Once again the week was fruitful for new experiences. We completed the third and final week of the Summer Camp and prepared for a new adventure. I have to be honest and admit that the Summer Camp exceeded my expectations not only because of the special time I had, but also because of the special people I met and spent it with. I have a lot of people to thank for that, and they all know who they are.
After the excitement of our homestays we once again returned to the camp. This is where I was reunited with Happy class and Dougie (fast becoming a cult hero to everyone else). I have got to know my class very well over the last couple of weeks and have grown to love everyone of them in their own little way (especially the little ones). Juliette has developed a special affection for my 14-year-old class leader and sidekick, Tony. He certainly has a way with the ladies.
Following school we had the unique opportunity of meeting a new born baby. The last time I met a new baby the other girls went a bit crazy over the fertility soup but thankfully this was a more civil affair. Myself, Dina and Kay managed to get to the correct hospital where we waited for the others to arrive having gone to the heart specialist hospital, or some other random place, rather than the maternity hospital. This gave us an opportunity to buy and eat some street potato (secretly Kay’s favourite).
When the others did arrive we went to the ward and were greeted by Simon, our driver and another cult hero. He lead us to a private room where his girlfriend/wife lay with their newborn. We presented her with a postcard with a note to be read by the child when he’s 18 and a children’s book supplied by Beth. The book contained stories about a baby named Jamie. Therefore we had the honour of naming the baby Jamie. Not only were we the first foreign people this baby had ever seen, but we gave him his English name. It remains to be seen if he keeps it. He’s been invited to England for a pint when he’s old enough (and he can bring his playboy dad).
As has been common throughout our evenings in Liupanshui, we now had to quickly make our way accross town as a meal was waiting for us. This time it was upon the invitation of Vicky, our oldest student. Vicky is the niece of one of the teachers of a local junior school so we were met by many other teachers. Naturally Dougie also managed to get a seat at the table.
The meal was pleasant enough and we shared some toasts of Maotai with the hosts and a large variety of food. It appeared Vicky was so concerned about counting how much we ate that she forgot to eat herself. Unfortunately Kay once again became ill from the food and ended up in the toilet for about half an hour (in these posh Chinese restaurants there is always a toilet in the private rooms beside the table). It is unfortunate that the Chinese food does not seem to sit well with Kayleigh’s stomach, not least because the majority of it tastes beautiful. Still, we decided to call it a night there and get an early one.
The following day was just as eventful, the highlight being the Tai-Chi lessons that we were able to participate in. Unfortunately Kayleigh did not recover from the previous night so we shuffled between the 5 classes.
However, the the process of getting to the school was a bit of an adventure today. I quite cockily told the girls that I knew which bus went to the school so we decided to use it. However, after jumping on the bus it soon became clear that we were going in completely the wrong direction. Within 5 minutes we took the decision to get off and get a taxi (much to my embarrassment). It took us a while to get a taxi during this rush hour, but we eventually arrived in time for noodles before school. Thank God for noodles.
Dougie had been desperate to play host to us since the first day we met him. Despite our pleas to have a night off from being showed off we did not want to disappoint him. By the time we arrived it was a good job we hadn’t rejected his offer since their were 24 people awaiting our arrival.
We were introduced to most upon arrival and then asked to play Mahjong. There was a notable improvement in our performance.
When we eventually began to eat it was clear that the many men around the table saw our growing reputation as the best Maotai drinkers in Liupanshui as a bit of a challenge. Initially I had decided, after a conversation with Dina, to limit the amount of Moutai drunk during the evening. However, given everyone’s current love for everything Olympic, the challenge was raised: Great Britain vs China. Dina was fully aware that this meant I would accept the challenge nd end up drinking too much Maotai, but given her own patriotism she almost supported it. The challenge was set, 4 British people against about 12 Chinese businessmen. They smelt blood.
Initially the Chinese men challenged the girls, who were holding there own. One man came unstuck when he challenged Cat to 3shots of Maotai at once. She, rather confidently, decided to raise him to 4 shots, which was greeted with jubilation amongst the others. The man did not want to lose face in front of his mates so challenged her to 5. She responded with 6! The man couldn’t raise anymore, clearly knowing his limits. Instead they went head to head to do 6 shots at once. Cat took each no problem whilst the man, probably in his 50s, clearly became distressed and began to sweat over his reddening face. From this point onward the man remained silent and Cat was not challenged again. I performed a similar challenge but it was not such a spectical since I am a man…I think. Against all the odds we had beaten China with our reputation in tact, but it was now time for us to leave and deal with the inevitable consequences of the competition.
