On Friday 14th October 2005, 25 members of Stockbridge Pipe Band travelled the 5,600 miles (9000km) to Shanghai to participate in the 7th China Shanghai International Arts Festival. Hosted by the Chinese Ministry of Culture and the Shanghai Municipal Government, the Festival lasts for a month and includes performances from over 65 participants from China and abroad.
This was a mammoth undertaking for our Band, eight months in the making with more than 20 engagements and numerous fundraising events undertaken to fund the trip. Never before have we taken so many members so far across the globe to participate in such a prestigious event.
Friday 14th October
At 1:30 pm, and still not quite believing we were actually making the trip, we flew out of Edinburgh airport, bound for Shanghai. With a short stopover in Frankfurt, we then flew up over St Petersburg, across Russia, down over Mongolia, into northern China, and over Beijing to Shanghai. For the fact finders amongst you we were flying at 33,000 feet and travelling at about 920km/h, safely tucked up inside 350 tons of Lufthansa Boeing 747.
Saturday 15th October
Most of us awoke to the stunning sight of sunrise over the GobiDesert and, with a beautiful clear sky, we had an excellent view of the barren landscape below as we flew over northern China.
We touched down at Pudong Airport in the new district of Shanghai at 9:55am local time and were met by our guides Phoenix and Henry. After collecting our luggage and instruments we were then taken by coach to the CCECC Plaza Hotel in the north of the city.
After lunch in the hotel restaurant and a good shower and rest, we were taken downtown to Xintiandi district, noted for its bars, shops and restaurants, before heading to the colonial Bund on the west bank of the Huangpu river. Shanghai is located to the south of the Yangtze river and the Huangpu river flows into the same delta as the Yangtze. Darkness came quickly, and after taking in the bright lights of the Pudong financial district across the river, we boarded a river boat for an evening tour.
Over several beers we cruised up and down the river, taking in sights such as the Oriental Pearl TV tower and the Jin Mao building which, at 421m high, is the world’s 5th tallest building. During the boat trip we also met the two other groups from Europe with whom we would be performing; Spielmanns-und Fanfarenzug Erolzheim from Germany and Sänklochfäger from Switzerland, both of whom are carnival bands.
Sunday 16th October
The organisers of this Festival had the good sense to ensure we had a day or two to recover from the flight, so except for a short practice to ensure all instruments survived the journey we were free to sightsee and explore Shanghai.
With a population of around 20 million people, Shanghai is a heaving metropolis and a full-on assault on the senses. Directly outside our hotel was a six-lane freeway bustling with taxis, local buses, bicycles and lorries, and 15 metres above this was another six-lane freeway taking traffic from the city centre to the northern districts. Taxis are the easiest and cheapest way to get around and within 10 minutes you can be anywhere in downtown Shanghai for as little as £2. Some people headed to the Bund to view the many different buildings from Shanghai’s colonial past and to watch the busy river traffic toiling up and down through the city, some took the West Bund Sightseeing Tunnel under the river to the Pudong financial district while others explored the antiques market and narrow streets of the Old City, bartering for a bargain Maoist souvenir or gazing in wonder at the many birds and insects for sale in the local markets.
After dinner back at the hotel we headed out to the French Concession district to exchange our tales of the day over a few beers. In the true spirit of international jetsetting, we headed for the nearest Irish bar, a place called O’Malley’s, and after a good session most of us headed home. For those who didn’t it was a case of burning more than just the midnight oil as they danced the night away!!
Monday 17th October
Monday morning was again free so after another spree of sightseeing, we had lunch at the hotel and got ready for the opening ceremony rehearsal. This took place at Century Square on Nanjing Road, a full four hours before the actual event. Although it admittedly involved a lot of hanging about it did give us a chance to witness some of the other acts as they warmed up. As night drew in, the bright neon lights of the city lit up, helping to set the scene for the evening’s events. A massive stage had been set up with an impressive lighting rig and sound system and Shanghai TV and Chinese TV cameras were located around the stage to broadcast the ceremony live across the country. Two huge plasma screens relayed the action onstage to the assembled crowd. Government ministers, foreign dignitaries and distinguished guests had pride of place in front of the stage with row upon row of seating for the invited audience and behind them the general public peered over the tops of their heads to see the stage. We had been informed that over 5,000 spectators would be watching live with a further million people viewing the ceremony on TV.
At 7pm prompt the ceremony began with a dazzling firework cascade before the first group took to the stage. We were on fifth and watched from the wings as the other groups performed.
