recapturing the essence

recapturing the essence

By Josephine Johnson

Home.  Jet-lagged.  2 am and awake, awake, awake. On the floor in the parlor, street light falling silent through stained glass curved and great. This is my space, where I live, where I belong, where it all happens.  My spirit (and many, many others) are here.

We’re all much more than our possessions, right? No one is defined solely by what she owns, but it’s a warm,

Grandma, I'm home--brought you some feathers, blue one from Laos

Grandma, I'm home--brought you some feathers, blue one from Laos

identity-affirming hug to be here now admiring so many special feathers on the mantle, guitars, tambourines, amplifiers, scarves, hats, fossils, beads, books, Willie, Meows—my favorite things. And I am more than all this, but these sure do help recall who I am, help me remember that I’m not just an English-teaching,

sino-linguistically impaired specter haunting classrooms, buses, and crowded streets somewhere in central China. I remember. Yes, I am a teacher, but I’m also an artist, musician, writer, observer, lover, singer, priestess, passionate poet—a socially awkward geek with a flair for melody, rhythm, and the English language.

And much more of course…

Fixing the Washing Machine, Xi’an, China from Josephine Johnson on Vimeo.

Let’s catch up.

Shortly after June 1st, I was no longer able to post to this blog. The big folks in Beijing, an internet techno-junta of more than 30,000, finally decided they’d had enough. They were thorough, too, nullifying my ability to access

I've been a bad Mom. They refuse to look me in the eye...beg, grovel...wet food? Willie, Meows, Please?

I've been a bad Mom. They refuse to look me in the eye...beg, grovel...wet food? Willie, Meows, please?

gmail and all social media. I kept writing, confident that once back in the States I’d be able to post my adventures.

After 10 months in China teaching, singing, making Chinese friends, talking with other foreigners, and despite the dismal economic news, vanishing  American job prospects faithfully reported on CNN & BBC, I’ve come to appreciate just how great the good ol’ USA is. Watch out, about to get patriotic, but it’s merited, and the timing couldn’t be better. Why’s the U.S. so great? Number one reason: the First Amendment and the rights it guarantees.  The First Amendmentsupports an individual’s right to independent thought(s), and it guarantees the right to express those thoughts free from government interference— individual thought or opinion and freedom of expression make this nation great and strong. For the most part (let’s disregard Obama’s extension of the Patriot Act for a moment), in America we can enter into passionate debate and loudly profess how much we disagree with our government and/or its political acts and parties without fear of being black

street music

street music & Inner-Mongolian Student Friends

balled, censored, or worse. In the States we can agree to disagree safe from political retaliation for personal beliefs outside the Party line; we can rest assured that our home won’t be invaded and occupants taken away because someone turned us in for having and expressing thoughts subversive to the State. The First Amendment may well be the best part of being an American— wanna disagree? Go!

But I did have an excellent adventure in China, met some very kind people—many students, local Xi’an folks, and travelers and teachers from all over the world. Shared music with many

Bob & Peter: Two-thirds of the Brothers Hughes with whom I woulda gone to Hainan...

Bob & Peter: Two-thirds of the Brothers Hughes with whom I woulda gone to Hainan...

supportive people, too—I had three regular weekly gigs at Park Qin, the Belgian Bar, and Vice Versa.  But playing in bars, though, limited who could hear the music I had to share—mostly foreign travelers or wealthy Chinese business men could hear me. No children (personal demographic fave) could hear. This troubled me.  I’m a folksinger, of the people, and so the more I played the bar scene, the more I felt pulling at my heart the need to connect with everyday people and young folks.  Solution? I took to the streets and found that by playing various sidewalks and underpasses around Xi’an I could connect more genuinely with a broader range of Chinese folks—older people were baffled at first, and kids never failed to smile; college students often gave ‘thumbs up,’ and the wealthier set always tried to give me Yuan, which I occasionally accepted. I most usually refused money

musician bonding

musician bonding

because I wanted to share

A bird pooped on my shoulder & this kind guy wiped it away. We sang & people took pics. One of my favorite music memories

A bird pooped on my shoulder & this kind guy wiped it away. We sang & people took pics. One of my favorite music memories

music for the sake of love and connection—I didn’t want it to be obscured by transaction or to receive money as sign of appreciation. Though I couldn’t communicate this, with all my heart I tried to express that the best payment anyone could give was to listen, clap, sing, hum, harmonize, and just enjoy the moment. But if a rich business man insisted on a 100 Yuan bill, then OK. Sometimes insistence won. Don’t argue with the business set—they’re Party connected (mostly).