Cat managed to say her goodbyes and save face, but when the fresh air hit her, so did the Maotai. After delivering some left over food to Kayleigh the rest of us decided to end the night in a local bar. Whilst myself, Dina, Sherry and Bethan enjoyed our cold beers Cat and Juliette were breakdancing to ballads on the stage and stealing the beer of performers to the amazement of locals who are unlikely to have ever met foreigners before. It is at this point when I realised that the British stereotype was really being lived out. Dina and Sherry found the whole episode very amusing, and, to be fair, it was. It was certainly a night to remember (although I am not sure Cat did).
The next day featured the Juliette’s ingenious idea to have the classes compete in a blackboard competition. Not only did this mean we could give our voices a rest, but it meant the children could enjoy being at the front of the class. Unfortunately my youngsters are not an arty bunch and put on quite a poor show. However, since Kay remained ill, we were able to beat the cocky advanced class as they were ‘too cool’ for the blackboard competition and didn’t have a foreign teacher for guidance. Not that I am competitive.
In the evening we requested that Dina rejected all invitations from people asking to host Liupanshui’s hottest celebrities, and have an intimate hot-pot meal together. This turned out to be an excellent idea as we all really needed a rest to let our hair-down and be ourselves for the evening.
As a result we joined up with the teaching assitants and walked to a local hot-pot restaurant. Worried for Kayliegh’s health, and wanting some Todd time, I walked back to the hotel to pick her up and invite her for dinner. I sensed that she was probably more in need of ‘fresh’ air than food, and she obliged to join us for dinner. The team was complete once more. We enjoyed a lovely meal.
Following the meal we were able to return to the hotel with no further engagement to attend. This gave us the freedom to watch some of the early afternoon action in the Olympics. The Olympics has been on constantly in my room since the opening ceremony and I have made an effort to leave it on as I sleep so that if I wake in the night i can catch any important bits (so far it seems that the sight of Micheal Phelps wakes me up whatever time). Furthermore, whilst Dina and Sherry were cheering on the Chinese badminton team we were able to enjoy a bit of poker. Cat, Beth and Kay picked it up quite quickly from the teaching of Juliette and myself and we enjoyed playing with pebbles for chips. It was a pleasant evening of Olympics and poker that provided us with a much needed rest night. Still, Cat and Juliette still found time for their ‘daily beer’…so British.
There is a definite winding down feel about the camp and we all sense that the children are becoming a little restless. This partly lead to another decision to abandon the timetable and set up an Olympic themed sports day. The children seemed to really embrace the competition of battling against each other in a variety of sports and being awarded gold, silver or bronze for their efforts. Unfortunately my class was once again physically challenged, but we held our own to finish in third place overall.
Since this was the last day of actual teaching we felt as though the whole thing was coming to an end. We requested that we eat in the old town for our penultimate meal in Liupanshui. It was here that people were most shocked to see us, with cries of ‘Laowai’ coming from all areas as we entered the old town. Dougie once again joined us and looked very smart in the apron required for the massive frying pan we would cook our own food on. As is normal with Dougie, he ordered obscure food despite certainly knowing Kayleigh’s likes and dislikes by now. Still, we all had a go at the wonderful animal organs frying away in front of us. I was a little concerned, however, when raw chicken was placed on-top of my beloved cooked beef. Still, I am still alive to tell the tale.
Not wanting to end there, and having Simon keen to see us again we headed to a bar to see him. At the bar we drank tea and a couple of beers whilst exchanging British and Chinese card games between us and Dina and Simon. By the sounds that Simon was making during our card games I can only assume he has never had so much fun. We all love him but none of us could probably say why…until we heard his laugh.
The day had come, the day that I never had thoughts about beforehand as the summer camp never really reached the forefront of my mind until it actually started. But today was the day it finished, and I didn’t expect it to be so emotional.
Initially we spent the morning practicing for our closing ceremony with a variety of performances. However, the children were more interested in providing us with a variety of gifts (some of them special, some of them very random) and asking us to write personalised messages to them in their books or on their t-shirts.
