Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Aug 04 2009

Better this time

I picked up my trumpet from the shop on Friday, the tuning slide unlocked and greased, got my usual sandwich, tea and salad in a bag from my favorite coffee shop on Zhongxiao West Road, took some shots of the bright traffic underneath the pedestrian bridge, and then went to stand in line for my ticket on the bullet train south, munching on dinner while the darkening scenery swooshed past on the train. Our show was in Chiayi this time, the first time we’d played there, though I played in the nearby coastal village of Budai with the Muddy Basin Ramblers last time. This gig was downtown, however; thankfully someone had thought to build an expressway from the outlying HSR station into town.

Unfortunately, I managed to get one of the dimmer taxi drivers in the line, a middle-aged woman with a speech impediment. She managed to find the expressway, though she drove down it rather slowly, and she couldn’t seem to find the venue. I’d entered the address in my iPhone, even showing it to her on Google Maps in Chinese, but she seemed unable to comprehend the Scary Flashy Thing. When she eventually managed to get to the Calgary Bar/Restaurant, a two-story wooden building just behind the railroad tracks, Small Eyes came out to meet us; as I got out of the car, he waved at the woman. It turned out that she had driven him and some of the other musicians to the very same venue a couple of hours before. I’d been played but good.

If it was hot outside (and it was), it was somehow even hotter inside the Calgary. I tested the bass and trumpet mikes, aided by our helpful sound people, a couple of guys who had to make sense of the sound setups of each and every bar/club/restaurant we played in, doing the best they could with whatever they were presented with, and then hauled my stuff up to the loft where the other band members sat around a table looking positively ill. It turned out that the owner had refused to turn on the air conditioning all afternoon during rehearsal. He only decided to turn it on when they opened for business. Not the most generous of souls, this fellow.

As showtime approached, the Calgary stayed resolutely empty. Only a few people appeared, including a couple of families with kids, who are a notoriously hard sell for beer. Seems they just don’t like the taste. It began to dawn on us that the venue wasn’t exactly a happening destination. The staff told us to hold off for half an hour or so to let more people show up, which they did, but it was to somewhat less than a full house that we finally began the show, which was consequently abbreviated due to time constraints.

The people who did show up managed to misunderstand the prizes and bidding and shouted out random numbers throughout those parts. I don’t usually pay any attention to the non-musical parts of the show, but this was actually funny, like a Youtube video come to life. The owner, possibly drunk, demanded one of our green lighting fixtures, and then literally ripped the watch off of Small Eye’s wrist. I can only hope he knows how lucky he was to try that on the only one of our party that would stand for that kind of asshattery. Small Eyes, of course, didn’t tell us about it until later.

After getting the hell out of Calgary, we walked to our hotel, a surprisingly nice business job near the train station. I managed to get to bed around 2 a.m., which is pretty early considering, and Noname didn’t make any of his usual drunken 4 a.m. antics, none of which he ever remembers the next day as he asks why everyone seems so tired.

I was awoken on Saturday morning by the fireworks from a wedding procession downstairs. We managed to check out on time and walked to the train station, where I took pictures of some of the people hanging around there before we boarded the train for Kaohsiung. Noname, Ah-cheng, The Sergeant and Small Eyes turned the seats around for a game of poker to pass the time, as the regular speed trains seem like snails to anyone used to the bullet train.

Once in Kaohsiung, I managed to misguide everyone to the wrong end of the station by mistakenly assuming I knew which was was north, but it didn’t really matter as we had plenty of time to kill before our venue that night, the rather sordidly named but well-known Blue Fantasy on Wufu 2nd Road, opened. We took over a couple of tables at a sandwich shop by the station where tomatoes were handed out in an arbitrary fashion before piling in to taxis to the bar. The prospect of playing at the Blue Fantasy was making everyone nervous for some reason. Noname told me that a lot of important people went there, and word of shows going well (or really badly) there got around fast. I’m glad I don’t rely on this for a living, I thought to myself, and continued not being nervous about the show.

