China 2005

Despatches from China 2005

Josh in China

Ball State University Singers traveled to the People’s Republic of China in May.

Here are selected emails home, and some of our tour photos.  Please click on Thumbnails for larger views.

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Thursday, 12 May, 11.55 p.m. in Beijing

Greetings to a host of family and friends in the USA!   We’ve arrived safely at Beijing after a long (and I mean long) but uneventful flight.  We arrived in Chicago with a bit of time to spare, then had to check in through a group line . . . which took forever.  Thanks be for this University Singers tradition of building in extra time!

We were met at the airport by Mr. Mi, the chief Chinese CITS guide who will be our primary guide and interpreter this trip, and by Mr. Yu, the head of the cultural organization sponsoring our visits.  Transit to the hotel took less time than they’d expected; our bags were already here waiting for us by courier!  Most of us have changed USD into RMB already.  We’re headed to dinner in a few minutes.

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Tomorrow–the US Embassy and education center, followed by the Forbidden City, the ancestral palace of the Chinese emperors.

Oh yes…today…Mr. Yu brought a newspaper onto our coach, with a color picture of Chris York in full University Singers pose from last year.  The picture was part of a color ad that took up one half page of this paper.  I understand it’s been running in Beijing all week.despat2

The hotel is clean and quite comfortable, although I fear that the kids may take some adjusting to these rather stiff Asian beds.  I remember taking three nights in Malaysia before I felt like sleeping on the slab of a mattress.   More to come, soon enough.   Our best to all back home!

Zai jian,

Jeff Carter

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Friday, 13 May, 10.23 p.m. in Beijing

Greetings to the Western Hemisphere at 9.23 a.m. Central Time on Friday.  It’s 10.23 p.m. here in Beijing.   We’ve completed our first full day of activity, and I (we, I think!) am tired and sore of foot, so this will necessarily be short.   Our hotel is an international one.  We saw Germans and British at breakfast today in the large dining hall, along with folks from all over Asia.  The kids are eating a) well, and b) a great deal!

We visited the American Embassy’s education center for a 90-minute Q&A, with most of the kids finding the visit very interesting.  After lunch, complete with chopsticks as are all meals, we went to Tiananmen Square and then across the street to the Forbidden City.  I doubt many of us will ever forget the increasingly impressive sights and steps toward the top of this ancient symbol of power.

Tomorrow–the Great Wall, and a major street market.

Oh yes . . . many of the kids are making very game and very funny attempts at picking up Mandarin phrases.  And the blonds in the group, along with the tallest of the boys, are attracting great hordes of attention, especially from 12-15 year-old girls!

Zia jian,

Jeff Carter

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Sunday, 15 May, morning in Beijing

To our friends in the USA and abroad:

Odds and ends from Beijing: This is a huge city.  And I mean huge.  There are over 13 million people who live in the city or the autonous region that surrounds it. A great majority of these people live in high-rise apartments.  And Beijing is a mix of old, decaying, not-yet-rebuilt housing and shops, mixed in with sleek and modern and sometimes even futuristic.  Everywhere you look, the city is under construction.  My hotel window looks out on the Beijing Zoo and Aquarium (ca 1970); in the middle distance are three very modern towers that appear to be modeled on giant humpback whales.

Smog is everywhere.  We finally saw the sun clearly yesterday when we escaped to the mountains and the Great Wall.  I just looked at the sun from my bathroom window (it’s 5.50 a.m. here on Sunday morning), and the sun was already high over the horizon, but just an orange glow that looked like a dirty Nike tennis ball.  So far the smog hasn’t caused problems for the kids, although we all find ourselves coughing a bit more, and blowing our individual noses a bit too!

The shopping mall experience on Saturday was both nerve-wracking and invigorating.  Only in department stores and up-scale boutiques are prices firmly set.  Everywhere else, you negotiate.  And that negotiation is a bit of a show.  They name a price–“for you, my first customer, this special morning price of XX.”  You counter with something about 20 percent of their price.  They feign indignation, outrage, and horror, and proclaim that they couldn’t possibly make a living on that.  And on and on it goes.  The kids ended up with loads of Western name-brand goods–Oakley sunglasses, North Face jackets, Tommy Bahama shirts, Armani clothing, and shoes and socks and watches galore–at a fraction of the US cost.  And they were more excited over the experience of learning to barter, and doing so with varying degrees of success, than I’d seen them in weeks.

