Hong Kong 2017 Blog (complete)

Welcome to Michelle’s Hong Kong Blog!

Intro:

Photo: Katie Dillman

My name is Michelle Russo and I played trumpet for the Bluecoats in 2014, 2015, and my ageout year of 2016. In a few short hours, I will be joining the Bluecoats as a performer one more time as we embark on our journey to Hong Kong to perform for the Chinese New Year! With several performances, a parade, and a multitude of excursions around the city during this celebratory time, it’s sure to be an exciting week ahead! As such, I’ll be keeping a daily blog to document all of these experiences, so make sure you check here for updates!

Day 1:


Hello from the other side of the world! It’s the end of what’s been a both incredibly fantastic and equally as tiring of a day for us, and it feels pretty good to be settling in for the night. As I write this, it’s 1:30am on January 26th, but even though I’m exhausted, it doesn’t quite seem like it’s so late. After a sixteen hour plane flight, Monday night seamlessly transitioned directly into Wednesday morning, so it feels kind of twilight-zoney with the timezone change. Regardless, I’ve pretty much grouped the entire plane ride into this moment as day one even though its lifespan is technically thrice that.

Anyway, my “day one” journey started in New Jersey on Monday night. I sat with the rest of the Newark Bloo crew huddled in a corner of the airport (aka right near the charging station of course) as we waited to board our plane. The weather wasn’t very cooperative, and I can’t even really say that it was raining, because that doesn’t give it justice honestly. No, it was absolutely teaming outside, pouring buckets as if fate simply knew that the Canton Raincoats were reuniting once again. We were sure that we would be significantly delayed from the nor’easter, but Cathay Pacific was confident that we would be alright, and sure enough we ended up boarding and departing right on time! We even got through the turbulence quickly, leaving both the Raincoats and the United States behind and officially beginning the trip to Hong Kong!

The plane ride was so smooth; being on a 777 really feels like a giant city in the air. We tried to sleep as much as we could during the flight, but also spent time playing Battleship on the personal TVs, watching movies, and even studying/doing homework (because let’s be honest, real life doesn’t stop even for drum corps, which includes school). Before I knew it, we were landing on the other side of the world. We went through customs and eventually met up with some of the others who were on a different flight.

After we all got together, we were all off to our hotel, meaning that we got our first glimpse of Hong Kong in the daylight. Now, I’m from right outside of New York City and STILL nothing could prepare me for this city scape. There were sky scrapers everywhere, dotted along several small islands which themselves were all connected by beautiful white and austere bridges. And let me tell you something, you would not believe the geography! It was as if the mountains were just shooting up straight out of the ocean and through the sky every direction I turned my head. It was seriously something out of a fantasy book, and we were all awestruck by how beautiful it all was.

It took an hour to get from the airport to the hotel, but with this incredible sight, it was the shortest hour ride ever to me. When we got to the hotel, the Bluecoats members and staff who had already arrived the night before were all waiting to greet us! We hugged each other excitedly, all of the distance and time between finals and now melting away with each embrace. For real though, one of the things I treasure most about being a Bluecoat is the sense of family that I have with everyone here, and the first conscious thought that I had after seeing everyone together again was, “Wow, I’m home.” We didn’t have much time to focus on our reunion though, because there was business to attend to!! We had a little bit of time to settle into our rooms before boarding our coach bus to go to the Cultural Center of Hong Kong for our full rehearsal day.


Our first block was just to ourselves, where we warmed up, worked on performance repertoire, and worked on some drill for the parade. Being in the venue was amazing. It’s right on the waterfront of Hong Kong Island, which meant we were literally practicing alongside the skyline. As we worked on material, we got more acclimated to being back in the drum corps mode, complete with unexpected sunburns and the ambiguity of the phrase, “One more rep!”

