I was picked up from Beijing airport by Emma from the British Council at 8.30 Sunday morning, it was 1.30am in the UK so needless to say I hadn't had much sleep!
After checking in to the hotel, Emma took me to this great coffee shop, it was on top of a florist, so it had lots of beautiful flowers decorating the tables. It was a perfect place for afternoon tea, which I love! Our mission was to go DVD shopping, I was so excited that I'd be able to buy all of my favourite Disney DVD's, but in Chinese! I can't wait to watch them at home and use them to practice my Mandarin, what a great excuse to watch your favourite films!
Goodness me I was tired the next day, but I gathered all the energy I could (helped along by lots of coffee!) ready for a NetEase interview. I'll post a link to it on my website and on social media when it's done. After the interview we went straight to the airport to fly to Lanzhou, where my very first Smart Talk was going to take place!
I was excited to see posters advertising my Smart Talk around Lanzhou University as we arrived. I didn't feel too nervous, but it felt strange getting up on to a stage to talk rather than to sing! The title of my Smart Talk series was 'More Than One String to Your Bow' and so I spoke about how I got in to singing, my UK education, learning Chinese so that I had another string to my bow, my time at Nanjing University, winning the singing competition, and what my life is like now. The students came up to me afterwards and said that they found it helpful so I was so pleased!
As soon as the Q&A session after my talk had finished, we all bundled in to the back of a car and drove to the airport to go to Shanghai. We arrived at 1am and had to be up at 7am to go to the train station so that we could travel to Suzhou University, so still not much sleep for me!
Suzhou University had a lovely campus, it was lovely and green with butterflies flying around enjoying the sunshine. They had also put up posters advertising my Smart Talk and they had made a welcome banner for me which was so lovely of them! Most of the students were music students, so they were interested in my career and how you make albums and also about studying in the UK, so both Emma and I tried to answer all their questions as best we could! Once again we had a rushed departure to get to the train station to go to Hangzhou ready for my last Smart Talk.
The last Smart Talk was to be at Zhejiang Conservatory of Music, it's a little outside Hangzhou, so we had to drive through beautiful tea fields, forests and mountains before we reached the conservatory. Hangzhou is said to be 'close to heaven' because of the natural beauty of the area and because of the abundance of natural resources and food. Many emperors came to the area for their holidays, and Hangzhou was the capital city during the Song dynasty.
The conservatory is amazing. It's a purpose built facility that took three years to build and it only opened last year. The first buildings you see were built to look like guitars, there's another building that looks like a piano and another building that looks like an accordion. The practice rooms are fully sound insulated under a mound of earth, and so the building is under a hill which continues the natural feel of the area. I'd heard about this place while they were building it, it's really big with so many different music courses and it takes such a long time to get from one side of the campus to the other that the students use push bikes to get from one class to the next. No cars are allowed on the site which adds to the tranquillity of the campus and the surrounding area.
I sang Glorious to start and then showed the students my Chinese showreel, spoke about different elements of my career and played quite a few snippets of songs to demonstrate the points that I was making. While I was planning my talk, Thomas Heatherwick (creator of the London Olympic Cauldron) suggested playing a clip of the demo of a song and then a clip of the final version to show how the song writing process works, as it's interesting for people to see the development process, and so I was able to talk about all the elements of song writing and show how a song develops. Thank you Thomas!
I really enjoyed answering the students questions afterwards, they were quite in depth questions about singing, breathing techniques and range and so it was a lot of fun to talk about singing in such depth!
The university very kindly treated us to lunch before we had to go back to the airport to fly back to Beijing, when we arrived at the airport it was only 12 hours until I had to be there again to get my flight home! Crazy whirlwind trip, but so enjoyable, so worth it and so rewarding. I really felt like I learned so much and so I'm really grateful to The British Council and to Smart Talks sponsor Rolls Royce for creating such a brilliant opportunity and for helping me to really make the most of it!