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About the Author
Ken Smith currently divides his time between New York (where he writes for Gramophone magazine) and Hong Kong (where he serves as the Asian–performing arts critic for the Financial Times). He is Co–Music Director of the recordings Dong Folk Songs and Miao Music for China's MediaFusion Group, and he won an ASCAP–Deems Taylor Award in 2008 for his liner notes to Gil Shaham's recording of The Butterfly Lovers Concerto for Violin. Ken is also the author of Fate! Luck! Chance!, published in 2008 by Chronicle Books.

Ancient Paths, Modern Voices Blog

Dealing with Culture Shock


Culture shock is bound to happen in something like Carnegie Hall’s Ancient Paths, Modern Voices. The problem is, you can never predict how or when it will happen. Take the artists involved in last Friday’s Taste of China program, for example. Some of the Dong singers have never been out of their village; even if they’ve made it to the local county town, they have never had to use an elevator. Befuddled by how to get to their Times Square hotel rooms, they were told to “get in the big box and push the number of their floor.” Unfortunately, coming from a minority culture that traditionally had no written language, some of them still could not read Arabic numerals. Let’s not even think about trying to order late-night room service …

An entirely different level of culture shock hit the players from the Ba Da Chui percussion quartet once they got to New York. Coming from Beijing, a sprawling mess of a city—as diffused as Los Angeles, but on a much grander scale—they’re used to spending much of their day in the car. Elevators are no problem, but it’s hard for them to imagine any civilized city today where you have to walk more than 15 minutes!

That said, between walking and driving, the visiting performers have seen quite a bit of New York this weekend—starting with Times Square and, thanks to Carnegie Hall’s Neighborhood Concert Series, making their way into other parts of Manhattan and the outer boroughs.

Posted by Ken Smith

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