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Published: March 20th 2019
Newark > Beijing
The morning of my flight, I was up an hour before I had planned. I couldn't contain the excitement in my stomach. After hastily getting ready, I made sure that I was at school before the call time: 6 AM. I double checked my duffel bag and backpack to make sure everything was there. The doors to the bus were the point of no return. I had to make sure I had absolutely everything ready to go.
The ride to the airport felt forever long, but finally, we reached Newark Airport. Under different circumstances, I wouldn’t have wanted my parents there. This time, though, their smiling faces and continuous photo-taking made me feel less nervous. I wasn’t embarrassed because of my parents. This was one of the biggest moments of my life, and I was glad that they shared it with me. Surprisingly, it didn’t take us long to go through security. An annoying group of 25 middle school boys managed to get through airport security in about ten minutes with no problem.
On the 13 hour flight to Beijing, we had been told to do some of the work our teachers had assigned us. After spending an hour reading about Chinese culture, I gave up and turned on the TV in the seat in front of me. I don’t remember much about the plane ride. I have fuzzy memories of airplane food and feeling sick. I do remember waking up to “turbulence,” which was a gross understatement. The plane was shaking violently and bouncing up and down. Turns out that on the descent to the airport, there were a bunch of mountains, that had caused all the disturbance.
Thankfully, there was a bathroom right next to the gate my flight had landed at, and for the next minute or so, I released all the foods I had consumed in the last day. After that wonderful experience, I joined my choir just as we started making our way to immigration. Immigration was less scary than I thought it was going to be. I answered the simple questions and continued on to baggage claim. Soon the American Boychoir was packed into a bus and heading toward the city.
My family and I like to travel, so I have seen other countries before. While riding through the streets of Beijing, I saw how similar it was to some parts of cities in India, just cleaner and nicer. I wanted to look outside the bus and admire the city, but the jetlag had already started to kick in. One second, I was talking to a friend and the next, I blinked and found myself at the hotel.
After our tour manager gave us the same old lecture about behavior and representing our choir, we finally went up to our rooms. It felt good to change out of a sweater and pants and into jeans and a t-shirt. Before the first meal, I was excited. As a vegetarian, I thought I wouldn’t have too many choices of food during the tour. My mom had assured me that when she went to China, she ate great food and that I would too. And boy was she wrong.
So. Much. Meat. There were duck, crab, chicken, pig, cow and all other sorts of food. But there were barely any vegetables and a measly amount of rice. The restaurant looked super fancy and everyone else around seemed to be enjoying their food, but I wasn’t in the mood. For some reason, I had a feeling that this was what the food situation looked like for the rest of my trip. Sadly, I was proven right.
Back at the hotel, we were allowed some free time before lights out, so I played a couple rounds of poker with my friends before going to bed. As I lay in the room, I thought about my family on the other side of the world. Today, I had gone on an airplane without my parents for the first time; I had gone to another country without them. I felt happy that I was becoming more independent and mature, but I couldn’t help but miss my mom’s great food. I fell asleep quickly and that was good because this tour would be unlike any I had gone on before, and I would need the rest.
On my first full day in China, I woke up to a gray and cloudy sky. What I didn’t know was that these weren’t regular clouds. There’s so much smog in the cities of China that it collects and looks like a huge cloud hovering over a city. For most of my tour, the weather stayed like this, with small patches of blue skies. After a quick shower and change, my roommates and I headed down to breakfast. Another thing I would have to get used to was the boring continental breakfasts. Now, it may seem like I hated my whole month long trip to China. There were some small spots that I didn’t really like, but for the most part, it was extremely fun.
After breakfast, my choir and I got on a bus and headed to the China National Convention Center, of CNCC for short. After the first of many two hours rehearsals, my friends and I got some break time. After five minutes, it was quickly over. Turns out, we were “messing around too much.” Pssh, what does that mean? Thankfully, we weren’t in trouble for too long, as lunch arrived soon. A nearby restaurant had delivered lots and lots of dumplings. After a boring breakfast, I was hungrily waiting for some real food. The problem was that this meal would be one of the few real, and good tasting ones I would eat during my trip.
Our performance, which was split into three different sections as it was for a choral directors workshop, started soon after lunch. For the performance, we sang a six-movement Latin mass composed by Michael Haydn, split into three parts. The full name of the mass is Missa sub-titulo Sancti Leopoldi, MH 837. Between each section of the performance, my choir went outside and took pictures. Turns out, we were a two-minute walk away from the Olympic park. We saw the stadium and the swimming pool. Since there were long breaks between each section of the performance, it lasted for about three hours. After the performance, we went to the Beiding Niangniang Temple, less than five minutes from the CNCC. After some doing some exploring and taking more photos, we hopped onto our bus and went to dinner. I had some scallion pancakes and not much else.
As I lay in my bed at the hotel, I thought about the day. If we did things like this for the rest of the trip, I would be happy. I have always enjoyed sightseeing, and apart from the almost daily concerts, this was a month-long sightseeing trip to one of the most fascinating places on Earth.