The venue itself consisted of three stories, a bar/restaurant downstairs and the stage on the second floor, which was open to the third floor above via an atrium. The stage was surrounded by so many lights it resembled a large oven, but I was assured that the air conditioning made up for it. The sound setup was so good I felt I could actually compete with Honda, our electric bass player, on my old washtub. When I examined the green-painted tub, however, I discovered that cracks had appeared around the hole, possibly due to the painting process as I certainly hadn’t played it all that much. Small Eyes went to a nearby hardware store and came back with a cheap green replacement tub with flowers printed on the inside. We borrowed a gas stove from the kitchen, heated a screwdriver and made a new hole; it worked just fine.

Rehearsal went smoothly, but I found myself itching to play more, especially after the previous evening’s truncated show. As we retreated to the upstairs booth that had been allotted us for use as a kind of green room, I asked Noname if it would be ok to just jump in to play fills on other songs. Somewhat distractedly, he said sure, why not. Whether it was nerves or some other reason, I was the only one interested in dinner, so I went out to the Subway across the street with The Sergeant, who wasn’t eating either but wanted to stretch his legs. I then picked up a pack of gum for Noname and a single tea egg for Pei-san, our female lead singer. As far as I know that was all they had for dinner.

The showThe show, when it started, went well. The air conditioning was so up to the task that I felt more comfortable under the hot lights than in the cold, unlit audience areas. Indeed, I stayed up on stage for more songs this time, mostly by choice but occasionally because the lone entry/exit was blocked by a lead singer busying singing, etc. I’d never played many of of the songs before, but I enjoyed the challenge and had a blast in the process. I’d much rather play that way than simply following notes on a page. The band has also gelled over the last month or so, and you could really feel it. Afterwards I got a lot of compliments on my impromptu solos, not just from the other players but also from the Heineken people who had come to watch.

After we’d all changed back into street clothes, taken pictures of each other and gathered outside on the sidewalk in front of several hopeful-looking cabbies, I was ready to go back to Taipei, but the manager wanted to treat us to a late-night snack after such a successful show, and I felt it would seem rude to refuse. We ended up in a second-story restaurant on the night market street grabbing all kinds of local dishes from a rotating table and stuffing our faces; everyone was ravenous after skipping dinner. Even I found I was hungry despite the Subway earlier.

It was after 3 a.m. before we got on the wild chicken bus bound for the capital, our squishy armchairs fully reclined and vibrating with weak massagers more akin to cell phones in silent mode. I managed to sleep a little on the way, but it wasn’t good sleep. In the seat across the aisle, Noname stared at the video games he was playing. I was awoken every so often by the rough pavement preceding each toll station, designed to wake up sleeping drivers in time to prevent them from smashing into the booths of hapless toll collectors.

Somehow, despite my fatigue, I found myself not particularly wanting to go home as we alighted onto the already-hot concrete sidewalk in the bright morning sunlight of Taipei. Perhaps I was still high on the previous night’s show. Perhaps the other felt the same, as we all elected to spend an hour eating a breakfast of dubious quality upstairs at the McDonald’s on Chengde Road before splitting up and going our separate ways. I meant to stay up after I got home, maybe taking a short nap before tai-chi practice, but I ended up crashing, only emerging from deep slumber in the early afternoon.

posted by Poagao at 4:36 pm  


  1. Dear Poagao! My name is Arman Iskak and I work for the Diplomacy of Stars International Festival in Kazakhstan. We are trying to get in touch with Yerboli Ahmethan in order to invite him to perform in Almaty (Kazakhstan) during our next music event. I have noticed that you wrote a blog about him not so long ago. Would you be so kind as to forward to me his email address or phone number (if you happen to have it) or to get me in touch with someone who might know his contact details! Thank you in advance, and best of luck with your forthcoming projects! [email protected]


    Comment by Arman Iskak — August 24, 2009 @ 12:04 am

  2. Thanks, Arman, I have passed your message on.

    Comment by Poagao — August 24, 2009 @ 3:11 pm

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