Nexus World 1984, Part 9
Shanghai, May 14 – 7:45 AM
I tried to call Eleanor yesterday morning at 10 PM Toronto time but the line was busy. This morning is cool and I put on one of the cotton tops for the first time. I cleaned off a few of our cats’ hairs and on the shoulder is a long strand of Eleanor’s hair.
Last night in the bar we all drank a toast to Earle Birney (Canadian poet) and his 80th birthday. I thought of calling, but staying out until 2 AM after two concerts was impossible. Wailan (his wife) was giving him a party from 2 o’clock to 5 o’clock that afternoon.
Joe Clark, Canadian Minister of External Affairs for the Mulroney government, is coming over on a peace mission. There will not be much for him to do. The Chinese policy on armament is summed up by them repeatedly in one paragraph. He will have a couple of meetings and spend the rest of his time at the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven, the Ming Tomb, the Forbidden City and perhaps, with the panda. At least Joe does not smoke cigars.
The laundry situation in China is fantastic. For a dollar you can get a pair of pants, some underwear and a couple of shirts cleaned in one day. Fresh clean and soft. Until recently, arts groups’ laundry was done free of charge but since the Chinese groups must pay for laundry in the West, the Chinese make us pay. What they fail to mention is that Chinese get a fee for performances when they come to Canada.
After our concert last night, three of the stage crew are measuring the ratchet and making notes as to its construction. They also check out my lions roar. We conclude that within a week of our leaving they will be production and within a month they will be for sale in North America at half the price.
We’ve had some conversations about return engagements to China. The definitive word today issued at the bar last night by the Nexus Central committee is that we will travel with five Winnebagos if the Chinese want us to visit the Western frontier. Our drivers can stay in the available hotels. Jean says that way they can have some company and time to themselves.
A day spent shopping. The concert was very good. “Shanghai Fantasy” was extraordinary. After the concert, Kwang Chao asks how the “Shanghai Fantasy” was arranged. I explained that it was an improvisation and no one knew what was going to happen when we went out on stage. She said that the cooperation among the group was so good and asked how we achieve that. I replied “friendship”. She paused for a moment and said that was too abstract. Hate, love and envy were not abstract but friendship was. I asked her to explain to me why friendship was abstract. Mrs. Chong, our Shanghai translator was obviously interested in and disturbed by this conversation. She and Kwang Chao began an animated conversation in Chinese but could not answer the question. Mrs. Chong has been an object of our suspicions since we arrived here. There have been numerous occasions when we have felt she is concerned about Kwang Chao. She seems to represent a more formal and conservative opine about foreigners and pollution of the Chinese spirit.
Because of this I turned to her as we are leaving the theatre and say that the subject is very interesting. I hope that my seriousness and interest in her will help to defuse any confusion or animosity she may have for me and the group. In the bus, Kwang Chao pursues the issue. Bill says that he wants to sit in the seat behind us so that he can hear the conversation.
I sense that everyone is listening and choose my words carefully. “There are things that one knows that go beyond questioning”. Wisdom and knowledge supplant questioning. Kwang Chao asks how this is achieved. I answer, “Through experience”. Bill injects that we did not decide this relationship, it just happened. Kwang Chao says it is then coincidence. I explained that the English word coincidence implies chance and that chance was not involved.+ I tell her that she is still trying to define reality and reality just is. She then says in a somewhat humorous tone “Then I can say that your group experience is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. I do not smile but say, looking her directly in the eye, “Yes, and perhaps the first of those Seven”. She holds my eyes but is the first to look away. Mrs. Chong remains silent.
We all go to our floor and meet in John’s room where we present Kwang Chao with some gifts of appreciation for the wonderful work she has done for us. We give her a round of heartfelt applause.
As we leave for dinner, Kwang Chao is questioned by the hall porters. They want to know what she is and why she is on our floor. Guy stops for a few moments to ascertain the general drift of the conversation and he joins us on the waiting elevator.
We go down to dinner and it is approximately 10 minutes before Kwang Chao appears and makes her way to the Chinese table. Guy explains that the hall porters are spies. I asked if he means that literally and he is quite firm in his affirmation. “Those people are not there to help us but to keep an eye on who comes and goes and report”. We wonder if Kwang Chao is in any trouble and Guy suggests that she is not. She has our gifts and was only in the room for a couple of minutes. Nevertheless, he arranges a meeting with her tomorrow is some neutral place where they can discuss the shipment of our instruments.
We turn our discussion to the concert and another incident which took place tonight. At one point someone dropped something or as Guy suggested “Bolted out of their seat” much to the amusement of the audience. I suggested the cause to be Peking Duck fart.
Bill came up with a long vocal farting sound ending on a duck quack – hilarious – and John suggested it would be towards the end of the European tour before Bill would tire of this new addition to his repertoire.
With a peculiar feeling of worldly invincibility and no small amount of self righteousness which comes from giving a good performance, I say good night to our hall porters when we reach our floor. They respond with a good night and Bob says “Yeah, good night spies”. By this time we are walking away from them and all of us are not doing a very good job of hiding our somewhat astounded chuckles.
As we left the hall, with the abstract friendship question silently hovering over us, the stagehands began to applaud us and continued the applause until we reached the back of the hall – some were waving to us we waved back. A very warm and moving experience.
During this morning’s set up one of the Chinese men looking at our instruments explains that he is an amateur musician and works at the number one music store. We began talking and he says he will bring me some bridges for my Chang and a small five note flute made of bamboo.
Before the concert we go back to our dressing room and he plays the flute for me accompanied by a friend who plays sho. A really incredible sound this flute. It requires a piccolo embouchure and I promise to practice. He also plays some of the hundred birds on Chinese oboe. He can rotary breathe and he is a marvelos player. First rate musicianship and really “cooking”. I am reluctant to play my bombard(e) (reed instrument) on the concert. A really great experience.
Our waitress from the hotel bar was in the audience tonight. Tomorrow morning the Minorities Orchestra – the Conservatory – afternoon off and then a farewell banquet by our Shanghai hosts.
+ Coincidence – a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection: