Every Chinese New Year (CNY) Families gather together and for many migrant workers this is the only time in the year that they get home to see sons, daughter, mothers etc. It is a really big deal. In fact they claim it is the largest annual migration of people in the world. When the family gathers together on a New Years eve to eat dinner they watch the Chinese New Year Gala. It is like a variety show and watched by 100's of millions of people across China. Chunyun itself starts 15 days before new Years and lasts for 25 days after, totalling 40 days. This year on Friday 16th February we will be saying goodbye to the Year of the Rooster and Hello to the Year of the Dog.
Being a foreigner in China has it's advantages and this year my eldest son got a huge one. He got invited to participate in the Chinese New Year's Eve Children's Gala. The TV producer decided it would be good to have a few foreign faces involved in the show this year and set about locating them. I was approached by one of my Chinese colleagues to see if my eldest would be interested. Of course without even knowing what was really involved I jumped at the chance, accepted on his behalf and then informed him he would be on this TV show.
Luckily for me Ríordán is easy going with these things and just kind of went with the flow. I of course couldn't give him any details so he didn't really give it much thought. On the Friday I got a call from the shows editor telling me Ríordán would be doing a Chinese culture dance and needed to go to lessons the next morning. I have to admit that Ríordán was not so keen at this point but as the dutiful son he traipsed after me to a hotel on the Saturday morning to meet with the director, editor and teacher.
Ríordán and Emily at the Tai Chi lesson on the 47th floor of a hotel in Tianjin, China.
When we arrived it became apparent that it wasn't a dance but rather a Tai Chi routine. Ríordán was much more comfortable with this. We discovered that he would be performing with a local Chinese girl Emily, whose father was the teacher and had been studding Tai Chi for many, many years. Ríordán on the other hand has never done Tai Chi. As I watched the agonising lesson which lasted 2 hours, I wondered why they didn't look for a foreign child who actually did Tai Chi. Ríordán struggled with the entire thing. He couldn't see what to do and was just trying to keep up. The whole thing was a bit of a disaster really, I was annoyed with him for not trying harder and he was totally frustrated by not being able to do it. At the end of the lesson we were informed the shoot would take place the weekend after next and that we would need to return the next Saturday for another lesson.
During the lesson on the Saturday morning I recorded the session and asked a colleague for some help at school. Ed Batey our Art teacher is a Tai Chi Master and agreed to do some work with Ríordán at lunch times. So every day for 15 minutes Ed went through the moves with Ríordán. When we went back the next Saturday Ríordán had a certain confidence about him and the lesson went so much better than the previous one. We were told he could have one more lesson the following Saturday and then he would need to go to the TV station at 7am on the Sunday for a rehearsal.
Ríordán outside of the TV station
The actual shoot took place on the Monday and we had to be at the TV station for 2.30 pm. When we went in I was really surprised, I am not sure what I was actually expecting but this was not it. The station was huge, modern and really well equipped. I guess up until this point I thought it was some sort of micky mouse operation... I couldn't be more wrong. We were lead inside and into a huge dressing room with line after line of dressing tables with lights and mirrors. The place was buzzing with performers getting ready or packing up after the turn.
One of the performers getting her hair and makeup done.
Whilst we were waiting to be called to the stage Ríordán made friends with a man who was there to show of his Diablo skills. He was curious about this young blonde blue-eyed boy in Tai Chi gear who could speak mandarin and gave Ríordán a lesson with the Diablo.
Ríordán with the Diablo teacher waiting backstage.
When we were finally called we were blown away with the size of the stage, it was absolutely huge. We waited in the wings and everyone was running about. As this is the Children's gala there was children everywhere and lots of excitement but still behaviour was excellent. When it was our turn Ríordán was positioned at the front of the stage next to Emily. I got a front row seat in the audience. They ran through the song about 6 times and it was remarkable to see all these little children just do it over and over again with no complaint. It was 7pm by the time they had finished and it really had been a once in a life opportunity for Ríordán.
Performers waiting backstage ready to go on.
Ríordán and Emily performing their Tai Chi routine as part of a huge performance of a traditional Chinese song.
One of the camera men captures the action.
The show will air to millions of homes in 5 provinces of China on New Years Eve on Thursday 15th of February 2018. It is unlikely that we will get to see the finished product but regardless is was an amazing experience and again reconfirms to me that raising our children abroad is the right decision for our family.