Howard's Blog

Succulent Serpent, Canine Birth Control, Singing in the Sun, Technological Breakthrough!!

  • March 18, 2012

It’s Sunday, and we are enjoying another glorious day of brilliant sunshine and temperatures in the mid 20s. We just spent a couple of delightful hours sitting on the tiny outdoor patio of the French Cafe, which has become one of our favorite spots (the lattes and the pastries are nonpareil). Yesterday as we were heading out, it suddenly occurred to me that, as much as I’m relishing this whole experience, I am now at the point where I think I’m actually going to miss this place when we take our leave on July 1. Mind you, that’s many unanticipated pleasures and challenges in the future. There may yet be times when I’ll yearn for the familiar pleasures of home.

Last time we talked was the 14th, I believe. It seems like much longer. In fact, time moves entirely differently in this kind of situation. On the one hand, each day flies by and at the end of it you flop into bed exhausted. On the other hand, you look back after a week and you’re convinced it’s been at least a month. These last 2 and a half weeks have been a case of perpetual sensory overload. Let me begin with the “technological breakthrough” bit in my title today. Thanks to my ultra-patient grandson/ remote IT consultant, I’ve finally learned how to include photos in these blog entries. (Can home movies be far behind, I can hear you saying with a grimace!)

First a brief report on Thursday’s orchestra rehearsal. The clarinets showed up with transposed parts, glory be! We continued our journey into the 1st movement of Beethoven’s 1st symphony and we also ventured briefly and ever so tenuously into the slow movement of the 3rd Mozart Violin Concerto.  I began with the 2nd violins, violas and cellos and basses playing the accompanying material. When that was reasonably in place, I had the 1sts play their gorgeous D+ melody above those delicious Mozartian harmonies. It was a joy to see the looks of delight on those young faces as they heard this music for the very first time. Now comes that delicate matter of learning to play everything in tune! For the woodwinds and horns, this is a particular challenge. But we spend a lot of time tuning individual chords, and we’re making some progress. Now that I’ve had 2 rehearsals with both the choir and the orchestra, it’s abundantly clear that the performance level we may or may not reach by the end of June is not the point; what I’m hoping for is progress. So far that’s happening in the orchestra; the jury is still out as far as the choir is concerned.

Rehearsing the Yunnan Arts University Orchestra

This past week, I had occasion to chat with one of the English-speaking administrators at the university. She informed me that there are about 10,000 students at Yunnan Arts University, a school with a number of departments or faculties (music, dance, visual arts, design, film, etc). About 6500 students are at the new Chenggong campus (that’s where I work), and the remaining 3500 are at the old campus right in Kunming. The performance facilities at the new campus are still under construction, which means that all recitals and concerts still take place on the old campus. Which is good for us, seeing we live about a 10′ cab ride away. I’m looking forward very much to hearing some of these recitals, student and faculty alike. I then asked her how many such schools there are in all of China. I was amazed to learn there are 11 arts universities (multi-disciplinary, just like YAU) and 9 music conservatories. That’s 20 schools for a population of 1.3 billion. My calculator tells me this is 1 school for every 65 million people! At that rate, Canada would have to double its population before it would rate even 1 school!

Regarding the “Succulent Serpent”, I think Maggie has already filled you in on one of our dining adventures. As she mentioned, the menu was devoid of so much as a single English syllable, so we were reduced to pointing at pictures and hoping for the best. One of the dishes was something of a mystery, although the flavor was really quite good, i.e. very spicy. Upon closer examination, we discovered we were eating snake! It’s probably a good thing we don’t speak or read Chinese; I’m sure we would have passed on that little delicacy had we known in advance what it was.

See, it doesn’t look so bad, does it?

Now, about “Singing in the Sun”. On one of our frequent walks to Green Lake and its inviting islands, we stopped for a drink in a beautifully peaceful, shaded garden. In the distance we could hear a group of people singing. The singing was “live”, the accompaniment was obviously “canned”. We followed the sound, and discovered a most wonderful sight, about 50 or so (mostly retirees, we surmised) sitting under their parasols or sun hats (these folks avoid the sun as much as possible) with their song sheets and lustily singing a variety of Chinese folksongs. Their pleasure in what they were doing was palpable. I have a wonderful video to prove it; unfortunately the file is too large to include in this blog entry.

In these past two weeks, we’ve met many utterly delightful, friendly, helpful people. One of them is Xiaoxun (pronounced roughly “Show [as in ‘shower’] shun”). You may recall that we’re renting our apartment from a couple who own and operate the French Cafe, almost directly below us at street level. (They, by the way, are spending a number of months in France, which explains why their apartment was available). Xiaoxun, a charming English-speaking young woman, is the co-owner of the Cafe, and has been most helpful. She has 2 adorable little dogs who have clearly adopted us into the family! Yesterday one of them showed up at the Cafe wearing a most fetching set of pants/underwear/lingerie – we weren’t quite sure how to describe this sartorial oddity.

Canine chastity belt

Xiaoxun was quick to point out that the dog was in heat, and this was just to prevent an “accident”!

Each day here brings with it new surprises, unexpected delights, more than a few shockers (e.g. the heart-breaking conditions of the homeless street people, many of whom are horribly disabled, who spend their days begging or just lying on the sidewalks, hoping someone will drop a Yuan or 2 into their hats). But mostly the street is a bustling, happy, beautiful place, and the people are smiling and laughing.

Tonight we’re going to have dinner at the Green Lake Hotel (I told you about it last time). Tomorrow, a day of preparation for Tuesday’s first La Traviata session, Maggie’s first English-tutoring class, and my 3rd rehearsal with the YAU choir. Never a dull moment!


1 Comment on Succulent Serpent, Canine Birth Control, Singing in the Sun, Technological Breakthrough!!

  • nathalienasr says:
    March 18, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    This post wins for best title! I’m very much enjoying yours and Maggie’s accounts of your adventure in China. Glad to hear you’re well!


Leave a reply

Fields marked with * are required

Please leave these two fields as-is: