Travels with John Smith
Chapter 49 year 8 (2018-2019)
Shenzhen, Krabi and Wuhan
-meeting Wayne Gretzky
-Typhoon in Shenzhen
-Holed up in the hotel
-Preparing for the unknown
-disaster passes us by
-fighting for space at the train station
-Bangkok Cabbage and Condoms
-Sacred Penis Cave
-Snorkelling in Italian and Spanish
-Eats on the beac and feet in the sand
-They want to cancel Halloween
-The Teahouse guitar boys
-Tony, The World Series and Hot Dogs
-Don’t block the VPN
Travels with John Smith
Chapter 49 year 8 (2018-2019)
Shenzhen, Krabi and Wuhan
He is sitting in the corner of the hotel lounge with a suit on. There are cameras and a microphone and people watching. He shakes a couple people’s hands and starts to walk towards us. John hands me the Team Canada shirt and a pen. He says, “I just rode the elevator with his manager and told him it was my wife’s shirt and he said ‘Sure it is, John Smith”.
I have never asked anyone for their autograph and feel uncomfortable with the assertiveness that should accompany asking for one. I hold the shirt up in front of me and surprisingly, he walks straight over to me. I hand him the pen and struggle taking off the cap, which results in it falling to the ground. Embarrassed, I lean down quickly to pick it up, stand up, hand him the pen and hold the shirt against my chest. He hesitates and I realize he’s not going to sign on my breast. I hold it out, resting my arms flat underneath it and he puts his signature on top of the number 99 on the back of it. I say thank you so much and he is gone.
There is a lot of excitement around us. We are surprised there are so many Chinese people who know who he is. I probably would not of known it was him, even though he is one of only 3 or 4 hockey players (of all time) whose name I recognize.
About 20 minutes ago, we walked into the cafe of the hotel to have breakfast with our friends, Jeanine and Kyle. They were already there, with an air of excitement and huge smiles on their faces. They told us they had just ridden down the elevator with Wayne Gretzky. They hadn’t recognized him right away but the Chinese woman who was also in the elevator did and they then got into a conversation with him. We thought he might still be in the hotel and after a quick search, saw him in the lounge being interviewed.
We are here in Shenzhen, China for a hockey game between Boston and Calgary (essentially Canada and the US) and I happen to have a Team Canada shirt with me, which I borrowed from John, with none other but Wayne Gretzky’s name and number on the back. What are the odds?!
Our train to go back to Wuhan is cancelled. There is a typhoon warning. All the transport in and out and around the city of Shenzhen has been cancelled as it is in the projected path of the typhoon.
At breakfast we search every possibility of getting home and we aren’t able to find anything today or tomorrow. We have no idea how long we might be here and what the conditions will be.
We finish our breakfast and stand just outside the main doors of the hotel, protected by an overhang. The wind is whipping the rain and trees around but it looks more like a storm than a typhoon at this point. We take a few pictures and it doesn’t really look as bad as it actually is in the pictures so we give up trying to document it.
The noise is like a boiling kettle, whistling but never stopping, such a high pitch I can hear it above the TV which is on high volume. Even though it is the wind coming through the vents outside the closed door to our hotel room, it is a hint of what is to come in a few hours. John is downstairs in the gym and I don’t like the idea of being far away from where he is, if the typhoon strikes us. Our room is on the 8th floor and I think about trying the stairs instead of the elevator as I don’t want to be stuck inside but in the end take my chances.
Downstairs, the wind is loud, the blinds are flapping against the many windows (I think about the advice we were given-to stay away from windows or mirrors), even though they are closed. I put my headphones in as I do my exercises so I don’t have to listen to this frightening sound. Looking out the window, I see trees being whipped around violently, plants knocked over and rain rushing out of the sky in every direction.
We are back in the room and there is a frantic knock on the door. I open it and the hotel maid rushes in, looking a little distraught. She says in Chinese that the Typhoon is coming and that there won’t be any electricity or water after 3:00pm. It is 2:50. We have already filled the bathtub to use for washing or the toilet, in anticipation of this possibility. I boiled water in the kettle for drinking and stored it in every available container in the fridge, charged up my iPad, phone and battery pack, in case we are stranded for a couple days.
