A sleepy fishing village, a public serenade, and a scavenger hunt à la “Amazing Race.” On Monday, Joel and I visited Qiao Island. When the weather is clear (and it finally is, hurrah!), you can see Qiao Island from our balcony.
A short bus ride (#85) got us there and we decided to hop off at Qiao Village to walk around. There are a couple of small temples (very quiet–we were the only people in one) and narrow, stone paths through the old neighborhoods. Some of the homes are 200 years old.
The big attraction in town is White Stone Path, which seems strikingly out of place in an otherwise sleepy village. During the Opium Wars, the local islanders managed to fend off attacking British troops by using a strategically placed cannon. (I think. The history here is a little murky since I can’t read Chinese.) Using compensation from this victory, the triumphant islanders were able to build this stone pathway and monument to the battle’s martyrs.
There were a couple of fishermen drying their catch in the plaza. Joel and I meandered through the drying screens to see what we could recognize. There were also some small stands full of souvenirs, clearly targeting domestic tourists. There weren’t too many people out on this day, but I imagine it becomes a busy destination once summer arrives.
At about this point, Joel and I were feeling lost. We were hungry but hadn’t found any promising restaurants. There were supposed to be beachside seafood restaurants, but we’d gone the wrong direction. There’s a protected mangrove forest, but we didn’t know how to find it. None of guidebooks mention Qiao, and our phones had poor reception on the island. We were wandering a bit aimlessly down the narrow streets. Suddenly, from a side street, a young Chinese woman (20-ish) called to us in English and caught up to us. Behind her came another dozen college-aged students, all wearing matching polo shirts and straw hats.
“Can you help us? You can help us! I’m sure you can!” There was much cheering. “We are on a challenge today. We need to complete our challenge but we don’t have what we need to get to our destination, but I’m sure you do. Perhaps we can give you something, and you can give us some money in return.”
Uh-huh. This was getting suspicious, fast. Why did they need money? Why is this my problem?
“We need to get to our next challenge point but it is far to walk.” (One student fished into his backpack and produced a map drawn with a Sharpie.) “We are running out of time and the bus is faster. But… we are out of money.”
I steeled myself. How much money? There was much chattering among the group and some calculation.
“Twenty kwai…maybe 30?,” the leader asked hesitantly. (That’s a little less than US$5.) Ok….
“We have nothing else to give, but we will sing you a song! We can make a performance, just for you, and then you can pay us! Yes, a song, everyone, get together, let’s sing!”
A few were shy but soon joined in. A couple used their water bottles as “microphones.” In turn, we gave them 30 yuan. They cheered. Someone hugged me. Lots of thank-yous were offered. They were now headed to a famous historical site and offered that we could come along. Why not? We had no place to go, and they offered to translate once we got there. So we set off walking with this group of students and I learned a bit more. They are all graduating from college soon and have been hired by a Chinese company. This is a team-building exercise for all new hires. They were one of four teams on Qiao today, competing in a scavenger hunt. “Our name means ‘To Conquer'” said the group leader, “but we lost both of our challenges yesterday.” No worries, said others, today was their lucky day. They had us to help them, now.
We mentioned that we had been unsuccessful in finding lunch. “Are you hungry? Thirsty?” One young man reached into his backpack and offered us two boxes of soymilk.
We accompanied them to the historic marker while helping with another challenge: thinking of items on the island that start with each letter of the English alphabet. They were stuck on Y. Joel suggested “yield sign.” I suggested “youth.” But they had to bring a physical item back–another fellow’s backpack was filled with the rest of the alphabet. We finally settled on “yogurt”–they’d pick it up at a market later, with the change from the bus fare. After the historic site, they went to the beach, where the challenge was to use rocks to spell out their company’s logo in the sand. There were still more challenges to go, and time was running out.
They needed to save their bus fare for the last leg of the race, so the group decided to attempt a mass hitchhiking once we made it back to the main road. Joel and I wished them well and headed back to Qiao Village. There were more cheers and more thank-yous and a promise to connect via e-mail or WeChat. I’m hoping that “To Conquer” lived up to their name for the day. It sure made for a memorable afternoon for us. I’m starting to learn: there’s no such thing as “a typical day” for us in China.