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The China Rowing Trip: Part 4

Didn't start from the beginning? Go back here to Part One.

When we woke up it was Departure Time from our lovely mountain retreat. A last round of espresso was made with both Bialetti pots working overtime. A half hour was found for group photos with a head honcho who materialized out of nowhere... and then onto the bus to Hangzhou.

The kids were stuck to the windows as soon as the city’s outskirts started to appear, amazed at the gigantic apartment complexes, enormous Qiantang River, glimpses of minuscule dwellings and whole fish and geese hanging to dry on the laundry lines.

As we pulled into the city, the bus brought us to a lakeside park where dozens of Chinese families were setting up picnics and enjoying the unusually sunny and warm weather. Their main preoccupation seemed to be avoiding the sun though and they must have thought we were odd to be stripping off our extra clothing.

We were greeted by one of the coaches who had come to Italy 11 years before, who couldn’t possibly express more happiness to have us with her. The club we were now visiting was a new upstart, an offshoot of a private middle school that had asked her, now known to all as Mama Zhao, to add rowing to their offering, believing, correctly, that rowing builds all kind of happy things in kids: teamwork & perseverance above all. I expected a bit of anglophile reverence for rowing: this was after all an exclusive private school. After spending more time together though I really can’t say that I saw that at all, and in its place just a true love of our magnificent sport.

After a lengthy photo session under the hot sun with every combination of VIPs, locals, guests, and coaches, we were accompanied to a quiet spot under beautiful frondy trees where the rowing dock awaited us. As all of our rowers took turns going out in brand-new Liangjin fours, quads, and doubles with the local kids, a very delectable buffet was being set out, brought tray by tray from the clubhouse by rowers and parents…just like at home. But unlike a homestyle Italian lunch spread, this was filled with little custards in jars, cupcakes in abundance, vaguely Chinese dishes that approached on tiptoe the Italian palate, and to finish, a spaghetti carbonara that was as authentic and delicious as any Italian mamma could have produced.

After stuffing ourselves beyond measure, the order of the day was relaxing under the trees and dreaming about future exchanges. The school principal came and lounged with us, the school director urged more cupcakes on the boys. The schoolkids brought gifts to our kids and we were unable to return the favor: the chocolates we had brought were susceptible to melting in the warm temperatures and were left on the air-conditioned bus.

Just as afternoon naps were risking overtaking us, a proposal was launched to get the masters out on an 8+. Enzo would stroke, of course, and Marcello offered to cox. Everyone else was offered use of the rental kayaks and suddenly there was energy back in the air as rowers learned to navigate the complicated task of moving forwards instead of backwards. Some of the teens “accidentally” flipped and it was all I could do to keep my 8-year-olds from having similar “accidents” in the iffy lake water.

Even more sunburnt than the day before, we got back on our bus and waded through the Hangzhou traffic, over to our hotel that was to be our only night in downtown Hangzhou (and not in a dorm). Our delight at finally arriving at what proved to be very cushy digs was only marred by the realization that my family had to be back on the road within 10 minutes to meet friends for dinner. Overtaken at that point by too much sun, food, emotion, and driving, I felt I was about to collapse. Enzo knowing how strong I am... and how dramatically I crash... made an executive decision: somehow we would stay in this beautiful hotel for the rest our trip.

The next day was a mystery to me: all I knew was that at 2pm we had to be at the Hangzhou Foreign Affairs Office to bring the official greetings of our club, our town, our region, and the city of Pisa. I figured someone would fill in the morning details! I, for one, was going to have a great night's sleep in this superb bed...

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