Archive for December, 2011

Our China Adventure Continues

Week Two at the School

Our teaching schedule has continued to be quite demanding, with some 6th grade classes meeting with us for the first and only time, while others from last week continue for a 3rd session.  For these we are now ‘coaching’ their pieces.  Some are travelogues, others original poems, while others  are monologues the students have written from parts of a book entitled ‘Seed Folks’ about a Vietnamese teenage girl coming to live in Cleveland, and the Chinese Language classes are telling folktales in Chinese.  Now that’s been challenging, since we don’t speak Chinese.  We ask them to paraphrase the story in English first but then they tell it in Chinese.  We do our best!  But it is a bit embarrassing for me (Nancy) to be Chinese and not know any Chinese except for Chinese food!!

Students scribbling away on their scripts

Students scribbling away on their scripts

All the students except the 2-3 minute travelogues, are asked to tell only 2-3 sentences for us to coach.  Seeing over 400 students does not allow us to go much in depth with the coaching, but we do our best to get them to gesture, to use facial expressions, staging that keeps them open to their audience, and for group tellings, to create interesting shapes with each other that give pictures on stage every moment.  We use the word ‘Big C’ all the time, i.e. ‘Contrast’. The eye and the mind love contrast, but if all there is is contrast, then it’s not contrast.  So sometimes it’s good to throw in chorus-like movements to create contrast from contrast. Confusing?

Nancy coaching kids to focus their energy!

Nancy coaching kids to focus their energy!

Anyway, like teens everywhere, trying to get their arms to detach from the sides of their bodies was a major task! To get them to use dynamics in their verbal expression vs. a flat expression was another major task. Others were naturals, however, and what a delight that has been!! Contrast for us! Still, it is always important to acknowledge that everyone does their best no matter the result. Pushing the limits of each person’s comfort zone must be appreciated! And we did ask them to do just that!

Bodies make shapes, shapes tell stories

Bodies make shapes, shapes tell stories

On our last day, we did stay late to watch one of the classes perform their travelogues and there were some really wonderful successes!!

All the teachers, we’re happy to say, loved what we taught their students and have mentioned more than once that we should be on staff full time!!  They know these kids, who are 52% Chinese from the US, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, and the others from the USA, India, Maldives, Qatar, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and so on, really need more than the academics.  Kids everywhere do!

Spinning tales round the world - one kid at a time!

Spinning tales round the world - one kid at a time!

Gengcun, Storytelling Village

Well, we left Beijing, our penthouse, coal dust air and the school with not much fanfare and arrived 3 hours south of Beijing in Gengcun to visit our special friends – the storytellers.  This is our 5th time to be there.  However, whereas we take a group of American storytellers to swap tales and celebrate our common love of stories with us each time, this time we wanted to stay in the village to experience everyday life.

An interesting development on the way by private car was that the freeway was closed down due to fog.  Where we were, there was no fog, so as we sat on the freeway as if in a parking lot with all the other hundreds of cars, we were all quite perplexed.  But after an hour we began to drive again and indeed just about half an hour later, it was quite foggy.

When we got to Gengcun, it had snowed about 8” and we were told it was quite a blizzard two days before.

Here’s Robert’s scenic account of our arrival:

As we rolled down the familiar road (first paved by donations made from the 2006 delegation) we couldn’t help seeing the vast open fields that once grew tall corn stalks that flanked the road.  We’ve always come in the Fall… now barren snow streaked furrows raked brown and white lines diminishing into the wintry mist.

Snowy Gengcun Village!

Snowy Gengcun Village!

The car pulled into the town weaving around snow piles and dodged mud holes, and slurries of ice and dirt through the sleepy village of Gengcun.  An occasional motorcyclist, an elderly man, propane vendor on a three-wheeler would come by puffing of frost and curiosity as Nancy and I peeked and waved at the locals.  Red drums welcomed us – four ladies dressed in their red jackets as we walked down the street.

