Blogs and updates

March 17, 2012

Tim Wang
Huntsville, AL
Alto Sax

First impressions of Xuzhou weren't exactly the greatest. The rain, cold, and mud didn't exactly help, but they have a heck of a concert hall.  Situated on the side of a river, it looks awesome night or day. The inside doesn't disappoint either.  Xuzhou will probably look 10 times better when the sun comes out, but up to now, they have the coolest concert hall we've been to.

While I am okay with Chinese food, coming to China makes me appreciate places like McDonald's and Pizza Hut. Song took us to McDonald's the other day; the joy on some people’s faces was almost hilarious, except that I was really happy to be there, too. You have your Americanized Panda Express Chinese food, but also home Chinese food. Then having China Chinese food is really cool to try out and sometimes kind of fun, but takes some getting used to. Really interesting, Pizza Hut here is not a fast food; it’s a nice sit-down, expensive restaurant with prices about the same as in the U.S. It took us a couple of years to order, but the pizza was worth it and looked the same as American Pizza Hut. Now to try out the Chinese KFC ... they have a totally different menu, but as long as they have fried chicken, I'm willing to go.



Lee Richert
Madison, AL
Baritone Sax

Today, we visited a university in Xuzhou, and a Chinese string orchestra student group performed for us. The ensemble was filled with foreign instruments I had never seen before. Even some of the more familiar instruments would have a twist, like the bamboo flute, whose timbre was heavier than the traditional western flutes. The conductor held no baton, and the musicians performed entirely from memory. We were told the ensemble had won a national competition for that type of orchestra, and no one doubted it for a second. The music was just incredible and over far too soon.  After watching their groups perform, we sent a few ensembles up to share some of our music with them. The audience was very receptive. They seemed to particularly enjoy the jazz combo and the trombone ensemble. After all these groups had finished, we went to talk to some of the students. Their English was generally about as good as our Chinese (very minimal), but they we managed some basic communication. All of them wanted pictures with us, and many seemed particularly eager to seek out the blacks and blondes in our group. I guess they probably don't see many of them in China very often. We were sad to have to leave, but this short cultural exchange had been amazing.



Kaitlyn Burnside
Pelham, AL
Clarinet

Today was a very interesting and easygoing day. I got to sleep in!! I was so excited. I spent most of my day wandering around the city and putting my life in the hands of the two students from the university we played at. It was a great experience. We were able to split up into groups of our choosing and then had guides assigned to us. I knew there would be some language barrier but hoped for the best and realized that wasn't the case. We were given the option do to what ever we chose to do. So we told them we wanted to shop for souvenir-type things and tried to describe what we wanted. This ended up with us shopping in stores along the street and an underground mall. Wow, very different from home. Of course, the whole time people took pictures of us, stared at us, and would come up and ask to take pictures with us. The mall was cool with lots of little bitty shops. Lunch was like nothing I had done before. We told them we wanted Chinese like they would have so they took us to a food court. And I am pretty sure in was underground, too, because we had to take the escalator from inside a store to get to it. So, this food court had lots of restaurants serving basically the same thing. Each one had each dish it served prepared and wrapped in plastic for us to see. Once you decided what you wanted you went to a cashier on the other wall and paid the amount the restaurant said. You would receive a card, like a gift card, and you took that back to the restaurant and they scanned it. You pointed to what you wanted and they cooked it from scratch right then and there. Cool. I had fried rice with veggies and seafood. The rice was the closest I have had all trip to what the rice is like at home. I was a little grossed out at the food because there were things I had never seen before or didn't dare want to try. I laughed because one of my guides had octopus, which was the one thing I had told my friend that I hoped she didn't bring to the table to eat. It creeped me out to see the tentacles with the sucker things. UGGGGHHHH!!!!!! My group really didn't know what all we wanted to do so we asked them to take us to something that they would do in their free time. We went to a park. It was gorgeous. To get there, though, I thought I would lose my life because we rode in a taxi. Being on the roads in China on a bus is scary enough because no one seems to really follow any traffic laws. They just do what they want. There is always constant horn blowing even when no one is around. I feel like it is a way to say hello. But the taxi was scary because it swerved in and out of lanes even with incoming cars coming right at us, but we made it safely. The park had what I would consider traditional structures and beautiful flowers and waterfalls. It was a ginormous park so we did not get to see it all. We did, however, go to a small museum that was about famous people from this city of Xuzhou. I liked it except I wasn't allowed to take pictures of the beautiful statues and paintings. That was all I understood since the words were all in Chinese. After we left there we found theme park in the garden. :) We of course had to go investigate. Second potentially dangerous activity of the day - riding roller coasters in a foreign country where you do not know exactly what you are getting on. That was so much fun. We rode as a group and convinced our guides to ride one of the two coasters with us. The trip home was an adventure, too, and happened to be activity that could be potentially dangerous number three. We rode the public buses. SCARY! The Chinese pack more people on a bus or in an elevator than anyone else in the world it seems like. We were packed in on that bus like sardines. Of course, my luck is that we had to stand because the few seats on the bus were full. It took so much strength and energy to stay standing because the bus was manual transmission, like all buses and cars we see here, and made so many quick stops. I was afraid of getting off at the wrong stop or not getting off when I was supposed to because the bus barely stopped to let people on or off before it was moving again. I got excited when I saw scenery around me I recognized. I did stop at a pastry shop down the road from the hotel to commemorate my eventful day. The concert tonight was one of the best ones I think the band has played all trip. I finally got to see the lobby of the building and it was cool. The steps were painted as a piano keyboard!! As a music major, that is the coolest thing ever. Tomorrow morning's 5:30 a.m. wake-up call is going to come really fast, but I am excited about going to a new city. I have enjoyed my time here in this city.

