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Saturday, June 27th, 2009
The Groton Orchestra students spent the morning rehearsing for our final performance at the Shanghai Activity Center Orchestra.Â The performance, like our one at the jazz club last night, was a fund-raiser for the school we visited in Anhui.
Kicking it off, Groton students – the orchestra, ensemble groups, and soloists – performedÂ first.Â Â Then the students from the Luwan Teenage Activity Center mixed it up with performances on the erhu, zithers, and percussion drums.
Last minute shopping ensued, then our farewell dinner (traditional Sichuan food), and then it was off for the quintessential Chinese Saturday night – karaoke!
It’s hard to compact this trip into a sentence, or even a paragraph. So that will be a much longer missive for another time. The short version is that this trip opened a lot of eyes to the many dimensions and sides of China.
Friday, June 26th, 2009
What better way to ring in our first morning in Shanghai than with a Kung Fu class? After a lesson in the ancient Chinese movements that are all about teaching you how to harness and use your strength, we walked around the iconic Shanghai lanes that are now commercial arteries.
Next stop was another culinary treasure – People 7 – for some modern riffs on Chinese food. Satiated, we arrived at The Shanghai Museum, the best collection of Chinese art in China. The ceramics gallery practically needs its own zip code!
After the museum, a few group members broke off to go practice for that night’s performance at the JZ Club. The rest continued on our walking tour of Shanghai, visiting one of the older parts of the city.
At 630 we arrived at the JZ Club for the jazz concert that was organized to raise money for the migrant worker school we visited in Anhui. The turn out was great – and it was a treat to listen to Adam and Will, who were joined by Sterling for a bit, play Frank Sintra and John Coltrane, among others.
Dinner was on the 10th floor of a large shopping center, a vantage point that gave us sweeping views of the Shanghai skyline. Yes, we are all smitten.
Tomorrow we have our last performance!
Thursday, June 25th, 2009
This morning we made our way east from Hefei back to Nanjing. What a treat to see this city in the daylight – we only had a brief overnight when we passed through on Tuesday. The tree-lined streets and thoughtful urban planning are just a few of Nanjing’s great touches. Along one of these tree-lined streets is a park that houses Sun Yat-sen’s, the founder of modern China, mausoleum. With its peacock blue accents and sweeping views of the city, you soon forget you’ve just climbed almost 500 stairs to get there.
Then we got back on the bus for the three-hour ride to the Paris of the east – Shanghai! The city greets you with clusters of skyscrapers and pockets of bright lights. After checking into our very chic hotel, we went to dinner at a swanky Shanghai restaurant. Off to bed to rest up for our Kung Fu class in the morning.
Wednesday, June 24th, 2009
After a quick rest (breakfast was at 6:45 am), we loaded the bus for Anhui, the poorest province in coastal China, to perform at a school for the children of migrant workers. On the four-hour drive, we passed the Yangtze River. Quickly the scenery became more and more rural.Â Buildings were replaced with sprawling fields.Â Spending time in large urban areas, it’s easy to forget that 800 million people in China live in rural areas.
About three miles from the school, it was clear that our bus would not make it through the more narrow roads that lead to the school. Of course, good fortune interceded and a bevy of vans arrived to transport us to the school.
Walking through the gate to the school, the students were formed in perfect lines by grade. After we gave them our gifts, the Chinese students gave us gifts – the red scarves they wear to school to identify themselves as students.
Outside some of the classrooms, the Groton students set up their instruments for the performance.Â This was a whole town event. People seemed to have gathered from far and wide for the Groton orchestra!Â Many of the Chinese students had never seen or heardÂ violins, bass clarinets, or flutes.Â In a particularly poignant moment, Mr. Borg selected one person from the audience to practice conducting. Only pictures will do that justice.
We left feeling like we had just had an experience that probably will never be replicated. The opportunity to perform for students in rural China, a place where many Chinese people have never even been, is truly once-in-a-lifetime.
Tomorrow we switch gears from rural to cosmopolitan. Shanghai awaits!
Wednesday, June 24th, 2009
There is much to update about our experience today at the Zhong He (meaning “Middle River”) Primary School but tonight we will let the photos speak for us. Goodnight from Hefei, Anhui after an amazing day.
Wednesday, June 24th, 2009
Greetings from Nanjing, which literally means southern capital. We arrived here after a short flight (hour and a half) from Beijing.
Before we left Beijing, we squeezed in one last sight – The Summer Palace, one of the most noted gardens in China. After a steep climb to the top, we reaped our reward: a breathtaking view of a lake. This is one photograph not be glossed over. We learned that there should be a special plaque for Empress Dowager Cixi – she embezzled navy funds to give the place a face lift. Her craftiness paid off. The Summer Palace is considered one of the most beautiful gardens in the world.
Tomorrow we make the four-hour drive west to Anhui Province to perform at a rural migrant school. Then we will spend the night in Hefei, the capital of Anhui Province.
Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009
On behalf of everyone on the trip, the China Prep team in New York wanted to let everyone know that the group has arrived safely in Nanjing and everything is going well.Â They are currently having some internet challenges, but keep an eye out for more updates in the coming days!
Monday, June 22nd, 2009
Today, we set out for the Dandelion School, a middle school for children of migrant workers right outside Beijing. Dandelion is truly one-of-a-kind as no other school in China serves this population. To put the school in context, there are two million migrant workers in Beijing and 130 million in all of China. This is an extremely poor slice of the workforce – many of them make only a dollar per day.
The Dandelion School serves an extremely important function – to ensure these children don’t fall through the cracks and have the opportunity to transcend the destiny of their parents. Their track record is astounding. Last year, 99% of students at Dandelion passed the high school entrance exam.
Over the course of the afternoon, we visited their classrooms and saw a day in the life of a Dandelion student. Students bonded over music and that they all attend a school where students board. Then it was time for the concert – a small affair of 500 Dandelion students!Â The orchestra, ensemble groups, and soloists all played. It would be hard to imagine having a more captive audience – they were mesmerized. After the performance, students studying music at Dandelion had the opportunity to interact with the Groton musicians and ask questions about their instruments.
After dinner, the masses made their way to the ping pong tables and basketball courts. Music is not the only universal language!
Tomorrow we head south to Nanjing. Stay tuned.
Sunday, June 21st, 2009
We headed out to the Lama Temple, one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world. The temple was packed with worshippers and incense. No sign of the schism here.
As is quintessential of China, we moved from the ancient to the modern in a flash. An old street of hutongs has morphed into a shopping street that has accents of New York’s Soho and Boston’s Newbury Street.
Then it was off to another modern Chinese ritual – hair washing! This outing served a purpose, however, beyond aesthetics. It was an economics lesson in cheap labor. To get your hair washed and a head massage costs less than two dollars. It’s no wonder so many of our goods are made in China.
After our coifing, we went back to the hotel to get ready for a benefit for the Dandelion School, the migrant labor school we are performing at today. In a strange stroke of luck (and Brantley pulling some strings), the Groton crew got a taste of the Chinese red carpet and a night with the stars, including the most famous model in China and other well-known musicians. The Dandelion School’s orchestra performed and we were all quite impressed, especially given that they only began playing four months ago. The weather and the setting could not have been better. The venue – Qian Men Dong Da Jie (No. 23) – is one the gems of Beijing. It used to be the U.S. Embassy and is now one of the most scenic locations in the city, something we got to appreciate from the rooftop of one the many restaurants that now line the compound.
Off to perform at the Dandelion School!
Saturday, June 20th, 2009
Our weekend started with a visit to the Temple of Heaven, a Taoist temple that was used for worship during Imperial times. Today, the temple is a design and structural anomaly – not one nail was used to build the temple. The entire temple complex is housed in a beautiful park where people gather to hang out, play music, and dance. Adam and Sterling broke out their guitars and drew quite an audience with crowd pleasers like “Let it Be” and “Hey Jude.”
After lunch, it was time to practice our bargaining skills at the antique market (Panjiayuan). While you would need days to make it through the countless aisles of jewelry, furniture, instruments, clothing, and other assorted knick knacks, Groton students were able to purchase many bargained for items in the hour we spent there, thanks in part to the bargaining lexicon lesson we got from Brantley.
Continuing on the culture trail, the latter half of the afternoon was spent at Dashanzi 798, the sprawling art complex that has become the face of the burgeoning Chinese art market. Students had time to explore the dozens of art galleries that are housed in what were once an industrial neighborhood. Seeing Dashanzi, it’s hard to believe that not very long ago there was no art scene in China. Innovation in China happens so fast!
On our way to the Beijing Opera, we stopped for what is called a “light” dinner in China – i.e. a large bowl of noodles. We then dashed off to the Beijing Opera for a whimsical performance that combined music, dance, acrobatics, and pantomiming.
Zai Jian (goodbye) for now!