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Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, and Home Dinners

Today was the warmest day of the trip so far; sunny and not a cloud in the sky. We left the hotel at 9am and headed to the Summer Palace. What a beautiful and extravagant landscape! There is a huge man-made lake that lies in the middle of the gardens. Today there were no boats out but there were many docked up that would have made for a great picnic on the water. We continued through the winding gardens and courtyards and Scott would give us a little history about each stop. One of the most interesting things we learned was that the Dragon Lady, the emperors mother, would go on a walk everyday and she would walk 9,999 steps. Once she got to the last step, she would stop, regardless of where she was and she was carried back to her house. The Chinese believe that the number 9,999 brings a a long and healthy life. Whether or not it was the exact number of steps or just the fact that she was taking so many steps, the Dragon Lady did live a very long life.

We continued the tour and walked up a hill and found people playing and listening to music. They were swaying from side to side and all holding hands. The Chinese people in general seems to be very welcoming to Americans joining their songs and dance. We joined in their swaying and singing for about ten minutes. Some of us were donned with tinsel, and pushed to the front so we could fully enjoy the experience. We then went on our way to the house of the Emperor and then out of the palace.

We then headed to lunch and we did the tour awards. The awards are a great way to wrap up tour. A culmination of our memories of each person. Nicknames like “Spicy Girl”, Funny quotes “you make picture?”, and embarrassing moments like being offered a fork when the waiters saw how you use chopsticks, were some funny, and blog-appropriate highlights.

After lunch we headed to the Temple of Heaven. This is where the Chinese believe the center of the universe is. It is also where a giant three-level pagoda is that serves as a Taoist Temple. The Emperor would come here three times a year to pray and then go to the center of the universe for a celebration. When you stand on the center of the universe you are supposed to make three wishes, and we made sure to take pictures of everyone too.

We then continued to the Central Conservatory. We heard a children’s choir sing, the same one that sang at the Beijing Olympics. They were an amazingly impressive choir whose musicianship was clearly one of the best in China. We sang about four songs for them and afterward, their choir conductor told us that his student wrote the Usuli Boat Song, a Chinese folk song, that we sing! He mentioned that his student sent him the drafts and he helped him by giving suggestions. Dr. Z gave the professor some music that was sent to him by Ron Jeffers who, for those of you who do not know, was a the Choral Head at OSU and began a publishing company called Earthsongs. He had recently published some Chinese Folk Music that included one of the Professor’s works. He was very surprised to see his work. It was really great to see that there was such a strong relationship between these two great composers and conductors.

We then were dropped off in a very old part of the city. There were no buildings over two stories and were all made of wood, clay, and stone. We walked to a square where were met by an old man who fights crickets! He showed us some gigantic crickets that were black and grey. Then he got out his grasshoppers, and these things were ugly and fat and by looking at some of the reactions on people’s faces, the biggest bugs we’d ever seen. He told us all about how he feeds them and what it means to be a champion cricket fighter. You can buy cars and houses with the winnings from one of these insect battles, people bet a lot of money.

After we were thoroughly grossed out by the big bugs, we were split up into two groups and were headed to our home meals. We were taken there in rickshaws and once we had weaved through the alleyways and got a short glimpse into this community, we stopped at the front door of Mrs. Han. 20 of us were loaded Into her small home. There were two tables set up in the main room and there was one adjacent room and connecting kitchen. The food in this home was the best we’d had all tour, we all agreed. There were tender pork meatballs, and a roast beef with starchy potatoes and carrots. Fried and salted peanuts, spicy celery with chicken, and of course the obligatory heaps of white rice. We finished dinner and we all decided that being the great singers we are, we had to sing for Mrs. Han and our enthusiastic tour guide Suri. We decided to sing the alma mater which turned out to be a success, maybe some of us need a bit of practice 🙂 After we sang we gave both Mrs. Han and Suri CDs to enjoy. Then Mrs. Han shared a little bit about herself. She told us that her son goes to high school, so he is studying very hard to do well. She also told us that her husband’s family has lived in that very same house for over 100 years! She was such a happy woman who seemed so loving and obviously giving to have us in her home. We then took a group picture and loaded up the rickshaws and headed back to the square.

We stopped on the way back to the hotel for a bit at the bar street. It was a very expensive but beautiful street with lights on the trees and a quiet lake on the border. Some of us stopped to get cotton candy, a small reminder of home.

