We left San Diego early in the morning for a nine-hour drive. On the way there, we passed through miles of hills with Mexican-inspired Tuscan houses and large earthly dirt mounts that reminded us of the hills in the backdrop of the piece “Northwest Drummers.” When we got off for a pit stop, the heat radiated from the asphalt ground, making it feel like a convection oven. Yup, welcome to the sunny part of California.
After a dinner buffet with the usual suspects of Mongolian BBQ and greasy stir-fry, we arrived at the familiar Citizen Hotel, a politically infused boutique hotel located in front of the California State Capitol, where we had stayed in January. True to its theme, the hotel is adorned with political satire—even the elevators are replete with quotes such as, “No one’s life, liberty or property is safe when legislature is in session”—Mark Twain.
It is quiet nice because it’s conveniently situated near the theatre, but the best part is the $5 gift card to the hotel restaurant that you can get for going green by declining housekeeping, which I redeemed for a couple of sumptuous black currant scones.
The production crew left at 7:45am to head to the theatre. It was great to see familiar faces at the theatre, especially the production manager whose name is also Kelly. Setup was much quicker this time now that we put down the marley floor down first, so that the platform could be put up faster.
During a break we took a stroll in the Capitol Park across from the theatre. It’s a 400-acre park surrounded by iconic California palm trees that tower over an efflorescence of verdant vegetation, historical monuments and inspiring statues. We found a fertile tree nestled inside the park, brimming with ripe, ready-to-eat oranges. After numerous attempts that involved tossing his shoe toward the tree, my fellow emcee Leeshai Lemish graciously chucked one down. Needless to say, it was as organic as you could get—with bird droppings and everything. But it was much juicier and more refreshing than the ones you would find at the supermarket.
Walking back, we saw a replica of the Liberty Bell that rang in America’s independence. The engravings on it about the virtues of freedom led me to think of how fortunate we are to be able to express ourselves free from any suppression or coercion. It also made me think of the piece in the show of a family that is torn apart for practicing the discipline of Falun Gong. Even though stories like these seem miles apart from the world we live in, they’re only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what is happening in China today.
Our opening night was received by an enthusiastic crowd as warm as the weather here. They cheered and whistled after each piece, and erupted into boisterous laughter whenever we surprised them with a joke. It was heartwarming to see the bright smiles on their faces during their standing ovation.
I decided to do without the fruit smoothies and hand-made dumplings the sponsors prepared for us as after-show treats. Keeping comfortably fit inside our costumes comes at a cost (but lucky for us, resisting temptations is possibly the hardest part of tour). On our stroll back, we were offered a ride on a makeshift rickshaw, which we politely declined to get a breath of the cool night air.
After a long day I was just glad to get back to the elephant cartoon hanging above my bed to accompany me in my dreams.