“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”
My first comment when Gary told me we were invited to go to Nanjing, China to teach and judge an AWI competition was “only if I can bring Kate.” I really don’t like travelling without her but of course China has a quarantine which made bringing her impossible. Immediately, I was uncomfortable with the idea, especially coupled with the amount of time necessary to travel back and forth. The competition was scheduled for my 31st birthday so I overcame my waffling, put on my big girl panties and decided to make the trip. I comforted myself with repeating “once in a lifetime trip” every day.
So arrangements were made for the dogs with a sitter I didn’t know, travel visas and forms and not nearly enough research conducted or Chinese learned… our travel booking made me a little nauseous when I read “this flight arrives 2 days and 9 hours after it departs.” What? Due to language barriers and games of telephone we had very little agenda which also made me uncomfortable. I never do this kind of stuff when I travel. Once in a lifetime right?
We a met long time disc dog friend, Mike, who has been in the sport for longer than I’ve been alive, and his Chinese wife Kelly, at the Orlando airport. (*Note all Chinese people mentioned have “English” names they choose, which I think is kind of fun.) I will admit travelling to China with someone who speaks Chinese is so much easier and made things less stressful for me. 5 hours to LA, 6 hour layover and we finally boarded to Beijing around 3am home time, which is actually a good way to do trans-pacific flights as we were able to sleep a good majority of those 13 hours due to pure exhaustion. We arrived in Beijing on time and only had to wait a short time for our quick flight to Nanjing.
Oh and I also experienced my first Chinese “toilet” at the airport, no paper provided for basically a hole in the floor which has water but I’m not sure I would describe what it does when you push the button as “flush”.
No luggage for Gary and I, it apparently missed the flight from Beijing to Nanjing but I tried to be positive even though I hadn’t had a shower or brushed my teeth in like 3 days (it seemed). We met our translator Lydia and our two faithful drivers right on time. You can’t travel to China and rent a car, in fact, the driving test is all in Chinese and from what I understand, pretty complicated, which makes sense as Chinese driving is pure organized-chaos. I noticed that there were no houses, everyone lived in tall buildings, like New York City but more widespread, like as wide as the whole country it seemed. For as many finished skyscraper apartment buildings there were equally as many being built. It really put into perspective the population challenge that China is facing. Lydia and I became fast friends in the ride to the hotel quoting Big Bang Theory (which is blocked in China – go figure).
It was mid-day in Nanjing, 12 hour time difference from home, so lunch had been reserved at a local restaurant walking distance from the hotel. Thankfully, we were able to check in and I grabbed a quick shower with a disposable toothbrush which made putting my airplane clothes back on, bearable.
Mike had explained a little to us about typical Chinese dining, but even so I was on super observer mode, watching where the chopsticks went, watching how they ate, and what and when. My chopstick usage level was pretty poor at this point and I tried in vain to look like a pro. We met our host, Henry, and the third judge from Taiwan. We also met Henry’s marketing director, right hand girl, Lucia.
Lunch was… no words… for so delicious. The Chinese food in China is nothing like American Chinese food. So many flavors and interesting mixes of items. Bowls are brought out as ones are finished and everything is on a lazy susan in the middle of the table and everyone shares everything eating right out of the bowls, chopstick to mouth. Our new friends were very polite about helping us understand what was what and even explaining how to eat things. My favorite was a “vegetable” (later discovered to be a fungi) called “wood ear.”
We ate and ate, and I couldn’t fit any more in but more bowls were coming. After we were done, Mike and Kelly wanted to hit a store for supplies so we got our first taste of a Chinese market. Henry met us outside the market and did a little demo for us so we could meet his famous BC Lang Lang. This was awesome because within minutes a crowd had gathered around us. The best thing about what Henry is doing with his business and running these disc competitions is trying to change the perception of dogs in not only Nanjing but China as a whole. I think most everyone knows that dogs have traditionally been food in some Asian countries, including China, so it’s really important work that Henry is doing helping people understand their dogs and have better relationships, as well as helping them see what incredible things our dogs are capable of.
I can honestly say every dog I saw on the trip seemed to be a pet that was well taken care of. Maybe lacking some dog training skills, but hey we have that in America. 😉 One thing I noticed (with smug satisfaction) is that I probably only saw three leashes and at least 200 dogs.
