Posts Tagged ‘music’

“There are all kinds of mix tapes. There is always a reason to make one…”

― Rob Sheffield

In the spirit of constantly rocking out to good tunes, I thought I’d share some of what manages to keep me sane and in high spirits, even in the loneliness, trials and madness that sometimes accompany travel. Yes, sometimes you just have to have a dance party with yourself on the rooftop, or in the shower, or on a 16-hour bus journey. So, what have we been rocking out to lately? hmm… lets see…

The Low End Theory club in LA puts out a monthly mixtape/podcast that features resident DJs like the Gaslamp Killer, and one guest, each. The mixes range from 45min to two hours and are generally centered around EDM, Bass and whatever else happens to be cutting-edge at that particular minute, combined with other random eclectic stuff. You can grab all of their mixes right here.

Om Records also does a semi-regular podcast, sometimes of live sets, sometimes studio cuts. These range from hard-hitting bass music to nu-jazz and lounge. Most of them are gold, the Visitor ones are amazing, and a recent one from The Snuff Crew – Live in Berlin is reminiscent of some of the first minimalist dance music I’d ever heard. Snatch ’em up right over here.

For those of you who do not know what Soundcloud or Bandcamp are, for chrissakes, get over there and waste some time! A global site for sharing and hosting anything from a sample or an idea to a full set, it is easy to get lost here, roaming around artists, genres, tracks and live sets. You might consider starting with some of the awesome material available from The Polish Ambassador (who also recently released everything he’s ever recorded for FREE right here, in exchange for plugging him on FB), Russ Liquid (his sets have all been recently pulled down — maybe check his bandcamp?), or the ever-awesome Spank Rock. Also check out Madison’s own Dirty Disco Kidz and Mad Major Melvin, who are constantly rocking new stuff and working hard. Oh, and grab this new Lafa Taylor EP that’s been in my ears for the last six weeks — it’s awesome.

Another ridiculous source of of the music of our past came to me a few weeks ago, in the form of Rave Archive. These brave souls are digitizing and archiving hundreds of mixtapes from the glory days of EDM, including the quintessential Jungle Book, which I listened to so many times I actually wore though several of the tapes.

And in my love of home and finding new music, I always try to catch my buddy Gabe’s show on 89.9 WORT, Who Cooks For You, which sets off at 2PM CST every Friday (which is 1:30AM Saturday for me, although that’s just about right anyway). You can find archives of his and many other shows right here. Gabe tends to bless us with all sorts of stuff we’ve never heard before, both new and old. Check it out.

Got mixtapes you love? Post ’em! Share ’em! Pimp ’em!

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While searching for flights to Sri Lanka, I noticed that many of them route through incredibly petro-dollar-rich Middle Eastern countries. This is really just a coincidence (most Mid East airlines service both Asia and the East Coast), but as I’ve not spent any time whatsoever in the Middle East, it caught my eye and my interest. I started reading up on Bahrain, a common stopover and the hub for Gulf Air, whom I noticed generally had the cheapest one-way fares out…

Anyway, Bahrain seemed, from what I read, something like the Dublin of the Middle East… wedged between the UAE and Qatar, on an island just 385 sq/mi, it is not a dry country, like its neighbors, and the place seems rife with at least three things: bars/clubs, casinos, and American troops (something like 2,300 stationed, though a man I met there told me at any given time there are 15,000 to 20,000 there). This, admittedly, fascinated me, and after putting at least six minutes of thought towards it, I paid an extra $10 to have a 15-hour overnight layover there, as opposed to a six-hour daytime stopover at Heathrow. I sort of immediately regretted this decision, as it ment that my itinerary bumped from an eyebrow raising 32 hours to a head-shaking 39, but once you hit that button, you can’t un-hit it, and letting the chips fall where they may is a wonderous cornerstone of “don’t think” travel…

up in the clouds: a small diversion

Boarding the plane dead-last (I always do this) the kind, five-foot-nothing French flight attendant asked if I would relinquish my bulkhead seat to, and I quote, “someone in need”.  I said something like, “sure… but can you seat me in exit row or something? I really.. umm.. like leg room…”
Her neck was craning up pretty damn hard to look at me. She glanced to my right for just a moment, and said, “You will like your seat…”

I was bumped to first class once before, on a flight from Schiphol to Philly, but I honestly didn’t remember what it was like… hot towels all around, and at this point, the nice French lady asked my name, as with all the other passengers (they learn everyone’s’ name, which seems insane until you realize there are three attendants for something like 16 seats). She was pleasantly surprised when I asked for hers in return. “It’s Linda”, she said with another smile. Shortly afterwards, a selection of newspapers that is staggering (I really don’t read the Financial Times enough). The seat itself seems to be what most people are paying for: it takes up the length of at least two coach seats, and reclines into last week.

