On 4 June, 2011 Jez and Assistant Theatre Director, Joyce Lee packed their bags and set off on a week-long trip to Beijing in China. The trip was to help Jez develop his ideas for Irresistible, by meeting (and jamming with, of course!) like-minded organisations and artists.
Back in the UK, we caught up with Jez to hear all about his adventures and take a look at all the fantastic pictures he and Joyce took whilst they were there: “So, now we’re back I thought I’d give you a rundown about all the fun we had, and the great people we met – Beijing is a beautiful city and the trip was so useful.
Big thanks to Zhou Yunpeng, One Plus One radio station, Hua Dan, Nice Tune Studios and everyone else we met whilst there.”
Day 0 – Sunday
Jez and Joyce arrive in Beijing. Jez said: “The journey started as soon as we arrived at the airport. We spotted an ancient Chinese percussion instrument, the size of it was amazing! I just looked at it and imagined the ways it might’ve been used.”
Wasting no time they ventured straight into town after a quick stop at the hotel, “We went to Wangfujing Daijie, where we got a taste of the buzz of the capital of China. There was a food market and road side stalls selling souvenirs.” said Jez.
Their first sample of the many Chinese delicacies was Beijing duck – not the scorpion kebabs… they weren’t brave enough to try those! Describing their meal, Jez said: “The chef sliced the duck in front of us, it was like a performance! The duck was delicious.”
Day 1 – Monday
As the Chinese saying goes, “If you haven’t been to the Great Wall of China, you are not a great man.” They chose to rent a car and go to a more authentic and less travelled part of the Great Wall – Wutianyu.
Making the most of having the car, they took in the Jingling of Ming Tombs on the way, where 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty are buried.
At the Jingling tomb of Xuande (1399-1435), Jez noted, “Though it was built for an emperor, it wasn’t really that extravagant. We went down flights of stairs that seemed to never end. It was cool down there, everything was white, and gave you a solemn feeling.
Death is irresistible. Everyone dies, powerful people, wealthy people, poor people, people with or without a disability, they all die. It is a bit sad, so maybe there needs to be a sad bit in Irresistible as well. But for Sirens, they rejoiced after their death, because in death they find freedom. Every coin has two faces really.”
After a simple lunch at a local farmhouse, the journey went on.
Jez, “I have seen the Great Wall so many times on postcards and telly, but seeing it in front of you is just so different. It blows your head off!” The scenery inspired Jez musically. He played a tune that showed tranquility, and then it picked up the pace that resembled the army who defended the city, as well as the builders who carried all the rocks to this remote part.
Jez thought it was a challenge when he climbed the Cow and Calf. This time, Jez looked at the steps sprawling in front of him, he bit his lips and marched on. “You have to be a warrior to do this. People who built this did it, I think it would be a challenge for me. And now, I made it! This is what a traveler needs to do.”
Day 2 – Tuesday
First on the agenda or the day was a meeting with One Plus One Radio Station, who interviewed Jez last time he was in Beijing.
Jez: “It’s great to see familiar faces. I met them in 2006 when I performed On the Verge in Beijing. They recognised me right away. They said I was hard to forget. We chatted about creative ideas about Irresistible, including adding Chinese mythologies and characters, and what does “the journey” means. We also got to know how each other work. This is useful for if we can get the chance to collaborate in the future.”
That evening, they went to see the Chinese Opera.
Jez said, “It’s amazing how they elongated each line. I especially like the percussion instruments which make the piece very exciting. The fighting was also amazing! It gave me idea for Irresistible, maybe when the crew first met me, we can have a fight scene.”
Day 3 – Wednesday
They checked out the National Olympic Stadium (Birds Nest) and the National Aquatics Centre (Water Cube) by bus. “The scale was stunning. It was MASSIVE!” said Jez.
When Jez heard Beijing Olympic songs being played through the speakers he said, “These are the kind of songs I want to write for London Olympics. It’s like a celebration, joyous and grand. I don’t mind it being a bit pop.”
Before they left the UK, Jez had arranged to meet up with Zhou Yunpeng, a fellow musician and performer, in a bar called Jianghu which is located in Mianhua Hutong (cotton street). Jianghu is owned by a friend of Zhou. Jez and Zhou chatted about music and the styles they’re into. It turned out that they had a lot in common. Zhou is a traveler himself, he plays at festivals all over Europe and China.
Day 4 – Thursday
They also took the opportunity to visit a theatre company, called Hua Dan (Hua Dan means the heroine in Beijing Opera). Mind the Gap have never worked with them before, so they discussed the artistic visions of both organisations, and Jez talked to them about why Mind the Gap work in the way we do, “It was good to learn about other people’s ways of working. They were nice people, it will be great to work with them some time in the future. Mind the Gap and Hua Dan share a lot of common values”
“I couldn’t wait for the afternoon to come,” said Jez, “because we were going in the studio to record with Zhou! You wouldn’t imagine that there is such a well equipped studio behind where you first went in, it looked like a warehouse” (see picture below)
Nice Tune Studio, where Jez and Zhou recorded, have collaborated with Jacky Chan in the past… yes, THE Jacky Chan! Thought they only had 2 hours booked, they ended up playing for 4 hours because the ideas just kept coming, “We just kept trying different stuff, we jammed with harmonica, guitar, penny whistle and keyboards” said Jez.