Now we’re at the hotel ready to enjoy our last night of a really amazing tour. This is my third and last tour with OSU Chamber Choir and I feel so lucky to have experienced this wonderful country with these great old and new friends. Tour really is a time for bonding and I think that we really have done just that on this trip. We have had some amazing times together eating weird, new food; being tired and cranky; laughing, singing and for many of us, pushing through those 1700 steps to get to the top of the Great Wall. These things have made us a stronger choir and stronger friends. I am so glad I am a part of this choir, it has been a great last tour for me. So I have to say thank you to the choir and to all the people reading, whatever you did, you did a good job, this really is a great group of people. Gambe!

-Daniel Madrid

PS our plane for the 40 who are coming in earlier arrives in PDX at 5:24pm. If your singer is getting in later they will be there at 9:50pm. Hopefully your singer has communicated with you to let you know what flight they are on if you are needing to pick them up. If not, Mom, I’ll be in with the first group. Ha!

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Jade Museum. Great Wall. Ya Xiu Market.

Well, we are nearing the end of the trip. In total we have performed five concerts and spent over a full day traveling, thankfully today was the first day when we had no singing or flying to do, just a day completely full of pure china-themed fun!

The day started out with a drive to the Jade Museum in slightly worse than normal Chinese traffic. The museum is beautiful and is in all honesty mostly just a store full of amazing jade jewelry and trinkets ranging from hand carved name stamps for 70 yuan to jade rings and earrings for upwards of 7000. I personally snagged two pairs of freshwater pearl stud earrings and a slightly overly gaudy, large, sparkly, rosy pink pearl and crystal ring. Score! Although I suppose I sort of missed the jade memo, it’s okay though because I think the rest of the choir did their best to make a dent in the jade supply, especially my alto sister Jade (ironic, no?) who picked up a beautiful light jade necklace. After shoveling out what I’m assuming was quite the considerable chunk of change, we headed to the Great Wall.

As you can imagine, the largest tourist attraction in China was somewhat crowded on this clear and breezy Saturday, but that didn’t stop our group of brave travelers from trekking up the 1700 steps leading to the top of the epic stone barrier built originally by the Qin dynasty in 220 B.C. to protect Chinese soil from the Mongols (later finished by the Ming dynasty, and refurbished in the 1980s.) It was not a hike for the faint of heart, but it was incredibly rewarding to reach the top, an experience that most of us will not get the opportunity to relive anytime in the near future, if ever. It was an amazing feeling standing on the top of the wall, both feet planted on stone full of thousands of years of history and both eyes staring out across miles and miles of mountainous country side. Students also had the option of taking a slightly less strenuous hike, so while we were dragging ourselves step by step to the top, Gavin got to take a sun drenched nap with most likely an equivalently incredible view. Our tight schedule didn’t leave us a ton of time at the top before we had to head back down, but we did get plenty of pictures (jump pics were necessary of course) as well as a POWERED BY ORANGE group movie clip. We made our way back to the bus with wobbling knees and high spirits on our way to our next adventure, the Ya Xiu market.

The Chinese market system is cutthroat to say the least. Bargaining and bartering our way to cheaper prices while the owners try to take advantage of what they hope are uninformed and unpracticed buyers. We had two hours at the five story market, complete with knock off designer clothing, jewelry galore, Chinese trinkets, fake designer purses, personally tailored suits, basically anything and everything you could ever dream of. Our amazing tour guide, Scott, taught us how to play the game in the big league. The key is to act relatively uninterested, regardless of how much you actually want the item. You then ask the seller their price, reply ‘nope, too expensive.’ and walk off. When they call you back, which they undoubtedly will, you still don’t come back, you say, ‘too expensive! I’m just a student!’ then the real bargaining begins, you keep bartering back and forth until you accomplish your target price. It is incredibly overwhelming to say the least, literally having store owners physically grab you so you can’t walk away from them. It was a very fun experience though in the end and some people came out with some serious loot for next to nothing. I went for The North Face jackets and came out with two very nice soft shells for about 20 bucks each, one of them is great because real north faces always have the emblems on the left whereas my new bright cornflower blue jacket has the emblem on the right! Yay for knock-offs.

We went to dinner at a beautiful restaurant, kind of where we would imagine all the Chinese high schoolers would go for prom. After that we took the night to relax and recharge after a long, busy, action packed day. :]

-Erica Puopolo

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March 21, Sias University

Sorry about the late post–the access to the internet over the last few days has been touch and go.  Our hotel in Beijing is awesome though, so it should be easier to update the blog from here on out.  Our love goes out to everyone at home, and from me especially to my wife, Jess Rist.  I love you baby!

