Celebrating Independence Day China

The TBC boys try their hand at grilling.

This evening we joined forces with parents and students from the Amerilish school in Beijing to celebrate the forth of July on some farm land far outside of the city.  After a long bus ride down some ridiculously narrow streets, we arrived at a resort with several fun things for the boys to do.  They set up several narrow bar-b-cue pits and provided us with plates of prepared meats and vegetables on wooden skewers.  There were no verbal instructions, but the kids didn’t seem to hesitate to take the reins and begin grilling the meat.  I was pretty worried that someone might be injured or the meat wouldn’t be cooked well, but the boys were careful and Mr. Chen, our bus driver, was very helpful in showing the kids how to get it just right.  As it began to get dark they brought out a large metal barrel full of scrap wood and dumped several shovels full of glowing coals on top of it.  The barrel quickly burst into flames as Chinese pop music was screaming from two speakers.  The Chinese people led us in a couple dances and then our host played the always appropriate – Chicken Dance followed by the Macarena.  The TBC boys followed suit dancing, laughing and singing in conga lines around the bonfire.

Mr. Earl told them a campfire story from his scouting days and the boys sang a traditional Chinese song for a very appreciative crowd.  As the bonfire began to wind down a bit we roasted marshmallows and made s’mores for everyone.

The hosts then passed out a ton of sparklers and began shooting off tons of fireworks which lit up the night as the boys ran around the race track usually used for racing ATV’s.

It was an unforgettable way to celebrate American independence.

We the people…

001The wake up call came at 4:30am. We loaded our bags in the bus and headed for the airport. We spent two hours cued up in a long line to check in and then came the news. Our flight was delayed by about 14 hours! We would be getting in to Chicago in the late evening instead of the early morning which would mean we probably couldn’t get out of Chicago until the following morning and would have to sleep in the airport.

Fortunately, American Airlines shuttled us off to a nearby Beijing hotel to spend the extra hours. We each ate a buffet breakfast and I went back to my room and slept for several hours until lunch.

At lunch it was my intention to catch up on this blog, but instead I had several very meaningful conversations with fellow students. I am always struck by the incredible histories hidden behind the eyes of everyone we interact with. In previous tours and trips I have really enjoyed getting to know these stories and this trip is certainly no exception.

Unfortunately, discretion prevents me from telling these stories, but I want to touch on some of the themes that came out over this week that I had no idea about and feel so honored to now be aware of.

Some adversity I learned of included loss of dear friends to alcohol or drugs, abuse as children, severe illness, and a couple things I can’t even mention here. Knowing these histories make the successes I see around me all the more incredible and inspiring. You just never know the whole story behind people’s eyes and when in life you have an opportunity to gaze deeper into someone’s past that glimpse often explains behavior you may have once viewed as unjust or erratic.IMG_2769

IMG_2744Traveling in close proximity to others for an extended time often unleashes a negative side and there were a fair share of times when each of us behaved less than our best – myself included. People get irritable when they are sleep deprived, dehydrated and forced to sleep and eat in unfamiliar situations. However, over all, this group was easily one of the better behaved groups I have had the pleasure of touring with. To spite a jam packed schedule, a huge time difference and over 36 hours in flight, no real incidents occurred. Somehow we all found a way to get along.

I’m proud to know the stories of my fellow singers better now and am forever tied to each of them because of this common experience. Making music with this ensemble and this director was not on my plan for life this year. I even tried very hard to skirt this obligation at the onset of the fall. However, Dr. Bierschenk would have none of that and I’m eternally grateful for his insistence.
As I ready for graduation this summer I can not overstate the blessing Texas Wesleyan has been in my life. I never meant to be such a fan, but I can’t help but recognize the bountiful opportunities for expression and learning it has afforded me over the years. I met my wife here, learned jazz, and held a huge concert with all of my best and most talented friends under skillful guidance. There just aren’t any places in Texas where a student like me can really stretch his wings and be allowed to create. The faculty, staff and students are forever a part of my story.IMG_2993

Wesleyan is a hidden treasure buried in Fort Worth. It has enriched my life in unbelievable ways and I am forever changed for the people it has brought into my life. This trip is just the latest chapter in my educational journey. After graduation I will deeply miss this place, but I know that the connections made here will always remain alive wherever we all go and I’m warmed by this thought.

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“Good heart. Keep go!” – The Great Wall of China

The Texas Wesleyan delegation at the Great Wall of China in BeijingAfter a short drive we began our assent of a portion of the great wall. This section took almost 300 years of excruciating manual labor to build. I’ll admit having heard about the wall and thinking, “So?” I mean it’s a wall. How hard is that? Well, it’s quite something else to see. The steps are massive and the incline is ridiculous. IMG_2927To think that each huge stone was carried on someone’s back is unimaginable.

The trip through the Forbidden city had already worn me out, but I was determined to ascend at least part of the way. I began strong, but it wasn’t long before my out of shape body began breathing fairly hard and I could feel my heart in my chest. I stopped several times along the way, but I continued up the steps to the first tower. At the top of the first tower I could see better how high the rest of the towers were. It was pretty daunting, but I had something to prove. I knew I’d have been all over this wall as a kid and I wanted to see if I could still do it.

