China / My China Story

Rocking Huaihua

By Patrick Globe ( Updated: 2013-01-21 09:41

Bands are bands wherever you go. And if I had any doubt of this truth, it is all but eliminated when I walk into the practice room. The drummer is perched comfortably on his throne, and the rhythm guitarist is puffing away in the corner on cheap smokes and chatting with a bright-eyed (and heavily made-up) girl, whom I correctly surmise to be his girlfriend. The bassist—the only person I've met in China so far who is big enough to not qualify as an hors d'oeuvre—is changing his strings. Everybody looks up and hustles over to greet me, and after a good five minutes of oohing and awing at my tattoos, the room settles, and we get to practicing.

Rocking Huaihua
Patrick with his Ukrainian friends 
The equipment isn't bad. The drummer beats away on a Pearl Export drum kit. The rhythm guitarist has a sunburst Squier Stratocaster, and I play a surprisingly smooth-necked arctic white Telecaster by the same company that I bought for a song (ha!) from Taobao just days before. The bassist has an Ibanez, and although I never particularly liked the feel of them, his sounds fine. It was all made in China, despite the largely American labels, which is appropriate, I suppose, for a Chinese-American band.

Within the hour, our telephone booth of a practice room is filled with people, and the throng applauds as we finish our session. This could work, I think.


It's less than a month until we schedule our first concert, and we rehearse several times a week. We know this stuff. Some of it is mine, but the drummer and the bassist are songwriters themselves, and I learn enough of their lyrics to sing along with them (although I have no idea what I'm saying). They don't understand my lyrics either, so I consider us even.

We are scheduled to come on towards the end of the evening, and I'm pretty certain by our turn that the live sound guy is either deaf, drunk, or unable to read any of the labels on the PA mixer. (The fourth option being that he only listens to music when he's on hold, and he thinks it is supposed to sound that way.)

I get on the stage with a sense of foreboding. The audience has started to thin a bit, and I worry about how many more people we will lose before we can get our gear plugged in and ready. We scramble to set up, and then I look at the drummer. He offers a thin smile. This is it.

"Hey, hey, baby, what's your name?" I belt it out, loud enough to carry to the back of the crowd, with a growl that's been made fiercer by packs upon packs of Shuang Xi cigarettes. "Your hot pink hair drives me insane!"

The multitudes perk up, or at least I guess they do. I'm half blinded by the stage lights, but I think I can see heads bouncing along to the rhythm, and a few girls seem to be hopping on their boyfriends' shoulders. Some of the guys even break out their lighters and hold the faint flames in the air.

By the end of our set, everyone in the band is soaking wet—putting on a show is exhausting—and I'm almost ready to offer a hoarse "Thank you" and jump off the stage with the rest of the band when two of my Ukrainian friends emerge from the darkness and hoist me into the air. It's no small feat for them, and I suspect they'll regret it later, after the power of Metal and the holy spirits (mainly Red Star báijiǔ) have worn off, but it's quite a gesture. And I raise my guitar above my head and hear the crowd cheer—as good a crowd as you'd find anywhere on earth.


I can't stay in Hunan forever. As much as I like the place, the same dust that affords the place its vibrant sunsets is gently stirred together by the summertime winds with mold, smoke, and automobile exhaust to produce a semi-breathable soup that leaves me hacking and coughing for weeks on end. And I, despite my apparent robustness, cannot survive the place as well as can my imminently breakable-looking students, but even long after I've left, I will not forget my friends, my band, or the night that the little city of Huaihua rocked.


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