March 21, 2011

Today was another amazing day in our tour through China.  We traveled to Sias University, which was certainly the most modern and perhaps the most interesting campus we have been privileged to visit thus far.  The school’s president, Sean Chen, is bringing to life an ambitious vision of a truly globally influenced and relevant school, and this spirit is reflected both in the spectacularly diverse architecture on the campus (the world styles represented ranged from Classical to Modern, Spanish to German, and American to Chinese; sometimes the contrasting architectures were juxtaposed in the same square or street or even the same building, and the effect is quite striking) and in the myriad of foreign educators that are employed at Sias University.  Many of the students that we met in the University could speak a moderate amount of English, too, which really helped us make a few more new friends.

It is wonderful how much the Chinese value friendship.  Every stop we make owes to some relationship connection made with the Chinese here.  The notion of professional relationship or business relationship doesn’t seem to exist here; everything is based out of friendships, and the Chinese are eager to create new ones and honor old ones.

The students we have met have been really great.  What strikes me is how remarkably similar they are to us.  I don’t know if it is due to the globalization of our generation or the access they’ve had to western media and influence, but once you could look beyond the appearance and linguistic and cultural differences, they were so easy to relate with and talk to (with the help of translators when needed, of course).  They are such beautiful people here, too.  Their choirs are especially striking. The attention to detail and drama in their appearance demonstrates the Chinese appreciation of aesthetic appeal, which they are masters of.  They are also brilliant singers. It has been such an honor to sing with them, and we can tell that the feeling is mutual.

While all of the concerts we’ve performed in have been incredible, tonight’s was particularly exciting in that this was the largest audience we’ve had yet, the venue was sold out with over a thousand in attendance, and they were very enthusiastic.  For example, when I approached the piano to perform “A Psalm of Life” with the choir, some of the girls in the audience giggled, so, pleasantly surprised by this, I turned and smiled and gave them a thumbs up.  The whole audience erupted in cheers and applause.  : ) They also broke forth in hearty applause in the middle of our Chinese piece, “Usuli Boat Song”, when our tenor Craig began singing his solo in Chinese.  While the entirety of our program has been tremendously successful, the Chinese piece has been particularly well received.  They are absolutely thrilled to hear us perform a Chinese piece for them, but it is thrilling for us as well.  We feel a little like rockstars after the performances, with everybody smiling at us and running up to us to take pictures with them, especially the singers in the other choirs. Everybody is congratulating each other, telling each other how beautiful everyone is and laughing at how tall we are. It is so fun!

We’ve been having fun messing with some of the stereotypical paradigms too, and a couple of the guys including myself have been playing this game where we run up to random Chinese people in the streets or at the different attractions that we’ve been visiting and ask them if we can take their picture with them.  Some are too embarrassed (one old lady playfully drove us away with a shovel), but most are totally delighted despite their obvious shyness and happily throw up the classic peace sign with us for the picture.  It is pretty hilarious.

This tour has been the experience of a lifetime. Their is so much we can share with the Chinese, so much we can learn from them and so much that they can learn from us.  Since choral singing isn’t really prominent yet in China, it has been a deep honor to share it with them, and their reception of us has been very moving and inspiring. I have been furthered convinced of the power of singing together, not only for the sake of making beautiful music, but for creation of relationships and communities, even global ones, and for the betterment of our world.

Josh Rist

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From Pandas to People

Wednesday morning our wakeup call came at the inhumane hour of 7:00 a.m.  I rolled over and slapped the telephone, attempting to hit the snooze button that did not exist.

“Good morning wakeup call,” rang a far-too cheery voice on the other end of the line.

“Thanks much,” I lied.

But after a few cups of green tea and what choir-buddy-extraordinaire Daniel Madrid called “the most breakfast-y breakfast we’ve had”—fried eggs, bacon, jam, toast and coffee!—we were ready to greet the world.  And what a greeting it was.  Wednesday boasted some of the most exciting elements of our tour to date:  from our performance at the Sichuan Conservatory to our trip to the Cheng Du Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, from our lunch at Shunxin Old Tea House to our experience eating the famous Sichuan “hot pot,” our time in Cheng Du will not soon be forgotten.

