Trip planning is serious business. When we’ve chosen our destination, I sit down with a travel guide and my internet resources, and try to find the most interesting activities and hotels. But no matter how much I plan, there are always moments of serendipity. Moments that couldn’t possibly be scripted, but that happen because we were in the right place at the right time, and were open to the possibility of something different. This month, I’ll be writing about some of those wonderful, unplanned moments we’ve experienced.
One of my favourites occurred when we visited our friends, the Jay family, in China. Colleen had been transferred to Guangzhou, and it seemed the perfect time for us to see the country. By the time we visited, they’d been there a year and a half and knew the city well. Although it isn’t a major tourist destination, it’s a significant commercial city and has many interesting places to visit. And while we were there, Garth took us all over, from the busy markets to the Western Han Nanyue King's Tomb.
One afternoon, he guided us through a maze of alleys that was way, way off the beaten path. I remember walking down a narrow passage filled with tiny shops and balconies where clothes hung out drying. We bought sugar cane to try, and a couple of young vendors were thrilled to have their photos taken so they could view them on our digital camera.
We neared the end of the alley and reached an open square. A group of older women was playing a game of what we called “kick birdie”. Just like you might imagine, this sport involves using knees, ankles and feet to keep a birdie aloft. It’s a popular local pastime and is often played in groups. Garth and the Jay girls had taught us how to play the day we arrived in Guangzhou and we’d already enjoyed a couple of spirited matches.
We stood beside the game and cheered as these talented women deftly kept the birdie from dropping to the ground. Then Garth, with a smile and a few arm motions, let them know that he’d love to join in. They smiled back and opened a place in the circle for him. One by one, the rest of us joined in, lack of language skills no barrier to a shared activity. The high point of the game was the women’s laughter as Garth used his head to bump the birdie, soccer-style.
This moment represented the true China to me. Everywhere we went, the Chinese were incredibly proud of their country and thrilled to show it to the rest of the world. And nowhere was this more true than in a small square in a tiny neighbourhood of Guangzhou, where we joined in a game of kick-birdie.