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Tourist Attraction

After last night's still-unbelievable concert, we were all exhausted. As a result, some decided to sleep in the extra twenty minutes rather than grab breakfast - our 8:30am bus for the city tour was one of the earliest mornings yet. After not getting back 'til after midnight, the extra sleep was welcomed. (Breakfast at the Green Tree Inn had its usual spread.)

We boarded a city tour bus right on time. It looked very much like the buses we've been taking all week, with the "throne" (as many have dubbed it) of five seats in the back. Anna surprised us all with chocolate and shamrock stickers for St. Patrick's Day. Our tour guide was an older Chinese woman, but she spoke excellent English. As the bus took off for our first stop, she began telling us about some of Nanjing's history.

Nanjing has been the capital of six Dynasties. During the Ming Dynasty, the wall around Nanjing was built. This wall still exists today, and creates a sort of "separation" between the heart of the city and the areas just outside it. (We drove through a tunnel created out of the wall to get to where we were going.) Currently, Nanjing's population counts over 7 million. Also, situated on the Yangtze River, the city has many important (and beautiful) waterways running through it. The river is the longest river in China, and the third-longest river in the world. It translates to "Long River," but many Westerners prefer to just call it the Yangtze because it would be confusing since it's not the longest.

Once we arrived at the Linggu Temple, (built during the Liang Dynasty roughly 1500 years ago,) we got off the bus to walk around. (The bus is only allowed so far into the area before it has to stop.) The Temple is built on top of a "purple" mountain, which was so-called because the rock of the mountain gave it a purple color. It involves a climb of nearly 400 steps to reach the top. Our tour guide took us into the entrance of the Temple, which reminded many of us of the area when you first walk into a zoo or other theme park. She told us we would have an hour to explore the Temple, and climb the stairs to the top if we so wished.

We broke off into smaller groups and began the trek. Not too far into the park, we discovered our first "tourist trap" of small shops carrying Chinese jewelry and other knickknacks. After some people bought bracelets for only 15 Yuen, the lady tried hiking the price up to 50 for the next person to try to buy them. JingJing intervened and told us to just walk away - the seller knew we were American, and was trying to scam us. A few people got away lucky, but most of us just continued on our way. Of course, many of us were stopped by people for photos. (It's as if WE were the tourist attraction!)

The journey up the mountain was tiring, but extremely beautiful. The view of the city from the very top was absolutely breathtaking, and a few of us even walked through the actual building housing the shrines. We were only given an hour to walk around, and the hike up with the tourist trap pit stop took nearly 45 minutes. Most of us were jogging down the steps to get back to our meeting place on time. (None of us really complained, though - we haven't been able to exercise in a week, and we knew our legs needed the stretching!) We all met back right on time, some of us with souvenirs in hand from a more honest stall.

Once back on the bus, the tour guide informed us we were headed to the Nanjing Museum. There, she walked us through various displays, including the Jade, Lacquer, and Embroidery halls. In the Jade area, there was an entire suit made of jade. It was a special piece the museum acquired not too long ago. The Chinese people believe jade is a substance that contains its own spirit, and as a result, they buried emperors in it to preserve their bodies. They still believe, even today, that the body remains perfectly preserved within the suit. A typical suit made by one man takes ten years to craft. Kings' suits were molded with gold, princes' with silver, and higher nobility's with copper.

The Embroidery display was also neat to see. There were two ladies working a large weaving loom to make a silk treasure. We were told that in a typical work day, they only get about three inches of the fabric completed. It takes two to operate the machine - one at the bottom weaving in the color, and one at the top weaving in the design. It was cool to see them work so carefully with all of the thread. The loom, too, was very old and made of wood. One of the girls asked if there was someone who knew how to fix it if it broke, and we were told that it just doesn't break. It was definitely a piece of art in and of itself.

Some of us made a few purchases at the museum's store, then we boarded the bus once again to head for lunch. We ate at a restaurant attached to a hotel, and it offered the same lazy susan spread of dishes we're slowly becoming accustomed to. Even though many of us are getting tired of eating so much rice, the meal was actually one of the more "familiar" ones we had. The restaurant even added knives and forks to the place settings, so our assumption is that they tend to make more "American" Chinese food for tourists. (You would be so proud of Wo Cho - none of us even thought about picking up the fork, we all used our chopsticks!) A few of us decided to have beer with our meal, rather than Coke or Sprite, in honor of St. Patrick's Day. Dishes in the meal included steamed cabbage, noodles, white rice, beef and onions, fruit, and other treats.

After lunch, we got on the bus to head to the Nanjing Massacre Museum. From December 1937-January 1938, a six-week period, the Japanese invaded Nanjing and mass murdered over 300,000 people. One of the most devastating holocausts in history, the Nanjing Massacre is a lesser-known tragedy among Westerners. The museum we went to was set up much like the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. Recently redesigned, the building is artistically symbolic of the massacre. When you take the six-week invasion and divide it by 300,000, it comes out to 1 death every 12 seconds. As a constant reminder when you're walking through the museum, there is a ticking clock with an "alarm" every 12 seconds. The darkened building was a very rough walk for some people. The stories, especially of the children and rape victims, hit each of us very hard. The museum is also built on an excavation site of the disposed bodies, and there are open pits where you can see the bones of the massacred. It was unimaginable to picture the death and devastation that occurred on the spots we were standing on. The museum ended with a large outdoor memorial for peace. Despite the sadness it brought us, we walked out appreciating life a little bit more.

This was the end of our tour, as our penpals were back at the hotel waiting to take us out for a late afternoon of eating and shopping. There was some confusion as to what we had to do for dinner, since the University was providing it for us. (The time kept changing.) In the end, we were basically free to do whatever we pleased, but we had to be back in the auditorium our concert was in by 7:00pm for a concert featuring Chinese Opera. Various adventures with the penpals included going to a fondue restaurant, and getting nails done.

