U.S.-China Institute at Bryant University

China Experience Blog: Summer Internship 2011

Jason Fortin

July 1-3


To mark the end of the spring semester and celebrate the success of the Center’s staff and interns, all employees went on a “company” retreat to Shidu, "the Guilin of the North." Shidu scenic spot is a two-and-half to three hour drive from inner Beijing, yet it is still in Beijing. Confusing right? How could a city be three hours wide? That’s almost as long as it takes to drive from Cape Cod to NYC. Well Beijing is huge and is not just a “city.” It is technically classified as a metropolis, which ironically has no clear definition or classification. Beijing is the size of small provinces in China and has equal status of other provinces. It is accompanied by Tianjin, Shanghai and Chongqing as the four direct-controlled municipalities in the PRC. A Tsinghua University student explained to me that large cities, such as Beijing, try to expand their territorial control in order to secure more government funding—hence the 3 hour long drive to stay in the capital city.

We left inner Beijing around 9am and pulled into our compound in Shidu at noon. We had about a half an hour to settle into our “hotel,” which was really a collection of rooms in a larger house. The house had stairs going up to the roof which provided breathtaking views of the surrounding hills and valleys. After relaxing, chatting and lots of pictures we walked to a restaurant adjacent to our compound. Our meal was pretty good, but the conversation was better. We discovered that we were going drifting in the afternoon! Drifting is essentially a toned down version of whitewater rafting merged with war canoes. Two people board a small inflated water craft and drift down the river. We all purchased water guns and bowls to sling buckets of water at each other as we drifted down the four kilometer section of the river.

Two great memories come to mind from this trip down the river. The first was a water battle I had with my boss, the director of the center. My raft managed to get close enough to his where I could snatch two of his weapons—bowls used to throw water, particularly effective at short range. As we attempted to push away from his boat, he stood up in his boat and jumped arms outstretched towards my own. He landed just short and valiantly attempted to flip our boat. He wrangled the weapons from our boat and in due fashion I jumped into the water—landed on his back—in efforts to recover our lost equipment. After the battle had ended I stood with all of his paddles and he possessed all our weapons. We concluded our water fight (which had drawn multiple spectators) by exchanging paddles and weapons until we had our original gear.

The second memory is of another “water fight.” Two girls from Sichuan Province, who we did not know, made the foolish mistake of attacking everyone in our group. We all teamed up against these two ladies and drenched them in water until they threw up their hands and bowed their heads in defeat. It was quite the site.

After drifting we returned back to our compound, showered and got ready for dinner. Dinner that evening was enjoyed on an island in the middle of the river. We had a Chinese BBQ, complete with lots of skewers, some beer (pijiu 啤酒), and plates of vegetables. A fireworks show took place about a mile away and we sent a few Kongming lanterns (孔明灯) to light up the sky. According to popular history, Kongming lanterns were the first hot air balloons. Said to be invented by Chinese sage and military strategist Zhuge Liang, they were first used as a military signaling device—but these claims have been largely disputed. They are now incorporated into Chinese festivals and are quite popular with children.

The next morning we packed up our compound, loaded the bus and travelled to a nearby mountain for some hiking. I have to admit, I have not exercised much here, so this trip provided a great opportunity to exercise the lungs—in clean air mind you. At the top of the mountain, certificates were handed out to the spring interns as a sign of gratitude for their contributions. Then we dismounted the gorgeous hillside, piled into our bus and undertook the three hour drive back to Beijing. Overall, I would consider the retreat an incredible success and it felt great to get out of the city. Once you get out of the city, there is an abundance of beautiful landscape to explore. So if you ever make a trip to Beijing, make sure to get outside its limiting, traffic jammed and smog dominated rings. You will not regret it.

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