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21/08/2013

The Great Voice of China: A musical journey II

It all felt a long way from home, and sometimes during my stay I felt quite scared and a little homesick.

Little could I have guessed just how much of an opportunity was about to come my way. After about three months in Nanjing, I went to the local TV studios with a Chinese friend I had made. He was taking part in a bizarre game show that involved him dressing up in an incredibly heavy Michelin man-type costume and trying to complete an obstacle course. He didn't win, but it was hilarious to watch.

While I was at the studios, I saw people queuing to take part in another programme, a sort of X Factor singing competition. I knew I had to audition. I found the producer and sang Time To Say Goodbye (a song made famous by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman) for him right there on the spot.

Amazingly he said I could take part in the show, called Min Xing Chang Fan Tian (it means I Want To Sing To The Stars). I performed live every night for two-and-a-half weeks. I sang a real mixture, including Puccini's O Mio Babbino Caro, Stop by Sam Brown, and Yeu Guang Ai Ren, the theme tune to the hit Chinese film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

The show was broadcast live to millions of viewers throughout Jiangsu province, which is three times the size of Britain – and, astonishingly, I won! I received a trophy and about £1,000, which certainly goes a bit further in China than it does in Britain.

I also got the chance to record the winner's single on a CD. However, I couldn't do it because the conditions of my student visa didn't allow it.

Despite that, the publicity generated by my win helped me to land a recording contract back in Britain

with Decca, and later I was approached by John Lunn, composer of the music for Downton Abbey. He asked me to sing on the programme’s soundtrack, which I was thrilled about.

Of course, I wasn’t a total novice when I performed in China – I was a member of Gloucester Cathedral Youth Choir and the National Youth Choir of Great Britain.

I love singing in a choir. There’s nothing like it to give you a feeling of emotion, of togetherness. When you’re all bursting into the same chorus, it’s a fantastic experience.

 
Chinese Dragon Symbol

My success means I’ve gone from hardly travelling at all to travelling for much of the time. In addition to fulfilling my own commitments, I sometimes accompany my boyfriend, Rich Parker, a champion inline skater, when he takes part in competitions all over the world.

Recently , I went with him to a contest in Venice – it is such an exquisite city. Ironically, because it was

full of Chinese tourists during our stay, whenever we got lost I was able to ask the Chinese to point us in the right direction (Italian is the language I’d like to learn next!).

And during the past couple of years I’ve been lucky enough to go back to China twice with Rich, who has been invited to compete at an event in Shanghai. Only the ten best skaters in the world participate, and last time he came home with the silver medal , which was an excellent effort.

I also returned to China recently to record tracks for my album which feature native Chinese instruments.

While I was in the country, I took the opportunity to visit the Great Wall, the must-see for China tour deals. It was magnificent being there – the scenery is fabulous. One of the highlights of the day was the Mutianyu toboggan ride down the side of the mountain after we’d finished exploring the Wall. It was amazing and I’d definitely

recommend it.

Participants are told to slow down at the corners but, as you might imagine, health and safety isn’t a major concern in China, so many people do what they like and go tearing down to the bottom at incredible speeds. It’s great fun, and children in particular seem to love it.

There are still a lot of places I haven’t visited in China. I would love to see the Terracotta Army collection at Xian (where you can have Xian tour). When my mother came over to visit me in China for three weeks, she went to see it and said it was fantastic.

 
A boy slides down a giant replica sculpture of Beijing's Forbidden City at the Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival on Sun Island Park, Harbin

My mum has also been studying Mandarin and is now very good at it. It’s great to be able to practise with her. During her visit, she stayed with my Chinese friend whose parents do not speak any English, so she was forced to talk to them in their native tongue.

China has become an important part of my life; it’s where my career really started, so I can’t ever leave it. The language is beautiful, and singing in Chinese is beautiful too.

Yeu Guang Ai Ren, one of the songs that helped me win the show, is featured on my album because I’ve got that huge connection with it now.

Having been a late starter as far as travel is concerned, I’ve now had the chance to see some places I could only dream about before. However, the place at the top of my travel wish-list is Harbin in the north of China, which is famous for its International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival which attracts so many tourists every year and make contribution to China tourism .

The pictures of the sculptures I’ve seen on the internet are phenomenal. Some are as big as houses and they are all fully illuminated. I’m not normally a big fan of cold weather, but I’m willing to go and experience temperatures that can drop to minus 30C just to enjoy such a spectacle.

My favourite place in China is Gulangyu Island (best destination for popular China travel package), near the city of Xiamen. Everywhere you look there are huge dragonflies flying around and the most breathtaking varieties of flowers. My home city also remains one of my favourite places in the world. Everyone should visit Gloucester Cathedral, which is the most amazing place I have ever sung in.

It’s where I performed my first solo. The acoustics are absolutely stunning. They’re refurbishing quite a lot of the stonework and the stained-glass windows at the moment, so I always love returning there to see how the work is progressing.

I’m going back for the Cheltenham Music Festival next year, which I am looking forward to. Some of the concerts take place at Gloucester Cathedral, and it’s a real treat for me any time I get to perform in such a beautiful place.

10:15 Publié dans Voyage | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0)

20/08/2013

Gorging ourselves on a cruise along the Yangtze II

The river bustles and ancient meets modern as tiny sampans bob in the muddy brown wake of enormous coal barges and freighters. Gilded temples and pagodas rise majestically over industrial wharfs while, high above in the sheer rock face of the gorge, ancient coffins are suspended in caves, their residents undisturbed for centuries.

