Living in China, I am always up for a new experience, a chance to make new memories and of course, a good story to write about!
So, I rather enthusiastically agreed to go on a team building exercise with the hotelier and his well, team and their families!
A day trip out to the mountains sounded idyllic…they were on my ‘to do’ list anyway. A peaceful bus ride out, taking in the sights …no sweat.
Little did I know what lay ahead in the 13 hours of non-stop entertainment, China-style!
Rewind your mind’s images from that peaceful bus ride out……instead, cut to images of the ‘happy bus’ rolling off into the China madness with a quick round of ‘rock, paper, scissors’ followed by a frenzied game of hot potato! (Except in place of the potato, a soft toy in the shape of a (smiling) star.) Whoever was left holding said star when the music stopped had to perform “something” at the front of the bus, on the microphone!
As I shrunk further and further into my seat, hoping this was just for the team…not the ring-ins, before I knew it, I found myself holding the ‘yellow star’ and being cheered loudly up to the front of the bus. Praising the lord for my small person who loves to put on a good show, I dragged her with me!
What to sing to a bus load of Chinese speakers, most who wouldn’t understand me in English anyway? A good old maori song of, course! This hit from my primary school days, that I’ve managed to hang onto in my adult life comes in handy sometimes (usually after a few too many beverages but rather more likely these days, singing up a storm with my small person in the privacy of my own home)!
So, that bizarre picture there and then, really indicative of the day that lay ahead!
Arriving at our destination, the base of Xi’an’s famous Mt. Lishan (this is where the renowned Emperor Qin Shi Huang built his mausoleum and those amazing Terracotta Warriors to guard it) it was a toasty 32 degrees and as I looked up at the towering mountain before me, I was thankful I’d heeded the hotelier’s advice and worn sneakers and shorts.
What to do before we start the journey? A three-legged race, of course. (Careful not to be mowed down by the numerous tourist coaches flanking our race track!)
A quick toilet stop (squat of course, byo tissues) and we were off!
The walk started out as you’d expect… pleasant, calm, shaded…plenty of lush, green trees…
Naturally the further we went, those paved steps got steeper and steeper and steeper, with every turn – just when you thought the top had to be in sight, another trek up calf-busting stairs. (Really wishing I’d stretched as opposed to a three-legged race!)
The small person did remarkably well, motivated onwards by mum’s rash promise of an ice-cream…little did I know, from about the half way point, there would be stalls with all sorts of ice blocks, ice-creams and much needed cold drinks (including beer) and eggs! (Thank you, Thank you!)
After each set of stairs, there was usually a platform of some description to rest, where you might find an important statue, a carving, a monument…relating to the significant history of the mountain.
Some people were selling pictures…others palm reading….and then this……caught me by surprise.
Yep, that right there’s a target range. Hire your bow and arrow and shoot. At what? Oh, that’s just the Prime Minister of Japan.
(Nothing PC about that really.) (Again, a story for another day!)
Quick look at the view amongst the bow and arrow firing and onwards and upwards we went…
Admittedly, it was becoming a bit of a tough slog by now….small person being piggy backed by daddy…in between the much needed pit stops!
I really take my hat off to this lady…..I love my heels, but this is taking glamour to a whole new level! (Calls for a hash tag, #Glamourhiking)
Finally we reach the top! Qualifying as the third team up! (Did I mention it was a race?!)
More cool drinks and ice blocks….. and this spectacular view!
A twenty minute pit stop to catch our breath, before making our way partly back down the mountain for lunch at this amazing spot – a farmer’s house known in English as “Bushy Beard!” (Mind the chickens on the way out!)
From here, it was (thankfully) a bus ride down the mountain to the Huaqing Hot Springs.
Now, I’ve only really ever been to the hot springs in Rotorua, New Zealand, as a kid on our annual Christmas holiday – mostly they were mud pools and it didn’t involve immersion!
Naturally, I was curious about what to expect. These hot springs are quite new to Xi’an so the hotel exuded a modern, serene spa-type feeling. We were ushered into changing rooms and the fun began.
No privacy here, ladies and gents…changing into swimmers with the rest of the ‘team’ and the changing room attendant looking on, impatiently!
