The Shay Rebellion | Christopher Shay

FLASHBACK: Bangkok’s Californication

By the time we grabbed our bags from a Bangkok Airport carousel, it was well after midnight. Julie and I climbed in a taxi and told the driver Khao San Road, Bangkok’s backpacker ghetto. I was about to nod off when Julie pointed out the song on the radio. We were listening to Californication by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. We had a quick laugh, as listening to the song in Thailand was itself evidence of worldwide Californication. We reached Khao San Road, stumbled into a cheap guest house, and immediately fell asleep. It wasn’t until we woke up that we understood how prescient the Red Hot Chili Peppers could be.

Khao San Road seems quite normal to someone from the West Coast. The area is dotted with cafes and bars filled with people who haven’t shaved, call each other dude, and can play acoustic guitar or perhaps the bongos. There are tattoo parlors, vendors selling hemp clothing, and salons advertising dreadlock hair extensions. Though there are a number of Thai restaurants, there are just as many places to eat vegan, banana pancakes. At first glance, it could be Venice Beach—admittedly, it’d have to be a quick first glance. Then, something will feel unfamiliar—say the presence of two dozen Thai kids in an open air Muay Thai gym—and it’ll hit you (not literally, thankfully) that you’re in Bangkok and not some hippy enclave of California.

We only spent two nights on Khao San Road, but by the end, I was about to follow the Khao San fashion trend: hemp fisherman’s pants, a white linen shirt, and  well-worn Birkenstocks. I’d be too self-conscious to wear it in Hong Kong, but no one would give me a second look in Portland. Plus, I already have the Birkenstocks.

Though nostalgic to be around people with piercings and tattoos, I was glad to leave Bangkok and fly north. As a Californian-cum-Oregonian, I can tell you that moving north from Californication is always a good call.

FLASHBACK: Beijing—Two Zero Zero Eight

I’ve written two negative entries about my time Beijing which gives the wrong impression. Sure, I was scammed and exposed to carcinogens, but I want to make it clear that Beijing was fantastic place to ring in the New Year.

On New Year’s Eve, four of us meandered the hutongs of Beijing. Early in the day, we ran across a choir with nearly a hundred kids practicing their song as the bleachers were being constructed around them. Even with my extremely limited Chinese, I could understand the lyrics. The words consisted entirely of singing “two, zero, zero, eight” over and over again. “Er, ling, ling, ba” became the slogan of the day.

We also saw a polar bear swimming club, where Chinese men would jump into the water, try and touch the ice in the middle of the lake, and then front crawl or butterfly back. We thought they were crazy, but they laughed at us when we played on the exercise structure. When Paul spilled his drink in front of them while using the exercise equipment, he explained to them only “er ling ling ba.” The swimmers seemed to understand.

At one point, Alex brought out a bottle of champagne he’d won in an online competition. It was a Columbia Valley champagne; it had come as far as Alex and I. We were right next to the Confucius Temple where for centuries people took a three day examination to become part of the Imperial Bureaucracy. Seeing as Alex and I took examinations together all throughout high school, it seemed appropriate that Alex popped the cork into the Confucius Temple. We were not just celebrating 2008 but the first full year away from examinations.

After our wanderings, Alex took us to a smoky, Uighur restaurant with one of his friends who actually spoke Uighur. We ate our fill of chicken hearts, and at one point, we had the poor judgment of toasting to an independent Uighurstan. The Chinese government doesn’t think that sort of thing is very funny, but after hearing first hand stories of Han oppression and racism in Xinjiang, we were tickled by the idea. I hope the restaurant still exists.

After dinner, we went to a punk concert. That week, I’d already seen a gypsy jazz show and an indie rock concert.My week in Beijing made it clear to me that the Beijing art scene rivals the best in the world in both variety and quality. In contrast, the Hong Kong arts scene rivals the likes of Charlotte and Cincinnati—on a good day. We rang in the new year moshing to a skinny Chinese singer and a guitarist playing power chords. I couldn’t have imagined a better way to celebrate er ling ling ba.