Days are flying off the calendar here, especially now that we’ve started the collaboration at the arts college. I have to believe that peace starts with moments like these. Hours of video footage couldn’t really communicate the picture: Our kids mingling with “their kids” so closely and earnestly that to look at a group of them working on the alto part of “Love on the Grasslands” or the bass line of “Swing Low” you really don’t notice any differences. What one notices, instead, is their work and the quality and effectiveness of their interactions. How are they doing? Are they teaching each other well? What if they hit a snag--who sees the group through it?
And with the dance. I ask you: Could you imagine your average high school boys, many of them ace ball players, building up a sweat through the rigorous routine of a Grasslands folk dance? It’s athletic, strenuous, filled with meaning-and our guys loved learning it as much as our hosts loved teaching it. The language of words wasn’t really a factor in the teaching or the learning. Instead the dances and songs become the language.
The beauty part is that it’s not forced. No one said: Now then, go meet your peers and enjoy them. That kind of interaction-interaction without a mission-tends to be forced and disingenuous. But when it’s real: When we must learn from each other because we’ll be performing together in a week, we interact out of necessity-and we never forget what we learn. It’s pretty beautiful. Yes, I know it sounds corny, but it’s real: bridges are built through the arts.
I’d like Ms. Nyzio and Ms. Chapman -as well as Ms, Jarvis!-to know that the show we brought of L&G artwork will be hung at the arts college soon. Today we visited an exhibition of work by high school student artists from the college’s affiliated secondary school here. It was pretty extraordinary-the product of a group of kids that will go on in the fine arts at the University level. We met several of the artists-just kids, just like ours. They were eager to see us, as we were them. The quality of their work was telling. Masterpieces were imitated, but there was a lot of innovation and individual style evident, too.
Many lessons are being learned here as our kids are discovering sides of themselves they may never have recognized before. There’s so much more to write, but I’ll end now with an anecdote so I can beam this out tonight.
Tom mentioned the adventure Julianne and I had on Easter morning. Let me elaborate: Julianne and I were both pretty eager to find some sort of Easter morning service, so I’d asked Qing Yuan before we left if she knew of a church near the Bell Tower in Xi’an, the vicinity of our hotel. It all looked promising-and our wonderful guide “Sally” said she’d help us learn the times of the service. But she could never get through to hear about service times or the exact location of the church. We were a little bummed Easter eve, but I said to Julianne that I was going to run anyway Easter morning so I might as well run to find the church and if she wanted to join me that’d be swell. So she met me in the lobby at 6:15 on Easter and we set off following the directions Sally gave us-hoping they were right. We ran and ran stopping along the way for clarification and getting redirected and redirected again after lots of gesticulating and talking back and forth in English and Chinese with 1% comprehension between us and the other parties. We’d gotten a lot of running in, but were still churchless. Finally we were about to bag it when a cabbie approached us. I showed him the map I’d had drawn and the word “church” in Chinese characters. He emphatically said -in Chinese--that he knew where we wanted to go. It was a leap of faith but I felt confident when we climbed into his rickshaw-like, bike-powered cart and took off. Crossing a main drag was a little hairy as I whispered to Julianne “It’s novena time.” She smiled back -oozing an excited apprehension through clenched teeth. I knew how she felt, but I think we were both admittedly thrilled by the experience. Soon the cabbie peddled us up a back street and stopped in front of a gate at the outside of which was a small innocuous red cross. Gratefully, we hopped out: I happily paid the cabbie the ten Yuan ($1.20) and, leaving him with many “xie-xies” (thank yous), we walked through the gate. Ahead -way down an alley, sat an old church-maybe 150 years old. Outside along the alley way were benches under a corrugated plastic arch. The 7 AM service was underway. A couple hundred Chinese were jammed on the benches outside the church listening to the service over a PA; another hundred fifty plus were cued up in the aisle. Julianne and I, the only Caucasians there, were ushered into front row seats outside. We heard ample “amens” and so we knew we were somewhere close to where we wanted to be but there was absolutely no way of knowing what kind of service it was. It didn’t matter, really. The whole thing was such a mind-boggler. After a half hour we were ushered into the church itself where a few hundred more Chinese were shoulder-to-shoulder-riveted to the sermon. We stayed as long as we could without missing our next time to reconnect with the group. Running back to the hotel, we vowed that was a great way to usher in Easter-it would be an Easter morning not to forget. Even better than a bagful of good belly beans.