After an authentic local dinner, we were back to rehearsing, only this time it was with Pegasus Vanguard, a more local group with whom we’re performing in the parade. It was so cool to all be together learning integrated drill and running our material, and our two groups worked together very well! It made me feel happy, because any kind of language barrier that existed was completely erased by our love of the art. That’s one of the cool things about drum corps; it has a way of bringing completely different people together and opening up entire new worlds for each other. It’s not just about the music you play or the show you march or the places you go; it’s about the things you learn, the people you meet along the way, and henceforth how you can touch each other’s lives. This is something that I acutely became aware of as I was rehearsing amongst all of these people- a mixed bag of those I’ve marched with, those I’ve been taught by, and those I’ve never met- but all with their hearts in the same place.

We all rehearsed together until after 11:00 when our whirlwind of a day was over! We packed up our rehearsal gear, all boarded the bus, and in typical drum corps fashion, those of us who had flown in earlier that day knocked out as soon as the wheels started turning. I was one of them- I hadn’t realized how tiring the day was until it was done! Everyone worked really hard during the day, putting their all into making this product super amazing and shelving their jetlag until after rehearsal when it couldn’t be ignored any longer. So there are lots of happy sleeping Bluecoats right now, recharging our batteries for another amazing day tomorrow! We’re going to start with a tour of the city, which is sure to be phenomenal, and then who knows what other adventures await? I can’t wait to tell you all about it! Good night from far away and yet not so far at all,

Michelle.

Day Two:

Hi, friends! It’s been another outstanding day here in Hong Kong. Today, we put a pause on drum corps and exchanged it for tourism, having no rehearsal and a full day of sightseeing!

The day started off grand because we got to sleep in an extra hour before our bus tour of the city, so everyone woke up really refreshed and ready to go! The breakfast was included in the hotel and was easily box five (DCI talk for amazing), with both western and eastern food being available in several different options. Everyone said it was super yummy, although between you and me I wouldn’t know because I capitalized on extra sleep instead and only had time to grab some french toast and a roll (Jet lag: 1, Michelle: 0). But… I CAN say though that the french toast was incredible, and despite my waning time to eat, I was able to have seven pieces within three minutes before heading down to the lobby (Jet lag: 1, Michelle 1).

At 10:00, we all boarded the bus and began our tour of Hong Kong! We were off to Hong Kong Island, so we drove through Kowloon and under the Victoria Harbor via tunnel (which was built in 1972, same year the Bluecoats came to be, go figure). Once we got to Hong Kong Island, we passed through the more urban areas, through a mountain tunnel, and started making our way down to the area of Aberdeen down in the Southern District. WOW these views were even more incredible than the day before, as if that was even possible!

We learned that Hong Kong is comprised of more than 260 islands, and a few of them were clearly visible right from the coastline, jetting out of the water like sharp stones. The mountains were also amazing, with a few buildings in the lower elevations, cemeteries, and even a theme park accessible by a cable car that ran clear over the mountainside.

Our first stop in Aberdeen was a market, where we had a bit of time to explore on foot. We got to test our haggling skills, which I put to use by buying a custom engraved stamp with my name on it and a dog carved into stone. It was so cool to see all of the merchandise and to interact with the people, all of whom also spoke English so we were able to communicate fine! After some shopping, we returned to our bus and took a short ride to the Aberdeen Harbor, where we had the option of either taking a short boat ride around the area or just relaxing for a bit. We reconvened a half hour later and went to our next stop of a jewelry store specializing in jade, where we got a short tour of how everything was made and then had the opportunity to do some shopping. Overall, our morning was filled with lots of learning and new places!

The big treat of the day was going to The Peak, an 1,800 foot mountain right next to the city with awesome views of the harbor and a shopping center. We all went into the shopping center and took it to the top where we sat down to an authentic dim sum lunch! I’m usually a picky eater so went into the meal admittedly hesitant, but everything was delicious and I got to try a few new foods! AND we used chopsticks, which were surprisingly easy to use for my untrained hands.

