So, in my efforts to get to the Women’s Wushu Nationals I’ve had quite an adventure. Allow me to share the gruesome (and somewhat awesome) details with all of you.
Well, as you know, I was pretty pumped to attend the competition in Cangzhou, Hebei. Especially after seeing the Men’s nationals in Changshu, I thought it would be a great time to get the feminine perspective on this year’s wushu professionals in China.
I had coordinated my schedule so that my last day of work (that’s right, I quit my job. A story for another blog) coincided exactly with this competition. I left my office on Thursday, September 20, at 5PM, hopped in a cab and went straight to the train station for my overnight to Beijing West train Station. I arrived at Beijing West station Friday morning at 7:30-ish AM and hopped in a bus to the Beijing South train station to catch the D-train (i.e. the super fast Chinese bullet train) to Cangzhou.
I knew ahead of time (and mentioned it on Facebook and my blog) that I wouldn’t make the morning events. I was hopeful that I would catch the tail end of women’s nanquan (which I assumed would be the second event of the morning), just like I did for the men’s events. I figured I could live with missing the morning as long as I got to see most of the competition (and consequently be able to share all the videos with the rest of you).
The problems begin
So, after I arrived in Cangzhou I hopped in a cab and asked the driver (Mr. Wang) to go to the Sports Auditorium. He asked which one (there were two in Cangzhou) so I said to take me to the closest one first and we would see if it was there.
Okay, no problem. He took me to the other auditorium to see if it was there.
Wait a second. What was going on here? We thought for a moment about what to do. Mr. Wang went on the phone and asked a bunch of his colleagues if they knew where the wushu competition was. None of them did. I decided to contact Yue Xiao Yu and Yang Yu Hong who, although they weren’t going to attend, would certainly know some folks who were there and could check the address for me. Xiao Yu picked up and said she would contact her friends and text me the information (it turns out she was in Qingdao taking a test to get in to grad school!).
When the text came in, here is the address she gave me.
For those of you who can’t read Chinese, it says that it was in Jinzhong city on Zhongdu Road.
Huh? Where is Jinzhong city? I asked the cab driver. He didn’t know. He called his friend and gave him the street address to see if it was in Cangzhou or not.
So I called Xiao Yu and asked her if she had the city right. Wasn’t the competition being held in Hebei province in Cangzhou city like it said on the website?
From bad to worse
It turns out that the competition location had been changed to Shanxi province in a small town near Taiyuan (home of wushu carpets!).
I checked in to the cheap (but very nice) hotel that I had previously booked and, after a much needed shower, got online and looked at my options. It basically boiled down to two choices:They didn’t update the website of course. Perhaps they couldn’t due to the late notice (although not late enough for any athletes to miss it, of course) but either way I was in a pickle. What to do? I decided that I needed a few things to figure out my situation: a shower, the internet and some food (more or less in that order).
- Try to make my way to the competition
- Forget the competition and spend a few days in Beijing hanging out with friends.
Well, here I was, newly unemployed and on a mission for the wushuzilla crew (i.e. “y’all”). Who was I to give up on this competition?
Creating a game plan
I decided to opt for option 1 and see how I could possibly get to the competition in Jinzhong city before the whole thing was over.
Ironically, Jingzhong is right next to Taiyuan in Shanxi province, almost exactly halfway between Xi’an and Beijing, and if I had known the location I could have gone there and made it in time for all the events from the first morning. Doh!
If you look at this map you can see how much back-tracking is going on.
So, I went online and looked at plane options. Whoops. Cangzhou doesn’t have an airport with flights to Taiyuan and Tianjin and Beijing flights weren’t very convenient.
What about train options? Well, there was a 3 1/2 hour D train from Beijing West station to Taiyuan at 6pm. It was noon. If I could make it to Beijing in the next 4 hours I could probably catch that train.
But could I get to Beijing in time? Yes, it turned out there was a D train back to Beijing from Changzhou that left around 2:40 pm and arrived at 4:00 pm. Perfect.
I still had an hour to kill so I grabbed some lunch and then checked out of the hotel (I’m sure they were curious why I was checked in to the hotel for only 2 or 3 hours — good thing it was cheap! ($25 USD approx)) and then made my way by taxi back to the Cangzhou West train station.