Along the way to the next tower a Chinese man came up along side me. He read my name badge and made a faux opera singing sound to indicate he knew I was a singer. He attempted to speak Chinese to me, but of course my Chinese is ridiculously limited. The only English he could come up with was “Good heart” and “Keep go” we continued to challenge each other up the steps to the next tower and we made it. IMG_2951It made me feel better that he was having a hard time with it as well.IMG_2958

All told, I made it to Tower 9 (3rd from the bottom) and then Meghan Toon and Selina Stewart joined me for there for the decent. The way down was a new kind of pain, but we made it without injury.
This was certainly a whirlwind trip to Beijing, but Eric did a great job of showing us as much as possible in our short time in the city.

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Beijing is not Guiyang

Forbiden city panoIMG_2830It was time to say goodbye to Guiyang today. Our hosts checked all our bags from the hotel to the plane for us so all we had to do was ride the bus to the airport and board the plane. Waiting at the airport we received several copies of a fully produced hardbound book of photos from our trip as well as a DVD for each of us containing a PDF copy of this book. The book outlines our itinerary and showcases many of the best pictures taken throughout our trip by Guiyang’s staff photographer. Their staff must have staid up all night to put this together and get it duplicated for each of the 70 of us. This is yet another example of Guiyang’s overflowing generosity.
We may never be so well treated again. From the police escorts, to free shows, generous gifts and elaborate meals – we all grew accustomed to royal treatment and we also recognized that as soon as we left Guiyang, we weren’t going to be honored dignitaries any longer.

When we landed in Beijing we said goodbye to the rest of the Fort Worth delegation and hoped a bus to go see Tiananmen square, the forbidden city and the great wall. Our new guide, Eric, IMG_2869explained that we had a whirlwind trip ahead and that we could do it, but we needed to walk fast, and basically not ask any questions. We all were okay with the arrangement and he was not kidding.

Before we stepped off the bus he explained how to say, “Boo Yow” to the venders which means, No. I don’t want any. He further explained that many vendors had several tricks that made them untrustworthy and made us promise not to buy anything from them. He also said, Do not make eye contact!

IMG_2877We complied and although we saw how many vendors there where and how obnoxious they were, they could tell we weren’t buying so they gave up pretty quickly.
We marched through the square at a pretty good clip. All the way, Eric provided expert high points about some of the buildings. Most memorably he commented on how the buildings were Russian designs and he lightly touched on how even today China seems to take its cues from Russia.

Just past the vast square, is the gate to the forbidden city. This forbidden city is the largest square in the world and was called forbidden because only the emperor and his close family and sergeants could enter. The vast size of this area is staggering. He said they had renovated a lot of it before the Olympics in 2008 and had used several tons of gold just to paint the buildings.IMG_2891
Eric told us how the bricks we were walking on we’re over 600 years old and that there were not once, but 15 layers of them so that assassins couldn’t possibly tunnel through. He also described in vivid detail the process by which a unic lost his equipment. It was both fascinating and terrifying.

There were thousands of people milling around the forbidden city, many were very pushy and not what we consider to be respectful of personal space. Luckily we were prepared for this very Chinese view of personal space and lines. As amazing as these sights were, it was quickly evident we all enjoyed Guiyang SO much more. Part of that is that we were treated so well, but another part is that Guiyang seems so much less spoiled by tourism. Guiyang is so remote that it remains a great deal truer to its past instead of overt run with hoards of people.IMG_2903
Several people comments about wishing we hadn’t left Guiyang. We were all glad to have seen the sights of Beijing, but after Guiyang it was a let down of sorts. We miss you, Guiyang!

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Planes, trains and automobiles

It has now been 36 hours since Dr. Fisher and I left the Wesleyan campus in search of Guiyang, China.  After a 13 and a half hour flight to Beijing from Chicago, we easily passed through customs and were delighted to arrive at the truly world class, Langham Place Hotel.  Langham Place Hotel LobbyAlthough we only had 3 hours to shower and sleep, the accommodations were terrific.

I was able to contact my wife and three kids for a brief, but sweet FaceTime (video chat) conversation.  It was fun telling my kids that I was literally on the other side of the world.

This morning several students took the opportunity to get to know some of our fellow delegates from Fort Worth whilst enjoying very tasty Danish treats provided by the Hotel.  Grabbing breakfast at the hotel the first morningThen we dashed to our bus to the airport for the third flight on our journey.  After spending an hour on the tarmac we departed about 2 hours late.  Hopefully this wont mess up our schedule to bad.  At this point we’re just about finished with the traveling required and all look very much forward to getting to know the people and places of Guiyang.   Wiley meets a feelow delegate.We are all very excited about our upcoming reception lunch, rehearsal at the Guiyang Grand Theatre and the much anticipated Banquet in our honor tonight thrown by the government of Guiyang.

Beijing Hotel 007 FuseBeijing Hotel 010Boarding the plane for Guiyang

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