Audition and recruitment tour in Seoul, Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing
Thursday, October 27, 2011
From Bangkok, we flew to Guangzhou, which is in mainland China. There is a big trade conference going on in Guangzhou, which happens twice each year. We stayed at the Shangri-La Hotel, which is located next to the Conference Center, so the hotel was packed with conference attendees from around the world.
On the first night, our trip organizer, Kai Fu, took us to a traditional Cantonese restaurant. This was one of the most memorable experiences of the trip. As we arrived, we were greeted at the front entrance by a man who was butchering a live crocodile. He had just cut off its head and it was still blinking and breathing! He removed the heart, which also continued to beat for about 30 minutes. I was going to post some photos of the crocodile, but I think they are too graphic.
Behind the butcher was a huge tank of grouper (fish) that were the size of a small human. Surrounded by the butcher in long rows were about 200 aquariums. Inside each tank was every conceivable species of aquatic animal. Here’s what I can immediately remember: different kinds and sizes of shrimp; water snakes; water beetles; crabs; lobsters, many species of fish; dozens of different shellfish and scallops; turtles; sand worms; eels…you get the idea. Surrounding the tanks were jars containing different kinds of alcohol with exotic creatures inside like snake heads and scorpions. The restaurant was HUGE. It had five floors and each floor probably sat 200 people.
Kai and I did the ordering. A waitress led us around the tanks and we picked out what we wanted, how many of each, and how we wanted them prepared. We stuck with mostly normal items, but I HAD to try the water beetles. I didn’t tell the rest of the table, so when they arrived, it was a bit like a scene out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (if you have seen it, you know what I mean!). The water beetles were actually pretty tasty. They were fried with garlic. The most difficult part was the shell. After a bit of chewing, though, you could eventually swallow everything. I was proud of the group. Almost everyone tried the water beetles, which made for a good bonding experience! The rest of the dinner was very delicious. We ordered jumbo shrimp (about the size of my hand), grouper, scallops, oysters, and a bunch of vegetables.
The following day was long and full of auditions. Auditions were located at the Xinghai Conservatory, from which three of our current Chinese students came this past year. We heard 46 applicants and many of them were very strong candidates. If you do the math, 46 applicants times 15-minute auditions each comes out to about to 12 hours of auditions! Needless to say, these audition days in mainland China are exhausting.
Before we left, we had lunch with representatives from the Xinghai Conservatory. Xinghai has about 4,000 music students. They audition about 10,000 students for an incoming class of 800. Tuition is about $2,000 USD per year, and living expenses cost another $2,000. It was great opportunity to meet the Xinghai representatives and I look forward to future collaborations between Ithaca and Xinghai!
Thursday, October 27, 2011
The last I left off, I was heading toward Bangkok and now I am sitting in the Shanghai airport ready to board a plane to Beijing. A lot has happened in the meantime, so I will do my best to recollect all of our adventures.
I can’t access Twitter in China because it is blocked, so I guess I won't be tweeting anymore :-( I forgot to set up a VPN/Proxy Network before I left, which would have allowed me to circumvent the Chinese restrictions, so that is something that I will have to remember for next year.
I really enjoyed my time in Bangkok. The Thai people are so nice and I LOVE Thai food. There are so many incredible flavors in the dishes—I don’t know how they do it! The first dish that I had to have was the Tom Yum Goong soup, extra spicy. We also returned to a restaurant near our hotel that is situated above a house. It is made with dark-stained wood, which is beautiful. They always give us a private room in which to eat and we must remove our shoes before entering. Our favorite dish at this restaurant is the fried sea bass. We liked it so much that we returned a second night and ordered it again.
We also had the opportunity to ride in a tuk-tuk which is like a three-wheeled motorcycle with a covered back seat. It was quite an adventure, riding about 40-50 mph without much to hold you in. I don't get scared easily, and there were many times I thought..."boy, if this thing goes around this corner too fast, we're dead!" Other common forms of transportation in Bangkok are pink taxis or motorcycle taxis (you just sit behind the driver).
There was a reasonably priced tailor next to our hotel, so Shaun, Amy, and I decided to have some clothing items tailored. Tailored clothes in Bangkok are MUCH cheaper that any clothes you can buy at department stores within the states, so we couldn't pass up this deal :-) I ordered a black suit, which was much needed since the last black suit I bought was for my great uncle's funeral when I was 12 years old.
On a sad note, Thailand is experiencing the worst flooding in a century, and the flooding had reached the oustkirts of Bangkok by the time we arrived. By the time we left, the city's dams were starting to give way and they were working to use sandbags to preserve as much of the city as possible. The flood has claimed about 350 lives and caused about $3 billion in damage. I heard on the news this morning that the waters have reached the airport and that it is being used as a temporary shelter. It looks like we left Bangkok just in time, but I feel badly for the residents and wish them the best in the coming months and following recovery period.