Drums & Gongs Greeting

Drums & gongs greeting

Yang Zai Liu, a wonderful translator

Yang Zai Liu, a wonderful translator

Winter in the village casts an odd spell over the Gengcun, especially with the juxtapositions of decaying walls and new constructions, shabby one room brick huts next to walled two-story mansions… all with a powdering of snow.  Local villagers in spanky new, bright plastic winter coats and boots, tip-toeing across muddy slushy streets… dodging snow and mud.  A old makeshift cart, a brand new Toyota land cruiser, a huge diesel earthmover and an old tractor laden with bricks from the brick factory- all roll by, foretelling of the village’s slowly changing, but ever-changing evolution.  The barking dogs seem to be the only time-held constancy here.

 

When we arrived in Gengcun, we were introduced to our translator. Luckily he was a most wonderful translator, a student with an English major from a nearby university and thus could understand the dialect of Gengcun: Yang Zai Liu (Frank was his western name).  He was most soulful and so appreciated the storytellers and the elders.  He said to us: ‘The most important thing as a translator is to be able to express the heart of what is being said.”  Wow!  We could not have done any of this visit without him.

Gengcun Homestay

We did not stay in a hotel as usual.  We stayed in the home of a storyteller couple (Xu Hai Jiang and Guo Cui Ping) .  She did all the cooking and interfacing with us as her husband had just had throat surgery for cancer two weeks prior.

Our host family

Our host family (left to right): Xu Hai Jiang, Guo Cui Ping, Xu Ying Hang (and his dad)

We slept in her son’s bedroom and luckily there was a 2-inch foam mattress!  Each night we piled on thick heavy quilts.  Robert liked about 4 of them and I could only bare two they were so heavy.  Luckily, we brought a hot water bottle with us, although their delightful 5 year-old grandson kept us hopping!

Still, we never took off our coats whether indoors or outdoors.  Their cement block homes have barely any heat.  We even ate with our gloves on in the freezing cement block kitchen.  But oh, was the food delicious!!  Three amazing meals a day for us – breads, soups, hot cereals, vegetable dishes, dumplings, oh so delicious!!  All cooked on one table-top propane burner.

Home cooking

Home cooking

Outhouse

The outhouse was just that.  Out of the house in a three walled cement structure… Brrrr…. But they gave me (Nancy) a shallow pan to do my duty in the adjoining cement room that was used for heating water.  Thank goodness!  It had a sink and a kang – I think that’s what it’s called – a cement block where the coal is burned underneath and one can heat things on the top.

Robert put together a video/powerpoint to show to the Gengcun tellers.  It was of the class we taught this summer at East Tennessee State University on Global Storytelling.  The students chose from 11 stories heard in Gengcun to either retell or tell a story from their own culture that was triggered by reading a Gengcun story.  Robert then put together their thank you’s and all of them waving hello.  He also included some of the messages from storytellers who have come with us over the years.

Jin Yan Sheng tells his tale to the Youth Tellers

Jin Yan Sheng tells his tale to the Youth Tellers

Gengcun tellers

Gengcun tellers

 

The streets that are mostly dirt roads and pathways down alleys were either muddy or icy. So, we walked to some of the elder tellers’ homes to say hello since it was too dangerous for them to walk.  Unfortunately, we also found out in this past year, 3 more of our storytelling elders passed away.  We are so concerned about the future of this 600+ year traditional storytelling village.  With so many elders passing away, and the middle-aged residents leaving for jobs in a big city, who will learn all their stories?  How will the tradition continue?

Smile Say “Eggplant!”

Here are shots of our storytelling Gengcun Gems!  Say “Qie zi” (That’s their way of invoking smiles during photographing, like our version of “Cheese!”- actually means “Eggplant!”).

Procession

Procession

 

Gengcun Weddings

We were only there from Saturday afternoon to Monday morning, but in that time, the village was preparing for three weddings!  The auspicious lunar date of Monday the 5th of December had been chosen and so food preparations, decorations, special bedrooms filled with nine (good luck number) brand new quilts for the newly wed had to be finished.  Posters of Chinese babies face the bed with hopes for a son soon!