We began the day’s activities with a rehearsal at the conservatory.  The campus impressed us with its grandeur and prestige (one of its pop-music students just won China’s equivalent of American Idol), and without a doubt the concert hall provided the best acoustic we’ve had so far.  After warming up, we practiced a swinging version of the American spiritual “Ev’ry Time I Feel the Spirit,” arranged and accompanied by the conservatory’s women’s choir conductor, Jurriaan Grootes.  Her chorus combined with ours tonight in the concert, and, to be sure, the performance was a spirited one.  One of my favorite things about this trip has been collaborating with the Chinese choirs onstage.  It’s always an adventure meeting new people, trying different foods and traveling across foreign lands, but bringing together people from separate cultures to make music, I think, is a very different and special kind of thing.

Thursday morning, our local guide, Alex, would thank us for the concert and tell us that the performance “shook my heart,” but I am getting ahead of myself.

After rehearsal, we went to Shunxin Old Tea House for lunch, and the brave among us tried the restaurant’s specialty:  spicy tofu.  According to our tour guide, Scott, this particular tea house was the first place in China to prepare the dish over one hundred years ago.  The peppers that were in the spicy tofu are not the same kind of chili I think most of us Westerners are used to expecting, because as my table sampled the food we noticed that the tofu did not immediately stimulate our taste buds in the usual way.  In fact, the spicy tofu was deceptively easy to consume.

A little too easy.  I loved the taste and quickly downed my portion.  It wasn’t until my tongue and throat went numb and my lips began to tingle like a leg waking up from lack of circulation that I understood what Scott meant by huajiao, or flowering pepper, the term the Chinese give to the blooming heat that accompanies the ingredient.  Even though I couldn’t exactly feel my face, I was told that our spicy tofu was pathetically bland compared to what the people of the Sichuan province handle on a daily basis.  We were told that on a scale of one to ten, our meal was somewhere in the range of a two.  (Later that night, after we sang with conductor Grootes’ choir, one of her singers—a petit 20-year-old whose name sounded to me like Marta—told me that she prefers her food to be a seven.  A seven!)

Me experiencing spicy tofu.

After shedding about ten pounds of water weight at lunch, I boarded the coach and, along with the rest of the red-faced choir, headed out of the city center toward the panda research base.  I have to admit, I was somewhat nervous about seeing the pandas.  Before we left the States, I bought the Rough Guide to China, and I was surprised that the writers said the giant panda exhibits were best left skipped.  From the book, I was told that after the pandas eat—generally around 10:30 or 11:00—they mostly sleep and sit in a lethargic stupor, leaving nothing much to see.  But after experiencing the place firsthand, I’ve decided that the editors were cynics who hate life.  They possibly had a bad experience—perhaps one of the red pandas threw poo at them.  They’ve probably never appreciated zoos, and they clearly have no tolerance for cuteness.

To begin with, the pandas were friggin adorable.  Secondly, they looked cuddly.  Thirdly, the babies were like tiny cumulous clouds.  Fourthly, the big ones looked like men in panda suits—as they ate bamboo, I was sure they had opposable thumbs.  One of them looked Robert Ellertson; I think it was the beaver t-shirt it was wearing.  Alicia Baker and I almost jumped a fence or four, but since we weren’t wearing the blue scrubs that the scientists don whenever they enter the enclosures we thought better of it.  Barely.

Alicia's first attempt at a panda grab.

The red pandas were smaller than their white and black cousins and seemed more ill-tempered.  One of them tried to attack a peacock that was sitting on the stone wall.  On some days, visitors can pay to hold a baby panda for a few minutes, but none of us had the opportunity Wednesday, much to the chagrin of Xandra Jobe who was overly giddy at the prospect of shelling out 1,000 yuan for five minutes in heaven with a panda.

Enjoying pandas!

All the same, the trip was a success.  Mothers, fathers, loved ones and friends:  prepare yourselves for endless slideshows of pandas eating, pandas sleeping, pandas climbing, and pandas playing.  Oh, and there may be a few snapshots of pandas rubbing their butts against tree trunks, because apparently that is something they do too.  One of the less culturally sensitive points of interest for us on tour has been enjoying the often hilarious Chinese-to-English translations that make it onto food labels and advertisements.  Even such internationally trafficked tourist attractions as the Panda Research Base haven’t managed to proof their texts effectively.  According to one informational billboard, “Giant panda leave scent on the trunk and rocks or use the secretion from the crissum gland to mark their home range.”  And according to another, “Sleeping in the tree, it is safe and comfortable, hey.”

