Fionnuala’s China Tour Travel Blog
We have toured China many times but this is the first time we returned since 2010. A seven-year gap, and that is a long time to be away in any country – especially China, as the changes happen there so fast.
Our Chinese tours are always mixed with excitement and a lot of trepidation. The latter due to many misunderstandings that happen along the way: cultural differences, language problems, lack of much needed equipment and software compatibility and different work methods. Add them to the general stress and tour fatigue and it’s a combination that tests us all. Saying that: this tour has been the most professional and smoothest tour we’ve ever done in China, thanks to our brilliant promoter, Arcade music, and to Universal in China.
The first strategic problem is to travel us all there in time. In our case departures from Ireland and Norway, and even different cities in Norway! A coordination nightmare. My tour began departing Dublin on Wed 27th on the early flight to Amsterdam and an onward connection from there with Rolf to Xiamen in China. After an emotional farewell to hubby and my dog (always hard to leave), I arrived at Dublin airport to discover my flight was cancelled! The good people at KLM rebooked my flight to a new lunchtime connection via Amsterdam and Hong Kong and finally arriving in Xiamen with minutes to spare before our first press promo and performance. With the new hours to kill, I took a taxi back home to a surprised hubby – had breakfast and said our goodbyes once more, and returned to the airport.
My new lunchtime flight also ran into problems and was so delayed that I could not make any connection to Xiamen. So after many calls to China we decided to rebook me for the following day and fly to the next city instead. Rolf found out on landing in China that he would be doing the first press conference solo – and our promo duet performance was cancelled.
I returned home for the second time to surprise hubby and dog. It seemed no matter how hard I tried, China was not on the cards on that first day.
Ouch! 3.30 AM – new departure time from house to travel back to airport in time for the red eye flight once more to Amsterdam. Groundhog-day feeling. But this time the flight was perfect, and after a 5-hour wait in Amsterdam I joined the rest of the band and our guest singer Brian Kennedy, and we all flew to Guangzhou.
Rolf did really well in Xiamen on his own. They had 2 local choirs sing “You Raise Me Up” and “Nocturne” and then the usual press question and answer sessions. It was really sweet to have the choirs perform as they had worked so hard to learn the songs.
After the press conference, Rolf flew from Xiamen and joined us all in Guangzhou.
Our flight arrived early in the morning so time to check into hotel, breakfast, shower and quick nap, and we were off to the next promo schedule.
That was the plan until I got a phone call from our guest singer Brian Kennedy ”Hi, I am stuck in the lift. Can you get help?” Cathrine Iversen and I were about to go up to our rooms and were waiting for the lifts when he called. So with much drama we located the lift he was in. It was one of ten, and after about 30 minutes they were able to free him. What a start for Brian on his first Chinese tour.
Few hours later, Rolf and I arrived at the press/promo venue. I was surprised to be ushered into a room with a rail of various designer clothes, and a full make-up station laid out with a team of people waiting and ready. “What’s this”, I asked. “We are shooting you for Chinese Bazaar magazine, and this is one of our famous designers that we would like you to wear. Please try on as we have figured out your size from video footage”. So many thoughts rapidly going through my head, first NO ONE told us that we were doing a glossy magazine shoot. Second, I am just off a long haul, after 2 days of travelling – jet lagged and looking pretty tired and crap. Three, in most Chinese boutiques when I admire a piece of clothing and wish to try it on, often in their very direct way they say “You too big”
Despite my misgivings, the shoot went really well and you never know: we may even use one or two of the photos for our next CD. The photographer GT and all his staff were amazing and super fast, thankfully. I was relieved to fit into two of the outfits! The others …not a hope!
After the photo shoot we were interviewed for local TV-station in front of a live audience. They had bought special concert tickets that included the meet-and-greet with us.
Our first concert was the next day in Guangzhou. It was a super feeling to be back on a stage in China after 7 years. We have performed in Guangzhou many times before, and we always have a lovely audience. This time it was a new venue: The Guangzhou Opera House. During the concert we were able to congratulate our drummer Otter on his birthday. After the concert, we had a CD signing session. Poor Rolf felt suddenly quiet ill and had to leave. We were all very worried that it could be something serious but it turned out to be some kind of food poisoning that lasted for the next 3 days.
With no time to waste we were finally back in the hotel and had a very short night as we left the following morning at 05.45 for the airport and on to next city.
