Monday, January 27, 2014

Tour Diaries: Do It Anyway

I feel tired, even after ten hours of sleep. Three weeks is about the time the exhaustion starts to set in. We've sat in dozens of airport terminals, at least fifty taxi cabs and vans, slept in boat-loads of hotel beds. I'm starting to feel the "tour haze". No matter how many naps I steal in between flights and shows, I'm not going to be able to escape it. I'm not looking forward to the 16-hour plane flight home and accompanying jet lag. 

Yes, I know traveling all over Southeast Asia, all expenses paid, is a dream. That doesn't mean I don't feel homesick at times and miss someone (special!) back in California. 

In the Philippines we appeared on a few t.v. shows and radio stations. Carlo was starstruck most of the time, pointing and saying, "Look there is so-and-so! She's dating so-and-so, and that guy over there just announced he is gay and is helping the homosexual community!" Stunning women stood next to me on stage and back stage. I felt under-dressed and under-make-uped where cameras flashed and host's grins sparkled like the tops of snowy glaciers. 

I told Nick over Skype I'm kind of glad he didn't come, because he might have been swept away by a pair of mysterious hazel eyes. 

Everyone sang in Manilla. Our cab driver sang. The greeter at the hotel sang. It's strange to see people without any inhibitions openly express themselves in public. 

After we landed in Malaysia, I tried to associate it to a place I had been to before. Hawaii was the closest I could think of. Our host said, "The similarities stop with the coconuts." After spending three days there, I agreed. 

The people are a mix of Malay, Chinese, and Indian. You can walk down the street and buy fresh vegetarian samosas made right in front of you from a little food cart while shopping for a sari, then walk a couple blocks more to what they call a "Hawker Center" and order up some authentic Chinese cuisine. I never stopped feeling exhilarated each time we walked out of a shopping mall or restaurant and were greeted by the ocean's gently rolling waves.

Dia's fans have been really respectful. A little too respectful. For example, at our signing at Puma, everyone shyly stood back a few feet from the store entrance and had to be ushered in by a Puma associate in order to get the ball rolling. In the states, at a festival I attended, people literally knocked over a chain link fence to be the first in line at a Modest Mouse signing. (Not that we are Modest Mouse status, but still…)

We spoke at a University in Malaysia about the music industry. The young students were equally as shy and respectful as the people coming to our shows. A member of the audience asked how a shy person might perform if she has stage fright. Dia replied that she is taking acting lessons to learn to not be shy. While I agree that a person doesn't have to give in to this personality trait, and one can learn how to be more outgoing, I still haven't discovered the secret to being fearless on stage.

I told the audience there has been one or two performances in my whole life when I haven't been afraid. All the rest of the shows, even still to this day, after seven years of performing, I'm still afraid. 

So I told the shy student, "So what if you are afraid? It's o.k. to be afraid. You aren't going to die."

Do it anyway.

It's o.k. to be afraid, to expect fear, to treat it like a pet that is going to show up anyway, so you might as well be prepared and allow it to sleep by your feet, just as long as it stays still and doesn't become too jumpy.

Do it anyway.

            Do it anyway.

                        Do it anyway.

Honestly, Meg

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Tour Diaries: Hong Kong

After re-applying eye makeup and doing our best to tame our airplane hair, we flew out of our hotel room, eager to experience the city we had been hearing so much about. "It's a mix between China and London! Awe, I wish I could come with you!" said our new friends in Beijing before we left. 

We only had to walk a few blocks from our hotel before we found all the action. It was late at night, but no one seemed tired or ready to slow down. Cities are made of the same basic elements: buildings, lights, people, noise. The way that these elements are combined is what interests me. Gucci and Dulce and Gabana's sparkling storefronts lured us in on every street corner. Business men in a hurry and women wearing dark shades of lip color rushed past us on the sidewalks. There is a real sense of urgency and ambition in Hong Kong. It feels kind of like New York in a strange way, minus all the familiarity of a U.S. country and great pizza. I felt as though there was an adventure waiting for me, ready to be lived and forgotten all in one night.

