Saturday, January 14, 2012

Lincoln Center

Greetings from New York City! I'm currently writing from the tour bus as we head back to home base for the evening. Hopefully I can get into a routine of updating my blog as I travel.

My tour with Shen Yun Performing Arts officially began over two weeks ago. Our first venue was in Waterbury, CT where we did 3 shows at the very end of December. Because the city is mainly built upon industrial business the theater was a little smaller than I had hoped, but it was also beatifully kept in it's original 1920s style.

Our second venue was in Philadelphia, PA at Merriam Theater (which is actually part of the Kimmel Center, home to the Philadelphia Orchestra). This theater was also a but smaller than I imagined it would be; it had beautiful velvet chairs and handpainted angels or muses all over the ceiling. The shows went very well overall and the audience seemed to be very enthusiastic.

We started our run at the Koch Theater (home to the New York City Ballet) on Wednesday. We left around 7 in the morning to get to the venue and do our soundcheck. If you have never been then just know that The Koch Theater seats 2,544 people. Our management had risers put in place to elevate the orchestra in the pit so that audience can see us play our instruments. Wednesday afternoon we did a rehearsal and then opened the curtain at 7:30pm. Ok, let's be honest here, I was nervous. Not pee-my-pants nervous, but "hey! You're about to perform at Lincoln Center, don't mess up!" nervous. And you know what? I played pretty well, if I do say so myself. Strangely enough, my nerves all went away after the first two pieces in the program; it felt just like any other hall. If I thought too much about it I would sort of get those butterflies in my stomach, but then I'd start playing again after some rests and feel relaxed again. The fact that I've rehearsed all this music hundreds of times also helps.
Thursday and Friday's show were also both fine, but I was pretty tired since we typically don't get back from the theater until 12:30am and then we get up at 6:30 or 7am and do it all again. Thursday we had a tv news team come and do a segment in the morning.

Today's show was at 2pm. I skipped lunch to get my warm-up in. I'm thinking this is how tour life will be for a while. It's not ideal, but I make do. I learned that hard way that constantly traveling from place to place requires a lot of self-motivation and pre-planning in order to ensure I'm at the top of my game every night. Otherwise I would never practice or warm up or cool down.

Anyway, the show went really well today for me personally. I'm sorry our last show in NYC is tomorrow... I wish I could stick around and explore the city a little bit. Luckily, we have another set of shows in April! So we'll be back.

Hip-hip-hooray for my debute performance at Lincoln Center with the Shen Yun Performing Arts Orchestra! A year ago I wouldn't have dreamed I'd be performing here. I feel very lucky, and very happy, and very grateful.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Shen Yun, Continued...

Now let's see, where did I leave off? I think it was my return from Beijing. Yes well, as things did not go according to plan (as often happens in this life) I called up MOm and Dad, told them I was coming home, booked my flight for September 8th, and prepared to restart my professional pursuits in the Cincinnati area. As my parents are probably the most incredible people to walk the earth, they warmly welcomed me back into their new Kentucky home so that I would have a place to stay until I could get back on my feet financially.

First meal back in the US? Red Robin! My god, it's true what they say about not knowing what you have until it's gone! Milkshakes, veggie burgers (those divine vegetarian entities are so rare in China!), and properly oil-laden French fries and onion rings. Homer Simpson was right, if you rub a piece of food on a napkin and the grease mark doesn't let you literally see through the napkin, then clearly the food item was not made with the appropriate, US Government-sanctioned amount of artery-clogging goodness. Truth.

My first week back I think I just slept a lot. I mean, I made a hibernating bear look like it was only taking a 5 minute nap. But it felt good. I spent my afternoons taking walks to the Kentucky government building to become a Kentucky resident (wierd), renew my drivers license (easy test), and help mom and dad turn in paperwork for their house. Luckily the building was only about a mile away. On the weekend, Dad and Mom coaxed me from my room and said, "We're going with you to find a car. You need a job and a car to get there." ah, my parents are wise. So we went to Ford, Nissan, Toyota, Mazda, and I think one other place but I can't remember what it was. I was looking for your basic small sedan, really the cheapest thing I could get. Well, the Nissan people said they just got in a used car in great condition: a 2009 Nissan Sentra with only 30,000 miles. It was perfect, and I think Mom and Dad liked it too. We all agreed on it and then I put a downpayment on the sporty, little red car and drove it home at around 9pm that Saturday night. Voila!!!

