Let’s talk about mysterious forces. For instance, on a remote island off of Cape Cod where locals have grown up and never succumb to a tick bite before, a guest shows up for the first time, goes on a little walk and comes down with a debilitating case of Lyme’s disease. It’s as if the locals have a free pass through the grass. Let’s talk about, how a person would fall over at a standstill and shatter their leg In China when they have mountain biked the most gnarly trails in Utah and never suffered even a scratch. Let’s talk about experienced people who have camped deep in the wilderness of the United States on mountain tops and perilous cliffs and returned home safely every time. Yet, on the other side of the Earth, when they camp on the Great Wall, children fall to their death and parents fall with them. Why is this? Is there something about a place that knows its membership? That knows the smell of an intruder like a tick? Is there an all knowing force? Are the gods not with us in strange places where people sound like they are talking backwards? Is there a need to tread lightly, in these old frontiers or risk getting stomped, broken and hurled to our doom? We ease into knowing a person, should we not ease into knowing a place? We are the trespasser, the newbie. I use the example of my injury; On Halloween weekend Mike and I were racing down pathways to temples, grave yards and orchards. Most of the people smiled and even cheered as with me flew by, but there were a couple old men who expressed angry at us and said we should not be there. Laying in the hospital a few days later I felt and still wonder if my accident was no accident? Was it the result of not treading lightly in a new place, like an elephant in a China shop, on sacred places in an ancient land, acting as if I owned the place when I was an obvious interloper? Do these things happen because we are not in rhythm with a place? We are not “One” with the surroundings? Or worst is it because we just don't belong there at all?
Our trip to Harbin finally happened this past weekend. The family took separate DiDi’s and managed to arrive at the fast train station at the same time. I packed two large backpacks, one with warm gear and the other one filled with snacks for the fast train ride of six hours to the ice city of Harbin. Chinese passengers started lining up half an hour before the train left and we dove into the crowd. We don't have a national ID card that we can scan before we get on board so we have to stand in a separate line with a human being that looks at our passports. In order to ride a train in China, you must scan your national ID to get into the train station, scan it to get onto the train, and just incase you managed to climb onto a 200 mile per hour train illegally while it was moving, scan to get out of the train station as well at the other end of the journey. We finally got on the train and it was very comfortable and I managed to get some homework done. “Sandy” the woman that had arranged for a tour of Harbin had arranged for us to be picked up and taken to the Baroque part of the city. At first Laura was very unimpressed by the cheap hotel I had booked. I thought it was OK. The air outside however was 400 AQI which was pretty shocking. That fact combined with the run down state of the hotel caused us to consider going back to Beijing. I knew that was impossible though and that we had to stick with our plans. In the morning however the air was better and our perspective had improved. We attended the Chinese breakfast served at 7 AM. It was a militaristic meal as they seemed to be yelling at and ordering the participants more than serving them and very unimpressive except for the odd shaped donuts and the sausage. I had known it would probably suck because of the reviews. I asked for coffee and the woman gave me some kind of hot water that smelled like chlorine and herbs. I found a coffee place on my phone and we went outside and we're assaulted by the freezing temperatures which were about -5°F. We wandered around a couple blocks sliding around in traffic on the ice and we're unable to locate the coffee shop. This happens all the time. The apps on our phones don't work because they're not Chinese apps. The locations are incorrect. But we can't read the Chinese apps so we continue to use the apps that don't work hoping for the best. We managed to get back to the hotel and get Jack up and out of bed and meet with the tour guide at 9 AM sharp. He took us on a tour of the Baroque area of Harbin. He said he had never picked up any clients in the local side of town before. This was the neighborhood he grew up in and he was excited that we were sleeping in his neighborhood. He seemed impressed. After some very cold photo taking we arrived at a coffee shop that he recommended. It was warm but the coffee shop was very difficult to order a coffee at because the menu was online and it needed to be scanned to get the app. The app was not in English and I ended up making friends with the manager on WeChat and I paid her for the coffee personally. Next we went to an old famous bakery down the road. It was pretty amazing with beautiful huge wooden tables to eat all your new Chinese confection adventures and cakes. We thoroughly stuffed ourselves on cookies, bread and coffee and we jumped back in the van and headed towards Saint Sofia Cathedral and the museums. The Saint Sophia Cathedral is an incredible structure, the largest Orthodox Church in the far east. It has recently been refurbished and restored and they have musicians playing on raised stages inside and lots of art on the walls. The structure was built in 1907 after the completion of the Trans-Siberian railroad. It was gutted during the communist period of the Great leap forward 1958-61 and became a warehouse. We were impressed by the lighting inside and the art and the musicians were enjoying themselves and the sound of the great room. We headed to the museums next. They were mostly filled with Russian art and relics. The Harbin museum was OK. Fairly interesting until we got into the political sections. We left and went to a dumpling restaurant that was delicious. The guide took