After a few hours of taking it all in and stocking up on plush toys and the like, we said goodbye to the pandas—at least, I think no one bagged any, although I’d keep a close eye on Devon Sheppard’s carry-on.

The bus took us back to the conservatory, and we got ready for the night’s concert.  It was fairly chilly in the concert hall last night, and Amy Severin remarked that her banjo didn’t like the cold much.  She also said that her fingers were a bit slower because of it, but from where I stood she played like the thing was on fire.  Audiences have been hugely responsive to our Western offering, “Cindy,” and last night the piece took its rightful place at the end of our performance.  But that wasn’t the only change to our program.  We sang our entire repertoire for the first time, and our student conductors, Jeffrey Larkin and Tim Brassfield, did an awesome job with their pieces.

One concert and 1.6 billion photographs later, we left and went to supper.  It was late by the time we got to the restaurant, and we were kind of spent from so much fun in one day.  All the same, we were eager for “hot pot,” the Sichuan favorite, so we found the energy to stuff ourselves all over again.  Instead of the Lazy Susans we’ve gotten used to over the course of our trip, each table had two pots of boiling stew in the center with various raw vegetables and seasoned meats on the side.  One pot’s stew was spicy as all get-out and the other one, less so.

Hot pot with the Zielkes

At our table, Monica, Victoria, Bryce, Alicia, Melissa, Valerie, Gavin and I took turns dropping the food in and, after a few minutes, fishing them out.  It was a great time, and we made a royal mess.  I have really enjoyed the food on this tour, but I have to admit that eating well in China requires an aggressiveness I don’t possess or altogether like.  In any meal, there is only so much of “the good stuff” on the table, and without a hawk’s eye and ungodly swiftness with chopsticks chances are good that you’ll come away from the table empty-stomached.  Maybe this explains why people are so thin here.

After dinner we returned to our mod hotel rooms, and it’s here that my reporting must come to a close.  I couldn’t speak to late-night doings or nighttime adventures even if I wanted to, because a) I passed out as soon as I got back to my room, b) what happens in China stays in China, c) this blog entry has already gone on too long as it is, and d) I am nothing if not discrete (okay, that last one was a stretch).

Next stop:  Beijing!  Byeeeeee!

—Thomas Dieter

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Goodbye Henan!

Last night was amazing. Chamber choir gave a great performance for Sias International University, then were invited to a small after party in the hotel restaurant. We awoke late into the morning and packed our bags for our flight to Chengdu. Overall today was fairly boring; several of us were feeling the effects of three concerts back to back and a late night so we kept our energy expenditure to a minimum. China Air is cramped compared to what we are used to in the states. There is very little leg room on China Air flights and they pack in three seats per-side. On the upside their airplane food is slightly better. The downside is that the whole flight was riddled with turbulence, none slept well. While the turbulence was by no means the worst I’ve experienced, it was the more prolonged.  Two hours of sporadic shaking, jolts, and flapping wings left some sick and others sleep deprived.

After a safe landing our guide took us to the hotel where we would eat dinner. On the way we saw the outside of the concert hall we would be singing in and a little tour of the area surrounding the University. Never in my life have I seen so many music shops. Dinner was fantastic, possibly the best meal yet on this trip. Sichuan is known for its food and it did not disappoint.  We had mushroom soup, fried shrimp balls, Chinese broccoli, cold garlic noodles, and so much more. Everything was incredibly delicious, no belly went empty. Yet there was another surprise at dinner; stuffed pandas! Each one of us received a stuffed cute little panda as a gift from the conservatory.

Bedtime was the thing we looked forward to this day. After long days of singing and sightseeing everyone was looking to get some much needed sleep. Dinner ended and our bus too us to our hotel where many of us buried our heads in our four star pillow and sawed many logs.

~Tim Brassfield

March 21st

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Henan Normal University!

The hazy, bright morning started at 8:30. From Zhengzhou we took a lovely two hour bus ride to Xianxiang City.  There we filed off the bus and took a tour of the Henan Normal University.   A large banner greeted our arrival, “Warmly Welcome Oregon State University Chamber Choir.”  Though it was a chilly morning, we soon were warmed by cheering during a friendly five on five basketball game.  Robert, Steve, Tony, Bryce, and Craig were excited to see Chinese students playing basketball and instantly clamored for a game of their own against them.  Although the Chinese were much shorter than everyone on our team they lost only by two points, 8-6.