While I didn’t do much on my third day in China, I still remember April 17, 2017, as one of the most monumental days of my life. I had gone where no one in my family had ever been. This is was the day I walked along the Great Wall of China.
After yet another boring hotel breakfast, my choir embarked on a four-hour bus ride to the Great Wall. Since the bus ride was so long, we ended up eating lunch on the bus itself. After picking up our entrance passes, we took a tram to the entrance point of the wall. After splitting up into small groups, we walked across the wall.
While walking, my friends and I were stopped by a couple. One of them was wearing a wedding dress and I quickly realized that we had walked in on a photo shoot. Before we could leave, the unexpected happened. After seeing the word choir on our sweaters, the couple asked if we could sing a song while they took photos for their wedding. Soon enough, we were singing an acapella arrangement of When I’m Sixty-four by the Beatles behind the happy couple. It was an amazing, once in a lifetime experience, and I still can’t believe I got the chance to do something like that for a total stranger.
As I am not one for too much physical exercise, the Wall was quite challenging to go through. There were many, many stairs and sometimes at an absurdly steep angle. After walking and climbing for two hours, my group reached the highest point on the wall open to tourists. At the peak of the mountain, the view was amazing. The land stretched out for miles below me, and the beauty of nature all around was almost overwhelming.
It took almost a full three hours to get down the wall because we didn’t take the tram; and somehow, on a wall that only goes in two directions, my friends and I got lost and were separated from the rest of the choir. Later though, we were sitting on the bus as it rumbled along to our final stop of the day. The restaurant we ate dinner at put an interesting spin on barbecuing food. Instead of having chefs prepare food for us, my friends and I cooked raw materials provided to us in an open flame barbecue in the center of our table. Seeing as we were all teenage boys, we didn’t really do what we were told. As soon as the adults turned their backs, we started playing with the skewers and burning the food on purpose. By the end of dinner, most of us had burns on our hands where red-hot skewers poked us or were covered in various burned meats. While it may not have been one of the tastiest dinners, it was one of the most fun. After yet another bus ride, my choir and I were back at our hotel by 9:30.
On my fourth day in China, my choir participated in the first part of a two-day workshop for school choir conductors in China. After breakfast, we took our bus to the school where the workshop would be taking place. After warming up, we came onto the stage and began.
In the beginning, we sang through the first two movements of the Michael Haydn mass I mentioned on my post about my second day. We were conducted by our conductor for this part. The main point of the workshop was for choir conductors to learn new techniques to use with the children they work with. To do this, our conductor, Mr. Ruiz, would choose a volunteer from the group of conductors in the audience. Using the techniques they already knew, the conductor would direct us as we sang the first movement of the mass. After we finished, not only would Mr. Ruiz provide feedback, but us kids would also point out the good habits and areas of needed improvement for the conductor. Through this, the conductor would get a sense of how their students would react to his or her methods, and could, therefore, change accordingly.
After the workshop finished, we drove over to the Temple of Heaven. After standing around for twenty minutes waiting for our tour director to get our tickets, we were informed that we didn’t have tickets. Therefore, we could not enter the temple. This wasn’t a great feeling as I was looking forward to seeing the temple, but the worst of the day was yet to come.
For some inexplicable reason, our bus and bus driver had driven off and parked over two miles from the temple entrance. To top off the afternoon, we trudged in 80-degree weather through a traffic-packed and smoggy section of Beijing until we reached our bus. After lunch back at the hotel, we had an hour-long rest period. On our tours, we would be rehearsing, performing, and moving around a lot every day. So ever so often, we would have a rest period. A rest period is basically mandatory nap time, which is great for me because I love naps.
After waking up in the late afternoon, I changed into my formal concert uniform and got ready for the evening. We would be performing at another school and the Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Beijing would be attending the performance. This wasn’t exactly a concert though. It was meant as a welcome ceremony for us, as this was the American Boychoir’s first tour to China. After our performance, we headed over to dinner, and soon I was in bed ready to conquer the next day on my trip.
As I mentioned in the post about April 18, the workshop I participated in was split into two parts. On my fifth day in China, we did the same thing as the morning before. Soon after, we headed to lunch and then our next destination, the Forbidden City. This time around, we actually had the right tickets to gain entry into the city. Once we crossed through Tiananmen Square and went through the Meridian Gate, my choir and I basically walked in a straight line through the city.
We walked through the outer court and saw many statues of animals and other beings representing harmony in Chinese culture. The inner court consisted of multiple throne rooms which were used by multiple different emperors. Before exiting the city, we walked through the imperial garden. It used to be used as a meeting space of members of the royal family, because of its privacy from the rest of the Forbidden City.
After leaving the Forbidden City, we drove to dinner. My first time trying hot-pot wasn’t all bad. In fact, it was very fun. If you remember back to the post I made about day 3, what happened at that dinner sort of repeated itself this night. The problem is, my tour manager left a bunch of teenage boys alone with a pot of boiling water and lots and lots of raw food. The end result of dinner on April 19 was that there was food lying everywhere in the room, but almost none in our mouths.
The post for day 5 is so short because we didn’t do much other than some sightseeing.
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