 


March 16, 2012

Joshua Huggins
Andalusia, AL
French Horn

So, this morning I woke up for the first time around 6:15 due to, yes, you guessed it, the car horns. There were so many going off, it just seemed like there were a thousand people yelling in our room. I eventually pulled myself out of bed and got dressed for the day. We ended up going to an elementary school this morning. It was a very nice school and some of their students performed on their musical instruments for us. They were absolutely the most precious kids, and after their performance some of us were able to go around to the classrooms and hand out Auburn stickers to each of the students. They were so excited. We had a small break during the afternoon and then we headed to a local college that had about one thousand music majors, if I understood correctly. They also did a performance for us with their traditional Chinese instruments and it was amazing. We headed back to the hotel and a couple of my friends and I practically ran to the Pizza Hut down the street for dinner. It was definitely the nicest Pizza Hut that I have ever been in and the pizza was awesome! Ordering turned out to be somewhat of a disaster, but we all got pizza, so it didn't matter. I felt like it was the best thing I had ever tasted. We ate it so quickly, I was miserable afterwards, but let me tell you, it was a happy miserable. By the way, I forgot to tell you that McDonald’s was amazing. I am now sitting here contemplating whether I should start packing stuff to head back to the states, so we will see how that goes! Goodnight all!



Kaitlyn Burnside
Pelham, AL
Clarinet

Today definitely had some ups and downs. We went to two schools to have a cultural exchange. The morning started off with us going to an elementary school. We got there and went into the gym and all the kids were sitting lined up waiting on us. There was a group on stage with symphonic band instruments. They all cheered for us and it was exciting! They played a couple of songs and then had two groups with Chinese instruments. I know nothing about the instruments but enjoyed watching them. We then had small groups go up on stage and perform segments that we have memorized from our concert repertoire. I had to play a part of a march we play called "Melody Shop" with the clarinet section. It was fun, but hard. The gym was really cold. I have decided that they do not believe in heat over here. It seems like everywhere we go it is usually cold inside just like outside. Several groups played and then those of us with our instruments played "War Eagle." It meant a lot to be able to play a song here in China that means so much to me. And the whole band sang, which was fun. As we left the gym, all the students were standing in blocks on a green field. Music turned on and they all started some kind of dancing. I am not sure what it was, but it was fun to watch. Some knew what was going on and some didn't, but they were little and so cute. When they finished all but one group of students left. That group lined up again and performed Tai Chi. I didn't know what it was, but was amazed at what they did and the control they had. When they were finished, most of the band lined up behind them and tried to follow them on the same routine. I had so much fun doing it, even though I didn't know exactly what I was doing. (Cool fact of the day: the man leading us trained Jackie Chan for one of his movies.) Before we left, some of us were allowed to go up into the classrooms and give out Auburn stickers. It was so cool to see the classrooms and how they are similar and different from us. Each child said thank you and smiled and it was adorable. I don't know if they understood what we were doing, but I enjoyed it. The smiles were enough for me.

Between morning and afternoon activities we had free time. It was fun to walk around the city and see what it is like. I went back to McDonald’s to get a McFlurry and got some funny looks when I walked in.

This afternoon we went to a college of music education. I was really excited because that is my major. We did the same type thing there that we did at the elementary school. We listened to them and then had the same groups play. I really enjoyed listening to their traditional orchestra. They had instruments I have never seen before in my life. My favorite piece was the second one they played and I think it is one that would be played at a temple. The string players' fingers were flying so fast and the music was gorgeous and was so easy to get into. The whole band got into it and I just can't describe how cool it was to listen to. As soon as it was over, the whole band jumped up and gave them a standing ovation.

