What happens when an orchestra of dedicated amateur musicians heads out on a tour of China? What’s life on the road like for orchestras encountering multiple concert halls, differing cultural norms, and planes, trains, and automobiles in a foreign country? How do musicians stay in artistic shape while traveling? And what about all that great Chinese food?
On December 23, the New York City-based Park Avenue Chamber Symphony launched its first-ever international concert tour in Beijing, and wrapped up the tour in the same city on January 5. In between were concerts in Qingdao, Dalian, Jinzhou, Chaoyang, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Shenyang. The tour came about at the invitation of the Beijing Concert Hall Corporation. Founded in 1999, the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony is led by Music Director David Bernard and comprises players who, as one journalist put it, are accomplished musicians who just happen to work in other chosen fields. “In addition to being a huge honor, this tour is a major milestone for the orchestra,” Bernard said before embarking on the tour, adding that he “looked forward to a rewarding cultural exchange with a new audience across the globe.”
Two Park Avenue Chamber Symphony musicians give SymphonyNOW the inside story of their orchestra’s China visit with first-person logs: trombonist Stephen Bent, who has a career as one of the Flying Karamazov Brothers, and violist Jennifer Rohr, who works as an arts publicist.
Stephen Bent, when not playing trombone with Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, is a full-time performing member of the Flying Karamazov Brothers (www.fkb.com), the world-traveling, award-winning, fish-juggling musical vaudeville troupe. He’s performed on five continents, on Late Night with David Letterman, and on one hour of sleep. In addition to trombone, Bent enjoys playing piano, guitar, accordion, ping-pong, drums, ukulele, and trumpet, in that order. Bent says that he is very excited and grateful for the opportunity to play such great music and explore China with PACS.
Jennifer Rohr, when not playing viola with Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, is a publicity assistant at Christina Jensen PR, where she creates online presences for artists through social media. Her projects have included Simone Dinnerstein’s Neighborhood Classics series and the American Composer Orchestra’s SONiC (Sounds of a New Century) festival. Rohr divides her time between PR and concertizing in New York. Rohr attended Interlochen Arts Academy high school, where she studied viola with David Holland, and earned a B.M. at the Eastman School of Music in the studio of John Graham. She also holds an M.A. from New York University, where she completed extensive coursework in performing arts administration. Before joining Christina Jensen PR, Rohr worked at the Metropolitan Opera Guild and the publicity firm Jay K. Hoffman and Associates.
12/15/11: An Introduction
Hello, my name is Stephen Bent and I’ll be sending out updates from the road on the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony’s concert tour through China. I’m a new member of PACS, having joined the trombone section this fall. So far I’m having a wonderful time and enjoying getting to know my fellow musicians. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve played in an orchestra (my “day job” as a touring professional juggler doesn’t allow for much free time), so this is an exciting opportunity for me. The tour repertoire (essentially a “greatest hits” list of orchestral music) includes several trombone favorites, like Copland’s Hoe Down, Rossini’s William Tell Overture, Bernstein’s West Side Story Suite, and of course, the Star Wars Suite by John Williams. Lots of fun, challenging music to whip my chops back in shape.
12/19/11: The NYC Concerts
To kick off the tour, PACS presented two concerts in New York City this weekend. Both were well-attended and well-performed. David Bernard, our fearless leader, came out to conduct the Star Wars Suite dressed in full Darth Vader costume, much to the surprise of both the audience and the orchestra. I wonder if he’s bringing the whole get-up to China.
Now we’ve got a couple days to prepare, then on Wednesday morning we take off from LaGuardia Airport to Chicago, then on to Beijing. Can’t wait!
Everybody seems tired but in good spirits. Off to bed for a few short hours, then it’s time to get up to catch a train to Qingdao for our first concert!
12/23/11: Travel day #2
Another long day of sitting (on a bus, a train, then another bus) and schlepping (suitcases and instruments mingle in the underbelly of the bus) draws to a close with our arrival at the beautiful Hai Tian Theatre Hotel. We were welcomed by an impressive series of performances by the Qingdao Youth Orchestra (who invited David to conduct their finale) and several other musicians. A seemingly endless number of platters of food were placed before us (some of it familiar, some of it not, most of it delicious), as well as Tsingtao beer, brewed right here in Qingdao. The hospitality here is amazing; I’ve never seen such effort put out to make a group feel as welcome as this.
