Week 1 – Beijing
So finally our tour of China has arrived, joining the company in Beijing!

[Fellow orchestra members] Mary, Arun, Mike A, Chris D, Dave, Martin, Richard and I go for a long walk up to Tiananmen Square which was amazing – (the largest square in the world I think?) and very, very cold. First we had a cheap lunch, no English spoken – really good food for about £6 a head. A few beers at the ‘karaoke bar’ and a ‘100 year old egg’ (a preserved egg from the supermarket) which was disgusting and smelt of sulphur. Then back to the hotel for beers and bed.

Day 2
Very early Chinese breakfast. Excellent… bak choi, unspecified meat dishes, omelette made by the omelette chef with his chopsticks (he is so skilful!), good coffee.

After breakfast I took a solitary, long walk through some hutongs. Hutongs are narrow streets or alleys, most commonly associated with Beijing, China. In Beijing, hutongs are alleys formed by lines of ‘siheyuan’, traditional courtyard residences.

Afterwards I went on to the Temple of Heaven. I had a great time there – it is really beautiful and peaceful, an oasis of calm in a chaotic city. The temple is magical. There were lots of people dancing, singing and playing chinese violins in the parks.

The show was good, but my jet lag suddenly hit me in the rehearsal and I nearly fell asleep. The theatre is amazing! Absolutely vast – like a giant version of the Sage in Gateshead. It is staggering and difficult to imagine the vast sums of money that must have been spent on it… it is so impressive. It takes about 10 minutes to get from stage door to the pit (even longer than in Sunderland!) and makes me laugh when I think of a comparable landmark building in England – the Millennium Dome?

– Off for the party now.

Day 3
It was a good party last night with lots of beer and lots of duck. Today: Breakfast, then off to the great wall. It was fantastic! Not too touristy, cable car up then walked down and had starbucks with Andrew Bentley [Orchestra Manager], Gwil and Mary. It felt strange visiting Starbucks here – especially with the flag of the People’s Republic of China next to it! Back to hotel – walked to theatre.

Afterwards went and had a bad meal in a really unhygienic local restaurant but am pleased to say I have lived to see another day. Beers in hotel bar upstairs and encountered Andrew, Paul [Murphy, Conductor], Phil [Ellis, Conductor] et al… Skyped home, then bed.

Study of Paul and Chris with beer

Day 4
Up early again but slept well – going to have a lazy wondering day today and then we have a show to do. It is sometimes easy to forget to do the shows when there’s so much sight seeing to be done!

Went to Bell tower and drum tower then to a cool place called Nanluoguxiang which is a hutong that has been gentrified a bit and has loads of great coffee shops (1st decent coffee of the tours) and tshirts, trainers, bags sort of shops. Have bought a great tshirt from a shop called NLGX designs who are inspired by the people behind the development of Beijing into a multicultural melting pot of artists, entrepeneurs, travelers and innovators…. it says…

Also went to visit the temple of the Golden Arches. (Macdonalds)

Day 5
A show then went to a duck restaurant – best food of the tour so far. Great duck, and a huge fish that we picked from the tank and then they took it kicking and screaming and killed it for us. How fresh is that!!! Unfortunately there was a rat above us in the eves of the ceiling when we had dinner. The waiter was meandering about, whistling, pretending to be doing nothing very much and then kept trying to grab it with a pair of sugar tongs. Nice.

Day 6
Concert day… was a difficult day and much concentration was needed. The soloists played really beautifully but the audience were not overly receptive. They don’t seem to like to clap! Then off to a Tibetan restaurant that Mary had found which was great. We ate lots of dishes including Yak and some beautiful lamb. There were people playing Tibetan instruments and we celebrated Phil’s birthday in style when midnight arrived. We downed shots of a barley wine that tasted disgusting. Then taxis back to hotel and off to karaoke bar for Grahame’s birthday. Guests at the meal included Mary and Shelley, Phil, Corinne, Arun, Mac, Geraint, Feargus, and Simon Chiswell.

The party was a belter. Matt and Max had arranged a birthday cake and Grahame did a memorable version of My Way. I was very drunk and fell asleep in my clothes. I had also tried to skype my dad and am very pleased the connection failed, just in time…

Day 7
Woke up at 11:30. Visit to the Temple of the Golden Arches. Romeo and Juliet – and in between had another meal at the restaurant with the rat. Great food! Picked another fish! Bed.

Day 8
Woke up early and had a fairly healthy breakfast – felt pleased with myself! Walked to the nearby metro station and took tube to Nanluoguxiang close to the Lama temple. A coffee, met Steve, Karen and Chris for lunch at somewhere from the Lonely Planet Guide and did a bit of souvenir shopping. There are lots of great independent shops up here. Taxi back to the hotel. We hit rush hour and it took an hour and cost only 40 Y (£4) !!

Off to do a Romeo with Paul [Murphy] conducting. Was good for me as I felt more awake and enjoyed it. Back to hotel and beers at the karaoke bar. Earlyish night for train to Shanghai tomorrow night…

Best wishes,

Rob Simmons (violin)