Chinese MBA’s apparently love kayaking

On Friday Nick had scheduled a presentation with a student union type group at a business school in Hangzhou.  Much of my time on Thursday had been spent preparing my half of the 90 minute talk, and I felt fairly well prepared as we pulled into the University parking lot.  Our host, Mr. Hu gave us a quick tour of the campus, including a spot on the canal where they hold an annual paddling event that draws 240 participants and a crowd well over 1000.  This year Winner is supplying all the boats, and I think it’s a great opportunity for them to show off the difference between their products and the random menagerie of watercraft that have made up the fleet in previous years.

MBA Talk sign

Once we were in the classroom with the students I quickly found that most of them spoke much less English than I had been led to believe.  No worries.  That’s why I slammed my Power Point full of photos.  I figured that most Americans would get bored listening to me talk about the kayaking industry for over half an hour, much less Chinese business students.

However, the presentation went really well.  I had some great help translating from a couple of them, and even ended up chatting with some of the students while Nick was giving his talk.  I think that we may have inspired some future paddlers, and I fear that we may have even convinced a couple of them that there might be a decent job in the industry (oops).

My class

That night we headed to Qian Dao Hu (Thousand Island Lake) where we would spend the weekend doing kayak demo’s and taking a couple of great kayak trips.

Group shot of Class


Wanna see some photos?

I wanted to be sure that everyone knows that you can click that little link that says “More Photos” at the bottom of the pictures to the left if you want to see my whole Flickr photo stream.
Much like this blog, it’s not always up to date, but hopefully the pics will give you a good idea of what life is like in this little town, and the other places I’ve been playing.
If you’d rather have a regular link to click, here it is:

Chinese Workingman

Thursday morning started with another delicious breakfast with my adopted family, and then a long day at the office.  Believe it or not, I actually had to sit in on meetings and sit through Chinese Power Point presentations, as well as a sit down with a local government representative who wanted to learn more about the club and what their plans were.

By the time 5:00 rolled around I was ready to get out and wander around town a bit.  A nice stroll through town included a stop at a little town store where the village elders were all gathered.  For those of you who have been to Cape Charles, imagine a Chinese Watson’s Hardware with tea instead of vodka.

Chinese WatsonsI had a great time talking with these guys, learning a bit of Chinese & teaching a bit of English.  By the time I headed home for dinner I had promised to never walk past without sitting down for a visit.  I have really started to feel like this little village is my home in China, and having tea with the Mayor and his friends certainly helped to reinforce my comfort here.

Fuchun Jiang Dao (Fuchun River Island)

So it’s probably been a week since my last post, and I have to admit that my previous strategy of trying to document everything I was doing has been a glorious failure.  I guess the good news is that I’ve been so busy working and enjoying what I’m doing that I haven’t had time to write about any of it.  So I’m going to play a quick game of catch up and then try to fill in some of the details as I get a chance.

I left off with my arrival in the island village on the Fuchun River.  I think that must have been Tuesday, but to be honest I’m doing a lot of work for things back in Virginia, and working in two time zones that span 2 days has me a bit confused. Anyway, we spent the rest of the week on the island, and by now I feel quite at home here.

On Wednesday I went back to the clubhouse to meet the rest of the crew, and to do some planning work for an event this weekend at Qian Dao Lake.  After a few hours of working with my new team we all went back to Nick’s sister’s house for lunch (this would be a daily ritual which has been awesome).

Song at an ancient windowAfter lunch I did some exploring around the village with Song (the General) and one of my guide trainees Dong Chun.  We poked around in several houses that were over 300 years old and had amazing woodwork and cool little interior courtyards, and checked out a massive tree that’s over 1000 years old.

After that little adventure it was time for the three of us to do some paddling!  We circumnavigated the island in a repeat of a trip that Jason and I did back in 2009.  This will also be one of the standard trips that Coastlines Kayak Club offers, so I want to be very familiar with it.

Paddling the FuchunAs we paddled along the coastline I was once again struck by the sharp contrast between the idyllic farming community on the island, and the massive rock mining and barging operations on the mainland shores of the river (river is “Jiang” in Chinese by the way – I’m starting to learn a few things.)

These gravel & stone operations put a ton of sediment into the river, and God only knows what else.  It’s something Nick and I have talked about before, and I often find myself explaining the idea that everyone has a fundamental right to clean water.  They seem to appreciate the principle, but not realize that it’s something that they don’t have.  The water seems as clean as it’s ever been, so what’s the big deal?

