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American Made

Today was filled with cupcakes and music as we jam-packed the entire purpose of this trip into roughly 8 hours of performance and rehearsal!

Having the entire morning free, small groups of us spent the time doing a variety of things. The two most popular were sight-seeing and venturing to Georgetown for cupcakes! (Half of WoCho made it into the White House while the other half hoped to get on TLC's "D.C. Cupcakes" by visiting the famous shop!) We were all back in time for our noon departure for the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, where the rehearsal and the concert were both being held.

Rehearsal went as smoothly as we could have hoped! Gwyneth Walker came near the beginning in order to run I Thank You God with us. She absolutely loved it, knowing it had been "perfectly interpreted" by Dr. Menk, since she had worked with her on the piece before. Her only wish for us was to get our heads out of our binders and really look up at the God we were thanking in the song. It was an interesting bit of advice, and definitely served to help our other pieces, as well. Even though we use binders while singing, they're more of a reinforcement at this stage of the game - we know our parts, and we know them well. We just strive for perfection, and using our music gives us the confidence in order to do that. That afternoon, we also rehearsed with the hired violinists for Mabel Daniel's The Voice of My Beloved. Dr. Menk spent a little extra time making sure they were spot on, since it was our first time practicing altogether. In the end, we barely had a two-hour rehearsal, feeling more than prepared for the evening's concert.

Most took advantage of the free afternoon in order to cool off in our air-conditioned hotel rooms and nap. (Temperatures were 100+ degrees every day of the trip!) After dressing and making sure we had eye patches and precious jewels, we loaded up the bus to head back over to the church. Our bus driver, Dave, wanted to be sure he got us there in plenty of time, so we were quite a bit early. It was nice to have some warmups and catch up with the people we hadn't been sitting near on the bus. Several family members, friends, and Saint Mary's alumnae were also able to attend the concert, so we were able to greet them, as well.

Our portion of the concert was absolutely beautiful. It was a pretty full crowd, and we knew we were in the presence of some very talented and gifted musicians and educators. (Which, of course, makes us all the more nervous!) However, we delivered a fine performance with few technical errors. Zae's Lyrical Limericks earned us plenty of laughter, while there were cheers for our pirate poses and choreography in Carol Barnett's Song of Perfect Propriety. We also enjoyed listening to the Washington D.C. Men's Camerata, who had an impressive program of 15 pieces!

As Dr. Menk had pointed out to us during rehearsal, we were doing not only an entirely American program, but we were also doing an entirely woman-run program. The choir, director, pianist, soloist, and even the violinists were all women. Although the symposium was focused on finding the "American sound", it was interesting for us to take that idea and look at it from the perspective of the woman composer and musician here in America.

For example, let's take the first half of our concert - the pieces from the turn of the 20th century. All of these women were born into musical families and started studying piano, voice, and other instruments at an early age. Some continued their studies abroad in Munich, or were taught in the U.S. by prominent musicians who had studied in Europe or with Europeans. As a result, these pieces do sound distinctly romantic or classical. While they are somewhat impressive for the time and context in which they were written in, there is a certain air of European influence about them. Patty Stair's Minuet follows a distinct form, while Margaret Lang's The Lonely Rose is thought to have been edited by her father, who studied piano under Franz Lizst. These women were also composing in a time where their gender worked against them. (Women didn't even have the right to vote at this time.) Lang, in particular, was so critical of her work, she destroyed many of her pieces, thus leaving them lost forever. They were forever trying to keep up with the men, held back by something completely out of their control. However, this would all change with the pieces from the turn of the 21st century.

Certainly, the pieces from the 21st century have a different feel and sound to them. Most obviously, working with Gwyneth Walker on her piece made for a truly powerful performance of one of our favorites. Libby Larson's Today, This Spring, is also powerful testament to the use of modern texts, as it contains words from the funeral of a commissioner's sister. Although simple at first sight, Larson's 2-part piece is actually fairly difficult thanks to plenty of irregular 7/8 rhythms and articulation challenges. (Certainly not something we saw in our formulated 20th century counterparts!) Using Zae's original limericks were also a real treat - when else would we ever get to sing about Harry Potter in a song?! If anything, it definitely marks the passage of time between the pieces. Joan Szymko's The Beauty of Your Dreams may be a "cheesier" text to Dr. Menk, but Eleanor Roosevelt's words speak strongly to all of us. It was a nice tie-in to our American theme by using words from a truly inspiring American woman. The Song of Perfect Propriety by Carol Barnett was another favorite of ours. Wearing pirate patches and getting to goof off is definitely not a usual thing we get to do, but it's also a bit ironic; here we are, performing a piece in the 21st century about breaking out of the "norms" women fell under in the 20th century. It must have been how the composers of our earlier pieces felt, with the restrictions they faced as musicians because of their gender. It definitely brought our program full-circle, and was a "perfect" ending to the year we've spent with this music. As we discovered, while the music has of course changed throughout the years, so has the subject material. The American ideal of "freedom" has helped evolve and shape its music today.

