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South Pacific Tour
1996 International Music Festival

Recollections by Gene Wie
NC CYO Concertmaster, 1995-1996
Originally written July 1996, Edited and Revised February 2001
New comments are in *bold*

All photos were scanned with a hand held Mustek CG-2400 in 16.7 million colors at 400 dpi, so I recommend an 800x600 resolution with high color (16-bit) mode or higher along with an HTML 3.0 compatible web browser for those of you wanting the best viewing experience. Otherwise, the graphics and formatting of this page will be messed up. I suggest you use Netscape 3.x. It's free!

This opening paragraph is a rather amusing read these days, considering I'm staring at a flat screen 24 bit display with 22 diagonal inches of grandeur, which is the equivalent of four full size pages of the monitor this was originally written on. ALL photographs have been replaced with new scans from my Epson Perfection 1240U. May 2001.

If you haven't already, check out the San Diego Civic Youth Orchestra Website, then come back here. It will help you understand what this group is all about.

Having concluded a two week tour of Australia and New Zealand with the orchestra, I am now sitting at my computer creating web pages and recovering from jet lag. Since I’m not doing anything productive at the moment, I thought I’d put down a few thoughts about the trip. By the way, if you’re looking for a serious, in-depth, politically correct analysis about the trip and its psychological impact; or want to correct my grammar, spelling, and/or attitude, please go help your sheep over the fence, or get inebriated, or whatever.

Come to think of it, I might add a few thoughts and comments about "adult Gene's" perspectives about "teenage Gene's" activites. Everything written in bold here is new as of February 2001.

The plane flight portion of a tour is not usually a topic of great import. However, I must mention something about Qantas (Queensland and Northern Territory Air Service) that holds true for nearly every airline on this entire planet: the food has to go. I understand that it’s difficult to prepare good meals for seven hundred people several thousand feet up, but there must be something that can be done! Fourteen hours on the plane is bad, and the nutritional experience is even worse. More on this subject later.

The food on Qantas was upgraded significantly for the 2000 Olympic Games.

The Sydney Opera House

Fact: Taking photographs of the Sydney Opera House was just the thing to do. “Picture of Opera House from front.” “Picture of Opera House from rear.” “Picture of Opera House from harbour tour boat.” “Picture of Opera House from the South-West.” “Picture of Opera House from the North-North-East.” “Picture of Opera House from 10 miles below ground in a Sydney coal mine.” “Picture of Opera House shingle taken with telescope mounted on camera.” “Picture of failed attempt to take picture of Opera House.” “Picture of Opera House with lens cap on.” “Picture of picture of Opera House.” “Picture of Opera House at night with no moon no stars no light with darkness filter.” “Picture of Opera House 20 million light years out in space with Stevie Wonder’s glasses on.”

Fact: I still have more photographs of the Sydney Opera House than I will ever need in this lifetime.

We arrived the morning of June 27th, 1996, at 6:05am in Sydney, Australia. We were promptly met by Jenny and Victoria, our Contiki tour guides, who led us on a citywide tour that very morning. A group of fourteen of us were first out of the terminal, and since there wasn’t room in the larger tour bus, we went in a smaller bus with Jenny. All hail the dinker bus! We spent around four hours checking out a series of locations, and indulging in amateur photography. To her credit, our harp player Michelle Marco consumed thirty-six rolls of 24 shot film, totaling seven hundred sixty-eight photos. For you non-math people, that’s the equivalent of using three rolls of 24 shot film a day (seventy-two pictures). Congratulations Michelle! I only used four rolls of film, but I have more shots of the Sydney Opera House than I will ever need to look at. Perhaps the coolest place we visited that first day was Bondi beach. The sand is white. I mean, it is white. It is also very powdery. You can run in it in socks and shoes, and it doesn’t stick to every part of your clothing. A pat on the back goes to Matt, Jenny, Sinae, Robby, Katie, and Mark for their three layer human pyramid!

I really wonder what happened to all these people. Robby and Sinae I know of. Katie? Jenny? Matt? MARK?

I was starving once we got off the plane, btw. The first place to buy food was this total vegan place. I scarfed down an artichoke sandwhich which had been grilled between two wavy metal sheets. Delicious.

The Pyramid at Bondi
Jenny, Sinae
Matt, Mark, Robby

Fact: You can never tell how bad an orchestra really is until you hear it attempt to play Mozart’s Overture to the Marriage of Figaro after an exhausting fourteen hour flight nonstop from Los Angeles to Sydney.

