Wednesday, 7 May 2014

China - In review

Plastic Blossom on a tree

 It's been some time since I posted. There have been many things that have happened and I'm not sure I'm able to share everything at this moment in time. However, many of you know I have been fundraising over the last 18 months or so towards a visit to China with International China Concern; well we made it. And on the 4th April me, my daughter, and my husband set out for Beijing where we would meet the team of international volunteers, mostly from Australia and Canada and few from other places too.

Dinner at the Directors house
I'd never been to Beijing before and we arrived on a national Holiday weekend, which meant it was exceptionally busy, so seeing the Forbidden City and Tianamen Square will have to wait until next time. After team orientations and a meal close to the hotel we set off the next day to SMX a small city not far from Xi'an, we traveled by fast train which is comfortable and the 5 hr journey meant we got to know some of the team a little better. Once we had arrived at our destination we checked into the hotel, typically the Chinese think that westerners like carpets, but fail to keep said carpets clean! I'd rather have a tiled floor any day. The beds were very firm as expected and it was a little too early In the year for the air con to be switched on (despite 27 degrees C some days) so the room was rather warm.

Traditional Underground homes
The project was just a short bus journey away from the Hotel and took less than 10 minutes in the mornings, here we worked in the project run between ICC and the welfare centre. Bethan and I worked with the toddlers, who had a range of needs and their fantastic staff, who are doing a great job, despite there being so few of them. They obviously care deeply for the children but have such a lot to do they can't always give as much time to each child as they would like. This is where we helped, organising play, loving children with high needs, teaching craft sessions and working alongside the staff there to support the work they are doing, it was such a blessing to be able to have an impact on the children and staff, and they have found a way into our heart too.

The centre director made us feel very welcome, inviting us to his home for a meal (all 19 of us), sharing his passion for the children and their development and his love of his home city. We were celebrities In the city, as there are so few westerners there. This mean we were stared at a lot, many people wanted their photographs taken with us and we overheard the term waiguoren frequently. We were welcomed warmly, and with patience for our lack of language.

Terracotta Warriors
On our day off we set off for the city of Xi'an, only an hour away by fast train and home of the terracotta warriors. I've always found the warriors interesting and the myths surrounding the area intrigues me. I was stunned by the sheer size of the project and the skill that was so evident in each of the pieces that we saw. The day was warm and sunny and the smell of blossom filled the air in the gardens surrounding the site. Despite setting off early we didn't arrive until 1.30 and it was almost 5 when we arrived back in the centre of Xi'an, heading off to the Muslim quarter for street food and the markets. As it dropped dark the Drum and Bell Towers were lit magnificently, and we're truly beautiful. It seemed like a perfect end to the day, but our adventures did not end there.

Drum Tower Xi'An
We headed off to the fast train station, arriving about 5 minutes before our train was due to depart, but, despite our best Olympic sprinting technique, we found that the gate was closed, we had missed the train! The 10 of us gasped for air while John and one of our team who spoke Mandarin tried to find a solution to the problem. It was the last fast train of the day, the next one was at 7.40 the next morning, which would mean find a hotel and re-booking the train. However we found that there was a train later that night. It was a slow train; it would take 3 hours; left the regular station (back in Central Xi'an) at midnight and there was only one seat available. The rest of us would have to stand. We booked it, found a taxi driver to take all 10 of us to the other station and waited, not knowing quite what to expect. A lady at the fast train station had warned us against taking the train - claiming it would be full of gangsters! In reality it was full of ordinary people going home. It was hot and smoky, people were sleeping on seats, under seats and in the aisles, but the Chinese people are generous and as people needed to stretch their legs they let us have seats for a while, none of us had to stand the whole journey. People laughed joked with us and I even managed to ask a couple of questions and understand the answers. However I was very glad to get back to my hard bed at 3.30 am and slept soundly.

The team seemed to go so quickly and before we knew it it was our last day with the children and Chinese staff, it amazes me how quickly you build up a close bond with others. And so it was that we headed back to Beijing, this time we made the train! We had a last meal together and promised that we would stay in touch, then with a slightly heavy heart we headed back to the hotel to get an early night before heading off to the Great Wall on the Saturday.

On the Wall
We booked a car via our hotel, for around 500RMB you can hire a driver for the day. John, Bethan, a lady from our team called Sharon and I set off for the wall at Mutianyu. It was cool and a little drizzly, perfect for walking. We went up to the wall on the cable car, and then walked along to the end of the restored section, gazing out on the stunning mountains and the unrestored sections of wall where trees are growing through the brickwork. It was beautiful and I can imagine it looks very different at different times of the year.

I can't wait to go back again. I love this land of contrasts and I have so much more to explore!

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