Ba Guan

Yes, that's my back

What better way to spend Friday night than with a load of glass cups sucking the life out of your back! Let me introduce you to the Chinese Art of Ba Guan which probably means something along the lines of Cupping (which makes me think of something altogether less pleasant).

It’s a form of traditional Chinese medicine in which you get a load of glass cups stuck to your back in various configurations.¬†Similar¬†to the principles of acupuncture, different areas of your back relate to different internal organs. If it’s done really traditionally they use a lighted taper before placing the cups, thus creating a vacuum and causing you to be sucked into a glass cup the size of your fist.

Instruments of torture

We got a do it yourself kit when we were in China. It’s a lot easier than using fire. Stick the cup where you want it to go and then use the handy pump to suck out the air. Before you ask, the answer is No. I’ve never used the pump for any other purpose. Or at least not when anyone else is around ūüėČ

It’s bloody painful to begin with. Your skin is pulled so tight it feels like you’ve got a ten ton weight on top of you. However, after a while the pain seems to fade away and it’s almost relaxing. I say almost. Lets not get carried away here. When it’s finished (about 10 to 15 minutes), the relief of having the cups taken off is just bliss. It’s well worth doing just to experience that final stage.

The Aftermath

Once done, your back looks a little bit like you’ve battled the Kraken and lost. Big red welts cover your back. To begin with, they are raised and swollen. This swelling goes down quite quickly and then you can see the damage. Apparently, the redder and darker the circle the less healthy you are. We did the operation on a very unhealthy friend of ours – bad diet, smoker, blah blah and his back was a mess. The redness bordered on black and he just looked horrendous. Interestingly, he now swears that this is all baloney and doesn’t do a thing. Hmm.

What do I think? I’m not sure. It’s worth a try at the very least. I didn’t feel¬†noticeably¬†better straight after. In fact, I puked my guts up. However, the next day I’m sure I felt a bit sprightlier. I couldn’t swear to it and it may well be the placebo effect.

Will I do it again? For sure. I must be a bit of a masochist but I quite liked the sensation. I’m also quite open to traditional methods. It’s not like taking a load of harsh chemicals into my system and I think that has to be a good thing.

So what’s next? Acupuncture? Maybe. All those needles scare me but hey, it won’t be the first time I’ve felt a little prick – wah hey!

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Babies

Babies

My wife and I had a bit of spare time last night (to all of you with babies – remember spare time? Most of our spare time is cleaning up toys and food) so we decided to watch this documentary about babies. With an obvious reason for wanting to watch this (for those of you who don’t know, we have an almost 11 month old daughter) this seemed like a perfect choice of documentaries to pass the time, even if it was a bit of a busman’s holiday. Totally off topic, the expression busman’s holiday is about 200 years old – how about that?

So is it worth a watch?¬†Definitely. I’m not sure how people would find this if they don’t have a baby of their own. It is, after all, 1 hour and 20 minutes about babies. Having said that, it’s not just about the baby. It’s also about the culture and context in which they are growing up in and that for me was a fascinating part of the documentary.

It focuses on 4 babies from 4 very different cultures – Namibia, Japan, Mongolia, and America. The documentary starts from birth and goes up to around their first birthday. There’s almost no dialogue but there is a gentle, not too instrusive soundtrack running through. I found the camera work very beautiful, almost entirely focused on the baby with the adults often out of the picture. It showed things from their perspective as much as possible and I loved every minute of it.

The different culture aspect was a huge part of the movie. From a personal point of view, this was very interesting for me. With our baby being a mixed baby the different elements of culture influencing the raising of a child was very pertinent. Even though we are living in England, the Chinese aspect of our lives is quite high in our list of priorities. Both of us would like our child to appreciate and respect both her Chinese and English heritage if at all possible. Only time will tell how that pans out!

Going back to the documentary then. An interesting thing for me was that despite four very very different environments, all four babies seemed to develop at roughly the same stages. Being an ex-teacher, I would say that experience and the context of that experience are important to development. Despite the four babies here having very different experiences, they all had very¬†similar¬†growth patterns. I’m not an expert in child development apart from a bit of Piaget’s pyschology but it does make me want to do a bit more research. If only I had the time!

