Aires travel through China during spring break period

by Amelia Rosch | 4/5/15 5:25pm

While many students took advantage of the spring interim to escape Hanover’s frigid temperatures and travel to tropical climates or catch up on Netflix’s newest offerings at home, the 20 members of the Dartmouth Aires spent their break in China in a combination of singing and sightseeing.

Brian Chalif ’16, who managed the tour, said that the original idea for the trip came during his freshman year, when the third season of NBC’s “The Sing-Off,” in which the Aires competed and ultimately finished second, was shown in China. He said that after the show aired, the group received offers to perform in China that, in the end, did not pan out.

“This summer, I wanted it to finally happen,” Chalif said. “I began working on it, and eight months later we went to China.”

During their tour, the Aires visited Beijing for three days, Shanghai for two days and Hong Kong for six days. Chalif said that the locations were chosen based on places that members of the Aires had expressed interest in traveling to and where the group had connections with alumni. He said that the group had between one and nine shows in each city, in addition to sightseeing and several visits to local schools, particularly elementary schools, where they performed and spent time with the students. The shows ranged from charity events to a performance at the birthday celebration of an alumnus.

David Clossey ’16, the group’s business manager, said that while the Aires have travelled internationally before, with locations including Aruba, Costa Rica and Italy, this spring’s trip was unique.

“It was an incredible experience for us,” Clossey said. “We usually have our winter tour on the East Coast, but independently we had the opportunity to go to China. It was a wonderful opportunity.”

Chalif said that organizing the tour was “a logistical nightmare.” He said that this trip differed from the Aires winter interim period tours, which tend to be on the East or West Coasts and have established venues at which the group performs, such as alumni clubs and other colleges.

“I had to do everything, from the basic things like finding all the shows to reaching out to international schools to finding the Dartmouth clubs there,” he said.

Chalif said that resolving the various details and logistics that come with a large group traveling together was the most challenging part of organizing the tour. He said that in addition to ensuring that all the members — several of whom had taken off-terms in the winter — made it to San Francisco and then Beijing, he had to figure out how the group was going to travel between cities once they had arrived in China. He said that the group chose to use a coach bus as opposed to public transportation, due to their large size and tight schedule, and that due to the language barrier, the Aires brought along a student who spoke Mandarin to act as their translator.

“It was hard to plan the schedule ahead of time since we’re not from the area,” Chalif said. “The travel times, the traffic can be worse at certain times of day. It’s hard to know without being from there.”

Chalif said that despite the high cost of the trip, especially given the airline and hotel fees, members of the Aires did not need to pay for anything beyond their own meals.

“We do not believe that the tours should be an additional cost for members of the group,” Chalif said. “That’s a big thing for us.”

He said that the tour was funded between donations from alums, money that they made from shows throughout the year, CD sales and a donation from College President Phil Hanlon.

He said that the group started the tour with a strong performance at a 500-person charity event in Beijing. Chalif said that the event raised over $25,000 for two charities, one of which helps the children of migrant workers receive an art education and one of which helps women receive a secondary education.

Clossey said that his favorite part of the tour was performing at Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre in Hong Kong, an organization that aims to empower those living with cancer. He said that their performance included a song in Chinese for the patients.

“It had an incredible reaction,” he said. “The entire audience started to sing along.”

Chalif said that he also found their performance at Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre incredibly moving, because the group was able transcend the language barrier and have a connection with the patients. He said that he also enjoyed a performance on their first day in Beijing, when the group performed at a local elementary school, because of the interactions they had with the students.

“I loved working with the kids,” Chalif said. “They were super excited about us being there. They loved it. We loved it. We had a great time.”

Doug Phipps ’17, who said that this tour was the first time he had travelled internationally for the Aires, said that he enjoyed the cultural aspects of the trip.

“My favorite part was probably seeing all the sites and getting the chance to explore the Forbidden City and seeing the different culture,” he said.

Chalif is a member of The Dartmouth staff.