Na-Mara’s 2019 trip to Chongqing, China – Friday 25th October 2019

Chongqing is growing as a domestic tourist destination but, as yet, it isn’t seeing an abundance of international tourists.  As such, the buffet breakfast in the hotel was very Chinese and very different to what businessmen and tourists might find in the international hotels of Beijing and Shanghai. It should also be noted that Chongqing has a reputation for having the spiciest food in the whole of China; lots of chillies.

So, our first entry into the hotel breakfast room was a bit of a surprise.  However, we enjoyed and embraced it and tucked into a hearty breakfast of Lotus Root (and chillies), braised cauliflower (and chillies) and sliced green beans (and chillies).  Oh, and a boiled egg and a rice dumpling.  This was good, hot, food; very different and very enjoyable.  We later discovered that that the energetic staff running the restaurant would also, on request, provide a bowl of noodles and minced pork, and their take on a fried egg.  We were certainly going to eat well here.  For drinks, there was hot water and cold water. Clearly, tea could be made with the former and, discovering our keenness for it, a few days into our stay, the chef tracked down some coffee for us.  As in every aspect of our stay, it was a lovely gesture that she made in this regard to make us feel more at home.

The weather that morning was a little damp as it had been since our arrival.  However, it eased off slightly as Clive collected us and we made our way to his classroom on the CQUPT campus for his 10.00am class.   We took our instruments and I picked up my rented guitar from Clive’s office along the way.

Dotted around the spacious and pleasant CQUPT campus were the gaily coloured banners listing the international and domestic bands performing at the music festival and it was fun to see ourselves set against a pink background, fluttering in the breeze.

Of course, the other attraction, over and above Na-Mara was our friend Dave.  Dave is 6 feet 5 inches tall – not a common sight in Chongqing - and many of the students we passed as we walked onto the campus were amazed to see him striding past.

Clive’s classes are two hours with a break in the middle.  The plan was for Clive to do a ‘normal’ first half for his class – on what good and bad things had happened to them over the previous week - and then Rob and I would perform for and with them for the second period.  Clive is a superb teacher. His manifest energy and enthusiasm for his students and his subject pour out of him.  The class is educative and fun at the same time – and the students love him for it.  Before we even reached the classroom, it seemed like nearly every gaggle of students we passed on their way to classes would greet him with a smile and a few words of English.  We all thoroughly enjoyed watching him at work for that first period.  He made the students learn and smile, and he did the same for us too.

Rob and I played a couple of songs and tunes from our strongly Irish/Scots traditional performance set to the class, and the students loved them.  There must be thirty films of those early songs on student cameras in Chongqing, as we played to a veritable wall of mobile phone cameras. Then it was time for some interactive playing.

Before setting off, Rob and I had decided that, albeit never and never likely to ever be part of our regular repertoire, a great traditional song to gain maximum participation from students unfamiliar with British folk music would be The Wild Rover.  It has the simplest of choruses and that percussive end to its first line.  The choice proved a good one; the students absolutely loved it.  Not only did it permit a musical interaction, but it also allowed us to explain the song and for the students to learn some new words.

Finally, we were able to tempt two of Clive’s young students to join us in singing Chinese folk-pop classic, Banma Banma (Zebra Zebra).  This is a beautiful, indeed I’m tempted to say, a consummate, pop song; possibly the most powerful and finest earworm tune I have ever encountered. (Precitably, it is playing in my head again as I type now.)  Melody and one of her friends joined us at the front of the class and everyone sang along. 

We then engaged in our first post-performance clamour for selfies with audience members and it was an honour and a delight to be asked.  There were whole group photos, photos in trios, pairs and with individuals.  It was glorious fun to be washed along in the enthusiasm for something new – both them for us and us for them.

Eventually, the hubbub died down and the students left to go for lunch at the student canteen.  We followed on not far behind.  

The CQUPT canteens provide a range of good food at decent prices and we tucked into a fine meal.  Whilst eating we discovered that the sound check we were expecting to happen on Saturday afternoon for our concert later that day, had been brought forward to Friday afternoon.  So, after lunch, we had a quick look at Clive’s apartment on campus before drifting back to the hotel to rest a while.  We gathered up our remaining instruments and ‘stage’ gear, like leads etc and met Clive, Jason, and Bonnie, Lucy and Sue, and our ranks were swollen further by the arrival of Lennon and Lizzie, two more excellent young English speakers.  Together, we managed to transport the requisite gear across campus over to our covered outside stage situated on the artificial turf of a sports pitch. 

As is convention, since we were finishing the Saturday evening concert we were sound checking first.  Not long into the process we had chance to meet the talented Malaysian four piece rock band, Loko, who were performing with us that evening.  Nice young men and, like us, excited about the chance to perform at the festival

Working through interpreters, the sound check took a little longer than usual but with Clive and Jason’s help we got there smoothly enough. 

Once checked, we returned to the hotel to get ready for going out that evening for dinner.  The Chinese seem to eat early and, as such, around 6.30pm we again assembled in the hotel lobby and went off for what was to be the first of a string of excellent evening meals during our stay. Bonnie, Lennon and Lizzie joined us, as did Clive and Jason and three of Clive’s academic friends, Gwen, Dominic and Jocelyn.

We bundled into three taxis and drove the ten minutes to the restaurant.  Eschewing the somewhat sterile upstairs side room offered to us by the proprietors, we gathered around a large table downstairs in this busy restaurant (with its Union Jack seat covers).  The company was exceptionally good fun and Clive and others helped us navigate the complexities of the meal.  Into a sunken bowl of boiling water in the middle of the table, diners would cook a variety of vegetables, noodles and meat, with the resultant pockets of food then being rolled in an individually prepared melange of condiments.  This method of cooking also results eventually in a delicious meat and vegetable broth which can be enjoyed as a soup towards the end of the evening.  All of this was washed down with a cold, light, beer.

We finished the meal just after 9.00pm and, with the hand of friendship being extended by the proprietor, we exited the restaurant into the still continuing drizzle.  However, keen to continue talking, we all decided to walk the 30 or so minutes back to the hotel. This took us alongside one of the major rivers that dissects this part of Herchaun, the Jialiang River.  In ones and twos, our dining companions said their goodbyes and, by the time we entered the hotel lobby, our group had reduced to just us three and Clive.  Naturally, it was time for a last couple of beers before bed.