Finally it was our turn; the musical director gave us the nod and we marched out onto the huge stage and formed a semicircle to face the audience. As we played, we caught glimpses of ourselves on the huge plasma screens, the images transmitted from the TV cameras as they swung across the stage on booms. The intensity of the lighting, the crowd as far as the eye could see, the neon-lit cityscape, the cameras; we were finally here, in China, beaming out live to over a million Chinese homes across the country!
And all too quickly, it was over and the crowd were applauding, waving banners and flags as we struck up and marched off stage. Everything was organised with clockwork precision and with over 20 acts to get through the ceremony lasted in excess of two hours. With acts such as a modern-day singing Genghis Khan, prehistoric straw men, several drumming groups including one with over 50 drummers on stage at the same time, various solo singers and groups, a fire-breathing dragon, children entertainers and a firework display, the night was a magical spectacle of music, dance and visuals that left us all open-mouthed with wonder.
Tuesday 18th October
Still basking in the spectacle we’d witnessed the previous night, everyone was up and on the coach for 9am as we returned to the same venue for a morning performance. As we tuned up, a huge crowd hemmed us in, with people literally staring at us as we got ready to perform. Every move, every action was watched intently and it became almost an impossibility to tune the Band up for people crowding round!
On stage, a smaller but similar line-up performed to about 1,000 people and once the performances were finished, each of the three groups from abroad were presented with a glass trophy to commemorate our participation in the Festival.
After lunch back at the hotel, the Germans, Swiss and ourselves were taken to the heart of the old city to perform in the Yuyuan Bazaar, which is actually a modern development in the style of the Ming Dynasty comprising small shops and boutiques selling souvenirs.
Our performance was on a stage set up in the large central square, surrounded by massive pavilions and halls. And once again, even as we stepped off the bus people stopped and gazed at us! When the pipers began tuning up individually people kept taking photos and stopping them to pose and the drummers too were drawing the same attention. Small children were thrust into our arms, whilst young teenagers crowded round for photos with their fingers waving the peace sign. Forming a circle was quite a task in this eager crowd and even then this didn’t stop people from stepping inside to take photos. We felt like truly international stars indeed!
Performances and photos complete, we then began the two hour journey to the SongjiangIndustrial Park on the outskirts of the city to perform at the auditorium of the BYD Company Ltd. This journey gave a true sense of just how massive Shanghai is as we headed to the south-west corner of the city; we managed to get lost several times because the drivers had never been to this area before and even ran out of road at one point and proceeded along a single-lane dirt track!
When we eventually arrived, we were taken to the factory canteen for a quick supper, but the presence of chickens’ feet amongst some of the servings may have put people off a bit! Once fed, we were taken to the factory’s auditorium. This massive hangar was capable of housing the 10,000 workers and as we entered and made our way down to take a seat at the front, we could barely conceive the number of people cheering at our presence. A quick count of the rows and seats led to an approximate guess of between 5,000 and 6,000 workers stretching as far back as the eye could see.
During this show we were treated to spectacular displays of traditional music and dance, including a traditional Chinese orchestra, before taking to the stage ourselves. After dinner back at the hotel, some of the band enjoyed a few beers in the hotel bar with members of the other groups and our Chinese guides.
Wednesday 19th October
After yesterday’s full day of performing, we were all grateful for a morning off. Again, most of us headed to the various corners of the city on either sightseeing missions or souvenir hunts and with photos snapped and bargains bought, we all reconvened at the hotel before getting into kit and heading off to Nanhui District in the south-east of the city.
After a shorter journey than the night before, we arrived at Shaomeng seafood restaurant for an excellent evening meal. Then it was off into the darkness to the Sanzhao Community Centre in an area known as Xuanqiao for another outdoor stage show.
On arrival, we tuned up and marched down a walled lane lit by red paper lanterns and into the crowded performance area. Again, a diverse display of Chinese music and dance acts was interspersed with performances from each of the European groups. The show finally ended with the Festival’s theme tune, and under a rain of paper confetti the appreciative audience dispersed.
Thursday 20th October
After an early night we were up for an early breakfast before jumping onto the coach and heading out for a 9:30am performance at Thumb Square in Huamulianyang, a sub-district of Pudong. This was an outdoor event in front of a local community audience along with several other traditional and modern Chinese acts we hadn’t seen before.
