Our team “TKO Sport Kite Team” had been invited to attend the 21st Weifang International Kite Festival in China. We were invited so that we could perform our sport kite, team ballet routines to music during the opening ceremonies, and during the festival. This is the story of our trip and adventure. Adventure?
I like to call every international kite festival trip that I’ve ever been on, an “Adventure”, Because it always seems like every trip is an adventure getting to and from the festival, and dealing with all of the unscheduled festival, travel changes, and mishaps.
Day 1 – April 16: The adventure begins!
Team mate Shane Snowden and I (Troy Gunn) Drove two hours to Oklahoma City from Wichita Falls, Texas to catch our flights from Oklahoma City International Airport. While our other team mate Jerry Hershey from Wichita Kansas was scheduled to leave the next day. We arrive at the airport at 4:30am for our 6:30am flight, because international flights always require that you check in 2 hours previous to the flight, because of added security checks since 9/11. We were first in the baggage check-in line for United Airlines, along with 30 or so Marine Recruits that has just finished a artillery training session at Fort Sill army base in Lawton, Oklahoma. All baggage check-in lines are suppose to open at least 2 hours prior to flights (so we thought). We all waited in line for the next hour before someone finally arrived to open the check-in counter.
Anyway, we finally get our bags checked in, but not until I have to give my usual speech to the check-in employee, about how my over sized stunt kite bag is allowed at no additional fees, because the bag contains “Sport Kites”, and all “Sporting equipment” is allowed special exceptions when it comes to the airline’s checked baggage rules for oversized bags. My bag is 72 inches by 24 inches, and I’ve never been charged oversize fees (knock on wood)… Remember that on your next trip!
Finally, we board the plane at 6:30am to make our connecting flight in Chicago, and arrive a couple hours later. We have a 3 hour and 30 minute layover in Chicago where Shane and I took that opportunity to smoke a couple cartons of cigarettes so that we could load up on nicotine, because our next flight was to Beijing, China and was a long 15 hour and 30 minute non-stop flight. Nicotine fits aren’t a pretty sight on an airplane!
We board our Beijing flight at 12:00 noon Friday April 16th and arrive in Beijing April 17th at 2:40 pm (13 hours time difference). By the way, I never slept the entire flight, because of a group of High School kids and their teachers were sitting in our rows. The kids never stopped talking because most were girls. My team mate Shane is 22 years old and single and didn’t seem to mind the girls talking too much. 🙂
I kept myself busy playing hand held video games, reading, eating, and watching a choice of seven movies. The airplane was a Boeing 777 and it made the trip more pleasurable than the 747’s I’ve been on the past few months.
Day 2 – April 17
Are we there yet? After landing at the Beijing International airport, I was ready to kill for a cigarette, especially after being deprived of sleep for almost 2 days, and having to put up with talkative teenagers. But as luck would have it, our jet way gate wasn’t yet available and we had to wait half an hour for the gate to become available, and another hour of waiting for our checked bags to be unloaded, then to clear customs and inspections. After leaving customs we immediately spot our contact person that’s to pick us up, and give us instructions about what form of transportation they had arranged for us to get to Weifang. You see, up until that time we hadn’t been told what type of transportation they would arrange for us from Beijing to Weifang. We didn’t know if it would be plane, trains, or automobiles, or maybe even rickshaws! Our contact person was anxious to load us in the van and bring us to wherever. But, I insisted that we weren’t going anywhere until we got our nicotine fix first! Those of you that are still smokers can relate.
