Out of the Well: A Frogs-Eye-View of China and the World

Random Jottings on China, History, Culture, and Life as seen by an American student in Beijing.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Folks I think are cool

I wanted to take a few minutes (stolen from homework I should be doing) to recognize some people and things I think are rather cool.

First off, Abigail Washburn, Bela Fleck, Ben Solee, and a fantastic fiddler whose name escapes me, for the fantastic show on Saturday night at BeiDa (Beijing University).
Abigail Washburn is a banjo player / song writer from Chicago who plays “neo-traditional folk” arrangements of her own as well as traditional bluegrass and folk songs. What really makes her interesting is that she speaks Chinese, has written a couple of songs in Chinese, and was about a week from attending Beijing University as a Law Student up until a week before she signed her record contract. I would imagine that she is often compared to Alison Krauss, and while I think this is a valid comparison, I would argue that Washburn’s music is a little more interesting. While Krauss sings lovely renditions of traditional American songs, Washburn blends bluegrass, African-American spirituals, blues, and Chinese folk music to make something that feels more alive, more current.
The audience at BeiDa on Saturday was more than half Lao Wai (read: gringos, like myself), but that did not stop Ms. Washburn from speaking only in Chinese for the first half hour. This instantly won the hearts of the Chinese in the audience. I found it pleasing as well for two reasons. First I like to watch people who have not made any effort at learning Chinese squirm, secondly, her vocabulary and mine seem to be similar, so I could understand her pretty well. When she finally started speaking English there was scattered applause in the audience.
It was nice to have a cultural exchange that focused on traditional American culture. It seems too often that in the China-U.S. cultural exchange we take the role of the “modern,” with economic, technological, and organizational skills to offer, while China takes the “traditional” role offering us their rich cultural history in exchange. It was nice that the students at BeiDa had a chance to see that we have a traditional culture. It was nice to be reminded of this myself. Thanks folks!

The next cool person on the list: Norwegian-Roommate-Chris for his good showing on the GMAT yesterday. This man found time during the last three weeks to study for the GMAT, despite his incredible workload and lovely young girlfriend. He didn’t do that bad either. Drink a toast to him!

While I am in the neighborhood I would like to recognize American-Roommate-Jed for the following joke. “What is the Chinese Pirate’s favorite number? Errrrr!” (er [pronounced like the letter ‘R’] = 2)

Next up is the WuDaoKou coffee shop “Space for Imagination” for offering me the opportunity to drink a Belgian beer without going downtown. While in the states Duvel is not my favorite Belgian, it sure does in a pinch. They also serve Woodpecker Hard Apple Cider, which feels appropriate for the season. Thanks!

Finally special thanks go out to the president of a prestigious American university who recently visited China. He was presented with four tickets to the Chinese National Circus acrobatics show, and when he was to busy to go, his daughter gave them to a friend of mine who took me to see this ridiculous show. If you come to china you must go see some acrobats. Thank you, sir!

That’s it for now. I have some posts fermenting in my mind right now. Perhaps a Beijing Beer guide (for those of us who don’t like to go to the San Li Tung Bar Street), a Cheng Fu Road Restaurant Guide, and some pictures of the acrobats.

Take it easy!


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