The Chinese Opera that was prepared was a few scenes from the Kun Opera Mu Danting (Peony Pavilion). It's a story of a princess and a scholar who dream about one another, instantly falling in love, but not having met in real life. The singers who performed were absolutely fantastic. The boy, especially, was highly talented - most of his part was sung in a falsetto voice. However, the music was also very striking. The instruments had a discernible melody to them, but the voice parts did not. It was awesome to hear live.

Rather than do the whole opera, they filled the concert with other musical things. The Blues Workshop performed Baby, you've got what it takes and dancers danced to Why are the Flowers in the Color of Scarlet?. The last portion of the concert featured traditional Chinese instruments, including a Pipa and an orchestra of many instruments. We were really appreciative of the students for preparing such a nice concert for us.

After the concert, many of us broke off into groups again to do our own thing for our last night in Nanjing. Most of us went to an Irish Pub downtown to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, others hung out with their penpals around town one last time, and still others went back to the hotel to catch up on some homework and sleep.

Our last night in Nanjing was bittersweet. While we all enjoyed our evenings, we knew we had to say goodbye to our penpals one last time. Many of us will probably never see them again in person, and it was a realization we had to face. Emails, of course, will still be exchanged, but the hugs and other signs of affection will never be felt again. We've been so thankful to everyone here in Nanjing, especially Dixian and the entire Arts Institute for their hospitality and graciousness. They are who've made our stay in China unforgettable, and for that, we can never express enough thanks.

We leave for Suzhou at 9:30am. Let's hope for a quick bus ride!

Nancy Lets Loose...

Just when we thought it was impossible to top yesterday, today has proved to be the most surreal day we've spent in China so far.

Even though we're all getting used to the time adjustment, it's still hard for many of us to make it through the night without waking up. As a result, breakfast is a daily thing for most of the girls. The Green Tree Inn offered the same spread as yesterday, so we were all able to grab our "favorites" and stick with them.

A group of us then walked over to the Nanjing Arts Institute for the master classes presented by the professors. Dr. Menk was going to be doing conducting, and Dr. Thomas was going to be doing voice. Nearly all of the music majors accompanied them, ready to help out their favorite teachers in any way possible. Set up like most master classes, we were in large classrooms with the students seated in the "audience," and the performers "onstage" to present their best work. Dr. Menk ended up teaching some beginning conducting techniques, and was joined by Allison and Anna for awhile.

Dr. Thomas' master class was very full. There were six singers prepared to perform for her, and many of the voice students from the college were there to watch. The Saint Mary's voice majors, including Ashley B., Jessica, Erin, Angie, Ashely S., and Joy, were there to observe and perform in between participants.

Among the repertoire selected by the Nanjing students were pieces by well-known composers such as Mozart, Strauss, and Puccini. (Capped off with a performance of Frederic Weatherly's O Danny Boy, which reminded us all of tomorrow being St. Patrick's Day!) All-in-all, three girls and three boys sang. Much to our enjoyment, each singer only got better. Dr. Thomas was able to take them each a step further with their music, and they were very thankful to her for helping them. The young men, especially, were quite talented for their ages. (The music majors were ready to steal them and take them back to Saint Mary's!)

After the class, several members of the Meng Girls' Choir took the music majors to lunch in the cafeteria, (which had the same spread as yesterday,) and out shopping for the afternoon. On the walk to the shopping center, the Meng girls took us on a path by the lake. (It was very reminiscent of walking along Lake Michigan in Chicago.) They then paid to take us back to the hotel on a city bus in order to rest a little and get ready for the evening's rehearsal and concert.

Meanwhile, the other members of Wo Cho spent their entire morning shopping and bargaining with various vendors at an underground "mall" of sorts. Also accompanied by several students from the university, they were given lessons in the proper ways of dealing with shopkeepers. Many great buys and bargains came out of the new-found skill, and everyone walked away with at least one fantastic purchase. Nicole and Nora scored themselves some great deals on shoes, while Rachel accessorized with earrings and sunglasses. Even Dr. Menk found some time to do a little bit of shopping, and bargained her way to a great deal on a piece of art. Lunch was on their own, and several girls opted for the Pizza Hut/KFC option. Even though we're all loving the new foods, many of us are craving just a simple hamburger - who would have ever thought we'd miss McDonalds?!

Both shopping centers that the two halves of the choir went to were very similar. Set up like a very congested mall, there were aisles and aisles of little shops containing various clothing and knickknacks. The shops were no bigger than the size of a single room in the Regina dorms, (roughly the size of a parking space,) making for a tight squeeze. Everyone had a blast though, and we can't wait to continue shopping for souvenirs!

After a little rest and time to change back at the hotel, we left for rehearsal back at Nanjing Arts Institute. Once there, we were excited to see our penpals again. Each choir rehearsed a little bit on their own, in order to figure out standing arrangements. Then we worked on our combined pieces once again. Dixian seemed to be very frustrated with herself, because she kept making little mistakes in directing the Debussy. However, no one could begin to blame her, since she did not have the accompaniment to prepare with prior to our arrival. Indeed, she was doing quite a remarkable job for only working with Allison one day on it.

Once we were done rehearsing, we gathered our dresses and bags and headed to a lecture-hall type classroom across the way. (It reminded everyone of a very modern Science Hall lecture room.) There, they surprised us with a light dinner since we weren't going to be eating until well after the evening's concert. Providing us with sandwiches and coffee, we were all thrilled at our first tastes of mayonnaise and caffeine in days. As much as we all wanted to eat seconds of it all, the Meng Girl's Choir was going to be joining us once they were done rehearsing.

