U.S.-China Institute at Bryant University

Bryant Dragon Dance Team Blog

Bryant Dragon Dance Team is traveling in China to compete in Shanghai International Dragon and Lion Dance Competition from Sept. 23-25. The two-year-old Bryant team is the only North American group competing in the tournament. The team will first arrive in Beijing and then have an intensive training at China University of Geosciences (CUG) in Wuhan before the competition. The trip is sponsored by Confucius Institute, Student Affairs, CUG and Shanghai International Dragon and Lion Dance Competition.

 

Day 1: Time to head to China!

Marcia Chong, '12

Today was the big day. The beginning of our Dragon Dance adventure commenced with a thirteen hour flight to Beijing. I have never been to Asia before, so having the chance to compete and travel to China is an honor. In the past, I have traveled to several South American and European countries, but flying to Asia is on a different level. For this trip, I made sure to rest before our early flight to Newark and connection flight to Beijing. However, some other brave members chose to not sleep the night before the trip. Soon afterwards, after everyone was packed and waiting for the shuttle, our early day quickly became interesting when the shuttle failed to show up at 5:00am. We had to react quickly and luckily Samir was able to find us another shuttle service to the airport right on time for our Newark flight.

However, this was only the beginning of the flying experience. Again, the day surprised us. In fact, we ended up waiting an extra hour and a half on the plane due to two different technical difficulties. However, when the technicalities were fixed, I was finally glad to hear the noise of the plane leaving for Beijing…..

So how was the flying trip to China? The first ten hours were easy enough; I read homework for several classes, sometimes stretched and talked with other Dragon Team members, and occasionally drank water. However, hours 10-13 were difficult and seemed to last longer than the first 9. Ultimately, after our successful 7300 mile trip, we finally arrived in sunny Beijing (being sunny is a weird occurrence in Beijing) at 2:30pm Beijing time.

From the first glances of the city from the shuttle ride to the hotel, Beijing seems to be kept quite clean. The only exception to the cleanliness was the clear evidence of smog, in the form of a gray cloud, hovering over the city. For some reason, I was expecting Beijing to appear more traditional, but instead, I noticed many new home developments, construction, and modern buildings.

After a forty-five minute ride, we finally arrived at our hotel. From the hotel we then headed to a traditional Chinese restaurant. We ate from many different dishes, including a Northern Chinese dish of pumpkin with lily flowers. The food was delicious and I was happy and full by the end of the meal. To sum up, the first day was exciting, eventful, and tiresome.

After not sleeping for about 24 hours, it is time I get some rest. The rest of the week’s events will be a combination of intensive training and culture experience. In fact, tomorrow our group will visit two of China’s most popular places. (You can check out the details on tomorrow’s blog.)

Fun fact of the day: In China, a teapot must not point to anyone on the table for it will bring bad luck to the person the pot points to.

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Day 2: Blue Skies in Beijing and Adventures

Alicia Kennedy '12 and Samir Kothari '12

We awoke in Beijing on our second day in China to a welcome surprise, a blue sky! After a short drive out of the city we arrived at the Juyonguan section of the Great Wall. Wide-eyed and eager for adventure, we chose to climb the west side of the wall, which was much steeper and more difficult. It was surreal to be immersed in such deep history with every step that we took.

When you consider the wall’s age and the tremendous amount of daily foot traffic, you would think that the path would be more rugged, but it was surprisingly smooth. I was shocked by the number of people climbing the wall. Not only that, but people of all ages – young and old – was passing by us left and right! Oh, and the shoe choices! We were all stumped by the women wearing high heels up and down the steep, narrow steps.

While half the group decided to stop midway up the climb for a break, Samir, Marcia, Bakhtiyar and Alicia chose to keep climbing to highest tower. Once at the top, Samir, Marcia and Bakhtiyar jumped to the top of the tower and made some new friends!

The climb down was much faster. By the time we reached the bottom, we all felt so accomplished.