However after lunch, where Tony from my class bought me a western burger, we began the final show (to a disappointing turn out of parents). The show kicked off with our rendition and dance of Reach For the Stars, a song I will be happy never to hear again. We then ran through a list of acts showcasing the talent of the camp. The show ended with my awful voice belting out God Save the Queen in true patriotic style. I may not be in the country for the Olympics, but I still represent it :p.
We then closed the camp with a short speech, which sent the emotions running high. However, Dina then put on the most emotional music imaginable on the loudspeaker (such as You Raise Me Up) and the children rushed to the stage to say goodbye, some of them crying uncontrollably.
Naturally I was drawn to my own class, featuring the little ones. Sarah, one of my little girls, was particularly distraught but I managed to comfort her and her sidekick, Linda, without breaking down myself. There was one person, however, that I really wanted to say goodbye to, Sea.
Sea had just received my star student award for his development from a shy and reclusive character into Todd’s best friend. I spotted him walking aimlessly around the audience and invited him on the stage. He initially appeared quite subdued but as soon as he reached me he buckled and fell into me (Sea isn’t really the type who likes to be hugged). I picked him up as he quivered into a little baby and cried uncontrollably. It was at this point that I had to turn and take some deep breaths to maintain my ‘hardman’ persona. Everyone loves Sea!
Still, after about 15 minutes of watching children and teenage boys cry their eyes out, the torture was almost over. I still blame Dina for the emotional music. However, it proved how attached the children had become to us, and us to them, over the past 3 weeks. Emotional.
That was to signal the start of our final night in Liupanshui, followed next by a meal with Rudy and the gang at a Beijing Jaozi restaurant. Obviously our final night was celebrated with Chinese wine. Yet, not the expensive Maotai wine, the cheaper, more lethal stuff.
Inevitably, this meant Cat was a bit of a handful during our trip to KTV, but we had learnt that the hard way before. We let her dance on the tables all night to the delight of numerous Chinese men. Rudy seemed to enjoy the occasion too. However, ruining my rendition of Please Mr Postman is unforgivable.
The night ended at an outdoor BBQ discussing Chinese children’s reluctance to play in the rain. This itself was a signal that the night was over
It was a good night to end our final day in Liupanshui. On reflection, it really has been a fantastic and unique experience.
we set off very early in our normal minibus. I was sat next to one of the students who decided to join us, William. He was named by Cat because of how his mouth resembles that of Prince William. Perhaps that is not such a compliment, but William is a very pleasant boy with a huge smile. I was glad he had chosen to join us on the trip over some of the other students that could have joined us.
Once we arrived at the area surrounding the waterfall myself, Dina and Sherry went to the booking office to obtain tickets whilst the others (obviously including the omnipresent Dougie) waited for lunch to arrive. It was as we walked to the ticket office that i realised I was out of the cool city and back into the humidity and heat that I have come to know and, oddly, love about central China. It was a very pleasant heat today.
After lunch we all made our way to the national park for our walk to the waterfall. Immediately after we walked through the ticket gate (which I don’t necessarily agree with for an area of natural beauty) we were greeted with hundreds, if not thousands, of chinese tourists. There were far too many people here and we had to leapfrong over rocks to get through a cave but with thousands of people in the way, many wielding umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun (I won’t get started on that again).
However, despite the number of people around it was very hard to find it frustrating since Dougie was a constant source of my own entertainment, even if he didn’t know it.
After about half an hour we finally began to become free and walk around the park nicely. However, despite the natural beauty all around us, we had yet to reach the waterfall we had come to see.
In order to get to the waterfall we needed to hop on a bus to the sight. In England this would be a simple enough task, however, here it means war. There was probably 100 people waiting for the next 30 man bus. However, this being China, there were no thoughts of starting a queue. Instead getting on the bus is a survival-of-the-fittest task.
This was a shock when the first bus arrived as many people, including old ladies, fought their way to the door by making their voices heard and fists felt. Of course, I shouldn’t have been shocked as I had seen it all before, only not on this scale. The most intelligent people on the planet acting like hungry ferrel animals being teased with a carrot (that simile may be too far).
Indeed, we were prepared for the next one and, believe it or not, had the physical advantage over our competitors. However, they had home advantage. It was a real battle.
