Monday, November 9, 2009

November 2009 Trip to Orange County and Beijing

On the Great Wall
In November 2009 we took a trip to Orange County for 4 days and on to Beijing for another week.  I was in OC conducting Giselle for ABT and Miranda and the boys flew out to meet me.  Our main interest in OC was going to Legoland which we did on Friday stopping first at the beach at San Juan Capistrano.  We got to Legoland just before the gates opened and were among the first 50 people into the park.  We had been there 2 years before so had some idea of what we wanted to do.   It was a perfect day, 70° and sunny and we made the most of it going on all the rides and adventures.

After the matinee on Sunday, we still had a few hours to kill before getting on the buses for LAX, so Riley, Max and I went for a swim and Jacuzzi at the OC hotel.  One of the reasons we decided to bring the boys to China was because the Regent Hotel in Beijing had a very beautiful and warm pool, Jacuzzi and health club.  We knew that we’d be able to do one thing a day – Great Wall, Forbidden City, etc. – then we’d be able to go back to the hotel and jump in the pool.  So the pool in OC was just a warm up for us
The company buses for LAX left at 9:30pm in order for us to catch a 12:40am flight to Beijing.  Max fell asleep on the bus almost right away but Riley stayed up.  When we got to the airport we had some difficulty waking Max up but he managed to make it through security then curled up and went back to sleep.  We carried him onto the plane and buckled him in without him waking again.
The flight left on time and we immediately got our choice of chicken rice or beef rice!  Riley went to sleep pretty soon after take-off and so did I.  Miranda stayed up to look after us.  The flight attendants woke us about 2 hours out of Beijing with another choice, chicken noodles or beef noodles!
Four inches of new snow had fallen in Beijing overnight and they were still clearing the airport around 5:30am when we were supposed to land so we landed in Tianjin instead.  We sat on the tarmac for an hour before taking off again and completing our trip.  Immigration and customs were easy.  All of the hoopla about taking our temperature and quarantine was unfounded.  The buses were ready to take us into town.  It was a slow trip because of the snow but both Riley and Max slept for another 1½ hours!

After switching rooms a few times we finally got a double room with a beautiful view of Beijing.  We could just make out the Forbidden City from our window.  We got unpacked and went out to Wangfujing St., a walking/shopping street a few blocks from our hotel and had a look around.  We diverted off to several alleys where we found merchants cooking beetle larvae and scorpions on a skewer.  We all found that rather disgusting though it’s still a topic of conversation.  We also saw several guys pounding chicken meat with huge wooden mallets into a large flat pancake.  Bits of it were flying everywhere!  We made our way back to the hotel after picking up a few necessities (no scorpions, please!) and before going to bed, the boys and I went to the pool.  It was the start of a twice daily routine.

Max was up first the next morning, as usual, about 5am and he watched a video while I worked on the computer and the other two slept.  About 7am we were back in the pool.  A breakfast buffet was included with the room so we all stuffed ourselves.  Max and Riley had cereal and waffles every day.  Miranda had a ballerina breakfast while I had noodles, dumplings, vegetables, bacon, sausage (beef and pork), ham, baked beans, salmon with capers, an omelet, a waffle or pancakes, croissants, and juices.  So I guess to be fair, it was only I who stuffed myself!

We jumped in a taxi which were cheap and plentiful and went to the Temple of Heaven in the south of Beijing.  It was still a little cold, right around freezing, but there was no wind so it wasn’t unpleasant to be outside.  We passed through the ever larger gates until coming to the final massive round temple.  The way through is down a long and very wide pathway.  We looked around for Maxie one time and saw him hand in hand with a Chinese woman walking the other way.  This was the beginning of the Chinese’s adoration of Max.  The woman just wanted a photo taken with him (at least we hope so) but even after retrieving him, he was accosted another dozen times that day by Chinese wanting their photo taken with him.

There were piles of snow everywhere so the boys had a great time throwing snowballs at each other.  We went back to the hotel because there was a planned bus trip for the company to the Great Wall.  I had some anxiety about the trip as they weren’t sure there would be enough room on the bus for the 4 of us but there was after all – just.  Max slept the entire way up there (about an hour).  Our guide, Michael, was very funny and entertaining for most of the trip telling us about the history of the Wall.