What was possibly more interesting than how plush it is was how demanding the other passengers there were… the sixty-something Frenchman seated next to me was flabbergasted, absolutely shocked that there was no French wine available, which made me chuckle in between heaping bites of seared salmon and saffron risotto. He settled for something Chilean and kept going through property leaflets and designer magazines. I asked if he was shopping for a house. “Yes, I’d like to buy something in Manhattan… I am sick of my co-op.” I nodded pensively, considering how many people I know who would literally kill to live in a Manhattan co-op.

Most people wouldn’t eat the food, which was shocking to me, as it was amazingly good. Many complained, about everything from the food to the wine to the movie selection. I have a friend who works as a flight attendant in the Middle East, and she calls first class “The ICU”. This makes sense to me now.

Much later in the evening, I walked up to the front to stretch my legs, and Linda hopped up immediately, asking if I needed anything. “No, it’s fine, just stretching… I can’t sleep.” It was clear that she was really happy to see little old me in first class, and all of my sheepish demands must have been transparently earnest to her. “I am glad I got to seat you there”, she said. “None of the other bulkhead passengers would give up their seat.” I asked who she needed it for. “A mother, and her child. The child is sick and they need to be close to the lavatory.”

“Wait, you mean I got a bump to first class, but all the people who refused are sitting next to a sick infant right now?”

Another huge smile from Linda. I used to not believe in Karma. Now I can’t understand how anyone doesn’t…

Bahrain: yet another story with no protagonists and no victors

The visa process sucked: it’s on arrival, for 15 days, but the official seemed to think the airline would give me a transit visa for free (this would have been nice) as my layover was almost 16 hours. At the desk, though, they had no love for me: “You can just stay in the airport; if you want to leave the airport, you will have to buy the tourist visa.” This was harsh, as the visa costs 5 dinar, which is $15 — a dollar per hour. You’ve come this far… just pay the damn fee…

I met a nice french girl who was scared and alone in the line. She was supposed to be on a plane to Chennai but her connection was late, and she had to spend a night in Bahrain. This ment she got her visa paid for by the (my) airline, and a free hotel room. I waited for her on the other side of Immigration out of courtesy, but when the officer saw me sit down here, he got downright hostile.

“Why are you still here? You need to go!”
“I’m… umm… waiting for my friend over there…”
“Wait somewhere else!”

Damn! That is some cold shit… why are there chairs there? I exited and waited for her outside immigration. She was clearly not comfortable by herself here and I wanted to try to change that. We talked for a while about India: she was on her way to do a homestay for three months. I asked if she’d ever been to India before. “No… just around Europe.” I smiled. “You’re going to love it.” She needed to hear it…

A shuttle came for her and I asked where it was going. Golden Tulip Hotel.  I hitched a ride, but as we pulled up, I immediately knew I would not be getting a room here. My first hint was the fountain out front, which is roughly the size of the house I grew up in. Then inside, an ocean of marble and brass. I inquired about a room, but mainly to avoid paying for the shuttle; hell, I had just slept for eight hours (on the second flight, full of salmon and white russians from the first), and back home the sun was coming up. He showed me two rooms, one of which reeked of formaldehyde (fresh carpet?) and one which was stunning, 12th floor, view of the whole city. The best rate he could offer was something like $150US/night. He answered a phone call, the perfect diversion… “I’ll be in the bar”, I motioned, pointing towards the lounge…

It looked like any other hotel bar on earth, but with a hell of a lot of sheiks in it for 10pm on a Tuesday. One is not to be confused by the holier-than-thou dress of men wearing pressed white suits of linen and checkered turbans…. no, they can in fact put down Glenfiddich and Marlboro Reds with the best of us. None of them are seated alone. There is another western couple in the bar, but they seem rather occupied. The bartender is female, asian (her features look Indonesian) and skinny as a rail. She’s wearing what looks more like a schoolgirl costume than a uniform, a very short skirt but not otherwise particularly revealing. The beer selection is quite wide but rather homogenous as well (think InBev’s major western catalogue) and I order a Smithwicks. I pronounce it ‘smitt-icks’ as they do in Ireland, and this garners a funny look.

