Outward Bound and Beyond on the Toxic Bus

Zhengzhou Travel Blog

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Greetings everyone.

I apologize for not posting in a while. I have been suffering from a serious bout of Culture Shock with a side of massive depression. But everything is good now. They are right when they say Culture Shock is a very real phenomenon. I can actually follow my progress with my TESL book. Scary.

Not much has been happening until the last few weeks. And I now have the time to write about it.

The other week my adult students and I went on a field trip to have a BBQ. I was super excited about this as it has been ages since I have had BBQ. It was fun, but unfortunately not what I expected. I was expecting a nice quiet park with trees and a picnic table; it was instead a small little amusement park. There were many people there, lots of dust and dirt, no grass. Some interesting attractions but not many. The BBQ itself was really funny, it was a small metal box with coal and embers inside and a small opening at the bottom of one side. You had to grab a piece of cardboard and wave it frantically in front of the opening to force oxygen into the embers which would in turn heat up and ignite the coal. It usually took several minutes to get the thing going and you would have to keep doing it while you cooked. So you can imagine how uneven the heat distribution was, resulting in many a burnt food item. They also have the strangest idea as to what is good to BBQ and what is not. I loaded up on sausages as it is the only thing here that is really similar to back home. They had a bit of sausage but then broke out the slices of potato, shrimp, banana and lettuce (yes I said banana and lettuce). If you have never tried to BBQ a leaf of lettuce it is interesting to say the least. They also have containers that include cooking oil, hot spices, salt and another kind of spice. It was all pretty good just very unusual. The slices of potato were excellent when constantly soaked in cooking oil and sprinkled with salt. Tasted just like potato chips. All in all it was a fun day though and the students really enjoyed it as well. One of the attractions we did was awesome. You have to crawl into this large rubber bubble which they inflate and seal up, then they roll you into the water and you get to goof around for a while, trying to stand up, walk etc… It was a blast.

Last weekend Mike and I went camping with the girls from the office. It was fun but again not what I expected. There is never any grass in this country where there should be grass. Just more sand, dirt and dust. The BBQ’s at the camp site were a little more advanced as you did not have to fan them, but that is only because they were already filled with hot coals. Again heat was uneven which resulted in more burnt food. But we managed to find real French’s Mustard at a store here which was a smashing success, everyone loved it. We also bought marshmallows from the same store and introduced them to toasted marshmallow for the first time. It was met with mixed success. Coco and Christina liked them but Maxine did not saying they were too sweet. Which I found incredible as many things here in China are sickly sweet. Including nearly all of the bread. They even put sugar on tomatoes not salt…ugh.

There were no fire pits or wood so we could not have an actual campfire which I was looking forward to having. And as before this all took place in a small amusement park. This included an Ostrich farm and a ton of little rides and things. One of the things I got to try was BBQ’d ostrich meat, which was pretty good. We bought some Canadian Ice wine from the import store which was really damn good. And cheap, it only cost 40 RMB ($5.75 CDN)! Which I find hilarious as it costs a fortune back home. It was also a red ice wine not a white which I had not seen before. The wine was met with mixed success as well. Coco and Maxine really liked it but Christina did not.

The activities were fun. They had the really big inflatable globes that you crawl into and they roll you down a big hill. It was a blast. They also had bumper boats and cars, Dune buggies, Horseback riding, ATV trails, zip lines, rope and wire bridges. The works. The kind of stuff you always want to try back home but is too expensive to consider, you can do it all here on the cheap. One thing I was not impressed about was the small arena for animal fights such as cock fighting and dog fighting. The wall of the arena was covered in large photos of various animals ripping each other apart in cruel violent glory. Luckily no such event occurred while we were there. The days were spent doing all of the activities with Christina using her superb haggling skills to get us cheap rates for everything. The large inflatable globe was normally 50 RMB ($7.19 CDN) per person. Pretty expensive here considering you only get to go once. But she managed to talk them down to 10 RMB ($1.44 CDN) each. It was great. One night I walked off and spent many hours by myself in quiet contemplation still feeling the effects of the culture shock. Maxine eventually found me and we talked for many more hours about a great many things which helped a lot. It was a good trip but if you think you get dirty camping in Canada you get absolutely filthy here in China. Everything is dust and dirt and when you sweat it all sticks to you. It was an excellent, extremely long shower when I got home.

