GSO in China, Days 8 & 9: Tangshan and Guilin

Posted on January 28th, 2008 by

bows.jpgThe Gustavus Symphony Orchestra retraced its steps back up the Jingshen Expressway this Sunday morning, January 27, 2008, to Tangshan. Actually, we visited new Tangshan. Old Tangshan was hit by a massive earthquake in 1976 that destroyed 97% of the buildings and killed more than 250,000 people. Roughly 4,000 children were orphaned, some of whom were adopted but the majority were raised by the government. The destroyed city has been left as a memorial, and new Tangshan was built 30 km from the original. The new city is all industry, all the time, with cement as its featured product. A pall of cement dust and industrial smog hangs over the greater Tangshan area and its seven million people.

brass.jpgThe GSO checked into the Tangshan Hotel (dial-up internet service only, so apologies for the delayed posting) and enjoyed a leisurely afternoon. Our scheduled rehearsal was cancelled by the Communist Party, who decided to hold a meeting in the concert hall. From what we understand, the government pretty much gets to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants. But the free time was welcome, and the GSO dispersed into Tangshan’s internet café and enjoyed an extended retail opportunity at the shopping mall. A few homesick appetites even got a fix of McDonalds and KFC.

cellosbasses.jpgDinner and the evening’s concert were sponsored by the local government and a huge pharmaceutical company with offices in Tangshan. After a special dinner with officials from these two entities, the GSO headed off to its last concert of the tour (an outdoor performance in Yangshuo [Day 10] has been cancelled because it’s too cold). The audience was appreciative, and local party groupies hung out backstage for most of the performance. Piccolo and flute player Abbie Johnson was mobbed at intermission after her performance in The Butterfly Lovers Concerto. After the concert, official proceedings had to wait until the crowd of people wishing to have their photo taken with violinist Mark Wamma dispersed. Tonight we said goodbye to Judy and Brian, two of our great guides, with gifts of Gustavus blankets and heartfelt thanks for their efforts, patience, and generosity.

gu_ban_web.jpgThe Butterfly Lovers Concerto is a beautiful, asian flavored piece that incorporates a gu ban, a percussion instrument which joined the GSO’s inventory for this tour. Percussionist Andy Jensen was the gu ban master, and enjoyed its unique characteristics.

tuba_web.jpgAs we rolled out of Tangshan Monday morning, we passed fireworks vendors offering lethal-looking wares at tables alongside the main road, so people could stock up for new year celebrations. We made our way to Guilin via the Beijing Regional Airport.

Guilin is in a minority autonomous region. From what we can gather, this means that the minority populations (China recognizes 56 distinct nationalities within its population) enjoy some freedoms here that they haven’t elsewhere in China. The upshot is that they have been able to practice and preserve their individual customs and culture in this place. The communist government still runs everything, but the groups get to keep their traditions alive. And being able to experience the various cultures is part of the draw of Guilin, a region populated by only 700,000 people but which hosts more than 20 million visitors a year.

The big draw of Guilin, though, is the scenery. This area is karst limestone, so it is prone to erosion. With Guilin’s annual rainfall of about six feet, plenty has eroded, and what is left is mighty impressive. You’ve seen those images from Chinese art of tall, domed hills with waterfalls and caves and mist? Well, this is the place. When the GSO arrived, Guilin was enjoying freezing rain, so no awe-inspiring photos today, but a cruise down the Li River through that spectacular landscape is on the schedule for tomorrow, so check back.

Dinner at our hotel this evening included a 21st-birthday celebration for Alli Linn. Rest assured that Alli received the same traditional Chinese frosting-smear tribute as Joe did (see Day 4).

Oh, and as promised, a chicken head-eating tale from the GSO’s banquet with Qinhuangdao’s mayor (see Days 6 & 7) .

