Audition and recruitment tour in Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
I am writing from the final day of auditions in Beijing! We have had an amazingly successful trip again this year, although it has not been without some trying moments. For me, my bad luck started when we arrived in Guangzhou. My suitcase arrived with one wheel fully broken, and one partially broken, so I have had to drag it along behind me or utilize a luggage cart at the airport. I think it is time for a new suitcase anyway, but it has made traveling more difficult.
My luck worsened on the first day of auditions in Guangzhou. Before the first audition started, my camera fell off the table and broke! That was a difficult way to start the busiest leg of the trip, but luckily, Shaun had brought a backup camera that has worked fine since.
My situation became more difficult when we arrived in Beijing. After dragging my suitcase up to my room, I tried to lift it onto the luggage rack and I pulled my back and collapsed into a heap on the floor. I haven’t felt pain like this in a long time! I eventually made my way to the bathroom for some ibuprofen and a hot bath. Since then, my back has getting moderately better each day, and I will make sure I have plenty of medication for the trip home. I’m not looking forward to sitting on the plane for 14 hours…but, I will live :-)
Another issue in mainland China has centered around Internet use and censorship. Since wifi is not available in the audition locations in mainland China, we have been using 3G hotspots or tethering to our iPhones. Some group members had been using Facebook only to find that Internet access had been blocked the following day, particularly if they had been discussing Chinese politics. Having inconsistent and intermittent Internet is very difficult to cope with when we are all trying to keep up with work and connect with people from back home. Mike was also watching CNN one day only to find that a news story about a Chinese political leader was “interrupted” for about two minutes mid-broadcast. Events like these make me appreciate our right of free speech and free press in the US.
Plus, we have had the additional stress of Hurricane Sandy bearing down on our homes and families. We have been trying to stay informed through text messages and online news outlets, but it has been difficult because of the time difference. Thankfully, all of our loved ones are safe. As of right now, our travel plans seem to be still on track. My flight will be connecting through Detroit, and I think I will be able to arrive home on time. We are still waiting for more information for Amy’s flight since she is flying into JFK, and most of NYC is still in a state of emergency.
Mainland China was not all bad, though! We have had many great meals as well as many hilarious moments. We had a good laugh in Guangzhou when our “van” arrived at the hotel to pick us up. It turned out to be a 40-passenger bus for the six of us! It was nice to have the extra space, but it was quite comical to see this giant bus pull up for us whenever we needed transportation during our stay.
A couple of meal highlights included a traditional dinner in Guangzhou, eating at a famous restaurant in Shanghai where President Clinton and Fidel Castro have eaten, and a “hot pots” dinner where they provide an apron and plastic sleeves to protect your clothes while you search for food from the boiling pots of soup.
Through all of these interesting adventures, we have been listening to a dizzying number of auditions. In China alone, we have heard 250 over the past ten days. OK, enough for now – it’s time for me to get back to the auditions! I will send one more update after I have arrived safely home.
Friday, October 26, 2012
Hello from Singapore! We have had a very successful visit. We heard 35 auditions this year -- an all time high -- and we met many interesting students from Singapore and nearby countries like Malaysia, Thailand, and China. The English level of the students is always very high, which allows us to communicate and connect with students in a meaningful way. We enrolled a student from Singapore last year, and it has been rewarding to meet his classmates who are applying to Ithaca this year.
We flew Singapore Airlines from Thailand, which is always a highlight of the trip. The flight attendants are extremely nice and the service is fantastic, which is much appreciated after being away for so long. I picked up some gifts for my children in Thailand, but they are too fragile to pack in my luggage, so I will have to carry them with me for the next two weeks. The giraffe gets smiles everywhere we go :-)
I had a funny experience going through customs at the Singapore airport. When I walked up to the desk, the customs officer gave me a quick smile. Apparently, it was not big enough and her supervisor immediately came over and told her to be happier! Then, she couldn’t stop smiling. Only in Singapore.
We had a little free time one of the days, so Amy, Shaun, and I decided to take a quick trip to the zoo. I am glad we went; it was one of the coolest zoos that I have ever experienced. It is designed with minimal cages, so you feel like you are in with the animals. And in some exhibits, you are! We were in a covered tropical rainforest exhibit looking at butterflies and birds, when suddenly a lemur meandered by us. Amy loves animals, so she petted it, and it didn’t seem to mind since it hung around for awhile. Within this enclosure, we were also inches away from giant bats which are known as "Malaysian Flying Foxes," which have 4-5 foot wing spans and which reminded me of a scene from Indiana Jones. Throughout our visit, we observed different kinds of monkeys, elephants, tigers, and many other animals, and then headed back to the hotel.
We depart for Guangzhou tomorrow and then have almost two straight weeks of auditions and travel days in mainland China. As of now, we have 250 students scheduled in China, and we will hear about 420 all together this year, which is consistent with last year. Wish me luck!
