Dec 092013
 

By: James Haber

The following is a selection of quotes and anecdotes from the past 3 months of living abroad in Beijing, and interning with the American Chamber of Commerce in China.

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“I don’t play the trombone, but that has never stopped me from playing the trombone.” – Jimmy Haber

I’m standing in front of 150 people at the China World Hotel in Beijing. The audience ranges from company CEOs and executives, to entry-level employees and my fellow interns. In my hands I hold a trombone, which isn’t mine because, well, I don’t play the trombone. While in front the international Beijing business community, the President of AmCham China turns to me and says, “Jimmy, play something. Play anything.”

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As Eugene, the Chinese father who adopted me during my stay, explained:

“During the Warring States period there was a King named Xuan who had a deep love for music. In fact, he loved music so much that he even created a private court orchestra with over 300 musicians. Unknown to the king, however, there were only 299 musicians in the ensemble. Within the group there was one man—Mr. Nanguo—who was only pretending to play his instrument. During concerts and performances, he would pretend to play by making emotional facial expressions and moving his fingers. For years Mr. Nanguo enjoyed the benefits of being a court musician, until King Xuan past away.

Xuan’s successor, King Min, also enjoyed music, but suspected that among the 300 musicians, there might be a few impostors. Therefore, King Min ordered that each musician play a private concert. But before his solo debut, Mr. Nanguo ran away, and was never heard from again.

For me, the most important part of the story is not that Mr. Nanguo ran away before his solo debut, although it’s pretty funny. The most important part is that for years, Mr. Nanguo did absolutely nothing.

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Two months before my solo debut at the China World Hotel I had been contacted by an agent in Beijing to play a samba gig in Xian, a city in Western China. The agent insisted I play the trombone, despite being a French horn player. I would have said no, but he offered me 2,000 RMB. So for one month, I came home from work everyday and practiced the trombone.

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“Jimmy, play something. Play anything.” I pick up the trombone without hesitation and begin to play. I wouldn’t call it great playing, but for the moment, it worked quite well.

***

Because this is my last blog post, I feel like it’s appropriate to make some kind of statement. This is what I’ve learned:

It’s easy to add content without value, run away from opportunities to play for the Emperor, and never be heard from again. But what I’ve also learned:

With effort, learning how to play the trombone isn’t impossible.

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