Monday, November 29, 2010

Day Five

Hello from Ivana, Hannah, Maya and Colin!

Today we started our morning with a reluctant change into our performance uniform and headed off quickly to the Jing An school theatre for some happy snaps of the choir (in other words, a very long photo shoot!) After much shuffling around, fixing of hair, major adjustments of the ties and of course a silly shot of all of us, we hurried to get changed into our normal clothes to begin our final day of shopping. (mostly haggling!)    
However, some children wanted to experience the beauty of the Yu garden, so we split up into groups and decided to meet at a specially designated place (a.k.a starbucks) after we had finished.

The Yu Garden was a welcome respite from the frantic pace of the markets outside its walls, and the architecture surviving from the Ming Dynasty was absolutely beautiful. One group had an interesting encounter with a small group of American tourists who, hearing that we were part of a choir from Australia, requested that we give them a performance. This resulted in seven of us singing "Isn't She Lovely". Others were lucky enough to enjoy a tea tasting in the Garden's tea house. Overall the Yu Garden was a wonderfully peaceful experience.

And then the bargaining started! So many hidden talents of haggling were revealed again as we explored the busy and chaotic Yu Garden markets! Once again many purchases were made, which will definitely show when our luggage is weighed tomorrow at the airport!

The wonderful Mr Bentley also decided to show a group of students where the REAL bargaining happens, which led into the inner parts and backstreets of the markets, including dodging peoples' washing, busting through narrow alleyways and even casually walking through a person's house! This brought us to a massive room filled with Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Coach leather, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, everything possible! I don't think the shopkeeper has ever experienced 20 students cramped into her shop buying wallets and watches!

However, it was quite an exciting experience walking through the backstreets but we all must admit, once we had entered with Mr Bentley, some of us were slightly worried for our safety! It didn't make matters better when Mr Bentley warned us that we may lose a kidney or two! (Joking of course!)

The Starbucks caramel frappachinos were a hit amongst everyone, but according to barista Ben Betelli, the coffee wasn't up to scratch!

Mr Kong's sister Veronica was very kind to treat us all to a high class Chinese banquet for dinner. Karina, Clare, Callum and Hannah chose to wear the Chinese outfits they had bartered for earlier that day.
The textures, sights, taste and smells were defiantly different to anything we have ever experienced before. It was interesting to watch the fish that eventually ended up on our plates being caught with a net from a large tank. The cuisine included ox tounge, eel, melt-in-your-mouth pork, fish eggs and chicken broth with an entire dead chicken (head and feet included) sitting in the bottom of the pot! Rumors also suggested there was turtle. Some were brave, others were queasy at the sight of the chicken.

We returned to our hotel rooms and packed ready for the 5am wakeup call. Which we were all very excited about (not!)      

All in all we had an amazing and enriching experience!!

Love from,
Ivana, Colin, Maya and Hannah :)

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Day Four

A mammoth day!!! After a much needed sleep-in, we left the hotel at 10am bound for the Jing An Temple, which got high-jacked and turned into our third shopping expedition. We went to a shopping mall in the Jing An district, where "real" imitation name brand sunnies, bags, watches and shoes were all to go. Approximately half the choir out-fitted themselves with new Converse shoes. Students and parents with light brown or blonde hair learnt to run away fast from the more vicious vendors. Darren and Katie Williams are dangerous when they have their eye on a bargain. Several of the parents and staff went exploring on the local streets and Mr Bentley and Mel, our travel agent extraordinaire, decided to see just exactly how fast 400+ kilometers per hour feels on the bullet train, or the Maglev. Both came back happily rattling.

We had two concerts today, our first at the Jing An Activity Centre and the second at the Yellow Flower School. We have been lucky to have the close connection of Veronica O'Young, Jeffrey's sister, helping with an enormous part of the organisation and publicity of the concerts.

Something the students, Andrew and I have quickly added to our skills has been the art of massed, frantic communal changing. Modesty flew out the window as girls and guys in separate classrooms scrambled their way into uniform and made themselves look presentable. Our first concert showcased a few of our soloists: Jess Archbold, Ben Betelli and Callum Gunn - Callum playing on a striking albino-white piano! Our performance of Hamba Lulu at this concert has been our best so far, with the audience enjoying our energy and choreography and the choir really getting into their performance stride.

Following this concert, we were treated to a magnificent art show by the students of the Yellow Flower School. The talent and nurture behind these works was just breath-taking. Even more moving was Veronica and the school's desire to create strong bonds amongst our schools, evidenced by gestures like the big banner they'd put up on the wall for us all to sign and celebrate our visit.

Our second concert was as the Shanghai Conservatorium, where we were guest artists in a concert showcasing the best of the local dance and piano school in that area. On a magnificent stage, the Concert Choir gave fabulous renditions of "Tides of Ocean," "Mary, Did You Know?" and "Click Go the Shears" - so good, in fact the the closing credits with the clap-along presentation of all the performers that descended upon us two numbers too early!! Imagine the comic hilarity when we realised that we had been clapped off stage because the audience and performers were so excited to hear "Click Go the Shears"!!

Andrew and the kids handled it admirably. I did not go so well keeping a straight face!

Tonight also gave Chamber Boys Choir a chance to showcase their work and beautifully developing sound.

