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17 December

Second Letter From Beijing

17 Dec, 2006

Some say Japan economy, after over a decade’s recession, is finally getting out of the bottom. Some say it benefits greatly from China’s growth. Some say the diplomatic relation between the two neighbors is also warming up. After all, how cold can it further get?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. I don’t see any sign of ice-break about the bilateral relation, at least from the grass-root level. Last Sunday I went to the Century Theatre for a concert. Nobody ever mentions that theatre is a part of the so-called Sino-Japan Youth Friendship Centre.

It’s a solo concert by Chinese young pianist Li Yundi, and sponsored by Mercedes-Benz. I do understand that’s the reason Li was playing a Steinway & Sons ferried from Germany. What I don’t understand is why there was a S320 on show just outside the entrance. This made me recall my adventure into Terengganu’s huge bazaar, a magic place where you can find anything you can think of. I once entered a tent and got amazed: “Look at that! They even sell car here”.

Yet again, I was amazed to say the same ten minutes before Li’s concert.

The programme of this marvelous concert is:

Mozart: Piano sonata in C major 10
Schumann: Carnival Op. 9
Liszt: Piano sonata in B minor

I am not going to comment on the music or Li’s claw-like hands or the theatre’s acoustic condition. I got something more interesting to share with you.

I understand that a good part of audience is music-illiterate, who sit through the 90-minute boring key-hitting session accompanying their kids. It’s quite similar in Esplanade, since nowadays there are so many Asian kids learning to play piano. The difference might be: in Singapore both parents come but here most likely only one comes. The reason probably is about the price. I got 50% pay cut as I moved back to Beijing, but I found with great disappointment that the concert ticket price here is almost the same as that in Singapore (the price of this concert ranges between S$16-250). And there is a much much bigger audience here, so it’s certainly a seller’s market:-(

Here comes the consequence of high price. One thing I noticed in China theatre is that, more often than not, there are many “late-comers” who flew into the theatre 10-15 minutes after the performance begins. Later I learned that these are the music lovers who don’t afford the price. They waited until the concert starts, when the speculators who had stocked up tickets had to sell them at a dirt cheap price…sth like S$2.

(Do you know that one decade ago John Denver’s Beijing concert ticket price fell to 10 cents in this way? 🙂

OK. Too much chat. Now back to the kids. What astonished me most was the age of some of them. In the first row I spotted one still in mother’s arms. Five minutes after the concert started, it began to make noise. The usher came, trying to take it away, but the mother hesitated, until the baby upgraded from fret to……­you know what that is. Its penetrating voice and the piano solo made a fabulous duo in the silent hall.

I cannot understand how a baby in arms managed to get admission into a concert hall.

Then again, near my seat was a boy about 5 years old. Almost right after the interval he began to appeal to his father for a toilet break. His father finally gave in and accompanied him. At the exit the father was out but the boy turned around to wave to his mother, obviously seeking a family reunion. After his persistent effort, the mother had to give in and edged out of her row. When she got to the exit, she clutched the boy’s collar, trying to get him out of the embarrassment as soon as possible, but only drive him fly into one more duo.

However, these were not the things that disturbed me the most. What really made me wonder was: how come there are so many photographers?

In the first half I saw half a dozen professionals wielding their long guns walking around to take picture of the handsome Li. At first I thought they were Li’s royal photographers, but that didn’t make much sense: why Li employs so many? At a second thought, they may come from the media. But shouldn’t they be fixed at a box to take pictures instead of casually walking around in the sight of the whole audience? My friend from Shanghai went to make a complaint to the ushers during the interval and, thanks to his fussiness, we didn’t see them any more.

But that’s not the end of story. In the second half it got even worse. Maybe encouraged by these professional photographers, the amateur ones started their effort now. Some used mobile, some used camera (since even baby was let in, this time I no longer felt puzzled), and some even used flash!! The poor ushers rushed around doing a firefighting work, but some most honorable amateurs only paused when the ushers came, and carried on their cause right after.

Oh I almost forgot to mention that, in bright red dresses, these walking ushers actually brought me most disturbance.

I have to say that Mr. Li has a far better temper than many of his western counterparts. He simply kept playing, excellently, till the end, and even merrily gave two extra pieces.

None the less, I wonder whether he wanna come to Beijing again.

“Why not? It’s such a gold mine!” My friend reminded me.

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