We had the pleasure of listening to the Washington D.C. Men's Camerata after our portion of the concert. Hearing the men's choir reminded us very much of our favorite Glee Club guys across the street at the University of Notre Dame! Before we performed, one of them came up to our group and said, "Oh, you're from Saint Mary's? Tell your president she still has some of my clothes!" We were all shocked and very confused after this statement, but he cleared it up for us afterward - apparently, he went to ND Law with SMC President Carol Ann Mooney, and she borrowed a Japanese robe and slippers from him for a class project. She never returned them, and as they were a gift from the Japanese military, he was a little attached to them. We laughed at the whole situation, and enjoyed the random connection we shared with this group! Once their program was over, we met with several audience members, including two Saint Mary's alumnae who attended the concert. It was great to know we had the support of our school, as well as family and friends who made it out to see us!

After leaving the church, the choir decided to head out to a restaurant to celebrate our success and enjoy one another's company. However, a terrible storm, (now being called the equivalent of a category 1 hurricane,) delayed us for quite awhile. The D.C. area was hit hard, and unfortunately there were several deaths and much destruction as a result. Feeling confident because of their umbrellas, Dr. T and Dr. Menk led the way during a lull in the storm. Fortunately, none of us were affected by it, and our hotel maintained power. All of us celebrated the end of our long musical journey with food and drink, but had an early night in order to be up for our D.C. tour the next day!

If you made it this far, thanks for reading this exceptionally long post! We hope it puts into light the purpose of this seemingly random journey we've been taking!

D.C. or Bust!

Good evening, one and all!

After an 11-hour bus ride, we have all arrived safe and sound in Washington D.C.! The drive was terribly uneventful, but we found plenty of ways to keep ourselves interested owing to the fact that our (6 day old!) bus had outlets and free wifi! Here are some of our favorites:

1. SLEEPING. (It was an 8am departure, after all!)
2. Watching movies. We saw Up, The Princess Bride, and Legally Blonde.
3. Playing "DrawSomething!" between each other on our smartphones.
4. Surfing Youtube and updating Facebook.
5. Buying Dairy Queen at the Pennsylvania rest stop to help beat the 100+ degree weather.

Once we were in the city, the bus driver pointed out some sights to us, including the Kennedy Center, the Washington Monument, and even the White House!

Our hotel is right off of DuPont Circle, which gave us plenty of great options for dinner tonight. Dr. Menk warned us to stay in large groups, which was no problem for us! Each group did their own thing, but most of us were back and just hanging out in our rooms for the night - it was a long ride, and we have another long day of rehearsing and performing tomorrow!

As a side note, we're also interested to see how the area is going to be affected by the Supreme Court ruling issued today upholding "Obamacare". Riots in the city, anyone? Perhaps, but we're not worried; there are more important things to be done! At this time tomorrow, our concert will be over - how crazy is that?!

Here's to a good night's sleep and beautiful singing for the 'morrow!

We're Ba-ack!

What's that you hear? WoCho girls in the dorms? Singing in the Music Seminar Room...IN JUNE?!

Yes, you heard right! We're back in full volume! It's been over a year since our China trip, and while it will always live on in our hearts, we've had a new school year with a new, larger choir. (And we're better than ever!)

At the end of last school year, Dr. Menk announced that we were chosen to sing for the ACDA National Symposium on American Choral Music being held in Washington D.C. Only one Women's Choir was invited from the entire country, and we were it! This conference is promoting the "Search for an American Sound". To highlight this, we've chosen to do five pieces by women composers from the turn of the 20th century, and five pieces by women composers from the turn of the 21st century. It's incredible the difference 100 years can make, and we're hoping our concert will spark some discussion and debate as to what it took to discover this "American sound"!

We came back to Saint Mary's today to rehearse, and are leaving bright and early at 8am tomorrow for our 12 hour bus ride! (If we can survive 13 hours on an airplane to China, we can survive this!) The concert, free and open to the public, is this Friday evening at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. One of our "contemporary" composers, Gwyneth Walker, will help us rehearse our piece and will also attend the concert!

