Last Song for the Endless Party

Posted by Pete DeMola on 22. Jun 2010

BEIJING, JUNE 23 - Tis the spring of our discontent. Much calamity has recently befallen just about everyone we know: the steady onslaught of calamtious physical problems, motorcyle accidents, car thefts, imprisoned friends and other mishaps has led us to believe that everyone we know in this city is under a prolonged assault.

And it appears that one of our compatriots is taking off before our virus creeps any further.

Good idea, dude. You've made the right decision.

Sort of.

Peter Baird, a long-term collegiate English teacher, rock scene veteran and most importantly, one of this website's earliest (and most supportive) members, is leaving China for brighter pastures next week after an uninterrupted five-year stint, one that was split between Beijing and Handan, a raucous industrial city in southwest Hebei.

In addition to being a "old hand" who genuinely knows how this country operates and has the rare ability to see eye-to-eye with its top decision makers and understands their policies -- a wise attribute that many foreigners here lack in lieu of judgmental finger-wagging -- Baird is also a rare commodity in that he is actually one of the good English teachers and has built up an arsenel of knowledge on the rock and roll scene that is unparalleled among the expat community.

A familiar sight at this city's rock shows -- almost always with draft beer in hand and stationed directly in front of the stage -- the 38-year-old's departure to Thailand next week leaves the Beijing music scene bereft of one its biggest resources.

Not many have the low-down on what unfolds behind closed doors, and even fewer are willing take bullets for the rest of the city's music lovers by suffering through the countless amateur bands at D-22's University Night every Wednesday like clockwork.

And then there is his unflagging support for fresh and emerging talent, acting as a sagelike God of Rock father figure to many of the city's greenest musicians, including Nanwu, the Flyx, Cold Case, Bed Stars, 24 Hours and Rustic, as well as many more who have since come and gone.

With that said, we decided to pick his brain on his final thoughts regarding the inevitable break-up, from criticisms leveled towards this country's ESL industry to some of his fondest memories navigating through the grimy trenches of this city's raw rock and roll culture.

So, this it it.

Yes. I'm so done.


It's basically similar to the circumstances that cause a plane crash. It wasn't any one thing, but a series of events that by themselves were insignificant, but when combined, snowballed into a complete clusterfuck.

Like what?

The university I've been teaching at for the last three years has a policy where they don't hire anyone who has been in China for an uninterrupted period of longer than four years. I've been here for five, so my number was up.

But change is good. I looked for other jobs and got a job at a foundation program that paid 15,000 RMB for a 20-hour week. I couldn't believe my luck: I even signed a contract.

That obviously didn't work.

They told me several things after I signed the contract that they really should have told me first. The biggest issues were that they had no place for me to live during the summer and I had to be home every night by 8:50pm if I lived on campus.

I knew foreign teachers in Baoding who were locked in their actual building at 10pm.

Yeah, well, the thing with negotiation in China is you can't just sit down and negotiate with one person and resolve everything. I got offered this job through a human resources company, and the negotiation process is as follows: the FAO (Foreign Affairs Officer) at the school tells me something, and I tell her my problems. She then talks to her boss, who often isn't available for several days. Then she gets the information from him, tells the woman at the HR company, who tells me... and we do it all over again. This dragged on for weeks.


They told me was that the reason they wanted me to be home by 8:50pm was that the gate to my apartment locked at that time. They added that they could keep the gate open until 11, and if I was going to stay out later, I just had to tell them when I would be home and they would keep the gate open until that time.

So why couldn't you just do that?

Many times when I go out, I don't know when I'll be home -- or even if I'll be home. Furthermore, if the gate is already locked and I want to go out, I would be locked in my apartment like a prisoner. Not acceptable. I figured the most reasonable solution was that they give me a key to the gate.

No key?

They said no. Their reason was that if I lost the key, the wrong person may find it and steal things from the building. This was absurd. Even if I did lose the key, who would know what it was for?

Absolutely no one.

In the end, they decided not to hire me because I asked for too much. I value my freedom more than money and I'm stubborn. I simply couldn't accept their terms. That was a little over two weeks ago. My visa expires on June 29th.

Now, most universities and middle schools have stopped hiring for the fall semester. There are other kinds of jobs I could do, of course. I don't want to work in a training center: I did that for two years and don't want to move backwards. I don't want to work with kids. That limits my options a great deal. I've been offered jobs at universities outside Beijing, but I'm really only interested in staying Beijing. If I can't, I'd just as soon leave China.

Where are you going?

Thailand. I went there for two weeks last summer and I fell in love with it . And it seems like an interesting time to be there.

Red shirt or yellow shirt?

Ha! I have neither, so it's all good.

Describe teaching in China in five words.

Rewarding, frustrating, perplexing, enlightening and confusing.

What's your biggest criticism towards the ESL industry here in China?

There seems to be very little focus on improving practical application of language. In the private sector, it's just a business with more of an emphasis on entertainment than education. At the university and public school level, it's all about scores, whether it is exams, IELTS or TOEFL. It's a numbers game with very little emphasis on the things that really matter: namely communication skills. And that's not just in China, either.