Rural china is very poor, and Viking River Cruises for Yantze River tour sponsors a school at Yueyang where the enthusiasm of the children was infectious. Their song-and-dance show brought tears to the eyes and their appetite for learning might ensure they have a better life than their parents. It takes a day to pass through the gorges, at times only about 165ft wide, while wooded buttresses of granite tower above, waterfalls cascade down and wild monkeys scamper among the trees.

The controversial Three Gorges Dam (the world's largest) is a symbol of Chinese pride and power. As well as enormous hydro-electric output, it increases shipping capacity and protects villages downstream from the flooding that has claimed millions of lives since time immemorial.

But more than a million people were compulsorily moved from their homes, hundreds of towns, villages and historic sites flooded and communities destroyed for its construction. Still, we were tourists, there not to judge but to marvel at an amazing feat of engineering in an area of awe-inspiring natural beauty.

We had settled into life on board, enjoying the tranquillity and excellent cuisine. The Crew Cabaret on our last evening was unexpectedly enchanting, with mechanics and stewards displaying dazzling skills as dancers, singers and acrobats. Somewhat reluctantly, we left at Chonqing, picking our way along the jetty past another world where people were ekeing a living selling a few vegetables, postcards or souvenirs.

We flew to Xi'an, home of the Terracotta Warriors and giant pandas and starting point for Silk Road tours. The latter would melt the hardest heart and I defy anyone not to experience a childlike delight at their munching on bamboo. In stark contrast, the warriors and horsemen, a mere fraction of whom have been uncovered to date, genuinely inspire awe. Despite having seen 120 on display at the British Museum years ago, I was unprepared for the sheer majesty and scale of the ancient burial site where, in 210 BC, the first Emperor Quin Shi Huang had 8,000 clay soldiers, larger than life-size, buried with him to protect him in the afterlife. One can only hope, after all that effort, it worked.

Last stop the capital Beijing. The Great Wall which should not be missed for your last minute China travel deals is a well trodden tourist path but a short stride along leaves 90 per cent of visitors behind and the views are breathtaking.

The infamous Tiananmen Square, which can hold up to 600,000 people, is home to Mao's Mausoleum. The terrible events of 1989, when possibly 3,000 protesters were killed, seemed a distant memory as we wended our way across to the Forbidden City.

The world's largest surviving palace, for almost 500 years the home of emperors, is now the Palace Museum where you could lose yourself for hours. As you wander among the courtyards, the roofs entrance the eye with their green and yellow glazed tiles and statuettes of dragons.

After an ample lunch (handling chopsticks like natives), we took a short ferry trip across the lake at the Summer Palace, a masterpiece of Chinese landscape design where the pavilions, halls, palaces and temples blend harmoniously with the natural hills and open water in an enchanting aesthetic experience.

Rarely, if ever, have I enjoyed such a culturally rich and historically interesting trip for my top 10 China tours. We were absorbed and charmed by the genuine warmth of welcome and the eagerness of our hosts to share their history and hopes for an even greater future.

China is rapidly changing and my regret is that this was only my first visit and not a return to compare with 20 years ago. I'll be back.

09:08 Publié dans Voyage | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0)

19/08/2013

Leitai Tomb of Han Dynasty & The Number One Beacon Tower

1. Leitai Tomb of Han Dynasty

The Leitai Tomb of Han Dynasty is located in the Leitai park on the Mid Beiguan Rd., Wuwei city, Gansu province. It is a large brick-chambered tomb of the late Eastern Han Dynasty, and was discovered by local farmers under an old locust tree in 1969. Now, it is a main tourist attraction in Wuwei city where you can have Silk Road travel.

The tomb is famed for the Bronze Galloping Horse, known in Chinese as ‘Ma Ta Fei Yan’, the horse is depicted in a full gallop held on just one foot upon the back of a bird in flight. The statuette is about 45 centimeters long and 35 centimeters high, weighing 7 kilograms, it has been adopted as a logo forChina tourism. Visitors can view the horse in the Gansu Provincial History Museum.

Leitai is a place for sacrificing the Thunder god; it is famed with the Temple of the Thunder God which was built on the terrace in mid Ming dynasty. According to the record on the horse chest of the horse tomb figure unearthed, it was the tomb of "Shou Zhang Ye Zhang Zhang Jun" (General Zhang of Zhang Ye) built between 186 to 219 A.D. Of all the unearthed pieces, the bronze galloping horse is of the great artistic level. The bronze Horse on a Swallow, which is also named “horse with hoof on a swallow”, namely Ma Ta Fei Yan in Chinese, is the logo of Wuwei City. Surprisingly, the modeling of horse surpassed the flying swallow with its three hooves as well as its head and tail rose in the air, and it is still well balanced. It showed the great talent of the ancient Chinese people with its great artistic level. The tomb is an optional attraction for your China vacation deals.

2. The Number One Beacon Tower



The Number One Beacon Tower at Taolai River Gorge is considered to be the western-most point of the defenses of the Great Wall (must-see for your top 10 China tours) of China as they were in function during most of the Ming Dynasty Era (1368 AD - 1644 AD) . In practice, the first beacon tower of the Great Wall is but an extension of the gargantuan Fortress of Jiayu Pass (Jiayu Guan), which formed the Western-most Gate of the Chinese Empire and was a border checkpoint for all those traveling along the Silk Road in- and out of China. In those ancient times long gone it was considered the ultimate ending point of the Chinese Realm. Although no dramatic events of war, sweeping historic events, nor timeless poetry or song can be attached to the very tower itself, with its dramatic scenery of a watch-tower overlooking a fast flowing river insidea steep Gorge, today the famed beacon tower is an absolute must-see when visiting the modestly sized City of Jiayuguan and its Fortress.? Find it located at only a small distance South South-West of Jiayuguan, as can clearly be seen on accompanying maps.

10:20 Publié dans Voyage | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0)