Afterwards we continued our journey on campus and soon came across beauty in the colors of blue and yellow.  Yes, it was a playground for young children and elderly to get their exercise on.  Like children ourselves, we ran for it and instantly started our own physical exertion for the day.  All of the playground equipment (exercise equipment) saw some use, correctly or incorrectly.  Finally, our tour guide was able to wrench us from our fun to carry on our tour.  She showed us some of the different dormitories as well as letting us walk through one of their cafeterias during lunch time so we could witness how similar it is to ours’.

At last, it was time for the lunch banquet.  The table had beautifully folded pink napkins as well as everything else that usually comes with the meal (spinning glass top, Sprite and Coke, and chopsticks).  As the food was placed before us we noticed that this seemed more familiar to our palates.  The staff had made more American-type Chinese food for us.  For once, everyone was very satisfied with the selection and they were able to stuff themselves.

After a very agreeable meal we went to rehearse with the Henan Normal University Choir, which went swiftly and very well.  The Chinese were very nice and welcoming once again.  They made us feel right at home.  With nothing to do between this rehearsal and dinner, we had the opportunity to go to a park to relax and get some fresh air.  The water was very murky in the ponds featured but the park itself was well laid out and quite pretty.  When our break from the hustle and bustle was over we headed to lunch at the same place that we had lunch.  It was quite delightful again.

We departed our feast and headed to the concert hall to change into our performance outfits.  For the concert we performed first with our normal lineup, but instead of “Walk in Jerusalem” we sang Josh’s piece, “Psalm of Life.”  Our part of the concert went fantastic, and then it was the Henan Normal University Choir’s turn.  We were thoroughly awed by their singing capabilities and choral-ography. When the time came for us to sing our combined pieces, the music filled the concert hall.

Once the concert completed, all of us were bombarded for photos with the audience and with the members of the other choir.  It felt like being a celebrity.  We graciously posed with everyone who asked either smiling or flipping the peace sign for the camera.  Finally, we made it through the masses to the buses and were able to return the hotel for some much needed rest.


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Museum Visit and First Performance in China

There are a lot of pictures that are meant to be posted along with this blog, but we are having some technical difficulties, and they should be coming later!

First on the itinerary this morning was a trip to the Henan Museum. It looked sort of like a giant pyramid.

We took lots of pictures in front of some awesome giant golden statues!

Lots of students from our group enjoy taking pictures with strangers from this country. (There will be pictures of this coming later!)

Then we left the museum and headed to a hotel (not ours) for a lunch buffet. Lunch was a little interesting. It was a buffet style, and there were lots of dishes that we could not identify as anything that was familiar until we reached the end of the table. There were pots with noodles and rice. It was the first time (besides breakfast) that we were served rice in China. We Americans went nuts over this simple dish. It was exciting to have something “normal” to eat.

After lunch we headed back to our own hotel. We had about an hour to kill, so a group of twelve of us from the choir ventured out in hopes of finding some good coffee. We found a place (a nice sit-down café) and each ordered a special coffee drink. Everyone at my table had a Café Mocha, and we all were very excited to experience a little taste of home. (The coffee was delicious!)

After coffee, we went back to the hotel to gather our things for the rest of the day. We headed out to the Henan Art Center where we would spend most of the afternoon and evening for some rehearsing and a good concert.

First, we had a rehearsal with just the Chamber Choir. It was really nice to get back to singing! (We hadn’t sung together for about a week now). We went over a few bits and pieces of our program, and then rehearsed one of the songs from the Henan opera, Mulan, with the Henan Song and Dance Performance Group. Jeffrey Larkin had a solo on this piece and got to get all dressed up in a traditional Chinese general costume.

After rehearsal, we were given snacks. I was curious about what a Chinese snack would be like. We were given many types of pastries to choose from for our snacks. I had a really yummy jelly-filled one. Others were buttery, and some had raisons. There was also some banana bread that tasted just like the banana bread we would have in the US.

After this snack, we had about two hours until we had to be ready for the concert, which started at 7:30. The men and women each had their own dressing rooms, so we girls just hung out in our room (which was much warmer than the freezing cold hallway) and chatted away the time, until around 6:30 when we all started to get our make-up ready and our hair done. Then we changed into our dresses and lined up to walk onto the stage to perform. This performance was pretty fun, and I think the audience enjoyed it. The Henan Art Center was such a beautiful place to sing!