Somehow, yesterday, we realized we’re not just on a road trip to a bit of an exotic Chinatown in NYC.  No, we realized we’re in China.  The bartering started it.  The visit to the pearl farm (and the buying of pearls…..) continued it.  But the Great Wall did the trick.

Here’s a portion of my own journal entry from the Great Wall:

3.45 p.m.  On the Great Wall. It’s truly a monument of world-wide importance.  This fortification, built by over 1 million workers over centuries in the 1300-1600’s, is a mind-stretching edifice.   To walk on this Wall is to see and feel centuries of soldiers walking before you.  To feel the wind blowing cool air in May is great, but to sense the chill of Chinese winters is harrowing.  To walk the steep inclines . . . well, one can’t begin to imagine the soldiers making this trip back and forth from tower to watchtower.   This ribbon of brick and mortar winds from peak to peak, making hairpin turns and sudden dives as fits the contour of the terrain.

Long before urban planning, before landscape architecture, before bridge-builders and brick-layers, the Chinese and their advanced civilization conceived on this strategic battlement.   But it didn’t work.  Genghis Khan broke through the wall, and the Mongols invaded Beijing anyway. Today’s it’s all about commerce (and China’s number two tourist attraction after the Forbidden City).  And it’s about cheap souvenirs sold by pushy locals.  And panhandlers.  And pickpockets (not for us!).  And hordes of tourists.

But it is, after all, the Great Wall of China, something I never in my life dreamed I’d see.  Or walk upon.  And I’m blessed to have been here.

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Best food so far: Green beans with spicy paste, which are soooo much better than the USA Chinese green beans. Chicken with black bean sauce and toasted walnuts. Beef and tomato dumplings dipped in rice vinegar or soy sauce. Spicy chicken with peanuts and garlic (a real hit!). Lo mein noodles (again, so much more flavorful than what we get at China fill-in-the-blank at home).   No one is starving by any means!

By the way, travel to the other side of the globe does indeed mess with you.  We’re all, almost to a person, waking up at 3 or 4 a.m. simply because our bodies say “2 in the afternoon and time to get up!”

Today–our first performance, at the most important and prestigious hall in China.  We’ll have a full house.  Tomorrow we go to the Summer Palace, and then on to Shijiazhuang for our next stop of the tour.

Oh yes–all luggage arrived safely, as did our equipment.

Jeff

Square

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Tuesday, 17 May, evening in Shijiazhuang

We’re in Shijiazhuang, an industrial city, and the capitol of Hebei province.  After an afternoon of travel on a four-lane limited access highway similar to our USA interstates, we arrived here with just minutes to spare before dinner.  The hotel is quite nice—first class by Western standards, with a pronounced Asian feel in color and style of décor.  I’ve figured out that I’ll have the largest room of the whole travel group, and that’s the case here too, as I have a suite with a separate sitting area.

Last night, after a sumptuous dinner (“the best yet,” the kids say) of Peking duck, yam rolls, spicy green beans, chicken baked in bamboo leaves, mushrooms in Hunan sauce,  local beer, and other things, we were treated to a cultural evening—paper-cutting, painting, a kung fu demonstration, Chinese acrobats, and Beijing opera.  My sense is that it was a stellar evening all around, and one very much enjoyed by the students and travelers.  We also had an hour to talk with Chinese college students from Hebei Normal University—these kids were all students studying English with Jai Re (“Andy”), our English-speaking guide and interpreter who is also a professor at the University.

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There are television commercials advertising on local television plugging our visit.  We were greeted, upon our entrance to the hotel, with a large banner: “Walmly [sic] welcomes Ball State University Singers group.”  I have a sense that tonight’s gig will be the best-attended concert of our trip, save for the two evenings in Deyang later this week.

I’ve asked some of our students to finish out this email with personal notes about the trip, so here are unedited (!) hello’s from American college students abroad in China . . . .

We are currently setting up our set in the Hebei Performing Center here in Shijiazhung.  Before we got here we were having a hot pot Mongolian lunch.  After lunch we boarded the bus on our way to the center.  As the bus pulled around the corner we had the chance to see the performing arts center, and on the face of the building was the biggest poster of “The Ball State University Singers”!!!  Andy (one of our tour guides) told us we were “rock stars.”  The stage that we will be performing on is massive, and the house looks as big, or bigger than Emens auditorium.  I am so excited because this performance will be attended by a lot of the students who attend Hebei University.  We had the chance to meet them at a Chinese cultural show last night.  I’m so excited to be here, and I really haven’t got that homesick yet.  However, the stop at McDonald’s yesterday was great.  We have 11 days left, but it already seems like we’re spending our summer here (which is so exciting!!).  I am anxious to see what happens next on this awesome adventure!

