A Touch of History, A Touch of Fame

The incredible sights of Huangshan.

The incredible sights of Huangshan.

Last May I wrote a post about my computer breaking and the inevitable difficulties that shortly followed. Well now I’m happy to say my new computer has arrived at last and among its many functions comes an incredible new ability for me to  write when I’m at home as opposed to only when I’m at work! Plus I have a new VPN that seems to be actually working after my last one decided it had had enough.  My goal now is to share my stories on a more regular basis and avoid weeks of silence like what’s been happening over these past few months.  But enough of that, let’s get into the adventures!

Since you all last heard from me , I’ve taken my first road trip since arriving in China; to Huangshan and it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. We also took a trip to Huangshan City and explored an ancient street that was built around the time Columbus sailed to America. In addition, I was also on a Chinese game show called 男生女生向前冲 (Nansheng Nusheng Xiang Qian Chong!) –twice! But we’ll get to that.

Earlier this month I cancelled my usual Monday/Tuesday plans of rock climbing, drinking with foreign friends and recovering from drinking with foreign friends because I was invited to take a trip with several of my coworkers. The plan was to meet up with our former Chinese teacher who moved back to her hometown, Huangshan; a city full of lush history and awe-inspiring mountains outside of it. So I woke up at 5:30 Monday morning full of excitement knowing that adventure was on the horizon and after getting everything packed and ready, I set out to meet up with 8 friends at the bus station. As we left the station, we were full of excitement  and greatly looking forward to the clean air and beautiful scenery that awaited. Even my somewhat severe cough and congestion was dwarfed by my anticipation to experience some wilderness. Keep in mind that I had been living in a city with nearly 8 million people for over 6 months and the naturalist in me has been begging for an escape.

Serenity in the mountains.

Serenity in the mountains.

After a few hours of pictures, sleep and a surprising amount of mystery snacks thanks to my Chinese friends, we arrived in a small village where we changed to a different bus that would take us into the mountains to our lodge. Now, I’ve never had much problem with claustrophobia, but when you take a bus with 19 seats and pack 27 people into it and then race down winding mountain roads while blaring your horn at anyone in your path, you make even your most resilient passengers get white knuckles as they cling for survival. That said, I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t enjoy the ride.

After an hour or so, we made it to our stop, which was a rest area with–you guessed it–an amazing view all around. We still had a trek ahead of us before we reached our final destination for the day, but it was incredible. I won’t soon forget the moment when we first came upon the bamboo thickets–something that I’ve wanted to see as long as I can remember–and then finally arrived in a small valley with a reservoir in the middle, green all around and peaks in the distance on all sides.

When taking a trip, the right people can make all the difference. I have some great friends.

When taking a trip, the right people can make all the difference. I have some great friends.

After dropping of our packs in our rooms and meeting up with Anna, the aforementioned teacher, we headed out to hike some trails. Along our exploration, we passed one amazing natural feature after another and ended up hopping from rock to rock up a riverbed that distinctly reminded of the rivers in Northern California. When we reached the end of the first trail, I decided to stay behind as everyone else turned back so I could have some much needed peace from all the stimuli of the world; even if it was for only 10 minutes.

After I jogged through the rain forest to catch up with the group, we moved on to another trail that took us through some small caves and up to a shelter that overlooked the valley below. We stopped here for some rest and pictures before continuing on down and circling back to where we started.

At peace in the Forest

By this time, it was dark outside and the sounds of birds and cicadas had been replaced by bats and crickets. We decided it was time for dinner and went to the only restaurant in the area, which was delicious, and then back to our rooms for some card games before going to bed.

The next day we woke up early to catch the tuna can-cramped bus once again to take us to Huangshan city.

As we entered the city, I sat in awe as I took in all the history that this very old place displayed in it’s architecture and character. After dropping off our belongings in the hotel and eating at a local restaurant that served dishes famous of this area, we headed to the famous Tunxi Old Street to experience a blast from the past and open a window to another time in the history of our world.

Tunxi Old Street holds a fascinating glimpse into history.

Tunxi Old Street holds a fascinating glimpse into history.

Among the plentiful souvenir and knickknack shops, We visited a small medicine shop that is over 100 years old and still selling the same ancient remedies, as well as a shop that sells rare and extremely expensive statues from China’s history and a few stores that specialize solely in brushes, paper, and ink for writing scrolls; all this on a street that is so well known for it’s history that it has been used as a backdrop for numerous Chinese films over the years.

Although I only spent 2 days in Huangshan and the surrounding area, it was a much needed escape and one I will remember for years to come. But that’s not the most memorable adventure I’m going to tell you about. And the next one comes with a video as well.

A couple months ago, the owner of our center asked me if I’d be interested in being on a Chinese TV show and do an obstacle course based here in Hefei. Of course, I was all for the idea. The main problem was that the wait list to appear is over 10,000 people and is always growing. I had all but given up on the idea until I mentioned it to my good friend, Zhazha and he said his friend is a camera man there and he’ll see what I can do.

A few days later, I got a call from someone speaking very fast Chinese and the only thing I understood was the name of the TV show, so I gave her Zhazha’s number so she could call him instead. Shortly afterwords, Zhazha texted me and said that I would be on the show the following day. (Welcome to my life in China).

