The 14th Chinese Bridge Competition features 133 contestants from 97 countries and is a cultural event like no other. This year Griffith Uni student Shannon has the honour of representing Queensland in this global contest of Chinese language and culture. If you haven’t read it yet, here’s part 1 of Shannon’s journey.
Lights-Camera-Action! And repeat until perfect so keep those smiles glued on to your faces guys, ‘cause you can’t afford to lose them! The day that marks the beginning of the end for most of us has finally arrived and with it an underlying current of fear, anxiety and excitement that is present in the nervous shuffling of contestants and quietly muted mutterings of last minute speech rehearsals. Today is the opening ceremony for the show as well as the day those from America and Africa are to give their speeches.
These speeches are worth 60% of one’s overall mark, which also comprise of the combined score of the written test and cultural performance, as well as votes from the live audience, all of which will ultimately decide the top 30 contestents. As such, the pressure to perform well is immense and when coupled with having to present in front of a live audience, cameras, as well as a panel of judges, it is a daunting prospect to say the least, especially for those in the two continents who were luckless enough to go first.
The day started off with a number of takes for the opening shot in which all of us were paraded out across the stage smiling and clapping along to the live performance of a band of singers we didn’t know. Apparently they were reasonably well known over here but judging from the lack of hysterical fan girls, probably not too much 😉 Once we had smiled, clapped and screamed to their satisfaction, those of us who were not presenting today were shown to about the hardest, backless-benches you could find where we were required to sit for the next four hours – it’s a tough competition! From the two continents, the top three competitors would automatically go through to the top 30, while the next six competitors below them would each give a 30 second performance from which the audience would pick the other three to go on. As such, by the end of the day six people from each respective continent had been chosen and it was now time to return to the hotel, stretch our legs and massage our weary rumps in preparation for tomorrow.
At last a sleep in! Well, for most of us at least. Today it is time for those from the European continent to strut their stuff on stage and show China what they are made of. And boy did they do just that. After a much needed and long desired sleep in for those of us not competing today, it was straight to the studio and hard wooden benches where we were soon to be wowed by yet another performance, this time with an introductory parade of all of the European contestants. Following the same layout as yesterday, the show continued on once again for the next few hours. As the number of contestants from Europe is quite extensive, they have a total of 8 spots available for the top 30 position, and as with before, half will be determined by the judges overall score coupled with previous marks and the other half by audience vote. While there had been standout performances from the previous two continents, the sheer level of overall competency from the Europe division was astounding, making it quite a fierce contest to see who could snatch away those top 8 positions. Once chosen and again sprayed by golden confetti, it was back to the hotel for more last minute revision for those of us in the remaining two continents and more partying and celebrations for those who were now free. It was definitely an interesting atmosphere surrounding the entire group and I think more than one contestant in the remaining two continents were slightly envious of their fellow comrades who had already braved the stage and were now flying free on the other side.
The last day of the first round of eliminations and time for the Asian and Oceania groups to take their first steps forward. It was now our turn to arrive at the studio first and rehearse our own parade across the stage. Being the smallest continent group by far, there were only 4 spots available to our group, while there were 6 for the Asian group to fill, and because everyone likes a good Aussie, Kiwi or Fijian on stage, we were to be lucky last of the day.
After a quick Macca’s burger for lunch, it was back to the side of the stage where we would be spending the rest of the afternoon pacing and nervously muttering to ourselves as we waited for our own time to come… And, as everything must do eventually, come it did.
There aren’t really any words that can well describe the atmosphere of the room at that time. Nor the jumble of emotions inside of you and the effect of the stage when you go out to face the sea of people before you, knowing as you stand singularly before them that you are not alone. That desperate struggle to catch hold of that speech you had so fluently spoken not 3 minutes before and the reassurance of the crowd as they earnestly cheer you on when you stumble, giving you the strength to stand so as to keep you from falling. I may not have made it to the top 30, and with the outstanding level of those who did I would be lying if I didn’t say I was also a little relieved, however the experience itself was an unforgettable one and a road I will never regret having taken.
