Sunday, May 07, 2006

A Music Competition

I was looking forward to a relaxing week's vacation, but despite leaving Zhangye for only one day I had a busy May Day holiday in which among other things I saw the Great Wall, took second place at a music competition with Xiao Ma, took part in the grand re-opening of his store, and had my bicycle stolen.

I was originally planning to visit the Buddhist caves at Dunhuang and the Great Wall at Jiayuguan with the Cynthia, the Peace Corps volunteer at Hexi, and four teachers from Lanzhou and Chongqing she knows. However, the final rounds of the Hexi University music competition I had promised Xiao Ma I would see through to the end with him were inconveniently scheduled for the same time, and I ended up cancelling so I could play. I could tell Xiao Ma's spirit was crushed when I told him I would go to Dunhuang at that time, and he had previously made me pinkie-swear I would play with him (which he would remind me of by raising his pinkie with a disapproving look). I did spend a day with the Peace Corps teachers when they came to Zhangye, which was fun and highlighted by bowling (Zhangye actually has bowling, to my great surprise) made unnecessarily complicated by communication difficulties with the staff. The place was completely dark until we came, so they had to spend five minutes turning everything on, and for some reason set the machine for one bowler; our best explanation was that in the true collectivist spirit, bowlers don't compete in China but rather take turns sharing one score for the good of the group. Before dinner I had also been dragged to a rather theme-parky public park in Zhangye with Xiao Ma's gang, in which my camera was commandeered and no less than 70 pictures were taken in the half-hour I was there.

I was a little hesitant to cancel my travels for a competition I knew little about, but it ended up being good fun. It wasn't at the university like the first round, but on a fashionable walking street near the city center. I have trouble understanding the title of the song we played even though I know all of the words, and my best guess at translation is "How Could You Not Care About How Sad I Am?". It uses a lot of jazzy chords and I like it quite a bit for a Chinese song. We were the only ones to play instruments again, and actually came in first place on the first day. I'm not sure how many competitors there were to start with but on the next and final day there were still 25. This time they stepped the fanfare, starting the whole thing off with a round of cannon fire that surely didn't go unnoticed in about a third of the city. The night before we went over a new song for no more than 20 minutes, which I wasn't remotely familiar with, so I was glad when Xiao Ma made a last minute change and wanted to play the same song as the day before. They also insisted I greet the crowd in Chinese, and gave me two sentences of new words right before going on, which I botched horribly when I tried to say it on stage. Three of Xiao Ma's friends I see often at the shop also performed and did well, and for a while we were in first and second place, but were overtaken at the end by a girl who did a Middle-Eastern style dance routine and came in first. The ending ceremony was long and elaborate, as we were summoned the stage one by one and men I didn't know in suits shook our hands and handed us our trophy. We also got a certificate (which says "Ma Yu Long" but not my name) and an enormous winter blanket, all in bright pink with embroidered flowers. Xiao Ma got the trophy and certificate, I got the blanket. The whole event was filmed, for local TV I believe, and an unnecessarily friendly man who owns a sports clothing shop on that street keeps giving me gifts and asking me to play guitar in his store.

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