Catching sight of President Obama
Two weeks before President Barack Obama arrived in China, my roommate and I had received a call from a couple teachers at our school to tell us that we were among 20 Americans that were chosen to help perform for the president. All we knew about it, though, was that we had to meet up at the East Gate of campus at a certain time, and then we would be taken to the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square.
We were all taken aback at the size of the building. Each floor alone had to be at least three to five stories tall. We discovered new rooms all the way up to performance day. We walked into the big dining room where President Obama and Hillary Clinton, along with some other members of Obama’s cabinet, would be dining with President Hu Jintao and his government officials. It turned out to be that we would be singing with a choir from another university as well as with a well-known band from Mainland China. I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that I did not have to sing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” in front of the president. The two songs we had to sing for the president were Stevie Wonder’s “That’s What Friends are For” and the Olympic theme song from the Beijing games called “You and Me.”
Chinese rehearsals are definitely something to be experienced. Every weekend and the Monday before the performance we spent in this building. And every time, there was a big change that the Americans did not know about. We were not at rehearsals as long as the Chinese students, so when we would arrive we wouldn’t know what was going on. But we all learned very quickly what was going on. For example, until the final two rehearsals we just had to wear some sort of hooded sweatshirt. The final two rehearsals we wore white. Changes were often made with every rehearsal. I’m sure Western rehearsals are the same way, but they don’t change as much.
On performance day, we were taken hours before Obama was to have dinner with Jintao for some last-minute rehearsing. Luckily, it was quick, painless, and they provided food for us. While we waited for our turn, we all talked with the Chinese students and hung out with the famous band as well as getting pictures with performers from other provinces of China. Some of the students even sang for us as well. It was really fun.
When it came our turn, we walked out. The girl who was next to me, whose name was Snuggles, took my hand and made sure we wouldn’t get separated and not look so professional. And when we walked out on the stage, Obama, Hu Jintao, and Hillary Clinton were sitting right at the center. The first song we had sung was “That’s What Friends are For.” Where I was standing, every time we stepped to the right, a girl’s head was blocking my view of Obama, so I would look at Hillary. At one point, it looked like they were whispering and looking at me, so I made sure to make my movements huge and smile as big as possible so I would get more noticed. Did it work? I will probably never know.
At the end of both of our performances, Obama came on stage and shook hands with some of the people. Unfortunately, I wasn’t picked to shake his hand, but performing for him was honor enough. I was far away enough from him that if I screamed loud enough he would be able to wave at me. I don’t know if he heard me, but he did wave in my general direction, so that was a plus.
The whole experience was an honor. I don’t know what made them pick me to be among the 20 Americans to do this, but I was glad. My roommate is a music major, so it would be easy to see why they would pick her, but I wasn’t sure. But either way I was glad that they did.
I met a lot of new people from this experience. I met Mongolians who played the Mario theme song on their instruments, and a Chinese choir that was made up of some of the best singers I’ve ever heard. And there was one in particular who was named Snuggles.
Now Snuggles didn’t have that name before she met some of the American group. She’s a 17-year-old college student, but if you were to look at her, you would think she was 12. Normally, I would consider that to be very creepy, but in the case of Snuggles, it was cute. If I remember right, she was given that name by some of the Americans because she wanted an American boyfriend. All a person had to do was listen to her, and he or she instantly was in a diabetic coma because of how sweet she is. She had actually started to cry when the last of us had left the Great Hall, but we all have pictures with her. No one can forget Snuggles. Especially with a name like that.
That has been it for now in China, but there will be more to come soon. Until then, Zai jian!
Editor’s note: The is the seventh dispatch from Houghton Lake’s Keara Hopkins as she spends a year studying in China. Hopkins, a senior at Western Michigan University, is enrolled at Beijing Language and Culture University. A 2006 graduate of Houghton Lake High School, she left for China Aug. 15. She will be sending periodical updates to the Resorter throughout the year. She plans to return to the United States in July, 2010.