The Shanghai Thirteen

As far as I know, members of the Rochester Oratorio Society have either returned home safely from China or set off on independent journeys. One alto flew to Japan to spend time with her husband who’s doing research there. I flew home with a small group of singers. We called ourselves “The Shanghai Thirteen.”

If you’ve been following this blog, you may recall that I experienced a moment of irrational fear before leaving the States. I remembered it while I was in China and laughed at myself.

But it came to haunt me on the way home, 40,000 feet above the Arctic Circle. There was turbulence. On a fifteen-hour flight.

Cathay airline’s in-seat entertainment system, a small TV and remote control embedded in each seat in front of us, stopped working, and for hours, we watched meaningless lines of computer code scroll down Matrix-style while the jet bumped and skidded across the sky. I imagined the pilots facing the same lines of frenetic code in the cockpit. System failure. Irrational fear seized me. My heart started pounding. I felt helpless. I calculated how long we would survive floating in the black, icy waters of the Bering Strait. Eight minutes? Three? I calculated we were about ten feet off the surface of the sea. Nose down.

Then I imagined the spectacular memorial concert the Rochester Oratorio Society would hold in memory of the Shanghai Thirteen. I saw the plaque inscribed in our memory. Would the Oratorio Society sing Faure’s Requiem or Mozart’s? I pictured the headline on the D & C. I wondered how long my Facebook page would remain active without regular status updates.

We slammed down hard onto a pillow of cloud. My stomach lurched. My palms sweat. I tried to laugh at myself, reminding myself that turbulence is normal, that the plane was designed to flex and bend with (how many tons of?) metal suspended between its long wings. I tried listening to relaxing music, but then thought Durufle’s Requiem was not a good choice.

We lurched to the right. The plane rattled. I started making deals. If my feet touch the ground again, I swore, I will be a nicer person. I will be more patient with my children. I will floss three times a day.

In the end, obviously, my feet touched down safely at JFK. I picked up my bags and continued the journey home. Later, I discovered that something had broken. It was a Chinese clock I’d brought back as gift for my husband. The circular glass case was smashed on one side, and the little orange fish that clicked in a circle around the mechanism stopped moving after only a few turns. Finding it shattered, I got upset. But my husband didn’t mind. He said he was just glad I was home in one piece.



Shanghai 13

I forget if you went to Italy with us in 2000. I was terrified on the trip home, I think also on the trip there. The planes both creaked and groaned like the fuselage was going to break in half. I recall looking down on tiny Swiss villages far below in the Alps and understanding why so many had been covered in avalanches the previous winter. And I was terrified. I didn't want to suffer. I want to die in comfort attended by loved ones. Last night as our bus flew on in the dark night on the thruway headed home from Chautauqua (When will this be broadcast on WXXI-FM?), there were several chattering away and I was pleased to have my iPod and headphones with me. Have you ever heard of State of Grace by Paul Schwartz? I can't get enough and soon plan to add the rest of his music to my list. That play list includes a few other very relaxing and heartfelt tracks from Dominic Miller's album Shapes. These are more modern pieces but Ambiant New Age, and very satisfying. Also not to worry because I doubt ROS members would be eulogized publicly as the Shanghai 13 and then forgotten. I'd venture some more domestic moniker would be chosen like the Upstate 13 Chorale or something. Sue

Upstate 13

Hi, Sue,

I would like to hear more about your concert at Chautauqua. I confess I'm in the dark. What did you sing? With whom? Do you know if the performance was recorded? I have not heard State of Grace or Shapes. Thanks for the recommendation.

Welcome Home

Hi Brenda,

I'm sorry to hear you had a rough flight coming home from Shanghai, but you are now home safe. I hope you are planning on a visit to Abbott's and enjoy a pork hot to really feel back home. See you in September. Jo Ann

Thanks, Sue and Jo Ann. It's

Thanks, Sue and Jo Ann.

It's good to be home!