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Hello from the enchanting city of Bangkok! We always have a wonderful time here. The people are so friendly, the talent level is great, and best of all, it is the most cost-effective portion of the trip (our beautiful hotel rooms are only about $60 per night and an 8-course dinner costs about $20/person). IC enrolled a student from Bangkok last year, and it has been rewarding to meet some of her classmates who are applying this year. It is amazing how far our reputation has extended in the short time of participating in this audition tour.
One of my absolute favorite parts of the audition day is taking the hotel tuk-tuk to the audition site. We are all dressed up and looking our best, and we load ourselves into this old tuk-tuk which putters along back streets toward our destination. It is quite comical and we have a good laugh the entire way.
After the audition day, we had a free day and the group decided to hire a local tour guide through Tours with Tong to take us to the train market, the floating market, and the fishing village. I can honestly say that this was one of the most memorable traveling experiences I have ever had.
We were supposed to meet our guide, Jerry, at 7:00 a.m. in the lobby to depart, but of course, we were running a little behind. Little did we know the first attraction – the train market – was an hour away and required perfect timing to get the full effect. So, as a result, our driver, Roger, decided to make up for lost time and drove about 90 mph to the market! It was quite an experience. Keep in mind that cars drive on the left side of the road, so the highway is also on the left side, and as a result, cars pass on the right side and slower traffic bears left. It is completely the opposite than the US. Needless to say, it was a very exciting drive.
When we arrived at the train market, it didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary. We have visited plenty of markets and seen the local fish, meats, and vegetables displayed in raw fashion. However, as we meandered our way through the stalls and around carts, I noticed that we were walking on two ancient looking train tracks. I surmised that this location must have once been a train station, hence the name. Little did I know that the train station was still active and the train would be arriving in less than one minute!
Soon, someone gave a warning shout, and within 15 seconds, the entire market had cleared a space just large enough for a full-sized passenger train to pass through toward the nearby train station. The place where the tour guide instructed us to stand was about 18 inches from the side of the train, so we got amazing photos and could touch the train as it passed by.
Then, as soon as the train passed, the market reset within another 15 seconds and it was back to business as usual. The story goes that years ago, the Thai government told the market that they were going to build a train line right through the center of the market and that they will have to move. The market owners refused to do so and continued to hold their market on the train tracks, and thus, we have the amazing train market.
From here, we continued on to the floating market. This was a lot of fun. First, you hire a boat, and the gondolier paddles the boat around narrow canals of shops that are being run out of boats or shacks on the bank of the canal. There are all sorts of fun gifts and haggling is common practice. We all bought a bunch of goodies; I scored two animal-themed nightlights made out coconut shells. I think my kids are going to love them!
After we had enough shopping, we traveled to a fishing village that is located on the Gulf of Thailand. The fishing village was more like a mud farm. The villagers use the water and mud to raise cockleshells. There were bamboo posts separating each “field,” and raised shacks erected around each field to monitor progress and prevent poaching during the harvest. We rented a boat and soon were traveling among the mud fields and then wound our way through a side stream.
Before we knew it, there was a group of wild monkeys following our boat! The guide was prepared for this and had several bunches of bananas to feed the monkeys. We later found out that they only allow tour groups to participate in this tour a maximum of once per week so that the monkeys do not get used to being fed. In any case, we hung out and fed the wild monkeys for about a half hour. It was an amazing experience and insightful into group dynamics and the social order of primates. We observed babies holding on to the underbellies of their mothers, runts and weaker monkeys hanging out behind the crowd, a clear group leader, and many other interesting phenomenon.
After this experience, we continued on to explore the mud fields and ended up approaching a floating house on stilts. After climbing the ladder to the top, we were met with the most fantastic lunch of crab, shrimp, sea bass, fish cakes, tom yum soup, vegetables, and fried rice. It was perfect.
This was a fantastic way to end such an eventful day, and were soon traveling back to Bangkok. We all agreed that this was the most memorable tour we have ever experienced during our Asia trip. And the best part, it only cost $80 per person! Don’t worry, IC, I paid for this one ;-)
Now it is time to depart for Singapore, which will conclude the Southeast Asia portion of the tour, and then we head on to mainland China. I am missing my family like crazy, but I do get to FaceTime with them once or twice every day. Thanks, Apple!
Saturday, October 20, 2012
It feels great to be back in Hong Kong! I always enjoy visiting this city; it is like New York City in the Caribbean. We have a free day in Hong Kong, which gives us an opportunity to explore the region.
After researching activities on TripAdvisor, we decided that we needed to get some exercise, so we chose to hike “The Dragon’s Back.” What an experience! We took a taxi that whisked us 30 minutes outside the city to a hilly tropical countryside with incredible views. There was a little drama when the taxi arrived. I opened my door and the glass shattered! The window glass was everywhere and we couldn’t figure out how it happened. Either way, we decided that it would be best to just keep moving and not try to explain the situation through broken English.
The two-mile hike led us through the tropical countryside, and across a ridge that overlooked the ocean and small towns. Three hours later, the path led us into Big Wave Village, which is a quaint beach town. We had a light lunch, rented some beach chairs, went swimming in the ocean, and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon.