off in the middle of the meal to go find me a Harbin beer. A very sweet man with the English name of Michael. He was Chinese and had grown up in Harbin and attended the University of Harbin as well. By the way Harbin is a city of 4 million people bigger than New York City. It's considered a small City by Chinese standards. It's a very industrial city with factories surrounding it. Hence the smog. There's a massive river that flows past Harbin called the Songhua. A beautiful name. This is the river where they carve out ice blocks and build giant ice palaces with them, in fact many structures for tourists in the winter. This was our next stop. Once again we went through security and showed our passports and finally got in and we were given chemical heat patches to put on our backs to keep us warm. Michael had timed our visit to the ice palace just perfectly. He knew that the sun would be setting and shining through the giant Ferris wheel and through the ice versions of Notre Dame and various other temples. It was astonishing just how big the ice display was. It felt like Disney World made of ice but much nicer with the lights imbedded under the ice shining up coloring everything. There was even a giant Buddha and bridges and tunnels and an ice bar and an ice hot pot restaurant. I requested that we get some coffee at one point and hot drinks. Michael took us to a place but it only served hot pear juice. As the night wore on, it became flooded with people. We crunched on frozen fruit on a stick, tanghulu. I tried to get the kids to join me in some crazy ice activities like being pulled by a jeep with 40 other people on a giant raft made of inflatables.There was also an ice field of plastic bubbles you could climb into and run around and dune buggy’s you could race around an ice racetrack. We kept making our way back to the ice Notre Dame and the ice version of the Temple of Heaven from Beijing. The people watching was high quality. Massive crowds waited four hours to ride the giant 600 m long slide of ice or ride the tremendously tall Ferris wheel with enclosed heated rooms. The ferris wheel moved so slowly you could barely perceive it changing. We lasted as long as we could and then we jumped back into the van and drove back to the hotel. The next day Laura and I walked to the Baroque area to have coffee and tea and more cakes. We met with a tour guide and went to the Siberian Tiger park. Luckily we got there fairly early in the morning before the lines were huge. The biggest line was the line for the tiger feeding buses that went deep into the Tiger park where the driver would hand you a bucket of pork meat if you paid him 100 RMB. You would then take the pork meat with tongs and shove it through holes in the tiger proof glass and the tigers would jump up and grab it and gobble it down. This is how the tigers are fed 160 kg of meat a day. The tigers that got along and cooperated and didn't fight were allowed to roam through pretty large enclosures. The tigers that tended to fight were imprisoned in a little corrals along a giant building. It was very exciting feeding the tigers the raw pork. We worked our way from one section to the other each time going through giant metal automatic gates like the ones in the movie Jurassic Park. After feeding the tigers, the bus dropped us off near some bathrooms that had bidets with heated seats surrounded by ferns and fountains. From the bathrooms we were funneled into a long corridor that made its way across the Tiger park. It was lined with astroturf and massive metal bars to make it safe and peaceful music played the entire time through the speakers and it was cold. There were a couple of old Chinese women selling chickens in boxes that you could offer to the tigers from the ‘cat walk’. The chickens knew they were screwed. They just had that look about them. At one point we noticed a drone hovering over one of the buses feeding the tigers. To our amazement the drone dropped a chicken into the group of tigers and they chased it across the snow into an orchard and killed it. I came around the corner at one point and there was actually a liger in one cage and a cougar in another. This was a lot to process as we climbed back into the van. Our next stop was a public version of the ice park where they had giant snow sculpture competitions. They had a smaller ice slide that we went down a couple times. I was pretty nervous doing it because I thought it might hurt my knee again but I managed. Our favorite part of the public park was the frozen lake with strange welded ice bikes. Some of them were impractical and some very well devised. We had a blast for a long time and even our guide Michael jumped on one of the ice bikes and was cruising around with a big smile on his face. At some point there was a large contingent of people in strange animal costumes and weird house music playing on huge speakers in front of the giant ice queen sculpture. There was also a large black horse with black wings some demented person had attached to it. The horse was not excited about his newly sprouted wings. It was absolutely surreal and I took long videos. I forgot to mention that we had been whisked there by an amazing fast mini-shuttle that took us across the park to the most exciting features. Had we not taken this, we might have frozen solid. We toured the sculptures took a lot of pictures until it finally got too cold to hang out. We went to a noodle restaurant that was owned by Uyghurs (look them up) and later walked all the way down Central Street towards the river and a huge monument. On the way we asked Michael at one point if he had any children and he said yes I have a 12 day old daughter. He asked if we would come up with an English name for his daughter? If we could think of it as a family and get back to him? The next day as we rode the train south back to Beijing we decided on the name Amelia. I've always liked that name and I've always admired Amelia Earhart although we did not tell him about the mysterious fate of Amelia Earhart, we just told him that it means hard-working and it's a good classic English name. He accepted the name and was very pleased we were very honored.
