Beijing Basics

We departed Hong Kong on Friday morning, traveling on China Air. For YOSA’s tour we will actually complete our trip in Hong Kong, but we will be traveling between Hangzhou and Hong Kong via an internal flight. As before (on our Dragon Air flight) the plane was very comfortable. While it is generally recognized that airline food is not too good, China Air took this to a new level. What was supposed to be chicken noodle was more like chicken fat and noodles. Probably a good idea for the students to bring a couple of granola bars which they can resort to as standby meals should they encounter food they don’t like too much.

We are staying in the Holiday Inn Express Temple of Heaven. It is a nice three star hotel, almost identical to the one in Shanghai. The breakfast food has been quite good. There is a mixture of Western and Chinese foods available buffet style. I have been taking advantage of the delicious watermelon which has been served each morning as a way to get a fruit serving for the day. They also serve Seattle coffee, which they market heavily on the coffee cups and on posters adorning the walls as you enter the dining area, although I have never heard of the make.

This morning we went to visit the National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA) located right next to Tian’inmen Square. YOSA will perform at the NCPA in June — it will be our first concert on this tour. And I have to say that the group is in for a very special treat. This venue is quite simply stunning! The building was completed in 2007 and is shaped like a large dome. It is surrounded by a moat of water and costs 3.2 billion Yuan to build (over $460 million – which is about twice the cost of building Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA). You can check out some photos and information at To enter the building you descend a flight of steps below street level to enter into the lobby. You then proceed past the box office to a hallway under the water of the moat. The ceiling is all glass so you can see the rippling water above you. The effect on the light coming into the hallway is quite unique. You then enter the main dome area with its tall ceiling. In front of you are three halls, the concert hall (where YOSA will perform), the opera house and the theater. All three halls share the same lobby space which also has an array of restaurants and CD shops. The concert hall seats 1,800 people and has a full pipe organ adorned across the back of the hall. We met with a representative of the NCPA and two representatives from a media and marketing company who are helping to establish the promotion for our concert. They are still working on some of the details, but it is likely that our concert will have a small ticket price but be billed as a charitable concert to benefit the victims of the recent earthquake in southern China.

Lunch was at the Laoshe Tea House. The food was excellent, as was the tea of course (I tried Pu ‘er, a fragrant black tea). The other wonderful thing was the shadow puppet show that was put on during our meal. Traditional Chinese instruments were being played whilst the story of a mischievous crane trying to eat a stubborn tortoise was acted out using the puppets. It was a lot of fun to watch and not the sort of thing you get to witness every day. They are also in discussion with some local groups who may share the concert with us.

In the afternoon we met with the leaders of Beijing’s National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts. We were led into a formal meeting room with grand wooden chairs arranged as three sides of a rectangle. We have learned that the leader sits in the central chair and then everyone else sits in the chairs that flank him either side. The nearer you sit to the leader, the higher your importance. Green tea was served to us and we proceeded to learn about each other’s organizations. With over 2,200 students, this university level institution is China’s leading training facility for Peking Opera. Although the term Beijing Opera is now more frequently used but the National Academy are trying to promote the Chinese pronunciation of Jing Ju. Behind us displayed in a glass cabinet were the elaborate costumes and masks used by the singers and actors. They are very interested in hosting us for an exchange and this will be a wonderful opportunity for YOSA’s students and traveling companions to learn about traditional Chinese instruments such as the erhu and pipa.

The day was rounded off by the exciting, yet touristy, Kung Fu show. We were dazzled by macho men head butting pieces of steel in two, laying on beds of nails and of course giving lots of flying roundhouse kicks. These shows are packed full of tourists but are very well produced and do give you a good flavor of Chinese culture and history. The athleticism of the performers is quite amazing and the costumes and set design very beautiful.

We’ll be in Beijing for a few days so I will update you more soon.

Steven Payne

Me and Rick Dillard with media coordinators at NCPA

Me and Rick Dillard with media coordinators at NCPA

The water ceiling hallway

The water ceiling hallway

National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts

National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts

Gate in Tian'imen Square

Gate in Tian'imen Square


One Response to “Beijing Basics”

  1. Rose Paarmann Says:

    Wow – sounds like a great first day…would love to see pictures of the kids. Rose

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