We heard auditions 18 auditions in Bangkok. The numbers were lower than last year because of the flooding, but we heard some good candidates and the visit was worthwhile.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
We arrived in Singapore on 10/14 around 7pm and checked-in to the Conrad hotel. The Conrad hotel, as almost everything I have seen in Singapore so far, looked brand new and the service was amazing. There were three people to greet us when we stepped out of the taxi, they escorted us to check-in, and then personally showed each of us to our rooms. Singapore is 30 miles from the equator, so the weather is warm and humid. I enjoy this kind of weather, but the sweating can be uncomfortable in dress clothes.
The auditions started the next morning and were some of the strongest of the trip so far. We went from 10am-7pm straight with no breaks, and heard about 30 applicants. The auditions were held at a recital hall within the Yamaha Music Store, which was about a 5 minute walk from our hotel. After the auditions, I was able to meet with about 10 applicants who wanted to learn more about Ithaca. Overall, it was a very successful day.
After the auditions were finished, Amy, Shaun, and I ventured to the Mandarin Bay Sands area, which was like Disney World. The MBS is the world's most expensive standalone casino and includes a HUGE, brand new hotel, and dozens of restaurants and high-profile stores (who shops for Lamborghinis?!). We decided to eat at an outdoor bar that was overpriced, but everything seems to be overpriced in Singapore. We did the tourist thing and ordered some Singapore Slings (gin and pineapple juice), which were very tasty but not very strong. There was a laser light show over the harbor when we were eating which was fun.
From there, we tried to get on the Singapore Flyer (gigantic ferris wheel), but we arrived 15 minutes after it closed. We were all quite tired, though, so we decided to call it a night since we have an early flight to Bangkok.
We arrive in Bangkok around noon, and we have been keeping an eye on the flooding. Apparently, they have experienced the worst floods in 50 years and many of the rural villages are severely under water (sounds like September in Upstate New York). Over 300 people have died so far. I read that the minister is assuring everyone that Bangkok will be safe, but it sounds like city residents are piling up sandbags and stocking up on food items just in case. It doesn't sound like the most stable conditions, so this may be an interesting leg of the trip. We were going to visit a rural fishing village during some down time, but I don't think that will be possible any more.
There are only two weeks left before I return home to see my family. I have been Skyping every night before bed which makes the trip much more bearable. My wife has been sending me photos on a daily basis--technology is so wonderful and necessary on a trip like this. I hope everyone back home is doing well. More from Bangkok soon.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
I have to admit that it takes a lot of effort to maintain a blog while on the road! I think I have been doing pretty good with daily tweeting, though, and those can be followed @klinethomas. I am currently 40,000 feet above Malaysia, on my way to Bangkok, and I will attempt to recount the past four eventful days in Taipei and Singapore. I will break up the journey by the last two destinations: Taipei Personalities (Type-A, ha, bad joke by David), and Singapore Slings.
My last posting left off on in the Hong Kong airport. We had the privilege of flying Cathay Airlines to Taipei, which was an amazing experience. Brand-new plane, great food (even on a 1.5 hour flight), and warm service. The flying experience for our inner-Asia flights makes the trip very special and enjoyable. We are flying Singapore Airlines (which I'm on now), which is the top rated airline in the world for service. We also flew Korean Airlines from Seoul and the experience was equally as enjoyable.
We stayed at the Grand Formosa hotel in Taipei which was splendid, although I wish I had more time to enjoy the facilities. We were in auditions from 9am-6:30pm both days, and by the time we returned to the hotel, we just wanted to crash in our rooms. The auditions in Taipei were held at the Cosmos Recital Hall. Cosmos is a neat place, with a coffee shop and restaurant in front, and a small theater in the back. I-Lun was our hostess and translator while we were there, and she made everything very enjoyable. They made us lunch each day at the coffee shop, and my favorite was the rosemary chicken (see photo). On one of the bulletin boards, I saw a poster advertising the Taiwan Marimba Orchestra upcoming concert, which was performing a piece by Gordon Stout, IC's professor of percussion. Gordon has a close relationship with Taiwan and it was fun to have a random Ithaca connection half way around the world!
Over the course of the 2.5 days, we heard about 65 auditions. Because time was short, we had to limit auditions to 15 minutes each, which made it difficult to stay on track, especially for pianists. But, everything worked out in the end and we heard some really great candidates.
One the last night, even though we were exhausted, Amy, Shaun, and I made ourselves leave the hotel. We made our way to Snake Alley, which lived up to its name. We started by eating at a very nice seafood restaurant (no snake on this menu). We chose our seafood from the tank, and it was brought out family style in about eight delicious courses. As usual, we played the role of the loud Americans, and we were taking pictures of everything and having a a lot of laughs.