-Corby York

With each day, we love this country more and more!  The people are so hospitable and friendly.  Last night, we got to opportunity to meet with some students at the local university; hopefully, we will see some of them tonite at our performance!  Even though we haven’t even been here for a full week, the group is really getting the feel for China culture.  We all can use chopsticks, speak common Mandarin phrases, barter in markets, and everyday we are learning more!  I still cannot believe that we are really here, and I feel so lucky to be performing and traveling all over this wonderful country!

-Brittany Austin

This is such an amazing experience to get to be in China and visit all of these wonderful places.  A lot of us still can’t believe we’re here.  With all that we’ve done, it feels like we’ve been here a long time, but we are excited that we still have a lot to do!!  We just got done with a DVD store here and bought a lot of movies for really cheap.  We are really excited to get to perform in all these amazing venues too!!  We just saw the one in Shijiazhung and we can’t wait!  As mentioned above, McDonald’s was a great highlight of the trip to experience some American food.  People here are so friendly and nice!  I feel so lucky to be here and can’t wait to experience more of this culture.

– Justin Rentschler

Hey, I am never coming home.  Have a good time in America.  Just joking, I’ll come home when this place stops rocking my face…which will be never.  We have done a lot of cool things so far.  We went to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Great Wall, and a lot of delicious Chinese restaurants.  I love the food here.  We ate McDonald’s and it was horrible.  I love McDonald’s but I came to China for Chinese food.  Also, I did Chinese acrobatics (I have pictures) and a lot of shopping.  See you later family and other people’s families.

-Johnny Nellis

First of all, I want to say hi to my mom and dad and hopefully I’ll get a chance to call you soon!  To recap the trip so far, we started in Beijing and visited the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, and the free-market, among many other places. Everything in Beijing was AMAZING, especially the Great wall (minus being scared to death while I was climbing up and down the steepest slope I’ve ever been on).  Another great thing about China is the shopping, of course.  Everything is so cheap I can’t believe it!  But probably the best thing about this trip is the people of China.  Everyone is so hospitable and appreciative of what we’re doing.  The concert halls are huge and I’m definitely feeling like a rock star right now.  We just got to our second concert hall, and outside of the building was an enormous poster of University Singers – very very cool.  Well, that’s about it for now.  I’m having a fabulous time and continuing to enjoy this new and interesting culture.  Hope you’re doing well!  I’ll talk to you soon.

-Lynn Marcum

China is so amazing!  I’ve had so many new experiences in the times we’ve been here.  I’m finally getting better at eating with chopsticks!  And we’re all learning a little bit of Mandarin just to be able to get by!  Beijing was amazing.  We visited Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, and the Summer Palace.   We also got to go shopping (!!!) at an open market, where you can barter for better prices.  The concert halls here are amazing, and there are giant posters advertising our shows everywhere!  It’s such a different feeling from when we perform in the United States.  After the show in Beijing, the audience wanted pictures with members of the glee club and band, especially those with lighter hair or eyes.  We’re at our second performance venue now, setting up for the show.  Hopefully this one will go as well as the first!  Outside this hall is a HUGE poster for University Singers….we feel like such celebrities!            I hope everyone at home is doing well!  Hi to Patty and Dave, and tell Grandmother, Granddaddy, Kelly, Danny and Heather (Bailey, Jack and Chipper too!) that I said hello and I’ll try to call home again soon!

~Lori Wilson

Wow, What a trip! Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined I would be sitting in China with such an amazing group of my closest friends. The experience we are having is life changing; we have talk of students wanting to continue their studies and life here in China. That is pretty significant. Being here really makes you miss the things you take for granted in America, mainly the different kinds of food we have to choose from. I don’t know if I will ever want to see a Chinese meal again for as long as I live. We are treated here in China like we are stars, much like Britney Spears or someone of that significance. As we walk down the street we are stopped by many Chinese people to take pictures and just to find out who we are. Every city we enter we have banners and posters hanging up everywhere we go, which makes us feel even more special. I am excited to get home but am really excited that I have had and will continue to have such and amazing experience here in China. I want to tell my family that I miss them and that I love them.

