December 29 – Beijing and travel day

The morning started off beautifully with Starbucks coffee and breakfast again at the Marriott, followed by a taxi to Dragonfly Spa.  I had the most wonderful Chinese massage and foot massage (approximately two+ hours total).  The muscles were so tense, and the female therapist was wonderful in working out every issue.  On the taxi ride back to the hotel, I saw the largest screen down the side of a building that I have ever seen:






I then went back to the Marriott for lunch, then back to our no-star hotel to check out and got on a bus for the airport.  It was a smaller airport in Beijing this time, but the security was extremely thorough.  It took us an hour to check all the bags as there were so many things triggering the alarms (just about anything with a battery in your checked baggage).






During our wait time, I was able to walk around the airport where I saw two more interesting Santas, including one with a “Happy Birthday” hat on his head:

SantaBells SaxSantaBJ




Finally, after a total of 2.5 hours of waiting and standing with no seats anywhere to be found (we already had to wait an hour prior to that since check-in was not open yet), we got through security and to the gate where we then waited another hour before boarding a very full flight to Xining.  Another 45 minute bus ride to the hotel – yes, another Chinese brand with not a soul who speaks English.  The rooms are at least a little bit cleaner, and I would give it maybe 1 star for accommodations.  After a fairly decent night’s sleep, several of the orchestra members went to the monastery, but my body is still detoxing from the massage yesterday.  *Note to self:  do not have a massage and fly on the same day due to pain, stiffness and pressure changes.  Therefore, I am staying here until we depart for the concert hall tonight.

December 27 and 28

It’s only days 7 and 8 of the tour, and they are already running together.  Ana, Carl and I decided to seek out real coffee – Starbucks.  We finally found one about a mile from our hotel in Shenzhen in a shopping mall.  The mall had a strange theme for the holiday:  “Bingo Christmas” and this was their decor:






We then had a fun concert in Shenzhen at the Shenzhen Concert Hall.  Such a gorgeous hall!  The acoustics were absolutely fantastic.  I think this will be a similar design for the new acoustic hall at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

ShenzhenconcertHall Shenzhenconcertview Shenzhanstageview

The next morning, we had a 6am lobby call for the airport where we are always herded like cattle to check in:






We then flew to Beijing where we were again dumped at this interesting hotel – Royal Palace Hotel.  The lobby is beautifully decorated, but the smells and cleanliness standards just are not capable of being processed by my immune system.  Again, no one here at the hotel speaks or understands a single word of English.  This is a huge challenge when you have 40+ English speaking guests and are trying to help them.






Shortly after check in and lunch, we had to board a bus and go to the Beijing National Opera House. It is a beautiful building with amazing features.  The hall is also acoustically perfect, and the audience was the most appreciative and fun audience we have had thus far on the tour.  Our hosts for this city then took us to “Big Pizza” for dinner.  The buffet not only had great pizza, it had chicken wings and other delicious foods that were not Chinese.  Sure, I enjoy Chinese food, but I cannot eat it for 3 meals a day for 7 straight days.  It was a welcome relief to my digestive system, too.

BeijingNationalOperaOutside BeijingNOStageView BeijingNOAudView

After a rough night’s sleep on the hard mattress (no spring at all and typical of every hotel where they put us here in China), I awoke and joined friends for a visit to Beijing Zoo.  We started by going to the Marriott Hotel a block away (everyone speaks beautiful English and is very courteous), had Starbucks again and a good breakfast, then took a taxi to the zoo.  The driver actually dropped us off at the BJExpo next to the zoo.  So much really is lost in translation.





When we finally found the zoo entrance, we started at the Giant Panda exhibit, then worked our way around.  I think we saw everything, but it is a HUGE zoo and we walked a total of 7 miles just inside the zoo.  The weather was absolutely beautiful, and there was not much smog at all!  The sun was shining and the sky was actually blue.  While in the Polar Bear exhibit, my phone slipped out of my gloved fingers and fell to the ground, shattering the glass screen.  When we came back to the Marriott, I met the kindest, friendliest concierge serviceman, Ted Shi.  He wrote in Chinese the name of the place that fixes phones and even what I needed done in Chinese.  I went to the location and was able to even haggle by myself to get it fixed properly.  I paid approximately what it would have cost in the US to have it fixed, but I was happy it was done so quickly on a Sunday evening.  Even the bank was open for me to exchange currency.  After taking care of this problem, I met the others in my party back at the Marriott where we had a delicious dinner.  We then all walked back to the required hotel, all dreaming how we wish we could stay in clean, nice accommodations.  Still, it was another adventurous day here the land of China.