For lunch Kongli took us to a traditional Tibetan restaurant overlooking the pond at Hou Hai Park. The imitation pork, lotus root, and crispy chicken were among our favorite dishes.

So we get done with our exotic Tibetan lunch and start walking towards the van. We, as usual, stopped by the breath-taking lake and took some pictures. The lake was romantic as well as calming at the same time and a great sight to eat with our meal.

So as we walked to our van, Alicia set her eyes on the beautiful one worded café written in green; STARBUCKS!!! She gets a gift for her mom from Starbucks every place she visits in the world. She got her Starbucks mug that read Beijing and we moved forward to our van.

We got in and out in seconds and started walking to this alley way. There were millions of rickshaws lined up. It was the Hutong tour rickshaws and we were going on a tour since we had time to spare. Hutong is the ancient streets of Beijing and where the past officials used to live. Now it is one of the most expensive land in China and impossible to find availability.

There are many houses with courtyards in the middle and we visited one on our tour. This house had four parts to it, one for the guests, another for study, another for sons or daughters and the topmost for the parents. There was some prestige with which these houses were made. Although the land was expensive to own, the courtyard houses were old style designs and didn’t look modern at all. Also every house is believed to have a pot of water at its entrance to capture the fire and protect the house.

We moved ahead with the tour and we passed by several narrow streets. Cars are rarely driven in these streets because of the narrow streets. There were many bars and restaurants that we came across on our tour and looked like a popular spot to be in. I (Samir) broke the law by driving the rickshaw for a couple of meters and hopefully the driver doesn’t get in trouble for it. Our tour was short lived but left a taste of ancient China in our minds.

We finally got to the famous Tiananmen Square and walked right into the heart of the square. This is the largest square in the world and had a lot of history along with it. The square had four corners with its own significance and people come early in the morning to the square to watch the procession of the flag. Also the square was being decorated with different grass designs and a huge red pot with a painted Chinese-knot for the purpose of the national holiday (Oct. 1) in China. We soon moved on towards the Forbidden City.

After walking through Tiananmen Square, we made our way through the underground passageway to reach the Forbidden City. Once again, we were awestruck by the size and beauty of the site. The palace has over 8,000 rooms, although it has been said that if you were to spend one night in each room, it would take you about 25 years to cover the entire palace. The buildings represented traditional Chinese architecture and have some unique features including specially made wooden roof tiles and red paint with pig’s blood as an ingredient in the dye. It was cool to be in a place that was of such importance to the emperor. We even got the chance to walk through the space that is being recreated and built on the Bryant campus in the coming years.

Overall, we had a fantastic day. Full of history, great food and great times with friends. We can’t wait to travel to Wuhan tomorrow to be reunited with Professor Hu!

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Day 3: Wuhan, CUG and Training

Varishensagar Shah '12

Today was our final day in Beijing. Waking up at 4am we left and went to the airport where we caught our flight to Wuhan. Landing at the airport we were greeted by Prof. Hu, coach of our dragon dance team. It had been a long time since we last saw her so we were all very happy to see her. After a lot of hugging and greetings she took us to the cars and soon we were on our way to China University of Geosciences (CUG).

On the way we observed the city of Wuhan from the outside and were amazed at how huge it was. After about one hour drive we reached the campus and the first thing that came to everyone’s mind was the thought of how huge the campus was. Divided among 3 different campuses CUG was a very big place. We learnt that it had a population of almost 30000 students! The number was staggering. One of the first things we found amazing was that during the tour the professor took us to the building where we were going to have our dragon dance practice, and it had its own rock-climbing course. Everyone was excited at the prospect of climbing it later on during our stay in Wuhan. The other interesting fact was how the university had its own hotel on campus. We checked in and went for lunch in one of the cafeterias next door. Afterwards we had sometime after lunch to relax and get some rest before we started practicing.

Samir, Bahktiyar and I decided to go for a walk and look around campus a bit. We went around and observed the college life in motion and soon approached the Forest of Fossils. It was made up cut trees which had fossilized over the years and also become crystalline in nature. There we were able to see these pieces of natural art which had taken hundreds of years to come to fruition and it was a very unique experience to see them up-close. After walking around some more and just seeing around we met back at the hotel and got ready for our first practice.


