Updated: Jan 29, 2020
Three days after Montreux I boarded another plane with Johnny Strange to Beijing for the International Magic Convention!
Where do I even start on the amazing experience that was performing at the Beijing Magic Convention 2018?! I saw an advert looking for unusual acts to perform at this event way back in the spring and I thought since I had nothing to loose I’d send my showreel. Fast forward to July, a mere six weeks before the convention and the organiser got in touch to ask if we were still available, after a ton of paperwork getting visas ready and making a new air travel friendly contortion box we were ready for our first trip to perform in China.
It was amazing from the start, after our 14 hour flight we arrived in Beijing airport where our translators collected us and we were driven to the hotel/convention centre in the Changing residence. The hotel was enormous! Probably the biggest I’ve stayed in and I got lost frequently, there were strange robots placed on the corridors I guess to help you, but since I don’t speak Chinese they weren’t much use to me.
We were booked to perform in the opening and closing ceremonies and put together two fast-paced, action packed 7 minute sets. Our first tech run was in full swing when we hit a small problem, our electric chainsaw which we had brought from the UK wouldn’t work, in the end we realised the voltage in china from the mains isn’t strong enough to power some UK appliances. We offered to either swap out the act for another or if anyone had a chainsaw we could borrow we could use that. We were assured we would have one for the show.
After our tech we settled into our awesome room and met up with some friends who were also performing at the convention. Our photographer Dan, who takes most of my pictures and took the ones we had sent to Beijing asked me to get him a poster so I went on an attempt to do that… the smallest posters there had us printed at double life size… so he had to make do with the awesome lanyard and program instead. Soon it was showtime… worryingly we still didn’t have a chainsaw…
Just 15 mins before we were due onstage a guy walked up to me with a huge parcel (like an amazon box) and said “is this your chainsaw?”- yes! Excellent news! We carefully opened the box (in case they wanted to return it- though in hindsight there’s no going back after we use them!) and had one very quick test run in the dressing room. It was HUGE! This chainsaw was serious tree-cutting level, a huge blade and thick industrial chain attached with a red flaming tiger printed on its side. I’m not sure who was more nervous for that test run but Johnny was extra careful.
Whip cracking on stage seemed to go down well, though we soon realised there was no point speaking as the audience had no idea what we were saying, so we moved onto walking on broken glass, then came the chainsaw moment… as I turned to face Johnny the chainsaw whirring blew my hair up of my face, I’ve never before or since been so covered in apple as I was there… but we safely made it through the show and had a great time! See the photos below for the crazy chainsaw size!
So enough about the performance, because that’s what I always write about, let’s talk about Beijing. We were lucky enough to get a full day off between shows and we went on a downtown adventure with our friend Oliver and Bunsen (our translator/now a friend). We visited Tian’anmen square which was insanely busy and I expected there to be lots of tourists but I was the only fair haired person to be seen. The Chinese culture of taking photos of blondes was something I always imagined would be exaggerated or have called down now but it actually was a thing. I was told that most likely these people had only ever seen blondes in movies and on TV and so its a novelty in real life. It was strange at first but I got used to it. We saw the Mausoleum of Chairman Mau and visited the Forbidden City, taking a walk through the gardens of historical trees, then as afternoon arrived we headed into downtown Beijing. I decided to put my phone away and embrace the experience after the sightseeing and I can honestly say I will never forget the amazing streets of Beijing in the evening. Bunsen was an awesome tour guide and I think he had as much fun as we did, our first stop was to a small dessert shop which sold strange pastries, kind of like a bakery they had these pastry like cakes or buns with different flavours and fillings, we had two each, I wish I’d bought some more now because the rose water one I had was absolutely amazing. In China nothing goes to waste, they seriously eat everything and the street food was a difficult and eye-opening experience for me and my weak stomach…. Speaking of stomach, boiled stomach is a super popular street food there and it looks like long black ribbons… the smell is… well let’s say very distinct. (And after a short while I got a little gag induced by it) we had these amazing potato swirl things which were far too spicy but great with a frozen Starbucks and saw people eating chicken feet, throat on a stick, eyeballs on a stick, everything you can imagine on a stick… Bunsen joked when we saw iceberg lettuce on a stick that it was designed for me. The streets were like a labyrinth with shops on all sides, map like layouts of the streets were engraved into the wall every now and then but they made little sense. The pagoda style roofs and symbolism all round us though was incredible and I would recommend everyone to go.
Back at the hotel after a hair-raising drive home (don’t sit in the middle seat of the taxi- its honestly terrifying) we caught up with the convention and ate some more odd food in the hotel restaurant. Our Swedish friend Tom who was with us that weekend summed things up pretty well, he has travelled to Asia many times to perform and said the food in Japan is excellent, but he has never had an enjoyable meal in China, and you could literally be getting anything… we had a lot of fun with the translations of the food labels, amongst my favourites to giggle at were “secret roast duck”, “spicy beauty shoes”, “doo”, “dragon bone gourd”, “bread playyer” and “garlic loofah”, safe to say my meals were mostly played safe. Also the coffee at breakfast time was labelled “cola” so after avoiding it thinking some lunatic was mixing milk and coke for breakfast I discovered it was a little sweeter than normal but rather nice.
We also had a summit to attend which I think was about the importance of magic and allowing magic to be an accessible art form in china but it was quite difficult to understand as there were many languages and countries presenting their speeches, from Italian, to Korean, American to Japanese. The time difference and jet lag was definitely catching up at this point and I have to say, we three (us and Oliver) nailed the professionalism and managed to say awake the whole time… unlike some people (see the photos).
So all in all, China… amazing experience and I’m so grateful to the wonderful Borgie Yuan for booking us, I’d go again anytime and recommend you do too. Its a long way to go to perform for 7 minutes but you are so well liked after, the people are lovely and its truly and amazing culture to take an adventure in.
Ps- Pro tip- public toilets do not have doors… or seats…. Or toilet basins…. Or even walls sometimes. Brace yourself for that the first time it happens and don’t wee on your feet!