Monday, June 9, 2008

June 4 - 5, 2008, Chengdu, Sichuan, China

First, I must say, the beautiful spirit of the Sichuan people was so moving, even in the wake - indeed the midst - of their terrible disaster. I have never had the privilege to meet a more compassionate, warm and caring people.

Also, without the sincere help and guidance of Wu Zhuo Ling (Julie), my interpreter here, most or all of my good intentions would likely have been fruitless. She dedicated herself completely to seeing that I was able to touch the lives of as many as I did.

It started with a desire - as people all over the world have felt, and acted upon - to make some small difference in even a few lives here. Of course, in a way, the primary and overwhelming need is for food, clean water, secure shelter and a real reason to hope - to believe - that life will again be normal. But in another way, I learned - or rather had my conviction affirmed - that an equally vital human need is to know that others care.

Upon hearing of the devastating "Wenchuan" Earthquake, I began to think if there was anything I could do, personally, for those living through the disaster. My work with the Philadelphia Orchestra would bring me near to the "area" 3 - 4 weeks after the first awesome shock. I say first because there continued to be several significant aftershocks which also had shattering effects, both physically and psychologically.We (the Orchestra) would be arriving in China on June 1st with concerts in Beijing on the 2nd & 3rd; the 4th was a day off (and most of the 5th) so I knew my window for a visit, if there was to be one.If there was to be one... I have brought my violin to play for children in many schools around the world during my 27 years of touring with the Philadelphia Orchestra, but of what possible use could a violin player be to children suffering from the end of their world? To seek to impose myself on these vulnerable people who were struggling in ways I could not begin to comprehend - what a selfish and egotistical thought!Our first tour concert was in Japan on May 23rd, just 11 days after the quake, and I began to solicit opinions from people in the tour group: Was this a stupid, naive idea? Was it dangerous, crazy or worst of all, callously self-centered?I began to realize a sound decision really couldn't be made until we actually arrived in China - conditions in the quake areas were changing daily and the last thing I wanted was to be a nuisance or inconvenience to those with so many real troubles or the legions of people bringing legitimate help.

When we arrived in Beijing on June 1st I started making inquiries. (I had already checked into flights while back in the U.S.) A reporter who had heard of my prospective plans sought me out. Jennifer Lin, of the Philadelphia Inquirer, had just returned from the quake region. She thought the time could be ripe for a good will type visit (especially with music): The major aftershocks had probably passed, the Chinese government had acted quickly to get temporary housing and support systems in place and people (many, at least) were starting to settle into a routine, basic as it was.This was all the encouragement I needed. I was introduced to a thoughtful and gentle young man, Ted, originally from Ohio, but now living in Beijing. He was hired to be interpreter for the Orchestra during our visit. Ted's best friend - it just so happened! - lived in Chengdu (where my flight would arrive) and he was sure, if available, she would be pleased to serve as interpreter for me. (It turned out she was far more than that, facilitating practically every detail of my time in Sichuan.) Soon thereafter, I was introduced (by Steve Millen, Orchestra V.P. & Manager of Operations, who also coordinated the Philadelphia Orchestra's own Earthquake Relief initiative - resulting in substantial corporate contributions for the building of earthquake-proof schools) to Ning Shao and Jim Curtis. Both are associated with Pennsylvania's cooperative effort with China for exchange of commerce and now, especially, building safe schools in China - a project for which Orchestra musicians themselves contributed $5000.(Not so incidentally, Pennsylvania government officials were a huge help in facilitating the donation of gifts and medicines in conjunction with a 1999 Orchestra musicians' visit to an orphanage and school in Viet Nam! - but that's another story....)I learned from these gentlemen that their organization had, just days earlier, built a temporary school in Mianzhu, a badly damaged area, and they could arrange a visit there if I liked! Contact was made with a volunteer, Li Li, at the school and it was set.

When I arrived at the airport in Chengdu, I would need a car and driver as the village school was about 2 hours drive north of the city. I spoke with Julie who would set it up. However, the day before I was to leave, Julie phoned to say that a friend of hers had been several times to this area and wanted to return to help the relief effort so hiring a car (and driver of unknown credentials) would not be necessary. (This turned out to be a fortuitous development.)The day before the trip, Ted arranged for purchase and delivery of my airline tickets (to Chengdu and then, next day, to Guangzhou, the city of the Orchestra's June 6th concert). Then we set out shopping to get gifts (colored pencils, crayons, modeling clay and assorted sweets) for up to 200 children. That night, at our final Beijing concert, Lang Lang, illustrious Philadelphia-trained, Chinese soloist for our China concerts - who each night had offered a painfully beautiful encore "dedicated to the victims of the Earthquake" - signed a photo for the children of this "Project Hope" school and also wrote a personal message for them.