Now here was the tricky part. When I was online checking the schedule, the Chinese train ticket service website wasn’t working. So I couldn’t buy the tickets online (or even check their availability). I gambled that, with so many trains going through Cangzhou to Beijing (it was a stop on the high speed train line between Beijing and Shanghai) that I could get a seat.
When I got to the station I queued up and asked the ticket lady about the 2:44 train to Beijing South station. Did it have any seats?
Whoops. What are my options? She said there was another one at 3:08 that would get me to Beijing South station at 4:15. Phew! The station attendant was also able to help me get all the other tickets I would need for my trip including the Beijing to Taiyuan leg as well as the trip back to Beijing.
You’re probably wondering why I am going to go back to Beijing after the competition. Why not head home to Xi’an?
Well, my father is flying to China on Monday (September 24) and I am going to the airport to pick him up and take him on the train back to Xi’an. I also had a plan to meet up with Patti (Hao Zhi Hua) for dinner that night before I went to the airport. This would be the last chance to see her before she goes back to the U.S.
You probably think I’m crazy, right? I think most people would have just said “forget it” and spent the weekend having fun in Beijing. I might have too, but I promised all of y’all that I would try to get some footage of the competition, so that’s what I felt compelled to do.
When I was getting my tickets another thing came up. The train from Beijing to Taiyuan was sold out. The only availability was for standing room only. Could I survive standing in the train for 3.5 hours? Well, I remembered that Ruhi told me she once stood on the train from Beijing to Xi’an, which is over 10 hours, so if she could do that, then I figured i could bear it too.
I got the ticket and waited for my train from Cangzhou to Beijing.
The other interesting thing is that on the train ride I had an interview conference call that I was scheduled to make. Originally I would have been in the hotel at 3pm editing videos, but instead I was on a train so I had the interview call on the train.
I felt like quite the international business man. I was on a high speed train between Canzhou, Tianjin and Beijing on a conference call with people in Chengdu and Shanghai about a design position for an American company. (I wasn’t being interviewed, by the way — I was helping to interview someone to replace me at my (now) old job.)
Anyway, that has nothing to do with wushu. Excuse my tangent.
From Beijing to Taiyuan
So, when I arrived in Beijing I hopped on another bus from the Beijing south station to the Beijing west station. It is about a 45 minute trip and as I was sitting on the bus and we were stuck in rush-hour traffic on the south 3rd ring road, I realized that just that morning I was stuck in the morning rush hour traffic in the same place going in the opposite direction. It was a little surreal.
At around 9:51 PM we arrived in Taiyuan, Shanxi. I had to figure out the best way to get to Jinzhong, which was about a 30 minute drive south of the capital city. I looked online (thank you 3G iPhone!) and found that there was a late night train to Yuci (basically, Jinzhong) that would get me there around midnight.When I got to the Beijing West station I made my way to the waiting room and then shuffled in with the rest of the cattle to the train platform, where I found my car and found a place to sit on the ground. Actually, I bought one of those little folding stools from a cart vendor on the platform for 20 RMB, so I had a little bitty chair to sit in. I was next to a very nice lady from St. Louis who was visiting her sick mother in Taiyuan. She was recovering from vocal chord surgery so she couldn’t speak — she wrote what she wanted to say on a pad of paper and we had a conversation via paper, pen and my speaking.
Riding the “Local”
Now, this train was actually the long distance, super slow train to Guangzhou. This is the train that people take when they want to get off at some super small random station between Taiyuan and Guangdong that no other train will stop at. In other words, this was the train that shuttled around China’s migrant worker population.
On the train I ended up in the hard seat car. It wasn’t a big deal for me because I was just going 22 minutes to the next stop. But some of these people were headed all the way to Hunan or Guangzhou with nothing but a burlap sack of possessions and a hard seat in between two more sweaty workers.Without a doubt this train was the type of experience you will never find by following your Lonely Planet guide. I’ve never seen so much sun drenched leathery skin and so many hand-made pieces of luggage in my life. To be honest, it was pretty cool. I felt like I was really “going local” with this experience.