After the banquet a group of us hit the town with Jimmy, a horn player who has lived in Qingdao and speaks Chinese. He took us to Feeling, a dance club with a springy, almost trampoline-like dance floor. After bouncing for a while, the travel fatigue kicked back in and we headed back to the hotel. Must sleep tonight, as our first concert is tomorrow evening and we want to make a good impression on our hosts.
12/24/11: What It’s Like Being in a Hotel Full of Orchestra Musicians
Two French horns, a trombone, a viola, and at least one flute.
Rossini, Strauss, and Bernstein.
These are the sounds wafting through the hallways of the Hai Tian Hotel before 11 a.m. this morning. I wonder if other guests are entertained, annoyed, or just bewildered.
12/24/11: Qingdao, Concert #1
After a busy day of sightseeing in Qingdao (including the Tsingtao Brewery, China’s most popular beer), we congregated in the hotel lobby and were led through a maze of halls and stairs to the Qingdao Grand Theatre. We rehearsed for an hour in this shining and stylish modern concert hall, then took a break to drink water and relax before the performance. The atmosphere was animated, tinged with nerves; nobody knew what to expect from the Chinese audience. As it turns out, there was little to fear. The Qingdao audience, a sold-out crowd of approximately 2,000 people, was effusive and appreciative. They roared in response to our performance of Dance of the Yao Tribe, a traditional Chinese melody orchestrated by Yuan Mao Liu. David’s entrance in the Darth Vader costume got a big laugh of recognition, particularly when he revealed the light saber in place of a baton. At the end of the program, the audience leapt to their feet and shouted their approbation, clapping until we played multiple encores. The concert-fueled adrenaline fizzled out during the post-performance banquet and I retired to my bed.
12/25: Dalian, Concert #2
Waking up too early, we rode the bus from Qingdao to Dalian, an industrial town in northern China. A group of us toward the back of the bus marked the holiday (Merry Christmas, everyone!) with a spontaneous caroling session. I accompanied on ukulele as members of PACS improvised harmonies (and sometimes new verses) to whatever song suggestions people would shout out. It’s worth mentioning at this point that I haven’t played with this orchestra before, and, with some minor exceptions, didn’t personally know anyone in the group before committing to come on this tour. Needless to say I had some apprehensions about traveling for two intense weeks with a bunch of strangers, but those fears have already been put to rest. Everyone so far has been friendly and receptive. There’s a budding sense of community, I suspect resulting from the shared experience of a grueling travel schedule (which, looking at the itinerary, won’t get easier anytime soon). My roommate, Peter, is an excellent French-horn player and an easygoing kind of guy who’s been a pleasure to live with. I look forward to getting to know the rest of the group over the next few weeks.
The concert in Dalian was well received. During our final bows a group of small Chinese girls brought flowers for David, as well as the concertmaster and principal cellist. Adorable.
After the concert I joined a couple other younger members of the orchestra for an exploration of the downtown square, where we saw fireworks being shot off. In a restaurant I was somehow mistaken for NBA star Pau Gasol (I’m white and 6’4”), so I obliged and posed for photos with excited Dalian teenagers.
12/26/11: Jinzhou, Concert #3
This morning we somehow ended up sharing breakfast (in a cool 360-degree restaurant at the top of our hotel with great views) with a professional female volleyball team. In my travels I’ve started an informal collection of photos with random strangers taller than myself, so I worked up the courage (and expressive hand gestures) to ask some of them to pose with me. I gotta say, if I had to predict in which country I’d find a group of women around my height, I wouldn’t have guessed China. Live and learn.
Jinzhou is a bleak-looking town where the pollution is so severe that most residents wear face-mask filters at all times. The smell of bus fumes pervades the air, and we were discouraged from walking to the concert venue without a partner. This is clearly an economically depressed town, and many members of the orchestra have expressed confusion about what we’re doing here. This is a far cry from the glamorous tour some had in mind, but I’m excited for the opportunity to bring classical music to a place that doesn’t often host such cultural events. If, through the music of Rossini, Bernstein, and Strauss, we can bring light and joy into the lives of the Jinzhou audience, I’ll feel like I’m doing some good in the world.
The audience in Jinzhou was engaged and excited. Concert etiquette here is different from the rigid rules of American concert halls, and we saw flashes of cameras and cell phones throughout the concert. At the end, they waved goodbye and cheered as we left the stage.
