The Ceremony

Traditional Tibetan Dance China LeshanIt has grown more and more apparent that a month is far too long of a period to go without writing anything, and I figure that with this day off it would be a great time to end the stretch. Work has kept me quite busy, and by the end of most days writing is about the last thing that I want to do. I’ve been keeping up with the Chinese, though it is rather difficult to do without someone to practice speaking with. I’ve been using QQ (the Chinese equivalent of Instant Messenger) to chat with people in China, which at the very least keeps my sentence structure together.
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I never finished writing about the remainder of my time in Leshan, and there are a few amazing moments left that certainly cannot be left out. The greatest of these, without a doubt, is the welcoming ceremony that was held in honor of the arrival of our group. I have been told on many occasions about the love that Chinese have for ceremonies and grand occasions. Our arrival would allow me to witness this firsthand and in large measure. I usually focus on the writing portion of my content, but for this post I think it is the pictures that will really carry the feeling. This ceremony was, in many respects, magical.

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Traditional Chinese Music Dulcimerββββββ

In the days leading up to the actual event, we attended a daily class entitled “Classical Chinese Music”. At first, I figured that this would be something like a music appreciation class, but it was immediately apparent that I was wrong. Instead of listening to music, it was explained that we would be learning a famous Chinese song (Mo Li Hua, Jasmine Flower) and performing it at the ceremony. Beyond the obvious difficulties that most people face in singing a song outside of their native language, we were also challenged with the fact that very few of us had any real musical ability (I am certainly not one of them) There was something that seemed almost spectacle like; having a bunch of American students butcher one of the most famous and loved Chinese classics, what more could you ask for?

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Traditional Chinese Drum Dance Leshanββββββ

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These things aside, we slowly made progress in our musical crash course. After several hours spent trying to remember the song, the rest of the time was spent listening to our teacher tell us we weren’t smiling enough. “Imagine someone that you really love”, she would say. Big smiles, big hearts. Right.

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Traditional Chinese Dance Leshan

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The day of the ceremony was marked by an excitement which had been growing since our arrival. People everywhere asked us whether or not we were ready to perform our piece, eliciting a nervous grin from most of us who were sure that this day might be our last. The anticipation felt in league with that of a crowd of spectators at a hanging.
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We arrived at the music building, the lawn in front of which was arranged as the stage for this great ceremony. Seeing the large number of tables encircling the lawn brought a heightened sense of the number of people that were expected to show up, and really helped to edge on my anxiety. Presidents and administrators from dozens of the top SUNY schools and generally every person of importance at the Leshan Teachers College, a tiny union between American and Chinese academics. In the midst of this sat the eight of us, feeling like animals at a zoo.

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Traditional Chinese Dance Leshan Ceremony

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The ceremony started with a welcome speech, and transitioned quickly into a myriad of small performances by musicians, acrobats and martial artists. The costumes were amazing, and the level of coordination and choreography that went into the planning of the performances put me into pure aw. With each act, the movements and music became more unbelievable. Then, with little warning, it was suddenly our time to sing. At this point, a very large crowd had gathered to watch, comprised of students that were eager to see the fruition of what appeared to be months of preparation. At best guess, I figured that there were somewhere between 250 to 300 people.

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China Traditional  Dance Leshanββββββ

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I don’t really remember singing the song. It has become a blur with many aspects of the trip. What I do remember is the feeling of relief that came afterward, as well as my participating in what may be the most complicated dance I have ever seen. I was told that it was a traditional Tibetan dance used to create unions, or to establish friendships.

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Fabrizio Traditional Chinese Dance Sichuanββββββ

I can’t speak on the validity of this (it smelled heavily of propaganda), but overall it was the most amazing part of the day. All of the concern that I had about the reception of our group lifted, and the time that followed was filled with great conversations with many of the students, and more photo taking than I would ever want to encounter again. This was a turning point for me, one in which I suddenly felt a greater sense of connection to the people around me and to the trip as a whole. It was a pure joy.

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