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Name: Ben Mastwyk
Bio: I do lots of stuff. I am a Northcote living, video making, makintosh using, photo takin, booty shaking, music making digital artist/graphic designer who likes to take walks in the bush and eat fine food.
Photos: RiverRiver's photo libraries
Beijing ( 10th Jan, 2007 )
Greeting and Introductions ( 13th Dec, 2006 )
My knee joints are sore. My brain is slightly pulsating with travel overloadus. The sound of motor cycle horns is reverberating in my brain like a glass marble in a brass bowl. I don't want any bananas. I don't want any motor bike ride. I don't want any postcards. I want blackness...silence....emptiness. iPod to the rescue with a t-shirt over the eyes, body horizontal, trying to illicit a hasty meditative state. I get halfway there. A few hours of TV nullification reminds me what I hate in the world and I'm feeling good again. I can do this city. I'll keep it low, hide under my partners wing for a while, I'll come up slowly.
Sliding awkwardly through these narrow Hanoi streets, weaving around the motor bikes and makeshift family eateries that own the footpath. Pedestrians pushed to the roads as the two wheelers reclaim the footpath in a protest that they seem to have comfortably won. Navigating through this web of machines and peoples, trying to uphold our look of purposeful direction, trying to seem that we are not the sucker, trying to find a place to suck down some supper.
No tourist wants to look the tourist. No traveler wants the same packaged experience. But we all have our levels of comfort that we are willing to gamble in exchange for something a little more...unique. Food is one of those travel experiences that you can take on all levels. And the way you take it seems to define you as a traveler. We are looking for a balance. We find it in a street-side eatery. Grimy and long slung but bustling with the eager eyes both local and foreign.We scramble in with our long western legs and perch on the tiny plastic coke chairs. The balancing act continues. We have to topple a small tower of fried pigeon leftovers to take our place. The menu arrives with english translation and prices. The hot tea and the beer arrives luke warm. The food arrives simple and home style. The bill arrives asking for only small change. So that's one up which I guess is a win.
It's five past nine and music at the local jazz club starts at nine so we're off again through the street web this time with purpose but still without clear direction. We keep the Lonely Planet low as we orient ourselves. When we slide into the jazz club we are cool. It feels good to be here. This place is no secret but the crowd is relatively 'in' the the jazz is boppin. There's a jazz in the air. Making our discrimination on the two local brews we settle into a night of cool Bia Ha Noi's. As I sit and sip and take in the jazz cats I start to smile inside. So nice to be in a distant land and find something so comforting. Picture's of Minh, the club's father line the walls. He's posin with lots of other jazzy looking cats, some of whom, if I knew my jazz cats better, I'm sure would be familiar. And there's Minh himself on stage, perched of a stool, calmly snaking out his sound through a straight bodied saxophone. His Vietnames backing band scatter around behind him laying down the backbone of the familiar standards, keeping the jazz atmosphere nice and gooey. There's a table of hip cats beside us and they're packin some serious recording gear. The skinny soundman shuffles continuously, re-angling microphones, riding gain controlls, pressing his phones into his head with a discerning look looking at nothing. Seems like they take their jazz seriously at Minh's Jazz club. There's a funkin little old black man makin eccentric talk, eccentric hand dance being kept amused by this mini gear toutin entourage and we're trying to figure what part he's playing in this scene.
The hour of standards comes to a rest and Billie Holiday comes into the room. Bia Ha Noi urges me to the W.C. There's a bustle in the air. People are movin around with intention. Cameras are rising. The skinny sound guy steps up a gear. Minh's backing band steps up again and lays down another bossa-nova-style standard. But it just to warm the space. See, it turns out that this little old funkin black man is something of an old school jazz legend. Sun Ra era. And as he jiggles up to the stage with his amplified violin the whole space shifts. There's a wall of camera peoples lining the front of the stage and every eye and viewfinder in the place is turned to Mr Billie Bang.
Billie Bang will own this stage for the next hour. As he ceremoniously slams into his first fiddle fingering I can't help noticing, even though I want now to love this, that he sound is significantly flat. But fuck it, it's jazz, who cares if he's conversing a noticeable fraction lower than everybody in the band, he's rippin through these classics like Hendrix, shredding through these riffs like Miles. He's commanding this band like a sculptor manipulating wet clay. His musical brushstrokes are vivid and vivacious. He owns the stage even when he steps of it, dancing through the crowd to order a beer. Over time he seems to come more in to tune. But perhaps the band has shifted to tune to his old boy ear. He uses his hour well. The crowd is thoroughly impressed with his jazzy shenanigans. And when he leaves the stage he is the man of the room.
I am satisfied. An unexpected encounter in freshly met city. An experience un-bookable. A memory worth typing about. We weave our way through the dead empty streets to the closed shutters of our hotel room. This city goes full on...but only until twelve. Thankfully a hefty banging on the doors finds us let in. To sleep on these cold foreign streets is an experience I'm glad I am not now retelling. We will wake at six, with the rest of the city, to the loud-speaker dronings of the communist instruction. The days expectations, to a city of millions, foreign to my ears, unintended for me.