Thursday, May 12, 2011

The China Chronicles, 3rd and final chapter

Dongguan and Shenzen were both good concerts. Dongguan especially..i think it was probably the show I enjoyed most of all. The sound situation was wonderful…there were loudspeakers installed in the walls of the theater on both sides of the stage that were turned slightly inwards, so I got the full “house” sound, and needed only the very slightest bit of clarity and definition from the monitors on stage (sorry for the tech talk but you cannot imagine how the sound situation effects the performance! It is often critical and can make or break the show…and the singer’s spirit! Sound engineers be advised…:-)). It felt like singing in an ethereal cathedral with my head in a cloud and the feeling of warm earth beneath my feet, quite thrilling. And the audience! They were just amazing. There were tons of young people (later we discovered there was a whole class of students studying journalism who came to see us! They were so sweet and all wanted photos and autographs…. And there were young athletes too, and of course everybody’s parents:-)) and people of all shapes colors sizes, all Chinese but as diverse as one people can ever be, unified by their sincere appreciation for the music and sheer enthusiasm and excitement.

After Shenzen we had a long and frustrating travel day (our plane was delayed for two hours on the runway, and then flew three hours, so all together 5 in the metal bird’s belly with limited air circulation…yuch…) that brought us back to Beijing. After two weeks we had come full circle.

How can I describe how I felt? Exhilaration, excitement,anticipation,heart being pulled in every which direction…we had been waiting for this moment, the concert in many important guests and critics… we had wanted to have that little bit of time to be “tourists” finally in the morning and a half of free time we were to have in that great city… but most of all the nearness of home!...what had seemed like an eternity and light years away was now within our reach, at the tips of our fingers…one last effort and..

For two weeks I had ached and pained over the separation from my children. Now, I let it go. Knowing I would see them in just two days was so comforting I allowed myself to breath, maybe for the first time on this tour, and concentrate on one of my favorite pastimes: buying them gifts! :-) two weeks in china and I had hardly spent five minutes in a shop! Scandalous! :-)

The next morning we tool a taxi to the silk market.

What can I tell you friends? How can I describe the experience? I’ll begin by saying I was (and remain) totally FLABBERGASTED by what I saw.

Rows and rows of stalls, One after the other after the other, loaded with goods. From floor to ceiling, products of all sorts were presented, folded on shelves, hung, laid out, strapped up, taped, pinned, strung, covering every tiny patch of space, cluttered and crammed in a dazzling, head spinning array of color and sound. Vendors, vying for buyer’s attention, calling out at you from every corner, “come, lady! Here best price! Come! My store best quality! Where you from? Oh, Isaleeyuh (that’s how the Chinese pronounce Israel, if they have ever heard of it, of course)! Shalom! Sabbaba!”

The name “silk Market” is misleading. Yes, there are plenty of colorful traditional Chinese silk products on display there… but these account for no more than ten percent of what can be found in the mammoth four floor shopping labyrinth that goes by that name. What stunned me was actually all the OTHER stuff. Can you imagine rows and tows of every major designer in the world? Clothing, bags, shoes, coats, accessories, outdoor gear, cosmetics, and more and more and all Chanel, Prada, Polo, Armani, Versace, Gucci, Hermes, Burberry, Nike, whatever! And electronics, every gadget on earth, and that’s before you’ve started with the jewelry, the arts and crafts, the ceramics, the brick-a-brack and houseware and what not!!! Help!!! I kept imagining my husband in there: we would have had to call an ambulance for him for sure. My mother, on the other hand, would have been on cloud nine! For there is nothing that my mother enjoys more than a bargain!

And bargain you must….haggle or bust!

After being totally ripped off the first five minutes by a seemingly nice girl who swore on her mother’s head that her price was the best in the market (there’s at least one headless mom strutting around Beijing as we speak..), I got the idea. We Yemenite girls learn fast.

It goes like this:

Me (pointing at something I don’t need but intend to buy): how much? (one must resort to very basic English or remain misunderstood for eternity)

Vendor: How many you take?

Me: depends on price. What your price?

V: how much you want pay?

M: you tell me!

