January 11th

We’ve officially reached the halfway point of our two-week tour, and what better way to spend the day than to do whatever on our own free time? It’s about this time that people start needing some time to decompress and to take it slow, and today, after our early flight from Xi’an to Shanghai, the only thing he had planned for everybody was a “hot pot” lunch.

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A “hot pot” meal is where a group sits at a table with a boiling pot of water and many plates of raw foods. Each person can boil and flash-cook themselves any of a large variety of vegetables and meats. It was a totally new experience for us, and many found it to add a particular “challenge” to the meal! Turns out, it’s not so easy to boil thin slices of beef while holding it with chopsticks!

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We made it to our hotel for check in, where we had a brief meeting for a few people to speak to the group. We left this meeting excited and encouraged to keep up the great work!

From this point on, we were free to do what we wanted! Many of our tour participants took advantage of this time and explored the city! Many students opted to do dinner on their own, finding local “hole-in-the-wall” shops, and many just went to see what was around the hotel. Some even went as far as “the bund,” one of our destinations for the coming days, just to see the East shore lit up at night. There was even a group of students that went out for some karaoke!

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We’ve asked for people to feel free to contribute pictures of them and their friends on their free days in Shanghai so that we can post them on the flickr page with the rest of the pictures, so hopefully, we’ll be continuing to update the photo sets as more photos come in from different sources, but for now, feel free to check out the rest of our photos of our first day in the New York City of the East: http://www.flickr.com/photos/113489266@N06/sets/72157639648249436/

January 10th

Day two of our Xi’an stay started off with a visit to what many call the Eighth Wonder of the World- the Terracotta Army. The first emperor of China built an army of over 8,000 life-size pieces to accompany him into the afterlife. The army was discovered in 1974 by farmers digging a well- it has since developed into one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. The site is not fully excavated- we were able to see about 1,500 soldiers and horses. It was incredible.

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The army was actually destroyed about thirty years after its creation by rebels against the Qin dynasty- the soldiers we see today have all been reassembled by archaeologists. We even got to see some working today.

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After the visit, we had a delicious lunch followed by a visit to an art museum in the city. Our guide provided extensive and fascinating information about the history of Chinese painting and calligraphy, and we even got to try writing some characters ourselves!

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Our next stop was Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter, where we visited its central mosque before venturing into the local markets where we could shop or try some exotic foods- how does sheep’s foot sound to you?

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Our day ended with another fantastic dinner and free time to explore the city or enjoy this very nice hotel. We have another early morning tomorrow as we take flight number 3 to our next city, Shanghai!

Check out more photos from the day at http://www.flickr.com/photos/113489266@N06/sets/72157639617120315/

January 9th

It was a bright (or rather dark) and early start for us this morning, as we got up as early as 3:30am for mobilization around 4:30. The first step was checking out of our Beijing hotel! We headed to the airport to catch our flight for Xi’an!

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Less than two hours later, we landed in Xi’an (pronounced “she-ahn”)! Xi’an is a city full of rich history spanning much of China’s dynastic past. We drove through areas representative of three different dynasties just riding our bus from the airport to center city. Xi’an is much smaller than Beijing, although still large by our standards with a population of around 8 million.

Our first stop in Xi’an was the old city wall. Xi’an is the only city in China with an intact city wall, and parts of the wall have seen 600 years of history. We got off and spent some time walking around and enjoying the view!

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After a stop for lunch in the city, we went to our new hotel to check in. I think just about everybody on this tour would agree that this hotel and the rooms we are staying in are very classy and nice! Some of us have awesome views, and it feels like we’re living in penthouse suites for two nights!

Our next stop for the day was the Shaanxi Normal University for an opportunity to perform and exchange our culture with the people of Xi’an. After a few setbacks that required some heavy lifting of chairs, stands, and percussion equipment down some 8 flights of stairs, we decided to just break for dinner and perform without rehearsal. Although this could have come back to bite us, we were gifted with an incredibly friendly and encouraging audience! They laughed at all of Dr. McCutcheon’s jokes (in english, mind you!) and kept us after the concert for an encore! They wouldn’t let us leave after we had already exhausted all of our playable repertoire – quite the positive dilemma to be in!!

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For our last piece, “Hands Across the Sea,” we invited the music students of the university to join us on stage to read the piece. We had a handful of students come up, and fun was had all around! We had a chance to do some mingling, and we certainly made some friends:

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Tomorrow, we visit the Terra Cotta Warriors Museum and check out the famous Muslim Quarter of Xi’an, as well as spend some unstructured free time in the city on our own.

For all of today’s pictures, check out our flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/113489266@N06/sets/72157639582375946/

January 8th

Every day on our schedule is packed full of activities, and today was no exception. It started off with a much-anticipated visit to the Great Wall of China. It was so incredible to see such a famous structure up close, and we had about an hour and a half to explore and climb the wall- which is much steeper than you might expect! It was quite a workout, but some of us made it all the way to the very top of the mountain!