The food today was a problem. Unfortunately, at every meal we had, I barely ate anything. That is the first on the whole trip. Of course, both lunch and dinner were the schools' cafeterias. The rice had no flavor and there was little else that I knew what was. Not to mention, very few choices, if none at all. I was quite sad and knew I had seen a McDonald’s and heard of a Pizza Hut near the hotel. Luckily, Dr. Good gave us free time when we got back to the hotel. My friends and I booked it straight from the bus to Pizza Hut a couple of blocks away. The most interesting experience for sure – we were on our own with no interpreter in a restaurant not set up for tourists. It was the nicest Pizza Hut I have ever seen. It was two stories and extremely clean and crowded. Difficulties started as soon as we walked through the door. We were able to use our fingers to tell them how many were in our group. I had to go to the bathroom, and trying to find out where that was was not so easy – language barrier big time. It was funny. When we sat down and looked at our menus, we got excited because everything in the menu, which was like, 10 pages long, had English subtitles. YEA!!! When the waitress came to take our order she kept trying to talk to us in Chinese and we kept shaking our heads to say we could not understand, but that didn't help. So we pointed at everything we needed on the menu and decided if we did something wrong, oh well. It took a minute, but it was fun. I felt so accomplished and successful after that. That pizza was the best tasting pizza I have had, I think, ever. Maybe that was just because I was hungry and craving some American food. I have decided that it was so crowded and a big deal because it is an international restaurant and a novelty item to them, just like Italian and Mexican restaurants are for us. That just made my day.

 


March 15, 2012

Joshua Huggins
Andalusia, AL
French Horn

So, yesterday was probably the most laidback and relaxing day of the trip. We were able to sleep in a little bit, and by a little bit, I mean a 7:30 wake-up call. We basically did all of the touristy things and then headed back to the hotel to get all dressed up for a fancy dinner. Supposedly, this is one of the best restaurants in China, and I would have to agree. It was still very interesting food, but I did venture past the rice! I know this shocks some of you!!! I had something that resembled bacon, but it tasted 10 times better. I also had something that looked and tasted like roast, but unfortunately, I found out today that it was cow tongue, which makes me sick to my stomach, so we shall move on now!!!

We all got up quite early this morning and loaded all of our things under the two charter buses and separate equipment truck. We then drove to Xuzhou which was a four-hour bus ride that turned into five-and-a-half. When we arrived, we unloaded all of our stuff into the hotel rooms. My roommate and I are on the 12th floor, which also happens to be the top floor, so we were hoping for some peace and quiet, but sadly that wasn't what the traffic outside of our window had in store for us! The car horns are used as frequently as we talk so pretty much nonstop. It was amazing just to listen to the hundreds of horns sounding off at one time and they were mainly just to let all of the other cars and people know that they were coming. All I have to say about that is, thank goodness for noise canceling headphones! Lunch took place on the second floor, and might I add, it was certainly the most bizarre meal we have been served so far. There was some cow tongue, something that resembled liver of some sort, and sadly something looking very similar to a pig’s ear. Needless to say, I wasn't very hungry after all of these body parts had been placed in front of us; therefore, I didn't eat. After lunch, Dr. Good came forth with some amazing news! He informed us that we would be having McDonald’s for dinner. Let's just say you would have thought that someone had just told us that we had won the lottery. We were all so excited to get some food that was familiar to us. I am now sitting in my room listening to the hundreds of car horns go off outside of my window 12 stories below and I’m fixing to start getting dressed for our concert tonight. So, next time I will let you know how McDonalds was, but until then, someone please go eat something fried and greasy for me!



Kaitlyn Burnside
Pelham, AL
Clarinet

I am having the time of my life. The trip here seemed so long. The plane from Detroit to Beijing had computer screens on the headrests of the seats in front of us. There were probably over 30 movies to watch, all complimentary, and even more CDs to listen to. I was so entertained. This was a problem because I had planned on doing some homework and studying, but that just didn't happen. I was having too much fun watching movies and sleeping after getting up so early to leave Auburn.

Finally getting to the hotel was such a relief because I was so tired from so much traveling. The rooms are smaller than hotel rooms in America. In the first hotel, the beds were really low-to-the-ground and oh-so-very hard. But I was so tired, it did not bother me one bit. Having to worry about not using the tap water to brush my teeth or open my mouth in the shower is taking a lot of extra thinking. I am not used to having to worry about what water I use.

Sightseeing has been really cool so far. I wasn't sure if I was going to really enjoy learning all the history about these places, but I have. The Forbidden City was fascinating with all its intricate decorations and different buildings and rooms. It was very cold and windy. There have been several rivers that we saw that were frozen – not what I am used to seeing. The funniest thing that kept happening was that Asian people kept getting in pictures we were taking so they could have a picture with us. I figured something like that would happen with us looking so different, but it still makes me smile and laugh.