~Clayton Crosby

Hey!!! Boy does it feel great to be typing again!! Haha…..Well, as you already know I’M IN CHINA! It is quite the experience. I can honestly say I have never been in this kind of place, environment before. So far I’ve been to the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, The Great Wall. It was incredible and I’ve never seen so much history and great sights like these. The Great Wall, although it was very high, I overcame my fear of heights and climbed it anyways. It was the best workout I’ve ever received and when I got to the top the view was more amazing than I can explain. I miss home a lot, especially my mommy and its sad to not be able to talk to her and my friends everyday but I know this 2 weeks I’ll never experience again! I also miss real American food. It’s gotten to the point where I kind of don’t get excited to eat anymore (which is unusual for me) but its just very different than what I’m used to and hard to find something I really like. However, on that note…I pretty much get full at all my meals. We had McDonalds the other day so that was WONDERFUL!! Well, I must go but mom I love you sooooo much and I miss you like crazy!! J

–Tara Presley

There really aren’t words to describe some of the things we’ve seen and experienced in the five days that we have been here.  One of the other members of the cast had an interesting way of putting it when she said that the cities here are a combination of first world and third world living.  In some respects, the culture is very similar, and in others it is drastically different.  It is obvious that China is quickly becoming, as we would put it, more modernized, but it is also easy to tell that their heritage is completely different from anything most U.S. Americans have ever seen.  The food is great although there are little, if any, carbohydrates included.  This makes keeping up my energy a tough task.  I can honestly say that the only thing I really miss about home is a swimming pool.  There is a building that looks like a pool right across the street from our hotel, but due to our busy schedule, I will not have the chance to go over there.  Even though it’s only been five days it seems like it’s been two weeks.  Well, that’s all I got.

Tommie Cuticchia

This entire experience is something that I will never forget for the rest of my life. I have learned so much, especially with communicating with people that I have never met and can barely speak the language. The most touching moments were when the Chinese started clapping during our songs, and didn’t stop the entire time! I was beaming on stage, and when we pulled up to the theater today with a banner that spanned the entire front I got chills. I never imagined that I would be here seeing the sites and getting the chance to sing and show our culture. The great wall was amazing, the food is an experience in itself, and today was my geek highlight when we went to the dvd store and I bought everything that I’ve been wanting to get in the states but didn’t have the money for. My collection is complete thanks to china!! Oh and my hotel room is haunted, so I have to adjust to that. Well, I miss everyone back home and cannot wait to show all the good stuff I am collecting and share the most amazing stories. Much love! – Nick Caine

First and foremost I am very grateful for this opportunity, and would like to thank all involved in donations for our trip.  I think I can speak for everyone and say that we are very appreciative of your generosity.  I have had a blast so far and words can only begin to describe what we’ve done in the few days we’ve been here.  Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City were so amazing.  Having only seen these on TV I was awed by just actually being there.  The people are so accommodating and patient.  I think we could learn a thing or two from our neighbors to the East.  The Great Wall was………..I really don’t have words to describe it, but I was actually there.  We saw Chinese acrobats, a Beijing Opera, and a kung fu presentation last night.  The culture here is so interesting.  Our first show went great, and the audience was very responsive despite the language barrier.  Last and certainly not least I really love the food, and I don’t miss anything about Western food.  I wish I could eat their food for the rest of my life.  Peace, Love, and Soul – Kyle Schaefer

A final coda from me this evening, now that some students have written during the day and we’ve finished our second performance—

The hall was fairly full tonight with nearly 2000 people.  A little—and I mean little—Chinese girl came up as we were doing our first encore.  On stage, she handed me flowers.  I said “xie xie,” and she responded in perfect English, “you’re welcome.”

Off to the interior tomorrow, first by train to Beijing, then by jet to Chengdu in Sichuan province, and then by a fleet of vans to Deyang, Muncie’s sister city.

Until I have a chance to write again,

Zai jian,

Jeff Carter

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Thursday, 19 May, morning in Deyang

Good friends and family,

This will be brief this morning, as we’re in a bit of a rush to start our tour of Deyang.