The next week I was still sleeping in a bit too late. However, I began searching for a part-time job. I think I applied to every single restaurant between Burlington,KY and Kenwood Mall north of Cincinnati. I got interviewed on the spot at B-dubs and Currito, and then went a few days later to Ruby Tuesday where I was also hired quickly. I decided to work at RT's in Kenwood-I figured I get more tip money and be less fat than if I worked at Currito, and less lung-cancery than if I worked at b-dubs (you can still smOke in restaurants in Kentucky).

That same second week a good friend of mine informed me of an opening in a tour group that needed a horn player. He gave me the contact information and within a few days I found out the audition date which ended up being only 4 days away. Well, long story short, I won the job. So now here I am in New York playing principal horn in the Shen Yun Performing Arts Orchestra.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Shen Yun Performing Arts

Hello everyone! I'm back on the blogging trail once again. Thank you to everyone who constantly supported my blog craziness... When I returned to the States I was asked by several people to keep writing... Well prepare to read about my upcoming adventures in what my friends and I call "Other China."

To be begin, I am no longer living in Beijing. I had a wonderful time experiencing the culture, the food, and meeting some very wonderful people. At the end of my third month with the Opera orchestra, however, there were some changes the administration wanted to make to my contract. After much negotiating we could not reach an agreement and so for the benefit of all involved I chose to return to the United States this past September. I would like to specifically thank Mr. Gardner and Profesfor Mark Gibson for giving me such a wonderful opportunity and experience. I regret nothing and treasure the memories i made during those 3 months.

So what happened after that? Tune in next time for the next part of my musical adventure!!!

Saturday, August 27, 2011


Shopping at Wu-Mart.
Singing in the rain on the way to work!
Umbrellas at work!

The American 5 with Guo Zhicheng, one of the orchestra's trumpet players.

Kyle and Keyondra waiting on the subway platform (note that they are following all regulations by standing behind the yellow line).
Line 2 subway platform at 8:45am.
Subway platform for Line 13... the train is arriving.
Ordering pizza at Papa Johns... it's so beautiful!
Eating a mooncake!!!
Mooncake taste-test remains. So delicious. Mostly.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tears of happiness...

Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, I have here in my hands the very proof needed to end a debate that has been raging for decades. The topic? Pizza. The debate? Which restaurant in the world makes the finest quality product. The answer is Papa Johns. Before you fall out of your chair or think of sending me a terrible letter threatening my life, listen to my argument, my proof!!! I have lived in Beijing for almost 3 months. The most popular restaurant here is Pizza Hut. And it's frozen. Ugh. I mean, sure it tastes ok, but pizza hut?  No. And then there was the day last week when I discovered Papa John's one subway stop over from where I live.  Exhausted from work and my limbs stiff from sitting all day in a grueling rehearsal of opera finales, I realized that the only way I could continue to survive, the only way my life would have any meaning, would be to buy and consume a Papa J's creation!  As I stepped out of the rehearsal hall this afternoon I immediately felt that this one adventure would be a defining moment in my life. But wait! I have not yet told of my companions! Let me try to begin again.

The Lord of the Rings Pizza.

Cast of Characters:

Cecilia Kozlowski as Doughdo Baggins
Keyondra Price as Legosauce
Kyle Ruth as Pepperonli
Chris Reid as Johndalf the Papa
Brittany Foster as Hawaiiwen