Anyway, I heartily recommend this movie. If you’re not a fan of babies this probably won’t change your mind. However, if you are a fan of anthropology , travel, and/or (at the risk of getting all gushy) life, then this is well worth an hour or so of your time.

Turlygod’s first (and only?) gig

When I played with the Jamming Arabs, I was also playing with a band called Turlygod. I can’t remember if we were The Turlygod, The Turlygods, Turlygods or just Turlygod. I guess it’s not so important. We did this one gig and that was pretty much it. The line up was Chaddy on vocals, Chris Horner on bass, Phil Weller and Michael Blackwood (who could actually play really well) on guitar and yours truly on drums. I can’t really remember why we didn’t do any more gigs. Probably cos I was so shit. ¬†I’m not sure if we even jammed after this gig.

Chaddy, Chris and myself did go on to play together in another band, roping in my good friend Damien on guitar. With this line up we did a couple of local gigs, and generally got a bit better but nothing ever came of it. Good times though.

Anyway, back to this gig. Musically, it was pretty much a collection of covers. There are a couple of Lemonhead songs, a song by the Odd Numbers, even an old Green Day song. All murdered by my incompetent drumming. Sorry lads!

Some highlights of the gig:

  1. Rob Sunley shouting “Egos! Get off!” early on – cheers for the encouragement Rob!
  2. We started off playing Slayer’s “South of Heaven” which cunningly slipped into the Lemonheads version of “Luka”. A couple of metal heads started edging towards the staff for some head banging and then scuttled away when they realised we were going to massacre one of their anthems. Sadly, I royally cocked up the drums coming in a beat (or a bar? who knows) too early. Michael did very well to recover.
  3. Chaddy reading the lyrics to “And Then I Kissed Her” – very classy! He also bottled the last line as we were playing the Hard-Ons version. I’m sure you know what those cheeky scamps changed the last “And then I kissed her” to. I’ll give you a clue. The word “kissed” was changed for something less savoury.

So now the question is: Who was better? Turlygods or Jamming Arabs? Let me know!

The Jamming Arabs – First Ever Concert!

Looking young and fresh!

Many years ago I used to play in a band called The Jamming Arabs. We had a lot of fun, drank too much beer and¬†occasionally¬†played some gigs. As I was clearing out some stuff the other day I found a VHS Video cassette of our first gig. Strictly speaking, it’s not our first ever gig, but it’s the one we like to remember as being the first. The real first one was a half-arsed (drunk) attempt at one song that went badly wrong and we ended up running out of the room.

Anyway, our first real gig (I’m happy calling it that) was at Prior Pursglove College in 1992. We were all very nervous with memories of that first first gig still fresh in our minds. We had practised (I think) and gave it our best shot. The musicianship is pretty shaky, there’s lots of speeding up and lots of gaffs. Having said that, we had a great time and I’d like to think the audience did as well.

It was interesting for us to play as we weren’t exactly a typical band at the time (which tended to be blues/rock stuff) and we were sort of worried about the reception. You can’t really tell from the video but I think it all went down well. At the very least we stood out from the rest of the bands that night (one of which I also played in – Turlygods if anyone remembers – I’ve got the video of that as well).

The video submitted here sounds a bit harsh in the cold light of day but it comes with lots of good memories. We played our arses off, made lots of mistakes but somehow seemed to get away with it all.

"Never Bin Surfin" album cover

I left the band when I left the country and they went on to become The Columbos who still have a Myspace website out. We did end up recording a proper album and everything which was kind of cool. A good friend of mine put our album up for download on his website so get yourself there for a cracking listen! Good times. I have to admit, I still miss playing those gigs.

As I was looking around the Internet trying to find some pictures, I came across a group called The Evil Things and a guy called BART who lists his worst ever gig as being the Jamming Arabs! What a tool…..then again, he might have a point.

Anyway. I digress. Without further ado, I present to you our first ever gig!

This is part one. Some highlights of the show include:

  1. Around 9 minutes in Dave royally cocks up and gives a cheeky chuckle.
  2. Just before the 11 minute mark you can clearly hear someone in the audience saying in a very fed up voice “get on with it”. I’ll never know who that was.
  3. Just after the 11 minute mark was the¬†disaster¬†that is “Hard Days Night”. I don’t think we ever managed to play this all the way through.