Staying in concert shape has been a real challenge. So far we’ve had little opportunity to rehearse as an ensemble, and virtually no chances for individual practice. Some have sought out spaces in the hotels, while others resort to using their own rooms. My roommate Peter, for example, plays a series of scales and arpeggios on the French horn every day. Personally, I find this concert repertoire (2.5 hours of demanding music) to be taxing enough on my lips that additional time playing during the day would actually have a negative impact on my performance. I’ve been working to find the right balance between warming up just before the concert while not wasting too much of my limited chops. The program ends with the Star Wars Suite, one of the most physically demanding pieces for brass. By the time the final notes come around, we’re all pretty worn out.
After the concert in Jinzhou, we made our way to a club recommended to us. One of the weirder places I’ve ever been, the “11 Blues Music Club” appeared to be a combination of three distinct ideas: Apple Store, dance club, and Michael Jackson museum. Apple products in glass display cases dotted the room, while pulsing beats and flashing lights provided a party atmosphere. Looking up, the ceiling was a beautifully painted mural of the album cover from Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous,” while one entire wall was lined with MJ memorabilia, including a full-body costume and dozens of framed albums. What a strange and wonderful place.
12/27/11: Chaoyang, Concert #4
After not nearly enough sleep, we hopped on a bus which, after a couple hours of chugging along, broke down by the side of a picturesque stretch of highway. A horse and cart slowly passed us as our driver made a call to the other bus, letting them know our situation. After a couple hours killing time (whoever thought of making a phone app of the game Taboo, I thank you dearly), another vehicle arrived to take us to Chaoyang.
An imposing statue of Chairman Mao greets us at the entrance to the concert hall. The hall, stark and chilly, has no heating system to shield us from the below-freezing temperatures outside. Winds and strings alike complain about the effect the cold will have on their instruments, and the tuning thereof, but it seems to be a factor we must just accept. Behind the orchestra hangs a giant screen onto which are projected various images. Upon our arrival, a brightly lit photograph of an orchestra hangs behind our chairs, like an omen of the brightly lit orchestra that will soon fill the seats.
The theater is military-run, meaning young men in camouflage uniforms are omnipresent moving chairs and stands, assembling the percussion, and trying to be helpful in any way that we can convey through expressive gestures. They’re friendly and casual, despite the serious attire.
During the concert, we are all surprised to discover that the images projected behind us not only change from piece to piece, but sometimes even during the music. During “Red Flag Ode,” a Chinese nationalist march we play in each concert, a Communist propaganda film is screened, surely distracting David from his conducting duties. I’m playing in nearly every measure of the piece, so I can’t turn around to see the video, but my instrument provides an even weirder view. I can see distorted reflections of the film in my trombone’s bell, twisted green fields and mangled dragons providing a near-psychedelic color show just inches from my face. I’ve played marching band and circus shows, but tonight ranks among the stranger concerts I’ve been a part of.
We’re getting to a point of repetition that orchestral musicians don’t usually get to enjoy. Counting the New York concerts, PACS has performed this repertoire six times. Issues of note accuracy are far behind us, tempo shifts are familiar and comfortable, and the concert flow is starting to feel routine. Because I no longer have to focus as intensely on counting rests, I’m free to listen more carefully to what other sections play during my inactive stretches, and new things jump out at me each time. For example, there’s a section in Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours” where the French horns enter on an absolutely gorgeous major chord, a moment I’ve come to relish. The voicing is perfect and the PACS horn section performs it tastefully. During West Side Story, I’ve started hearing this amazing countermelody in “One Hand, One Heart,” played by the violas, cellos, and English horn. The trumpet solo in Copland’s “Hoedown,” is, to my surprise, actually two trumpets bouncing off each other in an exciting rhythmic handoff. Also, my own performance has improved with the benefit of knowledge gained from repetition. I’ve figured out that my D needs to be a little bit sharper than I would normally play in order to match the flutes in “Hoedown.” Be sure to watch David carefully for the tempo in William Tell. These and a hundred other details have crept into my consciousness through repeated performances.
12/23/11: Day 1?
The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, directed by David Bernard, was invited to perform on a 9-city tour in China this year. And people, we have arrived!
We have covered a lot of ground over the past three days. Two days? Three days? The time change complicates it. From New York to Chicago to Beijing and now Qingdao.
Carting 80-plus people around a country where hardly any of us speaks the native tongue does have its challenges. After going through customs, baggage claim, and a bus ride to the hotel, we settled in for a (very) short night in Beijing. The next morning, breakfast was served—a generous banquet of spicy noodles, steamed vegetables, puffy buns, eggs, rice, soups, and even desserts. Yum!