After dumping our luggage at the Sydney Traveler’s Rest Hotel, we hit the Congress Hall for our first overseas rehearsal. Picture this: All 45 members of the orchestra are not only tired, but irritated, punchy, and entering into panic attacks about our instruments. Throw it all together, and what do you have? An orchestra realizing what it really sounds like after a fourteen hour plane flight. Murphy’s law states that, “if something can go wrong, it will.” Aside from snapped strings, collapsing bridges, and warped reeds, everything was great! We even managed to get to the “rehearsing” part of the rehearsal. Fancy that! The effects of jet lag were all too apparent. I usually can play an open string without shredding half my bow hair.

The results of having one's hearing affected after a plane flight, sleep deprivation, and poor diet are immense. The group sounded drunk off its keister. I now realize the experience was simply to get our instruments and give'em a rundown to acclimate everything to the local environment, but damn, we felt pretty low that morning...

The Sydney Opera House

Now, the primary reason (I hope) for our trip was to attend the Seventh International Music Festival, sponsored by World Projects, Inc. Held at various locations in Sydney, it centered around performances at the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Town Hall. Of all the groups which attended, the West Lothian Schools Brass Band really made a distinct impression on me. It wasn't just the fact that they were good, but also because they played with an energy that really brought out the spirit of their music. The “Star Wars” arrangement was interesting, particularly because of the wierd synthesizer sound effects. Their trumpet soloist, 22 year-old Angela Whelan, dazzled the audience with her technique and tone in "Charivari” by John Iveson. At the night of the festival command performance, I purchased a copy of their compact disc, “Cartoon,” for $20 AUS, and got it autographed too. That night, a Swiss group also impressed, with their alpine horns. Ricola!

Angela was quite a player. Compared to the CD, her live performances was much better. It was obvious that by the time of the festival, she had played the piece so many times she could spit it out on command. After the concert, a number of us managed to secure an autograph on the CD album cover, and I attribute this mainly to the fact that she was A) completely drunk, and B) was quite a "hottie" as we'd put it over here, and attracted a good number of male fans (of which I admit I was duly part of).

Civic Youth Orchestra earned a silver award in the festival competition. All I can really say is that I personally enjoyed our performance in the Opera House on June 30th to the utmost. Getting the chance to play a solo on-stage in the Sydney Opera House is one of those "once in a lifetime" things, isn't it? I think that Melissa Moore, Nick Mitchell, Tanya Bakhru, Emmeline Chuang, Alan Ni, Cara Wicks, Melanie Poll, Tammy Zhou, and I really gained valuable experience, thanks to those performances.

No insult to anyone here, but if IYS could have played any less together (especially in the "command performance") I would have argued that the string and wind sections in an orchestra are required by the written music to begin and end in the same place. Of course, CYO could've brought a full size orchestra to begin with, but now I appreciate the fact that we didn't drag along just any yahoo that could blow into a horn or pluck a string. More on this later...

Sydney Town Hall

Also of note was our experiences with our homestay families. Robby Walter and I stayed with the family of Gregory and Teresa Elmaloglou. Gregory is a cellist with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, which we were privileged to gain access to, to watch one of their afternoon rehearsals. Some American cellist was performing an Elgar concerto that night. Their son Tony played trumpet in one of the youth orchestras in the area. Then, there was Claude Alexidis, a college student staying with the family. He was a fellow computer enthusiast as well . Then, there was their daughter, Rebekah Elmaloglou, who happens to be a rather famous soap star in Australia, along with several of her brothers (whom we did not meet).

McDonalds the Australian Way

I think I’ll take some time now to do a restaurant review. #1: Do not, I repeat, do not go to Subway sandwich shops in Australia. I have no idea what they do to the meat and the veggies, but that footlong steak and cheese I purchased the second day was one of the strangest meals I’ve eaten in a very long time. #2: “Macca’s” (McDonalds) and KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) were pretty good, although I spent some time pondering items such as “McKiwi.” Chinese food is interesting too. For example, we went to “Choy’s” the first night in Sydney. Now, what kind of a restaurant charges for WATER? I remember one of the members of our orchestra asked, “The water comes with ice, and that’s why it costs 50 cents, right? So if I get water without ice, I can get it for free?” No, of course not. A little gold star goes to violist Cody Steele, who figured out that tap water in the bathrooms wasn’t very different from the bar variety. #3: On the subject of this restaurant, that reminds me: these places aren’t very handicapped conscious, are they? Our tour manager, Becky Washburn, broke her foot the first day, and took to crutches. Now, the entrance to “Choy’s” is a two story flight of steps. Enough said.

Fact: I asked at one restaurant about recycling my glass bottle from my pineapple juice. Apparently, the environmentalist/tree-hugging epidemic hasn’t consumed Oz yet, because I couldn’t put my bottle anywhere but in a waste receptacle (fancy word for trash can).

I of course regret this entire above paragraph. Bearing our silly US-centric attitudes, it's no wonder culture shock hits us so hard.  Welcome to Australia, dumbnuts...