These back-to-back concerts are every performer’s nightmare as it takes some time to unwind after a show, and when you only get back to the hotel around midnight with a few hours turn around, it’s virtually impossible to get any sleep. Panic then steps in that you will be able to manage through the next day and give a shining performance. Our way of coping is to sleep every minute we can: buses, planes, standing in queues. No opportunity for a quick nap is wasted, and somehow that gives us enough fuel to get by.
Our next city was Qingdao. A new city for all of us, and that’s always interesting. These “2nd tier cities” as they are known are still huge, with populations of 7 to 12 million people and we are always surprised by the beautiful new architecture springing up everywhere with a new consciousness of green space and bountiful planting projects. The venue was another Grand Theatre Opera house, and again very beautiful. Rolf slowly recovering from virus made it through the concert, even if he was resting in bed during the soundcheck. Having a beautiful new Steinway to play on helped speed up his recovery!
Our next destination was Chongqing – thankfully, not a red-eye-flight in the morning. A full travel day but we did not reach the city till the evening. Chongqing is the largest city in the world with an unbelievable population of 42 million people! It’s very beautiful and situated in the heart of China, with a lovely climate and is the food capital of the country. Most of their best produce is home grown there. Built on mountain ranges, it looks quite dramatic. The view from my bedroom window was overlooking a small golf course in the middle of the chaos of the city. (PHOTO) I discovered a driving range as part of the hotel, and it was the perfect wind down after the last days of travel and performing. They were quite suspicious of me on the range and at first would only lend me one club! But I eventually persuaded them to let me have a driver also – sign language put to good use. There was no English spoken and as yet, I have no Chinese!
On our first evening there our promoter Christina Ma from Arcadia invited us to a hot-pot restaurant to experience this local way of eating.
A brand new experience for us all, and not for the faint hearted and those wary of double dipping! Basically all the food – from meat to vegetables to fish – is cooked at your table in a very spicy hot broth, which you then dip into a bowl of raw garlic and sesame seed oil and enjoy…. Honestly, for Rolf and I it was way too hot and spicy and we needed extra portions of boiled rice to cool down. But the rest loved it and it was a great immersive experience.
The Concert in Chongqing was one of my favourites of the tour with a wonderful audience, and a concert where everything just flowed perfectly. We had a huge audience queuing for signing afterwards – a bit surreal to meet all these people that knew all of our CDs
Onto Wuhan – a city we had been to before but unrecognisable from our last time. The change in 7 years is astonishing. New airports, concert halls, hotels and apartments. Smog much reduced, Night and day the difference to what we experienced before. They even have a government building program with plans to build 300,000 new apartments for students in the next three years! And we believe it! The Concert hall was also new, and we had a few moments of confusion as all the backstage corridors and areas looked the same so we were constantly getting lost. It’s amazing I even found my way to the stage with my zero directional skills!
In Wuhan airport they have installed fun interactive baggage trolleys guiding you to shops, restaurants and boarding gates. Very clever and fun to use.
Next we travel on to Xiamen, another new city for us. Built on the coast it’s like an upcoming Chinese Riviera in the making. We stayed in a lovely Chinese style resort hotel on the beach and were able to enjoy a day off there. Surprisingly for us, it was very hot, and Rolf even managed to get a little sunburned on his walk on the beach as we were not expecting such heat. (PHOTO BEECH) Terrace etc
The concert audience here were lovely, and it was interesting to see at the signing afterwards that they were much quieter and more reserved than some of the other signings in the more northerly cities. Maybe it’s a geographical thing but definitely the volume goes up as you go north!
Well, another day – another plane – this time back up north to Dalian. What a shock when we arrived there to a rainy dark and cold night. Dalian is known as the “Paris of China” and looks like a lovely city. We stayed in a beautiful Hilton Hotel directly across from the astonishing new Venue: The Dalian Poly Grand Theatre.
What a joy! And we were in food heaven ordering a western style dinner after all the days before. Norwegian salmon never tasted so good – accompanied by a New Zealand Sauvignon…bliss! After a great night’s sleep we were ready for Dalian show day.
Again an amazing audience and they knew so much of our music, It’s so surprising to travel so far from home to cities like these that we have not been to before and to discover we have a fan base there!
Next morning’s travel was a treat as we took a train instead of flying. I love trains and this was a surprising great experience. On beautiful, comfortable seats, and with a train speed of over 300 km per hr, we silently travelled north till we reached Shenyang – close to the North-Korean border.