After lunch, we had time to explore the lookout points and take some good photos of the cityscape before heading back to the bus. We first dropped off our stuff at the hotel, and then we were back out once more for free time for the rest of the day! The bus dropped us off at the Ladies Market in Kowloon were we all split off to enjoy the city. My friends and I stayed in the Ladies Market and shopped for a few hours, then ventured out further into the city to grab a sit down dinner.

After more delicious food, we realized that we were all exhausted from the fun day (and the timezone difference, Jet lag: 2, Michelle 1), so we decided to head back to the hotel early. We took the subway back, which was unbelievably simple and convenient, hung out for a bit, and retired to our rooms for the night. All in all, day two was a blast and we got to see a whole bunch of places! Our tour guide, Ling, really took care of us and we got to take in a lot of the city in such a short time, although it’s so big that it would take a lifetime to properly explore!

That makes it even more exciting though; there’s no telling what new things we’ll be seeing each day! See you tomorrow! Warm regards from your sleepy narrator (Jet lag: 3, Michelle 1),

Michelle

Day three:

One more day has come and gone here in Hong Kong, and it’s hard to believe that we’re already half way through this trip! Today was a very exciting and jam packed day. We didn’t have to meet until 5:30 in the evening for rehearsal, but most of us still got up at or before 8:00am to be able to see as much of the city as possible before our commitments. I myself got up at 8:00 and headed down to breakfast at 9:00, ate, and headed down to the lobby to meet with a bunch of other Bluecoats to go out for the day.

Our little excursions were extra awesome because members from Pegasus came to hang out with us for the day! Some of our members had gone out with them the night before, and they offered to show us around the city more today! It was SO awesome! They’re all really nice, and it was so much fun to get to know each other. We first all hopped on the metro and took it to the Mong Kok stop, as some of the Pegasus members wanted to take us to their favorite noodle shop in the area. Unfortunately, the place was closed. This wasn’t all that surprising, because pretty much all stores are closed for the Chinese New Year. Seeing as that’s tomorrow, some shops have closed down ahead of time, and this place was one of them. We weren’t all that bothered though, because we found another place within a couple minutes!

I have to say now that I’m an extremely picky eater. Like, the kind of person who literally lived off of peanut butter sandwiches and apples for pretty much half of my childhood. I’ve expanded my palette more as I’ve gotten older, but a leopard can’t change its spots, so I was a little hesitant about going abroad to a place with such a different taste in food. But WOW. Everything has been so tasty here! I’ve liked every meal I’ve gotten, most of which I’ve never even tried before. Today was no exception, and I dug into some ramen with a spicy sauce, pork, and some dumplings. I’m also getting really good at using chopsticks now, something that I never believed I would be successful at! Just goes to show you that you don’t know what ya like until ya try it!

Already, this trip has taught me that keeping an open mind is so important in pretty much every aspect of life. I’ve been abroad a lot in my life, and I got into that small mindset that I have it all figured out. But just in the last couple of days, I’ve learned so many things that I never would have had I been at home. I can feel myself becoming more open-minded and adventurous, and all it took was stepping outside of my comfort zone a bit!

Lunch itself was really cool because we were able to spend quality time with Pegasus. We talked about drum corps, learned more about each others’ cultures, and just had regular old conversations! We stayed for a long time past when we finished eating, but decided to head out to shop for a bit when the shop started becoming a lot more crowded. We split off into smaller groups and went shopping for about an hour, marking a meet up point for later in the afternoon. Shopping and haggling was a blast in the Ladies Market again, and going into all of the sneaker stores was fun too!

My favorite part of the day came after we met back up and took the subway back to “home base” near the hotel. We went to a garden and Buddhist Monastery, and it was indescribably beautiful. Picture a tranquil garden filled with soft cultural music humming in the the background with chirping birds and running fountain water. Now, picture that smack dab in the middle of a thriving metropolis. It was like a nature oasis in the big city! We walked around a ton, taking lots of photos, seeing different native plants, and even stopping to relax near a colossal koi pond! Even though it was starting to get a little later in the day, we decided that we needed to see the Monastery. What a good decision that was! It was so tranquil and beautiful; There’s something magical about entering such a sacred and special area that I can’t quite place. I wish we could’ve stayed longer, but it was time to start heading back to the hotel to get ready for our full dress rehearsal!

