I was hired by 711 Production Limited to give five performances in the New Town Plaza in Hong Kong to play for “Golden Week”. (711 Production’s link is here, but to see it properly you must use Internet Explorer.) Golden Week is a week-long shopping holiday, and shopping malls hire entertainers to attract shoppers—it is huge. (Apparently they have ‘Golden Week’ several times a year.)
Here is the stage they built for me, and my ‘back-up band’ rehearsing before my arrival:
Here is the poster advertising the event (click image for larger version):
William Flies To Hong Kong (10/2/2006)
So, how do you fly with a glass armonica and a set of musical glasses? It’s not easy!
First of all, the musical glasses. Particularly on international flights, the size and weight of your luggage is critical to the airlines. Reducing the number of glasses reduces the size of the musical glasses case. My “flying musical glasses” are what I call “semi-chromatic”: all the “white keys” plus the F#s and Bbs. Leaving out the C#s, D#s and G#s reduces the number of glasses by 25%, but I can still play almost any popular tune on my 15 glasses (one and a half octaves). The glasses go into a heavily padded case and are checked in:
Although I’ve flown with the glass armonica many times before, this is the first time flying with the musical glasses. And since I have to hand carry the armonica glasses, I have to check in the musical glasses. They should get there OK—even if a few get broken I can still play around the missing glasses. We’ll see what happens…
The armonica glasses go into a case that I carry on the plane. I’ve worked out an Escher-esque set of spindles so all the glasses fit in an airline regulation carry-on sized case:
The rest of the armonica—cabinet, motor, etc.—goes into two other cases that are checked in.
William Flies to Hong Kong (Tues. 10/3/2006)
Ed Dilks accompanies me as my fearless road manager. Flying with two glass musical instruments, and the complexity of the show would be impossible without his assistance. We’ve decided to call our trip
“Bill and Ed’s Excellent Adventure“.
Due to the international date line we essentially lose a day—we leave at 2am on Monday morning and are scheduled to arrive at 7am on Tuesday. Of course that’s not how it worked out. LAX decided to close their ‘long’ runway for construction without telling the airlines. So our flight was delayed (simply because their was one less runway). Also, because we had to use a ‘short’ runway (that’s a comforting thought!) we had to stop in Taipei to refuel, and they left lots of folks luggage behind.
So the flight was yet 2 hours longer—16 hours squeezed in a seat is an experience I’m looking forward to repeating soon! (Wait a minute, I will be in just a few days!)
Ed can actually sleep on the plane—I managed to doze a little, but I’m fried. Here’s Ed and I—yippee we’re finally off of that @#$% plane, 16 hours later in Hong Kong:
Ed has weathered the ordeal with rather flying colors—me, not so well! Ed is already earning his keep by keeping sharp objects away from me!
In any event, the airline is very apologetic about the delays and the luggage (even though it wasn’t their fault), and they deliver my luggage (including the non-glass armonica parts and the musical glasses) by 5pm on Tuesday. Just in time too, because—surprise!—I need to do four press interviews before the rehearsal! Fortunately they want to film me putting the glass armonica together so I don’t have to be in a rush about that. I actually had to take glasses back off and put them back on in slow-motion so they could get the shots they wanted:
Alas, the rehearsal goes amazingly badly. One of those ‘nobody’s fault but everything that can go wrong does go wrong’ situations. Electrical problems. P.A. problems. Even the music arrangements just don’t work. So I stay up most of the night writing new ones in the hotel room. Tomorrow is the big press conference where everything has to be perfect. I finally get to bed at 4:30am—have to be up by 7:00am.
Ed was thoughtful enough to snap this flattering picture of me doing my ‘midnight arranging’. (Thanks, Ed.) Notice the monster voltage converter/transformer to my right (the white metal box about the size of a toaster): Hong Kong uses 220v electricity, so I need the convertor to run my laptop. With Pringles and coffee (to my left) I get the job done.