Me at the Sydney Olympic Aquatic Center.

The Sydney, Australia portion of the trip was my favorite, personally. From the Sydney Opera House, Darling Harbour, Centre Point Tower, Town Hall, Bondi Beach, The site of the the 2000 Olympics, and all the manner of locations, Sydney has an individual feel and atmosphere in which it stands alone. Except for the occasional ten mile trek through the urban jungle of Sydney, everything was great. I would have done a lot to stay there a few extra days... Now, on to New Zealand.

For this plane flight, we were prepared. A number of us hit Macca’s and/or KFC, and managed to bring halfway decent consumables onto the plane. It was a good idea, because dinner was this gross fish stuff. I wouldn’t feed it to a homeless person.

Airplane food is bad. Period. It's always bad. I don't care what anyone says about losing one's sense of taste at high altitudes. The fact is, the greasy, unhealthy crap that is fast food still tastes exactly the same. And it's no secret that the "food" the airlines try to pass on as "nutrition" to their passengers is served for the sole purpose that it costs pennies (thus racking up profits for the airlines for each individual ticket). Just think, every less penny they have to spend actually providing you with real butter is more change in their coffers. I wish I owned an airline...

There’s not much I can say about New Zealand. Sure, it was great and all, but after Sydney, it was kind of...errr...boring? After all that urbania, returning to the countryside was a letdown. Our tour guide was Julia. Oh, it was colder too. I remember one hotel where Robby found this little gray box on the floor. I thought it was a high tech trash can. It was the heater. This tiny 10 x 10 inch cube had to heat our hotel room. Believe me, it didn’t. We just turned it off, and turned the television on, because the TV generated more heat than the heater.

Fact: Sitting on a rock situated above an underground hot spring warms your derriere. Too bad the smell of sulfur repels anyone wanting a quick and easy natural heating pad.

We visited the Maori Cultural Center at the Whakarahoweveryouspellitsayitargh geothermal area and received enlightenment about Maori culture, as well as observe several erupting geysers. In one of those crystal clear, pure water hot springs (at over fifty plus degrees C), two members of the center cooked corn on the cob, which tasted delicious. No additives, no preservatives, no artificial coloring. 100% corn, with a bit of butter. ‘Twas excellent, though I wonder how a 12 oz. steak cooked in there would taste. That night, we attended a Maori Hangi feast at the Lake Plaza Rotorua Hotel. On a side note, I lost my Casio watch that night after swimming. I called the Hotel the next day from my homestay home, and received assurance that they would find it and send it back to me. A few days after we returned, my watch arrived in the mail, safe, sound, and working, with no return bill. Another little gold star goes to Ann Henderson and the rest of the housekeeping staff at the Lake Plaza Rotorua Hotel for being so efficient and courteous. If I ever visit New Zealand again, I will be sure to look up the Lake Plaza at Rotorua.

WERD to the staff at the hotel. Returning my precious watch to me safe and sound was a true gesture of hospitality. The sad thing is, I lost that watch in Fashion Island in Newport Beach sometime last year while shopping. A gift from my Dad's youngest brother (that would be my uncle) over 10 years ago, that little Casio watch was my constant companion from elementary school up to college.

The first of the group to head out...the blonde chick with the stupid expression on her face is our oboe player, Melanie Poll =).

We had two concerts in New Zealand. The first was at Cambridge High School. The second was with the North Shore Youth Symphony at Carmel College. In what had to be the longest concert program in existence, Irvine Youth Symphony, us, and the North Shore Youth Symphony all performed. We combined at the finale to sight-read “Broadway on Parade.” Yay. Then we had dinner. Kind of. At this potluck, I didn’t manage to eat very much. But later, we called “Pizza Haven” and had two large pizzas delivered, for only $20 AUS. Many thanks to Mr. Corzine for an excellent joke: “Excuse me sir, but several people in the bar have eaten your pizza and charged it to your room...”

Fact: That (nice) cello player from Irvine Youth Symphony, whom we have taken to calling “bluehair” because of her hair color preferences is named Jeanette. =)

Okay, here's my turn to gripe: Don't play "Bugler's Holiday" at 100bpm.

Of our pieces: I cannot express in words how much I like Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings. THIS was the piece that I wanted to play. Every time we brought it up I broke a few more bow hairs, pulling as much feeling out of it as possible. This is one piece I hope to play again in the future (if I ever take up violin to the extent that I used to).

Some people thought I had a little too much fun on this trip. One of them is violinst Alan Ni, left.

I love this picture. I lost that hooded sweatshirt on at a hotel in Tuscon, AZ in an orchestra festival the following year. I don't know where that beanie went either. And Alan sure didn't stay that size...saw the bugger around '99 sometime and he was TALL. WOW.