We hopped onto the buses again to go to the train station. The station, above, is similar to the airport: shiny, sleek, and huge.
Even McDonald’s looks fancy! Coffee at the “fancy” McDonald’s: ¥35. Try the one upstairs for a cup closer to ¥10.
Upon boarding the train we were directed to our seats on the express train to Qingdao, where the first concert of the tour will be held. The train ride was a nice change from airports and busses—modern trains and spacious seats, and super-fast speeds through the Chinese countryside.
One of the violinists, Chris, bought the lunch (above) on the train, but there were also lots of snacks and drinks. I think it may have been the first time that the train actually sold out of beer during the ride—that is, unless another maygoren (American) orchestra tour also had a fancy for beer during the ride. Upon arriving at the train station in Qingdao (pronounced “Shin-dow”), we headed to our hotel. Looking forward to our first day and concert in the city!
Our first concert was in Qingdao, a town known for its seafood, beaches, and beer. It’s a popular vacation destination for Japanese and Korean tourists in the summer. Qingdao has two main parts of town: the “old” downtown, which has traces of German architecture and is the home to the Tsingtao Brewery, and the “new” downtown, which went through a major development phase during the past ten years—complete with Hermès and Prada stores.
Needless to say, development has been a large part of the Qingdao economy.
The beach was stunning. Even in the winter, many people and their pets were out for a walk or run.
Despite the cold, we also found the stroll on the beach to be pleasant.
Next to the gleam of the “boardwalk” apartments and hotels, there is still some old-China charm.
Our first night in Qingdao, we were treated to a banquet dinner by our hosts, as well as several performances by the children of the city.
They. Were. So. Cute!
The following night was the performance at the concert hall (in the “new” downtown), the Qingdao Grand Theatre. Talk about clever urban planning: the theater is adjacent to the hotel, so performers don’t have to take an extra commute to the venue. Awesome.
The concert hall acoustics were equally impressive; after several days of travel, it felt great to play a bit. The hall was packed with a super-attentive audience. What I really appreciated was the varied age range of the audience: there were several young children and adults. The concert had hosts, but conductor David Bernard said a few words in Chinese which really got the audience worked up.
The enthusiastic audience also appreciated the Star Wars selections from the program. I guess cameras aren’t prohibited like they are in the stuffy halls of the U.S., because when the conductor walked out in a Darth Vader getup…it certainly got the flashes going. Even though Chinese and English couldn’t be more different, music truly is the “universal language.”
Dalian & Jinzhou
The concert in Qingdao was followed by another late night banquet (these people really know how to host!), Tsingdao, and Taboo—I finally learned how to play that game…let’s just say you really need to know how to “use your words.” The next morning, we went to the Qingdao airport, which looks like a spaceship launch pad. We took a flight to Dalian, which is northeast of Qingdao. Then it was go, go, go. Upon reaching the hotel, we changed into concert black and were back down in the lobby for the bus to take us to the concert hall. The streets of Dalian were brightly lit with Christmas lights, including a cool Chinese ribbon made out of lights!
The concert was held at the Dalian Grand Concert Hall. The city of Dalian has a unique custom: during the final encore, the Radetzky March, the political leaders exit the hall first while the audience claps its hands to the beat of the march. The Chinese audiences seem to love Radetzky March! While they were clapping along, David Bernard led them in “dynamics clapping,” so that their clapping matched the dynamics of the orchestra.
After the concert, we returned to the hotel for another dinner buffet. The hotel had a rotating restaurant on the top floor that is very similar to the Marriott Hotel at Times Square. If you haven’t been, it features a panoramic view of the city that is stellar at night.
The following morning, we were off to Jinzhou. I found as we traveled north that there were two things to take note of: 1) less and less English was spoken and written on signs, and 2) more and more people seemed to notice our presence.
I didn’t find much difference between the New Jersey Turnpike rest stops and the highway rest stops in China—well, at least from the outside. However, the public toilets are notably different from the U.S., to which many people may have had trouble adjusting.
We did discover a plethora of fun snacks at the rest stops, which many people shared on the bus.
Arriving in Jinzhou, we noticed the change of temperature, evident by the ice on the sidewalks. There are a lot more cyclists and motor bikes in Jinzhou than in Dalian, and all I can say is that I do not understand how the traffic patterns work here. That pretty much goes for all of China, but especially the cities with increased pedestrians and bikers.
After a lunch in the hotel, we went to our concert at the Riverside of Rhine Concert Hall. I had the feeling (based on the picture below) that the hall was used for movies as well as concerts.
