Saturday, December 31, 2011

China Day Ten - morning sightseeing in Shenyang

We had a nice opportunity to visit some of the sights in Shenyang today - a very large statue of Mao Zedong and the surrounding square, followed by an amazing palace that had belonged to one of the key figures in northeastern China's history.

I will tell you in advance that you will not be learning much of anything about the history of China from this post.  It was more of an "Oh wow, look at that!" kind of day for me and my main focus was to take a bunch of pretty pictures and also somehow manage to keep my fingers from falling off due to the extreme cold.

So here are some of the pictures I took:

This is either Zhang Xueliang or his son.  They were both owners of the palace we visited.

playing hackysack in the square


The Palace!

Here's some info for you.
the daughters

I like the tile on this stairwell.

Huge doors!
This dude drove up rather suddenly and glared at us intimidatingly.

wall decoration

a very fancy ceiling

a wall plaque

Shenyang, Old and New

China Day Ten - afternoon in Shenyang

After our long morning of sightseeing we were taken to what they told us was the best dumpling place in town.  It was one of my favorite meals of the trip and I was too busy enjoying the many different flavors of dumplings we were served to take any pictures of them, apparently.  But I did take a couple of pictures during the tea and appetizer section of the meal.

This is what was in our tea cup before they poured in the hot water.  Isn't it pretty?  The tea was absolutely delightful and full of delicate flavor.

They poured water into the teacups from a very fancy kettle!  Look how tired everyone looks.  Tired, but happy.

And now, a rather long and boring story about our after lunch transportation adventures:

After lunch Doug and I thought it would be fun to walk around the downtown promenade area for a little while to get a feel for the city itself.  Although it was extremely cold, we figured if we kept moving it wouldn't feel as cold as it was.

Our friends Nancy and Jeff decided to go with us.  We ended up going into a lot of stores instead of just trudging around in the cold.  Most of the stores in downtown Shenyang were in more of the western style, so it wasn't particularly interesting except for the fact that they were so westernized.  We found a decorative face mask for Nancy and we also got some excellent treats from a bakery.

After that we started the process of returning to the hotel with what we thought was plenty of time to spare.  Unfortunately none of the many many cabs driving around in the area would stop for us, so I resorted to my previously fail-proof backup plan for foreign countries, which has always worked quite well for me in the past.  We went to a hotel to find someone reasonably fluent in English to help us figure out the metro stop for our hotel.  The subway was right there, so it seemed like a good alternative to a taxi.

The hotel clerk was VERY helpful, or so it seemed.  She personally led us down into the subway station, spoke to an official near the turnstile, and even helped us buy our tickets from the machine.  Then she passed us over to one of the security guards and he told us which train to get on.  Inside the car was a diagram that made it very clear that we were headed to our intended stop.

Once we got out it we were in a completely different downtown area and we figured we could just walk back to our hotel from there, but someone told us it was way too far and that we should take a cab instead.  So we tried again.  And gave up.  We weren't exactly sure why they weren't stopping.  And we also sort of had no idea where we were at this point.

There was a Crowne Plaza hotel across the street so again I thought that would be the place to find help.  It was so nice for the concierge to help us even though we weren't staying there.  But I don't think they realized that, hahaha.  They sent the bellhop out to hail us a cab and he tried and tried and tried, to no avail.  Finally I asked him if we should try something else and he said we might have better luck if we stood across the street because the cabs would be going in the right direction for the theatre where our hotel was.

So we tried that and when once again it didn't work we went back to the Crowne Plaza and talked them into hiring us a car and driver to take us back.  The guy pulled up in a big fancy Mercedes and we headed back to our hotel in style.  The cost was less than $30, and at that point it was well worth it.  And we arrived just in the nick of time.

China Day Ten - New Year's Eve concert in Shenyang

The Laioning Grand Theatre was full of snazz and pizzazz - a perfect setting for a New Year's Eve concert.  As we got ready I started thinking about the other New Year's Eve gigs I'd played far from home.

The first one was in 1999, heading into 2000, at the House of Blues in Tunica Mississippi.  That was trumped in 2003 when I found myself playing on the Crystal Serenity cruise ship off the Pacific coast of Mexico.  Since then it's always been in the DC area.  I guess this year in China takes the cake!

