If I were rushing a sorority this semester, I would have had so much to talk about past the programmed greetings. And that’s just one perk of traveling internationally over winter break.
Going to China on tour with the Vanderbilt Orchestra was an incredible experience. The concerts were so much fun! We braved through freezing dress rehearsals wearing our hats and jackets, shimmied into our concert clothes in freezing changing rooms, and performed in freezing concert halls at the Xingtai Broadcasting Station, Nanjing’s East University, and YanChang’s Olympic Stadium. It was definitely a welcome surprise when we performed our last concert at Yintai’s Grand Theatre, where we were spoiled with heating, fancy dressing rooms, and a stage with proper lighting and seats. This place was so extravagant that we were required to wear exclusive backstage passes!
The weather in China was rather chilly; apparently, when we were there, the country reached record lows. Looking like marshmallows as we wore basically all the clothes we packed in our suitcases, we climbed up the uneven steps of the Great Wall in -10 degree weather! Of the eighty people on our trip, perhaps fifteen of us powered all the way to the utmost tower. Success!
I’d estimate that more than half our trip was spent in traveling via buses, planes, and high-speed trains. Well, at least now I can cross of my bucket list: endure nine-hour bus ride. But these times were actually quite satisfactory we had nothing else to do but talk with people that we were not yet quite friends, ponder about how privileged and blessed we were to be living in America as we gazed across starkly juxtaposed agrarian landscapes opposed to highly industrialized factories, and appreciate how nice sleeping in a horizontal position on a highly anticipated bed could be.
Getting to know my fellow musicians in this personality-unique group, especially the alumni, and exploring the cities were probably my favorite aspects of the trip. There were also so many fun times at dinners, including competitions involving chopsticks and peas and dares involving eating fish eyes, with people becoming comfortable with each other and making friends! During one of our rare free times, we wandered through the city of Yantai, where we were first exposed to the loud street vendors, to drivers who would stare at my Caucasian friends who were now the minority, and to enticing street food!
Vanderbilt provided it all: all the travel expenses including tickets for our cellos to sit next to us on the planes, all the fancy hotels, and all the exotic Chinese meals. They also brought along a team of professionals: with our conductor came a tour manager, stage technician, percussion manager, two amazing translators, Chinese tour guides, and a doctor! Thank you!
It seems we were there for a month because we mobile musicians traveled to nine cities in nine days. We were fractionally exposed to the culture, but did not have the time to become fully acclimated. China tour again sometime soon?