China blog, part 10: Lindsey chronicles the first few days

Flight to Shijiazhuang
December 27, 2012

After quite the early wake-up, we are on a domestic flight to Shijiazjuang. (No idea how to pronounce that!) I definitely am one of about three blonds on the entire flight, amid a sea of black hair.

The flight attendant just announced the name of the city we’re going to, but that didn’t actually clarify things any.

Pretty much everyone from the orchestra is passed out right now, but I’m feeling okay on about six hours of horizontal sleep. I’m hoping they come down the aisles with beverage service, though, because I could use some tea. Oh, here they come! 🙂 Chinese flight attendants are so pleasant and helpful and also all very pretty.

Not exactly sure where we are going. Hmm.

In the air again, on our way to ... somewhere.















11:53 a.m.
Now we’re on a bus from Shijiazhuang to Xingtai, where we’ll be performing our first concert.  The air is so dense with smog, I’m practically eating it. So far we’ve seen a lot of leafless trees, haze, and billboards in Mandarin with no pictures.

On the plus side, I bought some birthday cake/funfetti Oreos in the airport with cool Chinese characters all over them. I saved the coolest part of the box. When I was here in high school, I insisted on collecting one of every type of soda can with Chinese characters on it (Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, Red Bull, etc.) and bringing them back home with me (empty, obviously).  It was inconvenient, but I have a collection of Chinese soda cans at my house.  Will be slightly more practical this time around possibly.

The scenery isn’t improving yet, but I hear there might be tea in the near future!

Roadside scenery, as seen from the bus.




















3:11 a.m.

Playing the first concert was rough. There was no heat in the building, so it was freezing cold. People were smoking in the concert hall, which added to the layers of smog that already penetrate everywhere. And the tiredness caught up with me mid-afternoon, during the dress rehearsal, so I was fighting sleep during the entire concert. (One of the cellists, who shall remain anonymous, admits to actually dozing off for a second during the first number…)

During the second half of the concert, I brought a cup of steaming hot water on stage (from the dressing room, provided for tea and hot chocolate, which was nice) and held it between numbers and during rests. I was concerned about my oboe cracking (which can happen, particularly in these situations when we’re blowing hot air into a cold instrument. That’s why you always see us sticking our oboes under our armpits), and I felt like I didn’t have enough body heat to protect the poor baby.

I just want to be warm!

So much traveling today. Bus ride to the airport, airplane, other bus ride, other other bus ride.  We spent 12 out of 24 hours in transit today.

On the happy side: The audience seemed happy. I had a couple of people take pictures of me today, and a lot of stares while walking around a department store for a few minutes. Got some tea today. Saw some interesting sights driving around town, including a toddler peeing on the sidewalk and a shop named Mr. Bear. The bus driver did some funny/terrifying things, like making a 20-point turn in the middle of traffic. There were some good cookies in the dressing room, and that cup of hot water was really lovely.

I’m really thankful right now for the clear blue skies of Austin, Texas. And Western toilets.
On the train to Nanjing
December 28, 2012

Things are looking up today. Last night I quickly went from “I just want to be warm” to “I just want to be able to feel my toes again.” Woke up around 7:15, thawed out my fingers against the heater in the breakfast room, and finally regained feeling in my toes a few hours later on the bus. I learned much later that the heat in the hotel room was controlled via the remote control.  :/ Wish someone had told me that last night!

We found bottled water and snacks — more positive things. I enjoyed the bus ride to the airport very much — I talked with Kathryn about China and asked lots of questions. It’s very exciting that we actually get to go to our hotel and put our stuff down and take a minute to breathe before the concert tonight. Hopefully we’ll be awake enough to poke around the city a little bit, but I am most looking forward to a hot shower.

I’m not good at keeping track of my gloves. I’m not used to such things. Snowy scenery out the train window and some rural-type houses, but not much civilization. The sky and scenery are entirely monochromatic from smog and/or fog.

These houses we’re passing in the middle of nowhere don’t look very warm. Just stone with windows that may or may not be actual windows. I imagine they don’t have heat at all, or if they do, they must use it very rarely — I can’t begin to understand what it’s like to live here all the time, during the winters especially. I’ve been in places this cold and colder, and I packed warm clothes according to my previous experiences … but I’ve always been in situations where I was guaranteed a warm, inviting room/bus/train at regular intervals.  I’ve never experienced being in frigid temperatures for such long periods of time. And they’re not even that long compared to how these people out here live. The climate is sort of different from south Florida, where I grew up … just a little. Miles of farmland, small groupings of abandoned stone houses.

I have talked to and gotten to know quite a few people I hadn’t ever really talked to before, which is lovely. I have taken a lot of pictures, too, but I’m not sure that any of them are any good. Hopefully we’ll have wifi in the Nanjing hotel so I can send in my updates!

A panoramic view of the train station.







Bus ride to … somewhere. Yancheng?
December 29, 2012

The concert last night was much more fun! Relatively clear air and sliiiiightly warmer. (We had lights this time. Might have also had something to do with wearing my winter coat on stage!) The concert hall didn’t have good acoustics, but the audience loved us. Both concerts have had emcees — pretty young girls wearing sparkly outfits. Last night we had a girl and a guy, both with gold sparkly hair.