V: ok (taking calculator in hand). I give you good price, no price for tourists. You smart lady (they say that to everyone). You no stupid. No waste time. This price (types a preposterous figure)

M: what?? For this?? No, no. MUCH too high. I saw in other store, your colleague. MUCH cheaper! Why you give me this price?

V: ok, what you want pay?

M, (taking calc, typing 20% of the original offer)

V (shocked): what?? No! so low! Less than what I pay! No make money! No, no!

M: ok (turning to go).

V: wait, wait, lady, wait! You my first customer today, want start business, what you pay? You add more, give more. Good for me, good for you, ok?

……and so it goes on and on, finally we settle on something that is about 30 -40- percent of the original offer, and take our leave as friends.

And the prices? By our standards, preposterously low.

Friends let me tell you this: we in the western world are being ripped off like you CANNOT IMAGINE! We work morning to night, we pay endless taxes, and then we are sold products made in china, using cheap labor, shipped to our posh shops and priced three, four, five or more HUNDRED percent above than what they can be bought for in the silk market in Beijing, not to mention wholesale and production cost which is much lower still! It is so infuriating I could just scream! I swear, after several hours in that market, I will never again be able to buy an article of clothing in Israel, Europe or the US without feeling like a complete sucker and idiot being taken advantage of by a piggish system whose greed knows no bounds.

“Imitations” you say. Imitations of what? What is the original? It all looks amazing, it is all produced here, it all says, ‘made in italy’ or ‘made in france’ so where is it made and by whom and who cares anyway? What justification could there possibly be for spending 400 dollars on a bag that can be bought in this market for 20? Especially knowing the remaining 380 could feed a family here for several months?

As always, China forces you to throw all that you hold true high up in the air and then behold, with amazement, the strange patterns that form when gravity takes its course.

After the shopping we went back to the hotel to get ready for the show. I was so nervous, I kept puttering, arranging and rearranging my gig-bag (suitcase with all my concert things in it), reviewing my Chinese, warming my voice and ironing the dress I planned to wear (I had three, black, turquoise, white…chose the white one…for Yom ha Atzmaut, for the purity of it and the jasmine flower look :-)..but mostly to make Zhang Ying happy..she loved that one :-)). I tried to sleep a bit but felt too restless so took a shower, dressed and sat on my bed waiting until it was time to go. I felt overwhelmed by emotions and images of the past two weeks and got into that staring-into-space, ‘there-but-not-really-there’ mode that my children know so well. It comes with the “my mom the artist” package (I once told them the glazed eyes and tilted head moments are when I usually come up with all my songs). ´Ima, are you listening?’ my son Ayehli will say. “Of course I am sweetheart, sorry, I was just..yes…tell me again mami, sorry :-(”…”mom…..” sighs my ten year old.

This time it served as a much needed tranquilizer.

After 21 years I still get butterflies in my stomach.

Zhang Ying had us in the theater about two hours earlier than what was needed. She was so hysterical that evening….it was her big night! The Forbidden City Concert Hall is where she works, the heart of the theater chain that had hosted us. There were many important guests coming, the Israeli ambassador and a large group of his staff, our sponsor, the wonderful Dr. David Ong, and his family and guests, local musicians and journalists, friends and colleagues…Ying orchestrated it all like a real pro, fluttering about, helping this, taking care of that, making sure everything was in order, and all with her little smile and jumpy gait and enormous positive energy.

One very special member of the audience was Masami Matsushima…a girl from Japan who has been our devoted fan for more than ten years. She had a bad traffic accident a few years ago that left her in a coma and was written off as a lost case. During those long months of uncertainty her mother put headphones on her and played her our music, insisting the music would keep her alive. She eventually woke against all odds, claiming the music had saved her life! This special soul, who cannot walk without a cane and suffers from a long line of physical ailments, flew in especially from Japan just for the concert! We invited her to be backstage with us before and after the show. She is incredible.

Finally it was show time. Galia our amazing tour manager, after having scurried from here to there endlessly helping everyone and making sure every little detail was ready for a smooth take off into the skies of music, convened us all together for our traditional pre-concert ritual. Gil, mira, shai (her talented guitarist),galia,ying, gadi (our wonderful sound engineer of 18 years), Florentijn (the gifted lighting engineer) and myself all gathered all, hands in the center like a human flower, hey, hey, hey HEYYY! Hands in the air, smiles, a bit of the pressure is released and we are ready to go.