The last three days were spent Outward Bound with the young students from the school and it was an amazing trip. I had always wanted to go to Outward Bound and I am glad I finally got a chance to. I enjoyed it so much that I may instruct outward bound for a living when I go home. All of the students had to make up a new name for themselves and we had to do the same except it had to be in Chinese. Using my extremely limited vocabulary I chose “Tang Cu Li Ji” which means “Sweet and Sour Pork”. I couldn’t think of anything else plus the kids and the instructors got a good kick out of it so it was good. The instructors were all ex-military and were really great. Mike and I did not do much the first day as everything was in Chinese and we couldn’t understand. But that night we met with the instructors and discussed how we could participate more. I volunteered to be the activity guinea pig and perform all of the activities first so the kids could see what had to be done and how to do it. I was also nominated to be their English drill instructor and taught them all the English military formation commands such as Attention, about face, roll call etc… (My army of Chinese children is closer to becoming a reality). I also did their drills with them such as running, marching etc… I got more exercise in the last three days than I have in the last few years, and it feels good. I will definately be keeping this up.

The first night we finally got the campfire I have been craving and had a big party. The kids had to take turns performing for everyone and so did Mike and I. Having no performing talent what so ever I had no idea what I was going to do. Luckily one of the instructors earlier that day had taught me a new skill during one of the activities. That skill was writing words in the air using just your ass by imagining there is a brush or pen in it. It was fun and educational for the kids so Mike and I did that for our performance. We of course added our own constipated grunting noises as we did it which had everyone rolling on the floor laughing including Maxine, Coco and Christina. I did a second word for them telling them it was very difficult and not to try this at home. Just as I began, the instructor running the sound system started playing a drum roll which had me laughing and nearly in tears. He didn’t speak any English but some things like writing in the air with your ass just seem to transcend language I guess.

The facility we were at was gorgeous and the area was beautiful. As far as I could tell the whole area used to be a military installation as there were guard towers, communication buildings and I think a bunker or two in the distance. The next day we began the activities I was dying to try, like the bridge jump. You’re about two stories in the air with a tiny platform extending out, a gap and then another platform on the other side. You have to jump to the other platform. It was really nerve racking but fun as hell. I went first of course being the guinea pig, but went a second time because it was fun. I also did one activity that no one else did which was a balance beam two stories in the air from one tower to another. That one was crazy and it was a good thing I was tethered. The last one was the leap of faith. You climb up a very high pole to a tiny little platform at the top. You stand up on the little platform, the whole thing swaying back and forth because of the added weight and you have to jump and grab onto a small handle hanging from an overhead support. I love these activities.

The afternoon of the last day the students were gathered into the training room and the trainers finished their lesson. Sad music was playing and the students were told to think of five things they loved most such as family and parents, and then told to delete each one in order of importance and imagine losing that thing forever. All of the students were crying by the end and told to join hands to comfort each other. Even Maxine, Coco and Apple were crying. Since it was all in Chinese I don’t know what exactly was said but I understood the meaning and importance of the exercise. We are at are most vulnerable when we are crying, no defenses. To share an experience like that with a group of people gives you all a special bond. Plus there might be an emotional tempering aspect by tearing you down and building you back up again. It was an amazing trip and I’ll never forget it. The food was great as well.

The bus ride home everyone spent sleeping, whether from being tired or the exhaust fumes leaking into the bus I do not know. Since I don’t remember. (Just kidding) But the fumes were pretty bad. Ah China.

Stay tuned.

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photo by: alexchan