The Shay Rebellion | Christopher Shay

From Urumqi to Hong Kong: Seventy-Two Hours on the Iron Rooster

On my first morning on the train back to Hong Kong, I woke up to sound of a virtuosic accordion player. I rolled out of my hard sleeper and walked down the train car searching for the source. I imagined a wizened Slavic man playing the Russian folk tunes he learned long ago. But when I turned the corner and peered into the cabin, I saw a Han Chinese boy—eight years old, at most—playing Eastern European dance music with a stern face. After his song, he passed the accordion to a girl a couple of years his elder,  slouched, and frowned. The young boy was clearly disappointed with his performance, but I was rapt. I had no idea the accordion could sound like that. His nimble fingers were as quick and accurate as any concert pianist. Then, the young girl who grabbed the accordion from him preceded to play an even more technically challenging song. When she was finished she passed the accordion on to another person who played a darker tune, full of sadness and loss—this musician who played so emotionally must have been ten years old. The accordion was then passed on to three other people. Even though most of the songs were joyful dance tunes, not a single musician smiled while playing; accordion music was serious business. I lucked out—for almost forty-eight hours, my train carried an accordion troupe of six intense children aged about eight to thirteen.

While I was watching and listening to these kids—moreso than any other moment on my trip—I wanted to drop all my plans and devote myself to learning Chinese. No one in my car spoke English so I couldn’t get anything translated. I wanted to know about these immensely talented children. Where did they come from? Where were they going? Why the accordion? Who was training them? How were other random people on the train familiar with the songs written for the accordion? To kill time on the train, I imagined elaborate and sometimes fantastical answers to these questions, but one thing I’m certain about: there’s a huge underground accordion scene in China, and if I spoke Chinese, I would be able tell you about it.

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One Response

  1. Schneider says:

    Loving the new higher quality format.

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