The food here is another story. I am attempting to eat, or at least try, everything that they bring out. Some of it, like the rice, is really good and some of it, not so much. I am beginning to get accustomed to it; it is just very different. At dinner tonight, there was a bowl with a whole fish, including the head and eyes, with some noodles and sauces around it. Some places we have gone have been really good. Sometimes the hardest thing to get used to is the texture of the food. But then again, just not knowing what the food is can be the hardest part.

The biggest problem with being so busy is that I am so exhausted. If I stop and sit for a few minutes, I am likely to fall asleep. I had to work really hard to stay awake during the first concert.

I am having a hard time accepting the fact that I am in China, but this morning when we went to the Great Wall it finally hit me. I climbed the Great Wall!!! Success for me. I took the steeper side of where we were because it was higher and I thought I could see more. It was so hard to climb. The steps were huge and extremely steep. I honestly thought it would be taller but it was only a couple feet off the ground. Many steps were as high as my knee, and in some places, two steps were as high as my hip. I had such a hard time climbing up, but coming down was definitely the hardest part. It hurt my knees and thighs.

There are just too many beautiful things in China. The jade museum, pearl museum and cloisonné factory were so much fun to see. I never knew that jade could come in so many colors and types. The green is just beautiful. Watching the workers create the cloisonné was so interesting. I never knew exactly what it was or that is was all completely handmade. I could never have the patience to create all those intricate details by hand. While shopping in the cloisonné factory, a lady working in the sales section came up and started helping me. Until I was done shopping, she would answer any questions and keep up with anything I wanted to get. When I went to pay, she ran to pack up my stuff and then met me with it when I was done shopping – so helpful. I am finally getting the hang of the currency over here. I used an ATM for the first time at the train station. I was nervous about if there would be an English option and if I could even figure it out. Thankfully, I was able to do it all correctly.

The high speed train was so different. We only had a few minutes to get on when they opened the gates. It was very nice and cool just to do something different.  Jinan is very different from Beijing; it is hard to describe difference. At night, many of the buildings have neon lights that they turn on. It is kind of like in Times Square. When we arrived at the train station, there was a group of people there to meet us. It was exciting! The hotel had a sign out front welcoming us. Today we did not do much sightseeing. We went to the Shangdong Arts University new campus. We got to see a little bit of campus before we had lunch in the cafeteria. Lunch was not very good – it was just different. My friends and I decided we felt kind of like we were in a circus because we were stared at the whole time and we were there to perform. When we got to the performance, it was outside, which was an experience because of the wind. There were the most people I have seen at a symphonic band concert ever. There were 5,000. Oh My Gosh!!! I felt like a superstar because afterward, we got off the stage and were practically attacked by everyone to take pictures. They were fascinated by us. So many of them commented on my blonde hair. It was so much fun; I felt so loved and special. It made it so much better when they said that we were the first American people to ever come to their campus and play anything. I could live like that forever. I know for sure that I will never forget and will always treasure that experience.


Earvin Comer
Opelika, AL
Tenor Sax

Jinan City was pretty amazing, to say the least. Arriving on the high speed train at 200 miles an hour was an experience within itself but driving into the city was a new one altogether. It was like we were driving into Vegas or something. All the buildings were covered in flashing multicolored lights and the streets were flooded with moving traffic that flowed through the city. But the icing on this cake was arriving at our hotel that had a banner over the entrance that was lit with the words "Warmly Welcoming The Auburn University Symphonic Band." It was pretty cool. The highlight of our visit to Jinan City, in my opinion, was our invitation to dinner at the Shark Fin Palace, which was apparently one of the fanciest restaurants in China. I, at first, found this hard to believe – hard to imagine we would have the privilege to dine in a place like this. I immediately thought, "Yeah, they're probably just telling us that; I mean, how would we know any different?" But, walking in on this grand walkway lined with greeters on both sides in prestigious uniforms, it immediately became apparent. This place was breathtaking.


March 14, 2012

Daniel Johnson
Ellenwood, GA
French Horn

To recap day 3, we've gone on a few tours of Jinan and seen many Buddhas on the Thousand Buddha Mountain and seen many natural springs, as well. All of these had historical significance and were elaborate in their manmade features. It's been a more relaxing day than some of the earlier ones, but very enjoyable nonetheless. Now is probably as good a time as any to mention it, but I have a new appreciation for the language barrier and here's why…

Yesterday, I had the awkward experiences of trying to get a clothes iron sent to our room and ordering a simple meal at a restaurant, sans voice.

The iron experience was more comical than anything. I went to the front desk of our hotel to request an iron to fix up my tuxedo clothes for the concert. After playing charades enough to get across what I was trying to do, we had a housekeeping attendant come to our room. Sadly, I must have been misinterpreted in my gestures because they seemed to think we wanted our clothes washed. After working through this mild misunderstanding we finally ended up with a clothes steamer in our room (close enough to get the job done).