Jez: “That evening, we went to see the Mongolian band recommended by Zhou. It was really something different, I enjoyed it a lot. I especially liked the extra high tones the singer could reach. The other accompanied in very low tones. It was so interesting.”
Day 5 – Friday
“We left Friday flexible so we could do the things that we had missed out the other days. We wanted to see another more authentic Beijing Opera, but the tickets were out of our price range (800 RMB is about £80).
We walked along canals and bridges, saw small construction sites and cranes, met school children and old folk fishing by the lake.” Jez said.
“We finally sat down in a bar next to a lake, it was so relaxing. I heard some drumming in the distance. It was the dragon boat team practicing,” he said. Never one to miss an opportunity, straight away he started to memorize and repeat the rhythm of the dragon boat commands.
“We met another group of travellers in the hotel lobby when we were about to go for dinner, we took them to the nearby restaurant for some nice sweet and sour chicken. It was great chatting to people along the way and learning about their traveling stories.
They were in the middle of a Trans-Siberian Railway journey to Moscow. Maybe this could inspire my next journey?”
Jez, “This trip opened my eyes. I gained a different perspective from last time when I was in Beijing. This time I mingled with local people, had nice chats with artists, and saw a lot of new things. It was so different from last time since – we are freer. I did not see any disabled people last time and felt that they were kept away. But this time, I came across a few of them. I think it is very important for people to be visible and speak out.
Although Joyce and me got stared at quite a lot, I think that people are curious and I did not find them offensive. I smiled at them and always got a smile back.
We also took public transports and went places by our own means instead of using taxis all the time. It’s what a traveler does, one has to be resourceful and flexible, always be alert, but at the same time enjoy yourself.
This journey let me challenge myself, like what I did at the Great Wall, and I proved that I could do it.
Now I really have a lot to think about and a lot to work on with my keyboard!”
Take a look at our adventure in pictures!
Chef sliced the Beijing duck in front of the customers (at a restaurant in Wangfujing)
Posing next to a couple of “solid performers” (On Wangfujing shopping street)
Wangfujing food market
There is a paradox that goes like this: “what if an irresistible force meets an immovable object?” I want to try out different things and images base on that idea. In Jingling of Ming Tomb I saw this tree as if it was pushed over. That inspired me to make an interesting image with it.
Another funny-angled tree that inspired a different image
Underneath the arch of Jingling
The monument of Xuande (Ming emperor) was immovable. Meanwhile the onlookers looked concerned…
There was a long painting outside the Jingling of Ming tombs showing the spectacular procession of Ming funeral. It was amazing!
The scenery was spectacular and wide
Great Wall of China (Wutianyu)
I travel on
Crane spotting (On Houhai bar street)
A flute player practicing in a park at Houhai. I played some music with him.
I have never seen any thunder storm like this in England.
A glimpse of how Chinese Opera actors put on their make up at the foyer of Liyuan Theatre
Guests in the front seats of the Liyuan Theatre (the posh seats!) were served tea and snacks
Observing bit of the ceremony by the Chinese Communist Party as they welcomed new comers to the party
Inside the National Olympic Stadium, or the Bird’s Nest
Starting point. Where do we go from here?
This was my favorite restaurant, we ate there almost every night (Joyce says, “it was like having sweet and sour with Fidel Castro!”)
My skill with chopsticks improved a lot (Joyce and I were having lunch at a road-side cafe before going in the studio)
Zhou Yunpeng is a musician with a visual impairment who we went to visit. He tours around China and Europe. We were having a practice before actual recording.
Nice Tune Studio, where we all had to change into slippers before we could go in
I have seen these kind of drums lots of times, and finally I got the chance to play one in Nice Tune Studio
Me and Zhou enjoyed working together. I hope to work with him more in the future.
The Mongolian band was very popular
A Hutong (Hutong is the word local people use to call traditional streets)
Me and Joyce met this guy playing bamboo clickers on the street and I grabbed the chance to play a bit of music with him.
We hope you enjoyed our photo diary.
Bye bye Beijing. Hope to see you soon, love Jez & Joyce.
Jez here, we’ve just come back from drinks with Zhou, who is a musician we have been spending time with. He is very chilled out and I like him a lot, we share a lot musically.
We will be seeing a Mongolian band with him in another bar tomorrow nite, but before that we’ve got a recording studio booked for 2 hours so that we can do some work together. It’s very exciting!
There was a big thunder storm last nite, I did a lot of lightning watching – it was amazing, I’ve never seen anything like that before.
Jez and Assistant Theatre Director, Joyce Lee are spending all week in Beijing in China. They are meeting other artists and doing research to help Jez develop Irresistible. They’ll be sending regular updates so keep up with their adventures through this blog.
We visited the great wall today! Jez said: “You have to be a warrior to climb this! I’ve seen it many times on television, on postcard, but the greatness of the real thing just blows your head off.”
We discovered that sometimes walls can be destroyed and bits ware off, but generations rebuilt it and renovate it. So it’s still here after thousands of years.
We have also visited the Ding Ling of Ming Tombs, where a Ming Dynasty emperor was buried, it was all white and like an underground palace. It made Jez think about death, and that death is also irresistible.
We came across a man in the park who was playing flute and Jez jammed with him for a bit, which really impressed some local ladies who were there too!