NYO-USA Musician Blogs: Tastes Like Home
Violist Faith Pak describes a typical meal with fellow musicians in Beijing, the first stop on the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America's tour of China. As she dines with her peers, it dawns upon her that NYO-USA is giving her a taste of "the real thing"—the opportunity to experience firsthand the life of a globetrotting professional musician.
Armed with a purple plastic card worth $20, cellist Sofia Checa, violinist William Yao, and I waded slowly through the teeming crowd at Food Republic, the food court underneath our Beijing hotel. Cashiers shouted from the food stalls that wrapped around the room, and the multitude of harsh white lights reflected off the new floors and the glistening array of pots and pans. Not a word of English was to be seen on the menus and shop signs, so Sofia and I were completely dependent on Will’s Chinese language skills.
Faith and the rest of the orchestra arrive at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing. (Photo: Chris Lee)
After making a sweep around the perimeter, we wormed our way back to a Sichuan noodle stall. A mass of hungry people gathered around the counter, making no attempt whatsoever to form a line. People simply squeezed through and desperately tried to make eye contact with the workers. Sofia and Will emerged from the crowd with three steaming bowls of noodle soup. Meanwhile, I had managed to get a hold of two savory scallion pancakes by pointing and nodding my head vigorously at a bewildered cashier.
We scanned the tables for seats. The room must have been at maximum capacity. We slowly navigated the traffic jam, my friends laden with teetering bowls of hot soup, and I felt a familiar sense of airport panic. After several sweaty minutes, we finally found a table of NYO-USA bassoonists and squeezed in.
There was a brief silence as we dived in, slurping thick, steaming noodles heaped with chickpeas and dissolved hot pepper sauce that tickled the nose with its unforgiving spice. The scallion pancakes, perfectly balanced between soft and crisp, soothed the burn better than water. They reminded me of home—they tasted just like the savory Korean pancakes my mom whips up for lunch sometimes. Actually, everything reminded me of my home, New York City. There’s something about sitting at a crowded table with friends in a loud sea of other crowded tables. Eating at a chock-full restaurant in New York or Beijing, I feel a sense of privacy that I only feel in a big city, where all the strangers around me are moving fast to their own destinations. I feel cool because I realize that this is the real thing—I’m in a world-famous city, and I’m ordering food and walking fast and thriving! As I slurped up the last of the hot noodles, I had my tiny moment of triumph and joy.