Part Two of the gig (as Youtube allows a maximum of 15 minutes). Hightlights (if you can call them such):

  1. The Moose Dance! James doing what became his legendary moose dance. You can see the moose rearing it’s ugly head around 0:14 and then that beast wakes up fully around 0:30. Watch and learn the moves of a master groover…
  2. Around one minute in the song ends or there’s a break in the song which I forget and try to cover up my mistake by a wildly inappropriate bass drum hit.
  3. There’s a song called Marsupial Sam (I think) that we play around 4 minutes in. I speed up so much it’s not even funny. I think this managed to get me labelled as the only drummer in the area without¬†rhythm.

If you do decide to watch it please remember it was 1992, we were young, dumb and full of about half a pint of shandy.

Thanks go to Robin for recording this gig all those years ago and to Ian for taking the VHS and putting it onto DVD for me. Cheers chaps!

Sky 2

The second album by Prog. Rock group, Sky. Cleverly titled "Sky 2".

Just got my vinyl copy of this delivered today from E-Bay so thought it would be apt to write about it. First off, the vinyl comes in a gatefold sleeve – how awesome is that?! Buying CDs or downloading MP3s just doesn’t seem to have the same feeling as holding a large piece of cardboard. Product of my age? Sadly I think the answer would be yes.

Being a drummer I’m sort of qualified to write a music review. Sort of. So lets begin!

Why is this record so great? I think part of the answer lies in nostalgia. We used to own this on cassette in my family and every time we would go on holiday this would be played. So now when I listen to it, happy memories of camping up in Scotland come flooding back and it’s a good feeling. When I used to listen to this as a child I used to dream up little stories to go with each song. I can even remember some of the stories. Most involved me being able to fly or being super cool in the eyes of a certain young girl I thought I would love forever (hey, I was 9 at the time!).

So the question is, do I actually like the music or the memories the music provides? After listening to it, I can¬†definitely¬†say I not only like the music, I love it! It’s awesome. The drums are a tad bouncy-sounding but I don’t care. The whole set up is fantastic. Oddly, some of my favourite tracks are the straight classical covers. We have the keyboard player putting some Rameau through his paces and we also have the guitarist running through some of Vivaldi’s guitar pieces. Lovely. The album finishes off with a rock rendition of Bach’s Toccata which I’m pretty sure got in the charts. I’m sure I remember seeing them on Top of the Pops – the most¬†unlikely¬†group of chaps you could ever imagine. I think the bass player was wearing a woolly pulley.

I think this is the official video that went with the release of Toccata. Look carefully and you’ll catch a glimpse of that woolly pulley – dude! Also to watch for is the drummer’s expression around 1:18 in as he gets his groove on. Oh yes.

Generally, the music is expertly played progressive rock with¬†definite¬†classical leanings. Song structures are quite complex and there are some mad time structures. However, I find that the intricacies doesn’t¬†detract¬†from the actual music. When I’m listening to the album I’m not finding myself thinking “Hmmm, nice 5/4 beat there” or “Wow, that’s a lovely bridge”. I’m simply thinking “Great music” and that to me is a sign of a great band.

Anyhoo, don’t take my word for it. Check out this guy’s website – all of Sky’s work is listed along with sound clips and a load more information than I could be arsed to write. You can pick up copies on E-Bay for a pound or you can buy the CD from Amazon.

Right, I’m off to see if I can buy their first album. Happy listening!

Frozen

Frozen

Last night the wife and I watched Frozen. I thought it might be interesting to write a review of the movie so I loaded up Chrome and sat myself down to hack away at a cheap and cheerful review. Crisis! As a regular movie watcher I think I’m ¬†pretty well qualified to give a review. As someone who knows nothing about the process of making movies (scripts, acting, editing, directing and the list seems to go on and on) maybe I’m not even vaguely qualified to write a review. If that’s the case, then should we only read reviews from people in the movie industry? I once had an argument with a guy who said I shouldn’t comment on art because I wasn’t an artist. Whilst I didn’t agree with him (beer+Russ=not always good at listening) it obviously struck a chord somewhere deep inside.

Anyway. What do you think? Are people who are not directly or currently involved in a¬†particular¬†scene suited to writing a review? How do we define involvement? I’m confusing myself.

Balls to it. Review it is!

