August 2017. Even after all these years I still get a kick out of seeing isolated places in off-the-beaten-track China. And they don’t get much more podunk than the largely unknown village of Xinyang in Zhejiang Province. Located about an hour from the city of Rui’an, my teaching buddies and I headed out on a typically hot and humid August afternoon. And it wasn’t even the village itself we were interested in, but rather this narrow stretch of river where locals go to seek respite from the unforgiving summer heat.
August 2017. Our trip to Xin Yang Village on that already long ago summer’s day was actually for a team building event held by our school. The village and its popular stretch of river is really out of the way, so we all drove over in a convoy of taxis. On arrival the place was buzzing with excitable families served by an army of shrewd vendors who’d set up their restaurants, cafes and stores all round and even in the river itself!
August 2017. There were about twelve of us that day, so we rented a wooden raft boat (70RMB one hour) and flailed about for a bit with the wooden poles in an attempt to navigate our way around the Xin Yang River. It was only later that I realised a much more effective way of captaining our vessel was to simply jump in the water and steer it with my hands!
August 2017. What a great bunch of people I worked with that first year, The Dream Team as Lena called us. It makes me smile to think of everyone, from burping and farting Vivian and La Fannie (hardest working person I’ve ever met), to the awesome trio of Russian girls, Lena, Lana and Lyuba. And then of course there was my flatmate, the colourful, highly quotable fitness fanatic, Sergeant Pete Diamond.
August 2017. Needless to say we were the only foreigners on the Xin Yang River that day and therefore the subject of much curiosity. There were families waving at us from the riverbank and a man who kept saying “Hellooooo!” over and over, like it was the funniest joke he’d ever cracked.
August 2017. Most Chinese people can’t swim… like at all. So nearly everyone had armbands, floating boards and giant inflatable rings, although the water was so shallow it hardly seemed necessary.
August 2017. In fact, so shallow is the Xin Yang River that you can walk right through it comfortably enough. And that’s exactly what some locals did! I watched this dude emerge from the trees on the far bank and trudge right past our boat. At some point he realised there were a bunch of foreigners onboard and this literally made him stop right in his tracks to have a good, long stare. This went on for so long I decided to walk over to the edge of the boat and stick a camera in his face. Click.
August 2017. Our merry group of English teachers had a great time on the river that afternoon. It was one of those days that reminded me of how fantastic life in China can be when the stars align. Which is a special feeling because believe me, life ain’t always like that in the land of noodles and rice.
August 2017. But sadly my memories of that Xin Yang River day will always be tainted, because in many ways it marked what was to become the end of an era for our lives in Ruian. Because this was the last time we would all be so innocent and carefree together. What we didn’t realise that day, until we returned home, is that while we were having the time of our lives one of our good friends had just lost his life.
August 2017. I think Craig’s passing was a watershed moment for all of us. In addition to the confusion and grief, I remember making a silent vow to be me more aware of what was going on with the people around me, to try harder to be the person my friends deserve. It was a reminder that life is short and fragile and that I should seize the day, make more time for river days like this one. I wish Craig has been there with us that day. He would have loved it and we’d have enjoyed the day all the more in his company.
In memory of Craig Church, 1989-2017.
For more on the region, have a look at my travel reports from around Zhejiang Province.
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