Apri 15, 2004
By now we’ve passed the halfway point on this adventure. As scribe today I’ll try to offer a small window into what we’re experiencing. At this point it is difficult to find words to describe the magnitude of this adventure. I’ve been blown away by the history and tradition we’ve learned thus far and now it seems like we’ve finally reached the point we’ve been waiting for, the collaboration with the Inner Mongolian students and teachers.
We have been treated like kings and queens from the moment we stepped off the plane and the welcome banquet was no exception. A fine dining room with traditional Mongolian dishes only to be topped by the student performances of traditional Mongolian song and horse-head fiddle playing. The singers were in full traditional dress and offered all the adults in the group a “formal” welcome. It was very moving.
The history lessons we’ve been given by our tour guides have been awesome. I wish all history classes could be this thorough. We didn’t just read about Confucius’ teachings, we walked through his classroom. We stood next to his grave, and one of his ancestors from a family lineage of over 2000 years taught us the first lesson in the art of ancient Chinese calligraphy and shook our hands at the end of the session. Now that’s a history lesson! We didn’t just look at pictures of the terra cotta warriors; we took pictures of our own with the actual figures at our backs. Rather than read a book about the warriors remotely, we had our books about the wonder signed at the site by one of the four farmers who actually discovered that particular portion of the tomb in 1974 when digging a well in the middle of a grassy field. Standing in an archeological dig of a tomb that took 720,000 slaves 36 years to complete is humbling. While the tourist traveling we’ve done until now has been enlightening and tiring, it seems like we are now doing what we came to China to do: to work with Chinese students and teachers.
Today we finished our second day of collaboration with the students from the Inner Mongolian College of the Performing Arts. After a rigorous dance session in the morning we were treated to a student art exhibit in their campus art gallery. There were many moving pieces of still life and other reproductions of classic sculpture done in two dimensional pencil drawings. Many of the art students were present and our students were able to spend some time talking about their work. While viewing the art work a film crew showed up to do a story on our collaboration. All wheels ground to a halt as we prepared for the photo shoot. The already-tired students were once again asked to perform their traditional Mongolian “chop stick and bowl dance.” They also performed the Mongolian song “Love on the Grassland,” which they just started rehearsing yesterday, and their own “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Students worked from 9am to 5:30pm each of the last two days without a bit of complaint. I think they are taken by the interest the Mongolian students and teachers are showing and the time just seems to fly by.
The language barrier is present but there are many translators scurrying about helping one group or another to communicate. I think many students may have already formed some lasting friendships, an easy thing do with such warm, welcoming hosts.
We’ve finally nailed down the details of the collaboration: We will be performing two choral numbers, two dance numbers, an acting improvisation, and two instrumental numbers with our Chinese peers. We will also share our show, “Joe meets Jazz,” and the Inner Mongolian students will perform songs and dances yet to be determined.
We’re all collecting literally hundreds of photographs to share with you when we return. I’m gathering a nice collection of pictures of Chinese children. I don’t know, maybe it’s just my way of dealing with missing my own but I just have to photograph the kids. They’re are really beautiful and the people here are unconditionally friendly and genuinely interested in knowing more about us.
Our students have been polite and helpful. I think we’re all a little humbled by the hospitality shown by our hosts. This has truly been an experience of a lifetime and there’s more to come. I can’t wait to share the pictures with you. See you in a couple of weeks!
-- Matt Martyn