Ahem. I’m no prude, but the nakedness presenting itself in all manners around me, had me and small person desperately trying to fix our gazes firmly on the floor! (Hence, there are no photos!)
Once in said swimmers, special shoes were given and mine whisked away. Realising, I would be the only westerner in a ‘bikini’ while others were wearing more appropriate bike-pant-type attire; in a futile attempt at modesty I attempted to put my shorts and t-shirt on (at least to walk out to the pools) but was sternly told to get them off!! They were to be locked in my locker! Pronto!
Then, escorted to a shower (with several onlookers) we had to quickly wash ourselves down, before being plunged into the um, springs!
The hotelier had an equally harrowing experience with the changing room attendant IN the shower with him (whilst naked) handing the shower gel. (Ahem.)
Phew! We make it into the hot springs (I’ve managed to secure a towel around me) and we are met with a series of undercover square pools each with supposedly different health benefits. One was enticingly blood red, one was filled with giant cucumber slices, one was ridiculously freezing (although quite refreshing given by now it was 34 degrees and all the other pools were set at 38 plus!)
Entering any of these pools, discreetly, nigh impossible — everyone keen to check out the “foreigners” in their weird bikini/surfer shorts, who clearly thought they were off for a day at the beach!
A man who appeared to be specifically on hand to straighten shoes, hovered about while we hung our towels up and slipped our rubber shoes off.
Ava was given a floating ring and from there on in was happy as a pig in mud (cucumber).
Meantime, the hotelier and I tried to stifle our giggles at the ‘unusual’ situation.
We were given an hour and a half to absorb the tranquility. Sun lounges were dotted around, so you could relax (or sleep as we discovered most were). We later discovered some outdoor hot pools, much more to our Aussie sun-loving taste.
After we had successfully turned ourselves into shrivelled prunes and inhaled the serenity (and dehydrated ourselves in the extreme heat) there was more relaxing to come!
We were chaperoned upstairs into the ‘massage/movie’ room where 18 plush brown velvet chairs awaited us ….as we’ve now come to expect, many were fast asleep….and on the TV, a national geographic type program about rodents, played loudly.
Down the hall some of the team had opted to play ‘mahjong’ – China’s famous board game.
Not the hotelier and I – we’d put our hand up for a massage, naively thinking we’d be taken into a private room….but alas this ‘full’ body massage was to be done right here amongst the masses….
I won’t lie, it was quite good, especially after a thousand metre hike (apart from the part where my eyeballs and inside of my ears were massaged?!) And if I could just switch off the snoring sounds opposite me, the noisy Chinese game show now blasting out from the TV and the sheer horror that my bottom was being shaken in front of, God only knows who)!
Successfully pruned, prodded pummelled and fuelled with a glass of warm Fanta, our next stop, dinner!
This was a very authentic Chinese restaurant, with pretty red lanterns swinging in the breeze.
We were ushered into two separate dining rooms which wore the hallmarks of the ancient chinese style homes in the north of China, including a giant, wooden bed. (Apparently due to the extreme cold and ‘paper’ windows, these beds used to have fires underneath to keep them warm!) Note: Now successfully used for children’s play area.
This was a distinctly northern style feast (when I say northern, I’m talking close to Russia!) although it included the ubiquitous pig’s ear, not to mention an entire chicken, including it’s head in this enormous bowl of soup (which was actually pretty tasty) and my favorite Xi’an style burger ‘Man Tou’….very doughy bread with pork! Dessert involved a very sticky rice (which by the way, the Chinese used to use as a substitute for concrete in ancient times)! Who knew!
The elusive bottle was perched on the table, we eyed suspiciously as Baijiu – but it turned out to be sweet rice wine, served in thimble sized glasses, followed by a glass or two of local beer.
All tuckered out….what better way to finish off the day than with a spot of skipping!!
Team building day – a success!
Definitely ‘out of the ordinary’ but a bucket-list load of fun!
This is China!
Visiting Xi’an…..and want to recreate this fun experience for yourself!
Get cultural in China!
Mt Li Shan or Shan Li, Lintong District, Xi’an
Lunch: “Mao Hu Zi” (bushy Beard)
Huaqing Aegean International Hot Spring Resort & Spa
Dinner:“Lishan Shi San Hua”
Proud to share this post on Seychelle Mama’s monthly #MyExpatFamily series