Before each concert the cello players have to do an enormous amount of prep work to get the Chinese cellos into playable condition.  The basses were often pretty bad too, but we managed to get away without having to re-string them.  They usually need some bridge adjustment and/or shimming though.

I think this must be the gaudiest theater ever.  Can you even find the percussion section amidst all of that?  It was both funny and fun in my opinion.


Friday, December 30, 2011

China Day Nine - back to the frozen North

After our two days of warmth and recovery from the cold we headed back up for our final concert in the Laioning Province.  We played a total of five concerts in this area, in Qingdao, Dalian, Jinzhou, Chaoyang, and now Shenyang.

Here we are boarding our plane for the five hour flight to Shenyang.

This is a bus eye's view of a local bus in the next lane over.  I'm not sure whether they wear those masks to protect themselves from germs, to protect others from their germs, or to protect themselves from the cold, and why they were seen fairly often on women, but rarely on men.

After a bus ride through the city we arrived at the theatre.  Our hotel was right next door, and accessible without having to go outside.

The rooms in this hotel were homey, but not particularly clean.  Several of our hotels were that way.  There would be different kinds of random miscellaneous deficiencies in cleanliness, like they had just forgotten to address one part of the cleaning.

The rooms were always neat and tidy, but sometimes there was dust around the perimeter of the room, sometimes it looked like they hadn't wiped off the counters after the last person, sometimes the room smelled a little, or had a dirty looking carpet, a moldy shower curtain, etc.  But the beds, sheets, and towels were always completely immaculate and fresh so that was always a relief.

Over all I would say that most American hotel rooms smell far worse than any of the ones in China did.  And I've been in a lot of hotel rooms so I know what I'm talking about.  Most of our hotel rooms in China didn't smell at all, even when they looked a little dirty.  I was both amazed and pleased by that.

I was also pleased that the one picture in our room was of a bass player!

We weren't right smack in the middle of downtown - this view from our hotel room window shows how it is kind of off in the distance.

Since we'd been travelling all day and had a rare night off it was great to be able to have our daily dinner banquet at 7:30 instead of 10:30 for a change.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

China Day Eight - Guangzhou

We had a wonderful time in Guangzhou.  The day started with a tiny little two hour bus ride from Shenzhen that seemed like nothing after some of the travel days we'd had.  I took a couple of shots from the bus on the way into the city.  I took the presence of this adorable gnome statue as a sign that we were about to have a really fun day.

Guangzhou is another big city down around the same area as Hong Kong.  Unfortunately there was not time to visit Hong Kong, but we had plenty of fun in Guangzhou and the weather was equally nice.  These tall buildings, which were shot from the window of the bus look kind of wild, don't they?

Here is our beautiful room at the Jovenstars Hotel:

We had lunch at a nearby restaurant.  This was the first place that presented us with a plate of chopped up chicken which also included the head and the feet.  None of us were curious enough to give those items a try. 

After lunch we decided to go check out the park across the street.  It was large, beautiful, and peaceful.  I took many pictures.

Many of our fellow musicians had exactly the same idea.  It was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon in such lovely weather.

There were lots of people practicing their native Chinese instruments in the park.  I guess you could call it Chinese chamber music.

Here's a pair of lovely gazebos:

I loved all of the statues we saw.  I think these are dogs, but they might be lions.

After the park we visited a fruit stand.  I'm sure Doug would have bought himself some Mandarin oranges if he didn't have a huge stash already.

Mystery fruit - or is that a vegetable?  Whatever it is, it's kind of pretty.

Doug is a kitty magnet.

This is the view from a bridge we crossed on the way back:

The HuaShan Leisure Club was just two doors down from our hotel.  We both got an invigorating yet refreshing hour-long massage for about 10 dollars each.

We decided to pass on the fire therapy and the scrape therapy and go for something slightly more relaxing.  We felt great afterwards!

The Xinghai Concert Hall was lovely inside and interesting outside.  We had to wait a bit for the buses but it was such a pleasant temperature outside that it didn't matter at all, and it gave me a chance to take a quick photo of the outside of the hall.

There was a tower with fabulous lighting off in the distance.  The color changed constantly.