Thursday, October 09, 2003

It wasn't all spicy goose intestines, tearful interrogations, psychotic driving episodes and irregularly scheduled covert bedroom play.
No, dear Reader, life is much more than that in Chengdu.
It's also a daytrip to see the world's largest stone Buddha carved from a mountainside in Leshan - very impressive, but my favorite part was when Cherry asked me to take the wheel for about 65 kilometers on the freeway ("Yeehaw! I'm actually DRIVING in Communist China!" I screamed, startling Cherry and Dana) and a 2 1/2 hour variety show at a glitzy Chengdu hotel that was something like a Chinese version of the Catskills, Ed Sullivan and a little Vegas rolled into one.
We went at the insistence of Cherry's daughter who had loosened up a little since my arrival and had - temporarily at least - made the transistion from hormonally-racked, spoiled rich Chicom teen into something resembling a pleasant young woman-to-be.
Cherry had been urging us to go to a karaoke bar so, as Dana, said, "She can sing you many love songs. She says she has a wonderful voice."
I was not thrilled at the prospect. Her daughter even less so. ("Well, sure, mom! I'd love to go to a smoky bar filled with drunk middle-aged businessmen and pay-to-play "hostesses" to watch you make an ass of yourself serenading an uncomfortable and embarrassed long nosed foreign devil who isn't my father. What normal teen could pass up such an opportunity?")
I assured Cherry through Dana that while I honored at her suggestion, I could not reciprocate properly because I cannot sing and only do karaoke when blind drunk and the song is Louie Louie.
The hotel showroom was packed with families and groups of all ages and what transpired onstage turned out to be quite entertaining, even if I couldn't understand any of the jokes or lyrics. Dana translated at times, but couldn't bring herself to fully disclose what she called "yellow material" i.e. dirty jokes.
The host physically resembled nothing more than a portly Chinese George Jessell and warmed the crowd up with some "yellow material" that involved - as far as I could tell - fart and fuck jokes.
The format involved about six different singing and comedy acts all mostly backed by a mostly bored-looking power quartet of a Chinese bassist, Chinese drummer, Chinese keyboardist and Korean guitarist who opened the night with a rousing snatch of Metallica's Ride the Lightning. It was one of the few times they looked like they enjoyed playing. It was clear that their hearts were into hard Western rock, not Chinese pop schmaltz.
Speaking of schmaltz a fog machine and a bubble machine were liberally used throughout, particularly as buildup for the performers.
Highlights? I'd have to say it was a tossup between a startling, hard rocking, muscular young woman who came on firing like Joan Jett with Iggy Pop's moves (I'd seen nothing like her here before and -- apparently neither had the crowd. She got a tepid response until she closed her act with a vapid-sounding pop ballad that didn't shock the audience's sensibilities); a singing dwarf who sported a shaved head and flourescent yellow curled spit curl; and the headliner who combined singing and acrobatics - at one point singing while standing on his hands - and - huge surprise to me - political satire.
Very mild by our standards - we're not talking about Dana Carvey doing Bush I - but here he was on China's National Day holiday doing physical and verbal impressions of Mao and China President Jiang Zemin and Premier Wen Jiabao.
China's censorship of political expression being what it is, he only took it so far, letting the physical nuances carry the comedy while reading more or less straight from what Dana told me were well-known pronouncements by the principles.
Still, especially when he turned his back and then turned slowly back around as Mao - not unlike Andy Kauffman's Elvis transformation - there was an audible gasp from the audience, a mixture of mild shock and awe at his boldness.
But no one applauded harder than I.

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