By the way, the musical glasses all arrived in one piece.
Big Press Conference (Wed. 10/4/2006)
The press conference is at noon. They’ve built a platform just for the press:
They do what they can with makeup, but there’s only so much they can do… <grin!>
They even have six beginning-violinist children dressed up like Mozart playing for the event:
Here I am playing the musical glasses:
Whereas everything went wrong in the rehearsal, everything goes right for the press conference! (Whew!!)
Here I am being interviewed on Hong Kong TV. I honestly can’t tell you at this point how many interviews I’ve done:
Lookin’ pretty good for about 3 hours sleep in two days! My MC/Interpreter for the press conference and all the performances, Fok Choi Ling, is on the left talking into the microphone.
Here’s another interviewer and I looking into the camera to our right to say goodbye to the folks in TV-land:
Here I am with the team from 711 Productions Ltd., one of the musicians, and Ed. The press conference could hardly have gone better. We are all really happy and relieved:
We all go to a late lunch. I want to eat one unique Hong Kong delicacy each day—today’s was “fish lips”. (I never thought about fish having lips.) Surprisingly they have a lot of fat. (Fat lips?)
Ed and I go back to the hotel and auger into the pillows.
First Performance (Thurs. 10/5/2006)
First performance is behind us. (Click here for a 880K video snippet.) No more midnight arranging. Three more performances to go, but all is under control.
Here’s the MC/interpreter and I. Notice the big-screen TV above us:
This shopping mall is truly amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it. Fifty (50) restaurants alone! Seven (7) levels, and it just goes on and on. Ed and I get lost on a regular basis trying to find our way around this behemoth.
And clean? You can’t walk more than 100 meters (yards) without seeing yet another cleaning person. There’s someone stationed full time in the restrooms keeping everything gleaming. There is not a speck anywhere. And friendly security everywhere. More than once Ed and I are just standing there, stumped, and a friendly security person comes to us smiling—”Can I help you find something?”
And they take ‘customer service’ to a level unheard of in the U.S. I bought a cheap little alarm clock (forgot to bring one). The clerk took the clock out, put the battery in, set the alarm for one minute later, waited one minute to make sure the alarm worked, then put it all neatly back into the box. Ed bought a tripod at another store—they took the tripod out of the box and made sure that everything was right about it. At yet another store we bought one of those little luggage dollies (like you use on suitcases that don’t have the built-in wheels) and the clerk took the dolly out of the box and made sure that it unfolded and worked correctly.
AND: Ed and I discover that here in Hong Kong ‘happy hour’ goes from 3 to 9!! Our kind of place!
William’s Hong Kong delicacy for the day is “chicken feet”. (Not much meat). Then we go to the ‘Avenue of the Stars’ where we can see the Hong Kong skyline across the harbor (click for a larger view):
Second Performance (Fri. 10/5/2006)
Well, all our efforts to get press coverage did result in some notice. Click here…
There are so many cultural differences—some small, some not so small. Here I am tuning the musical glasses:
Yes, that precision tuning implement is actually a ‘turkey baster’. I use it to add/remove small amounts of water. I’ve gotten many a laugh in America pretending to be very serious about my ‘precision tuning implement’ which is a cheap kitchen tool found in every American kitchen. I try this same joke on Gloria
(essentially my ‘boss’ from 711 Productions) and she just nods as if I’m serious. I ask her: “you know what this really is, don’t you?” —why no—and come to find out that turkey basters are unheard of in Hong Kong. No one here bastes their turkeys! I’m thinking—I’d better not lose this because I’ll never find
another one here!
This one is a bigger cultural difference:
It’s a huge (and thus expensive) billboard in downtown Hong Kong advertising a school’s TEACHERS! Here’s a close up of one of the featured professors (Andy Tse, Biology):
Others are professors of Pure and Applied Mathematics, Economics, Accounting, etc. This is far from unique—I saw many other similar posters and billboards around Hong Kong. Imagine advertising your TEACHERS like we advertise our sports figures! And in the subway there was a poster advertising a Mathematical Statistics Bookstore! In the subway!
