China 2018 Recap

After nearly three weeks abroad in China, Ball in the House returned to the United States on August 5th, jetlagged but content.  While our 2016 tour of China took us through the wonderful cities of Beijing, Shenyang, Changchun, Harbin, Jilin, and Dalian in a loop of northeast China, our 2018 tour showed us a broader expanse of the country.

Like in 2016, we began our tour with the China International Chorus Festival in Beijing.  While we would reconnect with Joy-- our tour guide from last time-- at the opening ceremony, we were met at the airport this time by a young man by the name of William.  This year's opening ceremony was held in the Cadillac Arena, originally built to hold the 2008 Olympic Games' basketball preliminaries and finals.  The space was massive and impressive, with the audience seats wrapping around the entirety of the fronts and sides of the stage!  While preparing for the opening of the festival, we met up with Cadence, an a cappella group based out of Toronto and an overall stellar group of guys.  William, a hilarious, knowledgeable father-of-two and all-around family man from southern China provided fantastic insight and memorable conversation for the entire two weeks we spent with him.  In the days that followed, he showed us some new areas of the city, from the enormous and majestic Summer Palace to the quirky and fascinating industrial-park-turned-art-district of Beijing.  After rounding out the Beijing festivities with a couple of joint shows with Cadence, we moved on to our next city.

Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu Province and former trading hub of the silk road, was our next stop.  Situated in midwest China, the greater Lanzhou area outside the city had a geography almost akin to South Dakota in its rolling hills and plateaus.  The Yangtze Yellow River International Chorus Festival was in its first iteration, and as such was smaller in scope, but was professionally run and packed full of music.  Due to the smaller setting, we were able to spend some time getting to know the attending groups and see several of their performances.  We enjoyed all of the concerts thoroughly, and would love to give a special shoutout to the Missouri State Chorale, under the direction of Dr. Cameron LaBarr.  Their discipline and attention to detail was simply fantastic, and anyone looking to attend a choral music program in the midwest of the US should be encouraged to check out Missouri State as one of their options!  Beyond the music, one of our favorite features of Lanzhou was its claim to fame as the de facto capital of pulled noodles in China.  Cheap, delicious, and filling bowls of noodles were in steady supply throughout our five-day stay there, much to our delight.  The Gansu Provincial Museum provided tremendous historical insight into the culture of Lanzhou, as well as a thorough and painstaking automobile exhibit!  We also loved the family-friendly atmosphere of the city, with families young to old out and about during the evenings, outdoor dance classes, and youth speed-skating all intermingling.

From there, we had to say goodbye to William, but were joined in Guangzho by George, a young man from the greater Beijing area who helped us out for the rest of our journey.  Guangzho, situated just up the river delta from Hong Kong, was a vastly different experience from the other cities so far.  International companies like Starbucks abounded, and there was a little bit more hustle and bustle than we had experienced prior.  Our performance there was in a black box theatre with a fascinating modular stage, featuring storage space for multiple seating levels and chairs within the floor of the theatre itself.  Our crowd was enthusiastic and friendly, and we were able to meet plenty of our new-found fans after the show!

Next up was Nanchang, about halfway between Guanzho and Shanghai.  Less vertically-built than Guangzho and Lanzhou, Nanchang had its own unique character and flair to it.  Wallace discovered an aquarium near our hotel that featured a Little Mermaid-eque "Under The Sea" production, taking place within the sealife tanks themselves.  George took us to one of his favorite restaurants along a side alley, whose strong feature was their delicious rice soups.

Our last stop of our journey was in Tianjin, just southeast of Beijing.  Our first destination after we reached the hotel was to the Tianjin Eye, a gigantic, bridge-mounted ferris wheel in the middle of the city.  At the top of the nearly 400-ft wheel, we could make out buildings stretching as far as the eye could see!  The Tianjin Eye was built as a sister wheel of sorts to the London Eye in England.  Prior to our ride on the Tianjin Eye, which Monty bravely overcame his fear of heights for, we took a flawless group photo where Monty's green shirt doubled as a digital blank-screen backdrop for our superimposed background image of Tianjin at night.  Our evening performance proved a blast, set in a concert hall with a large, open, wrap-around audience seating area with concert-goers on all sides of us.  The packed hall and exuberant new fans were the best send-off we could have asked for.

We would love to thank the China Arts and Entertainment Group for inviting us back to China and for all of their efforts in putting our tour together, additionally the NEA Performing Arts Discovery program of Arts Midwest (funded by the National Endowment for the Arts), and Advanced Netlabs for their sponsorship of our tour.  We appreciate all of your organizations' hard work, and for making this tour possible.  We had a truly unforgettable experience that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

With love,

Ben, Monty, Wallace, Dave, and Jon
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