This is us at the top of The Peaks! We had to take a windy road up to the top, but it was totally worth it!
We made an instinctual left turn up a steep hill to discover a maze of cute boutique shops, late-night tapas bars, and attractive people crammed together around tall wooden tables, looking sophisticated with their cigarettes, effortlessly alternating between languages, from say, French to Chinese mid conversation. I have to admit, I envied all these worldly people who all seemed like they had such interesting stories to tell. As Dia and I stared in awe at all of the newness around us, I asked her, "How am I supposed to explain THIS in my blog." She just jumped up and down, skipped ahead of me and screamed "Hooong Kooong!" like a loony.

There is something quite liberating about traveling to foreign lands. Have you ever traveled to say, Omaha, Nebraska and had the thought, "I can do anything I damn well please, dress any way I like, say anything I want, because no one knows me here?"  Well, that feeling is multiplied by twenty when you travel to a different country where nobody can understand you even if you did say something bad about your eleventh grade English teacher. 

Luckily, Carlo's cousin's girlfriend Abigail agreed to show us around all the local haunts. Knowing someone who could show us around made all the difference. Sometimes it's fun to get lost and make discoveries all on our own, but most of the time we enjoy having a guide. We would have never found a bar where they stacked wine glasses, shot glasses, and beer mugs on top of each other, poured alcohol over the whole glassware pyramid, and then lit the entire work of art on fire. (Yes, you are supposed to drink this concoction while the flames are still burning. Makes the alcohol absorb into your system quicker or something. No, I didn't indulge!) 

We never would have found a secret pub located in the top floor of an abandoned building where you had to know the secret password to enter. Here we ordered sparkly lychee cocktails. Our tour manager drank a monstrous potion consisting of two shots of some insanely concentrated liquor inside a tumbler of more alcohol, inside a mug of beer with two more shots of liquor inside another giant mug of beer. I am not exaggerating, cross my heart! I can't remember the name of this drink, but I would have called it , "Drink me if you want to forget this night as well as the last three weeks of your life and perhaps your middle name as well." (Truth be told, I don't think he was even hung over the next day. I wouldn't have made it out of the elevator had I attempted to knock it down.)

Abigail also showed us an adorable little Mexican spot. Has anyone seen the movie, Labrinyth? Remember that part where the lead female character has to get through a wall in the maze that appears to be solid and impenetrable, but once she looks closer, she discovers there is an opening if she looks at it from the right angle? The pathway leading to this restaurant was just like that! You couldn't see it in between a tiny drug store and an old, decapitated apartment complex, but if you were standing just right and tilted your head just right, you could spot the restaurant sign. 

A tiny lantern lit the entrance. A body guard smiled at us as we slipped past a few passionate couples leaning in toward each other over glowing-neon margaritas. For those travelers among you looking to find love, it's quite possible you could fall in love at least 16 times your first night in Hong Kong. They played the music in that joint so loud, talking was out of the question but it didn't bother us or anyone else. We were all there to dance, scream, and stuff our faces with guacamole and homemade horchatas. 

As we continued on to the next bar/restaurant/shop, I couldn't help thinking, "I can't believe that Hong Kong has been here my whole life, and I am only just discovering it now," which made me realize how many other amazing places there are in the world that I have yet to discover! 



Saturday, January 18, 2014

T.V. Performance In Beijing

Because we were invited, last minute, to be one of the performers on a very popular t.v. show in Beijing, we immediately made arrangements to fly back from Shenzhen. The program will air as part of their New Years broadcast. James Blunt and Steve Vai performed on the show as well. Our promoter, Annie, tried to facilitate a meeting with us, (mainly Carlo), and Steve Via, but unfortunately we never did meet him. 

When we arrived at the front steps of the t.v. studio, a well-dressed and cheerful woman led us to the top floor. The room, filled with dusty backdrops and forgotten props, was divided into dressing rooms for all the artists. After an hour or two of staring at each other and picking at snickers bars and pringles, our host directed us to the second level where pretty Chinese men applied our makeup and fixed our hair. Dia and I had a difficult time talking to Carlo and keeping a straight face, since we were not used to seeing him so dolled up. They crimped Dia's hair and chose bright pink lipstick for her. She said, "I'm going back to the 80's!" as she relaxed back into the makeup chair, closed her eyes, and allowed the chatty men to complete their dirty work.

