Wow, China…this is the imagery I grew up with in good ole Doylestown in the 80′s. Seriously, what was wrong with us?
I’ve spent the past ten days in China and am writing this on the 15-hour flight back from Shanghai. We’re landing in JFK (with any luck) in a couple of hours, and then getting immediately into the car to drive to Burlington, Vermont from there. I won’t get into tricks for dealing with jetlag, it just sucks and that’s that. For people who haven’t been to Asia coming from the US, basically the deal is that you’re upside down in your day. It’s lunchtime, but it feels like midnight, and vice versa.
I went with a group of alumni from Curtis that performed my piano trio “Three Yiddish Dances” in Tianjin, Beijing, and Shanghai. I’ve been to China before, but I felt like I had more quality time there on this visit (for which I was extremely grateful). Traveling is terrific fun, but when you’re doing it for work there isn’t a lot of sightseeing or taking in of local culture.
One place we played was a “Classical Music Club” in Beijing. It’s a club like a dinner club or country club, just with the focus on music. You go, listen to a concert in a little chamber hall, and have supper—very nice. Our concert was emceed—I had no idea what the man was saying (apparently he was a former radio host) but he seemed passionate and excited about it, and people responded. After my piece we did a Q&A with the audience. One gentleman asked me why I had written a slow hora when the horas that he knew–like the one from the Bartok Romanian Dances–was fast. Can that be our audience, like, always? It wasn’t that he was knowledgeable, but that he was curious, and I was very appreciative of that!
So I need to discuss the food. Folks who have been there know that Chinese food in China is almost nothing like Chinese food in the US. In one meal I ate sea cucumber, barbeque pig’s knuckles, some sort of rare leafy green that tasted like kale in garlic, roast goose, spicy frog (not just the legs!), something that I was told was a vegetable (no way it was a vegetable), and jellyfish. These are special feasts we had the honor of sharing with presenters and donors, and there are flavors way off the radar of my Western palette. It was all very tasty, with the exception of the sea cucumber, which I’ll be fine with not eating again. On my last visit I had a donkey burger with Marcy Rosen, but that’s a story for another time.
Now the driving: I live in Philadelphia where the middle finger is used as an alternative to the turn signal. In Philly, we operate somewhere in between Boston drivers and the ATV drivers in Mad Max (the second one), but nothing prepared me for Shanghai and Beijing. I’ve never been quite so terrified, even driving with my mother. It’s a citywide game of chicken, but surprisingly no one ever seems to get hit.
And I can’t wait to go back.