The movie has a pretty basic premise. Three friends get stuck on a chair lift and have to get free. It’s bloody cold. That’s pretty much it. However, despite this rather simple idea the movie really worked for me. The cold was well represented and I actually felt a bit chilly listening to the wind and watching the snow. The music was non-intrusive and helped build the mood – more so for the sadder elements of the movie. Characters became fleshed out as the movie progressed and this helped with the emotional aspects of the film.

I read somewhere that it was billed as a horror movie but if you go to watch this expecting some out and out horror/gore you’ll be a bit disappointed. There were some grisly moments but nothing too bad. I guess what made them nasty is that they were realistic and not over the top. I mean, you could picture them happening without too much stretching the imagination. There was no axe wielding maniac in the snow swinging for our heroes. If anything, I thought the movie was heart-achingly sad. There were some genuinely touching moments that were well conveyed by the actors and I really felt for them.

Negatives of the movie? There were some moments of stupidity. For example, they have good ski jackets on with hoods that could be tied down. Surely even in moments of panic and despair you would pull up your hood and have as little flesh exposed as possible. Also the introduction of the wolves, whilst working quite well in the movie, didn’t really work so well with me. I would have thought that wolves would only attack humans if desperate. I’m pretty sure these wolves weren’t desperate – they were living close to humanity for one thing.

Anyway, ignoring those two bits the rest of the movie was great. I was on the edge of my chair for some bits, cringing in places and having a teary eye at other times. All in all, well worth a watch.

So there! Review done! Go and see it, let me know what you think and tell me your reviews…..

Toilet Etiquette Part Two – China

A typical squat - taking from our local boozer

As you may know, I spent a fair bit of time living and working in China. Over the four years or so I learnt a thing or two about how to use the toilets there so I thought I’d share it with you. You never know, some of this might actually be useful. I did say might so don’t sue me.

First off, travelling in a foreign country always comes with the risk of getting the runs. A corny quote but one that is quite apt, “It’s a brave person who farts in Asia”. Very true and one which I’ve sadly tested to be true. So what I’m trying to say is expect to get aquintated with the local toilets at some point.

You may hate McDonalds and KFC – I’m not going to get into how corrupt and evil huge multi-national corporations are. Even if you hate them there’s no denying they usually have the best toilets. You can also use them without having to buy anything. Of course it helps if you know where the toilets are located. What I’ve found is that in both Micky Dee and KFC there are lots of enthusiastic staff who will wave and shout at you for your order. Eyes down, and head for the loo. They are usually clean and have paper. You might see some odd things there. I saw one bloke with his baby daughter trying to get her to poop in the urinal. It didn’t work. I also saw an old boy there take his pants down and start taking a crap without bothering to shut the door. I didn’t stay to watch. Another good thing about McDonalds is that there a loads of them in big cities. I remember being in Shanghai and being able to see 3 of them at any one time along a main road.

If you need to go and can’t (or won’t – hey, it’s your choice, I’m going to judge) go to KFC or McDonalds then it could be anything. There are lots of public toilets dotted around but the quality varies. The stench can be almost overpowering in even the cleanest of places so prepare yourself for the worst. I’ve been known to puke before due to the smell (I kid you not) but that’s usually after a good booze session the night before.

Let’s cover the basics before looking at the toilets themselves. Wiping the bum is the order of the day. Unlike places like India or Sri Lanka, there are no facilities to wash your tush. Therefore you’ll almost certainly need to have paper if you need to crap. If the toilet is public and you have to pay then you can usually buy a small packet of tissues. Any supermarket in China sells tissues in handy packets so get a couple and keep them with you. A word of warning, though. A lot of the tissues come heavily scented. If you have allergies, they might kick off at the scent. A bloke I knew (I’ll not call him a friend – he was a sponger and basically odd) had said allergies and tried to blow his nose on a scented tissue. His nose swelled up to an alarming size and snot ran down like green rain. Not pleasant. Part of me felt concern, the more evil part of me snickered.

Payment for public toilets varies. If it’s unattended, it’ll be free but you never know what you’re going to find. Paid toilets tend to be a bit safer but it’s still a gamble. You’re not talking mega bucks but have a few coins ready. People oddly never have change to give. Strange.

