Down to Business

For this site inspection trip, Ena and I came a couple of days early to have the opportunity to explore on our own a little. Today we met with the travel company which we are using in China to help make some of the more detailed arrangements. Our tour company is led by Rick Dillard from American Classic Tours & Festivals in San Antonio and Daniel Xu represents Asia Getaways which is a based in Hangzhou but frequently brings groups to Shanghai and Beijing.

When YOSA travels to China we are undertaking a concert tour. While we will also have lots of fun visiting the various famous sites and experiencing the culture, a concert tour is not complete without exciting performances. Mr. Xu has made arrangements for YOSA to perform as part of the World Expo which is being held in Shanghai from May to October next year. San Antonio experienced the benefits of this in 1968 and a number of our cities’ landmarks were built for this event including Hemisphere Park, Tower of the Americas and the Riverwalk. The scale and scope of the construction dedicated to hosting the World Expo in 2010 is quite phenomenal. The Expo site is over 5 sq km in size (3.1 sq miles) and contains exposition halls for dozens of countries, several large corporate exposition centers (for Coca Cola and the like), outdoor stages and a large performance center shaped to look like a large clam which is about the size of San Antonio’s AT&T center. Seventy million people are expected to visit the Expo over six months with over 20,000 performers of all varieties presenting.

The Expo site is located right in the heart of Shanghai and straddles either bank of the Piudong River. Most of it is still under construction right now so we could not enter the site. However, Mr. Xu arranged for us to walk over a large bridge and take a special pedestrian skyway which took us over 300 feet up for an excellent aerial view of the whole Expo site. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating so the view was a little misty, but we certainly got a good sense of the scale of this event.

Next it was back into the car to head over to the Expo events office. There we were met by Teddy Xu who is one of the leading events managers for the Expo. Teddy is no relation to Daniel. I learned that while you might write their names the same when using the Western alphabet, the pronunciation is slightly different between their names so they have different Chinese characters. Teddy led us through a busy office of lines of Chinese office workers busy on their laptops to a plain conference room. He pulled out various floor plans and made a couple of suggestions of good locations where YOSA could perform. There is good protection from the sun and possible rain from an overhead canopy. All specs for the sound system where laid out in detail and it was clear from all the choices that the volume of people visiting the Expo should ensure a good crowd for our performance.

It was then off for an early lunch at a fun restaurant called Hong Zi Ji. The decor is bright, the waiters move around the large floor plan on roller skates and the food was very good. This place gets a thumbs up for the trip next summer.

Next we went to check out the Shanghai Holiday Inn where they are proposing we stay during our visit next summer. This three star hotel was straight forward, very clean and functional. It also has a bank of half a dozen computers adjacent to the lobby area which will be convenient for students to send a quick e-mail back home. There is also an ATM machine which I am sure will get some use from our students next summer as our stay in Shanghai will be right in the middle of our trip.

Before leaving Shanghai we had one more stop, a whirlwind visit to the Shanghai Museum of Musical Instruments. This small museum has a fascinating collection of traditional Chinese instruments off all varieties from China’s long history. Seeing a museum of instruments from a completely different culture and the importance that music has for the Chinese is a good reminder of the universal power of music. This museum also has the only complete set of instruments for a Gamelan orchestra in China. If you haven’t heard a Gamelan orchestra yet you should look it up on YouTube. This musical style from Indonesia has had a huge impact on a lot of classical music, starting with Debussy in the late 19th century and many of America’s West coast composers of the mid-20th century.

Mr. Xu then escorted us to the large and very busy Shanghai train station for us to catch a train to Hangzhou. YOSA will enter Shanghai at this station next summer after our overnight train ride from Beijing. I saw a train come in with the sleeper car attached and the sets of bunk beds neatly arranged in their cabins. We had about a 70 minute train ride to Hangzhou, a city of about three million people located to the northwest of Shanghai where YOSA will visit for one day on our tour.

We arrived when it was dark but checked into the hotel and had another good meal in the hotel. Mr. Xu then decided to treat us to a traditional Chinese foot massage. Wow, what an experience! Mr. Xu took us to a place he goes to once a week with his wife. A row of comfortable reclining chairs with footstools awaited us. We were not even aloud to remove our shoes, the massage therapist insisting on doing this for us. Our feet were then dunked in very hot water for 15 minutes to soak before they then got to work prodding and rubbing our feet. While they work on one foot, the other is delicately wrapped in a linen cloth to help retain the moisture. About 90 minutes later, we felt refreshed and I felt like I was walking on water.

Steven Payne

Gamelan Orchestra

Gamelan Orchestra

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