The Chinese Trip
It was with some disbelief that I replied to a request to participate in an invitational international kiteboarding Competition in Weifang China. I was in The Peter Lynn Head office in Holland, collecting my new “Chargers” to demo in Italy when the request came. Always keen for a new experience and having never been to China before, I jumped at the opportunity to go and discover new horizons.
With only a month and a half to go, I was dubious that they were going to get their act together, but sure enough, the flight bookings came, the rush to the Chinese Consulate for a Visa followed, and off I was on a mega long Journey to BinHai Weifang China. I was aware that I was heading into an unusual part of China. Not a destination one would find on a tourist’s list of places to see… all the more exciting.
I left a rainy overcast Cape Town on the 22nd of August to find myself in Beijing after a uneventfull flight with Emirates via Dubai. Gotta say that Emirates are just so pleasant to deal with. I was flying with kites, Guitar, and cameras… No problems in sight.
Arriving in Beijing, I was greeted by a very modern airport with a serious health control for Swine flu. The same temperature check at distance was repeated at the hotel. They’ve obviously dealt with this kind of thing before.
Flicking through the channels on the TV station in the hotel on my first night in Beijing brought me to the reality of a different place. A place of censured television, radically different language and culture, and food…
Early morning flight to Qingdao, where a few foreign faces stuck out amongst Chinese travelers. They were also going to the kiting comp. On this flight I met fellow kiters Yo from Thailand and Willie from Ireland. They were to be my traveling companions for the rest of the day. On arrival, we were greeted at the Airport by the lovely Penny who spoke English pretty well, and helped us board a bus to travel to Bin Hai.
At this stage I have to unveil a dark passage of my history. I lived 6 years in Rome and thought that I had witnessed the worst driving humanly possible… This illusion was to be shattered in the 3 hours I spent on the bus to Bin Hai. The roads we took were of a very good standard, but it seems the Chinese have not yet embraced the concept of left, right, indicators or politeness in Driving. Our Driver was answering 2 cell phones with one hand, blowing the hooter with the other and playing Chicken with cars on the wrong side of the road. We were all pretty gob smacked!
Of course he couldn’t speak a word of English. And when i say that, I mean not a word. Having serious communication problems was to be a most common occurrence over the next few days.
After a 3 hour ride, we finally pulled in to the Golden Sunshine hotel. A very Hilton looking Hotel with a Huge Banner welcoming us. It was becoming apparent that they were rolling out the red carpet for us. We finally got to meet the main Organizer who had been in contact with all of us : Mr Liu. After a few minutes it became obvious to all of us that Mr Liu’s emails had been written by his assistants as he himself had unsurmountable problems with the English Language. But a warm welcome nevertheless. I hooked up with my fellow team mates Gunnar from Germany and Lloyd from Australia and caught up. And then we faced our first meal.
I have traveled extensively over the last 15 years, but I have never been faced with so many unknown culinary experiences as I did in the next 4 days in Bin Hai.
A lot of the food was great, some of it not so great, some of it defying the definition of eatable…
However an amazing eating experience. I discovered many thing about the Chinese food culture I was unaware of. They have no normal bread or potatoes, they drink hot water with their meals (as in tea water with no tea). Dumplings are actually really large, and they find it nice to have certain attributes of the animals left as decoration on the dish, like chicken’s head. And of course everything is worth a dish. (Jelly fish salad anyone?)
The Highlight was definitely the sea slug which was presented in a soup accompanied by an egg of unknown origin. For that particular event, I was seated next to a government official and had consumed a fair amount of the local brew … Something about killing the tiger… a rice liquor strong enough to kill a tiger… Anyway, I ate the slug, but no amount of liquor could make me brush past the slimy and rubbery texture. Brrrr
The spot is a lagoon which is very shallow for a very long stretch. It offers great potential for flat water and kickers. The water temperature is very pleasant, the bottom is muddy, but one has to watch out once the tide pulls out as it gets pretty shallow. I saw fellow team rider Lyod eat some mud after hitting the bank at speed.
The Opening ceremony.
As we got brought up to speed on the events that were to take place at the opening ceremony, we (the kiters) realized that this was a show to impress the government officials and to convince them to pump money into the development of the Bin Hai area as a water sport destination.
Plenty of red carpet, traditional dancers and Musicians, Girls in uniform carrying each country’s name that was represented, and behind this a motley crew of kiters from around the world. A sight to behold! True to form the weather participated in the event by throwing rain in buckets from the heavens. And of course no wind… After the ceremony we were to blast off on the water and show the 3000 guests what kiteboarding was about. All we did is show them how one can use the kites to stay relatively dry. The opening day was ended with a Classical music concert. Again somewhat surprising for a kiteboarding competition. But a very good Orchestra.
Each rider was assigned a helper otherwise known as an Angel, who could speak some English. I found out from Chenxi (my angel) that they had never been an orchestra in that area before. The Auditorium was filled with curious locals who were coming to see the foreign freaks and the Philharmonic orchestra. Once again what a combination!
It seems that every single Kiting event I attend is cursed by the lack of wind. China was no exception. The only day that gave us something of a breeze was the Friday. (day before the opening ceremony). But even that was very light wind. And once again my expertise and equipment from South African waters got me nowhere. The Organizers quickly put together a simple race plan. They needed a result at all costs… So with the wind blowing in an unusual direction for the spot and 40 eager kiters, they got a race under way, a result was obtained as well as a major pile up and tangle which ended with a kite in the power lines and the power blowing in spectacular manner. Thanks Gunnar for supplying the fireworks.
What’s the 1st rule of kiting again… Power lines…. dhooo
Sunday was a beautiful sunday spent posing for pictures with chinese locals. It appears that Not many foreigners travel to that part of China. You can imagine how out of place a bunch of kiters looked.
On Sunday afternoon, we headed back to the Golden Sunshine Hotel for the Closing ceremony and again we were treated to a spectacle that will remain engraved in most participant’s minds. The blame should be placed on the Government officials who were seated at each table with the kiters who by then had formed bonds and were eager to celebrate. The officials had one thing on their mind. Get these foreigners full of “kill the tiger” Liquor. In the weeks running up to the event, Mr Liu had found out that I was a performer and had asked for if I could perform one song at either the opening or closing ceremony. The opening ceremony turned out to be a rather serious affair. The closing ceremony was better suited. But the rice alcohol kept coming and by the time I got up to sing my song, the audience and the singer were well oiled…
I was supposed to play one song, I played for an hour and a half. Absolute hysteria developed with all present ending up on stage and throwing break dance moves. I don’t think the Government officials will ever forget that party, of how the south African with his Guitar and the American with his beat box kept the party going. Sometimes everything just clicks, and it sure did at this closing ceremony. A great party, and a few headaches in the morning.
And so with great memories good laughs we all headed back to our respective countries with a little stop over in Qingdao for some shopping. The bus ride was again an adventure… We headed into Qingdao with written instructions of what we were looking for. There again we stuck out everywhere, I ended up jamming on the pavement and gathering a crowd of curious onlookers outside a multimedia store. Great fun.
Trip back was great.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had so many stories from 4 days of traveling… Would be great to get some real wind if I ever go again, but the traveling adventure was enough for me.