Our original understanding had been for us to visit the competition field that afternoon but Lydia, (our translator) had plans and so Henry suggested we take the afternoon to rest and have time to ourselves. Gary and I agreed, since it was 5pm we should stay awake until at least 8pm to get ourselves acquainted to the time change but by about 5:05pm I was out. 😀 Our hotel was pretty fancy but they don’t have mattresses like they do in American hotels, this was sort of like a plywood board with sheets on a box spring. I was so exhausted that I hardly noticed.
The next day Lucia brought us Chinese McDonald’s breakfast at the hotel, which was so sweet of her. Kelly’s sister had arrived to visit and they wanted to take us for a traditional Chinese breakfast so we had a second breakfast which was a churro like thing and hot soy milk and eggs on the side. It was surprisingly good and we ended up eating it at McDonalds… which is hilariously ironic. Lucia met us there and a couple local disc doggers who had arrived for the competition. I was really impressed with the quality of English they could speak even though they would all tell me they couldn’t.
Lucia and I shared phone pictures and gestures and communicated as best we could, easily becoming fast friends. Henry came a little later and Gary, Lucia, Henry and I had a fun time trying to communicate, taking selfies, all while Lang Lang waited patiently outside.
I realized how much it’s like interacting with dogs, we all speak the same language when words are limited.
What we thought the afternoon was to be a training session for the dogs ended up being more of a judges training for the competitors who were interested. It was a really well organized chat, filmed and with formal questions in one of our hotel’s banquet rooms. I was surprised and pleased to learn that the Chinese competitors really wanted to know more about not only becoming better competitors but also better judges. As dog sports grow in China it will be important for this base of people to spread the word about the amazing things our dogs can do.
Finally, we took a trip to see the field which was set in town, with a huge network of fountains and kites everywhere. So many beautiful kites with silk and golden streams, to hawk-like shapes that made you really look twice. All of the trees at the park were embedded with ensnared, abandoned kites, which surprisingly gave the trees a festive appearance. Several tree manned kites flying with the breeze as if they were just an extension of the festive trees. A couple of brave competitors did demos for us and Gary and Mike gave feedback so everyone could understand what they would be looking for the next day. Then of course Gary had to show off his long distance throws and it was pretty cute watching everyone copying his steps.
That night we went to a music-theater type restaurant with several of the competitors, some of whom I had met at AWI finals last year and some whom were new to me. We had fun discussions again about the food, served in the same style on a rotating plate in the center and everything from agility to dog structure to choosing a puppy based on performance temperament. There was live music which was very interesting but I was really exhausted by the end.
Friday was competition day, and we got up early to head to the field, thanks again to our drivers, who I still didn’t know their names. Neither spoke a word of English, (or so it seemed, I later learned everyone knows a little English). The competition was absolutely incredible, from the set up of the stage, to the fantastic quality of competitors (who have at most been playing only a few years) to the smoothness of the transition between events. There was an hour break mid freestyle for Henry to do a media bit, which put disc dogs in the number 1 and 2 paper in Nanjing.
Also an article on Tencent which is a very popular internet news source. Henry’s staff worked so hard, I was so impressed with everything. I got everyone to sign a competition shirt for me, which will be a treasured collectible for us.
Friday was also my birthday, and when Lydia came over to Gary and dragged him off whispering I knew something was up. Henry called me to the center of the field, along with another competitor’s wife, whose birthday we shared, and they brought out this huge cake and sang to us and made us lick cake off our husband’s lips. Gary said Henry wanted him to smear it in my face but he wisely refused. 😉 It was so sweet of them to do the cake for us, such a memorable day. Also it had a coffee flavored icing which is pretty much the best choice ever.
I put together a video of the disc doggers:
The day lasted long, from judging to a feedback session for each of the competitors who were so incredibly receptive to the information from the judges. I haven’t seen American disc doggers being that receptive so it was really refreshing. There was lots of signing and photo taking and I found it amusing, but sweet, that everyone wanted photos with me too, even though I’m not a famous disc dogger.
Dinner that night at the same restaurant as the first day’s lunch and everyone attended. There was lots of toasting and lots of beer, lots of laughing.