I was so tired during the concert. I fought it well, but the effort really, really tuckered me out. I passed out on the bed in the hotel, not even under the covers and still wearing all my clothes. It was so nice and warm in the hotel, though. And the shower this morning was just the best. So warm, wonderful water pressure … yay!

I’m pretty sure the audiences here are just as excited to see us as the audiences I played for in Brazil, but the expression of that is so different, China being so much more reserved. That’s my hypothesis.

Sarah Ha is asleep next to me on the bus, and she keeps leaning over like she’s about to fall on meee!

We had Internet last night, but like I said, I passed out immediately, so I didn’t use it. Hopefully I can send in these updates soon.

At the concert venue last night, there were huge posters of our orchestra everywhere — huge photos of (orchestra director Robin) Fountain, and then the orchestra underneath. The photo of the orchestra was from my first semester of freshman year, so I have really long hair. When we got off the buses at the venue for the first time, two Chinese girls walked by, and one of them said to the other while pointing at Fountain, “That’s the one we keep seeing on the posters!” (Come to think of it, why were they speaking English?) We were playing at or near Nanjing University, so I think most of our audience (standing room only!) were students.

It’s snowing pretty heavily outside, though not as heavily as when we first left. Because of delays caused by the snow, our four-hour bus trip is predicted to actually take seven hours.

I really, really enjoyed the train ride yesterday. The ride was so smooth and relaxing, and the scenery was nice.

12:15 p.m.
Still on the bus. We just passed something awesome, but I think everyone else was either asleep or talking. There was a small plot of land with about 20 little stone cones on it, evenly spaced … it went by the window so quickly that I couldn’t really get a good look. I wonder what they were. The first and obvious thing that crossed my mind was that maybe it was a graveyard.

This bus ride has been great. The bus is nice and warm (did I already say that?) We made a stop about an hour ago to go to the restrooms and get some snacks. Basically, Chinese highway rest stop. It was so clean! Those were the cleanest bathrooms I’ve seen in China, and way cleaner than any rest stop I’ve ever been in in the United States. (And I’ve been in a lot of those!)

More on the scenery. Much of the same as yesterday out the train window, although we can see much more today. Maybe less smog, maybe less fog, maybe the snow actually cleared up visibility, or maybe we’re just in a cleaner/more rural part of the country. Lots of farmland plots, but not as many as yesterday.

The trees are very curious — the ones that are planted along the sides of the highway. I didn’t notice until Tommy pointed it out, but they all have white painted on the bottoms. Then it occurred to me that they all have obviously been planted, not naturally occurring at all, since they are all in very neat and tidy rows and columns.

The other crazy thing is the amount of high-rise construction in middle-of-nowhere areas. We haven’t seen any in a while, but for the first hour and a half of the trip, we kept driving past these huge high-rise complexes, all very new, and many looking very empty.

Just passed one of the little run-down villages where people actually live. They’ve all had evidence of life, but this one was particularly notable — the first cars I’ve seen in front of houses (two or three cars). A lot of money has obviously gone into planting these trees and building these enormous apartment complexes, but the rural population living next to these things are obviously incredibly poor and probably still living off the land. We also have passed four or five trucks transporting raw lumber (just piles of huge tree trunks) — more evidence of construction. We just passed mounds and mounds of trash.

Oh, the bridge! We went over this huge bridge — our guide told us it’s one of the largest in Asia. It’s a suspension bridge that goes over several bodies of water, but the fog over the water made it impossible to see the bridge over water, and the buildings and barges on the stretches of land were blanketed in the eeriest way by the fog. In addition to the snow and slush on the road on which we were driving, it was a very unsettling experience. Couldn’t really get any pictures to capture the stimmung.

We’ve seen, very rarely, the stray temple or monument, usually from a distance. Again, eerie, beautiful, and especially haunting amid the unsettling juxtaposition of derelict housing and empty high-rises.


Just passed another graveyard, more modern than the last, which looked in an ancient style. And another graveyard, with a pagoda-like tower in the middle this time, larger.

I just keep trying to wrap my mind around what it might be like to be born out here, live out here, and die out here. There were areas like this out in the middle of nowhere in Ireland, too, when I was thinking the same things, but those places seem happy and healthy, comfortable economically, natural, and it seemed like winter there would be difficult but cozy. Here, with the combination of pollution and poverty, it just seems like it would be absolutely miserable. Some areas, like the one we’re passing now, seem all right, like they might have running water and heat, sort of a weird quasi-suburbia. But the stone shacks with thatched roofs and piles and piles of trash outside are utterly incomprehensible to me. This is pretty much exactly what I’ve always imagined Siberia would be like.

The houses are gradually getting nicer. I wonder if we are getting closer to Yancheng — we did just turn off the highway, I think. Probably will go back to just checking out the scenery or drowsing. Good-bye for now! 🙂

4 p.m.
A quick note on what to expect from me — I’ve been using my real camera for most of the photos, so I don’t have as many as I’d like for the blog. Tonight I’m hoping to have a little time to upload what I’ve taken onto my iPad, maybe will be able to share some with you!

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