She shows us pictures of destruction on her phone and we think we understand these are things that have happened in downtown Shenzhen. We feel relieved that we decided to stay in a hotel near the stadium, outside the centre of the city. The maid says the restaurant won’t be open later so I call downstairs to see if that’s true, as we have no food with us. They assure me everything will run in the hotel. We guess they have a generator or something.
It is 5:00 pm and we still have power and water and the phones still work. I try to watch TV but the signal comes in and out so we leave it on BBC so that when it does come back on, we get little flashes of news about what’s going on. We can see that the direction of the typhoon has changed slightly. It has caused some damage in Hong Kong (which is about a half hour away from here) and in downtown Shenzhen but it has only brushed the suburbs, where we are.
We go downstairs to see what’s happening in the lobby and the doors are closed now. The concierge says it’s too dangerous to go outside. There is a buffet but there isn’t a lot of variety. There aren’t many people in the restaurant when we arrive, but it fills up quickly. All these people have been hiding out in their rooms. Some were here for the hockey game and got stuck like us. Now that the worst is past, we can enjoy the fact that we might get another day off school since there are no trains or planes.
It’s morning. We leave the hotel with plenty of time because we heard the line ups in the station are horrendous. Jeanine, who is very responsible, was up at a 6am this morning looking for trains and got us on one, leaving late afternoon. In China, even if you have the booking, you have to go to the station to pick up the actual ticket. We arrive, and the place is packed with stranded souls. All information is written in Chinese so we choose a lineup to stand in, thinking it is where we need to be to get the ticket.
We have stood here for an hour and have finally arrived at the front. The lady behind the glass says we can’t pick up the tickets here, we can only get reimbursed for the tickets from yesterday’s cancelled train. We get our money back and go to the other end of the station to another room with long lines of people. Some of them are booking their tickets, not just picking them up, so the lines move at a painfully slow pace.
People use all kinds of ruses to but into the lineups. A woman gets her child to wander into the line and then stand in front of us, then she appears from nowhere, like she has always been there. Many people try to slide in front of us, as we are some of the rare foreigners in line and I guess they think we will not say anything. Tempers are frayed. A fight erupts beside us. A guy throws down his bag, glasses flying, he starts beating on a guy that cut into his line. It’s crazy. We finally get to the front, grab the tickets and run to the place where our train is leaving from with minutes to spare.
We are laying in the sunshine on the rooftop of our favourite hotel in Bangkok. We arrived at 4 am yesterday, had a couple hours sleep, went to the Weekend market, then got caught in a downpour looking for a restaurant we had heard about. I am not great at following google maps and after getting lost, we stopped to rest and hide from the rain, in front of a hotel. They assumed we were staying there so we jumped on the hotel’s free tuk tuk to get a ride back to the main street.
The restaurant is called ‘Cabbage and Condoms’ and is dedicated to people having safe sex. The owners have used condoms on some of the decoration so the light fixtures have condom light shades and there are mannequins dressed in outfits made entirely from condoms. There is a big outdoor garden or indoor if it’s raining and a shop.
The restaurant’s tagline is "our food won’t make you pregnant" ‘Cabbages and Condoms’ was started by an ex-politican called Mechai Viravaidya. Money from people’s meals is used to help with social problems like sexual health, sustainability and anti-corruption. When you pay your bill, instead of mints, you get condoms to take home. We have a good meal, catch a movie and get an early night as tomorrow, we have an early flight to Krabi for more fun in the sun.
The water is warm clear turquoise and there are yellow striped fish swimming around our feet. The view is spectacular, exactly like the pictures you see of Krabi and even better. A limestone mountain stands stands alone in the little bay, brightly coloured longboats sit in the foreground and a white sand beach shines in the sunshine in front of that.
This is the kind of view we came here for. Pleasure factor 10/10. We have been in a boat all day, island hopping. This island has spectacular caves, like a labyrinth of jagged rock hallways, formed by the tide. Inside the biggest opening in the cave there is a temple with a large pile of different sized brightly painted penises.
There is a guy lighting incense in the small alter set up in front and I wait patiently for him to leave so I can take a photo. A man comes up behind us and says in a slightly condescending voice, “This is a sacred sight”, looking at me. I feel a little embarrassed that I have offended him or made a faux pas or something but he proceeds to take a bunch of pictures! I take a picture of the pile of sacred penises. Not sure what it all means but am guessing there is some kind of fertility thing happening here.
The 2nd and 3rd island has a sand bar in-between them and since the tide is down, about up to the knees, it is possible to walk between them on the sand bar.