Wedding decor

Wedding decor

What was so lovely, was that both sides of the family come together to make the preparations – and of course their friends. The cooking is all done outside over kangs with huge pots, the tips of long tree branches burning to provide the heat. As the tip of the branches burn away, they are pushed in further, keeping a nice hot fire going. There are several in the yard as well as outside in the street. All the prepared vegetables, meat, onions, and spices are all laid out in dishes on the many tables waiting to be cooked. Over a THOUSAND of Jiaoza dumplings are in the storage areas waiting to be boiled in soups and many fried fish waiting to be served. Whole chickens boiling in plastic bags. We assume it’s to keep the juices in the meat.

It definitely takes a village to feed a wedding!

It definitely takes a village to feed a wedding!

Men are the cooks and stand about the yard socializing.  Women fold the dumplings and prepare all the decorations and quilts.  The women are mostly inside the homes socializing.

Real men know how to cook!

Real men know how to cook!

Wedding Ceremony

First the groom must travel to the bride’s home to do ceremony there and then bring her to his home. They then travel in a procession of cars led by a brass band walking down the street to the groom’s home where all the preparation activity is going on. Long strings of red firecrackers are lit and the popping seems to go on forever! Once at the groom’s home, the bride goes through another ceremony, standing outside before an altar where later she will kneel for another ceremony. Between these two ceremonies, it is mandatory that the groom’s many male friends enter the wedding bedroom and play tricks, mock and tease the couple. We were told, however, that it is nothing compared to what they will do on their wedding night!

Wedding Bride

The bride wears a white western wedding gown with a red fancy jacket over it. The groom wears a western suit with a red silk flower. The father of both the bride and groom draw a mustache on their faces to represent that an ‘important magistrate’ has also graced the celebration. There are pink and red decorations to welcome guests and the wedding couple as they enter each yard. Children are running all over and dogs are eating anything they can find that has been dropped on the ground. There is a lot of waiting for who knows how far the bride’s home is and who knows when their ceremony is done. No one seems to mind. Lots of happy men smoking; lots of women happy and giddy.  Only the bride seems exhausted!

Wedding magistrate and participants

Wedding magistrate and participants

 

Unfortunately, we had to leave too soon to witness more.  And, we were invited to feast with each wedding party!  Oh, too bad!  It looked so delicious and the smells as they began to cook!  Ohhhhh….. But….

Good News About Gengcun

Yes Good News!!  This is what we found out from the Gengcun Folk Association president:  They have assigned each of the remaining storytelling elders two residents to apprentice.  In addition, they just received a 5 million RMB donation from a cell phone company to begin to build up the village so that it can become a more desirable place to showcase the unique character of the village.  In this way, it is hoped that the younger storytellers will be able to make a living with their storytelling in the village attracting tourists, and thus remain in the village and carry on the tradition.  Eth-Noh-Tec and our Nu Wa Story and Cultural Exchange project has been working with Gengcun on this goal together.

Nancy meeting with Jinchun Li

Nancy meeting with Jinchun Li

We have also arranged for our next trip to be in the spring of 2013 during their Geng Festival, which we will participate in with the Gengcun tellers!  So start saving your money now!  There should be a new Story Hall by then and maybe even the Geng Burial mound and temple will have been built!  Their story murals will be spruced up and who knows what else!

Sigh! Once again, it’s time to leave our Chinese home-away-from-home!

Sigh! Once again, it’s time to leave our Chinese home-away-from-home!

NEXT BLOG: OUR ADVENTURE IN HAINAN – THE HAWAII OF CHINA

 

 

 

 

 

 

Filed as: China 2011, Programs, Tours  
 

China Trip Update

Old Style Hotel in the Hutong

Old Style Hotel in the Hutong ‘Hood

Beijing Time!

Great food everywhere!

Great food everywhere!

By Friday Nov. 18th we landed and after amazingly long lines to take a taxi to our web-found hotel, we were walking the streets of Beijing again. We landed at night and as the downpour of rain began, we zig-zagged our way through flooded tight alleys of a hutong (traditional, old style Chinese neighborhood). We were starving since United fed us 2 tiny meals 11 hours apart, and so had our first evening meal of steamed dumplings (jiaoza), a dish of snow peas, red bell pepper and garlic, and a sliced chicken with chive dish.

