Being 外国人 (A foreigner) has a long list of perks. One of these perks was a field trip organised by CICE (my school in CCNU) for about 20 foreign students to a nearby city – 咸宁 (Xianning), the City of Osmanthus – 80km south of Wuhan.
Our briefing was hot springs over the weekend, meet at 2:45pm.
At the end of the bus trip on friday evening, we received our itinerary (entirely in Chinese), so between us we managed to piece together that after we arrived we would have dinner and then visit the hot springs for around 2h before the bed. The rest of the itinerary could wait, we had arrived and it was time to check into hotel.
Hang on, did he mean hostel? No? Awesome.
Having been in dorms for the last 3 weeks, being dropped off at the 5-star Taiyi International Hotspring Resort is amazing. Soft beds and high thread-count sheets! Showers that rain down torrents of water! Glass walls in the bathroom so you can see in while someone’s inside!
Well, there was a curtain for privacy so you weren’t forced to stare at your roommate while he’s on the throne or in the shower. But considering that the rooms on this floor were all configured with two single beds, it was a whole new dimension of odd.
After dropping our bags we were hustled into what we figured was the dining room.
5 star or not, it did seem rather grand. But that would be because tonight we were dining in the ballroom.
We actually landed in the middle of the ‘4th International Cultural Tourism Festival of Hot Spring’. Specifically the (Osmanthus-themed) welcome banquet.
With all of us in shorts, T-shirts and thongs or walking shoes. Sigh.
As far as I could tell, of the 15 or so tables, the only tables with international guests were the two we inhabited.
After a truly amazing dinner of a dozen different courses – each artistically prepared and delicious – we bid farewell to the other guests and got ready for some serious hot spring relaxation time.
The springs are fed into different pools within the complex, with each pool a different ‘flavour’. The pools all vary from tiny little spa-bath style human hotpots to larger wading pools at a more tolerable temperature, but there’s more than a dozen different pools and each one is new and exciting.
The different flavours each (apparently) have their own distinct effect on your body, but more importantly they all smell different and amazing. Favourites would have to be either the grape/rice wine scented Soup of Drinking Immortal, or the Soup of Osmanthus.
Just before 10, thoroughly pruned up we ventured into the steam room, sauna, and finished with an icy shower.
First thing the the next morning is a rush-through breakfast (noodles, tea eggs and noodle soup) before we are loaded on a bus for some sort of exhibition.
We found ourselves at a catwalk/beauty pageant. Over the next 2h, 20 girls from around the world united by their dire need of a bagel strutted, answered questions about Xianning and performed (or – in one case – truly butchered) some musical numbers. The few guys in our tour group enjoyed ourselves. The other 3/4 looked tragically bored.
Next stop was the scenic side of Xianning, and a visit to Qiánshān, a mountain overlooking the city with a cultural centre at the top. Despite the gloom, the views were amazing. Have a look at my flickr to fully appreciate it.
After our short Osmanthus and bamboo interlude, we wolfed down dinner and headed to another mysterious event. We had heard there would be some Chinese celebrities, but no idea what to expect.
As we stepped through the gates of the Xianning Sports Centre, we didn’t expect to be mingling with a crowd of 20 000 below a backdrop that humbled many Australian live shows.
After a little explanation from our host, It turns out that this was the opening ceremony to the cultural festival (despite it being in the middle) that runs over the weekend. The festival is put on each year by the Chinese government to encourage tourism to the city, from both around the country and (more particularly) the world. Given that the group of us seemed to be the only foreigners we saw the whole weekend, I’m not sure how well it’s working, but that’s another argument.
Anyway, back to the concert. After lights dimmed the official business began with 45 minutes of speeches given by government officials that gave the feeling of a board meeting.
But we figured the giant LED backdrop wasn’t just for the benefit of the speeches, so we hung on and were truly rewarded.
While I knew none of either the performers nor the music, the calibre was high and it was a great atmosphere being in a pseudo-mosh with the locals bellowing out the songs and waving complimentary light sabres. Again, check flickr.
The headlining acts were Liú Huān, Yáng Lán and Rèn Xián Qí if that means anything to anyone.
So that just about wrapped up our tour. By the time we got back to the hotel we all crashed out, and right after breakfast on Sunday we were on the bus home, where most of us caught up on some lost sleep.