At the Wall, after taking a large group photo, we set out to “conquer the wall” as Mao said.  We were at Badaling where Miranda and I had been 10 years ago when the Australian Ballet went to Beijing, and we knew that to the left it was very steep with many uneven stairs, so we took the way to the right.  That was much easier though there were still plenty of stairs.
The surrounding hills were covered with leafless trees and everything was covered in snow.  It made for beautiful lighting with an interesting chiaroscuro background for all of the photos we took.  The color of people’s faces and coats were highlighted against the background.  Max was again accosted by the Chinese hounding him for a photo!  He was like a little rock star.  I think that ultimately it was good for his little ego which usually takes a back seat to Riley’s.

Both boys had a fantastic time.  They charged up the Wall and looked at every little thing.  Riley would often stop and point out to Max how the Wall went over the hills off into the distance.  It was heartwarming.  There were some slippery spots but no one fell, thank goodness.  When we got back to the bus there were more snowball fights, this time with some of the dancers.
On the way home we passed by the Blue Cube and the Birdsnest that were built for the 2008 Olympics.  It was dark by then but they were both brilliantly illumined.  After a simple dinner and another swim the boys fell asleep, but Miranda and I were still very excited about the day’s adventures and stayed up for several more hours talking.

Thursday was quite a different day.  We swam in the early morning then I had to attend an orchestra rehearsal to prepare for my two shows later that weekend.  I had just been in China with the San Francisco Ballet 6 weeks before and knew what to expect from a Chinese orchestra.   It was snowing again on Thursday and very pretty all over Beijing but traffic was a little slow.  After the rehearsal, Ormsby Wilkins, the other conductor, Ron Oakland, the concertmaster who came with us, and I went to the National Grand Theatre for the dress rehearsal of the rep program which opened our run.

The theater is nicknamed The Egg because it is an enormous ovoid shaped structure under which is housed 3 different theaters, Opera House, Concert Hall and Drama Theater.  The Opera House is in the center and is the largest.  The Egg is surrounded by water – the building looks like a giant egg floating in water – and all entrances are via glass passageways under the water.  It’s quite striking and architecturally highly contrasting what’s across the street – the 15th century Forbidden City and the 1950s Soviet-style buildings of Mao’s Mausoleum and the Great Hall of the People.

Our driver took us down a tunnel and through a rabbit warren until we arrived at a loading dock, which took us right onto the stage.   However, not entering the theater through the stage door threw me.  Usually it’s quite easy to negotiate a theater because of the common shape of the building, a rectangular box with one end raised to house the fly-space. The stage door is almost always by the raised end of the building.  But these theaters are all under one giant dome so it was impossible to get my bearings.  As I found out later, I wasn’t the only one who was lost and frustrated with getting around the theater.

Miranda and I had planned on meeting at the stage entrance at 1:30pm.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t a definable stage entrance.  I phoned her at the hotel and asked her to take the company shuttle and I’d meet her where it lets off – not that I knew where that was!  I was already late for my rehearsal so I asked several people where the rehearsal room was the got several sets of directions.  I started wandering down this maze of corridors all protected by military-style uniformed, highly attentive guards.  I couldn’t ask them where the room was because I don’t speak Mandarin.  There were no signs in English, only guarded corridor after guarded corridor.  I walked and walked as if in a nightmare where you can’t ever get to where you need to go.  Finally, after about 10 minutes, I found the room.  Luckily, I was rehearsing with Angel and Paloma who are both lovely and were completely stress free.  I was totally freaked out and vented to the pianist (she vented back in sympathy) about the confusing theater.  I expect it looked like we were having a big fight but in reality we were both releasing our anxiety.

After the rehearsal I had to find the company manager’s office to get a security pass for no one was allowed in the theater without one.  Since I came in through the loading dock I never got one.  It took another 10 frustrating minutes to find their office and when I did they looked even more stressed than I did!  While I was there an interpreter came in to say that there was no one on the 1:15 bus from the hotel, and that he was going to send the driver home.  This was the bus that Miranda and the boys were supposed to take.  (add more anxiety)  I got a pass – not mine as they couldn’t find it – and went up to the stage to call the hotel. There was no answer. (even more anxiety)  So did Miranda miss the shuttle and was taking a taxi?  Where was she going to enter this enormous building?  How was she going to get in?  Were the guards going to shoo her away?  (more stress).  My calling her and texting her didn’t go through.  I checked the door where the shuttle lets off but there was nothing there.   I checked the South entrance but there was no one there.  (more anxiety)  I walked back to the stage and lo and behold they were just walking in off the shuttle.  The interpreter had been mistaken.