The next bus arrived and we all joined the scramble. Juliette was one of the first on, having been swung from the bus and narrowly missing the wing-mirror with her head. I was next after stupidly allowing a child to stand in-front of me. One by one we squeezed on with only a few of our 17 strong team remaining in the car park to battle it out again. We sat in our air conditioned bus with a mixture of satisfaction about winning and disgust about participating. Still, civilization isn’t for everyone. And where else would we have an experience like that, we are the lucky ones!
Eventually we were able to walk towards the waterfall from our next point. There were fewer people now and we were more free. I walked with Dina and William at a very good pace. I sometimes find it hard to believe that Dina is Chinese, especially as she is more than capable to walk at what we call ‘British pace’. In no time the three of us had arrived at the spectacular waterfall and began to take pictures. We managed to get close to the majestic falls and felt a great and welcome spray of water from it. It really felt good.
I couldn’t help but compare the falls to the Detian Pubu I visited the year before. It did not quite match the beauty of the Guangxi falls, nor were we able to swim here, but the company and adventure that it took to get her meant this was just as spectacular.
We were all joined by the others for some great group photos before heading back in time for night fall. Once again the three of us took off together and decided to make another competition out of it. William was very keen to race to the end and I think myself and Dina both intended him to win whatever competition we had, even if we didn’t say it. It was great to spend the day with William and discover a lot about his English that 3 weeks of camp had not revealed. The three of us arrived at the exit long before everyone else and were able to rest with water whilst we waited.
It was then a job of a 2 hour drive to Guiyang, and back to the hostel that I stayed in previously (Dina booked it on my recommendation of cheap accommodation, which was a risk as I didn’t know the girl’s preference of accommodation). It was handy enough and we were able to catch up on the days Olympic action and wait in anticipation for Jessica Ennis, Gregg Rutherford and Mo Farah to win their gold medals.
The next day featured my return to Xijiang, a Miao village that I last visited 13 months ago. I felt privileged to visit such a place for a second time, a place that many people will never have the opportunity to even hear of. It also meant that I could experience a lot more that I did on my previous visit.
It should have been a simple journey via Kaili to Xijiang but there was a small hitch along the way. As we approached Kaili the bus driver pulled onto the hard shoulder to pick up our guide. She was running slightly late so we waited a while. Unfortunately the traffic police spotted the bus and called the driver out onto the hard shoulder. Here they fined him £28, gave him 6 points on his licence and removed his licence from him. They then drove away. This left the driver quite angry at our late guide. It also delayed us as we now had to drive a detour to the police station so he could be reunited with his licence.
Other people may have panicked in this situation, but not Dina. She found this almost as exciting as I did and we decided not to reveal it to the girls until we were approaching the police station as she felt they would be worried about us missing lunch. Still, since Beth and Juliette were awake I told them the good news.
We eventually arrived in the early afternoon and struggled with the girls suitcases to our homestay hostel. I felt a bit smug with my backpack and feel the girls will avoid suitcases next time (naturally I didn’t let them struggle without my help, I’m not evil).
When we arrived we were greeted with pre-prepared food and were presented with a necklace containing a pink chickens egg and some sweet wine. We were briefed on the local custom of being fed the wine by local girls and not touching the cup with our own hands. If we do touch with our own hands we would be asked to down the whole thing.
Our next stop was at the local museum, which Dina tactfully avoided. We then attended a Miao village performance. Although it was very impressive I could not help but feel as though these people were being exploited for their culture. This was especially evident when 20 old villagers sung for the entertainment of the audience, the audience that I was a part of. Juliette looked at me during this performance with an expression that confirmed that she was thinking the same thing that we were. Still, the morality of the performance improved when 3 of the audience came up to dance in a competition later.
The night ended with us climbing a small mountain to look over the 1000 houses in this village and wait for the sun to set ant the lights of the houses to be revealed. This was a really lovely sight and a pleasant venue to spend an evening.
The girls expressed a desire to be free in the town and I felt they would benefit from some girl time alone. For this reason I stayed in with William, Dina and Sherry and watched much of the Olympics, including Louis Smith’s medal, throughout the night with some noodles, chickens feet and spicy stuff. I think the girls enjoyed their ‘girls only’ night.