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!

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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).

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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!

Quick update

Hey all,

So, by now you’ve probably realized this “blog” is really not updated on a regular basis. But interesting things have happened since the last post so I do want to share some of it with you. Just not right this second. Haha. I’ll try to get it done soon.

Right now I’m back in Finland after about five months in China. In June, I did a little tour of  China – well, actually not a very little one since there were a total of 14 shows in 15 days – and I was filming a lot (with my phone) along the way and the grand idea is to make it into some sort of a tour documentary. Should be pretty cool. But that might take a while. What’s more likely to happen within the next few weeks is uploading some pictures and writing a proper post about the tour. That I promise to do soon.

Right now I’m busy working again at the FIIA (Finnish Institute of International Affairs) and trying my best to work on my master’s thesis (a project that I really haven’t found enough time for). And, unless something crazy happens, I’ll be heading back to China very soon. More on that too later.

Life in Beijing

The past few months have been interesting times.

In mid-February, I left Finland to first travel in Japan (Hokkaido) and Taiwan (Taipei, Hualien) and then settle down in Beijing for some four months. Since the beginning of March, I’ve been working at an NGO called the World Green Design Organization. I’m here for a 3-month internship, after which I will be staying in Beijing for roughly one more month. I’ll be going back to Finland in mid-July (just before my 30th birthday…). The reason I’m doing the internship is mainly to be able use Chinese as a working language and thus to improve my Chinese level. And as I’m the only foreigner in the organization, it’s been coming along nicely. It’s a pretty nice place to work at anyway.

First, a few neat pictures from Taiwan:

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and Japan (went downhill skiing first time in maybe 15 years, fell more times than I could count, the last time so bad I had to go to the hospital, was in agony for over a month afterwards, but it was still fun) (didn’t brake any bones even though I was sure I did):

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Here in Beijing, life has been pretty alright. I have a place at a very good and convenient location (even though the rent is really high): 20 minutes to work by foot, and very near the Gulou (drum tower) area, where most of the interesting stuff happens. I’ve been going to a lot gigs and meeting new people (while sleeping perhaps a bit too little). Let me share a few pictures:

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Yesterday I had my first own gig since December, at a new place opened by the owner of the good old Blue Stream bar, at the Sanlitun area (Worker’s Stadium). More like a jazz bar and anything but perfect for the music I play but… a gig is always a gig, right? I will be playing another small show next week, at another newly opened place, this time at the Gulou area.

Here’s the cool poster for yesterday’s show and a few pictures (taken by my friend Saana Virtanen):

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That’s it for now. More later!

Summing up 2015

So, when I said I’d get back to you with proper post “soon” I guess that meant 2,5 months. Oh well.

Only five posts during the whole year, it seems, so quite a few things happened in between those posts. I’ll try to sum it all up.

Chinese Bridge (Finnish competition in April, semifinals in China in July)

In the spring of 2015 I took part in the Chinese Bridge competition for the second time (first time was in 2013). I’m not going to explain again what the competition is about (scroll down for earlier posts to find out) but here are a few thoughts about the whole thing.

As I had participated in the competition once before, and had narrowly missed out on making the top 30 (out of some 140+ competitors), this time I had a very concrete goal in mind. I prepared for the Finnish preliminary competition a lot more than I had two years ago, and it paid off. I became the first in Finland to represent my country in the semifinals for the second time. Sadly, in the end it didn’t take me any further than two years ago, and again I was eliminated before the finals. In the European group of forty-something participants, I was the 10th or the 11th, if I recall correctly. Not quite good enough.

This time I had made the firm decision to only perform original music in the competition, and I guess what disappointed me the most was that the audience didn’t seem to appreciate it all that much. Then again, I’m not sure just how fixed the whole competition is to begin with. In any case, the competition was over on my part around mid-July and it was time to move on. But of course, beyond the disappointment, there is still the great (twice-in-a-lifetime) experience of being part of a show of such epic proportions, and more importantly, making a lot of new friends. And also getting to play my own music for at least a few million Chinese television viewers.