Here is the list of our repertoire:

Women of the turn of the 20th Century
The Voice of My Beloved (1911) - Mabel Wheeler Daniels
The Lonely Rose (1906) - Margaret Ruthven Lang (Featuring soloist, Dr. T!)
Minuet (1903) - Patty Stair
Ojalá (1907) - Patty Stair
Ol' Marse Winter (1914) - Gena Branscombe

Women of the turn of the 21st Century
I Thank You God (1998) - Gwyneth Walker
Today, This Spring (1995) - Libby Larsen (Who will be at the conference the following day.)
Lyrical Limericks (2010) - Zae Munn (SMC's very own Theory and Composition professor!)
The Beauty of Your Dreams (2004) - Joan Szymko
Song of Perfect Propriety (2006) - Carol Barnett

Needless to say, we're all very excited to perform these pieces, and also to welcome accompanist Sherry Klinedinst along for the ride!

4th Floor Regina's buzzing with the sound of restless WoCho girls - time for some catching up and to harass people for our bed linens...


Xie Xie!

UPDATE!: View our Homecoming Concert on YouTube HERE! A big thanks goes out to Kelly's parents for filming it!

Homecoming Concert = Success! (Here's a special shoutout to composer Paul Carey for coming to see it - we hope you enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed seeing you and your son there!)

Wo Cho would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who has made this trip a reality for us:

To all of our Chinese Hosts - Thank you for having us visit your beautiful country. Wo Cho has made new friends, increased their love of music, and come to appreciate another culture because of your hospitality. We hope you enjoyed having us, and we also hope to see you all again someday!

To Saint Mary's College - Thank you for giving us this wonderful opportunity. None of us could have ever imagined sharing our talents across the world, but you aided in making it possible. We will be forever grateful to our Alma Mater for helping us to achieve dreams we never thought were feasible. Sister Madeleva's words hold true, especially now: "We promise you discovery. The discovery of yourselves, the discovery of the universe, and your place in it." China isn't quite the universe, but you helped us discover the next best thing - the world. Thank you.

To our Parents, Friends, and Loved Ones - Thank you for all of the support, both emotional and financial, that went into this trip. Many of us have never been abroad before, and to dip our feet into a journey this far away was not necessarily easy. You've been there through all of the plannings, payments, tears, and stories that have been shared about this trip. Thanks for allowing us to pursue a higher education with the hopes of becoming strong women in society. It's a little thing like distance to remind us of how much we love you.

To Dr. Thomas, Allison, Bethany, and JingJing - Thank you all for sharing your talents with our choir. Our music was brought to life by your singing, playing, and dancing. While we're pretty good on our own, your treasures only furthered the beauty we created. Our memories of China will never be complete without you in them.

And, finally, to Dr. Menk - Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all of the time you've put into Wo Cho the last year in order to prepare us for this trip. It hasn't always been easy, (missed choir rehearsals, plenty of whining, just a little bit of fuss pot, etc.,) but we've had a blast along the way. Your insight into our interpretation of the music has been invaluable; we couldn't have done it without you in front of us leading the way. This tour meant the world (literally) to us, and it is our sincere hope that you enjoyed it as much as we did. We'll do our best to continue making you proud, and to end the year on a high note! Thank you.

If you've followed the blog all the way through, here's a big thanks to you, too. We hope that by reading and seeing the adventure through our eyes, you were given a glimpse of the wonderful time we had. While this leg of our journey may be over, the memories from it will continue to live on. We may have taken over China, (one note at a time!,) but we've only just begun. Our musical endeavors will always come back to Saint Mary's, and we can only hope for more opportunities such as these in the future.

Until next time, zài jiàn!

Back to Reality

It was back to reality for Wo Cho today, as we all had to get up and attend our normal Tuesday classes. Lucky for the music majors, Music History was canceled, which afforded us an extra hour-and-a-half to sleep in.

Others weren't so lucky.

The jetlag hit many of us hard, and for a select few, classes were missed altogether. Not because they intentionally skipped, but because our now-altered biological clocks kept us sleeping all day. When we woke up at 6:30pm, fully thinking it was 6:30am, mild panic attacks rose at the realization that classes were missed. We didn't bounce back as quickly as we thought, but we have to stay alert for our concert tomorrow night!

Also, it was amazing to be back in the dining hall eating good 'ol American food. There were shouts of triumph at lunch with the serving of chicken tenders. We thought the day would never come when we'd see chicken without bones or a head again! Dinner also had a hearty portion of mashed potatoes - a starch many of us desperately missed.

Here's some other "fun facts" about China that didn't make it into the daily updates:

1. The random blue creature you see in many of our photos is "Chumby" - the mascot from the 2010 World Expo that was held in Shanghai. It's not his real name, but rather, the name that Toni and Bethany (his parents) came up with. He was bought on Day 1 and stuck with the group 'til the bitter end. He even suffered some war wounds.