We watched part of the dress rehearsal from the audience.  Max fell asleep in my arms.  Ron was playing the Ravel Violin Sonata from the pit and I was trying to give him some comments (his D-string was buzzing) from my seat trying not to wake Max (more stress).  Riley meanwhile was getting a fever and so we took a taxi back to the hotel and got him into bed.  My anxiety finally hit a pitch and I let fly.  Riley started to cry, Miranda got angry, and Maxie curled up in a ball and went to sleep!  It was a tough day all-round.
Friday morning Riley was still feverish.  Maxie and I went to the pool and got food for Miranda and her patient from the ample breakfast buffet.  I think Max had 3 waffles that morning plus a bowl of cheerios.  Miranda thought it would be a good idea to take a “day off” and stay in the room and get Riley well.  She's very smart.  I had to go to the dress rehearsal for Don Quixote which opened Saturday Matinee.   There was no room on the bus back to the hotel so Ormsby, Ron and I went to look for a taxi.  It’s only a $3 ride to the hotel.  However, there were no taxis so we crammed into a little three-wheeled pedicab style taxi.  We must have looked ridiculous.  But we only went a few blocks until we came to some other pedicabs.  I got into an open-air one by myself and went back to the hotel.  My driver wanted $50US for the trip; right, like I just fell off the turnip truck.  I gave him $5, said “shay-shay” (thank you) and walked off into a crowd of people.  Max and I went for a swim then we all made another early night of it.

Unfortunately, something didn’t agree with Miranda because about midnight she was running to the bathroom sick to her stomach.  Poor girl – she had a very tough and restless night.  Saturday morning she was a little better but still feeling ill.  Riley was better but a little slow.  We had only 2 days left and still had many things to see and to top it off the outside temperature had fallen and it was now 18°F (-13°C) outside and very windy.
One of the things we wanted to do was to go to the Toy Market.  This was across from the Temple of Heaven and just behind the Pearl Market and most importantly, inside.   Miranda was in no shape to do anything so after a little coaxing, Riley, Max and I got into a taxi and went to the Toy Market.  There were 4 floors of toys, some fun, some junky.  Riley did a little practicing with bargaining.  He seemed to be quite natural at it.  The taxi driver had taught us to say “Ty-gway-la, boo-ya” which means, “Oh, that’s too expensive”.  Riley used that to great effect.  Though he said that he didn’t like it that they giggled when he spoke Chinese!  We got our toys for about 15¢ on the dollar and probably still paid too much!

We made a quick stop in the Pearl Market which was next door to get a few things for our poor sick mom who was back at the hotel recuperating.  I had to go to the opening at the theater so the boys rested and played in the room that afternoon.  There wasn’t much time between the matinee and evening shows and to make matters worse the bus driver taking us to and fro decided to give us a tour of Beijing instead of driving straight to the hotel after the matinee.  (I did get to see some of the old city wall and several huge gates that I’d never seen before.)  So Ron and I threw down some food and went back for the evening show.

I had mentioned to Ron that despite the fact that Ormsby had told the orchestra during the rehearsals that I was going to conduct some of the performances, they would all react with shock when I would walk out on Saturday night.  Sure enough, they were all talking and gesturing with surprise when I came out.  The expression “lost in translation” was used many times while we were in China.   But the performance was a great success and the orchestra seemed to enjoy it.

Sunday morning was our last to spend sightseeing.  So even though it was windy and freezing cold outside, we bundled up and went to Tian’anmen Square and to the Forbidden City.   We rushed everywhere because of the temperature which was too bad as it’s such a lovely spot filled with many beautiful sights and vistas.  After our visit we jumped into a taxi and went to the Silk Market where Miranda and the boys all were outfitted with new jackets and vests.  Riley again did some hard bargaining.  It was a very successful morning.

I had the matinee that day and when I got back to the hotel both boys were ready to go to the pool.  The next morning we swam again at 6am and we were joined by a dozen dancers who had stayed up all night after the evening show and were finishing their party at the pool.  The boys had a ball playing with them.  After breakfast we all clambered aboard the buses to the massive Beijing airport.  The flight back was a fast 14 hours, and we arrived a little early, so with the time change, we landed at exactly the same time we left Beijing, i.e., we left Beijing at 1pm Monday and we arrived at JFK at 1pm on Monday!
We had a fabulous trip but we were all very happy to walk in the door of our lovely little apartment on the Westside.

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