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China Culture Story - Culture Band

Post Time: Mar 07 2012 By Vanessa Li

On my return from teaching to Guilin the bus dropped me off, a short walk from my home and I promptly became 'waylaid' by one of the innumerable marching bands that are used for advertising here in China. When the proprietor of any new establishment in Guilin wants to signal that they are opening a new business, the most common form of advertising is to cover the front of the said premises with large tubs of flowers that block the pavement, then hire a marching band and dancing troupe. The 'High Prestige and very Wonderful Band' a get together of local women, are always available to provide musical accompaniment at these events. Almost every district in the city has its own band, early in the year competitions are held in the central square, for the best choreography and style of dress. Troupes can be as large as 40 in number, according to the enthusiasm of the neighbourhood, mostly the band consist of ladies. Wearing colourful (not to say garish,) uniforms and playing noisy, (very noisy) music, they draw large interested crowds to the front door of the new restaurant, shop, or what have you. The bands' leader told me that they don't do this for the money, for all money collected goes into a 'kitty', that will buy a new drum, dress material for a uniform, or what ever-else maybe needed. Payment received is dependent on the number of people in the band and the time and distance involved. As always in China, in matters like this the cash is discreetly handed over to the leader, in a red envelope. As if they are disgorging state secrets. James Bond Style. Like all presents, envelopes are never opened in the presence of the giver, but will be opened later, the money counted and okayed.  
This particular band has a male conductor, who is dressed in the same vibrant red and yellow garments as the women, large red hats top their outfits with lots of glitzy bits hanging here and there. He is a lone man in the group of twenty women, as the conductor, sets the beat on a huge drum. Boom! BOOM! BOOM! Wow! Do the Chinese love noise!
Back away to safe area, is my immediate response, before the rest join in for the noise can really be unbelievable.
With an average age in the mid fifties, the ladies all reasonably slim, trim and looking very fit and young, pound away at the drums and clash the cymbals, a well-rehearsed dance routine is performed on the pavement, much to the delight of the onlookers. After a short pause to regain their breath and a quick natter with the locals, they form up in lines of three, and march off around the nearby streets, with a banner held high giving the name of the new enterprise.
Today's 'job' is connected to a new pharmacy selling western and traditional herbal medicines and competing with another, a few doors down the street.
The marching phase is when it really gets noisy. Playing music which to our western ears seems to be lacking any recognisable rhythm, off they go in step. Left! Right! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Clash! Clash! Clash! Ruddy Boom! They march, without due regard, head on to the normal lunch time traffic of, bikes, dust carts, refuse collectors, itinerant hawkers, cars, buses, lorries. Yes! They go on and on. Marching along the street, their faces stern and serious, the onlookers smiling laughing, the traffic drives around the gaily happy band. No one gets distraught no 'road rage' ever seems to occur. Just Chinese acceptance of another hazard on the roads. Pedestrians along the way shout out loud encouragement, dogs start to bark, parked cars with sensitive alarm systems begin to hoot, whoop, whistle and bark their shrill cry. Owners rush out of the 'teahouses' restaraunts waving their key tags to switch off the cacophony created by our illustrious band.
Traffic is backed up for some way, drivers hit the horn. But there is never any bad language or violence, I believe 'loss of face' would not allow it. Such events can be quite common in my area, all adding colour, noise, and general bedlam to daily life. By golly this country must be the noisiest country in this high wide world.
Irritating at times one might say, but have to say that I always try to take these things in my stride. As I did on this occasion. With a quiet inner smile I placed my bag at a convenient table, ordered a bottle of ice cold beer, sat on a stool knee high to a grasshopper and tried to talk to the locals above the crashing of symbols the blast of horns and the crash of drums. Haven't a clue what was being said, just hope that I laughed at the right time.

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Vanessa Li

Vanessa Li

Position:Travel Consultant

I'm delighted to be able to help you in your journeys. As the great Mark Twain said: "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So sail away from the safe harbour. Explore. Dream. Discover!” You can only appreciate home after you've been somewhere else, and the greater the journey, the greater the appreciation! So come to China for one of the greatest journeys you could ever take! 

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