2. Dogs are quite the fashion statement in China. We saw a variety of (very fluffy) friends just about everywhere we went. (Most of them sporting brightly colored jackets.) We even saw giant dachshunds, which were definitely Dr. Menk's favorites.

3. Apparently we went about the squatty potty technique all wrong. Once JingJing arrived, she corrected us on this invaluable skill.

4. Children indeed "do their business" in the streets of China - we saw it numerous times in action.

5. The elevators would beep at us when they got "overloaded." The game, "How Many Smick Chicks Can You Fit in an Elevator?" became quite popular throughout the week. 16 was our high score.

Don't forget about our Homecoming Concert in the Church of our Lady Loretto TOMORROW night (3/23) at 7:30pm. Tickets are $11 for adults, $9 for senior citizens, $8 for faculty/staff, and FREE for students! Come hear all of our pieces from China - every Wo Cho song mentioned in this blog will be performed!

Home Sweet SMC

UPDATE: Pictures are UPDATED! Check them out!

We are all safe in our rooms back at Saint Mary's. After a quick flight, which got us back early, we went through the two-hour passport and customs check and finally boarded the bus home. We cheered when the plane landed, and cheered again when we saw the glowing Le Mans bell tower. China was a fantastic experience none of us will ever forget, but it was time to come back to the place that made it possible.

Wo Cho would like to extend a special thank you to Mr. Max Bax for all of his help the last couple of days in Shanghai, especially at the airport. He made sure we all had our passports, and helped us do one of the best countoff's we had! (Kudos to Mrs. Bax, too, for making us all goody bags and a huge poster for our arrival in Chicago!)

The blog will continue to be posted on until after the Homecoming Concert Wednesday night, so keep checking back for post-China updates!

They Finally Did It!

We're all packing last-minute things and heading down to the lobby for check-out. There was a bit of confusion, and instead of extending our check-out time, they shut off our keys at noon instead of 1:00pm. We were all locked out of our rooms, which still had our things in them! (We finally are getting kicked out of China - and we thought they'd do it sooner!)

JingJing came in and saved the day, though, so we're all back and working on heading downstairs. The next post will probably come from Chicago. Wish us all a safe and quick flight!

Finding "Home" in China

Words simply cannot express this morning's experience singing at St. Ignatius Cathedral. Even those of us who don't practice the Catholic faith walked out feeling a little bit more grounded about life.

Many of us woke up this morning still a little rattled about last night's pickpocketing incident. We ended up being late leaving for mass because girls were running back up to their rooms to put the "Do Not Disturb" signs on the doors. (Apparently, the maids are known to raid through guests' stuff here. At least, that's what people were saying. We can't be a hundred percent sure of anything.) We finally left for the subway around 10:15am.

Since most of us were "experienced" subway travelers by this point, (from taking it last night,) we had little trouble purchasing our tickets and getting through the gate. Led faithfully by JingJing, we scurried through the never-ending maze of escalators and turnstiles. A few bumpy stops later, we all safely arrived at our destination. We ended up walking down the street a little bit, and then crossing it to get to the other side. In the end, we were in front of St. Ignatius Cathedral by 10:45am, only 15 minutes later than what we anticipated.

The choir director met us, and led us to the Diocesan office building into a smaller chapel. (That chapel was roughly the size of Holy Spirit Chapel in Le Mans, but was overall more square.) There, he and Dr. Menk discussed the music we could sing. We think he expected us to have a little more "mass" music that was singable. However, since many of our sacred pieces contain the word "Alleluia!" or are too "loud," they're inappropriate for the Lenten season. After singing some stuff for him and the members of his small choir, we decided to do Melinda Bargreen's Gordon Magnificat for the opening hymn, David L. Brunner's Psalm 150 for the presentation hymn, (changing all the "Alleluia!'s" to "Amen!'s",) Michelle Roueché's Lux Aeterna for a communion hymn, and Graeme Langager's Irish Blessing for the closing hymn. The choir director had a mass setting prepared, and also quickly taught us Laurie Klein's I Love You Lord - a song a few of us knew and were excited for.

When we headed back towards the church, we were greeted with a large sign saying, "Welcome, Saint Mary's College Women's Choir!" It was written on a simple whiteboard, but it was probably our favorite "poster" to date. To get to sing at one of the grandest Cathedrals in all of China makes for one of our most special concerts ever. They led us around the main part of the church to an entrance in the back, closer to the choir's area. Walking by, there was a small shrine to Mary, almost like a mini-Grotto in China. We all stopped for a moment to take in its beauty. We were finally "home" - back to the peacefulness church brings us.