After James Blunt and his band finished their performance, we scurried onto the stage to begin ours. We had a difficult time understanding whether this performance was a rehearsal or would be the actual taped performance. A few bystanders sat in the audience along with a Chinese man, passionately waving about a laser. First he aimed the red dot directly at Dia's eye balls and then zig-zagged it across the stage, in order to show her where she should stand and walk.

 I thought she performed extremely well under the circumstances. Whenever she looked back at me, I tried to keep a brave face. My act must have worked. The producers were happy after only two takes. We were able to return to our hotel five hours early. Hurray!

Later that evening, while waiting for our dinner to arrive, I told everyone that I thought touring is like a crawfish dinner. 

"How so?" Dia asked.

"Before you are able to eat a crawfish, you spend an inordinate amount of time and effort struggling to remove a rough shell in order to enjoy a tiny little piece of seafood. It's the same way with tour. We travel, wait, and go through all of this effort only to play a tiny little twenty-minute set. Though the dainty crawfish's meat may be a small reward, that meat is so succulent and juicy, it is worth all the trouble.  Great shows are the same way. The feelings they inspire are SO worth all the effort and work necessary to play them!"

Our conversation then turned to relationships like it always seems to do, since we are two lonely females on tour, (and now one lonely man missing his new wife back home). Annie tells us about her Chinese culture. She is 27 years old and still single. She says that her culture places a lot of stress on women of her age to be married and settled. They call women like her, "left-over ladies." 

"Well, I'm a leftover lady too," I told her. We comforted our tender hearts by digging into a bowl of sweet mango sago, a delicious and popular desert found all over South East Asia. It kind of tastes like a thicker Indian mango lassi with tiny tapioca pearls and pieces of shredded pomelo sprinkled on top. (Some of you have commented that I write quite a lot about food during these travels. (Guilty as charged!) So I'm trying to keep myself from writing too much about food, but it is HARD I tell you!!!)

Dia, Annie, and I launched into a long discussion about the differences between her culture and our culture when it comes to marriage and relationships. Of course, Carlo yawned after listening to only a few moments of our discourse. He started a conversation with our Chinese monitor guy about the pleasures of drinking alcohol. Jerry didn't have much to say on the topic except that his nickname is "One Bottle Down." And well, I guess you can figure out why they call him that.

Now that we have moved on to our next city, I'm already missing the "Leftover Lady" and "One Bottle Down Man" :(

We still have Hong Kong, Manilla, Singapore, Bangkok, Bali, and Jakarta left. Here's a rundown of our remaining shows if anyone would care to join the party!

January 21st - Makati, Philippines @ Hard Rock Cafe
January 25th - Penang, Malaysia @ Hard Rock Cafe
January 27th - Singapore, Singapore @ TAB
January 29th - Bangkok, Thailand @ Hard Rock Cafe 
January 30th - Bali, Indonesia @ Hard Rock Cafe
January 31st - Jakarta, Indonesia @ Hard Rock Cafe

Honestly, Meg

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Tour Diaries: Show in Chengdu

Although the different cities we've been to so far have a lot of similarities, each city has its own distinct flavor, its own vibe. (Duh! I know. It's really interesting to experience them all side by side.) I prefer the clean streets and famous Dan Dan Noodles of Chengdu over the chilly weather and too-spicy hot soups of Beijing. 

The hospitality in our hotel in Chengdu is the best I've experienced anywhere in the world. We eat lunch at one of the hotel's restaurants. We have a choice between American and Chinese. We choose Chinese of course! Can't get enough of the dumplings and the noodles. This restaurant has an all-you-can-eat dumpling menu. We have a difficult time ticking off the little boxes next to the different choices of dim sum, since all of the flavors sound equally delicious.

I've never seen Carlo eat so much or be so excited about a meal. The food in China is definitely right up Carlo's alley. Even when we toured years ago in the U.S., our band would stop at an Olive Garden or a Chipotle, and Carlo would run off and return with some crazy Asian dish he picked up at a strip mall down the street. 