I am at a complete loss as to what to do… I paid 5 dinar to leave the airport, only to discover I can’t really afford anything else… “No, sir, I cannot afford your beds here, but I can afford your beer….. and that’s sort of the same thing.” I pull the laptop out and start writing. I need a map…

Cold feet are temporary, sure, but this place sure feels weird… I only have the familiar to grasp, a smitt-icks in this case. My own detest of planning occasionally backfires… sure, sometimes all the benevolence and spontaneity and serendipity in the world falls at your feet, but sometimes you’re just standing there, alone, the tourists walking past with North Face jackets and cameras hanging where their necktie usually goes, or maybe the sheiks and locals eyeballing, or ignoring, or valets and drivers holding signs that will never bear my name. I’m not scared, or worried, or even lonely…. just… lost. Again. I know I can’t sit here all night, and I can easily just get up and start walking around, but damn, it’s day one, and it sure feels like it in my head…

There’s a blond woman there too, a Brit, the house pianist/singer, and the sheiks won’t clap at the end of her songs. I’m the only one. At one point she plays “Hey Jude” and it’s really wonderful, and there I was, chainsmoking Marlboros and punching this nonsense on my laptop, and I’m the only one clapping. Rough crowd.
Eventually she takes a break and walks over. “Mind if I sit?” We introduce ourselves and chat (she must have known already how much I don’t fit in here), and at some point I tell her the story of how I got to the hotel, and ditching the front desk guy at the phone call, which she finds quite funny.

“Well I’m going out with some friends later to see this really great band… do you wanna come along?”
“Yeah, sounds good…”

Again, how can you not believe in Karma? It’s right in front of your face…

We chat a bit more; she’s quite the traveler, and has been able to support herself though her music since she was 20. Very cool. I ask a ton of questions about the places she’s been, and how she wound up in Bahrain.

She finishes her gig (the bar here closes at 11) and we hit the club where the show is. No charge for the taxi, or to get in the door — she seems very well-liked. The band is called Evolver (I can only find their FB page — it’s here if you want to check them out) and it’s huge; several vocalists, guitar/bass/drums, a keyboard player, and a DJ. They’re already playing, and it sounds pretty awesome. The style is all over the place, waving from hip hop to reggae to rock, but it all flows well and the band plays very tightly… the crowd is probably 60% expats, many Americans, other Europeans, and many scattered locals, all drinking together. At one point I go up to grab a beer and notice there’s a back room to the joint, with pool tables. I wander in. The room is entirely locals, and only Arabic is spoken. I sort of smile around and wave, but almost no one smiles back… hmm… no one here wants to talk to me.

I creep back to the main room and stop at the bar for a second. Two of the locals from the back room walk over and say hi. We chat. They’re both drinking pints of pinkish-red liquid, which I learn is sort of an Arabian version of a Long Island (Dead Sea Iced Tea? It has a nice ring to it…). At some point I ask why I seemed so ill-liked just a minute ago… one of the guys smiles and says, “just guys acting hard, think they’re tough.” All of them? I ask if there are a lot of issues with the American service guys here. “No, very rarely, but I think they assume you’re one of them.” One of them. I mean, the bar is covered in servicemen and locals, getting along just fine… there is clearly more to the dynamic here than my eyes can see but I don’t pry.

I wind up having a great time; the band is awesome, truly skilled, and all night, it’s clear they’ve played together for a long time. Good conversation and loud music. I like. The lights come on, bar still packed, and I realize it’s 2am already. “There’s no rush,” says one of the Navy guys I’ve been chatting with, “there is technically no curfew here; this place just shuts at 2am.” Check.
We shuffle outside eventually and say our goodbyes; the Brit left long ago to go watch movies with a friend, and I realize I’ve only really been hanging out with Americans for most of the night. Damn, I need to find some locals to kick it with… I am not the least bit tired and only mildly faded from the drinks (again, over-priced beer is a good way to keep the poor from getting drunk).

I start meandering about Bahrain at 2:30am on a Tuesday morning, my flight still eight hours away. The place is spread out, and sparsely built – everything seems to be built several lots away from anything else. Perhaps I’m in a young neighborhood. Eventually I find a spot that appears both local and hopping. It seems to be under a hotel, and the locals outside don’t seem to mind my presence there… when I get to the entrance inside, though, the woman working the door seems to feel differently. “It is only locals inside, all only Arabic”, to which I reply, “Great! That’s what I’m looking for!” She purses her lips at this response, not pleased by my enthusiasm… “You will not have a good time in there.” That is… pretty concrete.
“I’m not a serviceman here,” I explain, “I am just visiting Bahrain and want to hang out with the locals…” The music is very, very loud inside, a sort of Arabic house music, and she turns around, looking at the door for a second. This woman sure doesn’t want me to go in there…

I just go out and say it:
“Look, I really wanna check this place out. How much is the cover?” She glances around for a second and pauses. Not a good sign.
“Ten dinar,” she says. $30!?!?
“That is a huge amount of money. Clearly, you just don’t want me to go in there. Why not?”
“You will not have fun in there.”

