Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Not giving up

Persistence is necessary in both writing and in living in a new country.
Not giving up when things don't go the way we expect. Trying again and again and again. Sometimes trying a different approach.

Living in a new place means trying and sometimes failing. Learning the language. Or enough language for survival. Learning to navigate the streets and discovering where to shop. Not finding what one wants, and searching, knowing the product is somewhere.

Recently, we've been searching for a music store where I could buy a piano. (Our piano was destroyed in the Finland to Iceland move.) I'd love to buy another top quality upright, but with all our moving we wanted a good electronic piano.

We asked people where music stores are and got a vague answer--but enough of an answer to make it worth the hunt. A week ago we went searching for the music store. We went to the mall where it was supposed to be and walked through the most upscale mall here. (Think fancy NYC shopping mixed with the Orient. I saw all the expensive labels I'd only heard of before, plus fancy dried, packaged caterpillars and tea rooms.)

We tried again this past Saturday.
This is what we found as we wandered near a metro stop through winding narrow passages in an underground mall filled with tiny shops no larger than 5 feet by 8 feet.

A Moomin shop! I had to take a photo. For those who have never heard of Moomins, they are all over Finland, made popular by the childrens books by Tove Jansson and are translated into many languages. There is a Moomin shop in Helsinki. Moomins are about the last thing I expected to find in China.

And then we walked across the street.
We entered a modern mall. The mall is similar to what one would find a a big city in the US--seven or eight stories tall, with everything from electronics to clothing to furniture to books to a grocery store.
I've never seen the slanted moving sidewalks (like in airports, but steeply tilted) in the US, but they are in every mall overseas I've been in. The grocery carts have special stops on the wheels so the carts won't roll away while on these sidewalks.

We wandered around a couple blocks in each direction, hoping to find the music store.
We saw this entrance to a park.

Lots and lots of people, but no one to ask.
No one speaks English.

We flagged a taxi and headed home.
We'd ask again, another person.
We would try again.
Another day.

But on our way back we saw a music store.
"Ting. Ting," (stop) we tell the driver.
We climb out, hoping there are pianos in the store.

Tons of pianos and all types of instruments, just like in a US music store. And luck was with us. A university student who speaks English works in the store on Saturdays ! :)

I took photos of some cool traditional Chinese instruments.

I could have looked longer at the guzheng. They are beautiful. Carvings, inlays, fine workmanship. They've been played for over 2000 years. They sound awesome.

Here are some pipas, essentially a type of lute. The next photo is of Chinese flutes.

After looking at everything in the store (music stores are as much fun as book stores) I chose a piano.
I had eyed the wooden pianos, sorely tempted. But we ended up buying a Yamaha--a super nice one--with a full size keyboard, weighted keys, touch sensitive, great tone. Not the same as my old piano--a great upright with amazing sound and wonderful response to my touch--but extremely nice for an electronic model, as nice as they come.

The interesting thing, in writing as well as in life, thwarted expectations and being forced to explore paths we didn't first see gives new experiences to us and the characters in our stories.

Next Saturday--back to the music store.
I'm going to buy a guzheng and schedule lessons.


Christy Lenzi said...

Ooh! I can see you playing a guzheng. What do they sound like--I imagine a lyre-like sound or a lap harp....

Sarah Blake Johnson said...

A guzheng can create a huge range of sounds--it can sound like a harp or guitar or "cascading waterfall, thunder, horses' hooves" (Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guzheng) Plucking, glissandos, pressing the strings to create changes of pitch, vibrato or harmonics are some of the ways the strings are used.
It is tuned to a pentatonic scale--5 pitches per octave.
It is a large instrument--3-4 feet long and is placed on a stand or table.

I have experience both as a classically trained pianist and violinest. I also have a lot of jazz piano experience. I taught myself to play the celtic harp a couple years ago. I want to explore both traditional and modern guzheng music.

Here are links (sorry I don't know the code to make them into real links--copy and paste works) to a few videos--listen to the first 30 seconds or so to get a feel different sounds a guzheng makes.
Modern guzheng-
12 Girls Band: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRYu1nbN-LA&NR=1

Older, but not centuries old--
Wang Chang Yuan
and Zhan Tai Feng

Of course at first I'll start off learning the simplest pieces.

Sarah Blake Johnson said...

One more link, another by 12 girls band.
This solo shows off the guzheng.

Maripat said...

I'm glad to read things are working out for you over there. Good luck with the lessons. That is cool.

Sarah said...


janni said...

Music lessons sound like a great way to settle in to a new country--a way to connect that transcends cultural and language barriers!

Sarah Blake Johnson said...

Thanks, Maripat.

Janni, music can connect people who don't have the same language. It will be good for me to learn more about China and meet more people. I'm wondering if the music is written in the "normal" manner.

There is another way music is written that we saw in Brazil--it has huge limitations, as in no place for words and not way to describe the length of the note; it made me aware that musical notation isn't as universal as I'd thought.

Melinda said...

This is the perfect example of why I think you are amazing.

I would LOVE to play this instrument. Way to take advantage of the situation.

This is you:

"As long as I'm in China, I might as well buy a guzheng and learn to play it."

Sarah Blake Johnson said...

Thanks, Melinda.
If you really want a guzheng I could pick one up for you.

If my guzheng wasn't so large, I'd bring it with me for the next time we get together.

Oh, I had my first lesson. I'll be able to learn to play it fairly quickly. The music isn't in standard Western notation. So, there is an added challenge.