Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Going with the flow

As many of you know, I am a planner. Generally speaking I like to map things out - even more so when we travel; while I don’t have to know what we’re going to be doing every minute of the day, I’m pretty organized when it comes to flights, hotels, sights and the like. So if there’s one thing that being in China has taught me, it’s to go with the flow. I’ve become really laid back about my classes, my lectures and now traveling. And what I’ve learned over this semester is that sometimes going with the flow really pays off, as it did this weekend.

It all started when the International Exchange office here on campus invited us to go on a weekend trip on the 5th-6th to Tengtou, a Chinese eco-village. While it might not have been a place we would have chosen ourselves or a time frame we would have picked (as Berkley’s birthday was the 6th), we decided to throw caution to the wind and say yes (after a bribe of a promised day off school visit to an amusement park the day after Berkley’s birthday – more on that in my next post).  We weren’t really sure what we were getting into; important details like where we were going, who was going, etc. were all a mystery to us.

Right away, things got all China on us. For about two weeks, we heard nothing about the trip, until I received a flurry of texts about the trip (how many hotel rooms did we need? What were our passport numbers?), all of which needed immediate responses. Finally, on the Wednesday before we were supposed to leave, I got an email saying we should go to a certain spot at 9:30 am on Friday. Uh – Friday? We’re supposed to be leaving on Saturday, but okay. Now, we could have freaked out and said no – we’re not taking the kids out of school for another day, but we didn’t. So we boarded the bus with no idea of where we were going or what we were doing, but up for an adventure. And in the end, it was a really fun adventure.

First, we were so happy when we arrived at the appointed time to see that there were other families on the trip. And best of all - there were two girls about the same age as the boys who soon became fast friends with Quin and Berkley. Talia and Nina reminded me a lot of Catherine and Claire from Hong Kong – two sweet girls who could hang with the boys. We soon learned that the Bournes are from Marblehead, MA and spend the entire summer there; we’ve already made plans to get together again in Shanghai soon and in Dartmouth this summer. They’re really a great family, and we enjoyed spending the weekend with them.

The itinerary was much better than expected too. We ended up spending both nights in Ningbo which a complete surprise to us and a good one at that; I've since learned from the linked Wiki page that Ningbo is one of the oldest cities in China. The hotel was pretty spectacular (we were expecting far more modest digs aimed at budget Chinese tourists), and we had two large rooms with massive bathrooms. We spent Friday afternoon/evening in the city visiting the local sights. We saw an old compound; we were so go with the flow I had to look at the Ningbo Wikipedia entry to learn its name (the Tianyi Museum, built in the 1500s and said to be the oldest surviving library in China).

On Saturday, we got to escape from the city. We visited a monastery (actually fairly new - less than 10 years old, but stunning nonetheless) with a spectacular 56m+ Buddha; our guide claimed it was made entirely of bronze, but I still really can’t believe that’s true.

We visited a beautiful waterfall and then finally hit Tengtou – where we thought we would be spending the entire trip.

It wasn’t quite what we expected (we were thinking some remote village out in the countryside), but it was still really fun. We were able to rent tandem bikes and explore the gorgeous scenery with the Bournes. We came across a small Buddhist monastery and listened to the monks chanting. Some strawberry picking (in an eco-village – probably the cleanest fruit we’ve had the entire time we’ve been in China) capped off a lovely day.

When we returned on Sunday, even the boys said the weekend was really great.  In the end then, I’ve learned that while there is a lot to be said for making plans, there are times and places where just letting go and seeing where life takes you can be just as enjoyable. We’re really grateful we did this weekend.

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