The Cathedral was absolutely gorgeous. Laid out similarly to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, this church was about twice its size. There were also large TV's placed around the space, projecting the words to the mass. After singing Gordon Magnificat for the opening, the priest introduced us and welcomed us to the Cathedral.

Many of us were excited to hear about the Transfiguration in the Gospel today. It's a powerfully familiar Gospel, and it further helped us feel more at home. The priest's homily talked about Lent being a time to reflect on the Mission, the Work, and the Prayer of both ourselves and Jesus. Even though it was a tad bit longer than what we're used to at school, his words touched each of us in a different way.

Just before the closing hymn, he thanked us again for joining their parish for mass. We earned a loud round of applause from the very full church, and we prepared ourselves to sing the Irish Blessing one last time in China. Not a single person left the building before the song was over, even after the procession made it down the aisle - everyone stayed to hear how our song ended. The acoustics in the Cathedral were fantastic, and our eight-part chord rang for several seconds after Dr. Menk cut us off. That's when the tears started flowing from us, and the realization of our journey and where we were finally hit. A few people started applauding, thinking it was the end, and we snapped back into reality. Dr. Menk gave us a happy smile at the end, and we were frozen in place as the real applause started. Our voices are done singing in China, but the memory of them will linger on in our hearts and minds forever.

Dr. Menk, who had to leave for home tonight rather than tomorrow, said her goodbyes to us in the church. Finally letting herself go, she choked her words through tears to us. She told us how proud she was of this group and this tour, and how it was the best one she's been on yet. We had all lost it prior to that point, so our tears were flowing just as freely. This has been the journey of a lifetime for many of us, and we are forever grateful to her for giving us the opportunity to have it.

Since the time was ours, we broke off into several different groups for the remainder of the day. Some groups went to the zoo, while others hit up shopping in Old Shanghai, while still others went to other Temples and Gardens. The Bund, (a neon-lighted tourist area,) was a popular nighttime spot. Our last day in China was spent the way each of us wanted to, and we enjoyed the time with our friends. This trip has brought us together in so many new ways, and we hope our Homecoming Concert will be reflective of that.

The next time you hear from us will be before we depart for the Pudong International Airport here in Shanghai, then from there, it will be a post from the States. We'll keep you updated as often as possible during the trip back home!

Victory of the Silk Scarves

First of all, Happy 20th Birthday to Angie! Hope you enjoyed celebrating in CHINA!

We got off to a slow and very rainy start in Suzhou this morning. Our bus for the tour was leaving at 9:30am, but we had a difficult time getting our luggage sorted out. (We were leaving for Shanghai immediately after the tour.) Apparently, the bus' undercarriage didn't have enough room for all of it, so we had to put many of our large suitcases in the back. This meant giving up seats, so we were all packed in a little more tightly than what we're used to. Most people handled breakfast by getting the little cakes and other goodies offered by the hotel, or hitting up the pastry shop next door.

Finally, once the bus was loaded, we headed for the two streets and the garden we were touring. Robert was acting as our tour guide, and gave us some information on the places we were going. Guanquian Street and Pingjiang Street are two of the oldest streets in Suzhou. They were established hundreds of years ago, and most of the buildings along it are over a hundred years old. The Humble Administrator's Garden is a little newer, but it is considered to be one of the top four gardens in China. We were all excited at the prospect of seeing these historic places, as well as doing a little shopping!

We started by touring the streets. These were exactly what all of us pictured China would be like when we came. There was a river running along one side of it, complete with bridges and small boats. Even though it was raining, the buildings looked absolutely beautiful. The group kept accidentally breaking up because we were stopping to take so many pictures! The cobblestone walkway was a little hard to walk on in some of the shoes we were wearing, but we took it like troopers. Robert had to pull us all away from one shop after we found the silk scarves and chopsticks we had all been looking for. After crossing the (very) busy street and touring the other one, which looked much the same, we were ready to head to the garden.

The Humble Administrator's Garden was also what we weren't expecting. Most of us heard "garden" and thought of flowers and trees. However, there were no flowers in sight. In fact, the garden looked like a little picturesque village. There were many old buildings and pagodas, as well as ponds and streams. The trees were absolutely beautiful, and the rocks provided different heights from which to view things. We were given an hour to freely explore on our own before meeting back at the exit.

Most of us split off into small groups to venture on our own. We had to be careful not to get turned around in the garden, because the maps were hard to read and mostly not in English. We're also assuming that Suzhou (or the garden) is a big tourist attraction - we saw the most Americans we've seen yet touring with different groups. It was a nice change to hear a little English, for once! Again, many people decided to take pictures of us. We started a trend by throwing up peace signs whenever they started taking photos. It didn't help, though, because once we started "posing," everyone thought it was okay to take pictures.