Shijiazhuang was wonderful in many ways, all of them different from Beijing.  Our performance there was to an almost-full house in a large hall with a stage larger than Emens.  The people were wonderful; the kids all got to visit with other Chinese college students, to great success.  The stop at a the cheap DVD store was a hit too!

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After a grueling travel day on Wednesday–one that included bus, train, and a three-hour air flight–we arrived in Deyang in Sichuan province last night.  Our greeting banquet started at 10 p.m.!  This visit may well be the watershed visit of the trip, as we’re being treated not as Ball State University Singers, but as the Ball State University delegation.  As such, we’re the largest Muncie delegation ever to visit here.

The kids are all in home stays.  We’ll find out soon what kind of stories they bring back, but the greeting last night was al-but overwhelming in its effusiveness.

I’m going to try to get some pictures out before we leave here, and I have a long email written by students on Tuesday–but it’s on my laptop, so I need to get that puppy plugged in to send it.

Let me just say again–Deyang is PUMPED to have us here.  This is Indiana’s Official Goodwill Ambassadors at our very best.  I only hope we do the title the justice it deserves.

Oh yes . . . foot message last night.  Delightful!!  As is the Beijing airport, and the Chengdu airport here in this province.

It’s 8.50 a.m.Thursday here, so it’s sunset in the USA on Wednesday. Schlafe gut, to all of our friends and family back home.

Zai jian,

Jeff Carter

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Sunday, 22 May, morning in Hangzhou

Good morning this Sunday morning!  It’s Trinity Sunday, but there’s not a Protestant church to be found in Hangzhou, where we’re currently staying.

After a full nine days of being on, we’re settled for 42 hours in Hangzhou for a bit of r&r before two more major concerts and visits with educational institutions.  I announced to the kids on Friday night that we’d have Saturday night off, and Sunday morning off, and leisure sightseeing Sunday afternoon, and Sunday evening off.  They raised their glasses of orange juice and water and shouted gan-bay [cheers] and applauded for what seemed like an hour.

So last night, after a really sumptuous meal, the kids put on clubbing clothes and enjoyed the entertainment area around West Lake.  We’re headed there this afternoon for a cruise on the lake, but first we’re headed to a tea art factory.  I’m not sure what that means, but I’m told it’s pretty wonderful.

I myself went to an Irish pub last night with the adult men (Yu Fei, our Chinese promoter; Jai Re, aka “Andy,” our interpreter; John Crozman, our Canadian tour rep; and Rod Richard, one of the four travelers who are accompanying us), and then to a pub on the lake.  It was a wonderful evening.

There’s a saying here: “In heaven there is paradise.  On earth there is Hangzhou and Suzhou.”  After seeing the lake last night, and seeing the mountains from my 21st floor window in this very modern hotel, I can attest to the truth of that saying.

It’s Kyle Schaefer’s birthday today.  He turns 20 here in Hangzhou.  Shane Hoose turned 20 whilst walking on the Great Wall last week.  And sadness too–one of our band member’s mother died of cancer yesterday.  We knew it was imminent, so he’ll finish out the trip.  For the next few days, though, I have another son who needs a strong shoulder of support.

Deyang was a 2.5-hour flight from Beijing.  The kids managed their homestays with dignity, and most of them with absolute delight.  They’ll have tales to tell for months–tales about kindness and generosity, tales about unusual food, tales about bathrooms that aren’t familiar to our Western standards.

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We’ll never have words to be able to explain or express the import and impact of our stay in Deyang.  I know from experience that the life lessons and life experiences we gain in this kind of travel will take years to manifest themselves fully in our consciousness.  But I’ll try to capture a bit of the visit, as written in my journal:

Thursday:

“It’s pretty heady stuff–and humbling, too–for we few citizens of the USA in this country.  We pulled up to the gate of the Foreign Languages School at noon.  Throngs greeted us.  Cameras took pictures for 30 minutes.  A video camera recorded every step we took.  I can only liken the experience to what Queen Elizabeth must feel when paying a visit to her dominions.  There was waving and cheering.  A giant banner greeted us outside, and another inside the dining hall.  We were feted and feasted, and I was at the center of it all.  An interpreter immediately stepped up to my right, while two headmasters and the school’s chairman of the board flanked my left.  Students prepared introductory speeches.  Entertainment came from at least six different groups.  We ate from stainless steel trays; our hearts were filled too.  I know that Jan and AJ and I were in tears, especially when they gifted us with new year’s ornaments while the piano played “Auld Lang Syne”.”