Once upon a time there was a great meeting of Elves, Man, Dwarf, Hobbit, and Wizard in the great realm of Beijing, China. Not for centuries had there been such a gathering of such importance with so many different peoples.  As scores of people entered the Elven National Opera House for their daily rehearsal none knew the historic event they would help unfold in the coming hours!  The first tuning pitch was given, everyone settled in their seats. The choir rustled their papers and warmed their vocal chords. And then the orchestra began to play Aida.  For weeks there had been something different in the weather, in the water, in the very air we breath, foreshadowing a great event... a storm was coming... the great and powerful all knowing Pie, Saurohut, was growing stronger by the day. Yet, the peoples of Middle China seemed to go about their business unawares. Aida played on in such a way that this day, too, seemed just like any other. That is, until Johndalf the Papa, aged and wise, stood up during 10:30am Elven coffee break and declared to all those who would listen (ok, so there were only 4 within earshot...) that unless someone stepped forward to find the one true Pizza that Middle China would crumble and with it the Elven National Opera House.  Immediately there was a voice that rang through the streets proclaiming intent to be the very person Middle China needed. It was the voice of the Big Cat...Doughdo Baggins, a hobbit from Cinshirenati, Ohio.  "I'll do it!" she cried! Johndalf looked relieved for the quest to be claimed by such a strong, brave heart such as Doughdo's.  And then, to his surprise, other voices joined in.
   "You have my bow!" said the tall Legosauce, most fair and beautiful Elven warrior princess.
   "And my axe!" interrupted a fierce and muscled Pepperonli, dwarf son of Pepperonin.
And so it was that on that 23rd day of August in the rehearsal hall of the Elven National Opera that the Fellowship of the Pizza set forth to attain and destroy the most powerful pizza ever created from the great and all knowing Pie, Saurohut. 
   Because the members of the fellowship were of such noble and honorable mind, they waited until rehearsal was over at 3:30pm to begin their journey North towards Mount Spoon.  Everyone know how terrible that mountain was... no person but the evil-souled Saurohut would ever deign to name their pizza country after a utensil as useless to pizza as a spoon. And any land named after a spoon only promised things of the most vile nature: soup bogs, day-old molten ice cream volcanoes, and  dead spork trees.
   The first part of the journey took the Fellowship to the ICBC Bank. After all, a trip of this magnitude required appropriate funding in the appropriate currency. The International Citizen's Bank and Crust was extremely helpful and by the end of the transaction the already travel-weary company successfully exchanged Middle China RMB (Real Mozzarella Bill) into Elven USD (United Sauce Dollar) and withdrew some extra cash for spending (you can't just walk up to Mount Spoon, order the one true pizza and walk of it with it for free!). 
   The companions knew that in order to make the next leg of their trip they would need Steeds as worthy as their names and so to the Beijing Ranchstation they went. Once there, the 3 friends saw only one steed that would do: the mighty Subwayfax!  Red and silver the mighty stallion seemed to soar through the air. The companions jumped aboard and proceeded down the public highway known as Line 2. They stopped only once at the transfer stable, and then resumed their journey on Line 5, making it all the way to Mount Spoon.
  As soon as the fellowship leapt down from Subwayfax they could sense that the land they had entered was foreign and hostile.  The people here were loud and frantic, it was hard to keep the mountain in sight! Yet, after a quarter mile there it was: Mount Spoon, and within it, the very pizza restaurant Saurohut was guarding!  Doughdo Baggins, Pepperonli, and Legosauce ran up the mountain, ordered the pizza, paid, and then ran out!  The mountain began crumbling and the Fellowship had to run away!  The Dwarf and elf were seperated from Doughdo in the great crowd of people. In the end, though, all three climbed back aboard Subwayfax excitedly carrying their treasured Papa John's pizza. In their hearts, however, they knew that the adventure was far from over.  Doughdo could not help but note that as they walked home that the pizza box became heavier and heavier. It was a terrible burden that burned in their hands!  The cheese on the pizza was the real deal... something so rare to come across in Middle China. The Hobbit, the Elf, and the Dwarf could all feel it's power.  By the time they reached a hideout Doughdo could barely walk, and yet she still opened the box and, picking up a slice, prepared to begin devouring the pizza. It was the only way to truly destroy Saurohut, proving beyond a doubt that Papa John's could and would bring peace about the land because it was the one true pizza! BUT! Just as Doughdo was about to take a bite she suddenly placed the slice back in the box, snapped the lid shut, and cradled the box in her arms whispering "my precious, my own, my precious." Pepperonli and Legosauce looked on in horror! What could they do???  
   "Doughdo! Do not be afraid, Doughdo. I am here. You must be strong. What grace has given me, let it pass to you!" These words were spoken by a very beautiful elf woman in what seemed to Doughdo a vision. The voice continued, "I am named Hawaiiwen, I am of the mystical Pizza Elves and I give you the power to continue your quest!" And then Doughdo felt the strength to continue on and before the light of Hawaiiwen faded the pizza box had been reopened and the slice of pizza taken in hand. Doughdo bit into the cheesy, melty pizza and it was then that all the darkness in the world caused by Saurohut was thrown into light and all wrongs became right and the Fellowship of the Pizza completed their quest. 

