Wronged in Wrocław, Day 2

Since leaving Vienna I’ve sped up my journey twofold, spending no more than three days in any one place. This has been tiring and a little crazy for me – trying to balance seeing the cities and singing – and so writing has fallen off rather a bit. I discovered on this day (8.16.10) that the Schengen Tourist Visa isn’t simply for 90 contiguous days but rather for 90 days total within a 180 day period. I did some research on overstaying and basically the consensus was that no one knows – I could get away with it entirely or end up with a Ban from Europe for five years and a healthy fine. After pondering awhile I figured the possible wouldn’t be worth it.

This dashed my vague plans to wander in spirals through Western and Southern Europe – hence Poland. Now Poland is a non-ideal place to busk for a variety of reasons, many of which will become apparent through my recountings but I’ll just denote them here for reference.

1. Poland is a rather poor country. This makes it easy to survive on very very little money (converting from euros) but earnings don’t go proportionally down but decline drastically. When people are struggling to make enough to eat and pay rent they wont give you less money, they’ll give you no money. It’s an interesting dynamic – Polish currency is the Złoty, a quarter of a Euro, but the number on the prices of most things is the same: 5 for a meal, 2 for a metro ticket, 37 for a train to another city, etc.

2. The legacy of Communism. You can really feel it here, even in the air. The older generation is extremely suspicious, very guarded, not at all open. As a rule they’d give me a stinky stare or an incredulous sneer.

3. Vices. Here we begin to stray into the realm of stereotypes. Most of the men on the street I’ve seen are at least slightly inebriated, with many completely gone. They’ve tended to be gentler drunks than in the states, but their friendliness and enthusiasm actually serves to brand me as the same kind. Everyone smokes. This is not so good for an asthmatic with a bad voice.

4. Racism. There will be more on this in the next post. I’ve noticed, however, that the stares I get and the double takes mostly have to do with my appearance – my asian-ness. Everyone I’ve couch surfed with confirms my suspicions when they’ve come to see me play so I know it is not in my head. When people tip they often do so with a Konichiwa or a Arigatou. I get Ching chongs and kung fu moves from passersby. I also dont think it helps that my browner skin automatically associates me with the gypsies.

OK, so that’s the brief tour. You’ll get much more detail as I write more from Poland. For now I’ll focus on this second day. I spent most of it wandering around the center of Wrocław, revisiting the delightful gnomes/dwarves scattered throughout the town. Wrocław is not a picturesque city but it has a very young vibe and there’s art of all kinds everywhere. These were scattered near Rynek and all within Stare Miasto.

Like me in New Haven or mom in Toronto on a windy day.

Buskers? Dporters go nuts.

My motorcycling brother in bronze gnome form.

What’s the difference between a gnome and a dwarf anyways?

Or a hobbit?

Busking wise, the entire day felt off and this has carried through to the rest of Poland – perhaps it’s the problems denoted above, perhaps I’m just weary, perhaps it’s coincidence… But it’s hard to feel comfortable playing on a street in the first place – right as I begin the passersby are somewhere between strangers and comrades and it takes a few songs to start thinking of them as friends and start singing for them and not just in their general direction. In Wrocław this day I felt extremely uncomfortable the entire time, as if I was some kind of exhibit from all the stares and unkind laughter.

Tomek showed me a couple good underpasses and I headed to the unclaimed one just as it began to rain, a little passage adjourning the mall Galeria Dominkanska, passing beneath a major street and providing access to the trams. The vibe was wrong from the get go. My moving audience consisted mostly of youngsters in troublesome moods. A first set of them kindly stayed and listened at the other side. When I waved them over and gave them my request list, however, the man from the nearby laundry shop pulled them aside warningly and spoke rapid Polish to them, indicating from what I could tell that I was not to be trusted and that they should keep their distance. This is what I read from the changed looks in their eyes from excitement to wariness, the quick return of my sheet after enthusiastic perusal with heads down, their quick departure and the man’s folded arms. Ironically enough this same man lingered outside his shop my entire set – apparently it wasn’t ok to tip me or trust me or even communicate with me but it was ok to enjoy my music.

The main experience that marked this pitch however was the arrival of a group of five girls. They dropped me a few grosz (cents) and then one asked if she could borrow my guitar. I allowed her to, but immediately regretted it. She played badly and was loathe to return it – and the other girls enjoyed crowding in on her admiringly. One particularly scantily dressed and buxom girl seemed intent on putting me out of sorts by staring directly at me once I finally got my guitar back, comporting herself in an obviously suggestive manner. It was rather disgusting display. I was glad to be rid of them at the end – they blocked the path to my case, gave me a negative vibe and made me scared for my guitar (she played with it so nonchalantly and carelessly).

This was the pitch that I began to notice the racism – after a few encouraging tips for my first song, Yellow, I received nothing at all until I sang Ue Liang Dai Biao Wo De Xin, during which the entire atmosphere changed – from hostility to curiosity – like I’d gone from being a menace to a interesting sideshow freak. Later I played Ue Wo Muite Arukou and experienced the same feeling. This was when I got my first “Domo Arigatou” of Poland. The tips I got during these two songs were essentially it – which I think is telling. I was especially amused by the very confused looks people gave me as I sang Liberta. I left in an amiable mood, however, as the boy handing out flyers gave me an encouraging “Very nice.”

My second pitch failed even more completely than the first. I tried first at the other tunnel but a man power washing the other end decided to wander my way so I moved back to Galeria Dominkanska. A group of passing kids there asked me where I was from “No where are you /really/ from” and requested a Chinese song. So I sang Ue Liang… once again. And voila, tips. Many stopped and listened to me with no intent to tip or even acknowledge me, passing me then stopping and listening right as I’d fallen out of their peripheral.

The last experience of the day was a positive one, however. A girl stopped with her mother and took a huge interest in my music – a well traveled girl with dyed black hair who requested Iron & Wine and Bon Iver and asked for my myspace or some way to follow my music. As I have not the former I gave her my blog address.

Earnings: 33,50 PLN +€0,50, 2 hours
Song of the Day: Ue Liang Dai Biao Wo De Xin – Teresa Tang

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