Persimmon Tree in Shunyi
The air is clear and good today.
There is a gentle breeze in Beijing
Inside the 5th Ring.
My daughter left the doors ajar.
“The temperature is perfect” she told me.
She went out for a run and an old woman
Pointing at her powerful legs exclaimed, “Cold! Very cold!”
Niamh laughed and came home
To let the air into the house.
In the mountains of Northern New Mexico so far away
There was once an old Spanish woman pushing her cows through ponderosa
Who had stopped and warned Niamh’s mother about the cold and the bears.
“This is no place for a young mother!” She exclaimed.
Laura listened to Maggie Velarde's advice and pushed the stroller deeper into the wilderness.
Outside my chamber
Birds gather in a tall tree wedged between the houses
It’s outrageous appearance is hard to ignore.
Today is halloween and nothing screams
Autumn like a persimmon tree. Trick or treat!
Pancaked pumpkins served on arched stems that bob.
Stiff red leaves stubborn to fall
Flap clumsily as if they were fins
On a fat old Koi stuck in summer weeds.
Large blue magpies, the Chinese call “Xi-que” hang sideways,
And search for soft openings in the tough fruit.
From my angle, they are shy cloaked wizards defiant of the laws of physics
On a huge ridiculous mobile of fruit that hovers.
Typically loud and harsh
In this ritual they mutter something to each other very quietly
As their heads disappear into the fruit, to eat.
They are satisfied and have nothing to say.
The last red leaves twist on broken hinges high above.
I would like to leave this earth so decorated
So red and orange
So heavy with fruit ready to eat for “Xi-que.”
Like this Shunyi persimmon tree
Inside the 5th Ring
Where birds cling
Defiant and silent as I sway
Into autumn slumber
An oddity amongst the pines.
November 7th, 2023
(Above: My knee looks like an angry gopher with an overbite)
After I told Jeffrey Berlin the story of my breaking of my kneecap he offered me a song about it in my own words.
“ I knelt down in the devils bush I knelt down in the devils bush I came home with a dog food knee came home with a dog food knee”. -Jeff Berlin
Bad accident on October 28. Finally found some good mountain bike trails with Mike from the Embassy. The mother load of trails along the power lines leading to temples, locked temples. At the end of the day not far from Mike's truck I fell onto a rock at a stand still. The rock with hiding in the bushes shaped like a ships bow. Kneecap in six pieces . After x-ray they operated immediately. Dr. Lu said it looked it "Looked like dog food when we opened you up I put it back together, amazing, you very lucky." Home now for two days. Feeling a little better. I can't help wondering was this for a reason? Am I just forcing meaning in this? Niamh has been holding my hand for a couple days and sitting by me. She doesn't seem mad at me anymore. I've been holding Jack in my arms for the first time in a while. I see this time as a focus on them ,my wife, my knee, my health, my goals. I was working so hard on school. It's so hard to let go mid semester to these classes. I want to hold my children every day before they fly away. I want to wrap Jack in a cocoon of affection. I want to keep him close and let him feel secure in the love we have for him. I want him to know he is loved and he will be OK. I think he has been suffering in China and I feel bad about it. I want to connect with all my friends and let them know I am still here. I am far away but still have them in my heart. Maybe I will take a banjo lesson? Maybe study my Chinese? Maybe notate my songs? Maybe edit some of my new tunes? Maybe work on a new website and update band camp? Maybe quit drinking for a while? Things…Tell Niamh how much I appreciate her. Buy Jack a carving kit and a fishing pole. Get flowers delivered on Fridays for wife from Jenny's.. To Laura, you are my garden. Your blue eyes like the tall flowers.
March 7, 2023
This past week feeling settled finally.
Feeling a little bit more comfortable and my circle is expanding. Highlights were a long walk in bad air to a beautiful spot on the Wen Yu river and then a walk along a dump filled with packs of little wild mutts and then an indoor wet market with plants and flowers upstairs and vegetables downstairs and some bakeries and some potential for mystery meat… we all went.
Later on the weekend we went on a tour with Beijing Hikers. A company out of Beijing that takes people to the Great Wall and other sights of interest in the area. Beijing Hikers took us to a "wilder" part of the great wall on Sunday and we had a traditional meal served on giant Lazy Susans on circular tables Chinese style. It was a Mao Zedong themed restaurant with flags everywhere pictures of armies and young Mao and middle-aged Mao and old Mao. The food was absolutely amazing especially the eggplant. I don't know what they do to it but I need to learn. It's all about the sauce here.