That evening, we decided to go to Victoria Peak for dinner. We chose a fantastic Chinese restaurant called Tien Yi, which had fantastic views of the city below.
The dinner was quite good, and we decided to order Peking Duck, which some of our group is not fond of, but is something we have to order every once in awhile for the experience. They deliver a whole cooked duck to the table, carve it into little pieces, and then you eat it with tortilla-like pancakes, cucumbers, green onions, and hoison sauce. It isn’t my favorite Chinese dish, but I it is good to eat every once in awhile.
The following day we heard a full day of great auditions at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. The talent in Hong Kong is always high, and the English level is also high, which makes for a nice pool of applicants.
After auditions, we went out to another traditional Chinese restaurant called Peking Garden, which is across the harbor in Kowloon and has been a annual tradition of this group over the past 30 years. The food is superb, and they have noodle-making shows that are fun to watch. It is amazing to see how throwing, slapping, and pulling a single piece of dough can make noodles.
Now we are off to Bangkok, and I am sure I will have plenty of stories to report from there!
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Greetings from Taipei! This post will be less eventful than others, as we have little free time after the long audition days and early nights (we are still dealing with jet-lag). Our auditions are again at the quaint Forum Theatre, which is a coffee shop and eatery that doubles as a music venue. Our organizer this year is Crystal, who was patient, helpful, and a joy to be around for three days.
The highlights from Taipei are definitely centered around meals. We had the opportunity to eat at some great restaurants during our stay. One was a famous dumpling house called Din Tai Fung that served the most delicious dumplings. My favorite was a dumpling that had hot soup inside, so after you bite it, the soup explodes into your mouth. They were simply exquisite.
After eating at the dumpling house, we took a long walk back to the hotel and passed through the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. I visited this site two years ago and I am again impressed with the scale of these buildings. They are huge but have been built in such a way that you are unaware how large they are until you stand right next to them.
On the final night, we ate at a restaurant in Snake Alley called Tainan Tan-Tsu-Mien, which has become a group tradition.The décor is wonderfully gaudy and Viennese. It a very formal restaurant that allows you to pick your seafood from tanks at the front of the restaurant, tell the chef how you would like it prepared (broiled, fried, etc.), and then each dish arrives at the table. Everything was delicious.
After three busy days and 70 auditions in Taipei, we are off to Hong Kong, which is one of my favorite destinations in the world.
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
...was the translation that the taxi driver’s iPad showed after the third time around the same block. We were literally going in circles. What we believe it meant to say was “we are lost and your map stinks!” We eventually stopped a bystander who could translate properly and set the taxi in the right direction. And so our trip in Seoul began.
Our group this year consists of Michael Manderen from Oberlin, David Lane from Peabody, Amy Anderson for Manhattan, and Shaun Ramsay from Boston University. We all traveled on the USA Schools of Music Asia Audition Tour last year, so it is great to reconnect with such wonderful friends and colleagues and embark on this crazy journey together.
It feels great to be back in Seoul; it is a beautiful city and the people are wonderful. We always take the first day off to get acclimated to the 12-hour time change, and we took advantage of our free time to do some sightseeing. We started the day off by renting bikes on the Han River. It felt great to get some exercise. After riding up and down the river, we enjoyed a traditional Korean barbecue lunch at a restaurant in Itaewon. They bring a mini grill with red hot coals to your table and cook the food in front of you. There are also about ten different bowls with munchies in them - kimchi, greens, garlic, sauces, mushrooms, etc. It was a fun lunch.
On our walk back to the hotel, we happened to pass a jazz club where a jazz trio was performing for a Sunday brunch. The others kept walking, but I had to stop in to check them out. They were fantastic musicians, and after talking with them on the break, they invited me up to play a song with the band. It was quite an experience and something very unexpected.
After hanging out at the jazz club for a couple hours, I made my way back to the hotel in time to meet the group to see “Nanta.” Nanta is a live show and the top rated activity in Seoul on TripAdvisor.com. I have wanted to go for the past two years and the show lived up to its reputation. It was essentially a “Stomp” show that takes place in a kitchen and features a lot of percussion, humor, and audience participation. At one point, they were looking for two audience members to go up on stage, and guess who they chose...me! I was apprehensive about going up to the stage, but my friends cheered me on and I submitted. My role was to taste the soup that they were preparing for the wedding (and for which we later discovered that I was the groom!). What a hoot. After the show, we checked out a wild parade that was happening right outside the theater, and then headed back to the hotel to get some sleep before an early morning of auditions.
The next day, we got down to business and heard 35 auditions at the Cosmos theater, and the talent level was very high. This was the busiest day the group has ever had in Seoul, and we heard some fantastic musicians whom we hope apply and enroll in our schools. We concluded a very long day of auditions at 6:30 p.m., and then headed back to the hotel for dinner and sleep.
Today, we traveled to Taipei and tomorrow we have three packed days and hear about 70 auditions. Stay tuned for more posts!