Asia Audition Tour 2011

Audition and recruitment tour in Seoul, Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing

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The Great Wall

I am finally home! I awoke this morning at 3:30 a.m. because of jet lag and my difficulty in adjusting to the time change. This entry will be the final blog of the trip.

On our last day in Beijing, we made it to the Great Wall! It was very rewarding to get out of Beijing for a couple hours and see a little of the countryside. Matthew, Amy, and I were taken by our driver, Wong, to the most touristy section of the Great Wall. It had a gondola that whisked us up the Wall along with hundreds of other tourists (almost all Chinese). This section of the Wall looked well-preserved (and possibly re-constructed?), but it was still very impressive to see how far it stretched over the mountains. If I have the opportunity to return to Beijing, I would opt to visit a more natural setting setting (less touristy), but I hear that there is serious climbing involved with visiting these sections. The sun was out, so the temperature was in the mid 50's.

Amy, Matthew, and I trekked upward to the top-most part of the Wall and took many photos. What a view! While is was a little hazy because of the Beijing smog, we had decent visibility. After staying up on the Wall for awhile, we descended and did some shopping. I bought a pink umbrella for my daughter (which she LOVES!), and Amy rode on a camel. It was a lot of fun.

We still had a couple of free hours after the Great Wall, so we decided to check out the Summer Palace. The Summer Palace was very beautiful and situated on a large lake. We opted to take a boat out on the lake, but there was something wrong with the motor so we cut the voyage short. Matthew and Amy drove the boat (see photo). It started to get cold at the Summer Palace, so we returned to the hotel early for a nap before dinner.

We wanted to do something special for our last night, so all seven of us (Kai Fu included) went out for "hot pots." I had heard never experienced hot pots before, and it was a lot of fun. Basically, there is a pot with coals in the center of the table, and surrounding the pot is very hot soup broth. You order different kinds of meats and vegetables, drop them in the broth, and then eat them when they are cooked. It was a fantastic meal, and a wonderful way to end the trip.

After dinner, I had to pack and then prepare to wake up at 4 a.m. for our flight home. The returning flight turned out to a nightmare. Due to extraordinarily poor visibility because of the smog in Beijing, they grounded all flights for FOUR HOURS. Since we had already boarded, we were stuck sitting in our seats for the entire time. If we would have waited ten more minutes, we would have had to legally disembark the plane and wait for another crew to arrive. Thankfully, they opened the airport just in time and we were able to take off. The remaining 13-hour flight was uneventful and a piece of cake after doing so much flying throughout the past month.

All told, we heard about 430 auditions on this trip. Of these, about 200 students have indicated an interest in applying to Ithaca. So, the trip was a big success. Thanks for your interest in my travels. I plan to continue to blog whenever my life gets interesting!

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Info session for auditioning students

After Guangzhou, we departed for Shanghai. Over the following two days, we heard 93 auditions and put in two more 13-hour days. We did have a free day in Shanghai, though, which allowed us a nice break. However, it was raining (the only rain that we have seen on this trip!), but we continued with our plans to visit Zhou Zheng.

Zhou Zheng is an ancient village from the 11th century which is surrounded by water and rice patties. It was nice to get out of the city and see the natural countryside. We walked around for an hour, had lunch, did some shopping, and then headed back to Shanghai. What should have been an 1.5 hour trip took three hours because of traffic, so we ended up going right to dinner at 91st floor of the Shanghai World Financial Center, which is the tallest building in China and third tallest building in the world. What a view! It was a great way to end an exhausting couple days of auditions.

The following day we departed for Beijing. In Beijing, we will be listening to 160 auditions over three days. Auditions are held at the China Conservatory of Music (not to be confused with the Central Conservatory of Music). When we arrived, we were met by the president of the conservatory, who greeted us with warm words.

In Beijing, we will have three, 14-hour days of auditions. We are in the middle of day two right now. We started at 9:00 a.m. this morning, and we will conclude around 11:30 p.m. We essentially return to our hotel rooms to sleep for a couple hours, and then repeat the following day. We do have a free day coming up, though, on which we are planning a trip to see the Great Wall. Over the past two years, I have spent about 10 days in Beijing and I have never seen any of the sights because I was working from morning to night. So, I am VERY excited to see the Great Wall. I was told that it is very cold there at this time of year, so I hope I have enough warm clothes.

I will probably have the chance to send one more blog update at the end of the trip. Until then, back to auditions!

Posted by Thomas Kline at 12:11PM   |  Add a comment
Water beetles...before

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!

Posted by Thomas Kline at 12:09PM   |  Add a comment
Another van ride

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.

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