Breathing Clean Air

The day after the Expo, we packed our bags in preparation for a lengthy bus ride from Shanghai to Hangzhou, with a stop at a traditional town, called Wuzhen, halfway.  Immediately after taking a break at a rest stop in between Shanghai and Wuzhen, I could tell a difference in the air.  It actually felt cleaner and more invigorating than the haze.  To add to the sense of cleanliness, a curious kind of misty rain that I have only experienced in China began to fall, seemingly cleansing us from the effects of the two cities visited so far.

Hangzhou is the polar opposite of Shanghai; considered the healthiest city in China, it has also been voted the happiest city three years running.  Rain falls more than half the year, which leads to a proliferation of grasses and trees. Indeed, the entire city, even the more commercial areas, reminded me more of the tree lined residential and light shopping areas of small towns than any big cities.  Curiously, while Shanghai covered the trees and light poles along the streets with flashing lights and color-changing flowers, Hangzhou put up green posters of leaves and environmentally healthy vehicles.  We didn’t have much time to browse, however.  The buses arrived rather late due to traffic, so the tour leaders considered skipping our visit to the Chinese school.  It proved to be a very good thing that we didn’t; had we known the extent to which they went to prepare for our arrival…  An envoy of several traditionally dressed Chinese girls with umbrellas stood on the sidewalk to greet us as we drove through the gates.  They escorted us into the school’s performance hall, where they gave us curiously square bottles of water.  After looking at the sizable banner greeting us with: Welcome Youth Orchestras of San Antonio! that was draped over the stage, several officials of the school made speeches (very polished speeches, I’m sure) and Mr. Peters replied in kind.

The school’s orchestra (made up of wind and brass instruments) played several short pieces which seemed to show a higher experience level than what it actually was (only a year).  Afterward, the Jasmine Flower group (myself included) rose to play two of the pieces we had learned earlier: Jasmine Flower itself, arranged by our conductor and a Joplin rag.

We exchanged gifts (they gave us hand painted silk handkerchiefs, we gave them YOSA bumper stickers and pencils) and hastily departed for the concert hall, escorted again by the blue clad Chinese girls. Now please allow me to skip ahead to the performance, in the interest of fascinating tales. The concert itself was the best full concert we gave, as well as the most energetic (possibly due to the fact that the crowd was comprised almost entirely of members of the school; not only that, but predominately female.)  After the concert (and indeed, during intermission), these girls stormed the stage.  I was not quite in the mood for the chaos, so I departed to the dressing room to change, having only heard rumors of popularity among certain male orchestral members.  Now wearing plainclothes, I came backstage, prepared myself by breathing some of Hangzhou’s wonderful air, and propelled myself into the chaos.  I was immediately accosted by a girl who wanted a picture.  I complied, and suddenly they multiplied until I had given out some 15-odd pictures, followed by some 15-odd hugs.  I bowed, excused myself, and returned backstage.  It was necessary to leave, however, so I emerged once again not unnoticed – Tina announced my arrival (apparently the majority of guys had departed already).  The students, however, also had to depart to the landing outside of the hall.  Upon getting on the bus, we were all bid a tearful goodbye… Talking of the experience afterward, we likened it to a rock concert.  And I had just gotten a haircut, too…forgot my KISS mask at home, sadly.  I wonder what the reaction would have been…?

Michael Vybiral

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