559cbe7a3af38马维 (my Chinese name) at the Chinese Bridge semifinals, July 2015, in Changsha, Hunan province.

Summer 2015 China tour

Sounds much more grand that it actually was but still, it was a very cool thing to do. After the Chinese Bridge competition I got in touch with a friend who’s previously organized gigs for a few Finnish bands in China (Yang Wang), and he’s a man of  many contacts and helped me get in touch with some other friendly people, who helped me put together a small “China tour”. In practice it meant three gigs in Shandong province (Zaozhuang, Tengzhou, Lanling), one more in Tianjin and another one “back home” in Beijing (at good old Blue Stream).

It was a very cool experience and I hope to do it again next summer, with hopefully a few more gigs. Here’s one picture to show that it actually happened:

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China in Finland at Malmitalo, November 14

“China in Finland” was originally a vision of mine that was in the works for quite some time. It was in March 2015 that the venue was finally booked and the date was decided. So, what exactly was (or, rather, is) “China in Finland”?

It was a few years back when I had the idea for a concert that would be a true Chinese-Finnish cooperation on all levels, with the organizers, performers and audiences all being ideally 50/50 Chinese and Finnish. The concept quickly moved from a concert towards an evening of performing arts, with Wusheng Company (the first ever Peking opera group in Europe) booked as the main act. Other performers included many talented young Chinese musicians living in Finland as well as a vocal ensemble from the Vaskivuori Upper Secondary School. I also performed, and was especially delighted to have the chance to perform one of my songs with my brother Jussi.

Of course, I wasn’t alone in putting the show together. From the very beginning, the Finland-China Society (Suomi-Kiina-seura) and the Chinese student organization CSSA-UH were very supportive of the idea and also became the main forces behind it. The newly founded Finnish China Alumni also helped out towards the end. The event was a success, with Malmitalo being sold out and the feedback has been very positive. And the next event is already in the talks…

A few pictures for you:

And a few news articles about the event: on the Chinese Embassy website and Xinhua online.

I’ll be back soon (aka. last few months in a nutshell)

Hello folks,

Yet again no new posts for many a month. As the title suggest, I’ll get back to you with a proper post soon (really, I will!), but for now I’ll just copy-paste something from my Facebook page (yeah, I’m that lazy):

On August, 5:

“Hello from China! The five-or-so weeks here have been full of all sorts of activities. First of all, the Chinese Bridge competition. Well… it didn’t go quite as well as I hoped (didn’t make it to the top 30 this time either, but it was quite close…), but I did get to play my music on the most popular Chinese television network (so I’ve heard), so that’s still not bad! (The whole thing is also on YouTube, but… not sure if I dare watch it. Maybe I’ll find the link for you later. Maybe.). After the competition was over, I did quite a lot of traveling. But the journey isn’t over yet! Tomorrow, I will be heading to Zaozhuang in Shandong province, where I will start my first ever “China tour!” A very short one, that is, but still, should be very interesting! The final gig of this three of four stop minitour will be at the good old Blue Stream bar in Beijing on August 12.”

And interesting it was! The whole tour consisted of five shows (three in Shandong province, one in Tianjin and one in Beijing). I’ll get back to that. Soon!

After coming back to Finland there was the Chinese National Day Gala by CSSA-UH at the Savoy Theater. I’ve performed in the Gala three times but this time I was also one of the hosts. Was hard work but also very rewarding! I’ll get back to that too… soon! But here’s a picture, just to show you that it actually happened:

Chinese National Day Gala 2015 at the Savoy Theater

Chinese National Day Gala 2015 at the Savoy Theater

The next big musical thing happening in my life will be the “China in Finland” event taking place at Malmitalo after about one month. This has been a dream of mine for a long time and I hope we can do it properly. But I’ll get back to that as well… soon! I will. Trust me.