Saturday morning:

“It’s 7 a.m., and I sit in my hotel room in silence right now, looking out of my 7th-floor window at wet ground, clearing skies, and mountain-tops covered with snow in the near distance.  They rise specter-like into view through the haze.

“Rock stars could not have received a warmer, more frenzied welcome last night.  The police had to clear the stage at the close of the concert!  After the final bow, girls screamed as the guys jumped off the stage into the orchestra seats.  The concert was a love-fest, with my kids giving everything they had to share, and the audience responding in kind.”

Saturday afternoon, on a jet to Hangzhou:

“We’re only a few hours out, but I’m certain that three things will last:

1.  The Foreign Languages School visit.  Those kids leaning out of the windows, yelling and waving in greeting.  The genuine smiles and almost devoted allegiance they showed.

JC at school Deyang school with Corby

Deyang school group pix Lynn and Jenny at school

2.  Our 2nd concert, with rock-like adulation and the largest ovations we’ve received.  The “great reveal” as John and Jana call it [swirling lights and dramatic music as the curtains part].  The autographs that wouldn’t end.  And the unadulterated joy on my kids’ faces as they sang.  Even the band was rocking the show.  And Mark Mayhew couldn’t stop smiling–a real feat indeed!

Deyang_on_stage Deyang_Stars_and_Stripes

3.  The “givingness” of our hosts and host families.  Their thrill at our visit.  Their gracefulness in dealing with us.

“One more thing–most of us experienced tears in Deyang.  That hasn’t happened in the first two stops.  And those tears speak volumes about how blessed we are for this time in Deyang–and the potential for changed lives.”

From paradise on earth,

Zia jian,

Jeff

Deyang_panda_Kyle_Johnnie Hangzhou_tea_group

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Sunday, 22 May, evening in Hangzhou

An easy day today, with comfortable camaraderie, blue skies, great food, and a lot of relaxation.  Back to work–and off to Suzhou–tomorrow!   Kyle Shaefer turned 20 today.  Here’s a pix of him with me, and a pix of the whole group at the tea garden we visited.

Dr. Jeffrey Carter

Hangzhou_DC_and_Kyle

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Monday, 23 May, evening in Suzhou

Good morning this Tuesday a.m., from Suzhou on the Grand Canal, just north of Shanghai.

We traveled four hours by bus on Monday morning, arriving here in time for lunch.  The afternoon was taken with a two-hour appearance at Suzhou Conservatory.  We were treated to six musical acts, and then we sang a few songs for them.  The love fest continues–that’s all I can say.  I also gave an address on music education in American universities, and a couple of the kids got to answer questions from the stage too.

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Today is the silk factory and market, then an afternoon of set-up and sound check, followed by evening concert at Suzhou University, one that is allied with Ball State.

Here is one more pix from Sunday’s trip to West Lake in Hangzhou.

hangzhou group on lake

Zia jian,

JC

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Wednesday, 25 May, evening in Shanghai

Wednesday 8 a.m., in Suzhou before departing for Shanghai.

One should never say “wow, this trip has been a breeze,” because one causes the curse to descend.  I made that mistake after arriving in Suzhou on Monday morning, and on Tuesday the unexpected hit.

We visited the silk market yesterday morning, where we saw how silk is made, from caterpillars eating mulberry leaves to the silk being spun after it’s extracted from the cocoon.  Suddenly AJ Hunter has decided never to wear silk again, since he’s seen how it begins!  After a fashion show and mucho shopping, we ate a buffet lunch with western utensils, in the presence of a load of tourists from Canada, Germany, France, and the US.

Suzhou_quilt_making

Our concert last night didn’t take place, though.  Soochow University, upon the arrival of our equipment truck, tried to move us to a different venue and a different concert time, and they tried to give us 1/3 our usual set-up time.  Our own Chinese representatives were livid, saying they’ve never been treated this way in China.  After an hour of hurried negotiation and translation, I made the call to pull the show.  We did receive an apology and an admission of failure from the deputy director of the foreign affairs office, so the situation was somewhat ameliorated.

Our time in Suzhou was not a total loss, though.  We visited Suzhou Conservatory on Monday afternoon, where we were treated like royalty.  After I gave a short presentation on music education in American universities, I invited questions from the audience of about 200 Chinese students.  Their questions were perceptive; I asked some of our own students to answer.  After they performed traditional music and Western music for us, we sang five pieces for them, including our two Chinese folk songs and our own Stars and Stripes Forever. This was a very successful visit.