We had just enough time to check into hotel and get to the venue: The Shenyang Shengjing Grand Theatre. Again, another beautiful theatre and another great audience. We were very surprised at the after show signing that some people had come from Beijing to see this concert. One fan had even bought 100 copies of our CDs over the years!
Our bass player, Per Elias Drabløs, celebrated his 50th birthday on this day. As a special surprise to him we congratulated him on stage with champagne and a special rendering of Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday song. We had rehearsed this in secret in Xiamen. He was utterly surprised, which was brilliant. Afterwards, we continued the celebration into the small hours with dinner in a special Korean BBQ restaurant. This was not for the faint hearted – i.e ME and ROLF. Live eel brought to your table was the delicacy of this establishment, and I still have nightmares seeing that poor eels last moments.
Next day – and another flight to another city we have not visited before. Zhangjiagang. Thankfully, we were heading back south again to warmer climates. The sponsors and the staff at the hotel had arranged a special dinner for us – as it was Brian Kennedy’s birthday (the 3rd birthday on the tour). Our hotel was surrounded by an amazing park and a beautiful lake – perfect for walks and recovery the morning after.
Unfortunately, we had long delays in the airport leaving, and sat for hours watching everyone all around us eating ducks, the most popular fast airport food available! Every part of the bird is eaten – nothing goes to waste including the heads, which seem a real favourite! I would have given anything for something to eat as we were all starving but the ducks were safe from us.
Zhangjiagang is the smallest city we visited in China, with only 800,000 living there. It did feel a little special and more intimate. The audience were lovely and warm and we really enjoyed the concert.
Now on home stretch with a few hard days left. After the show, we quickly left by bus to drive to Shanghai – only to get a few hours of sleep before a very early departure to Shenzhen. We were told they have a rule now in China that no buses or lorries can drive between midnight and 5 am in the morning. It’s called “peace time”. So we had to be very fast getting on that bus from the concert to get to Shanghai before curfew time.
Shenzhen we have played in before so it was nice to revisit with this concert set. Despite the tiredness everybody played brilliantly and we had a great concert in one of the most amazing concert halls of China. We had a long signing after the show, and finally we made it back to the hotel ready for our last day and concert.
This final day thankfully was a three hour bus ride to Zhuhai. What a relief not to have to travel to another airport and check in 43 pieces of luggage, which usually took us at least an hour. (photo of us queuing at check in )
So time to nap on the bus before we arrived in Zhuhai for the first time. The hotel and conference- and concert hall were all brand new and just recently opened. Very beautiful. My view from my Sheraton hotel window was across the bay to Macao. Looking out, I could see debris flying about and trees swaying pretty violently and thunderous rain. On route to venue a very worried Christina mentioned that a typhoon was on the way and there was an orange alert. If the government were to raise it to red by 7pm, the concert would be cancelled!
We went ahead and prepared and sound checked as normal and prayed that we could do our final show. Thankfully, the typhoon was late arriving and we got on stage in the nick of time. It was a lovely final concert and very emotional for all involved. Christina and Arcadia had been great throughout, and I think their tears were those of relief and joy that we had made it!
After final signing – back to hotel and only time for 3 hours sleep before leaving for home.
Wake up call at up at 04:15 to hear that a hurricane was heading for Ireland, and we were still in typhoon status in Zhuhai! We checked out and Christina cleverly cancelled the bus and ordered SUV-cars for us to get us out of Zhuhai quicker and safer than by bus, as the gusting winds were so strong, there was a danger a bus could topple. We were relieved when we eventually reached a calmer inland Guangzhou for our flight home!
We all flew to Helsinki, and then, in a funny twist of symmetry, Brian Kennedy’s and my connecting flight to Dublin was cancelled due to Hurricane Ophelia! So another hotel, another check in, and another 4:00 am start, and we eventually flew to Frankfurt the next morning – and finally landed in Dublin, much relieved and happy that we had a very successful tour.
Many thanks to all our Chinese fans that came to see us. We know many of you travelled many miles, including two gentlemen that flew from Vancouver to Zhuhai to see us.
Christiana Ma and her staff at Arcadia were truly wonderful! Also a big thank-you for the ongoing support of Dave Tam and Universal China.
Thanks for the memories!
Fionnuala and Rolf