Huh. Okay. I shake my head and walk out. Maybe she’s trying to protect me? Seems unlikely… I see the outside doorman again and tell him what happened. He smiles. “There’s an after-hours place over there, you should check it out.” I ask if it’s a local joint. “Many different people, locals too. In a hotel.” I thank him and start walking.

It’s a short walk. I enter a place with loud dance music, but a very small crowd. One table has an older white guy and a very young Arabic woman. Three locals are sitting at the bar. Downstairs is a table with three young women, dressed to kill. I immediately assume they are prostitutes based on the other scenery. Whatever, I’m here already… I walk up to the bar. The bartenders are very, very dark skinned, certainly not Arabic. They’ve got Jim Beam on the wall and I ask for one, rocks. “Double?”

“Yes please.”

He pours a conservative double and sets it in front of me. “Seven dinar”, he says. What the hell… that’s like $21… I complain at the cost. That’s more than a bottle costs back home! “After hours”, he says. He can’t exactly put it back. I put the money down and take very small sips. The locals at the bar are hammered and leave shortly after, leaving me, the old white guy, his companion for the night, and three other prostitutes. Total back-fire. I shoulda just walked into the other place.. just three dinar more to see if she was wrong…

I realize that nearly everyone I’ve seen working here is not local: the bartender back at the Tulip, the staff at the other bar, these guys… really, everyone in the service industry seems to be an immigrant. I ask the bartender where he’s from. “Bangladesh”, he says. I react positively to this, as I’m hoping to hit Bangladesh soon.  We chat about the recent events there and in Myanmar and the other bartender joins in the conversation, also Bangladeshi. I grill them for over an hour on their homeland, then ask questions about their work here, which they are reluctant to answer. They explain that work is very hard to find back home, and that it is much easier for them to provide for their families over here. They both have children, and I ask if they’re happy. They both smile at each other for a moment, and neither answer…

Eventually I leave, at about 4:30, thanking them for their company. I tip. They both shake my hand and I walk out. Six hours left to my flight… there’s really nothing else I can do here, and I feel stupid for even having come. What did you think would happen? You’d go out and party with the sheiks and the locals? In ten hours, all you’ve done is spend money and drink and fuck up the one shot you had at getting into real trouble… what have you learned?


I resort to a taxi to get back to the airport. I’m feeling stupid but still pretty intoxicated and therefore pretty jolly as I get out of it, to a crowd of porters, all smiling. They’re curious to know why I’ve arrived at the airport three or four hours before the first departure. We talk: they are all Nepalese, and most of them look like they’re teenagers; after asking, I learn the oldest is just 26. We chat for nearly an hour outside that airport; I’m full of questions about Nepal, they’re full of questions about the states. I’m getting used to this idea that any and all physical and service jobs are held by immigrants here, and my questions are getting more acute, mixed in with questions about their lives and families back home: How long are you here for? (one to three years) What are the hours like? (bad – 12 hour shifts six days a week) Are you happy? (answered again with smiles and an enthusiastic “Yes!” or two) And finally, what do you make, and is it enough?

This final question is answered with glances, and then one of the older kids pipes up with a truly honest response: “Not enough.” I offer the whole gang of them teas, which they refuse, and then immediately go inside and buy six cups of tea, which is a rather expensive thing to do at Manama International Airport. They are shocked when I walk out and hand them all out, and some of them hide them from sight or just slam them. Perhaps this is frowned upon by The Man. The gesture sure isn’t lost, though, and they all thank me… my head is full of questions, as usual…

Arriving in Sri Lanka, a nice British couple (freaks who travel: my kinda people) saved my crippled ass by knowing what the hell they were doing and where the hell they were going, and I split the taxi with them into the city (these fine folks will appear again on these pages soon). I spent my first hours on the net reading up on immigrant labor in the Middle East, and the cost of living, and the GDP growth and breakdown of Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Some answers were surprising, to say the least.