Not only that, but some of these folks didn’t even have a seat. They were standing room only passengers, who filled up the passage ways between cars, sitting down and trying to get some sleep while cramped up in a ball along the floor. Not easy when the train stops every 30 minutes, forcing all of them to stand up while people come in and out of the train. Talk about eating some bitter! My “standing” on the Beijing to Taiyuan train was quite cushy compared to this.
Arriving in Yuci / Jinzhong
When we got to Yuci I managed to find one of the only taxi’s in the city. They didn’t know where my hotel was (I had booked it on the phone through ctrip — an awesome company, if I do say so myself, as they have gotten me out of a lot of jams) so after a conversation with the receptionist on the phone we made our way there. I checked in, charged my camera and ended up getting to bed around 1:30 AM.
Now, I wasn’t really sure where to go. I had the address that Xiao Yu gave me and, after looking around a lot, found a cab driver that was willing to take me there.Yes, I had missed 4 events, but I was confident that I would be able to make it to the competition the next day and check out some awesome wushu. After 5 hours of sleep I woke up, got ready and headed out the door.
Seeking the venue
Actually, it turned out that the address was for a school that was on Zhongdu Street — a college — and he suspected that it might be located in the auditorium there. So, we went to the school to ask the front gate guard if the wushu competition was there.
Okaaaaay … No problem. He figured that it would probably be at the Sports Center, where most competitions were held. He took me out there and we went to the gate and asked them if the wushu competition was there.
Good lord! Was this going to happen again?!
We drove around the back of the sports center in to a dirt field and by some random chance there were two older men there standing and talking. The taxi driver (who was actually super helpful the whole time — I tipped him for his trouble) asked them where the wushu competition was. They pointed over across some trees and the driver’s eyes lit up and he said “Oooooh! It’s there!”.
I can only imagine how long we’d be looking if those two old men hadn’t been standing in that dirt field.
I plopped myself down in the bleachers and set up my tripod and camera to the sound of “Jiayou!” cheers. I had missed the first 3 or 4 competitors, but that was okay. At least I was there and I felt relieved that my journey was finally at an end.By this time it was already 9:02. I was missing some wushu! I had to get there. He dropped me off in front of the “Sports Garden”, which is a big auditorium complex where the competition was being held. I ran around inside until I found my way to the bleachers. I could tell this was the place, since I heard the tell-tale sounds of southern screams and a nandao from inside the complex. I’ve never been quite so happy to hear that sound! It was amazing…
Quick Bonus Video
While I was in Cangzhou I made a little video explaining my situation while waiting for my train back to Beijing. I thought I would share it here so that you call could see some of the adventure “in the flesh”.
This whole experience has taught me a couple things.
First, I need to really make sure and confirm information before I act on it. I mean, I already knew that. But now I REALLY know it, y’know? I had messaged Yang Yu Hong and he told me that I should have contacted him to get the location information before I went. Yeah … next time for sure.
Second, I realized that the next time (since I won’t have a job that requires last minute travel before the weekend) I am going to get to the city where the competition is the day before and scout out the venue. I will get a good night’s rest and get there EARLY for the first event. No more missing events for me!
And finally, I realized the reason why the bleachers are always empty during these Chinese wushu nationals. Because NO ONE CAN EVER FIND IT! Seriously. There is NO marketing or advertising for this event. In a town with only a dozen taxi’s, no McDonald’s and that you can almost walk across, how does everyone now know that a national championships is in their town?
In other words, how can they expect people to attend these competitions if no one knows about it, no one knows where they are, and no one can find it. I’m more die hard than most people, but I can imagine that others have attempted to find a competition and given up in frustration before.
Pretty much the only way most foreigners would be able to find this competition is by having a friend on a professional team or who knows someone on a professional team, who they can call and get the information from. Because, when the Chinese Wushu Association’s website doesn’t even have the correct information, and there is no way for them to distribute this knowledge to people outside of their immediate organization, how will wushu be able to spread and develop in the country it originated?
Okay, soapboxing aside, I’m just happy to be here and am glad that the whole ordeal is over. Now it is time to do some serious video editing and score reporting for all of you. Be sure to head to my dedicated 2012 China Women’s Wushu Nationals page for all the results that I get, and any videos I take.
You can also follow the progress on Facebook and through my twitter feed.