Mid-Tour Ramble

January 3, 2013.  This was my plan.  To observe everything unique and fascinating about China, and about the development of this student orchestra over the course of our 10 day tour, and about Zoe’s response to being on the other side of the world, and to write daily even if I couldn’t post until we returned home.  And we are now on day five? Six, maybe?  And I can barely even remember day three.  We’ve been in a haze of bus travel, jet lag, and cold, glowery weather that makes me want to cuddle under a comforter and never leave.  Zoe has been amazing – a real trouper- but she remains three and as such is very very hands-on here.  Now that we finally have a morning off – the first one – I am writing in a hotel lobby in Hangzhou, wearing my winter coat and scarf because underheated and even unheated buildings are entirely the norm here, and I have no idea even where to start.  There’s no way to capture all the details of a trip like this.

This tour has been hard.  I knew coming in that I wasn’t with a professional orchestra, and couldn’t expect everything to flow smoothly.  I was prepared for rehearsals and concerts to run over time and anticipated having to pitch in moving chairs and stands, etc. I am a team player, and happy to be flexible. But the level of disorganization was and is startling. 

We have no real written schedule for the week, and rarely know more than our next call time – in other words, when we arrive at a hotel we are then told that we will need to be back in the lobby in 30 minutes with our concert clothes on, and the next thing that happens could be a rehearsal, a meal, or another two-hour bus ride.  We don’t know.  I have never yet warmed up for a concert or rehearsal – and I’m not even talking about the kind of luxurious 45-minute session that I would have enjoyed at home.  Here I mean that after I get Zoe squared away with a mom or a colleague I walk onto the stage, pull my oboe out of the case, and give an A to the orchestra.  That’s literally it.  If I am lucky I can play three notes to test the reed first, but I haven’t had that opportunity too many times.  We are fed three meals a day, but sometimes they are three hours apart and sometimes 6.  I’m hungry now.

I am fascinated with this.  I have not been to China before, and have not toured with Valparaiso University before, and would love to know which party is more responsible for the goofiness.

It is winter in China.  Most of the time our hotel rooms have been warm, but the concert halls are consistently cold.  Sometimes the stage is heated, and sometimes the dressing rooms are, but the bathrooms never, and almost always there is a necessary hallway that is frigid.  We performed the first night in a hall that never got close to warmth – the audience all wore down jackets and we had pants under our pants and shirts under our shirts.  My feet were numb by the end of the evening.  But when we got back to the hotel, we were issued a banquet to die for, and this is the reason that I will stop complaining right now. 

The food is AMAZING!  We have three meals a day – a breakfast buffet and then two Chinese banquets, in which plate after plate arrives on the table and we all dig in family style.  There are a LOT of dishes that I can’t identify, but I try them all, and have not been disappointed yet.  Spectacular, unusual, exciting food, and tons of it.   I admit to my passion for western coffee – on the few breakfast buffets that serve it I have absolutely embarrassed myself – but in general I have no interest in the token hash browns that are offered to appease the Americans and I eat the funniest looking things I can find.  I expect to gain 10 pounds here, and I don’t even care.  No choice, really, and the truth is I have NEVER had food like this.  I will not stop until I’m home.  

Normally January is a time for personal discipline.  I need to get back to a regular practice routine after the craziness of December, and I also return to exercising and eating consciously after the holidays.  In this case, my normal January health and discipline can wait another few days.  What a trip!

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