Way back at the end of October, the Pony Parents went to China for two weeks. They'd asked me what they should bring back for me -- how does one choose from a whole country? All I said was "something nice." Mom Pony had the brilliant idea to bring back a musical instrument! The second day there, they were emerging from a restaurant, and Dad Pony spotted a street vendor selling cheap instruments. He charged over, followed by Mom Pony and another tour group member who also thought that getting instruments sounded like a good idea. I suspect that this was the most enthusiasm this vendor had seen for his products in a long time!
Anyway, they bargained (I'm not sure how; the Pony Parents don't speak Chinese), and they came away with two instruments each (the Pony Parents and the other lady) for about 100 yuan, which is seven dollars. The instruments are cheap and not of the greatest quality, but they're real, and they work just fine.
The Pony Parents made the grand presentation at Thanksgiving, and I took them home and started to learn to play. One of them, the gaohu suited me admirably well, and I really began to teach myself to play it. Mom Pony bought me a case for it, and at winter break, I brought it home to show them what I had learned. With money that my grandmother gave me, I bought instruction books and spare strings, and now I have a new thing!
Because it took so long for the books to come from Singapore, I started playing Western music that I had lying around the house -- I have quite a lot of it -- and I got to be a pretty good fiddler on the thing. And it is basically a fiddle, after all. If the erhu (which is what I initially thought the instrument was) is the Chinese equivalent of the violin, the gaohu (which we eventually determined it was, based on its size) is the Chinese violino piccolo, and therefore can be fiddled upon. Is how I see it at least.
Two images of the gaohu in its case. There's a pocket for rosin and a cleaning cloth, and I store the packet of spare strings in there, too. The spare strings are Fang Fang brand, the kind that professional concert players use. When the original strings break, I figure that best-quality strings will do only good for a cheap instrument.
Here, I've propped the gaohu up on the armchair to show what it looks like up close. The head of the soundbox is made of python skin, and you can see (kind of) that there are two strings, and the bow is permanently caught between them. For storage, it hooks onto the tuning pegs. The two strings were encouraging to me at the beginning. Twenty years ago, I played a little violin, and I figured I could pick this instrument up as well; after all, it only has two strings, half as many as the violin. How hard could it be?
This shows the variety of music that I play on the gaohu. Not shown is the 1966 Jewish hymnal. I think I may be the only person in the world who regularly plays "Hatikva" on the gaohu!
The other instrument that the Pony Parents brought me is a hulusi. It's harder to play than the gaohu, and I don't have nearly as much range on it yet; I'm also still looking for a good instruction book. But I can play a few tunes on it. Most notably, the "Sussex Mummers' Carol." This is my hulusi:
The Pony Parents are thrilled that I'm teaching myself to play these, especially the gaohu. I even gave Mom Pony a little gaohu concert over the phone for her birthday!