BabyBear BigBear Lion MaryLakeZoo Panda WhiteTiger

Christmas Day – Shenzhen

Ah yes, the true smells and sights and sounds of China.  We were dumped in the absolute most authentic part of the city.  Not a single word of English anywhere, no one speaks English (including not one person at the hotel), and people stare.  Two (not just one) cell phones were stolen from our party at lunch yesterday.  How?  They each got up from the table to go to buffet (with others in our party sitting at the table), left their phone on their chair, and did not realize it was missing until they went back to their room.  You cannot leave anything, even when you think someone else is watching from your group.

After lunch and the scenes that ensued shortly thereafter with our interpreter and hotel management, at least one of the ladies did get her phone back.  I don’t know about the second one.

Several of us did decide to be bold and explore the area on foot.  We ended up down a residential area where people definitely stared and knew we were absolutely and completely lost.  We took a wrong turn, but managed to make it out okay.  We then found a huge “mall” that was mostly similar to a US flea market with indoor and outdoor stalls of vendors with everything from food to shoes to power tools.  During our explorations, we did find a lovely fruit shop where some of our party purchased coconuts and drank the liquid.






Several of our party then departed while Ana and I stayed at a coffee shop nearby and had a most delicious coffee, watermelon juice, fruit salad and club sandwich.  The total for all of this, including gratuity?  100 yuan.  That’s about 16 dollars for dinner for two.  Very high end for this part of the city.  At this shop, they had a dancing Santa out front that moved and sang Christmas songs in English, and a Snoopy and Woodstock on our table.  They also had a Christmas tree with the big lights like in The Christmas Story movie.

DancingSanta Snoopy





After this, I went back to the hotel (which has no heat), froze to the bone while in the room until I figured out how to write “heat” in Chinese and went to the front desk.  Moments later, a lady brings up a space heater and I could finally thaw.  Unfortunately, this incident has caused me to have a sore throat this morning.  Airborne, ColdEaze, and lozenges are my friend today.  Concert tonight (Dec. 26) in the Shenzhen Concert Hall, which is about an hour away from the hotel.  Why couldn’t the promoters put us up near the venue you may ask?  Good question.  I think it is likely due to the cost of the hotel.  Western hotels cost a lot more than Chinese hotels.

On the bright side, we are getting an actual cultural immersion here.  I am learning to read and write in Chinese characters.  We see how the people really live.  And it’s obvious many of the people who live here have never even visited anywhere more than a few blocks from where they live.  It’s interesting all right.

China Tour – Christmas Eve

At 2pm, we departed the hotel to go to the concert hall for a short rehearsal.  It had been 4 days since our last rehearsal, and we were a bit rusty.  When we got back, Connie, Mary and I decided to go have our own Christmas Eve Dinner.  We found a place that served Western style food, and tried it.  Well, it’s still not Western as everything seemed to be made to suit the tastes of the Chinese.  But at least it was not the same 6 dishes on repeat for every meal.





We then got dressed and headed back to the hall as for our evening concert.  The stage was very nice, and the audience was very appreciative and welcoming.




After the concert, I came back to the room to retrieve my Christmas tree that Jerry gave me to take with me.  I took it to our late dinner with the group and we enjoyed a beautiful Christmas Eve together.  Now for some rest before we head out to another city tomorrow morning.

CmasEveGroup CmasTree

China Tour – Day 1ish

I say Day “1ish” since it started Sunday, December 21 at 3am with a lobby call to leave for the airport.  32 hours later, we arrived in Foshan after landing in Guangzhou, China.  Bus to airport, train to terminal, 3 flights with another bus ride between terminals in Tokyo, and an hour bus ride from airport to Foshan = really long day of travel.

Now that we are here (it’s Wednesday, December 24 now as I type), we spent yesterday getting our bearings and trying to get on the time zone and schedule here.  We then had a lovely tour of two historic sites here in Foshan.

We first went to Liang’s Garden.  It is a beautiful, small estate in the center of the city that they are still preserving and maintaining.  So much was lost with the many cultural revolutions over the past two centuries.

Pond at Liang's Garden  Bonsai at Liang's Garden ChineseMusiciansLG ChineseOperaLG ChineseOperaMusicLG







The second location was Foshan Lingnan Tiandi where they have built a series of modern shops and restaurants in the style of the old shops and older China.

Although they don’t celebrate Christmas here like we do in the USA, they do still decorate and have a Santa Claus.  It’s interesting alright.

Now to get ready for a concert Christmas Eve tonight here in Foshan.  I’ll post more photos in the concert hall and surrounding area.

HelloKittyCafe JazzSaxSanta