NZCA China Wintercamp 2014

23rd November to 17 December 2014
By Natasha Wong

With most of my older cousins having already been on the NZCA Wintercamp, and with such high reviews; I thought it was my turn to experience the camp for myself. While I knew I was going to have the time of my life I was also nervous as I had never met most of the people I would be spending an entire 4 weeks with. However all 14 wintercampers got along really well and I have made lifelong friends.

Looking back on the trip; there are many highlights as well as a few lowlights and recommendations to further improve the camp for future participants.

Guangzhou 
Arriving in Guangzhou came with heat I hadn’t expected. It was 23 degrees despite being winter! The Guangdong Overseas Vocational School was our base in Guangzhou and where we stayed most nights except for nights stayed in villages that were far away. There were many shops and markets within walking distance, although the indoor fresh produce market had an unbearable stench so we only lasted 10 seconds before running back out. The main activity planned for the first few days at the school were Kung Fu lessons. We learnt basic stances and sequences as well as how to count and greet in Mandarin. We managed to swap some of our Kung Fu lessons for lessons in Lion Dancing and Tai Chi. I thought this was a good idea as we got a taste of a variety of activities. All were fun but I enjoyed lion dancing the most because we got to practice using the lion heads. It was cool to see our coaches performing at the school’s 35th anniversary celebrations and I now appreciate just how much hard work is put in; they always make it look so easy!

While interaction with the local students was limited (I had expected to do more activities together), it was nice to meet some of the local English-speaking students. Their English was excellent considering most of them had only been learning for 1 or 2 years. I was lucky enough to have my birthday at the school so got the Happy Birthday song sung to me by the class in both English and Chinese.

Going back to my ancestors’ villages in Xintang was definitely the greatest highlight of the Wintercamp. It was an eye-opener to see where my grandparents lived before coming to New Zealand; to see the house which I could have been living had my ancestors not immigrated. My Yeh-Yeh’s house in the Bark Shek village had been renumbered so it took a while to find. It was still lived in by distant relatives and I saw pictures of my family on their living room wall. Although no one currently lives in my Gong-Gong’s house in the Poon Wooh village; I met a relative who was in a photo taken with me when I was last in China 17 years ago. He knew quite a lot about my family from letters my grandma had sent and from other relatives who had recently visited. Old homes had concrete floors and wooden mattresses which contrasts to the plushy carpet and soft beds we’re used to. Some villages were nicer than others and it was good to see other people’s villages as well as my own. 
Our final day in Guangzhou was spent at the Chimelong Safari Park where we got to see baby triplet pandas and go on a safari tour.

Xian 
Once the root seeking part of the trip had ended, we said farewell to 5 participants as well as Janet and flew up to Xian. It was upsetting that Janet’s health caused her to leave prematurely but we had a good time nevertheless. As soon as we arrived in Xian, we went straight to a museum and then later had a dumpling dinner where dumplings came in shapes of different animals and flowers. During our short stay in Xian we also visited the Terracotta warriors and a factory to see how they are made. We also went to the City wall however there was not enough time to bike around the wall. The Muslim Quarters were good and had lots of market-style shops and eateries. However most streets look similar so I would suggest remembering the way you walk to avoid getting lost like a few of us did. 
 
The first high-speed train we experienced was from Xian to Beijing. The train got up to 310km/hr and got us to our destination in approximately 4 hours.

Beijing 
Being the northernmost city visited, Beijing definitely brought out the puffer jackets and gloves, however the smog and pollution ratings were surprisingly good during our stay and we experienced the bluest skies seen on the trip. I liked going to the pearl markets to get cheap knock-off items and practice the bargaining skills my granddad had tried to teach me prior to leaving for China. Hours were spent in the stationery department alone before realizing the time and rushing through the electronics, bags, scarves and shoe sections. Although our first meal in the capital was in a deserted hotel restaurant where salad and French Fries were part of the menu; Beijing also presented us with a memorable meal in a village house cooked by a local resident as well as a delicious Peking duck dinner. We negotiated with our guide, Brian, to get us more authentic dishes as opposed to sweet and sour pork and fried rice at every meal. He ordered us a few nice dishes, the best one being prawn with lychees. Experiencing local cuisine was one of the things I had most been looking forward to on the trip.

Shanghai 
Even though she was not with us, Janet remained in contact and helped us move our train from Beijing to Shanghai earlier in the day so we could have more time at the Shanghai Tailors market as many people wanted clothes made. There were hundreds of tailoring stalls to choose from, all which looked nearly identical, so it was lucky I didn’t need anything made because I would have no idea which stall to choose. There were a few other stalls selling bags, sunglasses etc. so I didn’t get bored waiting for others although we only got around 1 hour at Nanjing Road because we had to rush back to the Tailors for refitting. The food was exceptional in Shanghai and our guide Alex often took us to local restaurants which were reasonably busy (compared to other cities where we were always the only diners). I liked trying frogs’ legs and a sweet glutinous rice ball soup. The architecture in Shanghai was very intriguing so I enjoyed the river cruise along the Bund, going up the Pearl Tower, and visiting the water village. Going to the Old Town Bazaar to try Shanghai’s famous crab dumplings was also a highlight.

Hong Kong 
The 2 nights in Hong Kong were an add-on to the trip and not part of the tour. Our hotel was very close to the night markets as well as to the metro so it was easy to get around. It was nice to be able to do what we wanted, when we wanted, and to choose our own food. Near the Temple Street night markets I found a cute little eatery where I ordered some of the nicest bao I’ve had, followed by a must-try taro pie from McDonald’s. Most of us visited Ocean Park and Macau during our stay in Hong Kong but because there was only 1 full day there, our time in Macau was very rushed and Merryn and I nearly didn’t make it back in time to catch the bus to the airport. Looking back I would have opted for extra days in Hong Kong (and other cities) although the trip was a good taster and I would love to go back on my own one day.

Other points 
To any future participants; I would recommend sleeping on the long-haul flights as we started Kung Fu on the first day we arrived and each day in China was busy with minimal time to sleep. I would also suggest wearing lots of layers in the Northern cities because it is cold outside but many things were indoors where you just wanted to strip off.

Overall though I had the time of my life and would highly recommend this trip to all my Chinese friends and family. I feel like I know a lot more about where my ancestors come from and have also made lifelong friends from around New Zealand. Many thanks to Janet, Richard, Virginia, NZCA, the school in Guangdong, our local guides Yani, Wei, Brian and Alex, and everyone else who helped make this trip one I will never forget.
Natasha with a relative at her ancestral village near Guangzhou

Xian

Beijing

Shanghai

Hong Kong