The End.


Ok, well I hope you enjoyed my story. Yup, I sure did base it off Lord of the Rings and yes I reworked the plot a little bit. Tolkien would be very proud of me, I think.  Mostly I just really enjoyed my Veggie Supreme Stuffed Crust Pizza from Papa John's and wanted to share that enjoyment with my fellow bloggers.  Who knows? Maybe I'll find a Jet's or Dewey's Pizza here? That would be cool. Until then, Papa J's remains the best pizza ever simply because it exists in China.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


So every September 15th (or so) there is a celebration in China called the "Moon Festival", a tradition dating back to the Shang Dynasty (3,000 + years ago).  It is an important holiday for the Chinese people marking the end of the Autumn harvests and a sort of praise to the moon while it is at it's fullest.  The traditional  desserts are little sweets called Moon cakes. As I've only had one kind I'm not sure if there are many flavours or if there are only different brands. Brittany's birthday happened to coincide with the Moon Festival this year so I bought her a box instead of a traditional American birthday cake.  While I thought these moon cakes would be the usual 9" pan-size it turns out that they are actually small, about 3-4" in diameter.  Each are sweet white-flour soft cakes filled with something that has a taste and texture similar to the filling in fig newtons, except that the color is green.  Pretty tasty! The packaging is a little over the top, if I may say so (another topic I must address later in the post). I guess the traditional way these cakes are sold are in these gift boxes that are about 1 foot across, 1 foot tall, and 2 inches deep. Within each box are little slots where the miniature boxes containing the mooncakes fit. Each small mooncake is held within a plastic wrapper and then placed within a small cardboard box which then fits inside the larger box, next to the other mooncakes.  So weird, I know, but kind of pretty, too.  The price of each of these gift boxes range from 55 RMB to over 500 RMB (think between $7 and $75 USD).  I bought the 55RMB one. haha.  BUT! Brittany and I went back to Wu Mart today and found that they do sell the cakes individually. We picked 6 different brands and will be taste testing them tonight.  My next blog post will tell if there are different flavours.  The best tasting cakes will be noted and then selected again to be sent home as gifts! Get ready friends and family!!!


Ok, so let's talk about the packaging here.  Not just of mooncakes, but of all things.  The Chinese seem to love wasting materials. I don't get it. For instance, a package of oreos in the US is generally a plastic tray that holds 3 rows of cookies; these are surrounded by one plastic wrapper. The end. Here, each row of cookies has it's own plastic tray and is individually wrapped in plastic. This is then surrounded in even more plastic. You think, "Ok, cool, I can keep the cookies fresher for longer." Except that each tray, while it looks like you're getting a whole USA row of oreos, is really only holding 5 cookies. So depressing. 

Brittany, on her birthday, in front of the mooncake box and wrappers.