Cooped up in the room for nearly an hour, some of us finally started letting loose after the musically stressful week. Allison was practicing her accompaniments for the various pieces, and all of us were joining in our best "operatic" voices. The silliness prompted Dr. Menk and Dr. Thomas to join in, and the two shared a wonderful duet of Melinda Bargreen's Gordon Magnificat. Pictures and videos abounded, and it was great to see our professors relax for a little bit and enjoy themselves. Once the Meng girls joined us, we sat with our penpals and chatted some more. (Many were getting their makeup on for the concert - who would have ever thought to wear fake eyelashes for a choir concert? It just goes to show how much appearance means to this culture in a performance situation.)

After Wo Cho changed into their black dresses, precious jewels, and painful heels, we headed over to the backstage area to wait for the concert to start. The program began with us singing several of our "showcase" pieces. Then the Meng girl's took the stage for one song on their own, Jianping Zou's Praising Plum Blossom. We joined them onstage afterward to sing the pieces Dixian directed, then they left the stage so we could sing a few more of our own. Finally, the whole choir came together once again to end with David L. Brunner's Psalm 150, the piece Dr. Menk directed.

All throughout the concert, we had many musical successes. Dr. Menk was full of smiles and compliments towards us after every piece. The sold-out, standing room-only, concert was probably the biggest turnout Wo Cho has ever seen for a performance. Bellacappella, especially, earned a rather boisterous round of applause after performing Mika's Happy Ending. After each portion of the concert, flowers were given to the directors onstage. Just before the Meng girls joined us for Psalm 150, we sang Paul Carey's arrangement of The Bells of Saint Mary's. This was the first time we've sung our "alma mater" since being in China. It was a rather emotional moment for all of us, realizing that we were standing onstage singing on the other side of the world. After the many hours of rehearsal we've put in, this was the concert we were truly preparing all those months for. Reveling in the limelight, the last chord rang out with as much passion as we could muster. Love for our school, our journey, and our music was ever-present in last night's concert. Afterward, more flowers were presented, including some to Dr. Menk, Dr. Thomas, Allison, Bethany, and JingJing. Our penpals, too, handed each of us one the most beautiful red roses we've ever received. After several pictures, and even a few tears on Dr. Menk's part, all of us were on cloud nine. At this point in our musical lives, nothing has ever topped the concert we just performed. It was truly a major success.

After changing out of our concert attire, we headed to a restaurant in a Times Square-looking district of the city. The Meng Girl's Choir was joining us, as well. Most of us walked arm-in-arm with our penpals to dinner. Sitting amongst each other, we were all presented with another lavish meal. The spread included more fine cuisine, with too many dishes to even list. Among the food was several different kinds (and parts) of pork, seafood, and duck. (We're still debating whether or not we ate eel in duck's blood...) The shrimp, especially, was very fresh - we had to take off the heads (eyes included!) ourselves. It was great to relax after a fantastic concert with our friends. Pictures and laughs continued.

A fun, lighthearted moment was shared with Bethany and her new friend. Bethany, with her trumpet, and her friend, with her violin, entertained us for a few minutes with various selections. First, her friend played the Chinese national anthem. Bethany then followed with the American national anthem. Bethany then played the Notre Dame Fight Song for us, which our penpals absolutely adored. The two joined forces for a rousing rendition of Jingle Bells - the only song the two had in common. We, of course, all joined in singing. (Even Dr. Menk was spotted joining her voice to the mix!) It was great fun, and we entertained the whole restaurant in the process.

Many of us feared this would be the last time we'd see our penpals - a surprise city tour was planned for us tomorrow, rather than the original shopping day with our penpals. None of us wanted to disappoint them by saying plans had been changed, so we gave our goodbyes silently in extra-long hugs and laughs. However, once we were on the bus, Dr. Menk informed us that the tour was cut short tomorrow so we could spend one last afternoon shopping with our friends. Relief spread over us, and we were thrilled at the prospect of seeing them again. Other plans include dinner in the Nanjing Arts Institute Cafeteria, and seeing a Chinese Opera. We also plan to wear green for St. Patrick's day, since we'll be spending the holiday in China.

Today was definitely a day none of us will ever forget. Will it top our weddings and birthing of our children? Ultimately, probably not. But for the time being, we're all content with life and what it has given us. This journey has truly been a blessing none of us could have ever imagined.

Paparazzi!

Today was another fantastic day in China, and a great kickoff to our stay in Nanjing!

Breakfast began, as usual, with a buffet-style spread in the Green Tree Inn's dining room. There were quite a few more options than at yesterday's, including rice and noodles, so there was something to please everybody. Popular amongst the group were a variety of sweetened breads, another filled dumpling treat, (in the shape of a rabbit, representing the current Year of the Rabbit,) hard-boiled eggs, and a hot drink concoction that was nothing more than boiled orange Tang.

After we met up in the lobby of the hotel with the whole group, we walked over to the Nanjing Arts Institute for a morning rehearsal. On our walk, we discovered a new poster advertising our Wednesday night concert. Dixian and her choir were going to join us for rehearsal at 10:00am. However, much to our delight, they were already there when we arrived. After one of Dixian's girls started excitedly looking for her Saint Mary's penpal, mass chaos broke out, and we all began looking for each other. Due to the language barrier, it was hard to ask for our penpals by name. Many of the girls resorted to pulling out their cell phones and pointing at the name of their penpal from the emails. Eventually, we all matched up with our new friends. The excitement in the room was absolutely uncontrollable.