Full and tired, we returned to this hotel converted from an 1800’s Qing dynasty period court house with tiled roof and painted in lots of red. You know, like the ones you see in kung-fu movies! We slept off jet lag on the box springs they think use for mattresses. Ouch…

Purpose of Trip

This month-long trip will include teaching storytelling theater to hundreds of middle school students at the International School of Beijing. This introduction to our storytelling course is a result of last year’s storytelling workshops and a very successful student field trip. About 14 of their students accompanied us to the storytelling village of Gengcun. Though this particular group of students will not be able to visit the village this chilly December, we will brave the wintry farm town with warm smiles for the storytellers of this traditional village.

Since this was a quick come-lately gig, both the teachers and we will be improvising. They aren’t sure what we do and we aren’t sure how they want it organized. But we’ll find out soon enough!

Perusing the Streets

Saturday, after a full night’s sleep, we found the rain had subsided to a clear sunny day – in the 50’s with that famous Beijing dry wind. It turns out our hotel is situated in a neighborhood filled with shops and restaurants – not those touristy places, but the real thing! Alleys and alleys of fruit stands, trinkets stalls, silk and tea stores, and lots of restaurants to choose from.

And Chinese everywhere!!!

As we walked and walked, it almost felt like SF’s Chinatown… but, no…. we’re really in China!

Five hours later, we’re back in bed! Jetlag, Chinese TV and zzzzzz…..

Sunday’s Trip to Temple of Heaven

train of composting bicyclists

This train of composting bicyclists were on parade was eye-catching however…

In 2007’s trip to China, our group found people scattered along the parks of the Temple of Heaven doing Tai Chi, Chi Gung, fan dancing, ball balancing, exercising on several different kinds of exercise equipment, kite flying, whip cracking, and on and on on this one day of rest for many. We even saw mothers sitting under a tree sporting albums and photographs of their unmarried son or daughter to match-make. The Temple of Heaven is just that… a place to have a heavenly time and hope for a heavenly match!

So in 2010, we searched for it again, but our group didn’t find it. This time, 2011, we thought, we’ll go where it has to be!! We walked from the west gate to the north gate, from there to the east gate and then to the south gate. Once again, feet about to fall off, we didn’t find what we found in 2007.

Brigadoon… a missed portal …

Teaching Begins

Nancy training young storytellers

Nancy training young storytellers

Wow! Only the first day Monday, and we are exhausted! We were on our feet for 6-7 hours teaching storytelling skills, movement and gesture, vocal tricks and eventually we will be coaching their projects. These middle school kids are so wonderful to work with – imagine this age as still very un-jaded, pure of heart youngsters at age 11-13!

The First Week Teaching

Hold that shape! Shapes tell stories!

Hold that shape! Shapes tell stories!

It has been exhausting, but so rewarding to work in this amazingly posh school where all the middle schoolers are given free iMac laptops to work on while they’re here. There are 7 stations of different kinds of foods to choose from for lunch, tea rooms for studying in, couch areas scattered in the hallways for teens to gather in and dialogue or work on projects. The art here is amazing, and best of all is that we are working in a school that supports their teachers who in turn support our work (vs. compete with us in some of the California schools we use to do residencies in) and where the physical structures of the school support the students. This is a very student-centered school and it shows.

We get to work in the ‘Glass Room’ or the ‘Black Box’ or the ‘Teachers Lounge’ or the ‘theater’. Everything is kept up and so the students experience that they are very worthy.

Here’s what we’re teaching: Focus and concentration, body shapes and gesture, add voice and facial expressions, use the 8 working kinds of movement and apply them to interpretation of character and their voices. And since we only see each group 2-3 times, the final session is spent on coaching their own poetry, Chinese folktales or their own original ‘folktales’ based on a value or moral they’ve chosen, or their travelogues about different provinces in China. Some classes will perform just for each other, others will perform for orphanages or other schools.

