A warm ni how friends and family! That's Chinese for howdy. Amigo Noah here, reporting from the rolling green mountains of Longsheng in China. Our bus chugs along steady and true as we wind along the unpaved two-lane road between Sanjiang and Yangshuo. Small farm houses and shacks speckle the road side, tea plantations coat the hills, and the green river dances with the highway, occasionally hiding itself from view at various turns. But folks, I'm not here to gush about the view from our Diesel engine tour bus. I'm here to talk about two things; a feast and the world's largest floating stage.
We pulled up to the Radisson in the small town of Liuzhou (roughly 3 million people) after a bumpy ride around 1:00 in the afternoon. Our eyes tired, our butts massaged, and our bellies growling. It is truly remarkable to see all of the cranes and construction going on in all these cities. China is developing extremely fast and tall apartment buildings and shopping centers seem to pop up every day. Whinny, our translator, had never been to this city but has a keen eye for good food and knows about our love for special meals.
After a quick walk around the block we duck into a restaurant about half full with local families. We sit down, the waitress brings over a hot tea pot filled with several brightly colored flowers, and Whinny orders the feast: steamed pork dumplings, steamed shrimp dumplings, shredded potatoes in vinegar (tastes better than it sounds!), spicy green beans, garlic peppers, chicken (the entire thing with the head), ribs with lentils and lotus, and spicy eggplant (an Amigo favorite). Plus rice. Keep in mind that all of the veggie dishes had minced pork in them. That was certainly one of our favorite meals of the trip thus far.
After a quick 30 minutes of rest time, we piled back into the bus and headed out to the world's largest floating stage. Floating on the Liuzhan river, our venue looked more like the under water head quarters of Dr. No in James Bond. We were greeted by a rough looking sound crew, more interested in puffing on cigarettes and inspecting our instruments, than setting up the equipment. After some deliberation over stage plot and whether or not Will should set his drums up on an elevated riser (which we obviously chose to do), a group of about twenty high school students dressed in brightly colored and and ornamented clothing came to the stage. They were of Chouang decent, a local minority group in the area. Their teacher explained that they had prepared to sing us three songs; a traditional welcome song from the Chouang, John Denver's Country Roads (surprise!), and a traditional Chinese song called Jasmine Flower. This was eerily coincidental since the last two songs were ones that we had been performing all over China, and were about to perform for them. We both sang for each other, and it was a truly beautiful and moving experience. Justin said it best when he turned to me after it was all over and said, "any politician who is thinking about cutting funding for the arts should have seen that." I couldn't agree more, in fact, any political differences the US and China have probably could have been resolved if our leaders had witnessed this exchange of music and love between two groups who couldn't even communicate without interpreters.
The kids and their teachers were very eager and enthusiastic to spend as much time with us as possible. For most of them, this was their first time seeing Americans, let alone interacting with them. In particular the girls loved gathering around Brianna to watch in awe as she puts her make up on before the show. We decided it would be fun for them to join us on stage to sing Country Roads with us, a sort of "we are the world" moment. The idea of performing with us in stage really excited the kids and their teaches, and the elated group ducked backstage to prepare for their big debut.
Our show was preceded by a lights and fountain show with loud romantic symphonic music blaring over the soviet-era speakers. Alas, the fountain next to our stage was merely the largest water fountain in Asia, not the world. However, with the brilliantly lit sky line and mountains in the background, it was quite beautiful. Then our show commenced, the kids sang, and we all went out separate ways.
Exhausted back at the Radisson, we went up to the hotel bar to order food and drinks. After one hour our $20 BLT's arrived, we devoured them in silence, and dragged our feet to our respective rooms, only to wake up at 7am and do it all again. Road life.