On a brighter note, the group of us here had a wonderful time celebrating Brittany's birthday last weekend.  We went on Saturday night to our favourite Latin restaurant, Casa Latina, where we ate good food and listened and danced to a live Salsa band!  Margaritas and Sangria were abundant, and it turns out that the special was "Buy 1 Sangria, get 1 FREE appetizer". Even though the restaurant serves mainly Latin fare, I went ahead and took advantage of their Italian-style wood-fire pizzas! So delicious!  I will also take a moment to admit that I may or may not have been slightly inebriated and that I may or may not have danced like a fool in front of the whole restaurant.  See, it was like this: The singer of the band came over to our table of 5 and tried to get everyone to dance. I got up right away and sprinted to the dance floor. No one followed me!  So, I just kept dancing! What the heck? Why not?  And you know what? This really handsome German guy came up to me afterwords and gave me a rose saying that I was very beautiful!  haha!  I had a lot of fun! And later Keyondra, Brittany and I showed the Chinese people how to do the Mackarena (sp?) and then we did a conga line!  At one point Chris and Brittany were also asked to come to the stage and do a drum solo with the band! How cool is that?!
The live Salsa band at Casa Latina!
The conga line... it's hard to see me, but Keyondra and Brittany are the two people in the left of the picture, next to the man in the pink shirt.

Brittany, the birthday girl!
Keyondra and Brittany with their margaritas, laughing.
Kyle and Keyondra at Casa Latina.
Kyle and Chris, obviously not too thrilled about the dancing part of the evening.  haha.
Who isn't happy when there are pitchers of sangria around?

Me and my Strawberry Margarita!

Last weekend I also took some time on Sunday to go to the English Book Store in Wang Fu Jing.  I have a lot of time here to read and, since I take after my mother, I read really fast.  Brittany and I have been exchanging books just to keep some of the cost down, though while my choice in books isn't limited in any way, Brittany doesn't always seem interested in my choice of books (I do prefer fiction/fantasy/etc).  So far I've read the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini (3 books about Dragons and adventure!!), Connie Willis' "All Clear" and "Blackout" (time travel), I've reread Stephanie Meyer's four books in her "Twilight" series (I'm still 'Team Edward", for the record...), Marion Zimmer Bradley's "The Forest House" (a prequel to her version of the King Arthur story), and Sarah Gruen's "Ape House" and "Water for Elephants" (both plots centered around animals and the complicated relationships between people). So, I bought (stocked up on??) the first 4 books of the Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice ("Interview with a Vampire", "Queen of the Damned", etc), Tolkien's "Silmarillion" (it takes place in the same world as "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings"), and "portrait of a Lady" by Henry James (I had to fit in some classic literature to keep myself well-rounded).

MY CARE PACKAGE!!!  Life really is about the small things. Except when you get a LARGE package from Mom and Dad in the mail while you're living in Beijing, China. Words cannot express how happy and excited and thankful I was when Mrs. Wang came and told me I had received something in the mail. And then, imagine the looks I got when I walked back into rehearsal after break carrying this big box!  Kyle wondered who was more excited, me or the other four people I live.  Mom and Dad, you guys are great!  I got Jiffy CRUNCHY! Peanut Butter, 3 boxes of Kraft Mac and Cheese!!, a bag of Cheese Puffs! (love those things, and um, I ate the whole bag in one sitting...), 1 Much-needed Cosmo magazine (how can I live without knowing the most up-to-date fashion trends, how to flatten my abs in 4 easy steps, and 50 sex moves thousands of men rank, along with hot and not-so-hot things I can do to their naked bodies???), as well as 6 more books to read!!!  I am the luckiest daughter ever! The most important items, however, are the two home-movie DVDs made by my parents.  I think one of the hardest things about being so far away is not knowing when I'll get to SEE people again. It's nice to watch a movie that is generally hilarious, and get to hear people speaking; I love seeing how things have changed (or stayed the same) in the Cincinnati/Kentucky area where many of my friends and family are.  So, thanks guys! I love you!

Ah yes,  only the best literature in my care package... and Cosmo, too!

There has never been anything more beautiful in the world than Jiff peanut butter, Kraft Mac and Cheese, and Cheese puffs!!!

