I had it all wrong

Posted by at 10:25AM

D-22, Beijing, July 11, 2007
Today was some day. Like most mornings, I woke at 6:30am without the aid of my alarm clock (praise be to jet lag), and stumbled into my office at around seven. Waiting for me were the edits for my introductory chapter which, I’m happy to report, should be finalized within forty-eight hours from the time I get back to work tomorrow.
More importantly, I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Professor Wang, the man with whom I conducted oral histories back in 2003 as part of my dissertation research. Four years since we last met. Four years. Unreal. The cab ride to get there took over an hour, due to Beijing’s unbelievable traffic these days, 50 minutes of which I spent experiencing hypertension. The driver, a nice fellow, had an absolutely booming voice, one which nearly caused me to have a panic attack. He told me all about the woes of Beijing cabbies these days – believe me, there are many! – and by the end I felt as if I’d just spent an entire set with my ear up against the loudspeaker. But then I saw Professor Wang…

Here is a man who, although in his mid-to-late seventies, is in tip-top shape and fantastic spirits. In fact, I’m hoping I can find a way to invite him back to the States as a visiting scholar (he’s already spent extended periods of time at Columbia University and a number of other American institutions). As soon as I arrived, he brought out two cans of Pineapple-flavored Yanjing Beer (which I didn’t know existed) and then proceeded to tell me about the fundamental difference between minzu and the English-language concepts of “nation” and “ethnic group.” By the end of the visit, he was instructing me on how I should proceed to Xinjiang, where I’m headed at the end of this month. I can hardly imagine a more amazing septuagenarian.
By the time I got home – one sweaty bus ride and one delicious Dai dinner later – I took a few hours to relax and play guitar. By ten, I was back in a cab, headed to D-22, a music venue in Wudaokou. I saw Joyside, a punk band which, for one night only, played a stripped down acoustic set (complete with acoustic bass). In the wake of my last post, I have to admit: I had it wrong. Once you shave off a few decibels, you really get a chance to hear the musicianship of otherwise overbearing Chinese bands: the singer’s voice, the subtle maneuverings of the bass, and the chime of the guitar. I wish this wasn’t such a punk-obsessed scene here, because the underlying music is really quite diverse. Once the volume exceeds “5,” however, it all blends together into one sonic pudding. I guess you have to know your audience, though.
I should head off to sleep now. It’s already nearing 2am for me, and I still have a long day of editing ahead of me. Good night and sweet dreams.
Thomas S. Mullaney
Assistant Professor
Department of History
Stanford University



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