One of the striking things about our pairings were that we had a lot more in common with each other than anyone could have ever known. Erin's penpal was wearing a cheetah-print scarf and had the same embellishment on her jeans - a print Erin has been known to wear quite often. Angie and her penpal are both described by their friends in choir as "someone who laughs a lot." Many of Dixian's girls also gave the Saint Mary's girls gifts. These gifts were very unique and had a lot of thought put into them. Lauren's penpal gave her a Chinese friendship bracelet, despite the fact they never exchanged an email once. Elizabeth received an ink-and-paper set from her penpal, and Joy received a figurine pen of a Chinese opera stock character. These simple gifts were thought through so carefully, and just further proves the kindness of this culture.

We were only forced away from our new "other halves" once rehearsal started. Mixing in with one another, the two choirs joined the stage to warm up and work on our combined pieces. Both Dr. Menk and Dixian led a few warm ups, and the sounds of the two choirs began to mix. The language barrier between the penpals was frustrating for both parties. The Saint Mary's girls, not knowing any Chinese, couldn't communicate in their penpals' language. The Nanjing girls, only knowing basic English, had to find new ways of explaining things to us. However, once we began to sing, the language barrier dropped. Suddenly, we were communicating the same things. The new language? Music.

Our combined pieces for the concert include Michelle Roueché's Lux Aeterna, David L. Brunner's Psalm 150, and Debussy's Salut Printemps. Dr. Menk will direct Psalm 150, and Dixian will direct the other two. All throughout the rehearsal, whenever we caught a little break, we continued getting to know our new friends. For only being back in school a couple of weeks, they have learned the music remarkably well. Our concert should be wonderful!

After saying goodbye for the day, we were taken to the dining hall for lunch. They set out large platters of food for us, and gave us bright orange bowls and lime green chopsticks to eat with. We were separated into different rooms to eat, so we were able to sit with people in choir we don't normally hang out with. (The excitement from interacting with our penpals, no doubt, pushed us to branch out a little bit more.) Over dishes of rice, broccoli, beef, chicken, coleslaw, spinach pierogies, and other goodies, we traded stories about our new friends.

We were excited to see the sun come out after quite a few overcast days. (The walk back to the hotel had most of us bringing out our sunglasses!) We had a little time to get into our choir dresses and fix our hair and faces for a concert at the Nanjing Arts Culture Centre. We also had to pack extra clothes to change into afterward, since we were heading straight to dinner. After meeting in the lobby with precious jewels and folders in hand, we loaded the bus.

Once we arrived, we were led to a large conference room to hold our stuff. We were still unsure how the concert was going to go, but were prepared for just about anything. Dr. Menk was able to give us the concert order, because we weren't going to be singing everything from our repertoire. This concert included David L. Brunner's Psalm 150, Ola Gjeilo's Tundra, Paul Caldwell and Sean Ivory's Joshua, Paul Carey's Winter Solstice, (with JingJing dancing,) and Liu Zhuang's Three Chinese Songs. After a little bit of chaos trying to get in line to go see the Xiaozhuang Normal College's performance, we eventually made it into the round, open theatre. (Not before passing the other choir, though - their bright pink prom dresses with gold, sparkly heels and white tuxedos were quite a contrast to our simple black dresses. All of the Chinese choirs we have encountered take their appearance very seriously. However, many of the girls still had their jeans and socks on under their concert dresses, which took away from their overall appearance.)

When we took our seats, all eyes were immediately on us. One older man at the end of our row began snapping pictures, and others across the way were pulling out their cell phones. Even when we passed by the other choir, we heard, "It's the Americans!" Suddenly, our comfort levels decreased. Were we really that interesting to look at? Did they know we were coming? How many pictures were they going to take?!

Even after the Xiaozhuang Normal College's choir began singing, there were still many people taking pictures and videos of us. However, as the classy and polite Saint Mary's women we are, we kept our attention focused on the choir. They had a cool sound, and it was nice to hear a mixed choir sing after listening to women's choirs all week. The director was also very into what he was doing, and had a unique style to his conducting. After singing several pieces, they exited the stage, and it was our turn.

We were introduced by several people, in both Chinese and English, and then Dr. T took the stage to read her introduction she wrote in Chinese. Immediately, the crowd began applauding for her, impressed by her willingness to use their language to communicate. Once the concert began, we maintained our focus, and delivered some of our best work. (Big kudos to Bethany, especially, for doing Joshua from memory! Go trumpet!)

After the concert, we met for a few minutes with the Xiaozhuang choir members. Never before have so many people come up to us asking for pictures! Angie and Malea, with their long blonde hair, and Caitlyn, with her bright red, were big favorites. Bethany, too, was popular amongst the crowd. However, at one point, all of us were asked to be in someone's photograph. There were many compliments of how "beautiful" we were, and also a few marriage proposals given. It truly felt like we were Lady Gaga after one of her concerts, between the "fans" and the "paparazzi." After exclamations of, "Ni Hao, Nanjing!," we finally felt like we were someplace completely new. We were also told to look out for us on the Chinese news stations and in the newspapers tomorrow!

After changing out of our dresses, and braving a few more squatty potties, we ventured outside to catch the bus to the Confucius Temple. We met up with the other choir, again, and proceeded to take even more pictures. After loading the bus, we headed for dinner.

We knew as soon as we drove up to the Confucius Temple what a beautiful place it would be. Full of old-style buildings, and a waterway with incredible views, it felt as if we were finally in the China we had all pictured we would be in. They weren't quite ready for us to eat, so we were taken on a short tour of the gardens. We walked all along the coast of the waterway, and captured incredible pictures in the process. The peacefulness of the Temple had us all taking a few minutes to step back and soak in the beauty of where we were. After our walk, we went back to the dining rooms for dinner.

