Urghh, midsummer coma... Slept ridiculously long today, even by my standards. Think I must have needed it, though, both after a fun party yesterday and not having fully recuperated from the tour to China yet. Since I failed to write a travel summary a couple of days ago like I promised, I will do it now instead. Right. It was certainly two intense weeks...
It all began with a flight from Copenhagen to Beijing. Nine hours on an aeroplane. All the celli had their own tickets, so I got a quiet but pleasant flight-mate. When we learned the date of the flight me and a fellow astronomy enthusiast in the orchestra were rather bummed out because we were flying exactly when the Venus transit was about to occur. Since it won't happen again until 2117 it would certainly have been a shame to miss it. But then we realised that, hey, we were going to spend those two hours above the clouds, actually giving us the best possible opportunity to view the event despite any weather. So we actually managed to observe the planet Venus against the disc of the sun through a pair of binoculars equipped with solar filters, through a window on the airplane. A memorable experience indeed!
One not-so-great thing was that I had managed to catch a cold a day or so before we flew, and continuous sleep-deprivation, change of climate and food combined with a rather intense schedule saw to it that I never really got well from it. Sneezing and coughing my way through China wasn't all that fun, but at least I didn't catch anything worse. Another thing I had worried about beforehand was whether or not I would find vegan stuff to eat (preferably more than rice and vegetables). This was essentially the last two weeks of my one-year vegan pledge, so surviving this journey on a vegan diet I guess could be seen as a final test of my devotion to this idea. To the best of my knowledge I succeeded, although it was a bit tricky at times (more on that below).
Anyway, back to the story! We arrived at Beijing on the Swedish national day, so as soon as we had been checked in at the hotel we went to the Swedish embassy to celebrate. I should hope I'm not much of a patriot, but for some reason I always feel a little proud of my country when abroad. All things Swedish feel at the same time a little more familiar-at-the-verge-of-nostalgia, and a lot more absurd when taken to the extreme by a large group of Chinese Swedes, or Swedish Chinese people, at a bastard offspring of a national-day and midsummer party. Not unexpectedly, but still regrettably, traditional Swedish food seems to consist of meat, meat, meat, fish, meat, cheese, meat and meat. (compare: spam, spam, spam, spam, baked beans, spam, spam and spam) Vegetarianism seems to have become socially acceptable to some extent, but veganism is apparently still too radical and alien. I ate about thirty miniature spring rolls and approximately a ton of fresh fruit and got the feeling that the food part of this journey was about to become a challenge indeed.
The subsequent day offered in the way of tourism a visit to the Summer Palace, the place where the emperor (plus about a hundred thousand servants, including eunuchs) used to spend his summers. Like so many places in China: mind-blowing to see. The "palace" was the size of a small town, and consisted of an enormous park with trees and hills and gardens and buildings and temples, and even a lake. According to what I heard it had been dug by hand (most probably through slave labour), and the dug-away soil had subsequently been put in a pile to form the surrounding hills. And let me tell you, it was a big lake, and pretty darn high hills. To think that people were forced to accomplish this, with nothing but their muscles and shovels, that's just plain crazy. It was an absurd experience, to walk around and marvel at the beauty, while contemplating what ludicrous things were done in the emperor's name.
The latter part of the day offered a campus tour on Peking University, apparently one of China's top universities, and playing a concert in the auditorium of said university. Apparently we had been advertised as Sweden's third best student orchestra. I strongly suspect that there was some kind of mistranslation there; I wasn't even aware that there existed a ranking system of student orchestras in Sweden. We are the third oldest orchestra of Sweden, though! The concert was a success despite jet-lagged and tired musicians; the cello section even got groupies in the form of a couple of over-excited chinese girls who wanted to have pictures taken of them together with us. Oh, the life of a rock-star...
A long, essentially nice day, which ended with me going to bed munching on some emergency crackers and nuts I brought from Sweden, grumbling about headache and lack of food. The breakfast was amazing; the chinese cuisine seems to make no distinction between breakfast and other food like we Swedes do. There were vegetables like corn, sweet potatoes and pak choy in abundance, along with rice, noodles, dumplings with mysterious fillings, fruit, seitan, pickles (and, well, meat in countless constellations). Lots of obviously vegan stuff for me to eat! I quite quickly ceased asking about the contents of dishes I was uncertain of, since it was very difficult to get a useful answer (and not offend anyone: some people apparently take it as an insult when you ask whether the food contains eggs) when not speaking a word chinese. Thankfully dairy products are almost non-existant in China, but eggs and meat-bouillon could be lurking in the strangest places. I resorted to eating only what was obviously vegan when I was unsure, and as far as I know I didn't eat any meat or even egg accidentally. I probably would have noticed, since eating meat makes me sick (I got served and ate meat by accident about a year ago, and it was not a pleasant experience). After breakfast, though, it went downhill food-wise. Since we got most of our food catered (not that I'm complaining about that, it was a wonderful luxury, really) it was pretty much take it or leave it. Lunch consisted of four different kinds of sauteed salad with rice, and for dinner only some broccoli since even the rice was out of bounds due to having eggs and pork mixed in with it.
My mood is strongly affected by how well I eat, so that night I went to bed grumbling and in misery, hoping for a better tomorrow food-wise. I was not disappointed, but more on that another time. This travel-blog is already turning into a wall of text, and I'm not even done with talking about the first week. Bear with me if you're interested, and you shall receive a full, detailed, story of my adventures on tour in China.
To be continued,