The word conjures up countless images — The Great Wall, Shanghai, Confucius, Hong Kong, Buddha — and now, The Badlees.
That's right, The Badlees, one of the most popular bands in Pennsylvania, recently returned from China, where they performed at The Tsingtao Beer Festival in Quindao. The festival is an annual gala event to honor the country's largest brewery and its workers. The group, who are sponsored by Budweiser, were asked to perform by Anheuser-Busch.
Consisting of Pete Palladino, vocals; Bret Alexander, guitar, mandolin, vocals; Jeff Feltenberger, guitar, vocals; Paul Smith, bass, vocals; and Ron Simasek, drums, percussion, The Badlees jumped at the once in a lifeline opportunity to travel to the Far East — where only a handful of American artists have ever performed.
"It was a pretty amazing experience," says Smith. "We got over there and didn't know exactly what to expect."
The Badlees performed about 10 shows while in China, sometimes two per day. Several of their shorter sets were performed in an enormous beer tent that held about 2,200 people, while their longest show — a full two-hour set — was held outdoors to a crowd of about 8,000.
Smith says the Chinese equipment wasn't quite up to par by American standards, and that western technology is slow in finding its way into the country. "In a lot of ways, they're Third World," he says.
There were several humorous episodes throughout the trip as well, including one performance for which no PA system had yet arrived only two hours before the show. "It was hilarious," says Smith. "Usually for a show like that, we're there 10 hours before."
While performing in the large tent, various foods were offered that were, according to Smith, "unidentifiable by us." Whole animals were offered on the menu, and when vocalist Pete Palladino nonchalantly picked up a chicken's foot that had been tossed onto the stage and waved it to the crowd, the group was suddenly met with a shower of chicken feet.
"They were throwing things up on stage out of enthusiasm," says Smith, who adds that the crowd's rushing to the stage, waving posters and energetic response is actually out of character for the Chinese people. "They rarely get jumping up and down," he says. "They're really conservative. It probably helped that they had been drinking for 12 hours."
Smith says police were on hand to keep people off the stage, but, by American standards, the most rowdy Chinese fan might not draw a second glance at a U.S. concert.
"'Out of hand' to them, is your basic 'having a good time to us,'" he says. "China is still a heavy duty communist country. People are born and die in the same town — never going more than 10 miles from their house."
Smith says The Badlees loved the Chinese, and were amazed at their interest in the Western culture. One Chinese gentleman the group encountered knew only six words of English — two of which were Michael Jordan, and two of which were Chicago Bulls. Another man, who called himself Michael, said he did so because of Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson.
Another sign of American culture found in China is karaoke, which Smith says is found in almost every bar and restaurant.
"We were in Hong Kong a couple of days and went out to the bars," he says. "Karaoke is huge in China and Hong Kong. They just thrive on this stuff. We found a folk karaoke bar, like an English pub, and we didn't buy one drink. We stayed there and played all night."
Now that they're back home, The Badlees are back to their business of making music. A new album, to be titled simply "The Badlees," is in the works, with a projected mid-February release date.
"We've been working on basic tracks," says Smith. "We've got the drum tracks down and we have days scheduled in the studio."
The group's first two full-length albums, "Diamonds In The Coal" and "The Unfortunate Result of Spare Time," were met with critical praise, and The Badlees have accomplished the difficult task of packing local clubs while performing almost exclusively original material.
"It's the most focused, definitive thing we've done as far as songwriting, arrangement and instrumentation," says Smith of the forthcoming album. "It's definitive Badlees of what we would have liked to evolve to at this point — a lot of acoustic instruments, mandolins, dulcimers — different kind of ethnic things happening."
And while the group is always looking ahead, they'll likely never forget their experience in China and the hospitality they received.
"We met all very friendly, nice people," says Smith. "They just loved having us there."