Once the show was over it was back on the coach as we headed off across Shanghai to the QingpuSecondary School. After lunch we joined other groups in performing in one of the school’s auditoriums. A sound system was set up onstage so we were able to use Glenn’s guitar to good effect and work through all the sets we’d been practising for such an occasion. It was great to be able to do more than the usual 15 – 20 minutes and put on a proper show, which was well received by the 2,000 student audience.
Once all the groups had finished, we marched back across the campus, stopped for a quick photo shoot and jumped back on the coach. Back at the hotel a banquet was laid on for all the groups as this was our last night in Shanghai. The Pipe Major and Drum Sergeant were guests at the top table along with the Festival organisers and the local Minister for Culture, and after dinner a round of speeches preceded an exchange of gifts.
Suitably merry, all three groups adjourned outside to the main entrance of the hotel for a jam session, much to the frustration of the hotel management and the amusement and curiosity of the local passers-by. After a half-hour medley of various hits, we moved inside to appease the staff and continued our celebration in the hotel bar, celebrating our Pipe Sergeant’s birthday and rounding things off with an über-ceilidh involving a jam-packed Orcadian Strip-the-Willow at breakneck speed!
Friday 21st October
At 10am, we checked out and bid a fond farewell to the CCECC Plaza Hotel as we boarded our coach. Our destination was Guangyang seafood restaurant in Pudong for lunch prior to our last performance in Shanghai.
This took place at the showroom of the Yongda Automobile Co Ltd, and after only 10 minutes’ stage time, our performance as part of the 7th China Shanghai International Arts Festival was over. We then said our goodbyes to our guides, Henry and Jason, and met our new guide from Hangzhou, Liuliu, before setting off.
Our sincere thanks to the Chinese Ministry of Culture and the Shanghai Municipal Government for inviting us to participate in such a unique event and to the Festival’s Western Europe Co-ordinator Minghui Kong and her assistant Cathy Fang for looking after us so well.Plaza
A huge thank you and farewell to Henry and Jason, our two student guides, who were truly great companions during our stay, ever cheerful and enthusiastic! Thanks to the CCECC Hotel for putting up with our music and merrymaking! And thanks also to Jian who is based in Sheffield and was responsible for organising our attendance and liaising with Minghui.
Hangzhou West Lake Carnival, Hangzhou, China – 21st – 25th October
From the 21st – 25th October, we were performing in and around the smaller city of Hangzhou, located south of Shanghai in east China’s Zhejiang province. The main attraction during our stay in Hangzhou was the West Lake Carnival, the second largest carnival of its kind in China.
Friday 21st October
We arrived at our new abode, the Haijing Hotel to the east of the city, at around dinner time. After a good feed, most of the band enjoyed a quiet evening with a few beers in the hotel bar. Both the Swiss and the German groups had also travelled down from Shanghai but we were spread across two hotels, having been joined by another German carnival group from Stuttgart, a French dance troupe from Perpignan and a Brazilian samba troupe amongst others.
Saturday 22nd October
Everyone was up, fed and on the coach for 7am and we were taken downtown to our parade muster point. Although the parade didn’t actually start until 9:30am, the expected presence of 500,000 spectators along the 3.5km route meant that we had to be in place early to beat the crowds. Getting off the coach we were amazed to see the friendly faces of Bagad Kerlenn Pondi from Brittany, whom some of us had met at an Interceltique Festival in Avilés, Asturias, Spain in 2004! They were in China for ten days doing a similar circuit around the eastern provinces. Unfortunately, this was the only time we saw them, but hopefully we’ll bump into each other again soon!
The Carnival was divided into three sections. The first was the city fashion section, containing 15 performing teams such as cartoon characters, street skating, fashionable street dance and colourful fantasy floats. The second was the folk art section which represented the dances and traditions of some of the various regions within China, and the third section was the international section, with about ten performing groups from countries such as Brazil, France, Germany, Russia, Switzerland and of course Scotland.
The parade began in front of the Zhejiang People’s Hall and moved through the city centre, along the eastern edge of the WestLake and finished at the first gate of Liulangwenying. Dignitaries from the provincial and Hangzhou governments attended the opening ceremony before watching the various floats, troupes and bands head off into the distance. 500,000 spectators is a lot of people and even spread over 3.5km, the crowds never thinned to anything less than six deep. People clapped and cheered as we passed, shouting ‘Hello’ and although we had grown used to being the centre of attention in Shanghai, the sheer size and enthusiasm of these crowds was overwhelming.