William’s delicacy for the day: “jelly fish head & cucumber”! (A little rubbery!)
Third Performance (Fri. 10/5/2006)
Ed has the brilliant idea that we should film a ‘music video’ while we’re here. So now we’re scrambling to make that happen. To get a music video out of this trip is just too good of an idea…
The performance goes well.
Here’s Ed, my intrepid road manager, on the prowl for more video:
Delicacy for the day: Ox tongue and curry!
Fourth Performance (Sat. 10/5/2006)
In the morning I dress up in my ‘Elton John’ suit (that’s what we call my gold tuxedo coat with ‘fluffy’ shirts) and we go to the Bird Garden and Flower Market. Owning birds is considered good luck, and there’s a street here called the Bird Garden with nothing but bird vendors. On our way there Ed films me getting on and off the train, going up and down escalators, like that. With his decades of experience on production crews in the film and TV industry in Hollywood, Ed is getting some extraordinary cinematographic effects with my little hand-held video camera!
I check out the birds in the Bird Garden:
And you can buy bags of live crickets to feed your birds:
Here’s a bird on a leash (held down by a cigarette lighter):
Here I am on Flower Street:
Ed also has the great idea of filming me buying flowers and then giving them away to pretty girls passing by:
We just want to get as much interesting video of me walking around Hong Kong all dressed up so when we get back to L.A. we can choose the most interesting footage and edit it down to the song. All total we ended up with about 3 hours of video which we expect to edit down to 4-5 minutes!
The performance goes nearly perfect. And this is the day that the Board of the New Town Plaza decides to come hear the concert! The Board is very happy with how it went, so naturally 711 Productions and I are very happy too.
Here’s Ally (with 711 Productions) having way too much fun putting the food coloring into the musical glasses:
Two Hong Kong children had the homework assignment to go to a concert and complete their workbook about it. So they chose ours! (Click to see a closeup of the workbook.) I can’t read a word of Cantonese, but you can see my name spelled in Latin characters among the Cantonese ideographs.
My delicacy for the day: Beef ligaments. Or is it beef tendons? We’re not sure…
Last Day (Mon. 10/9/2006)
Actually, the last useful day—Tuesday is our return flight. This morning we do the most difficult shoot—a ‘guerilla film shoot’ where we’re going to set up the armonica along the Avenue of the Stars—a promenade overlooking the harbor and Hong Kong skyline. We have transportation to get the armonica there, and portable power is supposed to arrive there also. We have to shoot and be done by 10am when security starts rousting people! So we’re up at 5:30am to be at the venue in time to get the job done.
After that we’ve rented a van for the day. 711 Productions has kindly provided one of their staff (Alan) to be our translator. We’ll drop off the armonica at the hotel after the guerrilla film shoot in the morning, and spend the rest of the day visiting as many sites as we can (without the armonica, but me still wearing Elton John) to get more footage.
(Later that day…)
Well, a security fellow told us we had to move down 100 meters (yards) along the
promenade—no problem! And here he is! His name is Tso Kung Kim:
And a work crew stops to check me out:
We spend the rest of the day trying to get as much footage of me in Hong Kong
for the music video as we can…
On the ferry across the harbor:
At a Buddhist Temple:
Checking out McDonalds! Notice the scaffolding—it’s made of bamboo! (Better than than steel scaffolds? Probably!)
Fly to Los Angeles (Tues. 10/10/2006)
Due to the International Date Line, we leave at 1:20pm on October 10, and arrive in Los Angeles at 11:35am on October 10—in other words, we arrive before we left! (13 hours later.)
What a trip! Gloria and her 711 Production staff were wonderful; the performances went really well, Hong Kong is magnificent, all the glass instruments made it there and back in one piece—life is good! I can’t wait to go back!