Banjo Earth: China – Ch. 1 – “Back in Beijing”
– Beijing, China
Day 1 in Beijing for the Banjo Earth: China experience was amazing! So many beautiful things happened in such a short amount of time. I was welcomed into my host’s home with the usual Chinese hospitality. Upon arriving I was zombie-liked tired after a 20+hour travel day. Needless to say my first matters of business included a shower and a short nap. Although I could’ve slept for days, I had my host wake me up after a couple of hours to confront her homemade Beijing noodle dish. Cai and her husband Wei, were wonderful to visit with and the noodles hit the spot. I introduced the banjo to them to high praise, said my good nights, then crashed out hard in my room.
Waking up at 6:00 am, I began to hear Beijing come alive outside the window. It immediately brought me back to the wonderment of existing in this exotic land. Chinese music drifting through the air, children making noise, horns blaring, and squeaky bikes riding by; the sounds of life in the capital of China. Hopping out of bed and breaking open the banjo case, I began the day with my recent ritual of learning Chinese folk songs, a tune called Night of Grassland being the song of choice for this day. My host Cai brings me a warm morning concoction of unknown origin, which she explains “helps the stomach move”. After that cursory description, it is surprisingly tasty. She informs me of the plans for the day; including breakfast and attending an opening party for a school she is involved with. So far so good.
Breakfast is delicious; tofu soup and a fried wonton filled with spinach and noodles. Afterward we catch a cab to the party, which takes nearly two hours weaving and stopping in the Beijing traffic. This city is huge, and it’s roads are filled to the brim with vehicles. I’m thankful for the good company. We get to the school and enjoy a look around. There are around 30 kids and their parents. All of the school personnel are weirdly dressed in military garb, which their smiles and easy demeanors beguile. Cai informs the headmaster that I have my banjo with me, and a impromptu performance is arranged right before lunch.
I jam a couple of Chinese folk songs I’ve been working on, plus a bluegrass tune or two, and fun is had by all. They really enjoyed the banjo, and probably more so a real live American hip-billy, who speaks Chinese, making music for them. At one point a girl got on the stage with me and began dancing in a way I could only describe as “Chinese Banjo Break Dance”! It was a really fun and deeply rewarding experience, and was just what the Banjo Earth project was designed to create.
Being in China for the third time feels like I’m getting to go a bit deeper. It is no longer a far off vacation destination, but an investment in life and culture. The people always make me smile with their ways of life, which are in many ways so different, yet very similar. My Chinese is coming back slowly from the deep recesses of my subconscious mind, though I am reminded all too often of my lack of language in my short and abbreviated conversations. We are all just people, living this human experience, and trying to make the best of it. It’s the style and grace with which we go about this endeavor that makes visiting far off places so fun and interesting. It’s good to be back in Beijing, China.