Howard's Blog

Every day a new adventure

  • March 4, 2012

It would appear that we are the rainmakers! We had rain pretty much every day in Taiwan last week. Then when we arrived here in Kunming, China very early Friday, we brought rain with us again. Kunming has been suffering a rather severe drought for quite some time, so the rain is welcome. But today we’ve had the sun and we’re loving it! Everyone is out in the streets. Kunming is buzzing! In fact, as I write this, there’s something resembling a carnival going on in the street below us. The din of the non-stop party is blending (not disagreeably!) with the Schubert Eb major mass which we’re listening to at the moment. People generally live in rather small apartments, so their social life takes place outdoors. Our apartment (a very spacious, comfortable one) is located in a most picturesque part of the city. Hundreds of restaurants (they’re all good, we’re told!), little shops, and also large department stores…it’s all here. Walked by an iPhone store this morning. The locals are crazy about the new iPhone 4!

Yesterday was a wet, cold, windy, dreary  day. Spent the day getting settled, reading, and venturing out a couple of times. Oh yes, we had to deal with a couple of domestic issues…no hot water in the morning, the power went out for a bit, nothing really serious. These are matters that are easily remedied, especially if you speak the language. I’m a conductor, for heaven’s sake, I’m supposed to be able to gesture meaningfully! Well, my expressive techniques are being put to the test. And of course I do what far too many foreigners do all too often – I speak English very slowly and a bit louder than usual. And our gracious Chinese hosts respond in kind, speaking slowly and loudly. It seems to work, because today we have both electricity and hot water.

Last night it was pouring rain, so Maggie and I snuggled up on the sofa in front of my laptop watching and listening to a spectacular performance of the Mahler 2nd from Berlin. I’m a subscriber to the “digital concert hall” so we have access to an archive of about 150 performances by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. The Mahler 2nd is Rattle’s party piece; when, as a 12 year old he first heard the work, he decided then and there that he would become a conductor. This performance, with the Berlin Rundfunkchor, soprano Camilla Tilling and mezzo Bernarda Fink, was phenomenal! Two Canadians in China watching a concert from Berlin via the internet. It’s a small world!

This morning we took advantage of the beautiful sunshine and went looking for a few more basics for the apartment. There’s an enormous Walmart about a 10′ walk from us. We needed directions only about 3 times! Everyone smiling, speaking slowly and loudly and gesturing (see above). We made our purchases, and were already out in the street when we heard someone calling “hello, hello, please, hello!” It was a store clerk running after us with the 2 bars of soap we had accidentally left on the cashier’s counter. Nice feeling! On our way home, we stopped at the French Cafe on the ground floor of the building we live in…very handy…excellent lattes, great pastries. (You understand we need those calories to climb the 5 flights of stairs to our apartment. Right!) In the cafe we met a delightful Dutch couple who have been in Kunming for 5 years. Lots of good, useful information from experienced ex-pats. We got to talking about the 26 minorities who live in the mountains around Kunming, and yes, they knew about the Miao people as well. This is the tribe that is known for its musical/choral proclivities and which Maggie and I (and some of you dear readers who were with us) encountered back in 1999 during the International Festival of the Arts in Kunming. At that time we had brought Consort Caritatis with us from Canada to do what turned out to be only the 2nd performance of Handel’s Messiah in the history of the People’s Republic. We discovered that the Miao folks were taught major chunks of Messiah by visiting missionaries in the mid 19th century. In the dress rehearsal for our concert (and in a subsequent Chinese television mini-doc) we had the rare opportunity of singing bits of Messiah with them. They continue to sing Messiah choruses in 4 parts to this day, despite the fact that they don’t read music. It’s handed down aurally from one generation to the next. We’re looking forward to meeting these delightful people again sometime during our stay here, only this time instead of their coming down from the mountains, we’re going up to visit them where they live.

Tomorrow we have one more day to become familiar with our exotic new surroundings and then on Tuesday, the work begins. I’m told that my teaching and rehearsing has been scheduled for Tuesdays and Thursdays. That suits me just fine, because it means I won’t have to do the hour-long commute to Chenggong every day. That’s where the new campus of the Yunnan Arts University is located. Chenggong is literally a brand new city which the government decided to build outside Kunming. Right now, it’s more or less a ghost town, with rows and rows of new apartment buildings waiting to be inhabited. A light rail transit is being built right now and will be all done next year (Mayor Ford, are you listening?). In the meantime, there is bus service to Chenggong, and from time to time, I may cab it, taxis being cheap here.

These “prelude days” have been wonderful and informative and even a tad stressful. But now I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and start rehearsing the university choir (Mozart Requiem, etc) and organizing and rehearsing the orchestra (Beethoven Sym. 1 and Mozart Violin Concerto in G major). Many more surprises lie ahead, I’ve no doubt.

Talk to you soon!


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