China Tour Blog

The Eve

Posted on March 30, 2010

Hello everyone,

My name is Leo Bayless-Hall. I am the president of Symphony Band and will for the next eleven days, along with my bandmate Niko, be your window into our tour of The People's Republic of China. This post is mostly a test to see that everything is working as it should but also contains some useful information so don't stop here (you can make it!). I will have a laptop on me from which I will be writing this blog. What this means to you is that you may feel free to shoot me an email if you have any questions for me or if there is something in particular that you would love to hear about. I hope that all you out there are as excited as we are for this trip. If I'm feeling up to it, and there is a good chance that it might be too much to process, I'll try to get in a quick update from on the ground in Seoul. Otherwise expect news from underneath the snuggly bedspread of our Beijing accommodations. I hope your packing is free of stress.

-Leo Bayless-Hall


Posted on March 31, 2010

Hi all.

My name is Niko Rombes, and along with my classmate Leo, I'll be your direct connection to the Pioneer Symphony Band and Jazz Band tour of Beijing and Tianjin, China. If you have any pressing questions, something you would like to hear about, or just want to talk because all of your friends are here in the PRC, I'll be checking my email as regularly as possible.

For all of you who are not tour participants, or have not read the "purple book", here is a brief summary of how we're all actually getting to China. The first group of students and chaperons have already departed on a bus to Chicago. This group will board the aptly-named "party plane" (Leo Bayless-Hall can make anywhere a party) and will be flying Asiana Airlines to Seoul for a layover, and then to Beijing. The rest of us have one more half-night in our own beds before we meet at the Detroit Metro at 5:00 tomorrow morning. Our United plane takes us to Chicago, and then directly to Beijing. If all goes according to plan, we should all be in China by 3:15 PM on Friday, Beijing time (just so you get an idea of the time difference, Beijing is 12 hours "into the future").

Well, this will be the last post sent from the States. We'll try to update the blog daily, so check back all week to stay up to date with our escapades. All the best.

-Niko Rombes

Right Here; Right Mao

Posted on April 4, 2010

Well we made it. I apologize for not getting a post up yesterday but the lack of wireless in the rooms in addition to the frenzied activity of the day and my being twelve hours in the future all culminated in it not happening. In any case, we did some pretty amazing things in the twenty-four hours of radio blackout. After waking up and eating a very interesting Chinese breakfast, we boarded our buses and set out for Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City. Needless to say it was an incredible experience. I thought it was really interesting and cool to catch a glimpse of the role that the Chinese government plays in the lives of its citizenry. It could not be more different from back home. On top of that of course, the place is breathtaking to behold. The title of "city" is more appropriate than I could have guessed; it's enormous.

After a delicious meal at a downtown restaurant, we made our way to a local silk store cleverly disguised as a museum. After a brief run through of the silk making process, the Pioneer Bands were set loose on a store full of top notch silk wares. There was much wasting of money. I would like to take this opportunity to inform my parents that the custom tailored silk suit that I managed to knock seventy-five dollars off was not purchased in the end.

To top off the night, we attended a high flying acrobatics show. It was loud and bright and spectacular. There were times when it went from being exciting and impressive to "that guy might die!" but that made us all the more involved. Mao I'm afraid it's time for me to go and get some rest but Niko will be right here to tell you about our exciting exploits today on the Great Wall. Stay tuned.

-Leo Bayless-Hall

Mao That's What I Call Music!

Posted on April 4, 2010

After a 13-hour plane ride and a 36-hour-long April Fool's day, we have arrived here, in China, 180 degrees of longitude away from Ann Arbor. Unfortunately Leo and I didn't manage to squeeze posts in yesterday because of internet confusion and a super busy schedule, but we finally managed to get some downtime in which to relay our experiences to all of you back in the States.

Today, we went to the Great Wall of China. The wind was gusting, and it was the first time most of us had seen our instruments in at least three days. We started off with the Chinese National Anthem, breezed through our popular repertoire, and finished off with our own Stars and Stripes Forever. The crowd was enthusiastic, and according to some descending tourists, we could be heard from the top, almost a mile away.

The concert was quickly over, and we all absorbed as best we could the fact that we just played a concert on top of the Great Wall. After a picture in front of our new red "Welcome Pioneer Bands Visiting China" banner, we began our ascent. The view from the top was breathtaking–the tower was eye level with the surrounding mountains, and you could see for miles in each direction. It's not worth trying to describe it in this blog post; the pictures you will see will be a much better representation of the experience.

The rest of the day was a blur. We visited an Cloisonne (enamel) factory and a jade factory, both of which gave us considerable shopping time. Meals were scattered throughout the day, and the food we have been eating is exquisite. All in all, we're making the absolute most of our time here. Check back for more updates tomorrow. Happy Easter!

-Niko Rombes

How You Like Me Mao?

Posted on April 6, 2010

Once again, we the blogging team have failed to keep up with the rigorous demands of our tour schedule so all you folks at home will be enjoying another double post this evening. I will be reporting on yesterday's exploits and Niko on today's. But enough of logistics. After another tasty(?) Chinese breakfast, we took our seats behind the King of the Road (bus one's driver) and set off to the Summer Palace. For those that don't know, the Summer Palace was the summer residence of the Emperor. For five months out of the year, His Majesty would live in this massive complex that sits snugly on the side of a hill bordering a peaceful lake. The whole place is predictably beautiful but the long hallway (I forget the technical term) really blew my mind. It's a huge, open-air walkway that is made up of 476 sections, each of which is intricately painted with unique artwork. It runs the entire length of the lake's east edge. There was also a large boat made entirely of marble. We didn't look at it for too long so I don't know many more details but it was pretty cool.