42% of the population of the Bahrain are immigrants. The common immigration system, known throughout the Middle East as “Kafala”, is based on sponsorship, and many human rights campaigns liken it to slavery or indentured servitude, as workers’ passports are generally withheld by the sponsors, and it is very common for the wages to be paid directly to the sponsor, often shady third-party “travel agents” with bases in both countries (Bahrain became the first Mid-East country to technically repeal Kafala law in 2008, though most sources say the changes haven’t come yet). Most disturbing is the detention policies involved:

“Many migrants are detained on the grounds that they are unable to repay debts owed to sponsors. According to Bahraini legislation, “anyone sentenced to pay a fine may be imprisoned for up to one year to compel performance” (WGAD 2002, p. 26). Migrants are subject to deportation once they have served a sentence under this law, and are often detained—in some cases indefinitely—until they can be deported or repay their debts. In April 2007, the media reported that five Indians and one Pakistani had been detained for almost two years in the Asry Detention Centre, and were unable to be deported due to debts and civil cases brought against them (Bew 2007a).”

This is, by definition, indentured servitude, sponsored by the state, and it is used all over the Middle East. How I was completely ignorant of it is ridiculous. This is in a country that is very much state-sponsored and nearly colonized by the US…

The flip side of this coin is the coin itself: remittance is abound, and looking at some more GDP info (I love the CIA World Factbook), the numbers are amazing: in 24 countries, remittance makes up 10% or more of the GDP. Here in Sri Lanka, it is 8.9%. In Honduras, it is nearly 25%. It seems to be dropping worldwide by a few percent each year since 2009 or so, but the numbers are still huge (Time even has this nifty map of 2009 numbers, though it’s quite incomplete). So yeah. There’s that….

It happened… it can’t un-happen….

holy shit! this night happened a month ago! although, to be fair, I just spent ten days in the Gobi desert, and they don’t exactly have a lot of internet there… so here comes Operation Transmission Overload. ready.. GO!

visa run number one: follow the music, baby

A bittersweet feature of my Chinese visa is that it only allows 30-day entries, which is a sick joke given the size of China and the cost of the damn visa. I marked “60-day entries” on the form back in BKK, but when I complained after getting my passport back, the woman behind the glass made a rather “that’s what you get” gesture of dismissiveness that was clearly not negotiable. I blame… the Expo.

Anyway, I had originally planned on only doing a chunk of southern China, but I’ve got a real crush on the place… so visa runs are in order, or buying another visa, maybe through an agent with more guanxi than I, who can make something happen… but the thought of giving another $130 to the PRC to circumvent the need for visa runs makes me clench my jaws in agonized frustration. Well, if the Chinese government and the damn Expo are going to force a pedantic trip upon me every month, so be it — let’s get out of here, lets find a cheap ticket, lets see some new ground.

I picked South Korea for my first, partly for its ease of access but mostly because I’ve got friends there I’d like to see — Mo is there, as well my friend Mandie. The former is a fitting reason to show up unannounced; as I met him on his visa run, so he shall meet me on mine. I emailed the latter to let her know I’d be wandering through her country, which prompted the news that I was inadvertently flying into Seoul the day before the Seoul World DJ Festival — I just keep falling in to these things, I swear. I went the World Electronic Music Festival up in Ontario for a few years, so I’m somewhat acclimated to the use of the word ‘World’ in electronic music fest lingo: generally it pertains not to the size of the event but rather the invitation of worldwide DJs, which is somewhat of a misnomer if you ask me.

I flew in on a Friday to yet find more culture-contrast-shock. In my first seconds off the bus from the airport to Hongde, I went to cross the street and yielded to a black sedan turning right in front of me, a sedan which in China would have been halfway though my torso if I had kept walking. I was sort of spacing out and glancing around for a few seconds when I heard a short honk to my left. I was absolutely shocked: the bastard was actually yielding to me. He must have wondered what I was laughing at… I guess it was minor in retrospect, but that would simply never happen in urban China, and I was happily shocked by the courtesy.

The contrast continued of course: the place is clean, very clean for a city of 10 million+ people. The rivers run clear. The streets are not covered with garbage, and when someone pulls the last cigarette from their pack, they don’t just simply drop the empty pack on the ground, which is the standard operandi in China. People stand in lines instead of barging through them. The streetlights exist not just to add a bit of color to the streets, but to actually act as mediators of motor and pedestrian traffic. Actually, on that note, it’s safe to a degree even we would laugh at in over-regulated America. The buses have seatbelts. The subway system is constantly awash with videos of cuddly, anthropomorphic teddy bears, in hats and uniforms, explaining the dangers of improper subway etiquette. In fact, everything seems to be explained by uniformed anthropomorphic teddy bears and cats and raccoons here, like the speed limit signs, and the lane merging signs, and especially the “No tobacco to Minors” signs (aren’t these supposed to be designed for the adults?) . When you walk in to a building, there is generally a device at the front door to place your umbrella into a bag so as not to let it drip about on the floor inside. Icy stares are replaced by bowing. Barging is replaced by yielding. Spitting seems to be replaced by doughnuts (they love doughnuts here). If you seem to be having trouble, using a subway ticketing machine, or talking with a taxi driver, or staring at a map, there is a 96% chance that a native will walk up and try to aid you… which is roughly a 95.8% higher chance than in Beijing.