In the afternoon we rested and took a boat trip on the West Lake with the other groups. Tranquil and serene, this was quite a change from earlier in the day and as we drifted along we all relaxed and enjoyed a few tunes courtesy of Murray.
Sadly, this was the Swiss group’s last day before they headed home. Having grown very fond of them a farewell party was organised at their hotel. Over several beers and whiskies, tunes were played, songs sung and gifts exchanged and we look forward to seeing our good friends again in the not too distant future!
Sunday 23rd October
Today the Band was up early and off to the West City Plaza for a short performance in front of about 1,000 people. It was noticeably colder and most of us were a little tired and battle-weary; a week of travelling and performing and all the drinking to go with it was starting to take its toll!
The afternoon was free, so most of us headed out of the city to visit the Lingyin Temple, tucked away in the hills to the west of the Lake. LingyinTemple, commonly translated as “Temple of the Soul’s Retreat”, is one of the largest and wealthiest Buddhist temples in China. Originally constructed around 326AD, the temple was the birthplace of Buddhism in Hangzhou. It has been rebuilt no less than sixteen times since then and currently houses a remarkable collection of wooden Buddhist statues and sculptures. The hillside to the south of the temple is well-known for its Buddhist rock carvings, many of which date back to the time when the temple was first founded and include the famous Laughing Buddha.
In the evening we headed back into the city centre to visit the Night Market – a vivid and colourful bazaar selling everything from curios and supposed antiques, to silk scarves and bags and even locusts and centipedes deep-fried on sticks. Mmmm, a cornucopia of goodies indeed!
Monday 24th October
This was our last day performing in China. At 8am we set out for the ancient Longmen Town situated to the south-west of FuyangCity which itself lies a good hour’s drive south-west of Hangzhou. The journey gave us a chance to see some of the countryside around Hangzhou which is a strange mix of heavy industry, large waterways and beautiful sweeping hills.
Once at Longmen Town we performed for 20 minutes in the town’s central square along with the other European groups. Afterwards, we all watched some Chinese theatre performed from the gallery of a timber pavilion during which a traditional wedding play was acted out. This event required some audience participation as a ball of cloth was tossed into the sea of assembled European bachelors; whoever caught the bundle became a suitor for the pretty young Chinese bride. It would appear that it was the Pipe Major’s prerogative to develop international relationships that day! As the successful bachelor he was taken upstairs to the gallery, dressed in stage costume and participated in a brief but meaningful marriage ceremony in front of the assembled witnesses!
After the celebrations, we were taken on a sightseeing tour of this ancient village before heading off into the local foothills for an excellent meal at a countryside restaurant before returning to Hangzhou. Once back at the hotel there was just time left for some last-minute souvenir shopping before an official banquet with the local Minister of Culture as special guest. After the meal, because it was both the Germans’ and our last night in China, we commandeered the hotel restaurant and, with the help of the French and the second German group, partied into the wee small hours. More gifts were exchanged, toasts made and songs sung before we rounded the night off with another energetic ceilidh.
Tuesday 25th October
If you had encountered the Band as they departed from the hotel at 5:00am to drive to Pudong Airport in Shanghai you would not have seen us at our best! Whilst the majority had managed to get a few hours sleep and didn’t look anything worse than bleary-eyed and grumpy, those who had disregarded sleep in favour of staying up all night drinking with the other groups staggered around in mild confusion as they tried to drag cases and bags down to the bus and locate that missing room key!
Once we were all safely aboard we whizzed north to the airport, arriving a canny four hours before the flight was due to board! Luckily, this gave those of us in good form the opportunity to travel on the Maglev, the world’s fastest train, from the airport to the centre of Shanghai and back again. Thus, a 90km round trip took only 16 minutes travelling at a peak speed of 430km/h.
It was then time to say goodbye to our guides, Liuliu, Phoenix and the festival director, before checking in, boarding our flight and settling down for the long haul back to reality. After a smooth journey we arrived just after midnight at a deserted Edinburgh airport and headed our separate ways, both happy and amazed at how cool an experience we’d had whilst also sad that the trip was finally over.
Our thanks go to our main guide, Liuliu, and also to Phoenix who travelled down from Shanghai to help out during our stay in Hangzhou. Thanks also to Cathy, whose patience was tried on numerous occasions as we persisted in playing for longer than the allocated timescale and who generally reined us in from getting up to too much mischief and ensured we were in the right place at the right time!!