There’s a good chance you’re going to encounter the squat toilet. This tends to be a hole in the ground with foot plates on either side. I’ve met a lot of people who hate the squat but I think it’s much better. If nothing else, your bum isn’t coming into contact with anything dirty. It may feel a bit odd squatting and dumping, especially if you’re used to having a good read to pass the time. However, I’ve noticed that you tend to crap a lot quicker – must be something about the angle. The squat also has the advantage of going into a hole somewhere. You might find that you’re having to poo over a trough. People “upstream” of you are also dumping into this trough and it’s not uncommon to see mounds of turds float underneath you. Not pleasant, I have to say. If you’re out in the villages, there generally is no water so whatever the condition of the toilet, you’re dumping onto a huge stinking mound of god knows what. I pray I never have to find out. Unfortunately, these mounds are generally covered in flies having the best buffet of their lives. Your deposit will probably wake them from their stupor into a fresh feeding frenzy.

If you’ve never used a squat before it’s really not that hard. Make sure your trousers, underpants, whatever are all the way down. For the gentlemen reading this, make sure the general is pointing south before beginning. I like to get my little tissue packet out before settling down so I’m not¬†scrabbling¬†around for paper after I’m done. Put your feet either side of the hole. Most squats tend to have the main hole at the back, and a shallow bowl at the front. Point your arse towards the main hole and aim to wee into the shallow bowl. Hopefully you’re squatting by this time – if not, squat before it’s too late. It’ll all make sense when you’re there. And that’s it. Have at it!

Once you’re done, you might find there’s a little bin for the paper. If not, I put the paper into the toilet. I’ve seen some people put the paper behind the toilet, leaving a lovely pile of poo-ey paper. Delicious. The bins themselves are not pleasant but at least it’s a central location that, in theory, gets emptied out. Ho hum. Do whatever feels natural but remember that you run the risk of blocking the toilet if there is a bin provided that you don’t use. You never know when you’re going to need that toilet again so think about it before getting rid of your paper.

So now we’ve covered the actual toilet, lets look at the general building. Some toilets have cubicles to crap in. Some have low walls and low doors so your dignity is covered whilst you squat but you might want to wipe whilst squatting and not standing. Some have low walls but no door so you’re reasonably secure but with the chance of exposure. However, you might come across the public dumper. It’s happened to me once or twice. What can you do? Either hold it in or go with the flow. I’ve found the best solution is to quickly find your spot, whip down the duds, squat with your hands out in front of you and your head down and then let loose hell on the unsuspecting fellow dumpers.

If you are travelling on a train there are normally decent enough toilets. However, these can sometimes just be holes that open out onto the train track below so they will be shut in the city. The toilets also start off nice and clean but as the journey drags on the toilets get dragged down. By the end of a 12 hour trip those toilets are practically dripping. Buses are a mixed bunch. A lot don’t have any toilets but might stop more often. Some buses have a rudimentary toilet but never bank on it. For that reason alone, I prefer to take the train. It might take longer but it can be safer, you can have a stroll along the train buying beer and snack, and there are toilets.

After you’ve done whatever you need to do you might want to wash your hands. Hopefully you’ll want to wash your hands. I’m not here to judge mind you. This can be problematic. Not all toilets have sinks. Not all toilets have water. Like I said before, if you’re in KFC etc there’s a good chance for hot water, soap and even a hand dryer. Failing that, I found a trusty bottle of no-water soap worked wonders. At the risk of being graphic, you may get poop on your hands. It happens to all of us, I’m sure. In this case, a bottle of water might be your best bet. The tissues you buy tend to be pretty heavy duty mind you so you’re not likely to go through the paper unless you’re grinding really hard. Something to think about, eh?

The character for Man
The character for Woman

Finally, not all toilets are signposted in English (and why should they) and not all toilets have pictures. Some will just have the¬†Chinese¬†characters for man and woman. I’d recommend learning these two characters early on. Not complicated and it’ll save you some¬†embarrassment¬†later on. The picture to the far left is for men (honest!) and the one to the right is for women. I remember if because the bloke character has a box on top which is supposed to represent carrying hay or something. Alternatively, you can have lots of fun directing your unsuspecting visiting friends to the wrong toilet. What larks!

So that’s me done. Nothing to worry about, really. It’s all part of the experience. Chalk it up to part of your time in China and you won’t go wrong.