I am so grateful for the gift of studying at the Royal Carillon School in Mechelen. I had a glorious month immersed in music. My days were filled with carillon lessons, campanology, theory, improvisation, listening and learning, lots of practice and many tower climbs. Thanks to Koen Cossaert, my carillon teacher and the director of the school, for all the lessons he gave me (pretty much every other day which meant I had to practice a lot) and for the amazing campanology lessons. It was an interesting environment of one-to-one instruction and a fluid schedule of lessons that could be set at a moment’s notice with very talented teachers. I played ten different carillons in four weeks (read it and weep, Canadian carillonneurs!), had serious blisters and bruises on my left hand (which plays the lower heavy bells), and aching knees from all the tower climbs. But on my last day in Mechelen, I had the privilege of playing an hour-long recital at St. Rombouts so it was all good.
Students at this school are from all over the world. I met people from The Netherlands, France, England, Germany, Korea, Russia and Belgium, and that was just in one month. Students are there for varying periods, from a few days a month to nine months at a stretch. Ultimately, the goal is to pass the school’s requirements, including a challenging recital incorporating your own composition and arrangements, and to receive their diploma which carries a lot of weight internationally. There was only so much I could accomplish in one month and I will have to make repeat visits (ideally a couple of times a year) for two or three years to complete the program. My quest now is to find a practice instrument so that my progress doesn’t have to stop and start all the time. There are ways I can keep going with the theory and improvisation studies, and many things I can do to maintain general involvement with the carillon world. I have good introductions, leads and possibilities and somehow will carry this forward … somehow, living in a city where the closest carillon is a 3.5-hour flight away (Japan). Sigh.
I returned to Hong Kong a couple of days before Hong Kong’s Occupy demonstration sites were dismantled after 75 days of sit-in protests. It was a relief that there was no real violence during that time, and no surprise that there was no resolution. The students were leaderless and utterly without strategy. The government was ineffective and contemptuous. To the government’s credit, their if-you-ignore-them-they-will-go-away strategy worked. They did nothing to discuss, quell or even suggest the possibility of addressing the causes of the movement, which went far beyond universal suffrage to issues of inequality, accessibility and affordability. The result is a highly polarized city, more politicized than it has ever been. Deep social problems were thrown into high relief. All commentary is crying out for dialogue, something to which this government is definitely not prone. I think there are stormy times ahead for Hong Kong and the majority of its people.
On the bright side, my daughter is in Hong Kong for the Christmas holidays! I am happily playing tour guide and mom. We are visiting markets and districts, museums and hiking paths, Chinese opera and restaurants. Skype, Facetime, email, WhatsApp and cheap long distance go a long way when living in different parts of the world but nothing beats having her here in person. She’ll be with us for three weeks. She hit the ground running and is getting a good taste of what Hong Kong is like.
Christmas is nice here. All the buildings are lit up and everywhere are tinny versions of Christmas tunes and loads of poinsettias and decorations. The weather is nice, about 16 and very sunny. I admit to laughing out loud when I received the first “cold weather warning” from HK Weather — it would go down to 11 degrees (that’s 11 Celsius on the plus side). I have put out in our apartment several Christmas decorations that I brought from Canada. One difference is that we have a decorated Christmas poinsettia this year instead of a Christmas tree. Thank you to our family and friends who have sent us Christmas cards which really brighten things up.
Christmas week, we are going on a cruise to Singapore, Malaysia and Phuket. We have never spent Christmas in a warm climate or away from family. It will be strange but wonderful in many ways.
It is a bit hard to summarize how I am feeling at this juncture in our Hong Kong adventure, specifically this first Christmas season. I’m thrilled to be here. I am so glad our daughter is here. I miss my family and Paul’s family. I am glad Paul will get a real holiday because he is long overdue. I am happy to be enjoying a stress-free Christmas without the trappings and pressures, just our little three-person unit figuring out how Christmas works here in China and taking in the new while maintaining some of the old. I am trying to quell feelings of guilt about not being “home” for Christmas. But I guess I am home and that this is all part of the adventure. Hooray! Carpe diem.
Merry Christmas everyone!!