Eventually we all made it back to the exit area. Many of us enjoyed ice cream from a cart while waiting for the whole group to rejoin. After discovering a few exited completely and couldn't get back in, we were all back together. Robert led us back to the buses to head for lunch. On the way, we asked him the significance of holding up the peace signs while people take pictures. He said that it's actually a "V" for "Victory" from the war. In fact, it was Americans who dubbed it a "peace sign" and made it what it was. It's a sign of national pride and happiness to the Chinese.

Lunch was at a different hotel, again. We had the ever-familiar Chinese spread, and were using our chopsticks faithfully. The food was a little less spicy than the last night, which we were thankful for. There was also more "dessert" at this meal, including the dough balls with the chocolate bean in the middle and sprinkled with coconut, as well as fruit. (We've learned when the fruit comes, the meal is over.)

A vote took place over where we were going to spend our afternoon shopping, (either there near the streets or back by the hotel,) and we decided to stay put. Many girls had to go to the bank to exchange more money, so Robert walked us to a supermarket across the street from one. We had about an hour-and-a-half to walk around and do our shopping before meeting back at the supermarket at 3:00pm. We broke off into our separate groups, and began the quest for the silk scarves.

After an absolutely exhausting shopping trip, we all came out victorious. Nearly every girl in Wo Cho is now the proud owner of a silk or pashmina scarf, and many walked away with tea sets and tea. With the two hour bus ride to Shanghai ahead of us, we each pulled out our purchases and compared with others. There was general agreement that we made shopkeepers cry with our awesome bargaining skills. One of the best haggles of the day came from Rachel, who bought herself an entire set of freshwater pearls for just a little over 100 Yuen. (Roughly $15!)

The bumpy bus ride had us all having to use the restroom and wanting to get off the bus by the end of the trip. We arrived at another Green Tree Inn in Shanghai, right across the street from the Yamaha Music Store. (How fitting!) It's a lot nicer than the one from Nanjing, and we think the beds may even be a bit softer! After dropping our things off in our rooms, we congregated back in the lobby to figure out what to do for Angie's birthday dinner.

In the end, a place called Hot Pot was chosen. Some girls went to it when we were in Nanjing. It's a pretty upscale restaurant where you pick different things to put in a large communal "hot pot" in the center of your table. You boil different meats and vegetables to create a large meal. JingJing was able to look up a subway route for it, so most of the choir ventured to the subway station to head over there.

Once at the subway, we bought a ticket for there and the way back, then went through the line. We waited in front of the doors for the subway to come, and boarded for the short ride over to the street. JingJing was very helpful in herding us all around, and got each of us there safely. We are forever grateful to her for being on this trip - we couldn't have done it without her!

Once we were back on the street, we rounded the corner to Hot Pot. There was a man with a monkey in the street we were all ogling at with amusement. Once we took the elevator to the main part of the restaurant, we congregated in the lobby. JingJing's mom talked to the host while we waited for the last group to come up. (JingJing was waiting until everyone safely got on an elevator.) However, things got upsetting at that point after we learned one of our girls was pickpocketed just before getting on the elevators. Thankfully, only her cell phone was snatched, rather than something like her passport or credit card, but it was unnerving for all of us nonetheless.

JingJing explained to us that there would be too long of a wait for a table there, but that the restaurant was willing to arrange a bus to take us to a different chain that could seat us immediately. We were in awe of such service provided by a restaurant. While we waited, they even gave us hot orange drink and snacks. However, before the bus arrived, enough tables opened up that they could seat us relatively near to one another.

Ordering at Hot Pot is rather interesting. First, you pick a base "soup" you want in your pot. Most tables went with the tomato option, which gave a tomato broth with mushrooms, tomatoes, and a little bit of spice. Then, we picked ten options to go in our pots, as well. Usually, this is where you pick different meats to go in. The menu had endless options, but it's always safe to go with basics such as beef or chicken. As the meal progresses, the different selections are brought out, and you "cook" them in the pot using your chopsticks or a ladle. It's also hard to see the people sitting across from you, because the steam rising from the pot is very thick. Aprons are provided so nothing spills on your clothing, and they cover the back of your chair with a slipcover so nothing ruins your coat, either. All-in-all, it was a fantastic meal.

Another service provided by the restaurant is free nail-painting. Many of the Wo Cho girls are now sporting various colored nails courtesy of Hot Pot! About a third of the group took the subway back to the hotel, but the restaurant offered the bus to the rest of us who still wanted to get our nails done. At the end of the night, we were all safely dropped back at the hotel, and even given popcorn as we got off the bus. (And to think, each person payed only about $10 for their entire meal!)