Bryant and CUG Dragon Dance Teams

Reaching the building we were greeted by Prof Hu and the CUG dragon dance team. Introductions were made, and in order to make it eventful the students of Bryant tried introducing themselves in Chinese while the students of CUG tried introducing themselves in English. Least to say there was a lot of laughing and assistance to speak the words. Soon after all the formalities were over we got into training mode and soon started going through our routines and learning some new moves in the art of dragon dancing. Later on after 2 hours of intensive training we had learnt around 4 new types of moves and thus decided to call the afternoon a success.

We went back to our rooms where we got ready for the dinner with the director and associate directors of the physical education department and the associate dean of international education. It was without a doubt one of mine and also many of the team members most extravagant dinners we have ever attended. There were almost more than 15 different types of dishes. During the dinner the director gave us a speech in order to welcome us to CUG and enjoy our stay and wished us the best of luck for the performance. Kongli represented the students and thanked all the staff members for the wonderful meal and on behalf of us presented them with a Bryant university pen set and banner. While all this went on, the food kept on coming and soon we were at a loss of words wondering how many more dishes would come.

After dinner being stuffed and happy we went back to our respective suites to get ready for the night practice. Here we again got together with the team from CUG and practiced on our formations and movements under the eye of Professor Hu. After an hour and half of grilling and training we had almost perfected 70% of our routine. We then called this a day and went back to our respective rooms where we all retired for the night.

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Day 4: Training and Yellow Crane Tower

Bakhtiyar Baidaralin ‘12

As always, our day started off very early with a quick breakfast at the hotel restaurant. Immediately after, we went to the gym and started practicing the routines we learned yesterday. This time, the training focused on improving our cohesion as a team and individual technique rather than on learning new moves. That being said, Prof. Hu still managed to teach us one final move that will serve as our finale. The morning practice was very productive and we were all very happy with the results. To finish the training, the CUG team showed us some advanced moves involving a good deal of athleticism, balance, and teamwork, but unfortunately, we don’t have the time to learn them. Samir and I were saying that once we started getting the technique right, learning more became very addicting. If I am ever in Wuhan for a long time, I will try out for the team.

We ate lunch at a very modern restaurant with swirl-like designed booths and white walls. The food was good as always, but the design was the most striking feature that everybody talked about.

After lunch, we went to visit the Yellow Crane Tower, a landmark of Wuhan. Since it was built in 223AD, the tower has been destroyed and rebuilt many times; the latest restoration was in 1981. It has been the subject of many poems by such famous Chinese poets as Cui Hao and Li Bai. It is built on top of a small hill that gives many good vantage points over the city. At the base of the hill is small garden, complete with a fish pond and a few pavilions. The tower itself has five floors, each floor with an observation deck. Obviously, the top has the best views so that’s where we went to catch an excellent panoramic view of the city.

Wuhan is truly a very large city, divided in half by the Yangtze River. The city sprawls for miles all around and has a very variable skyline with both high-rises and small apartment buildings making up the landscape. On our way back down the hill, we stopped to take some creative pictures that had onlookers laughing at our creativity and enthusiasm.

Does this look like CHINA? Thousand-hand Buddha

After dinner we had another practice session where we received more feedback on our routines. Overall, we all feel confident that we will do a good job and enjoy the spirit of the competition. After practice some of us headed out to the inner city for a well-deserved massage. For less than $15, we got a 100 minute full-body massage at a very nice parlor. We were first treated to light snacks and chamomile tea. Afterwards, our skilled masseuses massaged and contorted our bodies in unusual shapes. I can honestly say this was the best massage I ever received. Our masseuses never had foreign customers before so they were fascinated to learn more about us and our cultures. It was a very pleasant experience and definitely one of my highlights from the trip so far.