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Our next stop was a jade factory. Jade is one of China’s most precious stones, much like diamonds in America. A guide showed us around the factory and told us about the different types of jade and how it is carved. We had a chance to do some shopping, followed by a beautiful lunch at the factory’s restaurant.

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After lunch, we toured the Summer Palace. This was the summer home of many emperors, and this is reflected in its extravagant beauty. The palace has been around since 1100. One of the most amazing things about the places we see here is how old they are- the Great Wall dates back to 700 BC! Compared to the US, everything here seems ancient.

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Our last day in Beijing continued with a traditional tea ceremony, where we got to taste five different types of traditional Chinese tea. It was a lot of fun and very delicious. The food didn’t stop there- we went straight to a Peking duck dinner, a Beijing specialty.

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Our night ended with a theatrical Kung Fu show, full of dance and acrobatics. Our tour guide says it is the best kung fu show in the world. Tomorrow, our early morning starts at 4:30AM as we get on a plane to our next Chinese city, Xi’an.

Check out more pictures from the day at http://www.flickr.com/photos/113489266@N06/sets/72157639552541534/

January 7th

As many students remarked during a well deserved dinner, this day was one of the busiest we had in weeks, or even months!

We started our day off with a buffet style breakfast at our hotel, the Holiday Inn Beijing. We left for the Temple of Heaven at 8am to get an early jump on a long day of sightseeing!
The Temple of Heaven was built for the emperor to pray and hold prayer ceremonies. Amazingly, though the huge construction is made entirely of wood, it contains not a single nail! All of the wooden pieces are just interlocking! Take a look:

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Next, we left for the famous Tiananmen Square, the world’s largest public city square. There, we saw many Chinese national landmarks, including the national museum, the hero’s memorial, the building where Chairman Mao is buried, and the grand entrance to the Forbidden City.

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We then got a tour of the Forbidden City from our tour guides! This was an awesome experience, and we took many pictures! There was so much history and culture to learn about! It really makes you think about where our country fits on a relative time scale!

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As our tour guide so eloquently put it after 2 hours of walking, we needed “to recharge our energy,” and we went for lunch. Following lunch, we traveled to Beijing Wuzi University, were we had a brief rehearsal and a performance! This performance was a concert exchange with a local professional jazz band, it it was great to get to experience some of Beijing’s music too! Check out the performance venue:

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Some of our students even go to sit in on the jazz band’s last chart and share some solos with the pros! It was a great experience for all!

Following the concert, we traveled across town for a reception planned and hosted by Gettysburg College. It was a gathering for us and friends and family of Gettysburg College and its students that live in the area. We have many international students at Gettysburg, and this was a wonderful networking opportunity for the college. Students and faculty intermingled with the attendees, and a speech from President Riggs rounded off the evening.

We headed out to a late dinner following the reception, then went back to the hotel for the evening. It was a long and weary day, but it is so great that we got to see all of the sights that we have seen so far!

Tomorrow is another day of sight seeing, highlighted by a trip to the Great Wall of China! Stay tuned!

To see all of today’s pictures, check out our flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/113489266@N06/sets/72157639522859434/

January 5th and 6th

Our group was split in two for this first flight to Beijing- the first half left Gettysburg at 5:30AM to take off from Newark at 12:20. The second departed at 7:15 to take off from Dulles at 12:40.

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Airports are complicated. Add in a bunch of band instruments and equipment, and it further complicates the experience. Many airport staff members do not have much experience with our instruments, which led to some trouble during check-in. One of our tuba players even ended up taking a separate flight to get his tuba on board (don’t worry, he had a buddy and it worked out just fine!). Our Dulles group boarded just about on time, but the Newark group was delayed two hours. During this delay, I had some time to do some interviews- we’ll post those tomorrow.

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After 14 hours in the air, or about 24 total travel hours, we landed in Beijing! We met our tour guide, May, who will be helping us out for the duration of our stay in China. The day ended with a delicious Chinese dinner, served family-style. Tomorrow, we’ll start our tour of China off with exploring Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City as well as performing our first concert at Beijing Wuzi University.

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Check out more photos from the day at http://www.flickr.com/photos/113489266@N06/sets/72157639477979785/

January 4th

Today, we welcomed our group back to Gettysburg!
Tour participants poured in from all over to meet for the first time in 2014 in Gettysburg’s Schmucker Hall

Students set up Paul Recital Hall for our tour information meeting and pre-departure rehearsal:

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Check out these great pictures of our ensemble during our final rehearsal on American soil!

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We’ll be on our busses by the time the sun comes up tomorrow! We’re flying out of Two different airports: half of the group from Newark, and the other half from Dulles. By 12:30pm eastern time tomorrow, we’ll have taken off on direct flights to Beijing!

Check out of flickr gallery of all of our pictures taken from today: http://www.flickr.com/photos/113489266@N06/sets/72157639421649004