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JE 2008

China time and date:


A Toast to Our Host!


T-minus 3 days and counting. Just three days to go everybody. This week has finally arrived! There was a time, not long ago, when you were thinking this journey would never end. You were probably having the same thoughts about winter -- and now look outside!

Today is the 112th running of the Boston Marathon. As the runners turn onto Boylston Street, today, you and the 25,000+ runners will have something in common -- you can both see the finish!

We have a bunch of performance photos for you and a couple of reports from Michaela Tietz and Melissa Soule, but first . . .

Please go back to yesterday’s page and read Lauren Scott’s report. it arrived later in the day and if you were an early visitor to the page, you missed it. It is a terrific piece, describing, among other things, her home visit. Go back one space now.

So, here we are, the last day in Hohhot. The stay in Hohhot is truly the “heart” of the journey. It is where many lifetime friendships have been, and continue to be created. And those relationships that already existed, with members of this journey, from the Mongolians visiting Vermont last year (and before) have become even stronger.

For our journey to Inner Mongolia, Hohhot has been, and continues to be, such a gracious host. Many of our Mongolian friends have traveled to the U.S. and were our guests. Now, after several exchanges between us, Hohhot has certainly become our “home away from home.” And our Hohhot friends have become family. We can never thank them enough for all they continue to do for our kids, our group leaders, our chaperones, and the overall success of the Journey East program.

We now say, as we do each year, collectively and from our hearts:

Thank you, Hohhot!

This was a big night for the JE gang. The farewell banquet is quite an affair and I am sure many will be up late saying goodbye to friends, packing for the trip back to Shanghai, and taking in Hohhot for the last time.

We’ve got two reports for you today, so let’s start with Michaela and listen to her talk about the collaboration with the dancers and her desire to stay just one . . more . . . day . . .

Michaela Tietz, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia 4/20/08

I’ve heard the saying “time flies when you’re having fun,” but I never really understood it until now. Not just our week in Hohhot, but the entire month in China has flown by. It seems like yesterday that were greeted in the airport by our friends from the Arts College. In school, a week feels like an eternity, but here it’s almost nothing. I thought it would last longer, but tonight we had our final performance in China.

Before performing, we met up with the group from the Arts College to plant a “garden of friendship.” We worked together with them filling holes with rocky soil, bringing the garden to life with every shovelful of dirt. Even though we speak different languages, working together comes with lots of laughter, jokes, fun, and ultimately brings us closer to one another.

tn_Final Dress and Final Perf 012After lunch and a rest at our hotel, we had a joint dress rehearsal with the college students. It’s amazing how our collaborative dance and music pieces have come together so well. We were given two rehearsals to not only learn Mongolian/ Chinese dance and music, but teach them some of ours (Of course, they picked it up much faster than we did!). Every rehearsal runs so smoothly, it almost seems as if we are all speaking the same language. I think what makes the rehearsals so fun is spending time doing something that I love with familiar faces and smiles dancing right there next to me. Just like the time here, the dress rehearsal sped by… leading us to show time.

Being our final and most important performance here, I think everyone felt the pressure to make it a good one, and overall, we did. The audience was wild, and we fed off their energy to make the show even better. The best part of tonight’s event was not having 2,000 screaming fans, but being on the stage with all of the students we have had the opportunity to meet and spark lifelong friendships with.

Tomorrow is our last day in Hohhot, and I only wish that we had more time here. Even though we saw our Mongolian friends almost everyday, it still doesn’t seem like enough. We just arrived here, and how after spending such a short time with our new, budding friendships, we are forced to say goodbye. Even though we will keep in touch, I’m sure I will miss all of the time we have spent together. Times spent eating dumplings, planting pear trees, and dancing together under the spotlight, are all memories I never, want to forget.

Not to worry, Michaela, you will never forget any of this -- and neither will we!

Now, let’s check out some photos before we hear from Melissa. Here are photos of the group’s final, farewell performance! Lights,. camera, . . .

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One More Time!

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Incredible! Look at that audience! Feel the buzz! A night to remember!

Here’s Melissa to tell us more:

Melissa Soule, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia 4/20/08

A Day in the Life

As the days trickle past here like so much desert sand, it's both incredible and heartbreaking to witness the further passage of time. The end of the trip is slowly creeping up on us, yet instead of slowing our pace it seems we have become even more frenzied. Instead of beginning to let go, we hold even tighter to the bonds we've made, testing and strengthening them against the harsh reality of our final departure.

Today began with an unwelcomed mix of rain and cold weather, painting the bustling city of Hohhot a dismal gray. After performing our morning rituals, we were greeted warmly outside by several members of the Arts College, some of them host families we enjoyed spending time with the night before Together, we boarded buses that would take us to the Eco-garden of Inner Mongolia Communist Youth League Commission, our destination of the morning.

As we drove, most people still groggy from an earlier wake-up call, I couldn't help but notice the many contrasts this city- as well as every city we've been to- has. Where right outside our hotel the rain tumbles down on even cobblestones, sometimes coming to rest on a flashy umbrella or suit jacket; just a few streets over it soaks peddlers, shouting their wares as rivulets rush down their fruit and worn faces. It even carries over to the fringes of the city, where you see sad broken buildings of rubble and dust framing the shining high-rises. It's simply another testament to how far China has come, and yet what that sudden progress means they are leaving behind.