A few of us had an early pre-rehearsal meal with Pegasus, then bid them goodbye for the next couple hours. I went back up to my room and put on my 2016 uniform for the first time since finals day last August. After the initial panicked thought of, “Oh please still fit please still fit please still fit,” I was filled with nostalgia! I was surprised that I had almost forgotten what the stretchy uniform felt like, and it felt incredible to be back in the super suit. We all met down in the lobby and headed out to the Hong Kong Cultural Center to warm up and get everything in order for tomorrow.

We worked on music and choreography until Pegasus arrived, and then we repped our performance drill for a bit to really set it in place. After that, we lined up in performance order behind the other performing groups so that we could perform our show in front of the parade director and staff to make sure all of the logistics were running smoothly. There were so many other cool groups from ALL around the world!! There were heavily costumed dancers and light-up floats and people on stilts and all sorts of lavish decorations! It was so colorful and the vibe was so light and happy.

We only needed to perform our number once in both performance zones before being approved and released. A few of my friends and I grabbed a pizza at the hotel and went up to the game room, where we had a fussball tournament before going up to the rooms to watch a broadcast of a long singing and performance program dedicated to the Chinese New Year. Before we knew it, another day had passed us by, so we all went our separate ways and went to bed.

I was kind of sad about how fast everything was going; everything we’ve done here, whether in a rehearsal or tourist setting, has been so new and fun, and each experience I’ve had has been alongside some of the best people I’ve ever met. Tomorrow will be no exception, I’m sure, and I can’t wait to get performing once more! See you soon!

Michelle

Day 4:

 

What a crazy past few days it’s been. A complete whirlwind, in fact! Day four started off a series of totally amazing days for us, ones that we’ll hold super close to our hearts for years to come. The day started off very relaxed, with us not having to meet until 3:00 in the afternoon! We grabbed a nice, long breakfast, taking advantage of all of the time we had to kill. A lot of us were a little bit drained from all of the long days, so while some of our group left to go see temples, a chunk of us stayed behind for a lazy day of billiards.

We played a bunch of rounds, more than we could count. Side note: when you put a bunch of perfectionistic drum corps kids together for some pool, you get some pretty heated and interesting games! To tell the truth, we spent several hours playing, only stopping when it was time to start getting ready for the day. At 3:00, we met down at the lobby to head back over to the cultural center where all of the performing groups were gathering to rehearse and get ready for the big parade. We arrived with a bit of time to spare, so took a lot of time to relax, eat, and talk to members of other groups! We spent a lot of time just chatting with each other, telling stories from various years we marched together and just enjoying each other’s company. That bit of time together made me acutely aware of how lucky I was to be with these people again. When I aged out, I never imagined that I would be able to be together with some of my best friends, let alone get to perform again with them! But just the simple act of sitting on plastic chairs eating boxed lunches and just goofing off made me so happy… because I was doing it with the people who matter most to me.

My nostalgia was soon shelved and replaced with pure excitement, because it was time to get into uniform and prepare for our parade! We had a nice warm up and did a little bit more fine tuning of our drill with Pegasus Vanguard, then went back inside to wait until we had to line up for the parade. It was a blast to be surrounded by so many amazing groups from all around the world! We took pictures with a group from the Philippines, chatted with Pegasus, traded our instruments for a giant dragon from a Chinese group, waved to Iron Man in a convertible (He waved back at me I swear!), and so much more.