After dinner, we ventured out into the alley where there was a night market with live snakes, snake products (blood, urine, and venom drinks, snake soup, etc.), as well as many other food and craft items. The night markets in Taipei are wild places and mostly serve locals. We were the only foreigners as far as I could tell. Amy and Shaun did some shopping and bartered heavily with various shop owners. I bought a fan for my daughter with her name written in Chinese. Knowing her destructive tendencies, I think it will last about five minutes after opening!
On the last day in Taipei, we heard auditions in the morning, and then headed off to the airport for an evening flight to Singapore. When we arrived, though, we were informed that there was an earlier flight that departed in 50 minutes. They were hesitant to put us on that flight because it was so close to departure, but they made some calls and got it approved (I LOVE Singapore Airlines!). We rushed through customs and boarded just in time.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Greetings from the airport in Hong Kong. We have had two successful audition days in Seoul and Hong Kong, and we depart for Taipei in about an hour. There are 65 students signed up to audition in Taipei, so it will be a busy 2.5 days there.
To follow up where I left off with my last blog post: Shaun, Amy, and I did go for massages after the Seoul auditions. It was definitely the most "deep-tissue" massage any of us had ever had. We were punched (literally), slapped, shaken, and rolled into semi-consciousness. I even lost consciousness for a couple minutes (ok, I was really tired and fell asleep). Amy still has a number of bruises on her arms. All in all, though, we were feeling better after the massage and went out to another fabulous meal with Jeehyun Kim.
The travels to Hong Kong were smooth. The taxis in HK look like something out of the 1960's (see photo). Since HK used to be a UK colony, the cars drive on the left and the driver sits on the right. It is a tight fit with luggage, so the drivers bungy the trunks down to keep luggage from falling out. Since the cars drive on the left, it makes crossing the street rather dangerous--we have almost been hit a couple of times!
Hong Kong is usually the best place to get decent "western" food, so we went to two Mexican restaurants and even ordered a pizza at another restaurant (not a good idea). The five of us also ate a traditional Chinese meal at the Peking Garden restaurant in Kowloon last night. This has been a 22 year tradition for this group at this restaurant, and it is good to hear the veterans speak about old memories and how the trip has evolved over time.
After the HK auditions, we visited Victoria Peak, which was amazing. We took a taxi, as we did not want to wait in lines for the trolley or gondola. Victoria Peak overlooks the city and provides breathtaking views (see photos). We also took a bus over to the Stanley Market, where we bought some gifts for family and friends.
It was raining today, so it has been a good day to catch up on work. We will arrive in Taipei around 10:00pm, so it will be a late night and then we start auditions bright and early tomorrow. More posts to come soon. I miss everyone back home!
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Here we go again! I am excited to represent the IC School of Music on this year's USA Schools of Music Asian Audition Tour. My fellow travel companions--whom I will reference from time to time--will be Mike Manderin from Oberlin, David Lane from Peabody, Shaun Ramsay from Boston University, and Amy Anderson from Manhattan School of Music. For the mainland China portion of the trip, Matthew Ardizzone from Eastman and Stephanie Bauer from New York University will be joining the group.
After an adventurous taxi ride from my home in Endicott (4:30am pickup, steamy car windows, upstate NY backroads in the pitch dark, no working seatbelts), the rest of the trip went fine. The airplane ride was smooth and I was fortunate to get 6 hours of sleep. Delta has really upgraded their in-flight video selections. There were probably about 100 movies to choose from, and they were good movies.
I am always amazed at how peaceful Incheon airport is. I don't know if it the collective consciousness of the people, or the modern facilities which do not have much extraneous noise -- or maybe a combination of both -- but from the time you leave the plane, the atmosphere is quiet and very peaceful.
From the airport, we took an hour-long shuttle bus into Seoul where we are staying at the Grand Hyatt. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt last year and I would highly recommend it. It It is an amazing hotel and provides a much-needed relief after long days of traveling and listening to auditions.
Today we had a free day to rest and do some sightseeing. We visited the Changdeokgung Palace and Secret Gardens, followed by the Bukshon Folk Village. Both sights were very beautiful, and again, peaceful. While the weather started off foggy, it ended up being 70 and sunny. In between the sights we had an delicious traditional Korean lunch.
After a much-needed 3 hour nap, Amy's friend Jeehyun Kim took us out to an incredible modern Korean dinner. Jeehyun runs a company called Casual Classics, which designs social responsibility programs for major corporations like LG. Jeehyun was accompanied by three assistants, and the meal and conversation were delightful. Jeehyun apparently lives very close to our audition site and has offered to take us out for Korean massages after the auditions conclude. That certainly gives us something to look forward to throughout the day!
Auditions begin tomorrow and then we are off and running for the next four weeks!