A typical first night in any new country: make some friends. Make some food. Make some drinks. Maybe go out for a while, try to find some trouble. The owner of the hostel that Mandie recommended, Min, is without a doubt the nicest hostel owner I have ever met… it felt more like couchsurfing than hosteling. We were chilling outside for a bit just after I got in, he was nursing a hangover, I was introducing him to the wonders of Coldcut, using their BBC Essential Mix from ’08, kind of warming up to the idea of the festival, when he slaps his hands on his legs and says, “Okay. Tonight, lets barbecue up on the roof. Okay?” He has this great way of proposing, asking, and confirming every idea with that word. It is pretty special. “Sure, man. What should I make?” “I’ll make… meat. You make salad? Okay?”

“Okay.”

Here, I was introduced to another contrast: the cost of food, and therefore living. In China, there is no produce (except for perhaps Avocados, and certain citrus fruits) that cost over $1.30/kilo — in most cases, four or so kilos of vegetables will set you back about $3.50, making it certainly the cheapest place to cook I’ve yet to find on earth, which is great, as I love to cook four kilos of vegetables at a time. In Seoul, though, there was nothing I could find that was under $3/kilo, and many things, like citrus, ran up to $5/kilo… there was certainly some sticker-shock involved in this. Getting enough to make a decent salad was about 25,000 won — around $22 ($22 is a roasted duck feast with sides and drinks for three people in Beijing). So I figured I’d stretch it a bit, in true summertime barbecue fashion: pasta salad. Always an excellent source of filler, and a good way to add a pound of food and a bunch of carbs to that salad for a buck. It took me a few shops to find some fusilli, and the tag indicated it was 4,500 won/500 grams, about $4.30. This was turning in to the most expensive pasta salad ever made, and I hadn’t even gotten the ingredients for the garlic lemon vinaigrette reduction yet. Yes, after China, everything will give you sticker shock, and sure, the Western elements of a pasta salad are certain to come at a price in Asia, but damn…

The barbecue was a smashing success, so to speak. Soju, Korea’s version of rice wine, is a dangerous thing — it is as mild or milder to the taste buds as sake, but at 20% alcohol or so, it sneaks up on you fast. I woke up feeling pretty good, though, and after meeting up with Mandie, we went for brunch. After buying a subway ticket for 1,500 won, I subconsciously muttered to myself “hmm… a dollar-forty… well, that’s only nine times as expensive as in China..” Shut up, brain. My pockets were still empty from the previous night’s happenings when we walked in to the brunch joint, and I see the prices: 16,000 won or so for the average plate. I hate thinking about money, let alone talking about it. It sucks to be stingy, and you gotta splurge sometimes, but when you’re traveling, watching your savings account trickle down and tick away, like minutes on the clock before you have to wake up and rejoin reality again, the whole game is to pinch pennies, stretch the money, to figure out how nickels add up and exploit every possible means of being a cheap bastard. I sort of whisper to John, “Dude, I’m from the Midwest — I can’t pay $14 for a plate of bacon and eggs. Well, I guess I can, but there better be a world-class pint of Bloody with a Guinness chaser sitting next to it… ” He smiles at this. “Yeah. I know. It’s gonna be an expensive weekend.”

The food was delicious, truly, wonderfully delicious, with avocado in the eggs, and bacon in the pancakes, and olives in the Camembert… and the price turned out to be a non-issue, as I had no money to pay for it anyway. Mandie treated me, and I tried my damnedest to feed her a sufficient amount of bourbon and other sundries later that night to reimburse her. This is the last I will speak on the costs of Korea, as anything past these two introductory anecdotes would be beating a (very expensive, pure-bread, bejeweled, prize-winning, amazingly well groomed) dead horse: Korea is not China.

the festvus

After a day of venturing out, eating, finding Mo, shopping (the girls), failed shopping turned pint-swigging (the boys), stocking up on supplies, other miscellany, and a few more pints, we finally made it to the festival. We managed to recruit a pretty great crew, too: three people turned in to five, which turned in to nine. I managed to smuggle in a good deal of bourbon by stuffing somewhat crushed water-bottles full of it in to my pants (whiskey out of my pants: inherently better than regular whiskey) and as the only other cocktails available were five-packs of Jäger Bombs, this was a wise smuggle indeed.

