Our last concert in the region is an excursion from Beijing to Tianjin. This involves a coach journey, with a very sweet girl from Tianjin, who tells us a bit about the city, and is incredibly nervous at being in the presence of such well renowned artists! (That’s what she said, honestly…..)
We arrive hungry, and there’s food laid on, and we rehearse two Chinese pieces, one of which is the encore – Good News From Beijing. This is a bit like their version of the Radetsky March, and goes down very well. As does the beer that’s provided for the bus journey home, the effects of which include a timely gathering at the largest ‘public convenience’ I have ever seen.
On to Shanghai, and the sheer scale of the place is overwhelming, even for a Londoner! As we arrive here it is very wet, and the coaches pull up outside a brand new hotel, The Parkview. It’s a very nice hotel, but getting something to eat is not as easy as anticipated, because being located for easy access to the concert hall, we’re not close to many restaurants. Besides this, it’s raining, and the idea of going exploring isn’t that appealing. In fact, there’s a place in the foyer, but it takes over an hour for food to arrive. So by the time some of us have eaten, there’s only just enough time for a restorative lie down before the concert.
The concert hall, just a five minute walk from the hotel, is an impressive building, a glass shell displaying the wall of the auditorium. The audience here is well behaved and appreciative!
Afterwards, we go off in search of something to eat, but find most places closed. There are many locals who come to us smiling and begging, and who are extremely persistent, which leads to frayed tempers, especially with the rain’s constant drizzle, and being lost….eventually, our group splits in two, one half giving up in favour of the ‘Golden Arches’, which appears to be the only place open. The rest of us take another cab ride, asking the driver to take us somewhere, anywhere, where we can get something. He obliges us, just before we’re about to give up too, by dropping us on a street that looks a little Soho ish. I don’t know what it is they bring us, from our pointing at pictures on a laminated menu, but it doesn’t resemble much that’s familiar, either by look or by taste. We eat a bit, and wash it down with the local wine, served in tumblers. That tastes odd too. So we leave the place, not quite knowing whether our hosts are laughing with us, at our hapless misfortune, or at us, having merrily fleeced us of our money.
The bar at the hotel serves as a welcome homecoming, at any rate, and sleep, eventually, seems like a good idea.
The Next Day
Wow. What a buzz. My adrenaline surges as we career down sunny roads towards the area the Yu Gardens. The weather has cleared, or perhaps it is my head. Immediately, as Laurent and I step out onto a bustling street downtown, I am approached by a man selling watches, jackets, anything he can to get my interest, actually. We check out the little backstreets, and come to the main tourist area, complete with its very own Starbucks. I mean really! Laurent tells me there’s a tea garden with rockeries and trees that he saw in the rain, but wants to see again, so we do that. Very pretty. We have lunch at a fast food Dim Sum place, which counters the effects of last night’s fiasco. A day like this wouldn’t be complete without a bit of a haggle, so we buy various bits and pieces for those back home, and I head back to the hotel.