My time in the competition is now over, however for those who made it to the top 30, it has only just begun and they shall have a stressful next two days… while we go sightseeing and relax! Yay! Tomorrow afternoon will hold the next elimination round where only the top 3 of each continent will be chosen to continue on while the 15 who are eliminated will be traveling back home with the rest of us, so being eliminated first does come with its own set of benefits, the first and foremost one of course being a great reduction in stress levels and no early gray hairs! Unlike the touring we did in Beijing, the days were filled with a lot less and meandered by peacefully. Most of the bus trips now were passed away sleeping as everyone started to slowly unwind and relax, and, more often than not, recover from the expeditions of the night before.
On the afternoon of the second day, we all headed back to the studio for what would be our last time; eager to see how our companions went and not so eager to place or rumps back down on those dastardly hard wooden benches. The singer this time turned out to be someone new and quite evidently more famous. Of course, we still had no idea who he was, but evidently the screaming fan girls equipped with banners did. Not long after he arrived, it was show time, and after only a couple of takes, it was time to begin in earnest.
Following the same order as last time, the contestants from each continent were lined up on the stage where they proceeded to undergo a grueling task of 3 rounds of 30 second Q&A, and then a 30 second speech in answer to whichever question the judge asks. The combined total score of both these challenges, plus a score from the audience once again, would determine who would make it straight to the top, and who would have to battle it out once again with another 30 second performance.
For those who had been busy all day previously, with only one night of preparation and most likely very little sleep, it was very impressive to watch and all of them did an outstanding job. Alas, there were only 15 places available, and so it was time for 15 of them to say goodbye.
The dinner that followed was a joyful one tinged with sorrow at the looming reality of having to leave not only China, but all of the new friends and solid bonds that had been forged on the trip. The dinner this time, was accompanied by various performances at the start, including a number of dances and a couple of songs. Both the costumes and the people who wore them were amazing and as a whole I think it was a great last night as a group. After tonight the traveling will begin once more as everyone begins their journey back home, each one filled with unforgettable memories and a renewed spark and vigor with which they can tackle their studies once more.
The time has now come to say goodby to the competition, to China and to all the new friends made. With so many of us present, flights have been staggered over the next few days with majority leaving today. I was one of the lucky few who were to go back the following day…or I was supposed to be. As things turned out, a lot of flights were cancelled due to a typhoon that was hanging about off the coast of China and as such a lot of the connecting flights were cancelled. A rather hard blow for the poor folk who had arrived at the airport that morning and had to sit around for about 6 hours until they found out what was going on. That aside, the majority of the day was spent perusing streets, packing and relaxing in general. Although the day meandered by slowly, two great discoveries were made that night and both by far too late in their coming. One, was the discovery of the shopping district not too far from our hotel that we had previously tried (and failed) to find. Not only did this place have a large number of stores, but also side streets positively over flowing with street food. Alas, at the time we were desperately trying to find our way to the restaurant in which we were about to have hot pot and as such, if anyone had dared to stop even for a second they would have found themselves alone and lost in a crowd of people. Needless to say the hot pot we had later was to die for and we were all very well sated by the end of the evening. The second discovery was of a street not 100m from the hotel filled with local eating places, including the always delicious Chinese BBQ. Had this discovery been made earlier, I am sure the locals traders would have found themselves swarmed with as many foreigners as they could possibly hope to feast their eyes upon and plenty of bottomless pits to feed.
And so the journey that was started has come to an end and it is time to return home. There are no words that can describe how amazing this trip was; there are no doubts about the stress and daunting nature of the competition, but so too is there no doubt about how amazing the trip was over all. With new friends and plenty of laughter and fun, it is possible to over come pretty much any challenge that comes your way as you are no longer walking that path alone.
Chinese Bridge is a global competition for hundreds of Chinese language students from around the world and is sponsored by local Confucius Institutes including the Griffith University Tourism Confucius Institute and UQ Confucius Institute.