I take it all back about the ‘World’ misnomer: this festival was, by any standard, absolutely world-class. I didn’t recognize more than three names on the bill, but holy shit, Korea has a hell of a music scene! The house stage was killer. The main stage was almost always stellar. The rogue stage was generally cool, until they played some metal that made everyone walk away shaking their heads… but the hip hop stage… wow. The hip hop stage was absolutely awesome, all night long. Turns out there’s a real hip hop scene in Korea! The MCs were solid, and the flow of some of these guys would turn a lot of heads in the States. The DJs were even better; the sunrise dance set by some Korean guy I’ve still yet to learn the moniker of was probably the best dance hip-hop set I have ever witnessed. Early in the night, a very interesting set by a band called EE included a full five-piece group, a DJ, three vocalists, and, after the third track, a nearly naked man, sporting tighty-whities and nothing else, covered in something resembling antiquing powder and lots of face paint, just simply going nuts… after about ten minutes of his rolling about and frolicking, he ran up to the front of the stage to puke on the front row. Then he grabbed one of the monitors and started humping it. The band was not the least bit surprised by this. Go figure.

Other random highlights include Vandalism, a UK DJ who just plain kicked ass and was accompanied on-stage by a very tall blond woman in leather and aviators who looked like she needed a whip, and about a dozen other DJs of surprisingly high caliber. I must say, for an 18-hour event, this was one of the best parties I’ve ever seen… it was just fantastic. The only bad set I witnessed the whole night was from a German DJ called Dirty Disco Youth (not to be confused with Dirty Disco Kidz, who rock steady) who’s set stumbled and faltered, a major disappointment after the awesomeness of Vandalism. To top it off, he looked like an anorexic, snuffly Carrot Top. I walked away from the stage after 20 minutes of awkward, half-dance-able mediocrity, shaking my head, only to have the next track be — I am not making this up — the final track that Vandalism played. Many confused looks bounced around. A lot of people walked away. Maybe he was just playing an MP3 off his Macbook or something. Kids today, I swear…

They kicked us out at about 8:30 am, after a set by Freemasons, another UK DJ who was mostly playing old-school UK drum & bass and dancy trance stuff, shifting to a lot of female-vocalist mid-tempo dance. He was swigging a bottle of Patron Anejo and looked like he was ready to keep playing all day, but I suppose all parties must end at some point… he grabbed the mic at the end and said “Tha road is closin’ in thirty minutes, so if yer not stayin’, ya need ta git tha fuck aout”, which was not heeded at all, until the PA was cut, at which point it was heeded with groans and slow shuffles towards the gate. Needless to say, we were in the same boat: not ready to leave. Too pumped to stop dancing, too wired to sit down, too famished to keep drinking but too thirsty to stop. Where’s the damn after-party?

We drowned our sorrows in the Soju we left outside the gate. After a very interesting van ride back into the heart of the city, nine wired, half-drunk party people in face-paint descended on the streets of Seoul to a lot of odd looks. Showers. A nap or two. Tacos. The nice German student in the hostel got a real earful on just how bad he screwed up on not coming with us… the anecdotes and rave reviews went around. Shortly thereafter, the crew split: almost all were English teachers, who had to teach on Monday, and Mo had his internship to attend to. Nine became three in a matter of minutes. Min, Jerah, Mo and I went picnicking near the river, and after telling ourselves all day “tonight we’re gonna chill, no partying, no drinking, seriously” we get back to the hostel, only to have the German look at us and say, “So. Wanna go out tonight?”

Well… yes. Yes, we do. Screw Monday — there’s no morning-after like the-morning-after-the-morning-after. Cue the music and the soju and the barbecue…

dip, dip, dive
so-so-cialize
clean out ya ears 
open ya eyes
~MC Quincy, as transcribed by the RZA

