When your phone rings at 3:30am, it is very rarely for something good, and I will admit that I slumped out of bed with great reluctance. I can still remember my father saying something along the lines of, “the soldiers got up just as early and risked their lives, you’ve got it easy.” so without a decent excuse to stay in bed, I rolled onto the floor and slithered my way towards readiness.
After trudging semi-conscious down to the hotel lobby, I was greeted by the sight of fifteen or so yawning and mumbling, school boys. From there it was onto the bus and down to the New Zealand embassy to commemorate New Zealand’s soldiers in the ANZAC day ceremony.
When we arrived, sometime around 4:20am, we discovered that the embassy was actually the old French embassy. It was being used by MFAT while the New Zealand embassy was being fixed up. Here in the cold morning air, the staff struck up conversations with the various people milling around, while the boys made like penguins and huddled in a tight circle for warmth. After an hour of waiting in the cold morning air, the ceremony began with all the pomp and ceremony expected at an ANZAC service.
One of the highlights of the service was seeing the vast array of foreign military officers in attendance. Officers from Turkey, China, Russia, Australia, Fiji, Canada and Korea were all there in full brass to lay a wreath at the ceremony. On behalf of St Thomas of Canterbury College and Christchurch Girls’ High School, Fraser Buckley and Eva Watson also placed a wreath.
At the conclusion of the service, the students were invited to a gunfire breakfast. Unfortunately, for the Girls’ High group, Ms Yan decided that everyone was in need of warming up and quickly left on the bus. For the STCC boys that remained, a full English breakfast of sausages, toast, scrambled eggs and bacon awaited. The teachers were even better off and received a tote of rum in their early morning coffee.
During the breakfast, the group yarned with the ex-pat community and the students posed for photographs alongside the military personal from other countries. Undoubtedly, the highlight for the boys was meeting the Russian officer who looked like he had just stepped out of a Cold War film. No one doubted that he could have killed half of those in attendance with just his pinkie.
After the breakfast, it was hotel time and a chance to catch up on some much needed sleep. In that time, some boys slept, while other completed their journal entries, then suddenly, it was time for lunch and a visit to the Silk Street shopping centre.
The Silk Street centre is a famous knock-off mall where one can bargain for just about anything and everything. The students were encouraged to use as much Chinese as possible as this always results in a better discount, and were then unleashed on the all too practiced shop owners. If you want fake Louis Vuitton, this is the place: Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss, NBA singlets, silk scarves and ties, Boss Hifi, and Levis were all in abundance. Many boys got ripped off, some boys made a killing, and some boys got banned from various shops altogether. All in all, it was a great experience with many students coming away with both trash and treasure. I hope that enough of the boys remembered to get gifts for their families, because exiting the store with only 6 yuan left for the rest of the trip cannot be a good thing…
Once out of the shop, it was off to see an acrobatics performance at the local theatre. Now we thought we had seen acrobatics at Malong, but they were nothing compared to what we witnessed in Beijing. Incredible feats of balance, coordination, flexibility, strength, and teamwork were the order of the day. Whether on foot, bicycles, or motorbikes, the displays of sheer lunacy astounded all of the boys who sat through the show in rapt attentiveness. The performances were of the absolute highest order and were easily on par with anything that Cirque de Soleil perform.
Leaving the theatre, the boys then rolled all their enthusiasm into a series of pun-offs that would leave even the best ‘dad-joke’ dead in the water. This was to become the theme of the night as after dinner, a short walk found the team at the Donghuamen Night Market off Wangfujing Street.
The Donghuamen Markets are an institution in Beijing and act as a magnet to both Chinese and Western tourists. Upon entering the markets, one is accousted by the sheer magnitude of the visiting consumers/sightseers, the smells (not often good), and the vast array of food on offer.
One of the first foods to capture the attention of the STCC boys was the scorpion on a stick delicacy. These ferocious little blighters sit impaled on a skewer, twiddling their little legs and waiting to be deep fried. Amazingly, all the boys tried the morsels and despite the odd crunchy shell caught between the teeth, no one vomited. On the contrary, once over the initial revulsion, many actually admitted to liking the taste.
From the scorpions and into the market proper, vendors and food merchants alike screamed out for attention, often battering good-naturedly with the boys. Somewhere in between the stuffed squid and the fried giant centipedes, a group of boys managed to appear in the traditional dou li hat. For those unfamiliar with them, think Raiden from Mortal Combat, or for those even older, think James Pax’s Lightning from Big Trouble in Little China. Needless to say, a bunch of tall Kiwi youth, in traditional bamboo coolie hats, caused a lot of merriment amongst the vendors, Chinese and tourists alike, with many photo opportunities throughout the night.
At the end of the night, after the longest day yet, the students trudged back home through the dazzling heart of Beijing. Songs, jokes and even more photo opportunities continued to overshadow the extreme tiredness of the boys, and by the time the group got back to the hotel, the teachers were so tired that they were literally dead on their feet.
Tomorrow would bring the promise of the longest walking day with a trip to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. In the meantime, death by mattress was the only foreseeable option for all those but the most insanely energetic.