We meet a Spanish couple on the boat we are on, who are staying in the same hotel as us. She speaks some English and good Italian but her husband only speaks Spanish and a little bit of Italian so the conversations are mostly between her and I in a mix of Italian and Spanish but they are very nice and we have a lovely day, hanging out with them. We do some snorkelling beside the 4th island and see many gorgeous brightly coloured fish. The coral is gorgeous too and the ocean life here beautifully calming and spectacular.
We decide to walk along the beach beside the hotel until we find some small huts that are bars and restaurants further down. We find one that we heard was good, called Eats. Two tiny, beautiful young women barefoot in the sand, greet us at the pulpit that serves as the door. As we sit at a table in the sand, the warm breeze blows the shell wind chimes and the sky becomes bright dark red mixed with black, like a dramatic live show to accompany our meal.
A slightly older Thai man, with long white hair, lots of cool jewelry and tattoos starts to sing. He sits near the entrance of the restaurant with a guitar, a microphone and small amp. I feel like he is playing my playlist as he begins to sing old favourite rock songs. The families of the young women who work at the restaurant arrive, husbands, children and friends.
One of the young women tells us it is her mother who cooks the food here. The atmosphere is one of a close family and more tourists arrive to eat with their feet in the sand. It is definitely the most popular one on the beach and it is a wonderful way to end our day.
We spend our days mostly lounging in the sun and warm sea, do a little shopping in Krabi town and eat our favourite Thai dishes. It is like the medicine we need to fill us up and carry us when we go back to work.
Halloween is almost here. We are told that China doesn’t want it’s people to celebrate Western holidays any more so following that, neither will the school. We are told there will not be a Halloween dance. We aren’t clear on whether we can wear costumes at school on the actual day or if there will be any decorations in the commercial areas of the city, in stores, etc.
Today the principle told the teachers that we could wear costumes so I ask the kids if they are going to dress up. Most of them say their counsellors said they aren’t allowed to wear costumes. They are getting conflicting messages from the Chinese side and the ‘Western’ side.
We notice stores like Walmart, Ole and Metro, where they sell foreign products do have displays with all the paraphernalia associated with Halloween and the malls have decorations so not sure why they are allowed to get away with it and/or if it really is an issue with the government. I am happy to be able to dress up. My plan is to be David Bowie (or at least an ode to him) and I’m not sure about John but possibly Elvis.
The 1st Teahouse will be the night before Halloween and we have been preparing for it over the last few weeks. As usual, there are 2 or 3 kids that are stepping up to offer their musical services to others that have no one to accompany them or don’t want to play while they are singing. There’s a boy named Henry and another named Mycroft who are in a Rock Band together, but are also very generous with their time to the up and coming guitar players and kids who need someone to play with them. Henry in particular teaches the younger guys to play solos and steps back, not needed to be the limelight himself, even though his own solos are outstanding.
I have a new partner, Maggie who is delightful and helps with the organization of the Teahouse. My partner from last year, the lovely Stephanie moved back to Canada.
Tickets sell out pretty fast as everyone now knows what the Teahouse is and we almost don’t even need to advertise it. Since we started it, it has become an bi-monthly event the kids and some of the teachers really look forward to.
There are principles from other schools in the Maple Leaf system that also want to set up ‘Teahouse’ evenings as they have recognized that it is a great activity for the kids, for self-worth and for the chance to practice their English skills. For some kids, it is a chance to shine, show another side of themselves to their teachers or other students, especially if they struggle in academic areas.
Tony (an American teacher from the school), John and I are eating hotdogs and watching the World Series live at 8 am. It’s a Sunday and I’ve got a terrible cold so have cancelled going out. Yesterday we did the same thing and the game broke a record; the longest World Series game ever at 7 hours and 20 minutes (I left after 6 hours but John and Tony watched to the end.)
The week before John had a kind of sports watching marathon. He started watching at 3 am (a Rider football game, followed by a baseball game, followed by a hockey game, then another baseball game). I don’t always get up as early as him but it’s been part of our pattern these days on weekends.
You wouldn’t know we were in China except when our VPN stops working and we have to watch it hooked up to Tony’s phone app, which is in Chinese. Anyway, being able to stream all these sports is like heaven for John so hopefully the government won’t carry out the threat they made last year of blocking the VPNs.