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Swine Flu & Opera

When fatal disease can sometimes be better than cultural education

sunny 34 °C

Well, it's been a long time since my last entry, mostly because things have been ticking over here without much incident. My training has continued at a steady pace, the weather is fine and occasionally students quietly come or go. The only two noteworthy events of the last months have been the arrival of an opera troupe and our brush with Swine Flu...


Hmm, I'm, not sure how to begin this opera section, I may already have built it up too much. Let's just start at the beginning.

The boss's brother-in-law works at the school as the head chef, and somehow he organised for the amateur dramatic society from his home town to come here and put on a show. They arrived in two very large coaches and took over the training hall one weekend.

Chinese opera has a mixed reputation. It is colourful and spectacular, often with incredible displays of gymnastics and martial skill. It can also be very long and meandering, and is completely unintelligible unless you are fluent in Chinese AND know what the plot is meant to be in advance. Setting a tonal language to music has limitations.

The night came for the big show and we were ushered into the training hall which was already packed with people. There were children running around everywhere, climbing all over the stage and everyone was very excited. Special signs had been hung up advising people not to smoke or hock phlegm on the carpet but that was apparently seen as more of a guideline than a rule.

We were shown to the best seats in the house, right at the front, with a table in front of us and cups of tea that were being constantly refilled. I felt a little self conscious, particularly since we were a little bit late and they had waited for us to start the show.

Anyway, once we were there and seated the lights came down and the orchestra (six men with violins) started playing.


The musicians were all pretty good although I found the score itself to be more than a little repetitive.


The story began with the arrival of a "man" carrying a fan which I am told marks "him" as a scholar. I was a little surprised to see a woman playing a man and was in fact expecting to see men playing women as is traditional in Chinese opera. I guess there are a shortage of men wanting to dress in skirts and sing falsetto here. It took me a little while to work out that she was also heavily pregnant and that bulge was not part of her costume!


As the opera progressed I was disappointed to find that there were to be no sword fights, displays of acrobatics or pretty girls. In fact the "young" girls were actually a little bit scary, especially the one in the light blue dress who insisted on sobbing shrilly as she sang.



Combine the shrill sobbing and piercing singing voice of this harridan with the unceasingly, repetitive violins and you have a recipe for a headache of awesome proportions. And we're still only half an hour into it. I was really starting to wish we hadn't been seated right at the front so I could quietly sneak away.

The story continued at a snail's pace with memorable highlights being when the trollop turned round too fast and lost some of her elaborate hairpins, or when their father came on singing but had forgotten to turn on his radio mic.

Two hours later this five minute story concluded in a predictable fashion with the union of a pregnant man and an aging damsel in a lesbian wedding that I'm sure wasn't state authorised.



Everybody applauded, a surprisingly quiet round of applause given how full the hall had been... oh. Since we were sat at the front enduring the tuneless screechings of a foreign tongue at full volume, we hadn't noticed the locals had done what I had hoped to do and sneaked off out the back at, what I would guess to be, a MUCH earlier stage of the performance.

Later that evening they put on a second show which we politely declined to attend. Once was enough :)

Swine Flu:

Daniel, a returning student, arrived here on a Saturday evening and on Sunday was required by the local police to go for a medical check-up to make sure he didn't have the dreaded swine flu. He had been checked all through the journey, on the plane, at the airport etc. because everyone is so worried about the spread of this terrible disease.

At the medical they discovered his temperature was 0.2 degrees lower than normal (shocked gasp) so he was quarantined over night, Scarlet, the translator who was with him, was quarantined and Liu Sifu, the driver who took him to the hospital, was also quarantined.

China's well-oiled emergency response teams were quickly dispatched to the school, where they jumped out of their van and proceeded to suit-up in their bio hazard gear before questioning us about how much contact we had had with Daniel, where we were when we talked to him, whether we washed after shaking his hand, etc. and marking down our responses on large, complicated looking forms.



Before they left they issued us with a list of rules detailing that we were to stay in our rooms and not go within two metres of anyone else; phones, keyboards, taps and toilets were to be thoroughly washed; we were to open the windows of our rooms to get some fresh air and we were to do light exercise indoors to raise our immune systems. No one was allowed to leave the premises and we were to eat all meals on our own, in our rooms.

They phoned at ten the following morning to tell us that, to no one's great surprise, Daniel didn't have swine flu, he could come back to the school and the restrictions could be lifted. Daniel however was to be confined to his room and barred from train for the next seven days. Something about the flu having a seven day incubation period, although seeing as he didn't have the flu we weren't sure quite what the point was.

We were all meant to have our temperature checked twice a day whilst they were testing Daniel but since he was only away over night I was the only one who got checked before they phoned through the all-clear. Fiona came to my room with a thermometer and asked if I knew how to use it and of course I said, yes.

"OH!" she said, "most Chinese people put it in their armpit!"

"Oh" I said, and took the thermometer out of my mouth.

My temperature was 36.1, I'm glad the CDC didn't see that or I'd have been in trouble.


So that's about it really. There has been some talk about a television crew coming to film Qu Sifu and the Mantis class for a documentary but they were unable to come in the end since they accidentally double booked with the Dragon Boat Festival, you know, that annual festival they have on the same date every year? Don't sound like the brightest people do they? :P

Incidentally, that was another let down, nothing actually happened on Dragon Boat day, no dragons, no boats, very disappointing. Anyway, the next big event should be the upcoming Laishan competition in June which I will be taking part in. That should definitely be worth a blog whatever happens :)


Hope everyone's well back home and having fun, I'll see you all in a couple of months :D

All the best,


Posted by IRShaolin 19:33 Archived in China Tagged backpacking

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