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A Conversation with Wyclef Jean A Conversation with Lang Lang

by Dorinda Elliott | Published July 2008 | See more Condé Nast Traveler articles

The Bio
Claim to Fame: The most famous pianist in China, the 25-year-old is slated to play at the Beijing Olympics.
Author: Journey of a Thousand Miles: My Story, due out this month from Spiegal & Grau.
Big Break: At 17, with just 12 hours' notice, he stepped in for André Watts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. (At 13, he played all 24 Chopin Etudes at the Beijing Concert Hall.)
Secret Pleasure: Hip-hop. "It's very natural and sincere. That's what classical music needs to learn."
Current Obsession: Connecting young people to classical music.

Travel Log
Next Trip: Cities across China, with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra.
Most Exotic Trip: "Zanzibar. We were on a rooftop that was designed to look like a flying boat out of an Arabian tale. Some musicians started playing, and I could hear the chanting from the mosque below—ha-ba-la, ha-ba-la. Then the wind came up. Suddenly it felt like we were flying."
Favorite Trip: "I drove a jeep to the Yellow River, in Shaanxi Province, and slept in a cave. Everything was yellow—the earth, the water, everything."
Favorite Food in Beijing: "My mother's dumplings."

CNT: How has China changed since you left 11 years ago?

Lang Lang: My childhood came at a strange moment in history. Our parents weren't able to succeed because of the Cultural Revolution, so they put all the pressure on their children. Now it's competitive but in a more normal way. That's progress.

CNT: Why does China care so much about gold at the Olympics?

Lang Lang: China wants to reestablish its image from a long time ago, when it was a powerful country.

CNT: What do you think of protests against the Beijing Olympics following the crackdown in Tibet?

Lang Lang: I think the Olympics should be separate from politics.

CNT: Americans often focus on human rights issues in China. Do they misunderstand your country?

Lang Lang: Americans understand part of China. But every country has its own way of thinking, and Americans should learn more about Chinese traditions, such as Confucius and legendary stories—which are as important to knowing China as Shakespeare is to understanding the West. I'm not a politician, but I don't believe any country should interfere in another nation's affairs.

CNT: The Chinese, on the other hand, often think of America as a bully. Do they misunderstand this country?

Lang Lang: The Chinese think America is a great nation with its own problems. They think they should leave those to Americans to sort out. Some Chinese find Americans fake. I find Americans very sincere.

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