We order truffle oil and mushroom dim sums. They melt in our mouths. As we taste them, we can't talk or listen to each other. All we can do is focus on these heavenly dumplings, and let them take us, for a few moments, to a magical land far, far away. I'll have dreams about them for years to come. (I'm not even joking.)

After lunch, we head to the venue. The intersections are at least five times larger than any intersection I've seen in the U.S. Lanes go every which way, diagonal, left, right, and curly-cue.  Whenever the light turns green, I close my eyes and hope for the best. Carlo physically holds his hands out in a "please don't smash into us" position. Like that's going to do anything silly Carlo. There are just as many bicycles, scooters, and motorcycles as there are cars filling the streets. The honking is worse than New York. One of our cab drivers uses his brights to annoy other drivers as liberally as I use salt to annoy other diners. This causes me almost to break out in hives. Too bad the cabs don't come equipped with "oh-shit" bars in China. 

I really can't explain why some performances are spot and others feel like gut-wrenching piano recitals straight out of my childhood, in which my parents force me to participate or no sleepovers for me. 

The Chengdu show is magic. We all tap into the same mysterious energy that only shows up on its own accord. The show happens without the slightest hitch and with plenty of sparkle. Dia dances about the stage, smiling the entire time. Carlo bobs his head and taps his feet. I know they are loving every minute of being on stage, and I'm loving that they're loving it.  I'm enjoying myself, and finally I don't feel afraid. My voice isn't shaky or airy. I'm able to relax and sing out deep, rounded notes. Dia and my voices dance with each other like two sequined, skate partners gliding across ice.

There isn't a greater feeling in the world than playing in front of a crowd when you find that rare pocket of comfort. I wish I knew how to discover it during every show we play. Of course, I know this feeling can't last forever. In fact I don't think I would want it to, because it is much more magical when it's rare.  Also, we won't have a show like this every show we play, but I'm still going to revel in this feeling and this moment as long as I can.

When we have the rare gift of experiencing a show like this, I feel… limitless.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Tour Diaries: First Show Of The Tour

Carlo chooses to be responsible. He stays behind to re-string his acoustic guitar and prepare for our first show. Dia and I, on the other hand, have no problem delaying our show preparations to find some local cuisine. We take a short cab ride out to the Drum Tower, a popular Chinese hostel, in a quaint little neighborhood of Beijing. We admire the ancient streets with their ornate roofs and old brick buildings falling to pieces (in an artsy way!)  I've noticed that a lot of the businesses here use very clear and succinct English names such as "Half Coffee, Half Milk" or "Hair, Nails, Golf". I'm sure tourists, such as myself, appreciate this very much. (And yes, there really was a store called "Hair, Nails, Golf", you know, just in case you want to get your nails done and play golf at the same time.)

We weave back and forth between tiny alleys, and what looks to me like peoples' backyards. There are numbers on the businesses and houses sometimes, but Dia and I don't quite understand how the places are organized. We almost give in and ruin our appetites during our search as our mouths water over glazed-strawberry and cran-apple kabobs. ( I'm sorry, I don't know how to properly pronounce the Chinese name of these tasty, sweet treats that are sold on the backs of bicycles all over Beijing.)

Somehow, we find the restaurant. While our waitress directs us to our table, my purse brushes against the wall. I knock off a light fixture which shatters onto the floor into a hundred tiny pieces. I'm embarrassed. I can see that I've embarrassed Dia as well. We are trying so hard to be respectful in this foreign culture, and I'm not doing a very good job. Clumsy Americans!

After the color returns to my cheeks and my heart stops fluttering, Becca, a friend of Dia's and now a new friend of mine, orders us a spicy meal of peppers and fried goat cheese, tofu skins and mint, and these delicious turnip vegetables marinated in vinegar and Chinese spices. Thank goodness we have Becca to order for us. Have you ever heard of tofu skins? Apparently, one can find them in the U.S., but I never heard of them until I ate in Beijing. I strongly recommend you give them a try if you ever have the option.