June 4th - Upon arrival at Chengdu airport (a 2 1/2 hour flight from Beijing) just before noon, I am met by Julie and her friend, Mi. They seem genuinely to be looking forward to setting off, although with a certain sense of sober responsibility, which I feel as well. They think nothing of the 2-hour journey. Mi drives a substantial Jeep and her driving skills (I will learn) range between seriously competent and virtuosic. It was a brilliant stroke of luck she was willing and available, first, because any normal car would have been crippled by the terrain we would encounter and second, any mercenary driver would surely have balked at even attempting to put his vehicle through the tortuous "roads" which, unbeknownst to me, lay ahead. Also very fortunate - Mi had already made several relief trips on her own to this area and so had a government issued placard which allowed the vehicle on the roads we would need to travel.At a certain point it seemed obvious we would be perhaps a half hour late. (The school visit was planned for 3 - 5 p.m.) Julie phoned Li Li. He said, even though we had been instructed to stop first at the City Hall, now doubling as Earthquake Relief Administration Office, we should come directly to the school. Mi therefore took a "short cut" which at the time seemed (to me) to be a big error in judgment: The "road" went for miles of hard-packed, hilly dirt, rocks and, worryingly, even a small, muddy river to traverse - more like an ATV course than a road.When we finally arrived at the school, we found what an important and good decision this detour had been: Just a few hours earlier, the city government had decided to prohibit entry to all foreigners to the Mianzhu area! (It seems that foreign reporters had become increasingly intrusive into the lives of victims and the stress was becoming too much on these villagers.)At first Li Li was reluctant to let me meet the children, but our sincere concern and patience helped him see our intentions to be rooted in friendship. Surprisingly, in anticipation of my arrival, the headmaster (principal) of the school had dismissed all the students early! He had said it was too hot (and it was!) for them to be inside... Maybe this was his way of honoring the new directive...Anyway, Li Li got word out to the people in the village and we set out for a pastoral spot amid bamboo stands and rice paddies. I don't know how Mi managed to keep the massive Jeep from dipping off the narrow strip between the rice fields - I was holding my breath. We left the car in a shaded area and walked the final 500 meters or so to where the children were gathering.There were about 20 by a small oblong, terraced, stone swimming pool. Some were splashing and playing - as children should. Others were expectantly waiting for the music. We all found a cool(-ish) place among the bamboo stalks. Julie introduced me and the children seemed very proud - as if they must be quite important to get a visit from a musician from a big American orchestra that had just performed in Beijing the night before! Now the concert could begin.The music consisted of short pieces which my father had taught me when I was about their age (6 - 12 years old): Bach, Weber, Beethoven, Gossec, Wieniawski, Kreisler and one of my dad's own compositions titled, "The Bird". (It fit very nicely in this open air "program".)More important than the music though, yet inextricably linked to it, was the human contact - the connection I could make with these beautiful, young people who were undoubtedly struggling to come to grips with what their lives had become - what there lives might not become.

After a warm reception for the musical fun, the children followed us back to the Jeep where they sweetly lined up and each graciously and delightedly received candies, cakes and books (which Julie & Mi brought). To Li Li I gave the before-mentioned school supplies and Lang Lang's photo and message. I also presented him with a set of Orchestra CDs and our acclaimed DVD, "Music From The Inside Out" for their future school's library.We were then led on a "tour" of some of the destruction. Not gaping cracks or monstrous upheavals of earth as I had imagined (and dreaded) seeing, but soberingly terrible visions nonetheless. We have all seen the horrible images in newspapers, on TVs and computer screens - there is no need for me to try to describe here with my inadequate words.... a collapsed school, of course, garden walls, remnants of houses... but the one sight especially memorable because of the personal connection I now have made - a house which a man had only finished building a month earlier: rubble. His wife was asleep upstairs when the quake hit; somehow she managed to get clear before she would have been crushed. All in her immediate family survived. Of the 2900 people living in their village on May 11th, 1000 are no more.