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Day 6: Wuhan to Shanghai

Fan Zhou ‘12

For a city large as Wuhan, 2 days was obvious not enough. However, everything comes to an end, today was our last day in Wuhan but first day in Shanghai - the largest city, as well as the economic and financial center of China.

Training and practicing at CUG wasn’t easy, it required tons of strength and sweat; but it was also very fun, we enjoyed every moment when we accomplished a new move or helping out with each other. It made our team much stronger and united. Since it was our last day in Wuhan and last practice before the competition, the morning started as early as 6:30am; however, the “wake-up knock” didn’t arrive as we expected. Some of us had to rush their breakfast, some even skipped it.

Once we arrived at the practice hall, all I could see was a very dedicated Bryant Dragon Dance Team – everyone was in their performance uniforms we bought at Bryant bookstore, and cheerfully warming up. I suddenly had a great feeling about this competition and the future of Bryant Dragon Dance Team. Coach Hu had us run through the entire performance and fixed some minor mistakes. After our third or fourth time bowing, we heard Kongli saying “Ok guys, right now YOU ARE READY!” We all smiled and were ready for Shanghai.

Coach Hu and two CUG Dragon members, Guannan Wu and Xingcan Zhang, came along with us to the Shanghai competition. On the way to airport, we proudly named all three of them in English, Coach Hu as Kaya, Guannan as Nick, and Xingcan as Jack. We also found out it was the first plane flight for both Nick and Jack, so we surprised them by changing them to window seats. Seeing them being excited and nervous, it reminded me of my first flight and how fascinated I was by the view outside; it doesn’t matter if it was nothing but cloud, I could stare at it for hours.

The flight ride was easy, one hour and half, and then we arrived at Shanghai! Two members from SIPSF (Shanghai International Popular Sports Festival) picked us up at the airport and helped us check in at a Holiday Inn. The airport was not close to the city at all, we passed many farm land on the way to hotel. The hotel was located very close to the World Expo, and we might visit the China pavilion if we are lucky. By the time we arrived, many of our competitors were already checked in; some of them even had a tour of the city in the afternoon. We could not fall behind even though the competition has not started yet, so we quickly refreshed ourselves, ran down took pictures for our name tag and had a very quick dinner, we could not wait to explore the city.

Shanghai has been seeing as the one of the top destination for foreign travelers to China, it was said the “New York” in China. Our hotel is located in a newly developed area, which meant very far away from the city center. However, it looked nothing but amazing and modern. Kongli decided to let us experience the very Chinese specialty – KTV (karaoke). KTV is the most popular activity for Chinese people hanging out. Kongli took us to a very nice one called Party World, it was one of the best in Shanghai. It was in one the shopping center, once we got out from the cab, we thought we were in Time Square. There were so many tall commercial buildings, brand names, lights and people everywhere. One build was actually called “Times Square”. The only thing I could hear from Alicia and Samir was “Massive”, “Unbelievable”, “Modern”, etc. They told me it was more than they expected Shanghai would be.

We were led to a room in Party World, there were big comfortable couches, bar table and big TV screen. One the side, there was a touch screen where you order songs. As soon as the servers set up the speaker, we started our party right away! Many of us were amazing by how fast the new American songs get to China, we could find most the songs we used to listen on radio in US. Soon enough, everyone was singing and dancing, some were playing dice game and happily enjoy listening our crazy American songs.

The CUG students, Kongli, Coach Hu, Margaret and I sang some Chinese songs, it was the first time listening Chinese songs for most of them, and they found the songs and language were very beautiful. The more songs we sang, the higher the room temperature reached, and we only became louder and louder, until many of us lost our voice. We called up the night by yelling “Rolling in the deep” with everyone all together. After we exited out from the room, everyone looked like just came back from sauna; we sweat so much.

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Day 6: Shanghai – Rehearsal, Fabric Market and Banquet

Margaret Wong '14

A group with school spirit, we were happy to represent our school at our very first international competition. Shaking with nervousness, I, along with the entire team, followed our team coordinator (volunteer at the competition), to our first on-stage rehearsal in the morning. This was it. All the other teams were interested to see what we were all about and we were about to perform our entire routine in public for the first time.