We're all a little unnerved after the pickpocketing incident, but as smart Belles, we know how to face a challenge. We'll be keeping an extra-tight grip on our purses, walking around in large groups, and ignoring anyone on the street trying to "entice" us. (We think, in the end, the monkey outside of the restaurant was a ploy to distract us all so an accomplice could pickpocket. As we left the restaurant, the monkey man was gone, but there were ladies with flowers trying to catch us, too. One Wo Cho girl even saw a little boy pickpocket someone and run away. It's a sad state of affairs when children are involved, and we are just grateful all of us are safe.) Hopefully, tomorrow will bring us better luck.

In the morning we'll be singing for the English mass at the only Catholic church in Shanghai, St. Ignatius Cathedral. We're looking forward to performing a few of our pieces, but also joining the church's choir on the regular stuff, as well. It'll be a great experience!

A Reminder

We are safe in Suzhou after an overly-long bus ride this morning. Some grabbed breakfast one last time at the Green Tree Inn, we loaded the bus around 9:30am, and were on the road by 9:45. Many of us were recounting tales of the night before, which included the last adventures with our penpals. We were not thrilled to be leaving Nanjing, after establishing such close bonds with everyone, but we were excited to continue our journey in a new city at a new college. Much to our delighted surprise, Dixian joined us for our bus ride.

The bus made one stop along the way, allowing us a quick bathroom and snack break. (There was a small convenience store housing many snacks and drinks. Several of the girls bought Oreos and Koala Gummies - thoroughly American treats!) Once we were back on the bus, it was a bumpy ride to Suzhou. We're all getting pretty tired of the buses, only because they're very uncomfortable to nap in. Plus, with all of our carry-on things, there's little room. Finally, around 12:30pm, we arrived at our hotel.

The Suzhou Baiyi Hotel is the most elegant one we've stayed in yet. All along the street it's on, there are small local shops. It's very reminiscent of an old school, 1950s style street. Our tour guide for this part of the trip is Robert, who came on the bus to introduce himself and tell us about lunch. (Robert looks very much like Heroes' Masi Oka, who plays Hiro Nakamura.) They had prepared a typical banquet-style lunch for us on the third floor of the hotel. We were to drop off our luggage in the lobby, and head there to eat.

The room was a smaller dining room with four large, round tables for us to eat at. Everyone sat mixed up, again, another sign of the closeness of our choir. The food was more of the same, with basic white rice, a chicken dish, a pork dish, and some vegetables. Much to our (grateful) delight, there was also a surprise at the meal - french fries! The hotel also provided us with silverware, but we faithfully continued using our chopsticks. Coke and Sprite were offered, again, too.

After we ate, Dr. Menk took us back to the lobby and distributed room key cards. We had about an hour-and-a-half free before we were leaving for a tour of the Suzhou University campus. Most of us wanted to explore the quaint little street we were on, with all of the shops and sites. (Suzhou is the silk capital of the world - we're trying to load up on silk scarves while we're here!) The rooms we got are absolutely amazing - they're decorated very nicely, and are the cleanest we've seen yet. There's some suggestive artwork on the walls, but we know it's just part of the design. We're looking forward to sleeping in softer beds tonight!

The short shopping trip proved to be successful for most people. Some silk scarves were bargained for, as well as other knickknacks. Several girls snagged great prices for beautiful sets of chopsticks, which will no doubt be great souvenirs for friends and family. Others checked out a pastry shop, sampling local treats. Still others went to a chocolate shop. Dr. Menk, Dr. Thomas, and Allison found the closest coffee shop, and loaded up on caffeine.

Once we met back up, Robert led the group of us over a small bridge across the street towards the main campus of Suzhou University. The picturesque views of Suzhou have made it the most enchanting city we've seen yet. Once at the University, we congregated at the highly modern (architecturally) Law School building. We were introduced to several students of the English department who were going to be our tour guides. We had about an hour to walk around the campus with them, and learn more about their life as college students.

These students were all very adept at English, and were able to hold solid conversations with us. As we toured the campus, we were instantly reminded of Saint Mary's and Notre Dame. The architecture was highly reminiscent of many buildings on Notre Dame's campus, with one main building imitative of Le Mans. The foliage, especially, reminded us of a Saint Mary's in early spring. Many of the trees had already bloomed, and there were beautiful flowers and grasses all around. There was even a river with a bridge that reminded us of Lake Marian.