On the way back to the car, we were shown where this family was living now - nine of them, including grandmother and cousins, in a makeshift shelter (so many of which clutter the rural landscape): a good tarpaulin covering, some quasi-protection from wind and rain on the sides, some flimsy bedding materials and not much else. There were smiles though: The family members clearly were concerned they would still be in this fragile "home" come winter, but just as clearly grateful they were all together, alive.We chose the paved route back to Chengdu. After about ten minutes' driving away from the village on dirt roads, we would have a less battering ride to the city. It was now past 6:00, but Mi and Julie knew I would still like to play in one more place today, if possible. Right by the Relief Office (which we had bypassed on the way) was a "tent city" the likes of which I couldn't have envisioned. Its orderly set-up reminded me eerily of a concentration camp, but it definitely was not at all like that socially. There was a very friendly, community feel - and, it was much larger.I don't know how many large tents - a thousand, two thousand - most with less than a meter of space between them. There were also "specialty" tents set up for cooking, distribution of water (by pail), toilet facilities and even a tent for hair-cutting. There were many children playing together, spiritedly in the dirt - only the old people seemed like lost souls, out of a twilight zone, wandering as if they imagined this is how life, for them, would end.Julie and Mi scouted around and found a tent set up to be a schoolhouse. They got permission for me to play and a teacher put word out that a musician - an American - had come to visit them. It was dinnertime and only a couple dozen were there when I began, but the "odd" sounds coaxed curious passersby.This impromptu stop turned into another exceedingly meaningful visit and when the music was over, the children clamored for autographs and photos. Julie and Mi lingered to talk with the teacher about ways they could help when they returned in the near future.Now 8:00 and dark out, the day felt long enough. (For me, travel had begun in Beijing at 7 a.m. - I wouldn't be to my Chengdu hotel until 11 p.m.) I had told Julie of a hospital in the city I wanted to visit on the next day - she would arrange it - tomorrow would be here soon.June 5th Actually, she hadn't arranged a visit - Julie just "knew" that it would be OK! At a little past noon, we arrived at the Hua Xi Hospital and went right to a pediatric floor. (Children on this floor were all here with quake-related injuries - and again, I prefer not to describe.... some of these children were from the village I'd visited the day before.) Julie walked into one room and asked parents if they'd like some violin music. The response was puzzled, but enthusiastic.- And so it went... for the next 2 hours we went from room to room, about 10 minutes in each. Wards had from 4 to 8 children. And the most wonderful thing - although something I've confidently come to expect - regardless of her physical or emotional condition (and some were glum or rightfully angry at the state of their lives) - each child had a smile on her face before I left the room.Especially moving for me, perhaps in a way only a parent can appreciate, were the tears in some mothers' and fathers' eyes as they glimpsed a now rare lightheartedness and glee in their children's faces.

Any doubt I may have had as to the value of my making this trip evaporated at such moments.For decades, the Philadelphia Orchestra has been known as an international ambassador - in fact helping to open up relations between China and the West with its historic 1973 visit here. And my father had always told me that, professionally, membership in this fabulous organization would open doors all over the world - I just never imagined that would mean such personally satisfying possibilities.When I was in Mianzhu, the father whose "home" I visited asked, "In Beijing, do they think about us or only about the Olympics?"... I didn't know how to respond - only to say that I knew when Lang Lang played that encore, everyone in the entire concert hall was thinking of him and his family - and nothing else.When I left Mianzhu, I was presented with a gift. It will always be one of my most treasured possessions, but only as a symbol of the love I felt that day and the small good I know I accomplished. It is a bright green t-shirt which, in Chinese, says simply, "We are together - Wenchuan Earthquake - Volunteer".

- Philip Kates

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Friday in Guongzhoa

It was an extremely rainy day in Guongzhoa, but being Friday and my last day there I had to get pizza. Again, there is always some difficulty trying to find the restaurant and find it when it is open. But after two tries, I was their first customer at 5 o'clock.

Here are the results:

Crust 4/8
Sauce 4/8
Cheese 4/8
Presentation 5/8

Overall 4/8
This pizza had a funny taste to it. I couldn't pinpoint where it was coming from. I thought it was the sauce, but then I would try some crust only and that also would taste weird. But then again maybe the taste was not going to leave my mouth until I brushed my teeth. The pizza was a good size and ratios of cheese to sauce were also good. But something was wrong, and I don't know if I want to know what it was. (I did eat the whole thing.)