The second encounter was a little more embarrassing. I went to a "Mr. Lee's" restaurant near our hotel and wanted something quick between meals. I realized that the ladies working there spoke about as much English as I did Chinese, so it wasn't going to be the easiest thing in the world. I tried pointing out what I wanted in the picture menu only to find that there was more gesturing to be had at how many meals the people with me wanted and exactly how much the meal cost. After getting all of that squared away and a drink a few minutes later, I realized that not being able to communicate verbally can be overcome, but may lead to an uncomfortable situation.

All in all what I got from the experience was that it's a highly uncomfortable situation for all involved in a communication disconnect and to better understand what it must feel like for many non-English speakers in America on a smaller scale.

For anyone who may be wondering, what I thought to be chicken I was ordering turned out to be some sort of vegetable dish…


Kaitlyn Burnside
Pelham, AL
Clarinet

Today was a nice relaxing day. We only went sightseeing. The first thing we did was go to a temple up on a mountain. It was so tiring to get to the temple. I had a hard time because it was just as many steps as the Great Wall. I thought my legs would give out, they were so tired from climbing so many steps. My friends and I joked that it was training for performing the pregame jog in the fall with the marching band during pregame. The temple was gorgeous and had so many colors. The guide said there were 106 Buddha statues and that is not even near what there used to be. The temple buildings had so many colors and signs that I wish I could have read. On the way up, I noticed red string-type things tied to trees and I found out that written on them are wishes and prayers. I thought it was really cool. I kind of felt like I was intruding because there were people praying to Buddha and lighting incense. It made me realize that people still worship him. I never knew that there were several different Buddhas but found out there are. I did get to pick up some books on Buddha, and even though they are all in Chinese I like to have them. For lunch, we went to what the people here say is one of their favorite restaurants, but in my opinion, it will not be on the top if my list. It was a beautiful restaurant, but the food was a little scary.

In the afternoon, we drove to a spring in a huge park that the people here are proud of. It was cool to see but not the most exciting thing. I did like seeing what they are proud of.

Dinner tonight was the highlight of my day. We went to the nicest restaurant in this province to have a banquet in our honor with the president and vice president of the university hosting us. The building was very elaborately decorated and beautiful. Their workers greeted us at the door and I felt like a celebrity again because they took care of absolutely everything for us. I did notice a language barrier because we could not ask questions of our servers about the food. The food was delicious. I still love how all the food is on a lazy Susan and brought out dish by dish. We eat it on small plates, which does make eating difficult. The dignitaries spoke no English, so in their toast and speech to us, they had to have an interpreter and the same when Dr. Good talked to them. It was fun to watch gifts get exchanged between them and Dr. Good. After dinner, we attempted to teach them when and how to say "War Eagle." The president had a little difficulty, but managed and it made all of us smile and have even more fun. I was so excited when right before we left, we circled up and sang the alma mater like we do at events back in Auburn. It means so much to do that at home and it meant even more to do that here. Even though the dignitaries had no clue what we were doing, it was still a great experience to share with them and my friends.


Veronica Brock
Cartersville, GA
Flute

Today was more relaxed. We toured the new campus of Shandong University of Arts and performed an outside concert. The crowd was about 20-30 people while they set up the stage and went to lunch. Thirty minutes later, we returned to a crowd of what seemed like over a thousand people. That was an amazing and overwhelming feeling. I've never performed in front of that many people who came just to hear us play. I've performed inside Jordan-Hare stadium with the marching band, but we split the support and praise with the football team, Tiger Eyes, the cheerleaders and Aubie. It felt so great to have that many people there simply to hear, meet and mingle with the Auburn University Symphonic Band.


March 13, 2012

Joshua Huggins
Andalusia, AL
French Horn

"Is this what it feels like to be a celebrity?"