Inside the hall there was a huge screen behind the stage (again confirming my suspicions).
During the actual concert, hosted by a formally attired man and woman (many of the concerts were hosted), there was some sort of writing on the screen. I do not know what it said. For obvious reasons. But during the two Chinese pieces on the program, the screen changed: the first picture was of China’s mountains during a traditional Chinese piece, Dance of the Yao Tribe. The second, In Praise of the Red Flag, was a patriotic video. It was an interesting visual element to the concert, which the audience seemed to love. Per the norm, the concert was followed by a banquet at the hotel and a night of rest.
Chaoyang: The Tale of the Travel Marathon
The next segment of the tour can be best described as a travel marathon, with a couple of concerts thrown in for good measure. The bus ride from Jinzhou to Chaoyang was relatively short. On our way, one of the buses broke down. This was probably bound to happen at some point. It broke down a literal two-minute drive from the rest stop. Some of us were able to take a break at the rest stop, while another bus was sent in for the rest of us. Considering the seemingly remote area that we were in, the backup bus arrived relatively quickly, and we continued on to Chaoyang. Upon arriving and unloading, and checking into the hotel in Chaoyang, there was a lunch waiting for us… The crew at this hotel was so cute!
After the lunch and before the concert, we had a couple of hours to walk around the city. Compared to the cities we had previously visited, this seemed the most remote. Store-keepers stared at us from their shop doors; at one point, I looked next to me to discover two Chinese guys walking along, saying “Hallo!” and then “Where are you from?!” Luckily I learned wo shr maygoren (I am American). They thought that was pretty hilarious—I must have a terrible accent in Chinese.
12/28/11: Shenzhen: The Tale of the Travel Marathon (Part 2)
A huge element of our tour in China was highlighted by a simple mantra: “Expect the unexpected.” Taking this advice, it became best to go with the flow and disregard the itinerary—but hey, that’s part of the adventure! So although the plan was to take sleeper busses to Beijing for a flight to Shenzhen, we went with regular motor coach—the pro being they were clean and we each got two seats, the cons being that there was no heat in the back of the buses, and the drivers were falling asleep. Needless to say, aside from a few of us that popped an Ambien, many did not sleep. Arriving haggled and frozen in Beijing, we loaded a plane for a flight to Shenzhen. Shenzhen was to Boca Raton, FL as Chaoyang was to Buffalo, NY. The warm weather and palm trees gave us all a second wind, which was sorely needed for our concert at the Shenzhen Concert Hall.
This hall was probably the hall with the best acoustics of the whole tour.
The lobby was massive!
The cellists tried out their instruments. Between percussion, cellos, basses, and harp, the instruments were changing at nearly every hall—some were disastrous, others great.
The PACS China Tour Viola Section!
After the travel marathon and no sleep, the orchestra channeled its last bit of energy to deliver a successful performance.
12/30-31/11: Guangzhou to Siberia – I mean, Shenyang
We got on yet another bus, then a flight to Shenyang. We left the balmy palms of “Boca Raton” to go back to the North, where average lows are 3-10° F. In Shenyang we had a bit of much-needed downtime. One thing that was very consistent between the North and the South was the ubiquitous KFCs. Apparently they are the fast food of choice in China (as far as American chains go!).
For dinner, a group of us went to a hotpot restaurant. Hotpot is basically a pot filled with boiling water that is kept hot with some source of fire underneath. A table orders different options for their hotpot, such as vegetables, lamb, and seafood, all raw. Ok—in the case of seafood it’s alive and I couldn’t look at it. Ew. Anyways, you drop in your desired ingredient, let it simmer for a bit, and then take it out and eat it, freshly cooked!
The following day we went to the Imperial Palace of the Qing Dynasty. I couldn’t help but think how many people had built the beautiful palace in this freezing weather! Brrr! There were several gift shops at the Palace, where you can really bargain with the shop owners. I was a pretty lame bargainer, but some people scored great deals. After the Palace, we went to a Tea Mall—for real! a whole mall full of tea!—where you could sit down and try a cup or two of tea. That night was another concert with several encores, and then we brought in the New Year!
1/1-2/12: Back to Beijing
From Shenyang we took another high-speed train to Beijing. While in Beijing, we had some time to see the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, markets, and—oh, yeah—experience the best tour guide ever, Tim. But I get ahead of myself! We took the train to Beijing and settled into our hotel, then continued on to the Beijing Concert Hall for performance #8. By the time we arrived at the restaurant for dinner it was nearly midnight. The long day was followed by a “free” day in Beijing, during which we visited the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. I never thought I’d actually visit the Great Wall, but how cool is it that I did?!
