A. You get comped tickets to all kinds of things, some of them cool, some of them very cool, some of them not so much.
B. One of the very cool things is the China Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance at “The Night of Sea-Master Chinese ‘Joyous Music’ Symphony Concert,” though it will never be totally clear who the Sea-Master is, or who arranged the concert — it has something to do with Chinese International Radio, Film and Television, but you’re not sure exactly what that is either. All of this is probably explained in the thick part of the program that you won’t ever read.
C. When you present your tickets at the door and ask a hostess where your seats are, she instead rushes you over to a small table to the side. There, you are given a red carnation boutonniere, and your wife is given a red carnation corsage — apparently one of the things printed in Chinese on the front of your tickets indicates that they are for diplomatic use only. The hostess then whispers, “They are waiting for you in the restroom.”
D. No one has ever whispered this to you before. You are a little intrigued, and also a little weirded out, but, what the hell, you follow her up the stairs.
E. It turns out that by “restroom” she means “VIP Lounge with Comfortable Armchairs and Huge Trays of Fresh Fruit and a Great View of the Stage, and You’d Just As Soon Watch the Whole Thing From Here,” except that you are soon joined by other diplomats, all of them wearing red carnations, and all the men except you wearing suits. Everyone exchanges business cards — invariably the husband of each couple is the diplomat, and he assumes you are one too, and smiles politely at your wife before handing you his card, then squints at yours, trying to figure out why the name of your embassy isn’t printed on it, until your wife hands over her own card and graciously cleans up the mess. You then perform the opening diplomatic conversation gambit: “HowlonghaveyoubeenhereWe’vebeenhereamonth How’stheweatherinyourhomecountryIt’scoolandwetinoursIsn’tithothereYesitcertainlyis.” There is always the possibility that the conversation will become interesting at some point, but tonight the first couple with whom you have it is Serbian, and, in your continued attempt to be a good diplomatic spouse, after mentioning that you have never been to Serbia, you refrain from saying the only thing you can think of, which is, “I was in Croatia several times, though, back when Serbia was in the process of invading and pillaging and ethnically cleansing as much of it as possible.” Then other diplomats come in, so you have the card-exchange and the Howlonghaveyoubeenhere conversation with Austrians, Zimbabweans and Pakistanis too.
H. You eat a banana.
I. You are shown to your seats as the lights go down, and your seats are marvelous, just off to the left and maybe six rows back. The conductor, Yang Yang, resembles a chubby Chinese Bill Gates. Things begin oddly but with great energy: the first piece, “Please Stay, the Guest From Afar,” seems stolen from the score of a very classy cowboy movie that will surely end in happiness for everyone except the bad guys. The second piece, “The Thunder in the Dry Season,” is also energetic but more textured and veined and interesting, though unfortunately at one point the tubas run a plodding Left Sweep while the rest of the team runs a Purple Dog Up-and-Out Statue of Liberty Double Reverse. Bill Gates is vastly displeased but keeps his cool, gets everyone back on the same page, and the third piece, “Under the Silver Shed of the Moonlight,” is such a gorgeous, gorgeous thing that it makes your chest ache. Ditto for the fourth, “The Dance Music of the Northern Fortress.” The fifth, “Ah, Youth!” is, well, pretty much what you’d guess from the name, with shouting, and sadly that shouting is sheepish. The cymbalist, though, the cymbalist is great to watch. He is tall and thin and young and extremely nervous, but never misses his cue, and his sweaty relief after each successful clanging is a wonderful thing to see. The sixth (“The Puzzle of the Tune”), seventh (“The Rosy Clouds Chasing the Moon”), eighth (“The Dance Music of Snow Mountain”), ninth (“The Trickling Creek”), tenth (“Mayila”), and eleventh and final piece (“The Wild Dance of Golden Snake”) vary in tempo and memory and desire but are uniformly marvelous, and you ache and ache and ache. Bill Gates sweats and thrashes and sweeps and tickles with great panache, and even manages a few switch-and-bait-type body language jokes. It is amazing, too, what tremendous physical exertion great music requires of the musicians — this is something that even a classically trained air-guitarist such as yourself forgets sometimes, and needs to be reminded of. Your attention is not always wholly focused on the music and musicians, however. From time to time it wanders to something that no one else knows: that because you forgot to put the clothes in the dryer this afternoon, your wife, the beautiful, talented, brilliant woman sitting at your side, your one and only amorzote isn’t wearing any underwear.