The friendliness of all of these different groups was absolutely incredible. As we lined up in front of Zone 1 to start the parade, we were having so much fun singing and dancing to the music of the group ahead of us! When our drum line battle started, I didn’t even have time for the usual jolt of nervousness that I get before a performance; it was just pure love of the moment! You know you’re part of something special when you don’t even have to make an effort to completely throw yourself into what you’re doing. And WOW the energy was just totally electric. I must admit, it’s a bit difficult for me to put the feelings I had during this parade into words, but I’ll do my best. There was a sense of overwhelming joy and it was unlike any parade I have ever marched before. Even though we were performing, I felt just as much part of the celebration as the people coming to watch! Everyone was smiling and waving at us, and being able to wave back instead of adopting a more common serious drum corps attitude was SO GREAT, and was honestly a fitting extension of the expressionism of the 2016 season.

It was really difficult for me to even play without having to hold back a smile and laugh, and I had a rush of happiness that I had previously reserved to this past year’s ballad. It was just. So. Much. Fun. But I think the best part of all of the parade was the look on the kids’ faces when we would interact with them. I got to give my trumpet to a little boy who was so happy to be “part of the party” and took a selfie with it! We would also high five kids or the battery would give them a drum stick to join in playing, and their face would just light up! It reminded me of when I was little and saw Blast! at Disney.

Seeing performers so up close for the first time was what made me want to play the trumpet… And getting to be on the other side watching all of my friends from Bluecoats and Pegasus get to give other children the same kind of spark that I got years ago was the single greatest feeling in the world. After the parade, we went back into the cultural center to take photos and hang out with Pegasus for a little more. We hugged our new friends, and they gave us gifts of shirts, bracelets, pins, and more! We were so glad to have made these friendships, so even though our performance time together had ended, we made sure to make plans for the coming days to hang out together! I was sad to go back to the hotel, but was also beat and was looking forward to relaxing a bit.

A few of us went and got some food when we got back to the hotel and sat down in the lounge to hang out. We had planned to shoot more pool that night; I was so excited but unfortunately I fell asleep curled up in the lounge waiting for my turn to play. When they I woke up, it was almost 2:00am and everyone was heading up for the night. I was so bummed that I fell asleep didn’t get to play more, but we made plans to play the next day so all was well!

I wish the parade was longer. I wish the day could be put on repeat. I wish I could frame that night and revisit it over and over again. But alas, all good things have to come to an end, and I know that I’ll have the memories to last a lifetime! But gosh. This was one of the best nights ever, and this trip had honestly been nothing short of a blessing.

Day 5:

Even though the parade was over, we still had a couple standstill performances to do! We had until 1:00pm for free time, which my friends and I again spent shooting pool since we slept in and didn’t have time to go out and see anything. A lot of other people had the same idea, knowing that a lot of places were closed anyway in celebration of the New Year. It was a very lazy morning for many of us, something that we happily embraced after our jam packed day previously. We jumped on the bus at 1:00 and headed out past the New Territories for a short festival! This time, we got to play our 2016 show music and other encore tunes. It was awesome!!!

I forgot how much I loved playing the show, how much I loved Hymn of Axciom, and just how much I missed playing in a group setting. I also forgot how good the Bluecoats are at summoning the rain clouds to performances, because as soon as we set up to march into the tented venue, it started pouring. The Canton Raincoats strike once more! The rain couldn’t dampen our moods though, and the performance was a ton of fun!

We went back to the hotel afterwards, showered, and went back down to go see the fireworks at Victoria Harbor! We took a bus to the cultural center and walked the rest of the way to the roof of a parking ramp that had a great view of the Hong Kong skyline! It was a little cloudy and rainy, but that didn’t take away from how beautiful the fireworks were! I had a grand old time singing and dancing to the background songs while watching them go off!

Once the fireworks ended, bunch of us navigated through the crowds to meet up with our friends from Pegasus again! We made plans to spend the entire evening together, and there ended up being about twenty or thirty of us hanging out. It was so much fun, and we really took advantage of all the free time we had left to spend together, so at the end of the night we made more plans to hang out the next day!

We took a cab back to the hotel which was neat (even though I live near NYC, I never ever take cabs, but the streets were a lot less clogged in Hong Kong so it worked out fine!), and went to bed excited for another great day ahead!

