Jinshanling Section, May 2010. I’ll never forget my first ever Great Wall experience, back during my maiden year in China. I was living in Beijing at the time, which meant there were a bunch of routes to choose from. While I had no desire whatsoever to subject myself to the overcrowded Disney circus act of Badaling, I also figured It might be wise to leave some of the more wild stretches for later on. In the end the Jinshanling section fit the bill perfectly, a ten-kilometer trek that took in some of the country’s most stunning Great Wall scenery.
After a happy, prolonged period of stabilisation and life-altering romance, I finally bid farewell to Belgium in the summer of 2009. Uninspired by life in grey, uneventful Brussels, my girl and I headed off to China for an unforgettable year of teaching and travelling.
“Put your cookies in the bag!” I cried, addressing the group of pint-sized chefs gathered before me. Peering up at their towering teacher, their collective eyes shot to the assembled ingredients and they burst into action. “Put your cookies in the bag!” repeated Nini, performing the task herself for good measure.
It was the last week of February and another Saturday English zone at Enlightener. Somehow, we’d broken the attendance record set by last year’s Halloween event, with mums, dads, toddlers, aunties, uncles and confused looking grandmothers stuffed into every available crevice.
“Beat the cookies!!!” I ordered, swinging my rolling pin. “Beat the cookies!!!” followed up Nini and the place exploded into a cacophonous orgy of legitimised violence, until each child’s bag had been reduced to a grisly battlefield of crushed crumbs.
“Pour the crumbs onto the big plate!”
“Cut your bananas in half!”
“Dip your bananas in the yoghurt!”
“Roll your bananas over the crumbs!”
The table was an unholy mess by the time we’d finished. There were crumbs in Tina’s hair, bits of banana squished into the floor and globs of yoghurt splattered all over Harley’s sweater. But it all had been worth it because the parents seemed happy and the kids were delighted with their so-called Banana Lollies, which Nini collected and loaded into the kitchen freezer to set.