In summer 2009, I studied abroad in Shanghai with @CET Academic Programs… Like many areas of China, summers in the city are sticky and muggy, with humidity so thick it’s almost palpable. Looking for a way out, my friends and I began to brainstorm weekend travel options. Little did we know that we would be offered a trip for free!
Two of my guy friends were walking together down the street. To give a bit of context, both of these guys stand out quite a bit in China: One is a Caucasian, brown hair stands at a seemingly staggering height of 6’4’’. The other is a 6’2’’ Nigerian soccer buff. In the middle of the Chinese masses, they tended to stand out wherever they went. This afternoon was no different. A young, muscular Chinese man approached them and asked if they were interested in a free trip to Hangzhou.
The guys looked at each other, nodded in agreement and said, “Dangran!” (“Of course!”)
Thirty minutes later…the two show up at our dorms, bang on our doors and say, “We should all be in the Dragon Boat Festival!”
Apparently, the deal was this: If they could round up other strong, “Western-looking” friends to participate in Hangzhou’s Dragon Boat Festival, the company (who knows who they were) would sponsor all expenses: transportation, food, accommodations, participation fees, everything.
My friend Kristen and I, both Chinese Americans, said, “Well, what about us? The huaqiao’s in the group?” We had to pay our way, and they gave us a discount…but still! We were a bit disappointed in the outright discrimination.
On our bus ride over, we met other Westerners participating in the trip, as well as our Chinese teammates. We were dropped off at a hotel and told to rest for the race the next day. We spent the day walking around the city and West Lake which, like Pat attested in his last post, was a much needed break from the hustle and bustle of Shanghai.
The next day, we woke up, ate breakfast, and headed out to the race. My friends who were “qualified” participants were given proper team polos. (Because there were so many of us, the Westerners were divided up into two teams.) As shown below, Kristen and I played the role of supportive cheerleaders / bag holders.
Our friends then strapped on their bright orange life vests, got into the water and splashed their way to the starting line.
Kristen and I headed to receive them at the finish line. On our way, we wandered through this charming & quaint village:
We spent about an hour just hanging around, exploring the cute shops, and chatting with to other local visitors who were there to cheer on their friends..
After a while, we began to hear people buzzing that the rowers were close. We ran to the edge of the water, and sure enough in the distance was a line of bright, orange blobs that were our friends’ life vests. We all began jumping and yelling, “Faster! Faster! C’mon! You can do it!” The rowers blew past the finish line and yelped a big, “Yeeeeahhh!” My friends’ teams ended up in first and second place respectively!
That evening, we were invited to a celebratory banquet with the race sponsors (and possibly a handful of important town leaders…I don’t really know). There, my friends were not only presented beautiful awards – intricately carved wooden boats and framed local paintings served as trophies – but they also had the embarrassing opportunity to entertain the crowd.
The boys decided the Chinese children’s song “Liang zhi laoshu” would be most appropriate. Most of the crowd chuckled and clapped along supportively while others looked around at each other in awkward confusion. Haha – For my friends and I, it was the perfect ending to a completely spontaneous but perfect weekend!
Nancy is a marketing associate at WildChina’s Beijing office.
We now encourage you to share your own stories about Hangzhou – what did you see, how did you feel, what were your general impressions, etc. Also, check out the New York Timesarticle “Next Stop: The Poetry of Hangzhou” to learn more about this unique city – http://travel.nytimes.com/2011/04/10/travel/10next-hangzhou-china.html?ref=travel