And what a dinner it was! Spread out before us was a very formal Chinese dinner setting, complete with plates and bowls, and different sized glasses. Even our chopsticks had their own little resting dish! The food in front of us was on the same lazy susan we've been seeing at many of the bigger dinners we've had. JingJing didn't want to "spoil the surprise" or have us not eat it if we knew what it was, so she refused to explain any of the odd-looking dishes to us. When all was said and done, we had eaten the biggest variety of cuisine to date, including many specialties and delicacies. Some of the large spread included black chicken soup, pig ears, duck, yellow-tail fish, chicken, green beans, beef, shrimp, lotus root, pork, and many others. (These were all very fancily prepared, but we couldn't tell you exactly how everything was seasoned and presented.)

Many of us also celebrated our first "legal" drinks with red wine and a Chinese liquor. (The drinking age in China is 18.) The wine was extremely dark and smooth, and was definitely well-liked by everybody. Many of us saved the liquor for the toast by President Jianping Zou from the Nanjing Arts Institute. He greeted us very warmly, and wished us luck in our concert tomorrow night. The liquor was poured into a tiny glass smaller than a shot. However, JingJing advised us not to take it like a shot - it was too strong. Instead, we sipped it and let the flavor fill our mouths. It tasted (and smelled) a lot like black licorice, and many of us couldn't finish it, even by the end of the dinner. It also seemed to slightly change taste depending on what we had eaten right before sipping it.

After visiting the most elegant squatty potty we've seen yet, (and almost leaving a few of us behind,) we headed back to the hotel to end our evening. We were then given instructions for the morning, since some of us will be attending the professors' master classes, and others will just be spending the morning shopping. The Nanjing Arts Institute was kind enough to provide a bus to the shopping center for the girls going there. In the afternoon, we'll come back for our concert attire, and head back to the school for more rehearsals and our evening concert. Tomorrow's our big day musically, and we are definitely excitedly anticipating it!

Look out, China - Saint Mary's Wo Cho has taken over. :)

Wo Cho + Squatty Potty = Culture Shock.

Hello, again, after a very long, fulfilling day in Shanghai! Sorry for the later post - we just arrived to Nanjing after a three-hour long bus ride. We're all quite exhausted.

This morning began rather quietly with breakfast in the same dining room where we had dinner last night. As we came down for breakfast, we dropped our luggage off in a conference room off of the elevators. Even though we had to check out of our rooms, the hotel was nice enough to let us stow our luggage there for the day until we could come back for it before heading to Nanjing. After turning in our keys and retrieving our passports from the front desk, we were welcome to go eat.

Breakfast was a buffet-style affair, and offered a variety of dishes. These included hard-boiled eggs, (which we were skeptical about due to their brown and "burnt" appearance, but they tasted exactly like eggs at home,) some sort of dumplings with different goodies inside, (such as a chocolate/bean type filling, sausage, and spinach,) another baked dough that was browned, sweetened, and covered in sesame seeds, (a fan favorite amongst our group,) a cornbread-looking treat that turned out to be a cake, a different doughy treat seasoned with spinach, something that looked like a slice of pineapple, (but was super-sweet and chewy,) a liquid-y rice porridge with a variety of toppings, something that had the appearance of an egg roll, but had different meat in it, and a warm milk with sugar to sweeten it with. There was definitely something to please everybody.

After we ate and regrouped, we walked down the street and around the corner to one of the Normal University's campuses to begin our day. Along the way, we passed a bus stop, and got to see more of the local shops close-up. It definitely felt like walking downtown in a city back in the States, only (as Dr. Menk would say,) "no one looked like us, and we couldn't read the signs." One of the most interesting things we saw was an older man walking his dog. While that is pretty normal, you often don't see men walking fluffy white dogs that are wearing tiny yellow jackets!

Once we were on campus, the buildings were beautiful and varied. It wasn't necessarily "modern" by any means, but it felt much like walking on a college campus in the States. Shanghai is situated near a lot of water, and there are many rivers and ponds running through the town. As we were walking, we came upon a rather charming pond surrounded by lush foliage. There was even a bridge, very reminiscent of the bridge over Lake Marian at Saint Mary's, that a few of us posed for pictures on. It was neat to see the similarities between our campus and theirs.

We headed towards the music building to catch our bus to the shopping mall. Instead of waiting outside, they let us go in and wait in a small recital-hall type area. There were many instruments in the room, including some familiar and some not. We also passed some practice rooms in the hallway. The parallels between their facilities and ours were quite obvious. It's amazing to witness firsthand the universality of music across the world. While the distinct communication barrier has been a challenge, music has really been the language uniting us on this journey.

After boarding the bus, we headed towards downtown Shanghai to a rather chic shopping center. Familiar brands such as Cartier and Marc Jacobs instantly jumped out at us. Once we were dropped off, we congregated inside to discuss the game plan: We had one hour to look around and shop, and were to meet back in front of Swarovski at the center of the mall so we could get lunch. The vastness of the building was absolutely mind-boggling. For anyone familiar with Chicago's Water Tower Place, this mall's architecture was very similar. (Imagine lots of light, and lots of glass!) The stores seemed endless, and while the layout was undoubtedly simple, it was easy to get twisted around.

We broke off into smaller groups for our excursion through the mall. In most cases, groups attached themselves to our Chinese "tour guides" from yesterday. While we could never afford the designer labels, it was fun walking through those stores and getting to see the products for our own eyes. The Hello Kitty store was definitely a hot spot for us, as well as the bookstore, and several other specialty shops. The music majors, especially, got a kick out of looking at musical scores written in Chinese. (Obviously, the music itself is all the same, but the titles and wording is all in their language.) All-in-all, the clothing stores were our favorites, since fashion is a very important social aspect of both the Chinese and American cultures. Leave it to us Smick Chicks to find the closest Starbucks, as well!

Once we met back up for lunch, we were led underground, through the metro area, to the shopping center across the street. There, we went to a very open and airy food court-type place complete with food counters and small restaurants. We were welcome to go eat elsewhere in the mall, but this was what our tour guides suggested for us. In order to buy anything on this level, we had to put money on a card that swiped like credit. We were instructed to put 100 Yuen on it, the equivalent of about $17-$18. (Before we left, we could return the card and get the balance back on it.) Our guess is that the cards were for efficiency purposes, since there were a constant stream of people at any given time trying to shout their orders over the hustle and bustle of the area.

The majority of us stayed on that level and decided to try out the various foods. After a quick walk-around, many of us decided to get noodles or rice from a counter at the corner of the square. With the help of Sophie, we gave our orders and paid using our cards. Depending on what you ordered, it only cost 12-15 Yuen. (Not even $3!) It also came with an egg-and-seaweed soup, which was received with mixed reactions. Some branched out and tried other things, as well. The "Meat on a Stick" was an interesting option - you could pick out various raw meats on bamboo sticks and have them grilled right in front of you. (This was 10 Yuen for 3 sticks, or roughly $1.75.) Others tried different kinds of meats that were served in a variety of ways. A different corner of the square sold fresh fruit either in chunks or in smoothies. Many of us tried dragonfruit for the first time. The overall consensus was that it tasted like a less-sweet version of kiwi. It was white with a melon texture, and strawberry-looking seeds in it. We learned from JingJing in our "Chinese Lessons" this semester that the culture doesn't really call for drinks at a meal. After some searching, we found cans of Coca Cola, "Light" (Diet) Coca Cola, and Sprite at the fruit counter. For only 5 Yuen, (less than $1,) we could have a can.

For those who didn't stay at the "food court," they ventured elsewhere in the mall for other options. Many tried the Pizza Hut on the main level, which was very different from the ones we're used to here. It was a sit-down type restaurant where a waitress took everybody's order. Overall, it was liked by everybody. KFC is also a very popular option amongst the Chinese people. We were expecting to see McDonald's on every corner, but, rather, it's KFC's! The pictures in the windows advertising their food show they have fish and rice options, as well. (We think the rice replaces the mashed potatoes.) A lot of us want to try out a Chinese KFC before the week is over.

We met just outside the mall after lunch to catch the bus back to the Normal University for rehearsal. With the few minutes of free time we had, some of us shared our (horrific) first experiences using the Chinese "squatty potties." Basically, a toilet without the seat. A "squatty potty" requires the dexterous use of our thighs in order to dodge doing our business on our jeans. We're determined to make it a dance move and bring it back to the U.S. (The new Dougie, anyone?) It's a good thing we were told to bring toilet paper, because they weren't kidding when they said it was "optional" for them to provide it! The hunt was then on for any bathroom facilities with a bowl. After narrowly avoiding getting run over by numerous mopeds, we boarded the bus and headed back.

Much to our delight, when we got off the bus back at the Normal University, we were greeted to a large green-and-gray poster featuring us in the window. The poster was advertising our Exchange Concert with their Women's Choir that afternoon. Our group picture was featured in the center, so we eagerly swarmed to take photos of it. They also provided us with very nice programs they had printed for the concert, featuring both choirs. It was a great souvenir for all of us. Dr. Menk was also presented with several copies of the posters, which were printed on a fine leathery material.

Once we started warming up in the performance space, we kicked into Wo Cho mode. It was great to finally be singing in a formal setting after coming such a long way for it. The space allowed for great acoustics, and we sounded fantastic in it. Despite the jetlag, we were all very focused. The biggest shocker were the risers - approximately eighteen inches high each, and only about twelve inches across, gray-carpeted boxes served as our performance platform. It was hard to hold our music up without hitting the people in front of us, so we were thankful most of what we sang was memorized. We tried out Liu Zhuang's Three Chinese Songs on our tour guides to see how our Chinese was - they were very impressed, and they kept repeating how "great" we sounded!

After our warmup, they provided us with bottled water, and we sat down for an accordion concert by George, one of our original guides from last night. He is a graduate student at the Normal University majoring in accordion performance. After hearing French and Russian folksongs, he imitated bits of our Three Chinese songs for us. We were impressed to learn that he's only been studying accordion for three years, and also that there are about 30 accordion majors in the graduate program. It was probably a once-in-a-lifetime concert for us, despite how informal it was. A graduate student in piano performance also played a few selections for us.

Once the Shanghai Normal University Choir came in, we began our exchange. With the help of the International Exchange tour guide from Nanjing, Dr. Menk and Dr. Thomas introduced us and explained what we would be singing for them. We then sang several of our pieces, beginning with Ruth Watson Henderson's Cantate Domino, showing off our trumpet player, Bethany. Dr. Thomas sang the soprano solo in Debussy's Salut Printemps, which was the first time the choir got to hear her do it. (Not that she needed to practice with us, she sounded FANTASTIC, as always!) Our student conductor, Anna, then did Ola Gjeilo's Tundra. After much insistence, we showed off our mad clapping skills last with Paul Caldwell and Sean Ivory's Joshua.

Once the Normal University Choir took the stage, their conductor, Jin Wang, spoke to us in English about what they would be singing. They began with a children's song called Plum Blossoms in the Snow, arranged by Yang Hongnian. We were pleasantly surprised to see the simple choreography they added to it, which gave the short song a little bit more life. They then sang a song arranged by Huang Youdi called Red Bean. Even though they weren't ready to say goodbye, they sang Mao Yuan's arrangement of Farewell for us. They also sang a song not on their concert program, and then capped it off with an Andre J. Thomas spiritual in English called Until I Found the Lord.

Afterward, we were treated with a cappella selections from their own student group called "AHA!" They sang four pieces, finishing with a Kirby Shaw arrangement of Goodnight Sweetheart. The fan favorite of the group was certainly their percussionist, who had to be told numerous times to put the microphone down.