We replaced the concert yesterday with a night off, and also with a boat ride on the canals in the Venice of China, Suzhou.  Suzhou_streetscape

We’re finding the little things to be the most telling right now:

Western silverware was unusual yesterday, and many of us asked for chopsticks.

Our hotel in Hangzhou had thermostats made by Honeywell, based in Wabash, Indiana.

Finding Western toilets in public facilities is a thanksgiving moment for many of the kids!  We’re always grateful for hotels, and the chance to wash and lave according to our own customs.

Our food tastes are changing.  Many of the kids were finicky at first, but they’re now eating anything that’s put in front of them.  Mealtime discussions have turned from “what is it?” to “wow, this tastes really different in this province.  They must using more ginger here” and the like.

Some of us are recognizing Mandarin and Cantonese readily now, and we’re noting regional differences in dialects too, much the same way that the US has southern twang and Boston Brahmin and such.

Many of these kids are talking about returning.  Several of us are ready to stay for the summer.  I’ll not be surprised at all to find a half dozen of these kids coming back to China very soon.  And nothing would make me happier than to see a few lives invested in China as a result of this trip.

Lives are being changed, no doubt about it.

In Shanghai now, at 2 p.m.  We arrived at our sister institution, Shanghai Teachers University, a school of over 40,000 students, about 11 a.m. this morning.  Lunch was sumptuous, preceded by speeches, toasts, and greetings with all sort of dignitaries.  The president of the university attended, a very high honor not usually accorded student delegations.  He personally handed each of my kids a university t-shirt.  We’re the closing concert on their first-ever international arts series, and we saw color photos of us in the brochure and on the front page of their campus newspaper.  The welcome today makes yesterday’s lack of greeting or respect even more apparent.

Shanghai president

After a short campus tour, and a few of the guys peeling off to play basketball, we’re headed to our hotel.  Later today—the Bund, the old colonial center of Shanghai; and Nanjing Road, tourist heaven akin to Times Square meets 5th Avenue in NYC.

This may be my last letter before returning to the USA.  I’ll close by noting that we’re coming back different people.  Some of us will take months or years to figure out just how, but China has infected us in all the good and right ways.  Thanks for sharing these emails with me, and for sharing the noise and friendliness and contrasts and joy that is China.

Zia jian,

Jeff

______________________________

Thursday, 26 May, morning in Shanghai

Today will be very busy.  We have a roundtable information session at Shanghai Normal University this morning.  We’ll hear about Chinese education, about university life, and about teacher training. Our students will be visiting directly with their students.  Then we’re off to the other Shanghai Normal campus, on the other side of town, for the closing concert in their international arts series.

Shanghai bund Shanghai finale

The kids love Shanghai.  I love Shanghai.  In all the places I’ve traveled on four continents, nothing has compared with this.  Nanjing Road felt like the center of the universe last night.   I’ll attach a pix from Shanghai Normal yesterday.  Some of the guys had peeled off to challenge some Chinese students to basketball, so we’re not all in the picture!  (I don’t know who won the five-on-five, but our guys were pretty sweaty later.)

Shanghai_Normal

Jeff

______________________________

A postscript, June 9Hangzhou sunset

We’ve been back nearly two weeks now.  Many of us are so smitten that we just can’t get China off the mind.  I myself ate Chinese food (or a moderately successful American imitation thereof) yesterday, then watched a Chinese film last night.  This week alone I’ve met with representatives from two different PRC universities.  I can’t wait to go back.

Words keep failing me in my poor and tongue-tied attempts to describe our tour.  How does one tell the story of not being able to read the alphabet,  or speak the language, or order food, or ask for a restroom?  How does one relate the strange experiences of different smells and sights and sounds?  How does one find words for a culture that’s so very much older (and perhaps wiser) than our own in North America?  How does one attempt to tell the tale of West Lake, or pandas up close and personal, or rock-star reception, or spicy Sichuan cooking, or bicycles lined up like a herd of lemmings at rush hour, or the huge theatre in Beijing, or good luck charms, or rain (as Andy said the day we left, “China is crying because you leave.”).

One doesn’t.  He simply longs to return and live the adventure again, anew, afresh.

Until I return to the East,

Jeff Carter

 

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