After the performance, we headed back up to the dressing rooms, changed back into our regular clothes and proceeded to a restaurant for dinner. A lot of the food was pretty good, but we didn’t have super big appetites because we were so tired after a long, eventful day! We were grateful to get back to the hotel and to get a good night’s sleep.

-Melissa Simpson

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First Day in China

Day 1 in China (Pictures to come!)

After a hectic travel schedule, we all arrived in China, albeit with a few bags missing.  The beds were hard, but at that point none of us minded even a little bit.

After rubbing the sleep out of our eyes and getting some food in our bellies, we set out on our first adventure.

Our first stop was Henan University, where we took a tour of their beautiful campus. There were several historic buildings, and we visited their equivalent of Benton Hall; the oldest building on campus and home to their concert hall.

Lunch was quite the experience!  We went to a very nice traditional Henan restaurant, where a variety of local delicacies were brought out for us.  Some of the more interesting dishes included: sea cucumber, stomach, brain, a whole fish, and a traditional regional meat dumpling that would refuse to stay on our chopsticks!

Our next stop was the Millenium City Park, which was an absolute blast.  It was pretty much the Disneyworld of Henan Province.  We had an interesting tour, and then we were set loose for a couple of hours.  Some of the highlights included; a cock fight, several man-powered swings and wheels, a Henan Jewish exhibit, an epic 100-ft slide and a traditional marriage that resulted in our own Keenan Kemper getting hitched!  After running around the park for several hours, we reluctantly piled back onto the bus en route to a banquet with the Henan Opera Group.

The banquet started off right; a toast by the dignitaries, followed by round after round of “gambei!” which pretty much means “shot!” in Chinese.  We enjoyed another amazing, wild meal which included much of the same from lunch, but with the addition of traditional Chinese white devil liquor and a fantastic wine.

After enjoying ourselves thoroughly, we walked (some staggered) to the concert, conducted by Marlan Carlson.  The concert was beautiful sampling of western music, and included about a half-dozen encores at the end of it all.

We slept soundly that night!

-Joseph Mikkelson

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And we’re off!

Ni hao (hello)! We have finally arrived in Zhengzhou, China, but it surely wasn’t without a long a tiresome trip! Our group left Corvallis at 5:30 AM for our 11 AM flight to Vancouver BC for a layover. The plane from PDX to BC was a small 2 propeller jet; our group practically filled every seat! Once we arrived, we quickly got lunch within the airport to prepare us for our 12 hour flight to Beijing.

For most of us, our international flight was full of sleeping and watching movies on our fancy individual screens. One of the meals during the flight was a Cup of Noodle which we ate with chopsticks…I am not sure if that actually counts as our first Chinese meal!

Once we arrived in Beijing, at about 3:30 PM Beijing time, we went through the typical baggage claims and customs office; we had a 5 hour layover until our domestic flight. As a side-note, we were told that the Beijing airport was the largest in the world, as well as the largest building in the world. Being completely finished a couple years ago, it was an important addition for China in helping them receive those whom attended the 2008 Olympics.

By this time, everyone had been falling in and out of consciousness; everyone was exhausted! Finally, once we had departed for Zhengzhou, we knew we just had to make it a little longer.  Once we had arrived at our destination, we only had to endure a 1 hour bus ride to our hotel….for some this was a perfect opportunity to sleep and for others it was a chance to observe the busy night life!

The rest was a distance dream: arrive at the hotel, obtain room key, sleep! Just to recap, we left Corvallis, Oregon at 5:30AM Wednesday morning, and finally went to bed at 1AM Friday morning (Beijing time)!

Until later,


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2 Days Until Departure!

Welcome to everyone who will be following our adventure! All of us are extremely excited and nervous for this rare opportunity! For those of you who will be tuning in daily, here is what to expect from this blog: photos, videos, and wonderful commentary from different members of our ensemble!

As we are finishing our last minute preparations, Marlan Carlson is there as we speak rehearsing for a concert which we will receive the opportunity to view! While the Chinese anticipate our arrival, Marlan sent us the following photo to show just how hospitable and welcoming they are.This is definitely not a normal sized poster of us!

In return, we have created a CD to distribute to our wonderful hosts once we arrive!

Once again, thank you all in advance for following our trip!

….this means good-bye!


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