So as I mentioned in yesterday's blog, we rode a high speed train from Beijing to Jinan City. I wish I could tell you more about the train ride but after one Dramamine I was out! When we arrived at the station we were greeted by a news station with reporters and cameras. Dr. Baird and Dr. Good were given huge bouquets of flowers and interviewed by the TV station. We were then escorted to our three charter buses, all of which were nearly brand new. We were able to spread out and get a little comfortable on our way to the hotel. On our way we noticed that nearly every building was covered in lights and some even said it looked like Vegas. Overall, it appears much more modern than Beijing and the people already seem to be much nicer...not that the people in Beijing were mean. When we arrived at the hotel the marquee sign over the door read, "Warmly Welcome Auburn Symphonic Band to Xuelin Hotel," and we all found that pretty awesome. We all gathered our things and went inside where we were greeted with a decent meal for dinner! This time it wasn't just rice that I ate! I ventured out and had a piece of toast…haha. Yeah, that is pretty adventurous for me considering my track record on this trip. The staff was told to serve their own plates and then they were taken away and seated in side rooms. All of the students were then allowed to get food at the buffet style set up. After eating we got to go to our rooms and I quickly changed and went to sleep. Needless to say last night was the most sleep I have had this entire trip, much less the most sleep I have had in months! We were asked to be downstairs for breakfast around 8 a.m. and I do admit I chowed down on some toast. We loaded the buses in our matching grey shirt and khaki pant outfits and headed for Shandong University where we performed an outside concert. We were actually taken on a small tour of the campus and then taken to their cafeteria where we were served lunch. Afterwards, we headed back to the site of the concert only to find nearly 4,000 students waiting for our performance. It was honestly unbelievable but very much welcomed by all of us! We went inside, warmed up and then performed the concert. It went pretty well considering we were outside and the wind was blowing pretty swiftly. After the performance we asked to mingle and talk, as well as we could, with the students. It was crazy to see how they surrounded us and asked for pictures with EVERYONE! They were actually pulling some people off of the stage just to get a picture with them. The girls were constantly told how beautiful and gorgeous they are and the guys, well they weren't really told anything, but it is a given that we are all good looking...right? Anyways, after all of the students finally headed back to class we were able to load up and head back to our hotel where we had FREE TIME! I know this seems crazy, but it was very welcomed. After our little break we got all dressed up in our tuxes and dresses and headed across the street to perform a second concert. The audience was packed and seemed to enjoy all of the pieces. They even joined in and clapped with some of them. Our tour guide, Song, even sang a song...haha...which was very neat, and from what I understand the governor of Jinan City was actually there! After the concert all of our conductors were given huge bouquets of white roses and we took many pictures. We then headed back over to the hotel, changed into comfortable clothes and then ate dinner. I am now sitting in my bed writing this blog and wishing I had a chicken finger plate and a large sweet tea from Zaxby's! I am pretty sure that will be the first thing I do when I arrive home! Until tomorrow...WAR EAGLE and good night!


Tim Wang
Huntsville, AL
Alto Sax

It's been an interesting but awesome trip so far. I really appreciated the time with my aunt, uncle and grandma, but being with unsuspecting band friends is pretty awesome. Seeing people's faces and reactions to new things is the greatest. The fact that everything seems to be down a back alley adds to the excitement.

Today in Jinan we felt like rock stars. When I think of a band concert I think of a standard couple of hundred people in attendance at the most. A couple of thousand people watching and listening to us blows my mind. We drove to Shandong Arts University today expecting just a standard college tour and a little concert outside in a little amphitheater. Instead, they set up a stage and had multiple cameras, including one on a mechanical arm. It was pretty great. After the concert we were allowed to meet and greet the audience and wow... we were celebrities. Each of us was in tons of photos with students who actually wanted our autographs and contact information. Talk about great feedback. We could get used to this. War Eagle!



Kaitlyn Burnside
Pelham, AL
Clarinet

So, today we got up early – ugh – and rode a bus for four hours to get to the next city we are visiting – not the most fun thing we have done. Regardless, we made it safely and hungry. We did get to stop at what seemed like a rest stop along the way. It was funny because there were 100 people inside trying to pick out food and drinks that were all in Chinese. We didn't see much around us except for farming-type stuff and some factories. It was a dreary day with no sun and a constant drizzle. On the bright side, I got to sleep some more. :)

Lunch was decent here at the hotel, but not the best. It always seems that the hotel meals are not nearly as good. Oh well.

We went to the concert tonight and it was such a beautiful hall. I am not even sure how to describe it. I am really glad that we get to perform another concert there in two days. I am really enjoy playing for the Chinese people because they get so into the music but I just wish I knew what was being said by our interpreter during songs and before the concert, especially when the people respond by laughing. They seem so appreciative that we are here and I love it. I laugh at just about every concert because Dr. Good and the other directors get huge bouquets of flowers – and I mean huge, compared to what we have in America.

Oh, and the highlight of my day was being treated to McDonald's by our tour guide/interpreter. It was the best American-tasting food I’d had in a while and I am not even a huge fan of McDonald's. The Big Mac tasted delicious. I was excited to be eating something that I knew what was. To top it off, I had a McFlurry. YUM!! It was funny because that is the first experience I had of ordering food by myself in China. I had to point to a picture menu and show how many of those that I wanted. It was fun. I felt so accomplished when I finished. Check one off for me. ;)


Veronica Brock
Cartersville, GA
Flute

This was our last day in Beijing. It was fun, but very structured. I think everything is structured and everyone knows their place and daily routine. The pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way here. Even on the busy three and four lane highways people cross at their leisure and merge in and out with traffic. I couldn't drive in this traffic. We visited the Jade Museum today. It was fascinating to learn about the time and precision and patience it takes to make the jade figures. One piece took five years to create. But things are reasonably priced considering everything is hand carved. Then we went to the Great Wall. It's massive. 6,000 miles long. I managed about 150 steps before my legs felt like spaghetti noodles. The steps are all different sizes and some are so steep that it could easily be three steps. The view was incredible. No matter where you stand, you can get an amazing picture. We also visited a "pottery" factory place, but the creations were made with copper so they don't break.



