Saturday, November 21, 2009

Traditional Banquets and Traditional Music

Hangzhou, I was assured, is a small town. It is where the citizens of Shanghai come to chill out. Hearing that you might expect something peaceful, small, a lot of countryside perhaps - and certainly there is the lake, and pleasant walks and parklands alongside. However, through the coach window that night it looked like this

a huge city.

Night seemed to come quickly in China: a blink, it seemed, and it was there. After the day of shop-opening and factory visiting we were due to have another banquet and the another fashion show but I was flagging. I asked Lisa if it would be possible for me to forgo the fashion show. It is perfectly possible to have too much of a good thing, and anyway I was catching an early train for Shanghai the next morning and I wanted to make sure I was packed and ready. In truth I could have done without another banquet. In fact what I would have liked just then was a cheese sandwich on my own in an empty quiet room and the chance to sleep, but instead we went here:

The People's Hall - a splendid newly built place with marble floors and beautiful girl lift guards

and a brightly-lit banqueting hall.

At the end another traditional band was playing, and I went over to take a closer look:

According to Wikipedia there are eight 'sounds' in traditional Chinese music: silk, bamboo, wood, stone, metal, clay, gourd and hide depending on what they were originally made from. The silk instruments have strings which were originally made from silk, and so of special interest. These in turn can be either bowed

(I think these may be a variety of huqin - of which there are thirty different sorts), or struck

(I think the instrument on the left, a sort of dulcimer, is a Yangqin which may have been introduced to China by way of the silk road from Iran) or plucked (these on the right are Pipas, ancient hand held zithers).

Also in this ensemble were a couple of flutes and another zither, though I can't really tell which sort, maybe a Guzheng. I like traditional Chinese music - it has a haunting wistful feel.

I shared my table with the sericulturists from Bangalore - India's biggest silk region - and a few of Lisa's fellow students who unfortunately couldn't understand each other. Although the Indians could speak English well they also had a very strong accent. I had to listen carefully before I understood enough to reply at which point one of the students asked me incredulously 'You can understand him?' Then shook her head and said she couldn't understand him at all. At this point they must have spent at least two days in each other's company - it must have been hard going for them both.

The brown things in the front dish on the rotating glass table were tongues of duck. Later a whole duck appeared curled up on the plate complete with bill. The Chinese tend to eat all of the animal, and if I could override my western sensibilities I am sure I would too because I can see this is a good idea. According to my guide book this is the result of a 'famine diet' - one in which no part of the animal is wasted, and one maybe the whole world could do with adopting.


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