And to tell you the truth, the river is beautiful.  There is a small fleet of fishing boats on the island that bob off the South coast near a ferry landing.  There are constantly pairs of fishermen patrolling the waters in traditional stand up canoes casting nets or collecting bobber lines.  On the shoreline you see sheep and cows and people all grazing the lush fields.  Yes, there is always someone collecting a basket of wild grasses and other plants to add to the dinner table.  Actually, that’s where a lot of our food seems to come from… besides the chickens & ducks wandering around town of course.

After a great day on the water, James & Song take me into Fuyan for a night on the town.  We swing by to pick up James’ wife Cary (both are Chinese by the way with far less easily pronounced Chinese names) and her sister.  Cary speaks excellent English, and was an invaluable translator for me that night.

After yet another delicious meal, this time including a bowl of tiny baby shrimp, a few fish heads, and some as of yet unidentified but tasty green goo (I hope it’s not Soylent Green), we wandered down to a beautiful waterfront park where there were dozens of Chinese teens playing badminton.  Quickly caving to the encouragement of my friends I jumped into a game for a few minutes in order to thoroughly dismiss any fears the Chinese may have of a burgeoning American badminton dynasty.

After thoroughly embarrassing myself (and exhausting the poor girl who was trying to return all my errant shots) we hiked up to see a beautiful temple and currency museum on top of a nearby mountain (Mountain as in Blue Ridge, not Rocky).  With a beautiful view of the city it was the perfect way to wrap up a wonderful day back with old friends in an ancient world.

Fuyan TempleOn the way back to the village Song actually let me drive the van, so I got to experience the thrill of the Chinese road first hand.  Needless to say, we made it back alive… but it was exciting.

Down By The River

In the interest of moving on to the more interesting stuff, I’ll skip the details of the bus ride from Ningbo to Fuyan.  I can sum it up by saying that while there are many places in the world where taking the bus seems like an exceptional immersion experience, in this part of China it’s pretty much the same thing as Greyhound except that people can smoke on the bus, and the food at the rest stops is even harder to identify if you’re unfamiliar with it.

Fuyan is the city where the Coastlines Kayaks Club retail store is located.  Jason and I came through here on our trip in 20098, and this is where we first paddled some of Winner’s kayaks.  Walking into the office I saw some more familiar faces, and was instantly made to feel right at home.  They had even set up a little work area for me in the office.  After some entertaining story telling and a couple of cups of tea, we quickly rounded up everyone and headed out to lunch at their favorite restaurant.

It was immediately obvious that these guys ate at this place pretty much every day.  They didn’t even pause before heading to their little room, and the staff brought the customary tea along with some first dishes without us even asking.  Of the new people I met, King is bound to be the one who is most likely to pop up in this blog again.  He’s just out of college and started working for Nick a few months ago.  When I sit down he hands me a Chinese cell phone to use and explains that his job is now to be my assistant for the duration of my stay and that he is very interested in improving his English skills.

After lunch King and I head back to the office while Nick heads home to say hello to his wife and son.  Before too long we are all off to the island village where Nick grew up on the Fuchun River.  It’s only a 20 minute drive out of town, but it feels like we’ve travelled back in time 200 years as we pass ancient farm houses and bright green & yellow fields.   As we cross the bridge onto the island it’s easy to tell where the new construction is.  Interspersed among the small farmhouses are huge new multi-story homes.  The most prominent among these is where the Coastlines Kayaking Club is now based here on the island.

The 4 story clubhouse has 10 rooms for guests, an office area on the top floor, a large conference room, and a full kitchen.  All done up in the newest Chinese style.  The team has obviously been working hard to get everything ready for the big Grand Opening event at the end of April, and there is activity everywhere.

On our way through the clubhouse King shows me to my room where there is a team of 4 guys finishing up last minute details like installing the shower & hot water heater.  Up on the 4th floor I am greeted by more of my friends from our last trip.  If you read any of those blog entries (I’ll try to put a link up here at some point, but I think you can get to them by searching for SouthEast Expeditions on then you may remember Jason and Song.  Jason Light (my friend from Atlanta) and I were meeting so many new people that we had to rely on our own nicknames to communicate with eachother.  Having another Jason wasn’t going to make things much easier, so we nicknamed him Japanese Jason, allowing for alliteration to beat out any actual cultural relevance or political correctness since Japanese Jason is in fact Chinese.  Song we nicknamed the General since he was usually decked out in a kick-ass military coat and seems to have more presence than anyone else in China.

Both Jason and Song greeted me like a long lost brother, and we were soon out on the deck telling stories in a mix of body language, mixed Chinese & English, and hilarious pantomime gestures.  Song asked about Georgia Jason, and I was happy to tell him that the reason he missed this trip was to attend to his budding career as a rock star in Atlanta.  While the guys were disappointed not to see their other American friend again, they seemed to understand that sometimes the groupies win out in the battle for one’s time.

