GSO in China, Day 4: Summer Palace, silkworms, and pandas Posted on January 23rd, 2008 by

summerpalace.jpgWednesday, January 23, 2008, dawned bright and clear in Beijing. After joining the throngs on Beijing’s highways, the Gustavus Symphony Orchestra enjoyed this sunshiny morning by visiting the Summer Palace, summer residence of emperors and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Summers in Beijing are hot and humid, and while the emperor’s digs in the Forbidden City (see Day 2) had central heating, central air had yet to be invented. So the emperor would pack up his entourage and head north to the cool hills of the Summer Palace, a 726-acre complex of palaces, temples, and amusements, three-quarters of which is a manmade lake. The complex is a supreme example of the Chinese art of garden and landscape design.

promenade.jpgBeing an imperial palace, the place also has a history rich in drama and intrigue. The joint was almost completely razed by the Anglo-French allied forces in 1860, to be subsequently rebuilt by Dowager Empress CiXi (aka The Dragon Lady) using funds embezzled from her own navy. Later, it was essentially a prison for her 20-something nephew, who was then emperor, imprisoned there by the dowager empress who did not share his affinity for reforming the Chinese feudal system. In 1900, the palace was ransacked by the Eight-Power Allied Force, and, after China’s revolution in 1911, was opened to the public. It is now a popular recreation spot, and a few Gusties played there today. And the GSO helped Joe Finocchiaro (violin) celebrate his 19th birthday in the royal restaurant. (It is a local custom to abuse the celebrated one.)

After the Summer Palace, we visited a government-run silk factory. Silkworms are caterpillars that eat only mulberry leaves. After they fatten up, they spin a cocoon from a single thread high in protein content, so it is very strong. To harvest silk, the cocoons are immersed in water before the pupae emerge, which releases the tightly-wound thread enough that it can be unwound in a single strand. Astounding fact from the insect world: a single silkworm cocoon is made of a one-kilometer-long thread. After viewing the process for extracting silk, the GSO was welcomed into the factory shop. What happens to the pupae? Well, in China they have a saying, “Everything with four legs except the table, everything with two wings except the airplane.” Essentially, they eat everything.

By the way, in case you are wondering where I come up with great things like “everything with four legs except the table…,” all credit is due to our wonderful guides. They teach us a little basic Chinese, a lot of Chinese history and culture, folk songs (“Spicy Girls Love Spicy Food“), and today they made all the arrangements for the birthday cake surprise. Thank you, Judy, Simon, Brian, and our fearless drivers.

warrenpal.jpgPost-silk, we visited another of China’s national treasures: pandas. They were pretty active, as pandas go, and completely ignored us as they ate, scratched, strolled, and lounged. Then back to the hotel briefly, and off to dinner and a performance of Beijing opera. We have an early start tomorrow as we leave Beijing to travel to Tianjin, where the GSO will visit—and perform—with young music students.



  1. Jacqueline Johnson says:

    My dear friends of the GSO,

    It sounds like you all are experiencing a great adventure! I hope China continues to treat you well, and best of luck on your upcoming concerts! I can’t wait to hear more about your life-changing trip. Have a wonderful stay, and return home safely!

    Wishing you all well,

    Jacqueline Johnson

  2. Hi to Katie Umenthum from Grandma Keithahn in Rapid City, SD!

    I am enjoying all the stories and pictures of your experiences in China. They bring back memories of my trip in 1991. I loved the video of the pandas, and could still feel that cold wind on the Great Wall when I looked at those pictures. Enjoy the rest of your stay.

  3. Looks like another cold but very fun trip for the GSO! Best wishes for a safe and musically wondrous journey through China!

    – David Adolphson
    Trombonist, GSO China 2004

  4. Jean Mahowald says:

    We are really enjoying the blog with all the stories, photos, and videos of your experiences. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

    A special “Hi” to Laura Mahowald.

  5. Megan Strom says:

    Hi to Justine Strom from her sister in Puebla, Mexico!!

    I am remembering all the cold but memory-filled days of the trip I took with the GSO four years ago. I hope your trip is full of new experiences, wonderful food and fulfilling concerts.

    Safe travels,

    Megan Strom
    French horn, GSO China 2004

  6. Terry & Marty Evanson says:

    Thanks for this great tour of China. We love the pictures and the videos. It looks like it’s not much warmer in China than it is here in Wisconsin (less snow, though!). Enjoy your bus trip through the countryside. Hopefully the traffic improves.

    Hi to Cara Evanson!

  7. Nancy Haaheim says:

    I’ve read every word and watched every video. It’s wonderful to be able to follow your trip day by day. Thanks so much for doing this! (Hi to Andy Haaheim!)

  8. Dear Amara,

    I am praying for you! Have a great trip. Isn’t China cool! Love up the kids…they are sooo cute…I want a full report on your return. Love your pseudo Aunt “M” Mary C. Edwards

  9. Joy Freitag (Blake's aunt) says:

    This website has been an excellent resource for my 6th graders. We are studying Ancient China in S.S. We love seeing the first hand pictures and reading the information from your experiences. Thanks for sharing it with us Blake!

  10. Silk Trading says:

    what is the name of the goverment-run silk factory ? is it tianhou silk factory ?

  11. Peg & Tom Klun says:

    Hope you are avoiding the winter stroms we are reading about. We can spot you Matt, in your “selling hat”. Did you also use it while haggling?

  12. Kaitlyn McClain says:

    Hi Matt hope you are having a good time. I sent you an E-mail.