After our meal, we return to the hotel. Lobby call is in the late afternoon. I feel jittery and excited as I pack for our first show. I bring a black sequin dress, black flats (I decided against my heels which I normally perform in), in-ear monitors, makeup, guitar picks, a capo, cables, and 9 volt batteries for my guitar tuner. I don't feel ready at all, but in these situations I try not to show my nerves so I don't make Dia nervous. We wait in the lobby for Cindy, the promotor and tour manager for the whole James Blunt production. She's been so helpful, communicating with sound guys and cab drivers and making sure we arrive at the venue on time.

A group of well-dressed, dapper English men walk in through the elevator doors. They must be James Blunt's crew. He follows closely behind, confirming our suspicions. Dia, Carlo, and I fall in line behind them, feeling slightly more important than moments before. We follow them outside to the vehicles waiting to take us to the venue. 

Once we arrive, I feel nostalgic walking into the guts underneath the arena. It is so much like the blake Shelton tour back stage: very industrial, very cold in both temperature and vibe. The biggest difference is these back stage areas are filled with stern-looking chinese guards. Dia and I got one of them to snap a photo of us. I swear I caught a smile on his face as we made silly expressions on ours. I could have just been seeing things though…

We run through the songs once before we step on stage. I can't contain my nerves during our performance. So many variables aren't lining up. My in ear monitors sound like we are playing under water. The audience is too polite and too quiet for me to lose myself in. I'm not completely confident that I've memorized the piano songs, even though I've been practicing them at least an hour a day for a month. Long breaths and poor attempts to still my mind don't save me, or us. I feel like a ventriloquist's dummy whose hinges haven't been oiled in years from the moment I played my first chord until the moment I clumsily grabbed my guitar cables and ran off stage. I hope tomorrow's show will improve. 

Honestly, Meg

Tour Diaries: Day Off In Beijing

I expected to battle blizzards and icy sidewalks. Instead, Beijing greets us with sunshine. (I'm really glad I didn't bring the body sock!) Our new friends Becca and Elijah tell us the weather is very unusual for this time of year. 

Of course, the first order of business is finding the most delicious meals a new city has to offer. After throwing our bags into our hotel rooms, we begin our search. For some reason, each cab driver drops us off relatively close to our destination, but never right in front of it. That would be much too easy. We search for a restaurant Dia discovered on her last trip to Beijing. Her friend who introduced her to the place, emailed her the Chinese word of what Dia assumes is the name of the restaurant. We walk up to a dozen or so people in the streets, point to the Chinese characters on Dia's iPhone, and hope for a nod in the right direction. Every single person shakes their head and waves around at what seems to be nothing and everything at the same time.

Luckily, we decide to interrupt some teenagers playing a game of hacky-sack. Dia shows them her iPhone. One of the girls speaks a bit of English. She tells us the characters on Dia's phone mean: dumplings. There must be at least thirty or forty dumpling houses on the street where we stand. No wonder the people we interrupted had such a difficult time understanding us.

Somehow, just before we give up, Dia spots the white sign with the red writing. (That description was the only other qualifier to help us find the dumpling house.) The feast of dumplings we eat are delicious and well worth the effort. I would volunteer to be lost all over again just to eat those tomato and egg dumplings, sweet potato noodles, and chrysanthemum tea with sugar crystals. We order eight or nine different dishes by pointing at pictures on the menu. Our waiter asks us questions in Chinese about our choices. We nod to each question and hope that we don't accidentally order snake's head soup or chicken feet stew. Tomato is a common flavor in China. They add it to many dishes where you wouldn't think it would go well, but it does. Also, I find it interesting that there is usually steamed broccoli with every meal, although they cook their broccoli with curious spices that Dia and I can't quite place. We enjoy a feast fit for kings which costs us a grand total of $8.00 each. Boo-yah!

After lunch we visit The Forbidden City. Once again, our cab driver drops us off about half a mile from the entrance. It takes us forty minutes of wandering around to find the entrance gates of The Forbidden City.  My favorite part of The Forbidden City is called: The Hall Of Overwhelming Glory, mainly because it is called The Hall Of Overwhelming Glory. All of us admire the architecture and say we wish we had done a bit of history research beforehand. We have so many questions. Why is the city forbidden? Who was the mysterious king that sat upon all these thrones of golden stone and marble staircases? So many mysteries, so little google time. 