Thursday, June 5, 2008


I'm taking advantage of this rainy day in Guangzhou to try to make up for my serious lack of posts on this blog up until now. It'll be a long one, but mostly pictures, so here's some of the stuff I've done on tour:

Played baseball against Tokyo Symphony/Japan Philharmonic. Chris Deviney is decked out in his red and white uniform for this at-bat pic. We killed them 18-6, by the way. :)

Watched sumo in Tokyo! The day's winner was actually Bulgarian, not Japanese.

Had dinner with Roger Bobo in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. Roger is a famous tuba player who was in the LA Phil for 25 years before becoming one of the world's first tuba soloists--he played twice on Johnny Carson! Nowadays he teaches at the Musahino School of Music in Tokyo.

Played in Suntory Hall. This place was packed during the concerts!

Rode the Shinkansen (bullet train). Our super-smooth Nozomi line reached speeds of over 130mph on our trip from Tokyo to Osaka.

Climbed Mt. Fuji with Don Liuzzi (timpani), Phil Kates (violin), and Nitzan Haroz (trombone). This trip was absolutely incredible. We didn't quite reach the summit, although you can see it in the third picture above. The snow was just too much. Note that Phil is wearing shorts, and didn't put on long pants until after several hours of trudging through the snow (!).

Picture of Mt. Fuji from Kawaguchiko, the nearby town where we stayed on this side trip. It was an amazing and beautiful place in traditional Japanese style, complete with tatami mattress and slippers that were way too small for my non-Japanese size 10 feet.

Our back yard at the inn in Kawaguchiko, with the hot tub where we spent a lot of our time recovering the evening after the hike.

On the way back to Tokyo, we caught the Thomas train!! This thing was totally decked out, inside and out. It was so cute to see little kids smiling at us when we rode by in it!

We played soccer against the Seoul Philharmonic. We lost, but I think we did so respectably at 5-7. Seen here is Jeff Lang (horn) with his battle scar from the game. I guess at some point he took an elbow to the face and got his nose broken, but he took it like a real champ, still playing every concert!

Went biking along the Han River in Seoul with Marc Rovetti (violin). After we stopped at a 7-11 for ice cream, his back tire was completely flat!

Ate authentic Peking duck in Beijing. Dick Woodhams (oboe) is telling a funny story in this pic. From left to right: Hai-Yi Ni (cello), Dick, Kiyoko Takeuti (piano), and Angela Cordell (horn).

Climbed the Great Wall in Beijing! Tamara Nuzzaci, our personnel manager, found a place that gives tours of the "wild" part of the Wall. It started with an hour uphill hike to the wall, then we had lunch on the highest watch tower on that part of the wall, seen in the second photograph. Then we hiked for a while on the deserted part of the wall before descending the 463 steps that start the restored Mutianyu section of the wall. Seven watch towers later we ran to get out of the rain and catch the gondola back down to the bus.

Our hotel in Guangzhou at night. Check out the indoor waterfall.

We have a concert tonight in Guanzhou and concerts in Shanghai the following two nights before we head back to the States, so it's a mad dash to the finish from here! I hope you enjoyed the pictures!

-carol jantsch (tuba)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

6/4 - Best seats in the house

today, pauline's cousins took us on a much anticipated tour of the great wall. this is one of those places i always wanted to see but never thought i would ever get a chance to. on the way, we hit a ton of traffic, got to drive against the flow of traffic at one point and even witnessed a fight in the middle of the highway.

had to make a u-turn on the highway to get out a traffic jam - kind of scary

on a side note, i am amazed (and terrified) at the drivers as well as pedestrians and bikers here. at every turn and intersection, there seem to be at least 3 close calls. the way pedestrians fearlessly jaywalk into oncoming traffic is a bit bewildering. and i'm talking about all ages, w/ and w/out baby carriages, etc. pretty crazy.

due to all the delays, it ended up taking nearly 3 hours to get there. but it was worth the wait. when we left the hotel, it was so beautiful and sunny but as we approached the great wall, the skies were dark and menacing. we even saw some lightning. as soon as we parked, it started to rain but we thought it was probably just a passing shower. thankfully, we were right and a few minutes later, the sun was back out (only now it was a bit cooler and the air was so clear). as we climbed higher, the views were breathtaking.

what a view!

before it stopped raining

after it stopped raining

pauline's cousin had also gotten tickets for us to see the chinese acrobats. i had seen them before on tv so felt like i knew what was coming. i couldn't have been more wrong. to my surprise, we had front row seats so i prepared myself to catch someone if they fell from 50 feet in the air. i don't think my jaw every left the floor once during the entire performance and several times, i found myself holding my breath while watching some of the crazy stuff they were doing. it was an incredible experience and so much fun.

