It all began at 7am on a December morning at Manchester airport. After months of planning, hundreds of emails, and some very stressful trips to the Chinese visa office in Manchester, we were finally off!
50 singers all managed to assemble on time and in place (who'd have thought...) to board our 12 hour flight to Hong Kong.
After a brief nap on the airport floor, we boarded our second flight to Xi'an - a slightly strange feeling to be flying back in the opposite direction to a city we'd flown directly over just a few hours before...
After a morning's excitement and brief sightseeing, we headed downtown to the concert hall for rehearsals. Beethoven was followed by a rehearsal for our own concert of English song cycles, accompanied in parts by the beautifully adorable children of the XSO. Our own conductor, Jonathan Lo, also arranged a Chinese folk song for us to sing, complete with all the phonetics you could wish for.
Day three, and the event we'd travelled 8000 miles for was finally upon us. After a morning orchestra rehearsal, we headed to the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda for some sightseeing.
The Pagoda was build in 652 and, standing at 64m tall, offers incredible views over the city. As well as being a World Heritage Site and impressive in its own right, the Pagoda also has extensive gardens which offer a little corner of nature in a place where the air is dense with pollution, and allows visitors to enjoy calm in the centre of such a big and busy city.
To celebrate our success, we were taken out for a dinner of tradition Chinese hotpot afterwards. Forget everything you thought you knew about hotpot - lamb? potatoes? What are those? - this was truly a meal for the brave and the true. A pot of boiling spicy broth between a table of 6-8 people, enough meat and vegetables to feed an army, and enough spice to blow your head off several times. Certainly a unique experience for everyone involved!
The warriors were only discovered in 1974, although they are estimated to date from the 3rd century BC. In total across the three pits, there are over 8000 soldiers, as well as 520 horses, and 130 chariots.
The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and no large group trip would be complete without the slight hiccup of losing a team member. Take our word for it that one of the largest tourist attractions in the world is not the best place to do it! Thankfully Sue was swiftly found, and we returned to our hotel a complete set.
After a well-earned afternoon nap, our new year celebrations began!
Apparently 'English New Year' is not as big a deal in China as Chinese New Year is in England, and we became minor WeChat celebrities for our rendition of Auld Lang Syne in the street, as well as our ability to drink a bar completely dry...