HARRY POTTER!  Last night Chris and Brittany and I all went to the Solana Shopping District and watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 2.  It was wonderful to finally get to a theater and watch a movie in English. The Theater was really nice, too. We bought out tickets early in the evening; it was neat because here you actually get to choose the exact seats you want to sit in (like a concert hall). The seats were very plush, and the entire theater was very well taken care of.  The tickets were 80 RMB (about $11 USD) which is about how much it would cost in the states, but the popcorn was really cheap: 2 soft drinks and a large popcorn for 30 RMB (about $5 US).  Cool, huh?  I loved the movie... it was a little sad because the Harry Potter adventure has come to a close, but the movie ended well. I thought the length of the film was a little short, especially since they could have added so much more to the plot and character action, but overall they stuck to the book. I cried a bit at the sad parts (I won't give anything away for people who might not have seen it yet), but the very end was happy. I almost bought a wand and Harry Potter glasses at the gift shop. haha. I can always go back.

Solana Movie Theater with a cool little "Platform 9 and 3/4" set-up for the Harry Potter movie.

Sitting inside the movie theater... the seats were really comfy!
Today I just slept in a bit (ok, until, um... 1pm), went and had lunch at the Korean restaurant down the street with Chris, Brittany, and Kyle, picked up some ice cream at the Wu Mart, and then came back to play rummy with Brittany for a  few hours.  The way we all typically live around here is almost silly. Most days we'll come home from work (or on the weekends, we'll come home from shopping and sight-seeing), and then Kyle, Keyondra, and Chris will settle down to play World of Warcraft (computer game) with the TV on in the background generally set to the soccer sports channel; Brittany and I will sit at the dinner table and play Rummy or Scrabble while being generally silly (this includes but is not limited to occasional bouts of singing pop and Disney songs, dancing, laughing hysterically over absolutely nothing, and eating entire boxes of cookies).  Life is good. :-)

I talked to my brother, Paul, via text yesterday.  I guess he's back in Hawaii now.  I miss that kid a lot, and by kid I mean 6'4'', super-muscle, US Marine Corps dude who is now engaged to super-pretty Melissa Paul and about to close on a house in Michigan. Yeah, that kid.  I'm excited for the next time he and I are both home in the mainland United States... I told him that my wedding gift for he and Melissa would be a puppy of their choosing.  I'm pretty excited about that.. Paul, I hope you are looking into this dog-ownership thing because you're getting a pet now whether you want it or not!  ;-)  It turns out that Paul will likely be discharged from the Marines within the next few months for back problems and hearing loss (carrying hundreds of pounds of gear and ammo while traversing the Iraqi desert isn't exactly conducive to good posture...).  This is exciting for Paul and Melissa, thought, because now they can start planning their life together while knowing that they'll both be in the same place for more than 3 weeks. 

Well, I guess I'm going to make dinner now. I forgot to mention the pasta Mom and Dad sent... I found some Alfredo Sauce at the BHG in Solana so that's what I'ma gonna eat! Zai Jian!

Oh, and here are just a couple more pictures:

Keyondra and I getting in on some serious Watermelon action... I think she bought it from the Vendor outside our apartment complex.
These are little cabs that I sometimes take after a long day at work. The subway station is about a mile from my apartment so for only 5RMB (75 cents US) this is a cheap way to save some walking when I'm feeling particularly lazy.
Well, we were opening some wine and the bottom of the bottle broke off into the sink. OH NO! Don't worry, though... we had a second bottle ready to go!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Some more pictures...

Back in mid-July, signing my contract for the orchestra. There were two: one in Chinese and one in English.
Shaking "Yu Feng's" hand after signing my contract.
The Big Cat, Vegetable Warrior Princess!
Putting together the bedframe for my new queen-sized matress from IKEA.
Brittany was providing moral support while I put my bed together. She was also pretending to be rowing a boat.
I have to include this... the typical "squat" toilet used my most Chinese people. Bathrooms here do not provide toilet paper nor do they have soap at the sinks (if there are even sinks!)... hello instant hand sanitizer!!!
Potato Chips???
Keyondra and I waiting in the bus with our VIP passes to the Worker's Stadium. The concert that night was a televised, joint concert between our Opera Orchestra, the Beijing Symphony Orchestra, and the National Center for the Performing Arts Symphony Orchestra.
The Beijing Worker's Stadium. This picture taken from the back of the stage.
Keyondra, holding the menu at Casa la awesome Mexican restaurant in the Solana shopping district. We were there celebrating Key's 27th birthday!