The next morning I woke up at 5 so I could shower, eat breakfast and make it to Zhazha’s home by 6 so that we could make it to the TV station by 7. After arriving and filling out the required forms, we were all led inside to change into our “sporty” clothes and then walked through the obstacle course and given all the safety precautions. Unfortunately for me, Zhazha was my translator and his English isn’t very good. Fortunately for me, there happened to be 5 Egyptian guys there as well with their own translators, so I just stuck close to them.

Finally, we were all led into a small waiting room behind the stage where we stayed until our turns. All of the ladies went first and I was 3rd last of the 35 men, so by the time I went, it had been about 7 hours since I had eaten and I was famished. But duty called and I drank a bunch of water and charged out to greet it.

As many of you may know, I’ve intentionally put myself outside of my comfort zone repeatedly since arriving here in an effort to get the most out of my experience, but none of that really prepared me for this. That said, I did have a great time. I’ve watched TV shows with obstacle courses many times throughout my life and when someone falls, it’s easy to think that we could have done better, but I can honestly say that this was much harder in person than it looks on TV.

You can see my go at the course right here. It should skip to where I started, but if not, feel free to jump to 32:45. In case you’re wondering, at the beginning, they are saying that I look like Orlando Bloom. And at the end, he asked me if I wanted to say anything to my parents and I said 我爱你 (I love you) and 我爱中国 (I love China). Also, the shirt I wore is the one I teach in–can’t go wrong with representing one’s school! Of the 35 men who competed that day, 4 of us finished and I found out later that I was the first foreigner to ever complete the obstacle course so it’s pretty cool making history in such a big country. Plus I won a reverse osmosis water filter worth about $400 so that’s pretty awesome as well.

A few days later they asked me to return for the semi finals and I did. This time it was a timed competition and they gave us matching uniforms and had us do a super-stylish choreographed dance at the beginning. I was also interviewed in Chinese before I went this time. But my confidence was literally my downfall and I ended up taking a spill about 1/3 of the way through. That said, I’m still ecstatic for the opportunity and experience I had. That video has not been broadcasted yet, but I’ll put a link to it in my next post.

Well it’s hard to think that my next story will top this one, and in some ways, it won’t. But I have some big plans for October and many more experiences to share! Until then, cheers and thanks for reading!

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The Halfway Point

The reason I named this blog Open to Experience is because that is how I approach nearly every new opportunity that comes my way. This attitude has opened many doors for me so far, and many more are on their way. I recently passed my 6 month mark here in China and while the first half of my adventure has yielded many great experiences, I’m confident the second half will prove to be even better; in fact, it has already begun.

In my last post I wrote about my experience teaching kids to rock climb and how great it was. Well since then I’ve taught 4 more classes and climbed on my own many more times. I even slept attempted to sleep under the bouldering wall one night, but the bugs had a different plan for me. In addition to my recent climbing adventures, I also played a big roll in our school’s 1 year anniversary with 5 performances and a cheerful attitude. Let’s start with the climbing school.

9d5796ee-c6e1-4307-8df6-c65d0da15d54wallpaperFirst let me say that it is awesome being able to climb outdoors instead of a smoke-filled pub that hates playing good music. It’s hard to beat the clean fresh air you get after a good rainstorm. Also, listening to a combination of Zhazha’s Chinese music and my own library is a refreshing change. 915b4ff3-8b2e-4d13-af69-87337f944902wallpaperTeaching the kids has been such a rewarding experience. They are older than the kids I teach at my school, so I can practice more Chinese with them and  our collective love for rock climbing overcomes the language barrier, creating a community feel where everyone is free to be themselves.

bf0bf1e2-5aac-457f-9a70-15f7a18d70a8wallpaperBeyond teaching the classes at the wall, we also have climbing parties where Zhazha invites his climbing friends from the University and around the city. It’s great because I get to climb routes that are actually difficult and meet new friends who are in my age range. Always a good time.

IMAG1872-1The first night we climbed here, we didn’t stop until midnight so we slept on the crash pads under the bouldering wall you see above. As it turns out, we seriously underestimated the amount of mosquitoes and by the time we gave up around 3 o’clock, I counted 29 bites on my arms and legs. So then Zhazha decided to get his magical Chinese herb bug repellant and we slept bug-free for the rest of the night. That was until about 5:30 when the adjacent track and field filled up with elderly people having their morning walks and playing classical Chinese music. (You kids and your confounded rock n’ roll!) I decided it was time to throw in the towel and head home to my cozy apartment and rock hard bed. Always an adventure in China!

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A few of our awesome Romp n’ Roll kids. George’s Mohawk is so awesome.

Which brings me to our school’s anniversary party. This was our biggest event since I started here 6 months ago. I’m not sure exactly how many people we had in our little center, but I counted over 100 at one point. We had numerous performances, activities, giveaways and lots of cake!

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We had the kids decorate and assemble an awesome top hat for Rompy

As for my role, I did a performance with my poi; performed “Take me Home Country Roads” by John Denver with Lear, one of the Chinese teachers; I performed “Jingle Bells” with 4 of my older kids, 3 of whom sang while another drummed and I played guitar; and helped both of my older English classes with their fashion shows. It was all good fun and another China experience I won’t soon forget.

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Our various performances included a love song, Jingle Bells, Take Me Home Country Roads, and a light show.

Well my 6 month mark here in China has come and gone and what a ride it’s been! As always, I’m excited to see what the future holds. In my next post I’ll tell you all about my trip to Huangshan, the beautiful yellow mountains, as well as my experience being on a Chinese game show! Until then, cheers and thanks for reading!