there are 3 girls balancing things using their hands and feet... while upside down and contorted

next, we went to a north korean restaurant where the waitresses not only serve food, but also sing, dance and play traditional instruments while you eat. again, we had the closest booth to the stage and really enjoyed the performance. the food and service was amazing. there were so many interesting things to eat and as usual, i ate more than i should have. it will be a miracle if i still fit into my pants by the end of the tour.

while driving, we were also able to see the bird's nest and cube (main arena and aquatics center for the upcoming olympics) which was pretty cool.

bird's nest

aquatic center

tomorrow, we are leaving for guangzhou. we had such a wonderful time w/ relatives and i hope we can come back soon.

6/3 - Day at the Palace (for real)

this morning, pauline's cousins picked us up at 9 to check out tian'anmen square and the foribidden city (and palace of course). in the last 2 posts, i keep saying how huge things are here in beijing. today, i think i experienced what the word "vast" means here on earth.

first of all, tian'anmen square was gigantic. seeing it on tv or even from our bus didn't compare to actually standing in the middle of it. tomorrow marks a big anniversary of the student protests so it's probably a good thing we went today. next to the square is the beautiful (and enormous) great hall of the people (which is where the orchestra played on its last tour of china several years ago) and on the other side, the national museum of china (also enormous).

from the center of the square

when we crossed the street and entered the forbidden city, i was pretty much speechless. although i haven't been to every single country in the world, i have seen many amazing and lavish castles/estates/palaces. i have to say that this one makes all the others look like doll houses in comparison. no matter how many gates we went through or courtyards we crossed, there seemed to be another, even more grandiose structure ahead of us. by the way, the forbidden city covers 2,350,000 square feet and contains 9,999 rooms. even the "garden" is more like a huge forest. i could write so much more about it but will leave you a link if you want to read more.

w/ pauline and her 2 cousins

one of the outer courtyards

one of the many throne rooms in the palace

all that walking certainly worked up our appetites and pauline's cousin took us to the best peking duck restaurant in beijing. i haven't had peking duck very often and when i had it, i never got very much (usually at some big banquet w/ many people). this time, we had 2 ducks for 4 people (the other 2 are vegetarians). it was INCREDIBLE and the taste actually stayed w/ me through the entire concert! i seriously ate until i was about to burst and then went back to the hotel to rest a little before the concert.

fresh duck sliced to perfection

dave bilger (principal trumpet), jeff khaner (principal flute), udi bar-david (cello) and i attended a pre-concert reception w/ people from our corporate sponsor, astra zeneca, and several of their clients. we got to meet some very nice people but had to run off quickly to get ready for the concert.

after a rousing egmont overture, our soloist lang lang gave a virtuosic performance of the grieg piano concerto followed by a beautiful encore. tchaikovsky "pathetique" symphony received a wonderful response in the 2nd half and we ended w/ the beautiful valse triste by sibelius.

after the concert

once again, it was great to see many of our donors in the audience as well as after the concert. i hope many more of you are able to come along on future tours. it's definitely a lot of fun.

6/2 - Day at the Palace (kind of)

no, not the forbidden palace, but the palace of nationalities where the philadelphia orchestra played 35 years ago on their historic trip to china. although it wasn't my favorite hall (acoustically), it was cool to "return" to where history was made by this orchestra. i believe 10 of our current members played that concert in 1973.

inside the palace of nationalities

in the lobby

on the way there, we passed by tian'anmen square and outer gate of the forbidden city as well as some massive buildings. even the road was huge w/ at least 5 lanes on each side. and still there was traffic!

tian'anmen square

outside the forbidden city

today's concert not only marked the 35th anniversary of a performance. in response to the recent tragic earthquake in china, the orchestra wanted to do something to help. along w/ private donations from the musicians, our staff coordinated w/ the state of pennsylvania to raise nearly 2.5 million dollars (so far) and our concert was to be televised all over china as well as several other countries w/ information on how and where to send help. although we are not on the front lines w/ so many of the brave volunteers, i'm thankful our orchestra can take part in such a worthy cause.

during our rehearsal and concert, pauline was shopping for gifts and spending time w/ her cousins (who apparently are skilled hagglers). so i met up w/ them for dinner. fortunately, they were not that far away so i took a taxi (so inexpensive!) and enjoyed a delicious meal w/ them.

picture coming soon

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Reversal of Fortune in Beijing

Cellist Bob Cafaro with his feet on the ground in Seoul, Korea.

