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TIME CAPSULE: Chaney Rankin Kourouniotis, '00

The Great Wall of Sound

Courtesy Chaney Rankin Kourouniotis

WITH THE BAND: The author, right, in 'knee-bind shinguard.'

By Chaney Rankin Kourouniotis

When you get off the plane after a 13-hour flight from San Francisco to Beijing, what's the first thing you do? Grab a taxi to the hotel? Order room service and catch up on sleep?

How about perform a concert on the Great Wall?

In the summer of 1998, I was one of 60 lucky Stanford Band members chosen for a 10-day trip to China, courtesy of the Tsingtao International Beer Festival. Though we were one of many invited marching bands, we felt the LSJUMB was uniquely qualified to headline a beer festival, and we accepted with alacrity.

Twelve years later, I returned to China for the first time since that historic (in my mind) visit, on a much less exciting business trip. Throughout these two weeks in Shanghai and Beijing, I pondered: Who has changed more in the last 12 years—China, or me?

That 1998 journey was the first trip to Asia for many of us, and we couldn't get through a day without using the word "surreal." The bizarrely reimagined Muzak versions of American lite rock. The sign at one performance welcoming the "American Stanfu Militang Band." The fireworks that were set off on top of us during our performance at the Festival, supposedly by accident but somehow timed to the "jump" in "All Right Now." (As an apology, they ushered us into the Tsingtao factory the next morning and provided as much icy beer as we could drink between 10 a.m. and noon.)

There was also the fan letter the Band received a couple of months later. I'd had a knee injury and wore a brace, and the letter singled me out as "knee-bind shinguard like wounded, but still beat drum indomitably."

These days, the Chinglish remains amusing (Grandmother saliva chicken, anyone?) and the Mao lighters still play patriotic songs, but China feels much less foreign. Shanghai feels like a cross between San Francisco and L.A. No one points or stares, seeing as how the streets are crawling with Americans.

Of course, I'm a little different too. Multiple visits to my in-laws in Greece have made me more comfortable getting around cities where I can't read the signs. This time I tried the pig's feet and the softened cow tendons. Yum.

I won't be waiting a dozen years to go back.

CHANEY RANKIN KOUROUNIOTIS, '00, is a writer in San Francisco.

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