A volcanic eruption occurred around 6pm the day we were supposed to leave. Funny, because we’d spent some time playing around inside the Mt. Eden volcano earlier (climbing up stinks!). The Civil Air Authority closed the airport at 7pm. Our flight was due to leave sometime around then, but was canceled. After re-entering New Zealand (gotta love pushing that paper), Qantas carted everyone to the Stamford Plaza, a five star hotel. For seven hundred passengers that night, Qantas spent $180,000 AUS. Dinner was great. The rooms were fantastic. A hotel which has a phone by the toilet, doorbells, bathrobes, and even cotton balls and cotton swabs must be good. Except for the TV. Television must not be that big a thing there, because we had a dinky little 13” unit. We had a short stopover in Tahiti on the way home, but other than that, our trip ended.

And was dinner great or what...We had like a 150AUS/NZ/whatever voucher for dinner. I spent this on a wonderful plate of boneless grilled trout on rice cooked in various herbs and spices. In fact, so many of us ordered all of the hotel restaurant's "good" food we left the staff with hamburgers and shoestring fries. And did I mention dessert? Ice cream and chocolates arranged like pieces of art on chilled plates.

So let's cover more of what happened that night. My roommate and close friend Robby took his hour in the shower. I took a long bath and a shower (the amenities were superb). Deciding that we were only going to sleep for like 3 hours or so, Katie Baber came over to hang out and all of us tried to decipher some of the more complex passages out of the Bible we found in one of the cabinets. There was one cabinet in particular that was stocked to the gunwhales with tiny liquor bottles of all kinds. Being good little kids, we ignored it and talked about random stuff until the sun rose and we had to leave.

Speaking of liquor again, two female members of our group decided to take on said cabinet (in their room). The next morning, 10 minutes before the bus for the airport left, our esteemed conductor and some other staff found the two completely passed out, surrounded by empty bottles. Hehehe. At least someone had fun on this trip...

One last thing I’d like to mention about Australia and New Zealand are the crosswalks. Here in the United States, our four way intersections usually have four crosswalks, right? Get this: New Zealand has the corner-to-opposite-corner crosswalk! In fact, when the “walk” light turns green, the street is flooded with people. All automotive traffic was replaced by hundreds of pedestrians swarming all over the place. And who can forget the lovely indicator sounds emanated by those crosswalk boxes? In Australia, it was “zwwwwwip! tiktiktiktiktiktiktik!” and in New Zealand, it was a rather annoying buzzer sound. Robby Walter mentioned that the programmer for these devices must have been from a video game company. Ahhhhhh, the memories.

So why don't we have things like that here for the blind? Oh wait, I forgot: drivers in southern california don't stop for red lights.

Fact: CYO totaled four performances on the trip. The first was at the Sydney Opera House, June 30th, 1996. The second was at Sydney Town Hall, July 1st, 1996. Next was a 4th of July concert at Cambridge High School in New Zealand, and finally, a joint concert on July 7th, 1996 with the North Shore Youth Symphony and the Irvine Youth Symphony.

I will always remember the last song I played as concertmaster of the Civic Youth Orchestra: The Kabalevsky Piano Concerto #3. Ironic, isn't it? We've only been playing orchestral backup on this piece in CYO for years and years and years. Also, I wish I had purchased more souvenirs while in Sydney. But nothing will beat my ultimate souvenir: my very own stuffed ‘roo!

And if I had to replay my performances of Beethoven's Romance now...DAMNIT. I would've done things so completely differently. I had been so utterly blind to the subtleties of the music and what the piece demanded from its performer. Oh well, there's always next time, right? (Yeah right).

Over the course of this trip, I’ve managed to get to know most of the people in the orchestra fairly well (some a bit too well), some, more than others. Greetings go to Katie Baber (and of course, Jeremy), Robby Walter, Sinae Bang, Jenny Tucker, Mark Liu, Elliot Moreau, John Manganaro, Irene and Laura Taylor, Alan Ni, Emmeline Chuang, Jessica Wei, Evan Wong, Melissa Moore, Angel Sun, Matt Matolcsi, Michelle Marco, Victor Loh, Jason Magsalin, Lisa Gordon, Tanya Bakhru, Tamara Gilson, Melanie Poll, Cody Steele, and Stephanie Washburn, and everyone else whose names I don’t quite remember right now. Also, thanks go to Mr. Gilson and the rest of the CYO staff for making this trip possible.

Hi everyone, where are all of you now? Email me! Even if you do think that we're mortal enemies and that I'm your arch-nemesis for some reason, forget about it. That was *so* high school...

Well, that’s it. There’s a number of events I’ve left out of here, for a number of reasons. If you have any comments/questions, or want to swap photographs, please contact me: gwieATsolscopeDOTcom.