Day 6:

The last full day. How did it come so fast? It feels like just yesterday that I was gawking at mountains and skyscrapers (not that I’ve stopped), but it’s already been a week since we left the USA! I don’t want to go home; between how hospitable Pegasus has been and how cool the city is and how much learning I’ve done while I’m here, it feels like it’s too soon to say goodbye!

I tried to push away those thoughts in the morning as I got into my 2016 uniform for the last time. The last time. As a recent ageout, this trip was literally a dream come true, and I cherished getting in uniform so much. One last time. Okay. It’s fine. Everything’s fine. Here we go. The sixteen of us hornline members went to a basketball court outside the hotel and made a little circle to warm up in. With the sound literally bouncing back off of the surrounding skyscrapers, the warm up was wicked awesome. It was the best last lot I could ask for. Our performance was just as fun, and our friends from Pegasus came to see us too! I soaked in getting to hear the show being played again, and loved every second of all of the performance!

We went out to lunch with Pegasus after our performance, and they took us to a few pet stores. Well, drum corps + pets = a mad house, and we got so excited to see all of the puppies and kittens. It’s a good thing we’re abroad, because I was so tempted to get a puppy. And this cute white kitten. And a couple mini turtles. And some fish that looked like highlighters. And a hamster… or three. Yeah, definitely good that we’re abroad.

I wish we had more time to spend together with Pegasus, but soon it was time to get ready for our seafood excursion to Lamma Island! We said goodbye to our friends, hoping to meet later after dinner, and went back to our rooms. We met soon after for nom noms, and took a bus to the pier to catch our boat to the island! We grouped up with the Rams cheerleaders, got on the boat, and were off for our ride! Besides the fact that I get motion sickness and didn’t have the most enjoyable travel experience, I was super cheerful when we got off of the boat.

We had heard such great things about the seafood on the island! We sat down at large round tables, and were served a dish or two at a time. My experience with seafood was VERY limited, but I had decided to be adventurous and try everything they set out! Best. Decision. Ever. Guys, seafood is good. Like, GOOD. Fish, crabs, lobster, shrimp, it’s all soooooo tasty! What have I been doing for the last almost twenty three years?

I learned how to crack shells, what sauces tasted the best, and get this. I even ate a fish eyeball. Okay so it wasn’t as scrumptious as the rest of the fish, but still. An eyeball, can you believe that??? Dinner passed by way too soon, and before I knew it it was time to go back to the hotel! In typical fashion, we got back, played fussball, and shot pool until we were too tired to play anymore. So here we are, the end of the trip. All that’s left is to pack up and depart for home. It sounds so simple, but gosh it’s not going to be easy to say goodbye. Until then though, here’s to one last night!

 

Reflections:

As I sit typing this, it’s February 3rd. We’ve been home now for three days, and each one is sinking more and more back into a sense of normality. I’ve returned to work, restarted grad classes, and have resumed my everyday errands. My days are no longer marked by seeing far off and magical places, but rather by tracking gas prices and being preoccupied with how wrinkled my work slacks are. Yup, by my routine, everything is for sure back to normal. And yet, everything is so… DIFFERENT.

You know, in a way besides the fact that I’m writing this at 5:30 in the morning because my jet lag is still keeping me wide awake in the middle of the night (Jet lag: 4 Michelle: 1… some things never change). The last few days have passed by in a blur. It feels like a lifetime ago that I was waking up before dawn in Hong Kong to catch my flight home, and a year ago that Pegasus met us in the hotel lobby at 5:50am so we could all say goodbye before we left. It was forever ago that I was embracing my best friends once more as we finally parted ways.

The stretch of time between Tuesday and this moment is seemingly infinite, and despite that much of it has been spent in an exhausted haze, it has also allowed me to reflect on this trip and just how amazing it really was. The lead up to the trip contained immeasurable amounts of anticipation and excitement. After we all found out that we were invited to perform in Hong Kong, it was a constant countdown until our flight day. Two months to go… five weeks to go… thirteen days… one week… next Monday… everything that happened in the interim was small in comparison to what was to come.

