This weekend, the summer staff (several people I’ve mentioned so far that have, like me, spent at least six weeks in China) went on a retreat, to bond and reflect with each other on our time here, about a week before we leave. It was… limbo? It almost doesn’t seem real. It was actually an extended weekend, because it went over into Monday as well. Limbo? Well…
Every other Saturday, I have been assigned to work at something. Usually, this entailed an ‘English Corner’ for English learners in the community. This week, though, English Corner had finished for the summer, and after waiting for an hour, there was no assignment. What better to do than… nothing? A few of us had a dance party, very unbalanced food throughout the day, while killing a lot of time meandering through the village. I had very little energy, so my dancing was not up to par. By the end of the day, I had worked up my energy to shake my body like a cyclone. In a few words, it was a grant ole time found through a lot of aimlessness.
At 8AM on Sunday, we set off on another grand adventure – the Great Wall, round two! First, we had to have lunch. Nobody from our group had been to this area before, so we found out Sunday that the only place to eat was a high-class hotel. Imagine about 14 people in hiking gear walking into a fancy hotel to have lunch! We felt a little underdressed… but we went with it, and then got on with our adventure. This time, we went to another section of the wall. We were told that it would be an unrestored section of it, but in reality it was rather restored, but probably not frequented as often by tourists. It was a hike! We had to walk a long time just to get to the wall, and once we had gotten there, the wall was up and down mountains. I took a picture, and if the wall we were hiking was not at a 45 degree incline, it was something close to it. It was a long and hard walk, and I wimped out of climbing farther, because I was just not feeling up to the hardcore-ness of this time. Not only was it a scorching hot day and we happened to be climbing in the heat of the afternoon, I had accomplished even more than I wanted to last week. So I turned back and enjoyed a prolonged break. Funny thing, though – I dropped my phone! I had brought my iPhone to take pictures of the views, and then on my way back down, I dropped it! It has an OtterBox case, which makes it virtually indesctructable, so I wasn’t worried about it cracking. But there were some windows near the base of the wall, and it tumbled for a while before it stopped, coming dangerously close to falling out of the window. It was a close one! (If my phone had fallen into the valley below, I probably would’ve cried. My wallet had just gotten stolen, with all the money I had left the day before at the local farmer’s market. Although it’s not a terribly big deal, my love of China dimmed a bit. But to see my OtterBox save my phone from the Great Wall – well, that’s a story to tell!)
After we finished hiking (just hiking, no ski lift or toboggan down this time), we got in the car and travelled over to a place in the mountains. We all stayed in small rooms surrounding a courtyard. There was a stream that ran down from the mountains that had super-cold water – that’s how they refrigerate drinks! We had an awesome dinner, which included the entire body of a chicken (yes, including the head and other entrails!), as well as a bunch of other yummy food. Afterwards, we talked a lot and then went to sleep on a very hard bed. (That’s the short of the longer full story, but I’ll just leave it at the synopsis.) After waking up and having breakfast, we drove to the next destination: white-water-rafting-except-not. It took a lot of waiting to discover what in fact we were actually doing – all we knew was that we had to prepare to get sopping wet. As it turns out, we were waiting for the water to be heated. We finally got to a place with little rafts, helmets, life jackets, and small handled buckets. Basically, there is a man-made ‘track’ that you and your partner ‘raft’ down. All the experience of white water rafting, without the paddling. There were those mini buckets that we got, so we could scoop water out of our rafts. When we finished our first ride, there was a lot of still water that we waited at for several minutes. All the other Chinese people there (complete strangers!) thought it would be hilarious to play a game of ‘splash the white people’. It was rather fun, though, and with those buckets we got a lot more water in the air. There were several rounds of this – down the track of white water, waiting for a bit, down the track again, waiting more – but eventually we stopped and had to get out of the rafts. It was very fun! Afterwards, we got changed into our dry clothes… in, of course, a Chinese changing room/shower. If you’ve ever been in one before, you know that everyone is butt naked and 100% okay with it. Well, everyone except the white people. I’ve been in this situation many times and still am not used to it. It is what it is, I guess.
After that, we went to lunch, followed by the car ride back (AKA sleep time), and turned up at ND at around 3:30PM. It felt like 5:00 at least! Since it was a Monday, we still had English camp. Someone else ran it that day, but since it was raining and we had told our kids that we weren’t going to be there, they didn’t show. Out of fourteen, three kids showed up. After that, we went to get baozi (steamed stuffed buns) from the baozi guy (the legit one that we decided to rename). Thomas was pals with him, so we took a few pictures with the baozi guy. When we told him that today was Thomas’ last day, and tomorrow he’d be going to America, the guy gave us all a free baozi! Probably because Thomas was his #1 customer… Thomas had an obsession going on with that baozi. I probably appreciated the gesture more than everyone, as I had like 17yuan to my name, so it served as a part of dinner.
So, do you understand? This weekend has been strange. Sometimes I wasn’t sure what to do. Other times, I didn’t know what was going on, and when I did it was really rather strange… Most of the weekend was all supposed to be a surprise, so I suppose finding out what I was doing next played a role in that, but the being confused and awkward, not understanding the reasons behind why this or that is done – that’s China, I guess!
(This post was written on August 5 – a little late, but I hope you enjoy it!)