One tour guide, whose English name is Flower, told us a few "legends" of the campus. Much like ours, they call the river and its bridge that of "lovers" - mostly because the strip of walk is darkened at night, so many lovers are known for taking walks there at night. Their main quad, much like Library Green, is also known for lovers. They have a tradition that if you walk hand-in-hand with your lover across the quad, you will end up together forever. We found it striking how many similarities there were between our campuses. To have such similar traditions hold true halfway around the world testifies to the fact of how alike we all really are.

After the tour, said goodbye to our guides and headed back the same way to the hotel. Once we were back, we had about fifteen minutes to gather our things for the night's concert. We would have time to put makeup on and get ready properly there, so we were only worried about making sure we had all of our dresses, heels, and precious jewels. The newest and cleanest bus to date took us over to the University's other campus for rehearsal and our concert. (This is our last "official" concert until our Homecoming Concert back in the States.) The new campus was very modern in comparison to the one we toured, and it was neat to see their updated facilities.

When we entered the auditorium, we immediately took notice of the small, yet tall, risers onstage. The rickety red things looked like they wouldn't hold us all very comfortably. We were right. Last minute, we changed our arrangement into four rows, rather than three, to try to spread ourselves out on them. (Holding our folders requires us to have more room.) There was still some nervousness among the group, especially because we were going to be wearing heels on them. We pressed on with our warmup, though, and prepared for the evening's concert.

After our short rehearsal, we went to dressing rooms and the dance studio to get ready and relax a little before the show started. We had about an hour, so many girls pulled out the dance mats and took short naps. There was some fear about the dressing rooms and dance studio not being locked while we were onstage, so a few girls decided to put their bags backstage. Others put their important items in one larger purse to save room.

As soon as we stepped onstage, the standing room-only crowd burst into applause for us. We wobbled a bit on the risers, but we were okay as long as we stood still. (Yeah, right, as if we can stand still!) Another English department student, who was our Emcee for the night, came out to introduce us. (Apparently they picked this particular guy because they knew we were an all-girls school, and thought we'd want someone attractive. We've dubbed him the new Mike Chang from Glee.) Filling the space with his voice, he sounded like a television announcer. He spoke for quite a long time, in Chinese, to the crowd. Laughs were heard, as well as other exclamations. We're not quite sure what he said, but we hope it was all good. However, his overly long introduction had our calves and feet feeling the burn from the heels on the risers. (After climbing the steps at the Temple yesterday, we were all sore.) Finally, he handed the microphone over to Dr. Menk, and the concert began.

This was the first concert on our tour where we used the "correct" order we had put our music in. It was also the first time we were singing Anna Cederberg's Missa Brevis, too. We only sang the first three movements of it, not having enough time to polish up the Agnus Dei before the concert. There were a few minor errors, mostly due to the fact that the piano was severely out of tune. Dr. Menk gave many of her famous looks whenever a chord played had a new "color" to it.

During our short intermission, Dixian played the Erhu for us - a Chinese version of the violin. The two-stringed instrument had an absolutely gorgeous sound to it, and we were all in awe of the haunting melody Dixian played. It was a nice break for our voices until we had to go back onstage for the second half of the concert.

The latter half of our concert went beautifully. Some of us teared up during Graeme Langager's Irish Blessing remembering the new friends we left behind in Nanjing earlier today. Afterward, Dr. Menk was presented with another beautiful flower arrangement, and the President of the school presented us with a gorgeous needlepoint work, depicting their main campus building that looks like Le Mans. Once pictures were taken, we were free to change into our street clothes for dinner.

After avoiding our newest fans taking pictures, we loaded on the bus and headed to a different hotel for dinner. Once again, there were the usual dishes offered for our meal. (However, this was the first time no fish was in the mix, kind of ironic considering most of us abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent.) We're getting pretty good at recognizing things now, and know what we like and what we don't like. There was the typical egg and tomato dish, white rice, a clear-broth soup, orange chicken, eggplant, another vegetable mix, potato noodles, shredded potato, and some other things. The food was a little bit spicier than what we've been eating so far, and the poor waitresses couldn't keep up on refills of Coke and Sprite fast enough.

Feeling pretty lethargic after the meal, we were looking forward to coming back and sleeping in our lavish rooms. The drive through the city at night was absolutely breathtaking. The city lights, as well as the numerous waterways, further makes Suzhou one of the most artistic cities we've ever seen. We're disappointed we only have tomorrow morning and afternoon to explore more of this historic place.

Tomorrow we leave at 9:00am for another city bus tour. We'll be exploring two streets and a garden. (The garden is one of the four top gardens in China.) We're all hoping to snag a few more silk scarves before we leave tomorrow afternoon for Shanghai!