Changsha: Capital of Hunan Province, Mao’s Home Town

Jakub Hrusa conductor of the Bamberg Symphony from Germany in Changsha.
Jakub Hrusa conductor of the Bamberg Symphony from Germany in Changsha.

We flew to the bustling and exciting city of Changsha, where the local claim to fame is that it’s where Chairman Mao Zedong was born and schooled.  It’s the capital of the all-important province of Hunan, population 70 million, in the middle of the Middle Kingdom.  There are eight million residents here, and the high-rise apartments are staggering in their towering height and number.

Oscar, our guide, told us that Hunan is famous for its spicy food, just like Szechuan, but here it’s about peppers and in Szechuan, it’s more about peppercorns.

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Last night we drove straight to the city’s Symphony Hall where a guest orchestra from Bamberg Germany performed, featuring violin virtuoso Vilde Frang, who plays a violin made in 1864.

You can tell that China is a country that truly appreciates and loves classical music.  Bamberg’s Symphony has played here seven times, and in the audience, holding tickets that cost $125, were many tiny tots.  At one point a stern usher admonished the little girls from straying out of their seats and when a few of the people in our group started shooting videos of the orchestra, they were harshly pointed at with laser pointers. No Photography!

Late night Hunan noodles hit the spot!
Late-night Hunan noodles hit the spot!

Vilde entranced the crowd with her exquisite violin solos and came back again and again for encores and cheers.  The conductor, Jakub Hrusa, from the Czech Republic, was as regal as any conductor could be, with his spirited leading, putting so much oomph into capturing the exact cadence and energy of the music, first a piece by Beethoven and then finishing with a symphony by Dvorak.

After the show, we had a long drive to the hotel and some of us opted out of going to a late-night dinner. As I was just about to settle down in bed–a knock on the door–and one of our kind hosts showed up with a take-out container of spicy Hunan noodles. SO GOOD!

There is much to explore here, and today we head out for a packed day including the Orange Island in the middle of the Xiangjiang River, where the largest statue, the Mount Rushmore of China, is devoted to Chairman Mao, the hometown boy who made it big.