You may have noticed that the days have been renumbered. Some say that during international travel all the days seem to blend together, and in this case two really did. So now we’re back on track, and here’s what to expect for the rest of the tour:
Day 10: Li River cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo, overnight in Yangshuo (probably no posting—Yangshuo is quaint)
Day 11: Mt. Yao visit and fly to Shanghai
Day 12: Morning time in Shanghai, then fly to Beijing en route to Los Angeles, to arrive in Minneapolis Friday morning at the crack of dawn



  1. Mary Jensen says:

    We have really been enjoying the daily postings. Sounds like you are having a great time. Have a safe trip home ! Hi to Andy and the Brownkowski’s.

    Terry & Mary Jensen

  2. Kathy Malles says:

    The photos and videos have been wonderful, and we so much appreciate the travel diary! I hope to hear The Butterfly Lover’s Concerto after your return. Wishing you all a wonderful time during the remainder of your travels and a well-deserved rest on your return.

  3. Mark Ryan says:

    Thank you for the beautiful job of chronicling this trip! What fun it is to read the stories and view the pics and videos. Can’t wait to hear the concert when you return. I know you’re all great ambassadors, not only for Gustavus, but the U.S. as well. Hope you’re having as much fun as you appear to be? Can’t wait to hear more about the trip upon your return. A big HI [not only] to Addie, but everyone else as well. For an orchestra, you guys ROCK!

    M. Ryan

  4. Lynette Johnson says:

    Cold in China? Wait until you get back to MN!
    Sounds like a wonderful trip, Abbie, I can’t wait to hear all about it. Thanks for the wonderful pictures and information. Enjoy the rest of your trip and safe travel home to everyone.

  5. Deb Perry says:

    Ash- I miss you! I can’t wait to hear the long story!

    I love you,

  6. Dot Sauter says:

    Thank you for the great information, pictures and videos. It has allowed us to share in your travels and experiences. It has been cold in SD too, but no snow to shovel. Wishing you safe, timely travels. See you soon.

  7. Marilyn and John Berthelsen says:

    We are really enjoying the narration of the trip you all are taking, and the pictures are fabulous. We have found our granddaughter Amara on several pictures, an interview, and “Greetings, and our love to you and to your fellow orchestra members.”

  8. Marilyn and John Berthelsen says:

    Many thanks for letting us all share it.

  9. Jennifer Johnson-Kolberg says:

    Alright Abbie!!! Can’t wait to see you and hear about youradventure! Love you much! Your Aunt Jennifer

  10. Karen SjobeckMahon says:

    What a wonderful trip for the GSO. We see on the news that China is getting cold weather and snow. Erik, you did a great job of counting people in China. Greetings from your family in Colorado. Love, Mom, Dad, Ryan

  11. Kathy Olson says:

    Hey Meg! We have enjoyed hearing of your travels. We could even pick you out in some of the pictures. We look forward to seeing you Saturday. ND has been really cold! Safe home! Love yah!

  12. MariJane & Lee Dummer says:

    The GSO blog is great! We go into “withdrawal” on the days there isn’t one posted! Laura, it was fun to get the Internet Cafe e-mail! Jellyfish?–yum!! Can’t wait to hear the full story of your China adventure! Have a safe trip, catch some zzz’s on the plane, and see you early Friday! Love, Mom & Dad

  13. Suzanne Wiebusch says:

    Hi Amara,

    Am enjoying following your adventure on this blog! Is China as amazing as I said it was? I especially loved your Forbidden City interview! Looking forward to greeting you at the airport on Friday and being the first to hear about everything!!

    Love you,
    Your TC

  14. Kristen Loken (GAC class of 1980) says:


    Thank you, again, for your descriptive blog entries from China. I learned a lot about the country and the culture and it was very reassuring to see pictures and videos and know that the group was safe and having a fun and adventurous time. I’m so glad that my niece, Laura, was able to be a part of this travel and music experience. I can’t wait to see her to hear all about the trip and it will be great to hear the orchestra’s home concert on the 17th.

    Maybe in the future there could be an alumni trip to China?? 🙂 I’d sign up in a minute.

    I hope the group has a safe flight home to Minneapolis.