Climbing off the buses at the Eco-garden, we took the typical group photo standing with equally harassed-looking members of the Arts College, and finally moved on with actual purpose. The Eco-garden is a program designed for schools and workplaces around the area of Hohhot as a way to replant trees to help improve the soil and prevent desertification and erosion. Every year, all schools and employees take time to plant a certain number of trees, or they may pay someone to do it for them. As a result of these actions, surrounding our bus is the pleasant view of acres of young trees where once there was nothing. Willing to further this mission, we all grabbed shovels and saplings, one person holding a tree while we worked with the Mongolian and American students to fill in around the root system. Despite the unpleasant weather and rocky work, we all had an enjoyable time laboring for a worthy cause alongside friends both old and new.

After our adventure in botany, we left to have a light brunch at (take a deep breath here) Banmudiyoumiancun; a nearby restaurant. While the food was merely pleasant, the setting and atmosphere more than made up for it. Walking up a small hill, we encountered basically a small zoo just outside the dining area. Mostly it was different kinds of birds, including ducks, grassland fowl, peacocks, chickens, and a strange vulture-like creature with a wingspan of at least six feet. Alongside these animals was a pen of deer; a rustic backdrop to the pagoda-style buildings and waterworks. The dining area itself was also interesting; small private rooms that sometimes consisted of a table on a raised structure that made the meal function as though eating on the floor. Overall, it was one of the more unique places we've dined at.

Following brunch, we returned to the hotel for a bit of downtime and gathered our show things. Splashing through the streets in the crazed hands of a typical Chinese driver, we quickly arrived at the Arts College, this time going to a larger concert hall where we would rehearse tn_Final Dress and Final Perf 032and then perform in collaboration with the Mongolian and Chinese students. After warming up with our reggae version of "Country Roads", we separated to practice our collaboration pieces. There were four different sections; a classical music piece, a Mongolian rock piece, a traditional dance, and several students who were able to take individual lessons. In my work playing an oboe part on my clarinet for the rock piece, I experienced something DRASTICALLY different than any American music teaching that I have ever been given.

When I first heard about collaborating with the students, I immediately thought I would be singing with them as it has been my main strength here in China. When I later found out I would be playing a transposed oboe part on my instrument in an intense Mongol rock piece...I was surprised to say the least. However, after meeting my music teacher Lu Shu Ping, and spending time with the other members of the band jamming, I was more than willing to take part; not that I had a choice ( wink).

Chinese/ Mongolian teaching styles are unlike any I have ever seen in the States. In some ways they remind me of discipline in older generations in that they can sometimes be more of a physical correction than is now used back home, but there are variations as well. Where an American teacher focuses on each student learning and improving their own talent, a goal for a Chinese teacher is for the group as a whole to improve. There are few times when something will be catered to one musician's needs, they simply need to deal with it quietly and alone so as not to distract anyone else. When playing our piece after just learning it the night before, we played it at full tempo, and never worked on a singular section but played it through yet again if we messed up just one part, so that in the end it was equally seamless. If one person made a mistake, it was the whole band that played it again, but that person would be watched and instructed publicly in their flaws. For three full times through the song, the teacher shouted the counting in my ear while I attempted to play until it was absolutely perfect; a terrifying experience, if a valuable one.

Later that night after eating lightly nearby, we began our performance as usual, running through now-polished pieces with ease. We also enjoyed an added interlude by Mike and Meg, a true treat of seeing our teachers perform themselves. The crowd of new friends and acquaintances was pumped, cheering us on as we sang and danced. It might've also been a lucky few in the audience had just received a cash award in the Maple Scholarship, our troupe's gift for the hospitality of the College here in Hohhot. Earlier this year, most Journey East members helped in some way to raise money for the scholarship, ending with 2,000 dollars that was presented to various students last night to help them in their studies.

After concluding our section of the performance, I dashed to change out of my last costume, running onstage for the rock piece just in time. As I waited for my cue and attempted to catch my breath before I had to play, I delightfully watched the sights around me. The ample stage had fantastic lighting and effects, and none were spared during our performance. As I gazed around me at the concerned faces of the American students next to the exotic and graceful features of the arts students, I felt as though boundaries that had been poked and prodded over the past few days were finally melting away, dissolved by the international language of music. Somehow in a few hours of work we had been able to combine the mystery of Mongolian long-song, throat singing, and round, loose-sounding instruments with a stiff and classical clarinet and drum, making a bridge between to cultures and two worlds of music. I am just so unbelievably grateful to have been able to experience something like that.

After participating in a Chinese choral piece and an arrangement of Country Roads, I watched in a daze for the rest of the performance as my classmates whirled in their own songs and wrapped themselves in the swirls of majestic scarves. Exhausted, but running way too high on the adrenaline of the show, we said our farewells and took many more pictures as we pledged to see all our friends again at the final banquet. Saddened and desperately fighting the fact that we have only one more day here with the ones we've come to love, we finally sunk into bed at the hotel. And, unfortunately, I know I'm not the only one who had very mixed emotions about both the wonder and the sorrow of this night.

In many way, these kids have only just begun. Many will return to their life before the journey, while others will leap forward off of this marvelous springboard to Asian studies and work.

And now we wrap up the day with a few “after performance” photos . . .

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Simply said, Hohhot itself is a beautiful journey!

When the JE 2008 group first arrived, and we looked at eleven days left on the calendar, this day seemed so far away. And, at that time, we thought Spring would never get here, too.

Tomorrow, as the group heads back to Shanghai for the last time, they will leave behind, and take with them, something that can never be expressed in words or pictures.

And now it is off to the big city. Shanghai awaits, where they will have fun shopping, exploring, and having there last run at being in China.

Almost there!

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