Hola de Bocas del Toros,

Things I see as I sit on this terrace, overlooking Carnivale on Isla Colon in Bocas:  smiles.   bikes of various styles, mostly with flashy rattle-can paint jobs and home-made racks or surfboard carriers hanging off the back or side. bald tires.  street food that is unconditionally delicious, sold by cart or bicycle: meat on a stick.  empanadas.  milensa pollo sandwiches.  2 year old kids who can dance better than most white people.  skateboards.  lots of beautiful, happy people.  braids, dreads, naps, fades.  speakers and PAs cranked so loud that the amps fade and crackle on the peaks (this is the normal volume setting here, no matter the crowd or music played).  a big-rig tanker, with ‘INFLAMABLE’ painted on every side of the tank, spraying a crowd of 70 or so dancing people with (what I hope is) water.  hips, ohgodlookatallthehips!  talking, laughing, dancing, drinking, eating.  the occasional cat-call, sometimes though the PA.  convenience stores with stacks, huge stacks as tall as me, of cases of beer, and Red Bull, and fifths of booze vac-sealed with quarts of juice, half-obstructing every single aisle.  whole families, little kids wrastlin’ on the grass, lots of kids overall.  smiles.
From what I’ve gathered from the locals (so friendly, and patient with communication), there’s a Carnivale in four or five cities in Panama (the biggest being Panama City, of course) but this one is a destination for alot of the Northern Panamanians  because… well, it’s on an island (a bit of a party island anyway), and it’s pretty cheap to get to.  I guess in East Madison we’re quite spoiled; we get a block party pretty much every two weeks for the whole summer… you can tell it’s pretty condensed into Carnivale; it lasts 5 days or so, and hoy es Sabado — the main event…. the music on the street went till 2am or so last night (try THAT shit in Madison) and started back up around 10am… but the clubs rocked till 6am.  I got up with the music (our hotel is about 110 yards from the main stage — guess which way the speakers are pointed?) and right now it’s 4:03pm, and the crowd is really getting going.  The stage mixes back and forth, from live Mambo, Caribbean and Roots bands, to these DJs who must have either ADD or good drugs, ’cause there’s a cut every minute or two, and nothing is under 120bpm.  It’s pretty fun.  It’s nowhere near Rio, or even other cities in Panama, but it’s got a good vibe….
Maybe the most foreign thing about being down in all this is that it’s not really foreign at all…

heads bumpin’ back, thinkin’ bout shit; yeah I like it…..
Every place on the water here (bars, clubs, hotels, everything) in literally ON the water — constructed on stilts, or maybe even just floating there.  You’ll look down while taking a shower in your hostel and realize that you can see the damn ocean though the drain… which is a hell of a lot more ocean than I’m used to seeing through my shower’s drain, so maybe the novelty just hasn’t worn off yet.  There’s a bar we were at last night till 3am or so called Barco Hundido (a bit of a play on words) where as you walk in, you cross a series of bridges and paths to the main bar area, which is built on a solid platform over the water.  That then opens up to a little ‘lagoon’ in the water where there’s a sunken ship.  More pier-like structures and raft-type platforms link around the ship and a ways past it to make a seating area.  I dunno if this is even legal in the US, but it is SO frickin’ cool…. by the end of the platforms, you’re a good 40 or so feet off the shore, and it’s lit thoughtfully enough that you can see alot of fish and such (a sweet sign in the lagoon part reads: “SWIM at your OWN RISK!  everything CUT you!”)
The zoning laws are probably pretty great here… we were chatting with a bar/restaurant owner yesterday who said he got the lot we were standing on “because no one wanted it; they thought it was too small.  I could only build to here,” and he slaps his hand on the bar in front of me (I’m sitting on the front porch, which is about as big as the bar itself) “but I figured I could build a porch to the street, and shit, most people sit on the porch anyway.”  I gave him a somewhat puzzled look; like, isn’t the porch technically “building”?  Or part of the building?  He smiled and nodded with a sort of half-shake to his head… George has a PhD and worked for years for the Smithsonian, doing archeological research around Central America (born in Calgary, did his post-doctorate at KU Lawrence).  He was wearing a dirty apron and a GnR bandanna, and during our chat he was re-summoned to the kitchen to cook hamburgers and falafel.  He seemed really happy.  A few minutes later he ran back to where I was sitting and reached under the bar in front of me.  “Forgot my beer!”  Then he ran back to the kitchen, cerveza en mano.  
I could write whole essays on how what I’ve seen in other countries makes me laugh and cry with the kind of regulation and bullshit small business owners go though in the states… although it probably belongs nowhere near this particular transmission.  You know what that meat-on-a-stick guy does with my $1.50?  He feeds his family.  Maybe puts some of it away.  Or to put it even less eloquently than I would, as Ray Smuckles once said, People want to eat some fuckin’ dinner and have some fuckin’ money! What the fuck do you THINK gettin’ up in the morning is all about?
Oh yeah, George made a really good plate of falafel.
hasta luego…