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. :)