I apologise for the lateness of our blog… the last time we spoke we were in the throws of teaching an extra class every day, plus one on our weekend. That was all very busy, but also very good, and two weeks later I miss my “Summer Course Students”. I ask myself why, because on the one hand, I had to wake up early every day, try to teach teenagers that had also woken up early, whilst simultaneously promoting the school and having a good time. By the end of my summer course there were only two students left; making it a ratio of 2 teachers:2 students. But actually, it was a really positive challenge, trying to come up with a lesson plan that wouldn’t leave any of us bored and/or asleep, that was easy enough for the weaker student, and challenging enough for the older. It was really easy to relax in the class, to let go of my professionalism a little, allowing myself a yawn and a joke with the students. We did everything from race to play sleeping lions.
So along came the final day, when I wished them both well and sent them out into the big wide world, hoping that one day the word “bellybutton” would come in handy. You can’t fault me for trying to educate and entertain all at once.
So here we sat, at 5.30pm after a good long day of students, both good and bad, ready for a break. Unfortunately our trains to Shanghai had been cancelled, and the only booking we could get at short notice was the next morning. That meant that we could spend the evening saying goodbye to one of our senior teachers at, you guessed it, World Beer.
Luckily we didn’t get too bladdered, and we managed to make our train at 8.30 the next morning. We definitely slept along the way, making the four-and-a-half-hour train journey go like a flash. Alighting in Shanghai, we had not anticipated how long the queue for the tube tickets would be, let alone the next journey to Peoples Square. We got to our destination at around 1.30, a gorgeous restaurant called Barbarossa, surrounded on all four sides by a pond, brimming with turtles and lily pads a metre wide. The last time we had been there, it was winter, and although nothing had changed dramatically, it felt as if Shanghai had acquired a new, brighter lease of life. It was stunning.
We sat down, sleepy, a little hungover, to a beer and a meeting with my mum; the reason we had travelled was to meet her and my aunt, and escort them back to Fuzhou. Although they had been in Shanghai for a few days already; the last leg of an all-you-could-dream-of tour of China, we managed to take them to a wonderful bookshop, eat a beautiful Mongolian meal (on Fuzhou Lu), and watch the sun go down on rooftop bar on the Bund. All in all, not a bad trip.
Back in Fuzhou the next day, we got our metaphorical shit together and went for a walk up YuShan. Callum and I haven’t been there for almost nine months, having been there once when we got here first and never since. On the way up we met a Chinese friend of ours who had also never been up YuShan, and together we summited the rather small hill. Yushan sits beside one of Fuzhou’s busiest squares, which we have always called WuYi square, being that it’s found on WuYi Road. That night we learned that it wasn’t called WuYi square, but for the life of me I can’t remember it’s real name.
After eating at a Chinese restaurant where the best food came in the form of chicken soup, we moseyed towards home; dropping Anna off on the way and accidentally ending up in World Beer.
The next day we had a lay in (until around 10) before deciding that we would go for a walk around XiHu (west lake) Park and to the old town because it was forecast to storm. We spent the afternoon souveneir shopping in SanFangQiXiang’s famous bazaars, eating ice cream, and having photos taken with strangers. As the afternoon started to wane we headed to XiHu park; a huge lake with islands, all dug out for an emperor hundreds of years ago. It’s still one of the most beautiful places in Fuzhou, with incredible arched bridges, hidden pathways, and small ornate gardens. It was here we waited, under a rickety pavilion, for the thunderstorm, and sure enough, it delivered. For around an hour the lightning was hitting the buildings all around us, the rain teeming in under the high roof and splashing off the water below us. Sometimes the thunder was so loud it literally took your breath away.
A couple of hours later we found ourselves, slightly soggy, in a very delicious Thai restaurant. I will have to find the name of it so I can recommend it to anyone on here that may one day visit Fuzhou, but for now, it is on the southern side of the park, up a flight of stairs. After filling our boots with one of the best curries I have ever eaten, we continued back through SanFangQiXiang to catch the place all lit up at night. It is a vision.
Day three and we filled this with a trip to the Xi Chang temple, as more bad rain was forecast. This temple is vast, one of the biggest in Asia, to which many monks pilgrimage every year. The land was sacred before the buddhists took it over, and boasts beautiful grounds, fifteen storey high temples, and stunning views of Fuzhou. It is so peaceful, although it is not unlike other Chinese temples, it is certainly one of the most impressive I have been to.
From here we made our way to lunch at a Mexican restaurant before heading up another local hill called JinJiShan (Golden Chicken Mountain) as the sun stared to set. Up and up we climbed, taking in views of Fuzhou’s cityscape like you would never see them otherwise. It really is beautiful in the nighttime, when all is lit, including the trees, and it has a sci-fi glow to it.
On the way back home we found ourselves in a Hot Pot restaurant for dinner, eating the soup-like meal that was so spicy it could erode a hole in the table. Delicious though it was, we eventually found our way back home and fell into a lovely lovely sleep.
On our last day together we had decided that we would attempt a beach, come rain or shine. Although we were forecast more thunderstorms we made our way to the bus station (the closest beach is about 2 hours away) and headed on in to buy a ticket. Unfortunately we needed our passports which we hadn’t already thought to bring.After a quick -heads-together- plan, my mum and I headed back to the flat to pick them up, before racing back to the bus station before the day wore on too much. It wasn’t until we were almost home that I realised my keys were in Callum’s pocket.
Sodding off the beach (as it was now gone midday) we boarded a local bus (no passports needed) and headed up to our secret gorge behind GuShan.
We have been there a few times, enjoying the thrill of climbing, the beauty of the valley, and the chance to swim in the cleanest water you will find in a Chinese city. We took our friend Anna along with us; she had never been there either, and began winding our way up the stony path. The day was beautiful and almost too hot, but the promise of a swim at the top drove us on. Callum cheated, diving into a reservoir about half way up and making friends with the Chinese guys who were already there doing lengths to the waterfall and back. When we finally reached the spot for swimming we were all happy to jump right in. Anna, however, couldn’t swim, and took great pleasure in lowering herself deeper into the water as her confidence took her. Each inch she defied with a squeal of success (and the coolness of the water) before ending up to her neck in the cool clear water. What a great personal boundary to overcome – she had never before been in a pool of water that wasn’t meant for washing.
Needless to say, we also had a wonderful time, swimming around the tiny pool, taking in the sun, rocks, trees, nature, all so alien in China.
Our last meal had to be one full of good wine, so full infact that one waitress described my aunt as “a little dancing” as she escorted her from the toilets back to our table. Chinese wine does not have a wonderful reputation, yet the wine at the restaurant is one of the best. It is from the Grace Vineyard (don’t ask me where it is in China specifically haha), and definitely helped make our last meal for the forseeable future one to never forget.
Taking them to the airport in the morning we were reminded that we were indeed still in China by the sheer fact that the breakfast options were MacDonalds or noodles. After a disappointing MacDonalds chicken meal, we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. Living in China is hard, seeing the people you love go and leaving the thing that you once enjoyed (like eggs on toast for breakfast), and yet, like the Summer Course that I mentioned oh-so-long-ago at the beginning of this article, parallel, and sometimes overlapping with, the bad things, there are incredible positives that remind you why you made this decision.