After a huge day, we tucked into our suppers of Chinese pizza (those who were truly lucky scored pizzas with a topping combo of banana, tinned fruit, BBQ sauce and mayonnaise!) and the fell promptly to sleep, totally wiped from a big day.

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Day Three

Today I discovered the bargaining prowess of our students and the locals discovered that our Brighton students are not to be messed with when they have their eye on a bargain - not to mention our ferocious parents! A morning at The Water Tower, the local markets a hop, skip and a Chinese junket ride away provided students their first chance to sink their teeth into present shopping. The most exciting and unusual sounds, sights and smells filled the air; steamed rice buns, deep-fried tofu, herbs, meats, live seafood, dumplings and other assorted goodies were up for sale. Students returned with loot ranging from smoking pipes (presents of course) to chess sets. After lunch at the local restaurant over-looking the river, we went for a second round of shopping in a bargain mall, The New Heaven and Earth turned out to be a wonderfully engaging labyrinth of shops and cares from all around the world, and at the perfect balance of quality and price for our students. Sadly, our time was limited here.

Expect some presents upon arrival back home!

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Day Two

Waking up to a crisp morning in Shanghai is just extraordinary - because we've managed to get everyone here smoothly and because NOW, the real fun begins, the sight-seeing, the hilarious moments we'll remember forever, the brand new experiences and the bonds formed that will last a lifetime. We also have our first concert today and I'm looking forward to hearing the choir - I think the strong connection amongst the choristers, staff and parents is going to help create the momentum behind some special performances.

I am also really looking forward to watching how each student grows, personally and musically, over the next 18 days. Travel has that effect of shaping people that normal life cannot - and it's "leap of faith time" for the students. Come what may, each will need to find a way to cope.

Brighton received some great feedback yesterday when the Qantas staff on our Shanghai flight called our students "mature-minded, friendly, well-mannered." We are also happy to report that Qantas has not let us down yet!

Today was the day of our first concert. Students soon understood that body heat was not a sufficient ironing agent! I never though I'd see the day where our principal would be ironing shirts for the students at her school, but we quickly discovered Olivia's sensational ironing skills as she whipped through shirts at breakneck speed to make sure our students looked pristine. We've also discovered that stockings and socks are the most forgotten items on the uniform checklist.

We had a relaxed morning of sight-seeing at the Oriental Pearl Tower and then arrived at the Lu Wan Activity Centre for lunch and our concert.

And this is where the fun began: we managed to inhale lunch, scramble into our uniforms and get into "performance mode" in about 28 minutes - nothing short of extraordinary. I was so impressed with how the choir managed and presented themselves today; they were professional and nobody would have known the mayhem that they had to calmly work their way through just minutes beforehand. Total legends.

In between our own numbers, we were treated to several vibrant, colorful performances from the local primary schools. We collectively marvelled at the poise and professionalism of these young students, their determination to give their best and their commitment to excellence. I also picked up several fantastic choreography ideas, although I'm still wondering how I'll incorporate a ping pong bat into my 2011 choral program.

The audience loved our rendition of "Isn't She Lovely," featuring the fabulous duo of Jack de la Lande and Mark Oakley, in their animated vocal sparring match. The battle continues!

We finished off the evening with an entertaining dinner where we watched several people do battle with noodles, chopsticks and trying to get anything into their food bowls and not all over the table. A cruise on the Bund River made for a spectacular finish to our second day.

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Day One

So we're on the plane! It's been Operation 99 getting everyone through check-in and security, and we still have a few more check-ins to go!! We have found out today exactly who is a morning person and who is comatose without the aid of caffeine. So far, we haven't lost or maimed anyone...a good start. We will, however, be collecting Erin Simmons at Shanghai due to ill health. We're looking forward to having her back onboard. Ollie Pawson wins the jackpot this morning, the coveted seat next to Ms O'Neill. At this point I should introduce Galumph the frog, our BSS Muso travel mascot, who will be in the care of a few students each day. Wherever they go, he goes as well. Whatever new and exciting experiences they have, he will have as well! Parents have tearfully waved their kiddies goodbye, some jumped for joy and high-fived each other when they thought we weren't looking. So, from halfway between Adelaide and Sydney, I am signing off for the first time.

Wish us luck!

Fearless Leader

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Friday, November 12, 2010

From Kwokkie

Calling all Concert Choir kiddies:

*Fields of Gold
*Moron's Bark
*Verbum Caro
*Land Down Under

Looking beautiful - and ready for ANYTHING!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

not long now!!!!

There is a buzz in the air as the Tour Choir Kiddies get increasingly excited and the Tour Choir Staff bite their fingernails down to the quick as they try to get everything done before the tour.

At least this time, with a touring party of 86, if we lose a few our "percentage of return" is still going to be good. Especially in the kiddie-count. Even the simplest everyday things are going to be an adventure in themselves. Feeding and watering 86 people?! Stuffing 86 of us onto a plane?! I can only imagine...!

But right now, Panadol-free, I'm with the kiddies - I'm genuinely excited about taking this group away, seeing some amazing sights, performing at some incredible venues and drinking some fabulous coffee. The stir-fry dog I'm looking forward to as well...!