Bellacappella took the stage to perform two of their personally-arranged pieces, Elvis Presley's Can't Help Falling in Love and Mika's Happy Ending. Malea's percussion skills earned her and Angie a challenge by AHA's percussionist, and which got everybody in the room involved in the cheering.

We took the stage again to finish up with a few more pieces, including Melinda Bargreen's Gordon Magnificat, Paul Carey's Winter Solstice, (minus JingJing dancing since she was en route to Shanghai this afternoon,) Stephen Paulus' I Cannot Dance, O Lord, and finally, Graeme Langager's Irish Blessing.

In an informal Q&A forum after, the choirs, (with the help of a translator,) asked each other various questions. Summarily, we learned that the Nanjing Normal Choir not only has their 40 women, but also about 10 guys who sometimes sing with them. They rehearse Friday afternoons from anywhere between 1:30-3:30 to 1:30-5:00. The choir is comprised of mostly freshman and sophomore undergraduates. Interestingly, most of the girls want to sing soprano, and often have to be coerced into singing alto. (Jin Wang basically called them all "divas," but in much nicer terms.) All of the girls in the choir are music majors, with most of them being voice majors. The smaller number who are strictly music education all have secondary instruments, as well. While music isn't necessarily a "custom" to learn in Chinese culture, many parents who wish their children to take a musical path put them in piano lessons from a young age. When asked who their favorite American artist was, one girl shouted, "JUSTIN BIEBER!" much to our laughter. We were also surprised to learn that emphasis on foreign languages other than English is not placed highly at all. In fact, many of the voice majors simply learn to "imitate" the pronunciation of their foreign language pieces, and don't ever learn what exactly they're singing about. Overall, the two choirs were definitely similar. Many of us hunted down each other's "Chinese alter egos" in their choir, be it in looks or personalities. (We were successful in a number of cases!)

After the long afternoon, and a few more brave trips to the squatty potties, we walked across the street to the other campus of Shanghai Normal University for dinner. (Our first time crossing a Chinese street was scary - cars aren't inclined to stop!) Much the same as last night, we were served a variety of dishes, albeit this time on our own individual plates. Tonight's food included a breaded fish, tofu, cabbage, a tomato-and-egg soup, a sweet soup with pineapple and tapioca(?) balls, rice, some kind of orange fruit (nectarines? tangerines? clementines?), and beef in soy sauce. Once again, we were sans drinks, but George handed us water on the way out of the concert, so many of us pulled those out to drink.

Once we were finished eating, we walked back to our hotel from last night to pick up our luggage. After several trips to the bathroom, (squatty potty optional,) we loaded up the (bigger) bus with all of our luggage, and waited for JingJing and her mom to arrive. Once they were safely with us, we began the three-hour bus journey to Nanjing. One stop was made late in the trip for a bathroom break, and we arrived at the Green Tree Inn in Nanjing just before 11pm. After checking in, we went over the itinerary for the morning. Much the same as today, breakfast is from 7:00am-9:00am, and we are to meet our new guide in the lobby at 9:15am with the goal of heading out by 9:30am for rehearsal at the Nanjing Art Institute. We're eager to meet our penpals, as well, and are hoping that will happen sometime tomorrow!

After an absolutely draining day, we are becoming more and more comfortable with our new surroundings. Sure, brushing our teeth with waterbottles and doing basic aerobics to go to the bathroom is kind of new and strange, but we're loving every minute of it. We're all truly living in the moment during this trip, and aren't afraid to try anything new. Let's hope tomorrow challenges us even further!


Also - be sure to check out another China photo album HERE! This one's by our resident art major/photographer, Caitlyn!

The Real Deal

UPDATE!: Check out the link on the left side of this page for our China Photo Album! This will be updated as often as the blog is, so you can view the journey through our eyes!


After we made it through customs, (in the oddly quiet airport,) we walked out of the international section to a crowd of people holding up signs bearing various names. It felt like walking through a red carpet event - everyone was looking at us, most likely because we were foreigners. Not long after, we met up with Dixian Teng, (the director of the Nanjing Women's Choir,) who came to Shanghai to greet us. She'll come along on our tour tomorrow and ride with us to Nanjing. Dixian visited Saint Mary's back in November, so it was nice to see her again.

Dixian and our "tour guides" from the Shanghai Normal University led the way to a charter bus to take us to our hotel. It was a lot smaller than the ones we're used to in the States. In fact, not all of our luggage fit in the cargo area! There were some extra seats on the bus, so the luggage did make it, but it was quite the saga getting it all loaded.

We drove out of the airport and all around Shanghai to get to our hotel. The extra-large windows on the bus offered us some fantastic views. All-in-all, the city seemed very similar to ones back in the States, just perhaps a little bit less clean. A lot of people ride bikes and mopeds, and most of the taxis are Volkswagon's. (Buicks were another popular car brand!) The road signs are in Chinese and English, so we were able to read them. The longer we drove, the more "city-like" Shanghai became. Eventually, we came upon a restaurant with full-pane glass windows that showed off a luxurious dining room, complete with chandeliers. We were excited to learn it was attached to our hotel, and even more excited to learn it was where we were having our banquet dinner!

After checking in two-by-two at the Shanghai International Centre for Educational Exchange Hotel, we went downstairs to eat. Several of our tour guides from the Normal University sat intermixed with our group. It took four large, round dining tables to seat all of us. A group of us sat with Sophie, a flute player who's one of our guides. She helped explain all of the food to us, and even gave us lessons on how to use chopsticks. (We were offered knives and forks, but we wanted to try out chopsticks first. There was general success!) Sprite, Coca Cola, and bottled water were placed on the table, and we were given small glasses for it. Trays of food, including an egg and vinegar dish, mini shrimp, orange chicken, and hot tea were on a turntable in the center. This way, we could serve ourselves without having to ask anyone to "pass the dish."

