NEXUS WORLD TOUR – 1984 – A DIARY, Part 7. Silk, Instruments, driving at night.

23 Jan


Shanghai, May 11, 7:45 AM

I am awakened at 7:15 AM by the knock at my door of a man who wishes to change the water thermos in my room. Breakfast is at 8AM. John, Jean, Bob, Joanne, Guy and I stayed up until 1 AM drinking scotch (Johnny Walker Black label), whiskey ( Suntory) and beer (Tsa Tao and Sapporo). No doubt about sleeping tonight. Shanghai has an entirely different feel. Lots of activity. We go for a long walk in search of the silk store mentioned in Joanne’s guidebook. After blocks, we discover the silk store exists on another section of the street we been walking and it is a long way from where we are.

We stopped to look at the map and an old gentleman in Mao cap and jacket asked if we need help. Soon there are 20 or 30 people crowding around, curious. He acts as our companion for a number of blocks until some decided to return to the hotel. I buy some silk for Eleanor and discover three books with the most beautiful reproductions of Chinese art. Russ is going to get all three. I am hesitant. They are about $150 which is reasonable, very reasonable. To send them by boat is another $20 or $30 and I’m not sure I should spend the money. Tomorrow we are visiting the music factory – about a 2 hour drive and I may want to spend some money there. An alternative is to buy one of the books and carry it with me. I want to find something for Dorothy Anne and I don’t want to rush things. The temptation is there but so is the time.

Our two concerts are sold out and we have agreed to play two concerts on Sunday.

10:30 PM

We all were given passes to a performance of the Shanghai Dramatic Ballet Troupe, What about a cross between silent film, emotional representation, Barnum and Bailey, Zeigfield Follies, and the soaps? The musical score was newly written with a trombone, two French horns, cello, bass, electric organ, traditional flute, oboe and string instruments, glockenspiel and Chinese percussion. The sounds were terrific. The show was interesting. The legend was about the simple farm girl who dresses as a soldier so she can take the place of her father who has been conscripted into the Emperor’s army.  She becomes a hero, loses the man to whom she is in love, is offered the Emperor’s daughter in marriage, shows yourself to be a woman and, renounces all rewards and returns to her loom on the farm. One scene, the death of her lover, is done with strobe lights.

We returned to the hotel bar where Guy tells us the Quasimodo joke. He doesn’t understand why we are laughing so hard as soon as he begins and we have to explain how bizarre it is for us to hear this joke in Shanghai, told by a French Canadian consul. Tomorrow we travel to the instrument factory number three, (Drums)  and one of the oldest cities in China. A two hour bus trip.

May 12, 6:15 AM

Last night went to bed at 11:45. Still woke up at 6 o’clock. Every day since coming to China has been 18 hours. The biological clock must be strong. Guy told a story about a fellow diplomat in Zaire who was badly hurt in a car accident. So badly he could not be flown to Europe for transfusions and operation. He was given blood in Zaire and very besides his wounds from the accident contracted hepatitis, malaria, and  gonorrhea. Besides having all our affairs, Guy has other duties as well. A Chinese Canadian citizen is in jail here in Shanghai. One night he didn’t show up for supper and the friends made inquiries but could not get any information. The friends returned to Hong Kong and there his wife contacted the Embassy. It took a couple weeks for the Chinese to admit they had him. Guy is negotiating for him for his release. Even though he is a citizen of Canada, he iis considered to be Chinese by this government.

We are having continuous negotiations with the Chinese about our instruments leading China on time for Korea and the cost of sending them the complications seem to be enormous.

We take off for Suzhou a two-hour trip by bus that turns into three hours. When we arrive we are met by a couple of men from the factory and we drive to a hotel for a 20 minute rest. We get back on the bus and  are taken to lunch at what is supposed to be a restaurant, very famous dating from the MIng period. Everything seems to date from the Ming period. Most of the dishes here are new to us – very good. Suzhou is an interesting city. Narrow streets, whitewashed walls, many plants. We take a few wrong turns but arrive at the factory in early afternoon. We are taken to the fourth and top floor where we are served tea in the factory showroom. Some interesting and beautiful sounding instruments. All the good stuff is very expensive. Bill has the feeling we can get the stuff cheaper in the States. And anyway I don’t see anything I really need and Bill and I buy nothing.

Russ buys only a large bender gong. It turns out a good thing. Finding the prices, selecting the instruments and negotiating down payments and shipping takes a very long time. Those of us not buying wander off and inspect the factory. All the drums, except for the traditional tom-toms are molded fiberglass. I ask if it is possible to hear one of the oboes. An amateur musician is sent for and he plays atraditional solo:” Crane in the Morning”.  He and I go off into a separate room and he shows me some of the techniques. Flutter tonguing is difficult for me although it begins to come. Joanne takes a picture of us working together and asked to try the oboe. She flutter tongues immediately and buys the oboe.

Ensemble and Instruments in Suzhou.

Ensemble and Instruments in Suzhou.

Everyone who has made a purchase has to go to another building in town to draw up the contract and pay. It is the office of the local craft shop and was formerly a temple. Some of us wander around and negotiations get tense. There are problems with how many cases will be made up. Bob has to borrow 100 yuan from me in order to pay his final charges. By now we are way behind schedule and when the guys come out we are relieved. Their appearance is not signify the end. They have to get their traveler checks cashed and when they finally come back there are more details to be worked out. Our bus driver is really getting pissed.

We finally “Shawn lay Bah” at 6:30 PM and, fortunately rush hour is over. Our driver goes like hell and we bottom out more than once in potholes. When darkness overtakes us an interesting driving practice becomes frighteningly apparent. The road is narrow – many people in black or dark blue clothes walk the roads and we are driving without lights. When it gets totally dark our driver turns on his lights but turns them off when another truck or bus approaches. They flash each other off and on until they pass each other. People in the beam disappear when the lights go off. When they turn their lights on it’s high beam all the way – very little slackening in speed. We make the return trip in two hours and just as we disembark a heavy rain begins to fall. Another five hour bus day. I actually considered not going but one is always afraid of missing something. Dave Campion bought two large tam-tams. Bob bought some beautiful button gongs and John bought some flat gongs.  The tom-tom quality is not as good as I had hoped. Their cymbals were not very good either. A great selection of bender gongs but I’m not very interested in owning them.

Tomorrow we start at 11 AM and play two concerts 2 PM and 7:15 PM. Monday we are scheduled to meet the Conservatory students and play a concert at night


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Posted by on January 23, 2015 in Commentaries & Critiques, History


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