Unsure of the following day’s plans I slept as late as I could, lounged in the hotel until close to noon.
Our driver, who I now knew his name was Lee something but still had only communicated “Xie Xi” (thank you) to, took us to Henry’s business Bridi Spa where he does boarding, grooming and a little training. He has built a really beautiful business model.
Then we all got back in the car and I wasn’t sure where we were going because Lydia wasn’t in our car, but we drove for a really long time and saw a lot of Nanjing and a lot more crazy Nanjing driving. Finally we found ourselves on a country road far from the skyscrapers and city life, and then, on a farm!
Not quite a farm yet but Henry gave us a tour of his facility where he is creating a home and lodging place for dogs and dog lovers, for training and boarding. All part of his vision to create a haven for Chinese dogs and dog lovers. The property was so gorgeous and as he explained his plans to us for each piece I was filled with love and humble appreciation. It made me feel like my own farm plans were so selfish compared to his. It made me want to come back to Nanjing to see this lovely dream turned to reality. Truly, my heart was full.
Henry wanted to do something different for us for dinner that night so we went to a hot pot restaurant (Hai Di Lao) that is apparently so popular they have one in California and it was really, really neat.
From kung fu noodles to kabuki mask dancing, the wait staff was really incredible, giving plastic bags for phones, hair ties, aprons. So impressive.
We finally got to know our drivers a little better as I started pestering to learn everyone’s Chinese names, which turned into sort of a joke as I couldn’t hear well over the din of the busy restaurant and Lucia – sounds like “You Long” became “You know” and Henry who is actually Wu Chi (roughly translates to 57 –ooh chi) became known as “57” and we learned Lydia’s original English name was Jane but there were two Janes in her English class so she switched. Jane is one of my favorite names so I started calling her that but her Chinese name sounded like New Year, so that became her nickname as well. We came to know Mr Swin as “No-Pa” which is a shortened version of the word Promise in Chinese and “Pa” because he is Promise’s dad. And I was dubbed Kate-ma. Pronounced Kah-tay-ma. We learned our drivers names and our driver, Mr Lee became henceforth known as Bruce Lee.
Since we were all having such a fun time, Henry suggested we go to a bar he knew called CD Bar which I find hilarious in the translation sound wise. It was labeled outside as a Latin music bar, but I heard no such music I would consider Latin. The music was good though and as we warmed up we had a good time interacting with some local drunk girls who told us how much they love Americans. Ha.
With only one day left in Nanjing Henry arranged for Bruce Lee, our other driver, and a new translator named Troy and Lucia to take us around to see some famous sightseeing spots. We visited Xuanwu Lake which is very famous
and Confucius Temple and Dr Sun Lan temple as well. We bought “shrilling chickens” and had so much fun with them that I’m sure everyone who saw us thought we were mental.
Lucia helped me pronounce all the names in Confucius temple and I felt like by this point I was kind of grasping some spoken Chinese, picking up enough words that I could communicate with Bruce Lee and learn about his wife and daughter and his dogs as well, he works for Henry and had trained dogs in the military.
I was exhausted by the time we got to the last temple and when I saw how many stairs there were I climbed reluctantly, we reached the last temple and I saw beyond there was still as many steps as the eye could see to another temple way up.
I’m glad I made that climb though I almost bailed, the view from the top was so incredible. Our sightseeing day was very special, so much laughing and learning and cultural exchange, and even though Henry didn’t join us,
I’m thankful to him for arranging it for us. We met for one last dinner at the familiar corner restaurant and one of Henry’s friends joined us as well. There was more signing and picture taking:
Dinner lasted late into the night with us playing a drinking/counting game. And I learned to count in Chinese!
It was so sad to leave dinner that evening. Even with a language barrier I learned so much from my Chinese friends about their culture; their hospitality was paramount and I only hope they will come visit us one day in America so I can return the favor. Bruce Lee, the saint he is, picked us up at 4am and took us to the airport only to discover it didn’t open until 530 so he waited patiently with us while the sun rose.
Practicing some English even. 🙂 We promised to learn some more Chinese and he promised to learn some more English. And I guess in a way we agreed to come back, I don’t know if it will be next year but I wouldn’t be surprised…
This is a video mostly from our sightseeing day: