A Canadian in Beijing: Dealing Inspiration

One of my many aims of coming to Beijing was to embark on some music research (as described in my first blog). I spent the first six weeks gathering names and ideas and talking to people about my intentions to see what they thought of my research plans. I think taking time to settle into this community and carefully select who I ought to speak with and eventually interview was a good choice.

The project is going wonderfully.

The topic is women in music. The specific approach is a cross-examination of what it is like to be a woman who makes music (writes, composes, plays, sings) in this urban center (Beijing) as compared to what it’s like to be a woman making music in these ways in Toronto, for instance. The possibilities are endless. So far, my findings have been truly diverse.

Tuesday evening, my friend Traci and I headed to a local café and met with two amazing women, one who fronts a famous contemporary all-female Chinese punk band called “Hang On The Box” and another who was a member of the (now defunct) world famous and FIRST all-female rock band in China called “Cobra.” Both women, Wang Yue and Xiao Nan respectively, were a joy to meet and had so much to say about this amazing world of music.

But, it’s Traci who needs a shout out here. She is amazing. I just learned a new “chengyu 成语” (Chinese idiom) in class today and I immediately thought of her: yijian rugu “一见如故.” It means that someone feels like an old friend after the first meeting or, like you’ve met before because you immediately fall into a rhythm with each other. That’s what it was like when I met Traci and I am thrilled that she’s in my life.

When I first told Traci about my research plans, her eyes got wide and her pupils jumped with excitement. She told me that she had wanted to do similar research about ten years ago and hadn’t ever fully actualized her vision. She leaned forward in her chair to hear more and she got more and more excited about the ideas. She offered to help me on the spot and I, of course, eagerly accepted.

After all, she knows everyone in this music scene (it seems!) and her Chinese is impeccable after being her for thirteen years straight (and seventeen years on and off). I already knew that I would need a translator for certain interviews and certainly some help navigating this world of Chinese music. What’s more, having someone like Traci involved is like locating the missing piece – the essential bridge between two worlds.

I’ve found a perfect research partner and she’s been enormously helpful. Without her, this work couldn’t be done.

For instance, I’m extremely awkward on the telephone here. In fact, I still get really nervous speaking Chinese on the phone because I don’t have body language or any kind of energy context for what they’re saying. What’s more, people speak quickly and loudly on the telephone, which often blurs and distorts the sound. I have found myself completely lost in several conversations, which is just embarrassing, especially when I ask them to repeat themselves several times and the meaning doesn’t get any clearer with each repetition. When this happens, I begin to feel more and more anxious and stupid, which makes me more and more unable to understand: 越着急,越听不懂 (the more one worries, the more one doesn’t understand).

When I told Traci about my anxiety, she immediately offered to make the calls and set up the interview times with all of the Chinese artists that I wanted to interview. When she offered, the heavy dread lifted from my body. I visibly relaxed and sat back in my chair with a sigh. She laughed and completely understood. And, now that we’ve had an evening of interviews, I can see that without her, each interview would have been long and arduous with many misunderstandings and much frustration on both sides.

Traci’s such a good translator and is extremely gifted at making people feel comfortable that she should really do this for a living. She was unbelievable. Because she’s been a self-described “professional fan” of the music industry in China since the 90’s, she also is really knowledgeable and has no problem understanding the content of what is being said either, even though she is not a musician herself. That makes her a double expert – both in music and in Mandarin – and that is the ideal element of this project. What I offer is my investigation and writing skills. We form a perfect team.

All of these words have a (Christian) religious context, but I’m not sure what else to call her except one or all of the following: an angel, a saviour, a God-send? She is all and more. There’s got to be a more fitting word here . . .

Well, now that I’ve gushed for an entire post about my new friend, I should also tell you that my research will not be compiled here. I’ll be writing for several publications and websites when I get back and I’ll let you know where to find the articles.

In general, the biggest learning so far on this topic is that we, as women who make art, lead very similar lives no matter what the political, social, cultural, historical context. We want to be heard and have a voice, and we see how our contexts both restrict and enable those desires from being realized. There are times when we acknowledge and celebrate the “femaleness” of our art (both in perspective and approach) and times when we would just like to be seen as artists because the division is so tiring, so limiting, so annoying.

We did a lot of laughing on Tuesday at our mutually similar stories and experiences. While so much has changed in the past twenty years in both countries and in both the Canadian and Chinese music scenes, so much has also remained the same and may never change.

I left the café positively buzzing with new ideas. This philosophical cross-cultural exchange was like an injection of inspiration and I stayed up way too late writing and thinking and letting it settle in my bloodstream.

Inspiration is addictive.

Traci is the bridge to that high so I guess I ought to call her my “dealer.”

Which makes me an addict…