People always remark how exciting it must be to tour the world with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and yes it is an incredible experience most people will never know. This is my 23rd year of touring with the Orchestra and I have never missed a tour. The part I never enjoy discussing however is my affliction of motion sickness which I’ve had ever since my earliest memories. But on our flight from Seoul, Korea to Beijing, China I had an experience which was just too good to not share with everyone.

From my first childhood memories I was constantly getting carsick and holding my head out the window feeling terrible about messing up the side of the car. My parents kept telling me I would one day outgrow motion sickness and I’m still looking forward to that day. They were right however when they said I wouldn’t get sick when I drove the car. The first time I flew in a plane was an exciting experience as I flew from my hometown in Long Island, NY to Rochester, NY for the All State Strings Music Festival. I was in high school and was so looking forward to flying, but the euphoria was short lived as the plane encountered severe turbulence from the start. I quickly turned a shade of green - not in the sense of envy, and proceeded to learn the art of mastering the use of the air sickness bags so thoughtfully provided by the airlines. Unfortunately I would be afforded the opportunity to hone my skills in discretion every time I flew thereafter. On numerous occasions I have asked the pilot if I could fly the plane so I wouldn’t be sick, but my request has been denied so many times I don’t even ask anymore. One of my favorite moments was from my very first Philadelphia Orchestra tour in May of 1986. We were flying into Salt Lake City, Utah and the weather was atrocious, with 60 mph winds on the ground. Our flight was put in a holding pattern while traffic control debated the safety of letting us land, and just thinking about this one brings on feelings of nausea. While circling in the holding pattern the plane was break dancing and freefalling several hundred feet during each pocket of turbulence. Musicians on the plane were screaming with each plummet and I kept busy burying my face into the bag. It was sheer torture and I would have happily told anyone anything they wanted to know if only it would stop.

The flight 2 days ago into Beijing was not unusually rough but new airline security rules have hit me especially hard. I previously brought 2 quarts of my own filtered water on every flight but since bringing liquid on planes is forbidden, I now drink the 2 quarts before boarding the flight. Combine this with the breakfast buffet provided by the hotels on tour and it is a recipe for trouble. As we began our descent into Beijing the plane hit turbulence and once again the all too familiar feeling of nausea emerged. I proceeded to breath deeply and meditate, becoming a baby being rocked to sleep by my mother. This technique has worked on numerous occasions but would be of little help on this flight. I knew it was going to be a losing battle so I dug out the bag from the seat pocket and proceeded to discreetly fill it with most of the water and food from the morning buffet. As the bag was approaching capacity I noticed some apparent carelessness on the floor between my feet, which was strange because I wasn’t aware I had really been careless. Then the unthinkable happened - the bag which was full and quite heavy suddenly weighed nothing. I was too horrified to even look but when I did it was confirmed, the bottom of the bag had split open under the weight. Any hope of going unnoticed by Orchestra members around me was a forlorn hope indeed. Thankfully there was some good news here as it was a “well placed shot,” with everything landing on the floor between my feet and not on my seat, pants, sneakers or even the bag under the seat in front of me. But alas good news was not to last as my passport and Chinese immigration card which had been carelessly left on my lap this whole time fell into the excitement between my feet. My colleagues in the Orchestra who are amazing people proceeded to help by passing every bag, napkin and tissue available. I picked up the passport and proceeded with damage control using tissues, but it was clear Chinese immigration would be just overjoyed to see me. My backpacking and wilderness skills did come in handy as I left little trace of my presence upon leaving the plane, covering the misfortune with bags, napkins and tissues. When it was my turn at immigration I handed the passport to a young Chinese immigration officer who seemed unable to decide if the passport reminded her of lilacs or petunias. Having no desire to deal with it, she called over her superior officer who escorted me to his private station where he proceeded to examine the passport more carefully. After each page turn he rubbed his fingers together with an increasingly wry face then proceeded to examine the page he wanted with his up-close magnifying glass from a distance of about 1 inch from his nose. After less than a minute of this he obviously decided the aroma was not lilacs or petunias, so he conceded by handing back the passport and waving me into China.

After this it makes me wonder if anyone would really want to tour with the Orchestra. If you still do remember some rules: Number one, you have to have the stomach for it and number two, sit with someone else when we fly. :)