Touring in China (looking back to summer 2016)

In June-July this year, while living in Beijing, I did a 15 gig tour of China. I recently wrote a little article about it for the Confucius Institute magazine (not published yet). Here’s what I wrote, with some fun pictures.

15 days and 15 shows: Touring in China

In February 2016, I went to China and Beijing for my eleventh time. So going there was not exactly a new experience, but I knew this time would be quite different. It was the second time that I was to spend a longer time in China. From March until June, I did an internship (funded by CIMO) at an NGO called World Green Design Organization (世界绿色设计组织 in Chinese) in Beijing. For me it was essentially language practice – I was the only foreigner in the organization, so the working language was Chinese. It was a great experience, and I encourage everyone interested in working in China to apply for a similar program.

However, I’m not here to write about my internship.

I have been writing original music since 2004, and I also have original songs in Chinese. In Finland, I have performed in quite a number of cultural events, such as the Chinese New Year celebration at the Lasipalatsi square. In Beijing, I have played numerous small shows in bars and small clubs, including too many to count at the Blue Stream Bar (蓝溪酒吧) in the Gulou area. Last year, after taking part in the Chinese Bridge competition, I did a small tour of China, playing altogether five shows in different cities. During my time in Beijing, while still working at the WGDO, I was doing regular solo shows at some Beijing venues. At the same time, I started to organize my second tour of China. I first contacted the venues I had played last year, including a few in Shandong province and one in Tianjin. But then I also started contacting new venues, and my contacts helped me contact other venues, and it kind of snowballed from there. Eventually, I had booked 15 shows for 15 days. Crazy! And most definitely something I had never done before, anywhere. With one last show in Beijing after coming back, the tour would consists of altogether 16 shows. Now, that you can actually call a tour!

tour-poster

My tour poster, designed by Wen Yuzhen (文予真), guitarist in the band Birdstriking

My tour started on June 17 from the farthest corner, Guangzhou, over 2,000 kilometers from Beijing. I was invited to play two shows at Conghua – a district of Guangzhou that’s practically a small city of its own. On the evening of June 16, I flew over to Guangzhou, and my first show was to be the next evening in Guangzhou city. After my first evening on the road, I wouldn’t have any nights off, since every day would be a show, and practically every day in a different city.

As it is impossible to give a description of every single show, I will mention some of the most memorable ones – both in good and bad sense of the word.

Every venue was different. Every city was different. Every audience was different. Every club owner and every musician I met on the road was different, and I feel privileged to have met every one of them. Well, the numerous hotel rooms and the trains were all basically the same. My daily routine on the road was also pretty much the same every day, and it consisted of the following:

  • getting up before hotel check out time (wake-up never before 10 am – shows were always late in the evening)
  • finding something simple and local for lunch
  • heading to the train station / bus station / airport (this was a one-time luxury)
  • traveling to another city (travel time one hour to four hours)
  • arriving at another city, finding venue
  • soundcheck at venue
  • one to two hours rest – if I was lucky
  • dinner with people from the night’s venue
  • showtime (usually at seven earliest, ten latest)
  • a few drinks with venue owners
  • back to the hotel (very rarely before midnight)
  • sleep, repeat next day

Was it a tiring routine? For sure. Was it all worth it? Most definitely. Would I do it again? YES (but maybe with a few days off during the tour).

lanling

At Lanling, Linyi, Shandong province

As the venues were very different, ranging from live houses to cafés, so were the audiences – in some cases, there might not have been too many people, but they all came there for the music, whereas at some places, most of the audience (including very young kids that were anything but quietly listening to the music) came to see perhaps the first foreign performer they’d ever seen.

The best shows and most memorable moments included playing for an audience of two hundred at the auditorium of a library at Conghua (a wonderful place, by the way!). I shared the stage with talented local musicians, also collaborating with them on a few pieces of music, and there was also a fun Q&A session with the audience during the show. I also enjoyed visiting the places I had played the last time around, like Lanling (Linyi, Shandong province) and Zaozhuang (also in Shandong province). The venues and the people at Nantong (無二 Livehouse) and Yancheng (晒盐场 Livehouse) were especially wonderful. Hope to able to perform there again!

But of course, not every gig was perfect. Far from it. In Ningbo, my show was on a very rainy Monday night, and eventually there was only one person in the audience (excluding venue staff). But as an artist, you always have to give your best – no matter if you’re playing to a thousand people or for one. Sometimes things go unexpectedly, and during the tour, one show (in Hefei, Anhui province) was cancelled with only a few days’ notice. They told me they couldn’t get the permits needed to organize a show for a foreign performer, which sometimes happens in China, and one should always be prepared for such things. I didn’t have time to book another show for the night, so I still went to Hefei and enjoyed a nice talk with the people at the venue. So no hard feelings.

On July 2, after 15 days and 14 shows around China, I returned to Beijing. It had been an amazing experience, the kind that I hope to be able to repeat sooner or later. During those two weeks I not only saw many new places and met many new people, but also learned many lessons. After all, there’s no fun in doing everything perfectly the first time. I’m confident the next tour will be even better!

With the right combination of patience, hard work and passion everything is possible – especially in China!

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