The Westlake High School Band returned last week from a trip to China, the first by an American high school band. Bradley Wilson, a 1983 graduate of Westlake and a sophomore biology major at the University of Texas accompanied the band.
By Bradley Wilson
Special to the Austin American-Statesman
June 25, 1984, p. B4
Members of the Westlake High School band expected to see some unusual sights on their trip to China, but they weren’t prepared for touching, elaborate welcomes and being asked to sign autographs.
The celebrity treatment was evident when 200 uniform-clad Chinese students at Canton Middle School No. 7 warmly greeted the first high school band to tour their country. The Chinese exchanged gifts with their American guests, applauded and displayed a huge banner in Chinese and English saying: “Warmly Welcome to Westlake High School.”
IF THE RECEPTION was formal, the departure was a mad house, with Chinese teenagers clambering aboard a bus for last-minute autographs.
“They treated us like movie stars,” said band member Carolyn Wilson.
The Westlake Band performed for the students and faculty in the school auditorium, which was cooled only by ceiling fans. Then the Canton school orchestra and choir performed several traditional Chinese songs and some music from the Sound of Music.
For the Americans — who wore bright yellow shirts with “I Love
China” printed on them in Chinese — “It was a blast,” said Kirsten Heinze.
“SEEING THE school in Canton and the interaction that was possible between the faculty and students was my favorite part,” said assistant director Kerry Taylor.
The principal of the canton school, Shu Hang, said the trip will be the first of many cultural exchanges between the two countries and will “make the flowers of the relationship between the U.S. and China bloom.”
One gift given to the Chinese student president was a burnt orange Texas T-shirt. The Westlake band performance included a rendition of The Eyes of Texas, and several members who will be attending the University of Texas flashed the “hook-em” salute at the finish, bringing inquiring looks to the faces of the Chinese.
THE AMERICANS tried to explain, but language barriers made it difficult and they settled on “it’s a symbol of our city.”
None of the Westlake students speak Chinese, but they found most of the Chinese students at the school spoke basic English — even though they weren’t acquainted with American slang.
Jeff Kahl thought chatting with the Chinese students was the best part of the trip. The Chinese kids there were all friends and they treated the Westlake band members like part of the family, he said.
The trip into China made up only three days of the 13-day tour, which included five days in Hong Kong, where the band played concerts for audiences who demanded two encores, and a five-day stop in Hawaii on the way home.
DURING THE stay in Hong Kong, students shopped for bargains and saw many of the city sites. “It was fun bargaining with the Hong Kong people,” said Carina Rew, who bought three Gucci bags in a Hong Kong shop at a 30 percent savings over U.S. prices.
While shopping for Walkmans, one band member was mistaken for Michael Jackson by a salesman in a Hong Kong store. “Some sales people started pointing at him, laughing and calling him Michael Jackson,” said Cathy Amos. “For the rest of the tour we were being teased about it.”
THE 150-MILE train trip from Hong Kong to canton wound through rice fields and farming communities and ended with a 16- course banquet, featuring traditional Chinese dishes, such as roast suckling pig and a whole rooster, which were eaten with chopsticks.
During the entire stay in China, band members were served warm tea or carbonated orange drink with no ice.
“People in the U.S. have a totally different concept of the type food that they really eat in China,” said Amos
While in Canton, students toured the 700-year-old Shiwan Art ceramics factory, where employees used an abacus as a cash register. Other sightseeing stops included a temple built in 1078 and a paper factory.
Band members noticed many of the differences between cantonese culture and American — women carrying large buckets of water, farmers using water buffalo to plow the fields, few cars, many worn-looking public housing apartment buildings, and no single-family housing.
“It seems like they’re 100 years behind the rest of the world,” said Craig Engleman.
During some free time in the old-style city, several band members took the time to walk around the streets. One student, Mike Cheney, found a group of 8- and 9-year-olds and decided to give them a balloon.
“I HAD ONE balloon left and decided to blow it up for the kids. As I blew up the balloon, all the kids started crowding around and laughing,” Cheney said. After bouncing it around for awhile, the Chinese children kept bringing it back.
“I tried to motion to them that it was a gift from me to them,” Cheney said. “After a while they caught on and I heard them playing with it as I walked away. It made me feel really great that they could get so much pleasure from something so simple.”
Other students also gave the residents gifts. “Although they really didn’t understand the gifts, they were happy because they were from other types of people,” said Paula Cunyus.
BAND MEMBERS performed their first concert at an outdoor stage in China for an audience that stretched as far as they could see. The estimated 10,000 people fought for any American souvenir they could get — including programs, balloons, or souvenir pencils brought by band members.
Returning to Hong Kong, students did some last minute shopping for cameras, Walkmans, and polo shirts and packed for their flight to Honolulu.
“It felt good to be back to hamburgers, french fries, and peanut butter,” said Brett Richardson. In fact, the most attended place in Hong Kong was the McDonald’s, five blocks from the hotel.