Unlike other teams, we didn’t bring our own dragon because of the long flights. We borrowed a dragon from the competition committee. Hoping that this dragon will not be too different from the one we practiced with, we anxiously went to pick up our dragon. Even though this dragon was made out of different material, but luckily, it was mostly the same as the dragon we practiced with. The stage rehearsal went very well. Everyone was surprised by the creativity in our routine because we incorporated a very famous Titanic scene when we created a dragon boat. Professor Hu, Kongli, and our team coordinator were extremely proud of us after we performed.

After we went back to the hotel to change out of our uniforms, we went to the famous Shanghai Fabric Market. Everyone was excited to get a business suit tailored for a cheap price. One of my students from the STARTALK program this summer asked me to help him buy several pairs of sunglasses and that was my only goal for our trip to the fabric market. After a couple minutes of haggling for the sunglasses, Professor Hu, Jack, Nick and I went to the KFC across the street to get some bubble tea and soy bean milk. They have different menu items in Chinese KFCs and I definitely enjoy KFC a lot more in China than in the U.S.

One of the most important events of the competition was the welcoming banquet. All the teams, judges, and sponsors of the competition were invited to this banquet. We had amazing food and as always, more than enough food for the table. One of my favorite parts of the banquet was definitely when all the sponsors went from table to table and proposed toasts with red wine. It reminded me of Chinese Wedding Banquets. After the sponsors all sat down at their large table in the middle of the room, all the teams went to their table one by one to propose toasts. This was evidently very important in Chinese tradition and culture.

Wish us good luck in our actual competition tomorrow!

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Day 7: Shanghai - Competition !!

Christopher Neale ’10

As a Bryant alumnus now teaching English at the China University of Geosciences (CUG), I was honored to be invited back to the dragon dance team I was once part of. Over a year has passed since I was a Bryant student and so I did not know how I would be received among the old and new team members when I first met up with them at the university in Wuhan. To my delight I was welcomed with open arms, literally in fact, as most of my old friends greeted me with a big hug. Having lived in China's more conservative society for a year I felt that I'd already forgotten America's warm spiritedness. And with that I felt like I was part of the team and a Bryant student once again. It was this American Spirit that made us stand out among the other teams.

As we sat waiting our turn I couldn't help thinking about how loud our team was. A quick look left and right at the Hong Kong and Macau teams and I saw serious or nervous looking faces. For a moment I wanted to stand up and tell our team to keep it down and act serious, but then it dawned on me. We were not rowdy, our team was just having the most fun. And we had no lack of seriousness when the time came to perform. Samir, the team captain, rounded us up and spoke to us all with words of motivation and ended it with our team's cheer yelling, " 1, 2, 3, dragon!”

Ready to go we entered the stage under the gaze of a few thousand spectators, competitors, photographers, friends, coach and the river flowing by just a few feet in front of us. There wasn't any doubt in my mind how our performance would play out. I was confident in my teammates that we could perform just as we had practiced. We made our performance and received an excellent score given that we only learned and practiced the new moves for three days. A Shanghai news agency later called our performance unique and creative. That is something to be proud of.

After the competition it was finally time to relax. We went as a team to visit the China Pavilion that was part of the Shanghai World Expo last year and at night we went on a river cruise with the other dragon and lion dance teams. We became very friendly with the Macau team while on the cruise. We took numerous group photos with them and they explained to us about the chant they would yell in Cantonese before performing — an inside joke among their team members. They bonded well with each other and we were glad to have gotten to know them.

After performing our best, visiting new places and making new friends it is easily said that it will be a day to remember, and I will miss all my teammates when they are gone.

Anmei Zheng '13

After three days of intense training in Wuhan, we are finally here in Shanghai. Even though many of us are exhausted, but with great excitement and preparation, we are ready to compete. Today was our first day of competition! How excited was the crowd, the first Dragon Dance Team from the U.S. is from Bryant University. It was also very honorable for us because this is first international Dragon Dance Competition we participated and we are looking forward for more to come!