We didn’t get any turkey for Thanksgiving… just more Chinese food … Still it was yummy!

Yummmmmmy!

Yummmmmmy!

The Weekend

Ahhh…. Sore feet, sore legs, sore backs… standing for 6-7 hours everyday… The voice is starting to go, too… So, did we venture out this weekend? Well, yes, a short stint to the ‘Europlaza’ for changing traveler’s checks to RMB. This small but 4-floor mall was pretty empty and didn’t offer much in way of our interests, but there were several restaurants: Papa Johns, Yoshinaya, McDonalds … wait! There’s a Yunan Restaurant! And wow, was the food great!

Out here in this 5th ring area of Beijing, there is not much. The streets are quiet, and most people end up being inside because the coal dust in the air from coal cooking is so bad, that it just isn’t healthy to be out in it. It even seeps into our hotel and both of us have some effects from it already.

As an asthma baby, I (Nancy) find myself slightly wheezing and coughing. Robert keeps having to clear his throat. So we aren’t eager to get out there.

So what did we do? Robert is continuing to research the Kojiki, the Japanese mythology around how Japan came into being. It’s a very large task funded in part by National Storytelling Network and Going Deep. This piece will eventually be performed in April at ENT for the Going Deep Retreat and Concert Series.

I on the other hand have read novels on my iPad, am answering emails when the internet works, taking care of bills long distance, writing grants, there’s still our kids’ lives via skype and email, and we’re both making sure the office is working smoothly, though Diana is doing a great job.

I did research and write a new piece for the Year of the Dragon coming up! That was interesting. Did you know that there are hundreds of different kinds of Chinese Dragons? That some can even glow in the dark? The new piece is called ‘Dragon Pearl’.

Our Hotel

Not too shabby!

Not too shabby!

Now the hotel we are in across from the school has been an interesting adventure. A mix-up in the reservation ended in no reservation, but after 30 minutes, we finally got a room. But the next day we were told we couldn’t have it but for 2 nights instead of the 12 that was suppose to be reserved by the school for us. We were told we’d have to leave for one night and then could return. What?!

Then they said “…ok… we’ll give you free upgrade for one night, you change next night back to old room.”

“Oh no…we’re not packing and unpacking again over and over again!”

“Ok… you stay in upgrade whole time, ok? Don’t change hotels.”

So, the 3rd day we were led to the upgrade… Upgrade?! Noooo…. It may have looked like a 2 room suite, but it was absolutely filthy! Huge stains on the filthy rugs everywhere, it was smelly, the wallpaper was peeling, the wood had chips… the rooms had old stained furniture and there was no where to put our clothes for 2 weeks.

We were shown 2 other choices – the same filth.

“No… we will not stay in any of these rooms… If we have to stay in any of these rooms, we should not have to pay for it! Have you seen the 3rd floor Mr. Manager?”

Maybe hold one of our “Salon! You’re On!” events on this?

Maybe hold one of our “Salon! You’re On!” events on this? That’d be fun… hmmm but would any one come?

“No… oh… old… Ok I give you new upgrade. Trust me…”

When the next door was opened for our perusal… boy was it new! And it wasn’t just new, it was the penthouse!!

So we are staying for the entire time in a 2 story gorgeously designed penthouse. It is saving our lives!! We can’t imagine now being in one room for 2 weeks and teaching all day, then working all evening on our other projects.

The floors are either off-white tiled or shiny wood floors, and there is a study, a huge bedroom with stereo and tv, 2 bathrooms – one with a sauna and bidet, a large dining area and living room with stereo and tv, and a very large 2 story roofed – did we say huge balcony… which of course we don’t use because it is getting to be winter here and the coal dust… but as Robert says, one could have a tennis match on it!

We are so very grateful! Being clear on what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, and being able to communicate the need to have what is right is a good thing!! And what a way to have one’s residence support the work we are doing!

Back to work!

Back to work! It’s time for kids to work those stories!

Filed as: China 2011, Programs, Tours