Earvin Comer
Opelika, AL
Tenor Sax

"So apparently, we're rockstars"

Leaving Beijing was hardly memorable considering it seemed as though we had just arrived. So many things happened in those few short days. It's a beautiful city with skyscrapers that put the ones in New York to shame, not to mention it contains one of the seven wonders of the ancient AND modern world. I wasn't sure what to expect prior to our trek along the Great Wall. I knew there was no way to prepare myself to see one of the world's most prized ancient historical marvels outside of a postcard or a full wall painting or a history book. I mean, seriously, what 12-year-old studying in the middle of geography looking at the Great Wall of China thinks, "Yep, totally gonna see that one day." Not this guy. So, I can't deny that it overwhelmed me to hear that I'd have the opportunity. However, what surprised me the most is how taxing of a trek it was. You think the Great Wall is tall? Try climbing the steps that literally almost come above your waist – not fun. There's a point where after you round a corner of a tower feeling like you're at the highest point of the planet you look up and see that you have miles left to climb and you think to yourself, "Yep, I'm done," but to sum up the feeling of getting to that point, realizing you've come so far in so many aspects: halfway up this wall, halfway across the WORLD to get here and still have so far to go, requires an explanation I can't really put into words.

I thought that nothing could top the Great Wall, which I thought for sure was going to be the guaranteed highlight of the trip. Surprisingly, I was wrong because I didn't realize that when we played at Shandong University, in the home province of Confucius, that 5,000 students would flock from all over to the campus to see us perform. Apparently, no American band had ever performed there so we were the first. You know, no big deal. Afterward, all they wanted to do was take hundreds of pictures, and I literally mean hundreds, with us. They swarmed us as soon as we left the stage and bombarded us with photo requests. We, of course, obliged, but we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. I, personally, lost count at 65 and they kept going. Never had I EVER been so overwhelmed with such unending praise from an audience. It was EPIC. I couldn't help but think to myself, and I'm sure I wasn't alone in this, "So, I suppose, to them, we're rockstars."


March 12, 2012

Earvin Comer
Opelika, AL
Tenor Sax

Arriving today was definitely tough.  Not gonna lie.  A 13-hour plane ride followed by receiving news that your instrument is lost – your brand new, multi-thousand dollar instrument that you are responsible for. Oh, and by the way you have a concert in less than seven hours. That can be a little unsettling; not to mention, you're in a country surrounded by people that don't speak English. Not a great start to what is guaranteed to be an undoubtedly emotional and life-changing experience.

It's amazing how you can be filled to the brim with the riveting expectations that are aroused by the experience of a completely different culture: the food, the people, the scenery, the music, the life that is China. You find yourself saying "this isn't real … this isn't happening,"  over and over in your mind because you've convinced yourself that you're in a fantasy world, and then suddenly reality hits and you find yourself saying the same words for totally different reasons.  The reality of craving a burger when your only option is a complimentary "western" meal filled with food you barely, but mostly don't, recognize. What's really amazing, though, is that all it takes is driving the beautiful streets of Beijing and seeing the awesome skyscrapers, touring the breathtaking architecture and being able to physically enter the Forbidden City, a place you've only HEARD of. China is steeped with history and dynasty that date back before the birth of Christ, and we are performing amazing music to a wonderfully welcome and overwhelmingly grateful audience. It makes the reality disappear and puts you right back into fantasy.


Joshua Huggins
Andalusia, AL
French Horn

"The Second Longest Day of My Life"

This morning was another lovely 7 a.m. wake-up call and I was also greeted with a plate full of rice. We quickly loaded the buses and headed out for another full day. Our first stop was the Jade Museum. It was interesting to learn the history of Jade and see all the beautiful works of art that have been created. In fact, there was a large sculpture that had nearly 100 horses carved into this one piece of Jade. We learned that it took nearly five years for one person to complete this. We were also allowed to shop, and then we headed to the Great Wall of China. This is the most amazing thing I have ever seen. We scaled the stairs for nearly an hour and believe me, that was plenty of time. The stairs ranged from a couple of inches thick to nearly a foot-and-a-half in height. This made the walk fairly strenuous, but interesting.  We all finally met back at the buses and caught our breath from the steep stairs. Next was lunch from a restaurant that was connected to a Cloisonné factory. We all ate and then headed downstairs to see the Cloisonné being made and shopped for a little while. The process started out with a bare pot and it was then coated with copper wires that were hand made to certain shapes according to the pattern they were supposed to follow for that piece. It was then hand painted, which is a very intricate process that takes a lot of patience. The pieces were then fired in a kiln-like object and most likely fired six to seven times. The pieces were then polished by women because they apparently have more patience, and then they were ready for sale. We were able to see the Birds Nest which was part of the 2008 Olympic games, so that was pretty cool. We are now on a high speed train traveling at approximately 305 km/n and should arrive at our destination in about an hour-and-a-half.