This picture will give you something of an idea of what we’re talking about:

China in Finland at Malmitalo

Chinese Bridge and other news

Hello folks. Long long time without any new posts here. I’m updating stuff somewhat more regularly on my Facebook page. But here’s what’s been happening in the last few months, in a nutshell.

Chinese Bridge and China:

Chinese Bridge (汉语桥) is a Chinese language speech & talent competition / television show that will take place in Changsha, China in July. The Finnish preliminary competition was held at the Confucius Institute on April 12. In 2013, I won the Finnish competition and went to China to represent Finland. I attended the semifinals but didn’t make the finals (it was annoyingly close). Now, two years later, I decided to take part for the second time, and won the Finnish competition again (the first in in Finland to win it twice).

Tomorrow I’m leaving for China. The actual competition competition starts on July 4 in Changsha, with first some activities in Beijing starting a few days before that. There are about 120 competitors from around the world in the semifinals, and only 30 of those continue to the finals. The finals take place after July 10, with the very last show in early August. Obviously, I hope I could make it to the top 30 this time around.

But whatever the result, I’m flying back to Finland a little later, on August 13. I’m hoping to play a few gigs around China before coming home, and can hopefully also do a few more interviews for my thesis.

I recorded a few Chinese songs of mine and uploaded them on Soundcloud, feel free to check them out.

I’ll keep you posted on how the competition (and other stuff) goes!

Happy New Year… again!

Or to be a bit more exact, Happy Chinese New Year! This year I didn’t perform at the Lasipalatsi Square celebration but it was equally fun to play at the party by CSSA-UH (留学芬兰中国学人2015年春节联欢会) (Saturday, Feb 14). Pictured here in addition to myself are the Chinese Ambassador to Finland, Mr. Yu Qingtai, duet by Yin Xiaoqing & Zhao Xuran, and the Helsinging Choir. Photos courtesy of CSSA-UH.

祝大家新年快乐,羊年大吉,万事如意!

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Happy New Year!

Happy new year everyone! Let’s make 2015 a good one.

Interesting musical things lie ahead. Won’t be saying much about that yet (or anything, really, heh) but you’ll find out soon enough! Autumn 2014 was busy with teaching Chinese, coordinating the Yanzu project and with my own studies (at the University of Helsinki). Difficult to find time for music, which is always a big bummer. I will try my best to (finally!) record some new songs in the following weeks and share them with you. I have new songs in three languages (English, Chinese and Finnish) so should be interesting.

There should be some very interesting gigs coming up later in the year 2015, but this time I will not be performing at the Chinese New Year’s celebration at the Lasipalatsi Square (taking place on February 18). I’ve performed at the event three times (2011, 2013 and 2014), so I guess it’s okay to take a break from that particular stage at this point. The event will include many interesting performances, and this year you should definitely check out my good friends and terrific performers Zhao Xuran and Yin Xiaoqing, who will be performing a few songs during the event. You can check out the official website at http://www.kiinalainenvuosi.fi.

Next gig and new song

Time to break the silence again. CSSA-UH is hosting a “Pre-Chinese New Year party” (小春节晚会) at the Cultural Center Caisa on Tuesday (Nov 25) at 7 pm, and I’ll also be performing a song or two. It’s free entry, so welcome! Kulttuurikeskus Caisa (www.caisa.fi) is located at Mikonkatu 17 C / Vuorikatu 14 (Helsinki).

The song that I will most likely be performing is a new one – actually, it’s so new that I haven’t even finished it yet! In any case, it’s a song in Chinese and it’s called “朋友, 再来一首”, which translates to “Friend, play one more (song)”. It felt like a fun name for a song, hehe.

Chinese National Day Gala at the Alexander Theater (Sept 28)

I already posted these a while ago on my Facebook page, but here’s a few pictures taken at the Chinese National Day Gala (actual show and soundcheck) at the Alexander Theater on September 28. I performed my song 如雨消逝 (Fade Like Rain) and the reception was quite nice. A very positive experience, a big thank you to everyone who put the show together (mainly the folks at CSSA-UH and especially Jiang Zhongqing).

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