Although we had been warned by JingJing this would probably happen, as soon as we got through the initial plates of food, more was brought out to us. However, they brought out new foods rather than more of what we already had. By the end of the evening, we tried a variety of Chinese dishes. These included spinach, duck soup, spicy calamari, some kind of beef that was cooked in fish oil so it tasted like fish, an actual fish marinated with a barbecue(?) sauce, a leek-like vegetable with ham, a green bean mix, a mushroom mix, and white rice mixed with something (milk?) to make it a little heavier.

At the end of the meal, we presented our tour guides with Saint Mary's baseball caps for all of the effort they put into making our evening a warm and welcoming one. The same students will guide us around tomorrow morning for some sight-seeing and shopping. They all went over and above what they had to do in order to make us feel comfortable. The kindness of this culture is something we are continuing to appreciate every step of the way.

As for the rest of our evening, we retired up to our rooms and settled in. We're relaxing tonight to help adjust to the new time, and so we don't have any issues getting up for a 9:00am departure tomorrow. We were given breakfast tickets, as well, so many of us are planning on grabbing something light to eat at about 8:30am.

Definitely a fantastic arrival in China! We can't wait to continue the journey tomorrow, especially singing with the Shanghai Normal University's Women's Choir. As always, we'll keep updating this as often as possible! :)

WE HAVE ARRIVED!!

Good morning to you, good afternoon to us! We are safe on the ground in Shanghai, currently waiting in the customs line. We had a smooth flight, (which ended up taking us over the Atlantic and Russia,) and were fed often! Marquette University School of Business was also on the flight with us. Other than that, it was tourists and residents.

The big "secret" of us being a choir, (not that they couldn't tell by our matching sweatshirts,) somehow was discovered by the flight attendants. We were asked to sing while people got off the plane, and after coercing Dr. Menk, we sang Graeme Langager's a cappella version of Irish Blessing. Blocked ears probably didn't give us the best tuning, but we received many warm applause and passengers took pictures of us.

Checking into the hotel and a attending a banquet are planned for us tonight. We'll keep everyone updated as often as we can find WiFi!

Safe at O'Hare!

It's a little before 8am here in Chicago! We have safely arrived at O'Hare, checked in, gotten through security, and are now eagerly awaiting our boarding!

What's really impressive about our choir is the comradery we all have with one another. Even though we really only interract with those who sit near us in choir, we are open to hanging out and getting to know each other. This trip has already brought us together with new people, and we're enjoying each other's company. The lack of "cliques" in our group shows two things: One, we're not like the stereotypical Women's Colleges; and two, the music we create is all the more special because we have a unity outside the sheet music. We are so lucky to have one another.

Unless something epic happens in the next 2 hours, our next post will be from CHINA!! Think happy and safe thoughts for us!

'Twas the Night Before China...


'Twas the night before China,
And all through the dorms,
Not a Belle was stirring,
Save for the Wo Cho girls...


T-minus 3 hours until the bus loads. Do you know where your children are?

Full speed ahead!

Last Minute Updates!

Less than 24 hours until we're in the air, and there are still updates and changes coming in!


First and foremost, after yesterday's earthquake in Japan, and its subsequent tsunami, there have been many questions surrounding the likelihood of our trip being affected. Here is the latest from Dr. Menk...

"Beijing's official position is definitely that it should pose no danger there: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/world/2011-03/09/c_13768950.htm.

Also: The US national weather service issued a tsunami warning for 50 countries, and it does not include China (http://www.nws.noaa.gov/view/national.php?prodtype=tsunami), so while I will check into this a little more, I think it is safe to assume at this point that the trip should be unaffected."

The school would never agree to send us to China if there were a potential threat to our safety. We should still be good to go!


Also, our departure time from Saint Mary's to Chicago has changed. Rather than leaving at 6:30am EST, as originally intended, we will be leaving at 5:30am EST. This allows us a solid three hours to get through customs. With the size of our group, there are worries about how much time it'll take to get us all checked in and good to go. Do you think we're complaining? Of course not! It brings us one hour closer to the trip we've been waiting for since last June.


If anymore updates come in today/tonight, they'll be posted here. Feel free to ask any questions, and we'll do our best to answer them!

Xie Xie!

So close, yet so far!

Tonight was our last choir rehearsal until we arrive in China! We learned our seating assignments for the airplane, squealed over the panda pictures Dr. Menk emailed us, and got out early. (Go us!)

We're eagerly anticipating the end of classes and midterms tomorrow so we can start fully preparing ourselves for the flight on Saturday morning. The general consensus is that we're going to try to stay up all night tomorrow night in order to begin getting our bodies used to the 13-hour time difference. To put it in perspective, our bodies will think it's really late Saturday night/really early Sunday morning when we arrive, when in actual China time it will be late Sunday afternoon! Sleeping on the airplane is definitely intended.

We also learned today that we're welcome to sing Anna Cederberg's arrangement of the Missa brevis we've been working on in Suzhou. There was some worry from the directors in China that the text of the Latin Mass would be inappropriate in their country. However, the Assistant Dean from Suzhou University "expressed that he totally respects our choice of the songs in the program" and that they "look forward to hearing the sound from heaven from the other side of the ocean." We can all only imagine what kinds of warm greetings will be in store for us when we arrive. The Chinese seem to be a very humble and considerate people, and we're eager to spend some time exploring their culture.

By this time tomorrow, our bags will be packed (...or not) and we'll be gearing up for our flight! Let's hope we don't forget anything important...like our "precious jewels." :)