What advice would you give to students who would like to improve their English?

Spend time with native speakers, but don't be socially awkward when making friends. Look at guys like Lu Chang [a friend of ours] and Ricky Sixx [Rustic bassist]. They don't have university educations, but their English is better than many university students because they spend a lot of time in English-speaking enviornments. It's Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule, and people who want to improve their English need to get those 10,000 hours in.

Who in Beijing did you never get a chance to meet but really wanted to?

I guess that would be Kaiser Kuo. I technically did meet him once, but I didn't know who he was, so the extent of our conversation was him telling me the name of his band.

Ah, Tang Dynasty.

That was actually at a Spring & Autumn Show.

Oh yeah. I think I was at that one. But the only people who have been to more rock shows in Beijing aside from you are probably the people who actually work there. Which ones have been your most memorable?

Too many. I've been to 11 open air festivals, and the one I enjoyed the most was probably the 2006 Midi Festival, because I had a lot of friends there. The best in terms of music was probably the 2008 Modern Sky Festival.

Yeah, that was a good one...

There was a Joyside show in July 2008 that really stood out. It was sweltering hot and crowded. All the guys took of their shirts, and the girls in the front row were rocking out and grinding the guys. Pure hedonism. It really captured the spirit of Joyside. I left that show with a new phone number.

The Halloween, Christmas Eve and New Years shows at D-22 are always a blast. Halloween 2008 saw Fangzui Xiangfa bassist Adam falling off the stage and cutting himself in a pile of broken glass, which was probably a result of me leaving a beer mug on the stage. On Christmas Eve 2008, the Unsafe showed up and played an unannounced set at 3 in the morning.

Oh yeah! I remember the Unsafe gig. That was a great birthday gift.

Some shows stand out just because of the strange things that happened. At a Demerit show in April 2009, singer Spike Li jumped off the stage and punched an audience member in the face 20 times. Then the band resumed playing as though nothing had happened. In Canada the show would have been shut down. Another great Demerit show was the big 11 band punk fest Spike promoted last October.

Yep. I recall those shows fondly...

Yugong Yishan has had some great shows as well. Carsick Cars, Joyside and SUBS in Aug 2008 was one of the best shows I've seen here. And there was a Carsick Cars show in Dec 2008 that ended with 24 Hours playing to 12 people at 3:30 in the morning.

There have also been some good shows by foreign bands. The D.O.A. show in Jan 2009 was really special because only 20-or-so people were there, but we were all friends, so it had an intimate house party atmosphere. Mr. Irish Bastard's two shows at D-22 and MAO Live in May 2009 were also great.

Twisted Machine played a three-hour solo set at 13 Club in Dec 2007; there was London May's Misfits tribute band at D-22 in Sept of last year, and the Suffocated record release party at 13 Club in March of this year.

What about that Doom Ghetto Development Council gig in Dec 2008 when that fat drunk kid got his scalp ripped upon by a well-placed beer mug straight to the face?

Yeah. It was the only folk show I've been to where the stage got covered in blood.

I think it's one of the only folk shows that I've ever been to.

And then there was your WLIB Summertime Blast on June 6 of last year. We stayed until sunrise.

Yeah! Something like seven bands. But I don't remember anything. Where would you like to see this country's music scene in another five years?

I'd like to see it making money. I really hope it spreads out of Beijing and people in other Chinese cities tune into some of the great bands here. There is a market for it, but nobody knows about it. I'd like for bands like 24 Hours, Rustic and Guai Li to be as famous as Jay Chou.

I'd also like to see the scene get more recognition internationally, as well, but I honestly don't ever think we'll see the day when a Chinese band is recognized as the top band in the world.

I haven't forgotten about that 300 RMB I owe you. What can that get you in Thailand?

It's 400 RMB, and I could probably get three weeks in a Thai guesthouse, one month of food, 40 beers or two prostitutes.

I would go with 30 beers and one-and-a-half prostitutes. What's the last show you will attend here in Beijing and why?

I will officially celebrate my departure with the show by AV Okubo, 24 Hours and Rustic at Yugong Yishan this Saturday because Rustic are good friends of mine. But my last show will be Sunday at MAO Live, because a good friend of mine who plays in a band called The Grinding Ear is one of the people most responsible for introducing me to Chinese rock. He has a show that night, and it is my last chance to see him before I go.

Godspeed, my friend. Here is something to remember us by:

Rustic (that's guitarist/vocalist Lucifer Li above), 24 Hours, Mr. Graceless and AV Okubo will perform on Sat, June 26 at Yugong Yishan, while the Grinding Ear (the first band I saw in China, by the way, in Handan, Hebei in Oct 2005 with Mr. Baird) will perform on Sun, June 27 at MAO Live House.

Image: Baird parts the Yellow Sea at D-22 on Dec 17, 2008. Courtesy of Kent Loset.

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