The show was wonderful. We were all at our best. The audience was warm, receptive, attentive and appreciative. As every good concert, it was a small gift from the universe.

After the show, we were embraced by hundreds who crowded the lobby of the great hall, amongst them classical, folk and pop musicians who came to listen and were all deeply impressed and enthusiastic, journalists, friends and of course the Ambassador and his entourage who were high with excitement. The ambassador and cultural attaché had been instrumental in creating this tour, actually connecting us with the FCCH and convincing them to take us on, and supporting the tour financially. David Ong then agreed to sponsor us (for the FCCH pay a very modest artist fee that cannot even cover costs), and IDB Israel gave an additional sum that finally made it all feasible. Of course David and his family were there, radiant, and as always, exuding good energy and light.

Dinner was a very gay affair, with 30 people in a special room of a restaurant not far from the theater, all organized by Ying. The food was good, spirits were high, the room filled with conversation and laughter. One of the guests was a very important classical music critic who gave us extraordinary compliments...i was beside myself with joy. Another guest was a big pop star who gave me all his dvds (he had a bit of a ‘mad max’ look Chinese version :-)) , and one other guest, Natalie Portman’s father :-) ….funny life is.

Back in my room I was on cloud nine. It was difficult to come in for a landing but after puttering, packing ,showering, thinking, smsing, emailing, skyping and whatever, my usual after show routine, I managed to fall asleep at around 2:30.

The next day our flight home was at 10 pm so we had the morning and afternoon to ourselves. Despite the late night previous, we all woke very early and left at 7:30 to visit a park with a temple in it that we were told was full of activity in the morning worth the red eyes.

And worthy it was.

We saw endless groups of ‘Beijingers’, mostly senior citizens but not only, all in envigorating motion: tai-chi, tai chi tennis, couples dancing (complete with very loud Chinese pop music played on a transistor), tai chi stretching, tai-chi with swords, tai chi with pink pon pons, singing in massive choirs, playing instruments that sounded like alien screeching to us but looked nice, singing poking opera, jumping up and down stair on one foot, line dancing, playing cards, chess, poker, badminton, crocheting and writing Chinese on the sidewalk with water and a huge brush. It was, once again, mind boggling, and I must say, it made me so envious. How I wish senior citizens in my own country had a fraction of the possibilities and the resulting stamina! I could envision my grandmother and one day, my parents, thoroughly enjoying the vibe, the activity and the company, doubtlessly the keys to Chinese longevity.

We skipped the temple. The people in the park gave us all the inspiration and mental photo-albums we needed.

After a bit more shopping (of course), and the inevitable struggle to fit it all into one suitcase, we were on our way to the airport. Saying goodbye to David Ong (who came to the hotel to wave us goodbye toting gifts, as if he had not given us enough already..) and little ying (Gadi coined the name “yingaleh” :-)), was a tearful the song goes..i die a little… but on the other side of the universe families were waiting, new life, deep love. So we wiped the tears and turned our backs to go…leaving china behind us.

And here I am.

After travelling across the land and sea, through the night that turned to day in darkness, through the airport into the taxi through the light of early morning into the little street and the house at the end of the street where they were all still sleeping…then they woke, their warm little bodies running embracing giggling eyes shining little heads on my shoulder mommy what did you buy us? And the innards of the suitcase all spill on the living room floor and yum my baby reveling in the mess and looking at me with the umbilical wisdom of a 14 month old…no more milk mommy…it’s just you and me now…there are so many ways to love….

The house is empty now. Sitting at my desk in front of the window that overlooks the sea, writing it all down…sealing it….feeling it…branding it upon my heart...


i am thinking of the brilliant animated film, Ratatouille, ..and the food critic that was the terror of all Paris, and the trembling waiter asking him: have you made your selection, sir? And the answer, in a radical british accent: “do you have some Perrrrspective? I’ll have some, with a good wine to go with it”.

That is how I feel…I have been given some Perrrrrspective. And my children’s love is the best wine I can imagine to go with it.

Signing off,

Noa, Shefayim, may 12, 2011.

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