As usual lots of weird dreams: trying to find Jack, losing the bug I want to show him, trying to find other animals, snakes and horses, being late at some event. Today I started recording a Chinese sounding theme I had running through my head when we walked the wall…
Feb 2, 2023
Strange dreams last night. Cats. A huge bloody rat – I had a gig with Bard somewhere. I finally started playing the gig and I was playing solo, except there was an old folks yoga class blasting the song on stereo I was about to play. I said something to the yoga class about "stopping my music so I could play". Suddenly I had a gig with Brett Davis instead.
Lots of doubts about this decision to come to China. I am not sure if it will be good for the family? Can we survive? is the question I keep asking. Will Niamh go back and live with her grandma? Will Jack become more and more reclusive? Will the school provide better education or will it just cause chaos and confusion and interruption? I am worried about Niamh partying too much with her friends. I am concerned about my mother and how she feels being left behind in Dixon.
We took on a little puppy today, to foster him and help him find a home. I can already see improvement in the kids moods with the new dog. I think I will name him Pedro. I went to the embassy today and took the tour. Shannon was the guide. People on the tour were tired and not friendly. The group was warned by top security dude not to seek sexual assistance at obvious questionable massage parlors. He held up a pamphlet of one such parlor and shook it. I was wondering if I could see it? I got some help with my phone from a Chinese woman regarding WeChat app.
I got a new Embassy badge. I called my first DIDI ride. I am taking lessons in Mandarin once a week at River Garden with soccer moms. One woman asked me to build her a shoe rack after the first lesson. I thought that was an odd request.
Jan 11, 2023
The wind is blowing like crazy outside. "The winds of change" I guess.
The phones don't work. The tower is down or the messages are simply blown away?
The moving man is supposed to arrive at 10:30 like the grim reaper or the ferryman on the river of Styx.
Oct 24, 2022
I can smell the fennel freezing, cells bursting in the garden, releasing licorice perfume. Their deepest essence floats on the frosty air. Oh I wish you were here to breathe it in.
"Adventure" chicken comes early for scraps. I throw old pipes I ripped from the floor instead, she runs away across the silver blades of grass and then I return for the hearty fennel.
Stay tuned for some changes to the website coming soon.
Boris will be publishing blog posts. We're getting all of the music uploaded and organized, adding photos and more.
His new domain name will be “borismc.com” (which is easier to spell) and the old address “borismccutcheon.com” will also keep working!
Dear Hermits, Misfits, Recluses, Music Lovers, Rebels, and Trouble Makers of all sorts,
It's fitting that I write to you now from a hotel in Queens, New York City. I arrived last night late in the evening at La Guardia International Airport with a dog I was told was, "Saved from the meat trucks in Beijing". They waved me through customs with hardly a look and a nod and I almost fell on the ground in tears of joy for being back in the States again for a lot of reasons. It was a short lived moment as I had a very thirsty, juicy, “finger licking good” retriever on my hands that had been crated for over 24 hours. I needed to get it outside. A few years ago back In Beijing China it was adopted by someone and now it finally was escaping with me back to the states.
A free pooch!
In China they actually do eat lots of things I don't eat: cartilage, chicken feet, giant salamanders, turtles, grubs, shark fins, birds nests, fish from polluted rivers, sea cucumbers, wet market delicacies. The larger perspective is that I am a traveler these days if you can call sitting in a chair getting a Berklee Online Degree staring at a computer in China a world “traveler".
As you might not know I moved to China recently. Beijing has 22 Million people. Most of them driving scooters on this little road I have to cross with my dog to get to the Wen Yu river park in the morning. My wife Laura had the crazy idea during the dysfunction of the covid pandemic to leave the States and do something cool while we’re "still able and young”. She applied as a medical provider to a government job in the State Department. This translates to spinning the wheel of fortune and being assigned at the absolute very last moment before you go mad with anxiety, to work at an Embassy in some foreign country. By the time they offered Laura the job, our kids Jack and Niamh were in High School.
The decision to take the job was not as easy to make later as it would have been during lock down in Covid. We went back and forth for a long while on it. However in the end our taste for adventure got the best of us and we decided to go for it. This was a big gamble and we are not good gamblers. At first Laura looked like she was going to be assigned to Chad and Qatar and then later to our relief, Albania. Too good to be true, Albania would have been the perfect fit for the McCutcheon family. Touring musically. I almost bought ski passes for the Italian Alps!
The short of it is, we ended up in Beijing. It's not a pretty place but it’s safe and you're not going to be shot in the face by your neighbor. When you are a newbie in the foreign service and an overachieving one at that, they send the rugged ones to the unsavory posts where they eat weird things.
Five Towns Inn, Queens NY