In the afternoon we visited the pandas - and other lesser creatures - at the Beijing Zoo. We got somehow trapped in the labyrinthine Panda House in a large group of people who all required the use of a restroom. Once the crisis was averted, we were given time to explore the non-panda parts of the zoo. Poor layout of exhibits in addition to a minor time crunch led to a rather stilted zoo experience. So it goes.

To finish off our day, we went back into town and saw an incredible rendition of Chun Yi: The Legend of Kung Fu. This truly breathtaking production told the story of a young man's journey to becoming a Kung Fu master. High flying, frenzied combat combined with elegant dance numbers and incredibly choreographed group numbers led to an overall great time. Awesome is really the best way to describe it. Today was just as fantastic but you'll not be hearing of that from me. Sleep tight everyone.

-Leo Bayless-Hall

Mao About Them Apples?

Posted on April 6, 2010

Dear loyal readers,

I assume Leo has already apologized for another day without the blog yesterday, so I'll skip to the good stuff.

Today was a relatively relaxed day, with a late (7:30) wake up call and free time to romp around the hotel after dinner. After yet another brilliant breakfast buffet we headed off to the Temple of Heaven. This ancient place was reserved for the emperor of China to worship his ancestors. He used it only two days a year; it was completely empty the rest of the time. Now, as a tourist attraction, it serves as a place where retired people go to dance and play cards and have a generally great time being retired.

We saw amazing structures built entirely out of wood, bright primary colors adorning the molding, and listened as the walls constructed to echo back to you performed their purpose. But it IS a tourist attraction, so the best part was the individual experiences all of us had. Interaction with the locals is fulfilling–Leo danced with an old lady, Mr. Smith played a paddleball-like game with a vendor, and we all enjoyed having our pictures taken with eager Chinese teenagers who have never seen blond people in real life.

Our lunch was brightened by beautiful Chinese dancers onstage at the Two Elephants restaurant. We then headed to the tea factory, where we learned about traditional Chinese tea ceremony and were then allowed to shop around. Before dinner, we went to the flea market. It was quite an overwhelming experience. There were thousands of vendors in one building, all competing with each other for our business. They often would grab your arm to keep you in their area. It was a super-intense version of the American mall, in very close quarters.

Dinner was at a Peking Duck restaurant. This was, in my opinion, the best meal we've had so far. The waitresses came around and demonstrated how to construct the duck rolls, and we were left to ourselves to explore the rest of the meal. Our palates were satisfied.

Tomorrow we will transfer to Tianjin–we'll keep you all updated!

-Niko Rombes

Live in the Maoment

Posted on April 8, 2010

Today was perhaps the most incredible day of the tour so far. We didn't see any ancient landmarks or tour any famous locations; today was about the people.

First of all, we're in Tianjin now, and the city itself is worth mentioning. It's much cleaner, newer, and centralized than sprawling, smoggy Beijing. There is construction of new skyscrapers everywhere, and at night the buildings are lit with colored lights like giant square-prismatic Christmas trees. It's an exciting city.

After our first breakfast at our new (amazing) hotel, we went to a park/amusement park. It was like nothing I had ever seen–it was a Gallup park-like area with random rides scattered throughout. Next to the Scrambler there were people doing their morning exercises. In the shadow of the Ferris wheel band kids were teaching the old Chinese men and women how to correctly throw a frisbee. There were rollerbladers, walkers, joggers, and strollers. we spent a peaceful hour there before heading to Tianjin university to rehearse.

After lunch at a specialty dumpling restaurant, we went to a cultural exchange with a foreign language-centered secondary school. Upon arrival, we were met by the middle school orchestra playing a march. We congregated in an auditorium and listened to the Kobahshi trio and Tianjin school choir do their things, after which we split into three groups. One group went to play tug-of-war, another to play basketball, and my group left to play table tennis (Ping Pong is a brand, a big no-no). I played a girl named Serena for about an hour straight, and then played a game of doubles with Jacob Joyce, Serena and her friend. We could only be there for a few hours, however, and had to leave soon thereafter. There were many pictures taken, email addresses given, and friendships made. It was a sort of contemporary Ping-Pong diplomacy.

After talking to Serena for awhile, I learned a few things about her school life. Most importantly she didn't have time to play music or sports because she spent her entire free time studying, even though she's not going to college. It made me realize how lucky we are in the States to have such a mix of athletics, music, and academics, especially at Pioneer.

After many goodbyes, we went back to the University for dinner and our concert. At dinner, while eating at a table with Mike, Saunders, Jeff, Miriam, Karen, Jacob Joyce, and Andy Johnson, a student from the university came over and started talking to us. He had broken English, but it was pretty good, and we could understand pretty much everything he had to say. He wanted to know what he had to do to get into MIT, so we directed him towards Saunders. They had a twenty minute conversation about college admissions, and finally he left. His name was Lincoln Caulfield (?) — you know, the one from Prison Break.

Our concert was the climax of the day. Those of us who were lucky enough to get seats in the full house heard the peiyang orchestra, Tianjin U's resident non-music major orchestra. They gave an astounding performance, and the jazz band started to play. The soloists were on their game, especially Jordan and Spencer. We played better than we ever had, and the crowd was very responsive. Kobahshi trio played second, and we were all getting changed, but I'm sure it went over great. Symphony band finished up the show. Needless to say, we played phenomenally. They went wild at the end, and we played an encore piece. As Mr. Leach rightly said, we broke down barriers today with our music. There was more to the concert than the notes, and we could all feel it. Today was a day none of us will ever forget.

-Niko Rombes