Two days in Beijing

On Wednesday another efficient bullet train whisked the choir from Jinan to Beijing, and after a sweaty trek to find the coach we arrived at our hotel. The gents set off for the Great Wall whilst the boys contented themselves with KFC and retail therapy. It wouldn’t have been right to miss out on the local specialities, so we finished our evening with a feast of duck pancakes and delicious (f unidentifiable) desserts.

On Friday the choristers began by taking the subway to Tiananmen Square, which was a civilized and blissfully air-conditioned experience. Queueing to get into the square, however, was neither. The combination of tedious check-points and blazing sun – no longer obscured by smog thanks to Beijing’s improved air quality – meant it wasn’t long before we dived back into the subway. After a trip to haggle at the Silk Market we headed back to our hotel, the boys blending in like locals thanks to their newly-acquired hats.

The afternoon was spent fine-tuning the programme for tonight’s concert at the National Centre for Performing Arts. Known affectionately as ‘the Egg’, this magnificent hall has been hosting a summer choral festival – and we are its final item. A delivery  of pizzas somehow found its way into the depths of the NCPA, ensuring that the choristers were in tip-top condition to give one of the most prestigious performances of their lives.

Tomorrow the choir will make the six-hour train journey to Xi’an (and there’s the small matter of squeezing a rehearsal and concert into the same day too). Let’s hope there are no leaves on the line…

 

Bullet train to Jinan

The choir travelled from Nanjing to Jinan by bullet train yesterday. Veterans of previous China tours were delighted to reacquaint themselves with these excellent trains, which are comfortable, efficient, and well-stocked with Oreos. On arrival at our hotel the boys paid a swift visit to the gym, which formed the prelude to further exertion at the hotel’s evening buffet. (No witness could doubt the choristers’ adventurous spirit after watching one boy chewing a starfish.)

Today our morning trip to the local mall was followed by an afternoon rehearsal at Shandong Grand Theatre. This is another eye-catching building with a generous acoustic: ideal for the tour’s first performance of excerpts from Handel’s ‘The Choice of Hercules’. An extremely well-received concert was followed by the short coach-ride home, although a difference of opinion between our driver and a taxi meant that the final stages of our journey were completed on foot. We’re all looking forward to catching the bullet train again in the morning, but not so much to the early start!

Nanjing: Day 3

The choir had the luxury of a day’s sight-seeing today. Nanjing, once the capital of China, has recovered from the wartime devastation inflicted by the Japanese to become a serious economic powerhouse. Our excellent tour guide gave us a history lesson that encompassed everything from calligraphy to foot-binding, before depositing us in searing heat outside the city museum (one of the largest in the country). Quite amazingly – given the thousands of people surging past its displays – we managed to get to the exit together, and the choristers even had time to name each dinosaur exhibit after a member of staff.

We paused for lunch at McDonald’s. As one boy pointed out, McDonald’s in China is a rather classy affair, with obsessive floor mopping and a delicate display of macaroons at the entrance. After this, the choristers finally got the chance to part with their cash in the shopping area, where they graciously agreed to endless selfies with curious locals. Weighed down with cultural artifacts (including fans, sweets, guns, nunchucks, squishies, bubble tea and a giant green caterpillar named Simon) we switched our brains back on for a visit to the Porcelain Tower of Nanjing: an awe-inspiring complex rumoured to have been the burial site for part of the Buddha’s skull.

A banquet at the restaurant next door completed a perfect day of exploration. We have, according to our guide, ingested several dishes supposed to boost brain-power. We’ll see if this is true when the choristers get back to school…

 

 

 

 

Nanjing: Day Two

The choir has been hard at work today, performing two concerts at Nanjing’s futuristic Jiangsu Centre for the Performing Arts. This enormous complex (which looks as though it has just landed from outer space) includes an opera house and several concert halls, and was only completed a year ago. The choristers enjoyed trying the snacks provided by the concert hall,  which included a pile of cherry tomatoes and several kinds of sponge. As one senior boy put it: ‘once you get past the flavour and the look, the texture isn’t bad’. Luckily there was pizza for lunch, and the boys got to eat their own body-weight in noodles for dinner.

The hot, steamy weather has reminded us that Nanjing sits on the Yangtze River delta, and the lush hotel garden is full of the sounds of exotic insects… such a contrast from the bustling streets of Macau. We’ve enjoyed today’s performances, but tomorrow we get to explore!

 

Macau to Nanjing

 

This morning’s efforts by Air Macau to thwart our onward plans came to nothing (luckily, or this would have been a very short blog). After showing intense interest in the choir’s concert contracts – which none of us had to hand at check-in, unsurprisingly – their staff were eventually placated by several urgent calls to contacts in mainland China. The cry ‘NANJING SAYS YES!’ rang across Departures and we were finally allowed through in time to catch the short flight north. Thanks, Nanjing. As you can see from this photo of the hotel, we’ve been made to feel very welcome already.

Macau: Day Two

 

Today the singing began in earnest. Dr Darlington and the choristers started the morning by holding a choral masterclass at Sheng Kung Hui Choi Kou School. The school’s own choir sang impressively, and they couldn’t have welcomed us more warmly – particularly when their staff very kindly led us down the street for a superb dim sum lunch afterwards. (By the end of this tour the choristers will hopefully be able to operate chopsticks with more accuracy, but for now we all enjoy placing bets on which directions they’ll fling their food.)

In the afternoon the full choir assembled for rehearsals at Sé Cathedral, an elegant seventeenth-century building with an extraordinarily voluminous acoustic. By 8pm the building had filled with locals, expats, dignitaries and fellow musicians, all of whom had gathered to join us for an extended evensong that contained easily a week’s worth of anthems. It was especially moving to be joined by the choir of Choi Kou School and their director Raymond Chan, who has been part of the incredible team that has welcomed us so warmly (and efficiently) here in Macau. We will be very sorry to leave them all in the morning!

 

 

 

China tour 2018: Macau

It seems a very long time since the choir set off from Albion Place on Tuesday. We travelled by coach, plane, train and ferry to reach Macau yesterday evening, although Wednesday came and went before we’d really noticed its existence (did we dream our trip to a Portuguese restaurant on arrival? The waves of delicious food certainly appeared like magic).

Today (Thursday) is our first full day in Macau, and the choristers couldn’t have wished for a better start to the tour. The morning began with circuits of our hotel’s breakfast buffet, and – fortified by bacon, cereal, and in some cases noodles – the boys hopped on a coach bound for the Pavilhão do Panda Gigante. You won’t need to speak Portuguese to guess what we saw, and they were indeed GIGANTE. After an adrenaline-fuelled visit to the Warner Bros Fun Zone (where Dr and Mrs Darlington were last seen careering down a dark tunnel wielding laser guns) the whole choir met for an extravagant lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel.

The choristers roamed unfettered through a buffet of oysters, lobster, roast duck, unlimited ice cream and other delights, then proved they were still capable of independent movement by wandering to the Ruins of St Paul’s for the essential Macanese photo opportunity. The air-conditioned bliss of the nearby Museu de Macao gave us the opportunity to soak up the history of the area, before the call of the hotel swimming pool became overwhelming. Thoroughly washed and scrubbed, the choristers finished their day by joining our generous local hosts for a sumptuous (and very refined) dinner at the Institute of Tourism Studies.

If the boys get to watch pandas and drink lobster cappucino on Day One, who knows what the rest of the tour will bring?!