Near the end of the adventure I had two offers to join music ensembles—one in Hainan (really, read this NYT article link), the other in Xi’an. Hainan is an island in the South China Sea and is often considered the Hawaii of China. It’s a tropical paradise

Because you will

Because you will

that attracts uber-wealthy vacationing Chinese business people as well as Russian oil barons. The gig I was offered there would entail playing three, forty-five minute sets of popular covers 6 nights a week. OK. The initial compensation package was something like 10,000 RMB per month for each member (four total), plus the company would provide two, two-bedroom apartments at no cost to the musicians. But when it came time to talk real terms—before we all got our instruments on a train headed to Hainan—the offer became more like 7,000 RMB per month—plus we each would have to put 1,000 RMB (monthly) toward renting one, three-bedroom apartment. Uhhh… It didn’t sit right with me the whole arrangement—plus, I would have been the only woman of four musicians—not a prude on this, really, just not so sure I wanted to live with three dudes

Oh, Bob!  Peter wields voo doo behind you...

Oh, Bob! Peter wields voo doo behind you...

(John, Bob, Peter, love you, but a girl like me needs her space ). By the time we would have gotten to Hainan and were essentially captive, who knows how much further the terms would have slid (a two bed-room apartment for all four of us? Yikes.) The guys went on without me and have vowed to keep me in the loop—I wish great times and music to them, fine weather for sure!

The other musical opportunity was to play with this multi-cultural group that specifically wanted a western

Oh dear

Oh dear

woman who played guitar. This project would have been based in Xi’an playing a variety of music—Chinese pop, American country (big in China), and folk from South Africa and Ghana. These folks are great musicians. There’s Malvern an ethnomusicologist on sabbatical from teaching music in South Africa; Naomi sings American pop and folk music from Ghana, (she’s from Ghana) hip hop dances, too; Tommy is a Chinese pop music genius. These three also know a keyboardist and trumpet player.

Andrew’s Song (multi-cultural) from Josephine Johnson on Vimeo.

The project really could be a (and likely will without me) force of international scale, love, and unity. Or just a lot of fun with really nice folks.  This came up just a week before I left. We played fuzzball and jammed together one afternoon. They

Big Goose Pagoda, June 4, 2011

Big Goose Pagoda, June 4, 2011

hot times + water = happy kids & people

hot times + water = happy kids & people

want me to go back. I will miss them tremendously. We will keep in touch. I guess I still have an out (in?) if jobs here at home don’t pan out…let’s hope it’s not as bad as CNN Asia & the BBC have portrayed—maybe all that crappy economic news was Chinese-crafted propaganda, re-tooled and crafted especially for English-speaking foreign teachers…to keep us there, keep our heads down…

Lastly, I have photos to share. These were taken on Saturday, June 4thin Xi’an.  Some are images of the afternoon fountain show at Big Goose Pagoda—little kids playing in the water too precious. There’s a busquing  pic (or busking? disagreement re: correct spelling. Playing on the street, street musician), a fruit

fun

super fun

vendor, and an image of a visual artist who crafts and draws her own bookmarks and post cards. She uses earth tones and a muted color palette of mellow teals, a range of mustard yellows, soft burgundy, and subdued pine greens. Fine illustrations, too. Check out her work. Order online Support a ‘local’ Chinese artist!!!

in the water

in the water

Here she is--she's great. Buy her stuff!!! Quality.

Here she is--she's great. Buy her stuff!!! Quality.

I have a few more China posts to make mostly documenting final goings on in China.

fresh fruit always

fresh fruit always

More soon.

little red princess

little red princess

Enjoy!

~love, Jos

Splash!

splash!