There were many drummers for the Boat Racing that started off for the Dragon and Lion Dance Competition. All together there are 5 dragon dance teams and 5 lion dance teams. They are from Shanghai, Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong, and us from the United States. These teams are well trained and have participated in numerous competitions for years. Therefore we may be in disadvantage competing with them, but being able to meet and learn from them will help us get better.

The opening ceremony took about 20 minutes which included speeches given by state and local government officials and leaders of the organization that arranged this event. While the speech is taking place, all the teams were in lines on the state representing their own countries. As tradition, the leader of this event draws the eyes on the dragon, and then the competition was officially started. As soon as that took place, firecrackers took off, rainbow smoke was lid, drums were played, and the boat racing started. After that, the dragon dance teams were up to compete.

Our performance was very eye catching and creative. Knowing that we’ve only practiced this routine for less than 3 days, we were competing with teams that have been doing this for more than 5 years. Prof. Hu, our coach from China University of Geosciences (CUG), foresees that. Since we cannot compete on the difficulties and agility, we would focus more on our creativity and uniqueness. We had a boat formation while “My Heart Will Go On” was playing. It drew laud cheering and applause from the crowd and cameras were shooting from all directions. We ended with a lotus formation and that attracted the crowd once again! Therefore, we received a very good score at the end.

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Day 8: Shanghai - We won bronze medals!

Samir Kothari '12

Today was our last full day in Shanghai and we could all feel the departure coming soon. We started our day with breakfast and moved to the closing ceremony for the dragon dance competition. All the teams performed once again as a performance to the audience and they were breathtaking.

We waited for the end and as we reached closer we were told that we were getting medals. All of us were really excited and I was representing the team to accept the gift from the organizers. We went as a team holding our banner high and spirits high. All teams had lined up on stage and we all got medals and a trophy. We received a bronze medal for our performance.

We had come far and achieved something we never imagined as we started doing the dragon dance for the first time. We also received a picture gift specialty from the area and the competition had come to an end. We felt like our hard work had paid off and everyone was appreciative of what was done for us in this trip.

We moved on to our lunch and soon it was time to move to our new hotel; but before saying our goodbyes. Professor Hu, Nick, Jack and Chris were going back to CUG and we had our moment of sadness as they left for the airport. Much had happened in these past few days and we had got really attached to our new friends and there was a moment of sadness as they departed. Before we left Shanghai, we watched Shanghai TV news video that reported our dragon dance team.

Alicia Kennedy '12

Today is our last day in China and I still can’t believe all of the amazing experiences that we have shared over the last week together. We had the opportunity to experience China in a truly authentic way and have done more in the past 10 days than I ever thought possible. From our trek up the Great Wall, to our crazy taxi ride through Wuhan (which can only be compared to a game of Mario Kart) each and every one of our experiences allowed us to see and appreciate the real China.

When I reflect on this trip, I realize that my favorite moments were those that were unexpected or unplanned. One of our earliest surprises, a rickshaw ride through old hutong area in Beijing, was a first for many of us. I think Samir enjoyed it the most though! Our karaoke night at the best KTV in Shanghai was a last minute addition to the schedule, but was hands down one of the most fun nights of the trip. Good thing the fabric market was closed that night! Among other things, we also got to tour the China Pavilion at the World Expo site and take a pedi-cab ride through the streets of Shanghai to the Bund. Of course none of us will forget the opening ceremony to our competition – complete with rockets, fireworks, confetti and more. It was the little moments like these that weren’t on the itinerary that made the trip special.

We visited new places, tried new foods and made new, lifelong friends. I am walking away from this experience with a renewed sense of appreciation for China, especially traditional Chinese culture and I will be waiting anxiously for my next opportunity to visit China. Many thanks to all of those who helped make this trip possible for our team! We are so grateful for all of your support.

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