A few groups of Chinese people stop us on the sidewalk to take pictures with us. I don't think they know who Dia is. I think they want pictures because we look different. I've noticed that all of the restaurants we have eaten proudly adorn their walls with photos of random travelers with white skin and blonde hair like they are all celebrities. If Nick was with us, they would have a heyday taken pictures with him!

After we leave The Forbidden City, we drive to The Silk Market. We find some gifts to bring back to our loved ones back home: a tiny, stuffed tiger made with a doily-print fabric for Matt's girlfriend, a delicate fan with Leslie's name hand-painted right in front of us for Carlo's lady. Dia purchases a painting of a small boy playing cat's cradle, painted by a local artist. I can't find anything suitable for Nick. I am waiting for the perfect gift. Plenty of time to search before this trip is over. 

Exhausted from our action-packed day, we catch another cab and return to our hotel. Several of Dia's fans greet us at the entrance, clutching their cameras and asking with wide grins and bright eyes if they might have a photo with her. One guy, standing a back in the crowd looks back at me, nods toward her and says in an adorable accent, "look, it's Dia!" I nod and think, "yup. I'm aware of who she is." I'm in her band. I'm her sister. We sing in perfect harmony together. (Well, we try to at least;)

I'm looking forward to doing a bit of that tomorrow! 



Saturday, January 11, 2014

Tour Diaries: Just Like Riding A Bicycle

I board the plane wearing my puffy, ankle-length winter coat and flip flops. (My feet usually swell to Shrek-sized feet on international flights. Any type of shoes that cover the tops of my feet don't fit after the flight.) The flight attendant asks me, "Do you know that it is winter in Beijing?! Look at your shoes!" I think, "Lady, look at my huge, freakin' coat! There is not a passenger on this plane with a coat as puffy and large as the one draped around my body. You're concerned about my inadequate shoes?" I don't have the energy to explain about my Shrek-feet problem or the fact that I had comfy tennis shoes safely tucked away in my suitcase. 

I don't know why I thought renting only three movies would be enough to entertain me for a flight from L.A. to China. My iPad is now dead, anyway. There are no outlets on this flight. Also, there aren't t.v. screens on the backs of the headrests. Dia notices this fact about fifteen minutes after we board. The only other time I have seen her face in such a state of disarray was when she realized that Santa Clause isn't a real person.

I don't think I've slept more than half an hour. Dia and I take strolls about the cabin, stretching our arms overhead until they scrape the plastic ceiling above us. We bend over, reach down and touch our toes, while staying out of the way of people hanging onto their groggy kids. I grasp my ankles while I'm upside down to see if the swelling has occurred yet. Dia says my feet look big already, but in my defense, I'm wearing larger socks than usual to allow room for the swell. 

A fellow traveler, who Dia sits next to on the flight, promises to take us to the best duck place during our trip. (Apparently, the duck here is the bee's knees! I'll let you know.) When Dia explains what we are flying to Beijing for and who we are performing with, he says, "Wow, you guys must be really good!" "Well," Dia begins, and dusts off both her shoulders with a sarcastic grin as though our talents were simply natural gifts bestowed on us from birth. Then her expression turns serious, and she answers with the truth, "We've just been doing this for a really long time." 

She's been traveling solo a lot lately, performing on "The Voice" in a whole slew of other countries besides the U.S. Before we boarded the plane, as we walked through the airport terminal, lugging our suitcases and guitars, she looked over at Carlo and Matt, our new sound guy, walking a few paces ahead of us. She said, "Wow, this kind of feels like tour again. I have people with me this time." I just smiled. 

It is tour again. A strange phenomenon that we've experienced so many times it feels more normal than staying home, even though I haven't been on the road for a year or longer. 

Just like riding a bicycle. It all comes back once you set your feet on the petals and start pushing and hope you don't fall over.

That hot dumpling soup and a nice warm bed where I can lay my tired body out flat are sounding nice right now.