We took a lift to the top of the mountain. You can also hike to the top… but that option wasn’t given. Considering our sleep-deprived state, it’s probably a good thing that it wasn’t. On the way down from the Wall, you can take the lift or you can take a super-awesome toboggan ride. If you ever visit China, plan to do the super-awesome toboggan ride, maybe twice. It is amazing!
On our bus ride to the Forbidden City, Tim educated us on many aspects of Chinese culture. He definitely had a… frank way of speaking, and his stories kept me awake for the entire commute.
Some of his enlightening stories included the price of iPhones in China (nearly $1,000), how he met his wife (she used to be a mistress!), and why he can’t use the bathroom at his in-laws’: he doesn’t like the cows looking at him.
The Forbidden City was cold, but full of vibrant colors. I can only imagine how gorgeous it is in the summer.
After the Forbidden City, a few of us settled down at a McDonald’s to warm up and for some “comfort food.”
We had the rest of the afternoon free. Several people visited the Silk Market, while others visited the Pearl Market (according to Tim, both markets sell the same goods). In the evening, we visited DaDong Peking Duck Restaurant, a super-swanky spot that specializes in Peking duck.
At another end to a packed day, we retired for the night before our next day of travel.
1/3-4/12: Tough Love and Terra Cotta
Tough love is the best way I can describe, positively, the last few days in China. It’s akin to a personal trainer: just when you think you can’t go any further… you’re running that extra mile. From Beijing we took a flight to Xi’an, home of the Terra Cotta Warriors. We had our last performance, concert #9, at the Xi’an Concert Hall. It was the last time we got to hear Nicolas Cohen’s amazing bassoon solo in “Dance of the Yao Tribe.” Thank you, Nick!
The hall was another impressive space, with wraparound seating and an organ. Unlike in American concert halls, the orchestra does not warm up onstage before a concert. We waited backstage until the concert start time, e.g. 8 p.m., then everyone filed onto the stage to applause. The concertmaster and conductor followed after everyone was situated.
The following morning we headed to the site of the Terra Cotta Warriors. They are truly breathtaking – each warrior is distinctive, down to the last forehead wrinkle. Different hairstyles signified different military rank.
It was cold at the site of the Warriors. Very cold. These masks, which not only help filter the smoggy air, also provide warmth for the very cold weather during China’s winter season. Violinist Fay Yu and I adopted this “custom.”
And thus our tough-love segment begins. We found out that we had to check out of our hotel much earlier than planned (expect the unexpected!), meaning our whole orchestra had to get back to camp and pack ASAP. We had a few hours before we had to be to the airport for our flight to Beijing, so some of us unwound at dinner. We look pretty tired—ready to go home.
So our journey home begins….
1/4-5/12: The Journey Home
Coming home from China was an adventure. I suppose that can be said about every moment spent in China as well, but the journey home was its own special category of adventure. We took a bus to the airport in Xi’an for a flight that landed in Beijing 11 p.m. From here, Plan A was: load our luggage in a truck to be locked, and take buses to an airport hotel for a short few hours of rest before returning to the airport at 4:30 a.m. for our flight back to Chicago. Plan B was: hang out at the airport and attempt to stay awake until 4:30 a.m., when we could check into our flight back to Chicago. Plan C was: the one that actually happened. No luggage truck arrived, only small 15-passenger vans. The people that wanted to go back to the hotel (a handful) loaded up and went. The rest of us loaded up the remaining vans and went to our next terminal, where many raided one of the few open shops in search of adequate sustenance to survive the night.
Around 4:30 a.m., French horn player Jimmy Haber (who, during the whole tour was also a gracious translator), decided it was time to buy approximately 50 Egg McMuffins. At around the same time the other group joined us from the hotel and we proceeded to our flight back to Chicago. After finding our seats, I think most people were out cold—exhausted from our time in China and looking forward to the grand ol’ U. S. of A. We landed safely in Chicago and from there many of us went our own ways, to California, Ohio, Florida, and elsewhere. It felt great to be home!
Going on tour to China with the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony was an amazing experience. Seeing the different cities, experiencing the culture, learning a bit of Chinese, and above all making excellent music with a charming group of people was well worth the occasional squatter toilet.
Next time there’s a tour, I’m in.