I'm going to pretend you're preparing to come to China. Your passport is finally renewed, you just received your visa, and your suitcases are on the floor, wondering what you're going to stuff inside them. You're too caffeinated to feel the underlying exhaustion, but your eyes show it. Bits and pieces of words, shoddy Chinese you've gathered from a couple of phrasebooks or the Asian chef you used to work with, are your small snippets of confirmation that you should have no problem picking up one of the most difficult languages to speak. You're in for it, and you don't even know it.
I say, prepare yourself. Not just for the journey itself, but for yourself. Yes, bring the band-aids and tampons and large overcoat for the brittle winter, but also bring along something that has the ability to both connect and disconnect you from the world you're wandering around.
Bring lots of it. Find an mp3 player if you don't already have one. Trust me, my friend, you're going to need it as soon as you step off the plane and into the Big Red. I know I did.
Last summer I was listening to MGMT's Oracular Spectacular, including during my journey through three airports (it would've been four, but I was at the Atlanta airport too damn early to listen to anything). These songs had me feeling weightless and carefree through much of my summer, whether it was the disco vibe of "Electric Feel" or the pounding waves in "Kids." It was important to feel carefree, even when I missed my flight to Toronto, was brutally condescended to by a United Airlines agent, and entered China sans my luggage for five days.
Bjork's "Possibly Maybe" song was on repeat for awhile, especially the first time I got to really breathe in China. Not just an inhale/exhale, but a slow pulling of new surroundings, and the release of travel stress and second thoughts. I was lying on a couch in the Beijing hostel, after having my first shower in four days--four days of non-stop going--and I finally let myself take it all in. The song is sexy, undeniably curious and helped change my mindset that China was not a mistake, but merely a doorway to a plethora of possibilities.
Without a car, it's easier to go places than you might think. On my first train ride to Beijing solo, I discovered Burial's Untrue was a great album to get the ball rolling. Dark, electronic, and constantly moving, it was nice to tune out all the single-syllabled unrecognizable words and just feel the train move.
Sometimes just the simple escape Headphone Land offered me was enough, especially just being in a train station. Here, no one really forms lines. It's every man, woman and child for themselves, and I can't count how many times a ponytail has brushed me in the face or a sweaty man has shoved me aside. Or when the gate's not yet open but the line is moving anyway. That's the worst, when you're getting pushed up against the people around you because the ones in the back don't realize every cause has an effect. Put on Laulu laakson kukista by Paavoharju and I guarantee you'll want less to kill. I have listened to this album frequently during my stint in China, and found it to be the most appropriate when I want to recognize beautiful things. Or if I want to sleep, hence me listening to it on the 23-hour slow train from Xi'an just to block out Slava's snoring.
When I'm grading papers, I don't like to be distracted by what I'm listening to. I've found that just about anything by Godspeed! You Black Emperor is my favorite choice for getting work done and drowning everything else out. I think the members in that band are genius.
There is a garden close to where I sleep at night. You can walk around it and see hundreds of roses, benches to sit, and even a gazebo-like structure to stand underneath if you want. The smells are rich. The colors are intense and magnetic. I like to walk slow in this garden and listen to the loveliest things I can find. I've never admitted this to anyone before, but during the warmer days in Autumn I would listen to Beach House's "You Came To Me" on my headphones and imagine my wedding. Other times, listening to music by David Torn was a blessing. He composed the Lars and the Real Girl score, which is a brilliant arrangement of piano, plucking strings and glockenspiel. Much like the pedals you'll be staring at once you walk in that redolent garden, the sounds Torn creates makes everything seem to glisten. It's those times I truly like to be alone, so I can wax poetic, unapologetically.
Bonnie "Prince" Billy is good for slow rides on your bicycle, save Daedelus and Four Tet for the faster ones. Jen Wood's Finds You In Love is good for the early mornings on the bus, or In Rainbows, my favorite Radiohead album. Anything by Blonde Redhead is an early evening plus, especially if you're getting ready for a wild night of getting sweaty (or sweated on) at Deep Club. It's not dance music by any means, but there's something about the melodies that let me know there's more in store. I could never fall asleep to Blonde Redhead, and I don't want to either. Out of all their albums, I've listened to 23 the most in China.
Me:Mo's strictly instrumental Acoustic View has been my best find in China. I have a feeling I won't want to listen to it a lot when I return to the States because it will make me miss China. When I hear it, I recall how China opened its doors to me, and inside is a beautiful, albeit complicated world. I have carried that album along with me since I first got it in October, and it has played much during my time here. I will, however, be sharing it with friends upon my return.
There's an album that I say take with you everywhere--on the train or bus, on the long walk home, in your room with the lights out or in the company of someone you want to kiss. Or when you're alone and have absolutely nowhere to go and nothing to do. It doesn't matter. Pet Grief by the Radio Dept. has been a solid consistent. I recommend this album to anyone and everyone, it's so freaking good. Easily on my top five of all time.
Because I feel like it, here are the lyrics to "Pet Grief."
And then he's gone
Never put up a fight
You think you know someone, right?
Maybe you never did, and how that scares you
I'll shut my mouth for you
Just like your friend would do
And this pet grief
It's just too bad
I've never seen you this sad
And if you need someone who doesn't talk back
I'll shut my mouth for you
Anything you want me to
What can I say?
What can I do?
Don't mean to analyze you
It is a double bind
I can't win this one
I'll shut my mouth for you
Anything you want me to
BUY THIS RECORD!!!!!
And, who of course could forget the Beijing Welcomes You song?? When I first heard it, I thought, "What is this Mickey Mouse crap?" But the more I hear it, the more it makes me happy. Whenever I hear it, I know there's a place for me. That probably sounds really ridiculous, but there is something incredibly endearing about that tune.
When you're getting ready to take off, whether it's back to the States or to another corner of this large, lonely planet, recall the songs you listened to. They're just as important as the photos and ticket stubs you save for scrapbooking, but twice as powerful. They can put you right back to the place where you needed a quick escape, and bring a whole new meaning to nostalgia.
While you're currently staring at your empty suitcases strewn across the floor, waiting to be stuffed with clothes and toothpaste and coffee, revel in the fact that bringing thousands of songs virtually takes up no space but can fill your experience in China wholeheartedly. Enjoy your trip!
lawd knows i like to ramble. thanks for reading.
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