|I hope OC Metro readers will excuse my absence from blogging these past weeks, but I have now returned from a two-week cultural exchange in China. Touring with the Southern California Master Chorale just weeks before the Beijing Olympics, I can only say that this was an amazing adventure.
China is simply astounding. The construction taking place is beyond comprehension. Every city is proud of its architecture, attracting top designers from all over the world. Beijing has had years to prepare for the Olympics and they are doing their best to make their home as welcome as possible for the West. Lush landscaping frames thousands of miles of new public highways, new subways have opened, bicycles are more often replaced by cars (the new middle class status symbol) and the Chinese are being asked by their government to consider more “Western” manners: queuing up to get on the bus, no spitting in the street, no smoking sections in restaurants, staying in marked travel lanes, etc.
For visitors, however, it is remarkable to learn, experience and celebrate the unique cultural differences that are Chinese. Bargaining in the marketplace, walking everywhere, eating lightly, and – for women – learning the Chinese way of toileting. Ahem...bring your own paper and don’t be afraid!
The Olympic Village was in frenetic bustle. The remarkable “Bird’s Nest” where the opening ceremonies are to be held is a modern wonder of the world. I looked at the apartments being readied for the athletes and thought, “No way will these be done in 30 days.” Oh. Wait a minute. Three billion people and no CEQA, no NIMBY’s, no problem.
Every airport I visited – Beijing, Xi’an and Hong Kong – was state of the art. Signs clearly marked, almost complete or brand-new construction, breathtaking architecture designed to impress, and every amenity you’d expect to find. When I arrived at LAX, I thought I had arrived home to a third world country in comparison!
With all our discussion on water quality and reliability in California, there’s no question we’ve been spoiled. Our taps turn on, water comes out, practically free for the taking. In China, even at the top hotels, the tap turns on, and the water is not potable. Even to brush your teeth, you must use bottle water. I asked one of our guides – a Beijing resident – about this, and he responded to me, “We Chinese boil everything so we don’t think about drinking from the tap. It’s not a big thing in our culture.”
The terra cotta warriors in Xi’an are a “must see.” An exhibition is currently housed at Bower’s Museum in Santa Ana. It’s a good teaser, but the grounds and presentation of this astounding modern world wonder are worth a trip to China on its own. And, what can you say about Hong Kong, except more and more it’s like Manhattan on steroids! My group took a special VIP tour of Hong Kong Disneyland to see shows and attractions not yet in our own Disney Resort in Anaheim.
But the highlight for me had to have been the music – my “secret” passion. My choir met with university students from several of the country’s top educational institutions in Beijing, Tianjin and Xi’an. In every case, the Chinese choirs performing with us were not music majors or professional musicians, but scientists, architects, engineers, international business and technology majors – who just happened to like music and were amazingly gifted!
It was an experience to remember – a concert of American jazz, blues, gospel, classical and contemporary tunes (us) with Chinese art music, folk, Tibetan music, but also some contemporary compositions (them). Their musical performances were so well done that our merry band of Californians really had to “step up” to match their hosts’ expertise! Each of our groups was fueled and inspired by the other. Music was our common language and passion, and what a wonderful opportunity we had to share it across cultures. Who knew that east meeting west could have such a musical ring.