I used the rest of the afternoon to wander around town and get familiar with my surroundings.  This is where we will be spending most of the rest of the week, and also where I will teaching their guide training course next week, so it’s home for a while.  By the time I got back to the clubhouse Nick has decreed that I will not be staying there (“not hot water”) but will instead be staying with his sister and her family a couple of blocks away.  I quickly pack my things back up and we head over there for dinner.  At his sister’s house (another newer home) I find tremendous hospitality from folks who speak about as much English as I do Chinese.  After dinner Nick heads home to see his family, and I am promptly off to bed where I collapsed for a my first really solid night’s sleep.

A Map for Reference

I’ve been asked by a couple of people to post a map showing where I am and some more details about the trip. I have put it together on Google Maps, and you should be able to find it here:

If the link doesn’t work , then you have to copy & paste that whole block of text.  It looks like it’s two lines on most computer screens.

Blowfish & Donkeys

After a long day at the factory, we headed into the city & with a quick stop to check in at our hotel we were off to dinner. When we walk into restaurant the host leads us into a room that looks like a cross between a buffet and an exotic aquarium. David tells me that it’s my turn to pick out dinner and sends me around the room to figure out what’s what and how much of it we want. I should note at this point that at every meal we have had enough food for a group twice our size. I don’t even know where to start with the ordering, much less where to stop. Winnie senses my state of bewilderment and jumps in to help. “You must try that one in that tank. It is a blowfish.” O.K. blowfish it is. Now I just have to figure out what goes with blowfish. Apparently gigantic stone crabs, a whole duck, some unidentified pork parts, some dumplings, and several kinds of vegetables are needed to round out the meal… and some soup thrown in for good measure.

In most Chinese restaurants there are a number of private rooms. This is normally where we find ourselves for dinner and tonight is no exception. It’s nice to have the privacy, but I kind of like the people watching aspect of being out on the town, so it’s a bit of a give and take.

David is in a very good mood tonight after all that we accomplished today, and decides that we should order some wine. But what do you drink with blowfish and duck? I soon find out that this is a bit of a trick question due to the fact that in China wine translates as liquor. We end up with some 90 proof hooch that burns a bit more than the Petit Verdot you might have been thinking of.

Within 15 minutes we’ve had three shots and Nick is mostly drunk. David and Winnie have a fair amount of fun at his expense, and nobody feels it’s appropriate to fill me on what’s so funny. So what do I do? I start snacking on the complimentary appetizers that the chef has sent up to us. “What’s this?” I ask Winnie in between jokes. “It is donkey… you know donkey?” Shit. Yes I know donkey. I just didn’t know it was edible (barely by the way). I smile my way through another bite and wash it down with 3 ounces of Chinese fire water. Lesson learned. Ask first or don’t ask.

The rest of the meal flows by smoothly with David and Nick taking turns teaching me inaccurate Chinese lessons, and Winnie warning me that “What they say does not mean really what they say it means.” The blowfish by the way is delicious, but the skin has an exceptionally odd texture that is honestly exactly what you would expect to feel if you looked at a fully inflated blowfish and thought about eating it.

By the time dinner is over the bottle of “wine” is empty, and we are headed out for another adventure. This time instead of going to the bar we are headed to get an authentic Chinese Foot Massage. Score one for the good guys.

I have no idea what to expect from this experience, except that it’s bound to be a good thing. We get set up in yet another private room with super fancy Chinese Barcaloungers and promptly have our bare feet in tubs of hot water and pretty Chinese girls bringing us little plates of sunflower seeds and tiny cups of tea. So far so good.

Eventually the massage team comes in and gets to work beating the ever-living crap out of us starting with the soles of our feet and finishing with a full body percussion jam that would have impressed John Bonham. At one point they actually brought out rubber mallets and started beating us with them. Now, I don’t want to give you the impression that this was a miserable experience by any stretch of the imagination. Despite the fact that I had to hold back a couple of screams, and couldn’t help but flinch a few times, this was actually a treat. By the time they left us there with heated bags of beans behind our heads, I felt more relaxed than I have in quite a while.

However, I was not quite as relaxed as Nick who fell asleep about 15 minutes into the massage and caused quite a bit of laughter from the whole group of us as he snored through a fair amount of abuse. At a couple of points I was pretty sure that the girl working him over was digging in extra hard just to see if she could wake him up… which she couldn’t. Needless to say, by the time we shook Nick awake, it was time to head back to the hotel for a solid night’s sleep with another busy day looming ahead.