Veronica Brock
Cartersville, GA
Flute

This was our last day in Beijing. It was fun, but very structured. I think everything is structured and everyone knows their place and daily routine. The pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way here. Even on the busy three and four lane highways people cross at their leisure and merge in and out with traffic. I couldn't drive in this traffic. We visited the Jade Museum today. It was fascinating to learn about the time and precision and patience it takes to make the jade figures. One piece took five years to create. But things are reasonably priced considering everything is hand carved. Then we went to the Great Wall. It's massive. 6,000 miles long. I managed about 150 steps before my legs felt like spaghetti noodles. The steps are all different sizes and some are so steep that it could easily be three steps. The view was incredible. No matter where you stand, you can get an amazing picture. We also visited a "pottery" factory place, but the creations were made with copper so they don't break.


March 10-11, 2012

Joshua Huggins
Andalusia, AL
French Horn

"The Longest Day of My Life"

After a lovely four or so hours of sleep last night, we all met on the 4th floor for a very interesting breakfast. That being said, I had a very nice serving of rice! After breakfast we all loaded onto our two buses and headed for Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Sadly, Tiananmen Square was closed due to some sort of national conference, but the Forbidden City was amazing! The entire tour lasted two or three hours and the history behind it all was incredible. It was very interesting to find out that this was where the emperor and his 3,000 women lived. These women were apparently classified from "best to worst" for a lack of better terms, and their class determined where they lived within the Forbidden City. After leaving the Forbidden City we went to eat at, of course, a local Chinese restaurant. The food was honestly not that bad, but not something I would eat on a daily basis. After eating, we headed to a pearl factory where they cultured their own pearls. We were able to see the oysters and how the pearls looked when the oysters were opened. We then headed to the concert hall where we performed tonight and had a quick run-through of some pieces and then proceeded on with our concert. After the concert, we quickly packed up and headed for dinner. It was very late and the only good thing I could think about was going to sleep. We eventually ended up at our hotel and were told to quickly pack up our suitcases and bring them downstairs because there was a truck that would be driving them to our next destination, considering we will be traveling by high speed train to get there. It is now time for me to get some sleep. We have another early call time and busy day tomorrow.


Veronica Brock
Cartersville, GA
Flute

"Touchdown in Beijing"

It wasn't as cold as I imagined, but it's cold. We arrived at the hotel around 1 a.m. which was like noon Auburn time, also known as lunch time, so everyone was hungry, but jet lag and sleep kinda took over the hunger. The next adventure was the lighting in the hotel room. It's two people per room and one person per bed which was nice. Now, if we could figure out how to turn on the light. It took us about 10-15 minutes to realize all we had to do was stick the room key in the socket next to the light switch. The bed was NOT SOFT AT ALL. That was a big adjustment, but tomorrow we tour!

March 11

So, at this point I'm running on pure adrenaline. Breakfast was interesting. There was a buffet of food that we tried but everyone kind of migrated straight for the white rice and eggs. We visited the Forbidden City. It's huge and you can easily get lost. I only saw maybe two birds inside but we found out that there are no trees in the Imperial Garden. Everything looks preserved in time like no one cleans it or anything. No one walks through the houses. No one! Unless you are a member of the royal family. In the front of the palace is the original brick room from 600 years ago when it was first built. I walked on the same ground that Attila the Hun walked on. Dragons are good in China. The palace was full of dragons and pearls. We also went to a pearl center and saw them open an oyster and see the different color pearls inside.


March 9, 2012

Joshua Huggins
Andalusia, AL
French Horn

"A friend who I will refer to as John Smith"

Unfortunately, it is a rainy day this morning on the Plains. My bus, referred to as "Group B" will be leaving at 9:00 this morning! We have all been weighing our suitcases - yikes! Luckily, mine was only 48.2 lbs. After checking in, I sat down to talk to my friend, "Mr. Smith" who was looking somewhat depressed. I asked him what was wrong and sadly, he was supposed to be in "Group A" that left at 4:30 this morning. He has been frantically trying to find another flight and as of right now, it isn't looking good.

So we are now in China and the flights were all very pleasant, but sadly Mr. Smith wasn't able to make it today. He will in fact join us tomorrow! The hotel is pretty nice! It does have two double beds, a closet and a bathroom like any other hotel you would see in America.

I can already tell that there are going to be some interesting moments, such as adjusting the air and it being in Celsius. It is about 3 a.m. now and I am going to try and sleep for an hour or two.



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Last Updated: Mar. 12, 2012

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