Written on: 23/08/2003 by innocence (2 reviews written)
The view from the window, that was all steamed up with the chilly winter air of mystical China was lovely, and every day, we would call for a little something from customer service, and at the quickest of speeds, a hotel maid would come rushing up with just the thing we needed. Staff at the restaurant were friendly, and the food served catered to a huge range of people from all countries and cultures. The lobby is cosily lighted with nice decorations, making it feel like after a long day of tours, you have come home.
The water for showers in the hotel tends to change from hot to cold then cold again, making showers in winter uncomfortable. Someone commented that the water in her bathroom was murky.
When the plane landed and cruised peacefully to a halt in the bleary light of six o'clock morn, I could hardly believe that I was there in China. A fifth grader from tropical Singapore, I had come on an educational tour with my school to Hang Zhou.(As it was an educational tour, we had limited bedtimes and scoldings from teachers, as well as homework, but it was educational.)
The air outside was icy cold. Every breath stirred up a large cloud of steam. My two friends and I stayed close together. Away from our parents for the first time in this vast new place a hundred times bigger than the island nation we were from, the feeling was exhilarating. We were all reliefed to get back to our hotel. It was then that we felt that life had really begun.
Thus began a full week of mishaps, fights, amazement, trouble, learning and great fun! As three of us shared a room, that should have been shared my three, we had to take turns sleeping on the spare bed. That was, until little Genevieve became attached to the soft comfort of it. We had to get an extra pillow too, and extra mugs and stuff. In the meantime, extra pillows meant fun! Pillow fights and violence started. Then real fights, when someone was angry with someone else stepping on suitcases, dancing on beds...
We felt like we had just been born then. Groceries had to be bought from the mall nearby, were most of us stocked up on lots of instant noodles as well. Full of exotic flavors as Chinese food is, restaurant dishes could be quite repetitive and boring. Of course, what can you expect from a few eleven year olds spending money in a whole new world? We were real spendthrifts. Souvenirs, gifts, food (especially food) were thrown into the cart by the dozen. Then there was water we had to boil ourselves, and clothes we had to put on to keep us warm. I had about six layers on.
We spent most of that eventful week studying at a Chinese school. It was smaller than our school in Singapore, but I had never expected such hospitablity. Us and the fifth graders of China, we studied and played like we had never done before. I got to participate in relays there, and every break we would climb up and down some net structure in the school playground. At first, I dreaded going to the bathroom at the school as it emitted a certain unpleasant smell.Afterwards, I forgot all about it. We developed such strong bonds with the Chinese children that the day of our parting was a day of tears and gifts. Such much tears and gifts.
Then came travel. We sailed over the vast expanse of the famous Xihu lake during the night. The inner peace, the silence, the willows and the sparkling lights all came into one lovely memory that I shall treasure more that any souvenir ever. The Chinese temples that we checked out were magnificent. Set in evergreen forests of vines and thick canopy, they help golden and jade statues. Everyone was staring in awe and learing about new cultures. Thanks to the guide, we understood much.
Sometimes, the bus travel took an hour. Other times, it took five. I soon became accustomed to the rare toilet breaks and sucking on candies while dozing off and listening to the droning of the guide at the same time. Once, we came to a riverside village. As we sailed through, a woman poured a pail of water from a window. The water landed just a few inches from where we were in the boat. We also tried out Chinese tea, bitter, yet full of meaning. Chinese women had worked long hours on the hills getting tea leaves with babies on their backs . Some brought back tins of tea leaves. They were expensive, so I did not get any.
We, students living together for the first time, had to account for the differences of others as well. There was me, who hogged the bathroom for long showers and woke up early just to get to the bathroom first. There was Lynette who was always raring to sieze control of te radio, and Genevieve, an Australian, who get problems with Chinese. I had to help her with her homework daily late into the night.Despite the fun we had bargaining and shopping, trying out food and trying to promounce weird Chinese words together, a few fights started up when Genevieve got tired of being in a Chinewe environment all day and night. Combs were thrown around, and once Genevieve pushed me right into a bedside chest. My, it did hurt. I called up a teacher and accused her of murder.
And did we give the hotel staff a hard time. Once, after fighting over chairs, we decided to get a few more. Our strange Chinese descriptions of the chairs we wanted is loosely translated as : a long and thin chair and a short and stout chair, please. Alas, it turned out the chairs were not delivered to rooms.
Towards the end, everyone got fevers and colds. When your parents aren't with you, you start missing their care and comfort, especially after you fall ill. And it definitely isn't fun to fall ill on a vacation. Luckily, through severe headaches and grumpiness, we managed to drag through the last couple of days till the end of our vacation. Another night flight.
Now, everyday, we would gather every one of our schoolmates and gather in one room to tell ghost stories, after which we would sing 'A Whole New World' from Aladdin. China was a whole new world indeed. As the plane took off silently, tranquilly into the starry night sky, I was almost reluctant to leave that whole new world.
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