You know the term, “don’t cry over spilled milk?” Well, I’m not the kind of person to follow that; I once cried while stirring my mother’s homemade stew because it looked delicious and couldn’t wait to eat it. But anyway, in the lead up to this trip, I had my own term of “don’t cry you’re going to Hong Kong” whenever something unpleasant would happen. It became a joke to use for me, but when I was laughing instead of getting frustrated when someone would cut me off and then go ten miles an hour below the speed limit on the highway, it was a good phrase to use!

I hyped up the trip so much every day in this light and humorous manner, but I had no idea how much it would actually change me as a person to tell you the truth. I had expected the week long adventure to be a fun and great experience. That much was certain. But what I got was so much more! I quickly realized that there is no limit to how much we can learn in our lives. I have personally visited twenty-four countries in my life, each one of them unique, incredible and perfectly imperfect in their own way, and Hong Kong was absolutely no exception. My first impression of the city was an accurate yet surface value observation of how gorgeous it was, especially with the juxtaposition of nature against cityscape. But the more I got to explore the city during the week, the more I liked it for all of the more intricate things it had to offer.

I fell in love with the way the sun dipped behind the mountains in the evening, how skyscrapers climbed up hundreds of feet in the sky despite being only feet from each other, and how Victoria Harbor became a palette of colors as the city lights reflected off of its surface at night. I embraced the differences between the Hong Kong and my home city, differences that made my mind more open instead of closing it up. I tried countless new foods and adopted a new attitude of trying new things instead of rejecting ideas that were literally foreign to me. And THAT was a grandiose concept that I can translate to so many other aspects of my life!

You can only truly learn when you open your mind to doing so, and a lot of times, it’ll require you to put forth the effort. I found that if I didn’t understand something because of language or cultural differences, it was so easy to just ASK questions and become a sponge of information than to just accept the lack of comprehension. It constantly amazes me how much of the world opens up to you if you just let it. Beyond the experience of being in an incredible new place, there was also just being back with my Bluecoats family. Performing together again was something that I will treasure for the rest of my life. I rediscovered my love for performing in a time when I had a lot of uncertainty of where I was going to go with music after aging out. I also learned first hand that being a Bluecoat is a lifelong blessing, something that aging out wouldn’t ever change. This is as much of my family as it was when I got contracted three years ago, and as much of a family it will to be to me three, thirteen, even thirty years from now.

It was so cool how little time it took to pick up where we left off, and reminded me of everything I love about being part of this family. It’s so comforting to know that no matter how far apart we are or how busy our lives get, that there’s always someone somewhere in the world that has my back through thick and thin. Even the opportunity of writing this blog has proven that fact to me even more; the amount of stories and messages that I’ve been sent from other alumni have allowed me to meet so many more members of my Bluecoats family. People who I’ve never even met before feel so very close at heart now.

Finally, there’s Pegasus Vanguard, who we wouldn’t have had this opportunity without. Who MADE this week worlds more special than just traveling and performing in a new country. They gave us something that is irreplaceable: a new and extended family. They could have easily just rehearsed with us and leave it at that, but they embraced us as their own and made sure we had a great time while we were in their home. We needed up eating almost every free meal together, spent every evening together, and would often meet in the mornings to hang out before rehearsal. They came to our extra performances, helped us haggle in the markets, brought us to their favorite places in town, and so so much more. Post trip, we now even have a group chat on Facebook now to keep in touch and to hopefully plan more visits on our own in the future!

