery vendors. Fort Mahakran over the old canal. Wat Rachanatdaram Temple and its unique Metal Castle. King Rama VII’s museum. The United Nations ESCAP building. On our last visit we spent the majority of our time, well, shopping with the girls so it is nice to be given insight on the more notable landmarks of the city.
Once checked in to our rooms (privately quipping about boutique hotel culture shock!), we head to a hawker market for prik pao clams and stir-fried tom yam and chili bean seedlings and salty lime juice and thai ice coffees. Despite our formidable exhaustion, Dan and I brave the challenge for a visit to the Grand Palace with Poj and Mod. (I think my mentions of Shwedagon pagoda has them keen to prove that the Myanmar temple didn’t quite “steal all [their] gold.” I laugh my way out of their insincere nationalism by saying that Mod might have more gold in her jewelry box than there is for any monument in Canada. What’s important is very relative.)
Mod and I are forced to change from our “slutty” attire into more appropriate skirts. Dan and I are astonished by their knowledge of the grounds. They describe the stories on the gallery walls, informing us about the good and bad gods; they help us explore the Weapons rooms and the Upper Terrace. At the Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha, we take our shoes off and watch as they kneel and pray in swift repetitive motions. Dan struggles unsuccessfully with the girls to force a stone ball from a stone creature’s mouth. And just as we are nearing heat stroke, we force a tourist to take a touristic photo of us all, smirking like idiots and squinting against the sun. I never giggle as much as with these two great girls.
We devour espresso ice creams on our way through rush hour traffic to soundcheck. The new Club Culture is exquisitely different from the old Club Culture. The prior venue’s decadence is overtaken by this venue’s underground aesthetic. Police tape wraps around unstable support beams. This old tax building is flooded with graffiti and black lighting. I adore its new ramshackle get-up, especially since its sound system is still sublime.
The speedy soundcheck allows us to linger our good conversations at dinner with good friends. By the time we return to the club it is packed with fans and some familiar faces from our last show here. We share so many hugs with many lovely new friends. The buzz of the evening has our adrenaline piqued. DJ LA French Riot and Stylish Nonsense perform before us, allowing us slightly too much time to get our nerves ready with slightly too much booze. It is way passed midnight by the time we make it to stage. We play a never-sweatier set and feel a riot of madness around us. Bangkok sure knows how to party. I enjoy every glittering minute of it before falling fast asleep in my boys’ arms.