Here we are, most of us anyway in Beijing, along with a few extra folk that jumped into the pic at the last second!
The Olympics were coming to Beijing in 2008. As a prelude to this, the Chinese Ministry of Culture had begun a cultural exchange program and had put several Chinese agencies to task to seek out foreign performing groups and artist to share their art with the people of China during the time leading up to the Olympics. Imagine our shock when we received an invitation to represent the United States! Imagine our additional shock when we saw that the original invitation was for three full months!!
Sadly, we had to decline. Our dancers couldn't be away from school and their families for this amount of time. But, after a considerable amount of negotiations, we were finally offered a five week long tour, covering China from top to bottom. On June 29th, 2006, we boarded a plane in Charlotte, N.C. and flew to Beijing, China!
We board a plane in Charlotte North Carolina to meet our connection to Beijing in Newark, N.J.. Even though our adventure has hardly begun, we have one situation that causes us a bit of concern. The Visa for one of our dancers didn't get approved along with the rest of the group, and after long hours of phone conversations with the Chinese Embassy in Washington and getting papers faxed around, we get an approval. But, there's not time to get the Visa to Columbia before we get on the plane, so a driver has to be hired to bring us the Visa during our layover in Newark. We're holding our breath when we arrive, but the Visa is there. Lopey is good to go!!
From the "learn to keep up with your stuff department", Dale manages to lose her iPod on the flight, our first of the journey! The loss is worrisome because I've placed backups of all our show music, alternative versions of the show if needed, and music for classes on it. We've got plenty of CD masters of the show scattered around between everybody traveling for safety, but losing this is pretty significant. There's a good chance it will get turned in to the baggage claim folks, but our flight to Beijing leaves too quickly to find out and we won't be in any one place in China long enough to have it shipped to us. Sadly, it never turned up.
We board our flight to Beijing and try to settle in. 13 hours on a plane isn't exactly fun. Most folks manage to sleep the majority of the time, but there are those of us that can't sleep and we drive the flight crew crazy by wandering around the entire flight. Our path takes us over Greenland and part of the North Pole, and everybody has a great time looking out of the windows at the ice flows below. As we enter into the airspace over China, we're amazed at how rural the land below us is, even around the cities.
Thursday turns into Friday, the flight drags on and eventually we find ourselves landing in Beijing.
Ema and Mr. Wong from Lead Culture
Checking into our hotel
Grabbing a bite at The Black Bamboo Palace
We've met by our hosts from Lead Culture, Ema and Mr. Wong. They're amazed by the amount of luggage we've arrived with and greatly concerned as to how we're going to deal with all of it. In typical American style, between trying to carry enough luggage with regular clothes for five weeks, costumes in a carry-on, and a large trunk of our smaller props, we've simply got too much stuff! We immediately board a bus to head for our hotel. Our luggage hardly fits on the bus. We end up putting some of it in the seats and crowd in on top of it.
We get caught in five o'clock rush hour trying to get to our hotel. Rush hour in Beijing looks just like rush hour at home! Finally though, we check into the Black Bamboo Palace Hotel in Beijing. We have just enough time to wrestle our luggage up to our rooms and then run back down, get on the bus again and head out to supper. We're exhausted, but glad to be getting something other than food on the plane. The restaurant we go to has an interesting mix of pizza and Chinese food.
We're going to learn during the course of this trip that getting a Western style meal, especially in the smaller cities, will often be an interesting experience, as what you'll actually get is the Chinese impression of what a Western meal is. It's the opposite of getting Chinese food in the US. It's just not quite right! Anybody ever seen French-fries with sugar on them in the US? We've gotten them a number of times here! Tomatoes with sugar too! Even items like Pizza can turn out a little strange. This time, the dancers grab more pizza than anything else, and we dig in as the other patrons in the restaurant stop, pull out their cell phones and begin taking pictures!