Of all of the things to happen during this journey across the globe, the most amazing things we’ve brought back home are the new friendships that we’ve made. I have countless memories to carry with me for the rest of my life, so many of which stand out in particular. There was seeing the Hong Kong Island cityscape for the first time. How tired I was after the first day’s rehearsal. There was our city tour and feeling like the entire world was at my fingertips at the top of The Peak. Sitting at lunch with Pegasus and Bluecoats alike and realizing how similar we all were. There was haggling and using the metro and sitting in a random music shop playing a ukulele that was for sale. There were nights of laughter and new experiences and eating fish eyeballs (I’m carrying this particular memory with me to remind myself never to do this again).

And then there was the parade.. GOSH THE PARADE, which I firmly place as one of the greatest nights of my entire life and something that I cherish deeply every time I remember it. Same as our last lot and performance; I don’t think I will ever have the capability to properly articulate the emotions that I felt being able to put on that uniform and warm up with the horn line for the last time. Wow, the more I think about it, the more that I understand that this was really a once in a lifetime experience.

Now the hard part: saying goodbye. I know that people say you should just look forward as you start a new chapter, that once you say goodbye to someone, you should turn around and never look back.. but secretly, I always have. Every goodbye in every year of that I’ve marched, every visit that I have had, every person that I’ve hugged, my eyes literally follow them as they leave until I can’t see them anymore. It feels like my eyes are always trained on backs of heads and suitcases, as if my heart is hungry for one last memory of the person I’m with. One last look at some of the people who have changed my life the most. I feel like I’m stealing extra precious moments, knowing that my time with my loved ones has shrunk from hours and days to seconds. Yeah it’s a bad habit, and I’m always left a little extra sad at the end, but I just can’t help myself. Why should I, after all?

I firmly believe that our lives are especially marked by the experiences that we share with the people we love, and that we’re not defined nearly as much by material things as we are by the lives we touch. And if I can allow myself even a millisecond extra of seeing the people who have filled my heart with so much love and happiness, then you know I’m going to take it.

Have you ever had to see someone off at an airport? Say goodbye to someone that you know will now be separated by hundreds, even thousands of miles? For drum corps families, this is a way of life; It’s a constant ebb and flow of hellos and farewells. Everyone who has been part of an ensemble in some shape or form is acutely aware with the finality of a goodbye at the end of a season. And yet… despite that sense of finality, it never really FEELS like a goodbye. You see, even if we never see each other again physically, we never stop being family. It’s something that eases the pain of our goodbyes, and it’s also honestly one of the most comforting things about aging out. I feel even more comforted by the fact that, if you’re reading this, it’s likely that you understand what this feeling is, and you might have experienced it yourself.

And no matter if you’re a Bluecoat or have marched another corps or have never marched at all, you get it. We all share a love of this art no matter where we’re from, and really, we’re all the same.. we’re all connected by our experiences, by our hearts, and by our dreams. For me, Hong Kong heightened my awareness to this likeness we all have, and nothing excites me more than being able to share this love with as many people as possible.

There’s that common phrase of “home is where the heart is.” For so many of us who have marched or been part of this activity, we know that our hearts are in so many more places than just where we are. I’m in New Jersey, but my home isn’t just here. It stretches miles away to Canton, Ohio. It’s in Indiana and Texas and Virginia and California and Canada and Italy and Japan and everywhere else that my Bloo family lives.

My heart sits next to the corn field in Illinois where my best friend and I buried a tour fish that we got one year. It’s in the stadium in Little Rock, Arkansas where we always grow so much as performers. My heart is in a banquet hall in Indianapolis where I learned that there’s no limit on how much you can love a group of people. It’s on top of a hill in Iowa where we woke up early to watch the sunrise one morning before rehearsal just because it’s the LITTLE moments that matter the most.

And today, my heart stretches thousands of miles around the globe to Hong Kong. It’s where we as the 2016 Bluecoats came together again, and it’s where we learned and experienced so many new things. But most importantly, it’s where our family in Pegasus is, a family that opened us up with open arms and proved that there is no distance that can’t be bridged if your hearts are open and your dreams are shared. Thank you for letting me share a little bit of my dream with all of you.

Signing off one last time,

Michelle Russo