Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The End is Nigh!

If You Just Look to Your Left. . .

As soon as I'd gotten into the swing of things, I had to become a tour guide for my pals Emily and Wade. I led them around my favorite sights, back to Lamma Island, and around the Avenue of Stars leaving plenty of time to rest from the oppressive heat in various cafes. At night we watched the stupid, stupid light show where these buildings flash to EPCOT Center-esque music.

We went up the Point in a cool little trolley (the gears to which looked straight off the set up Wicked) and ate Bubba Gump's shrimp while enjoying the panoramic views of Victoria Harbour. We did not however enjoy good photography from me as evidenced by the shadowy figures in this photo's foreground.
Emily and Wade had planned to go to Tibet, but totally unfortunately for them and me it was closed to foreigners due to feared protests. So instead they headed on to Japan leaving me with a list of 11 possible places to go after my apartment contract ran out. Here you can see a less shadowy picture of Emily and Wade getting fancy drinks at Hong Kong's most expensive hotel.

Strange Randos

I've collected strange friends while in Hong Kong. I met all of them by chance either by wandering into their restaurants or tea stands or by literally running into individual people. I actually don't think I've literally run into any buildings . . . yet, I should say. I'm knocking on wood.

Besides Jia Jia and Ying Ying (the pandas to the right who insisted I pay them a visit) I have met an Italian Sommelier who for some reason is working in Hong Kong and an Argentinian cantor who works in a Jewish Temple in Hong Kong and knows tons about music theory. Then there are the locals who always give me updates on their extended families as I wait for my order to be ready. When I get my bubble tea, I usually find out about one woman's son Henry who gets into fights in school. Henry is 22.
I haven't asked for further explanation. When I wait for my noodles, I usually find out about the latest weather in Houston because the man who works there has a nephew studying political economy in the States. And I continued to hang out with Jafi and his friends. Here he can be seen getting way too excited at the arcade.
I can't explain how nice it is that Hong Kong no longer feels like a city full of strangers.

The Butterfly Lovers

The crowning moment of my time in Hong Kong was seeing the violin concerto Butterfly Lovers (based on what is often called the Chinese Romeo + Juliet) be performed by Lu Si-qing himself!!! His version is one of, if not the highest, selling traditional Chinese recordings of all time. There are also hilarious dialogues that exist where people who play Western music congratulate him on bringing Chinese flavor to the violin and then people from the Chinese tradition vehemently argue that he is bringing Western flavor to Chinese music.

I arrived late to the concert and was totally disheveled and frustrated with being so lost, but the performance was beyond any I'd yet seen. It was just so damn good, and after this whole year of concert going I can honestly say it was my favorite musical performance I’ve ever seen. Here’s a link to a version where he’s backed by a western orchestra which just doesn’t do it justice at all. There’s also something very compelling about seeing Lu Si-qing live that doesn't translate to video. I think his presence doesn't come across but maybe it's something else.

We gave him four standing ovations before he finally gave in and played an encore. After the performance I cued up to speak with Lu Si-qing and managed to actually talk with him. His interest was peaked because I knew the other concerto artist as she was Gao Hong's classmate at the Beijing Central Conservatoire. She owned the disturbingly expensive restaurant that our group dined at in Beijing. She asked, "Hey, what are you doing here? You are Gao Hong's student, right? You play Chinese instruments, right?" Then Lu Si-qing looked at me and asked in very nice English, "Wow, do you really play Chinese instruments?" I explained my dealio briefly and he told me I should talk to an ethnomusicologist in Heidelberg because she was working on the same issues I've been looking at. After I said a quick good bye I skipped out of there. I can't remember even going home but I do remember the feeling of being ridiculously, face-numbingly happy.

Hong Kong was an interesting experience. People were very friendly and the environment was reminiscent of Singapore, but there are a lot more arts events. I also didn’t play in any ensembles the entire time, mainly due to my hand injury. I think this was actually beneficial. I hung around a lot more talented or "professional" musicians and listened more. I also began composing a lot! Somehow after hearing all of this music this year, stuff is starting to come out, and I really like it. Though it sounds totally Western to me, everyone keeps telling me it sounds Chinese. . . hmm. . . .

Return to Wienerland

On my way home, I went the other way around the world and decided to revisit my friends in Vienna. The entire Taiwanese community was gathering to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Republic of China. There was a special guest: Taiwanese born criminologist Henry Lee. I'd never heard of him, but he worked on such infamous cases as OJ Simpson and JonBenet Ramsey. We bonded over living in America, but I didn't mention to him that he seemed to work on cases where things didn't seem to work out very well.

I sang in the choir in Taiwanese and German. The shock at feeling comfortable doing these things now caused me to become all reflective. I’ve really changed so much. I used to dread meeting new people and speaking in foreign languages. But that old fear of embarrassment has been conditioned out of me. I feel more confident and less apologetic for being an incompetent idiot. I guess being abroad for a year has made me more American. When I talk to people I feel interesting, and, actually, I think I kind of am interesting now.

When I was writing my Watson proposal I wrote it in the mindset of, alright, this is what I would want to do if I were good enough, or smart enough, or talented enough. But you know what? I don’t need to pretend to be someone else anymore, and that is so liberating. But now the Watson conference is looming and I'll have to figure out how I stack up next to the other fellows. And I'm actually quite nervous about heading home. It'll be so strange to go back when everything just went on without me.

Right before leaving Hong Kong, I saw this ominous warning that seemed more like a fortune cookie for my emo soul than a warning of physical danger.

Before leaving Austria, I saw these guys enjoying sheesha/hookah midstream. The meaning for this is less clear to me, but definitely optimistic.