Finally, after our cravings were satisfied, off we went. Our guide actually spoke very good english, and he told us that we would be going to a hotel to freshen up, and that we would be meeting up with another Texas kite flier by the name of Kelly Reed, whom I had helped to get the invitation to Weifang a few weeks earlier. We arrived at the hotel after about an hours drive, partly because Beijing is about 13 Million in population, and it’s quite along drive across the city from the airport. We finally meet up with Kelly Reed, exchange hugs, change cloths, etc… and then off to dinner we went. Our guide took us to a wonderful restaurant that was off the beaten path, but had extremely great food and beer! During our dinner conversations, we learned that our guide was one of the Tianamen Square protesters many years ago, and back then he was thrown in Jail for a month, for throwing rocks at one of the Chinese Red Army tanks, that was rolling through Tianamen Square at that time. He said that it was a year later before anyone was brave enough to hire him, because employers were afraid that the Chinese government would think that by hiring him, they were co-conspirators to the revolution. Before heading back to the hotel, Shane had spotted a couple sexy looking young 20-ish looking women, whom he immediately tried to strike up a conversation with. Our guide pulled us aside and warned Shane that it would be in his best interest (health-wise) if he refrained from trying to pick up those young women, because they were Russian, and they were with a couple guys who were allegedly Russian mafia!
Anyway, on the ride back to the hotel we were informed that we would be going by train to Weifang that same night at 10:00pm, and that we would arrive to Weifang by 5:30 am the next morning. Oh boy, more sleep depravation! We get back to the hotel and pick up our bags, and drive to the train station. The train station is packed with thousands of people. Our Beijing guide arranges for a couple bicycle type rickshaws with small trailers in tow, to carry all of our bags across the train station, which was a few hundred meters walk. The rickshaw guys didn’t want to have to fight the large crowd, so they headed with our bags, down the street next to the station, but directly against the flow of traffic. in the meantime Kelly Reed is towing along behind, taking pictures of the massive amount of people. We arrive on the other side of the station without getting ran over, only to realize that Kelly is no longer following us, and is nowhere to be seen! Well, our guide starts yelling Kelly’s name at the top of his lungs, hoping Kelly will hear him and maybe lock in on our location amongst this sea of people. No luck! At this point Shane and I are thinking the worst, and that are train leaves in 30 minutes and we may have to leave without Kelly, or miss the train until Kelly is located. Our guide finally gets the police to look for Kelly. Kelly is pretty easy to spot amongst all the chinese, especially since he dyed red streaks in his blonde hair before going to China. It only took the police 10 minutes to locate Kelly. Well, we scolded Kelly, like the Marine Drill sergeant was doing to his new recruits in Oklahoma city. We explained to Kelly about the buddy system while in other countries and that he should never wander off on his own, then we made him sing the entire Barney theme song. Next, we paid the rickshaw guys way too many chinese yuen for carrying our bags and trying to get us killed in traffic.
We go through another security inspection before loading everything onto the train, for our 7 and a half hour train ride to Weifang. Our train was equipped with many things, none of which were made for comfort. Our sleeping room on the train was very small, with four bunks and a very small amount of storage space for all our bags, plus we also shared one of the bunks with a non english speaking stranger, whom by the end of the train ride, probably wished he had opted for the rickshaw express to Weifang. None of us slept much along the way, because the train stopped every half an hour to load and unload people, and we kept the poor guy awake most of the night. One of our three assigned bunks was loaded with all of our stunt kite bags and luggage (remember my 72″ by 24″ body size bag)! Well, that meant one of us would be trying to sleep on the floor. Because Kelly had put us through mental strains with his disappearing act earlier, Kelly got the floor. Our small sleeping quarters were directly next to the toilet room, or as the Chinese call it “the water closet”. The toilet was typical Asian style, which meant that there was no western style toilet to sit on. It consisted of a bed pan shaped hole in the floor, that when flushed it drains directly onto the railroad tracks below the train. And the smell was also one of the contributing factors for us not getting any sleep that night. I knew I should have packed along some air fresheners!
Are we there yet? Finally at exactly 5:30 am Sunday Morning the 18th, we arrive in Weifang. We actually left Wichita Falls Texas, Thursday the 15th. Now do the math to figure out how long we’ve been without sleep so far. 😉
Day 3 – April 18
After two planes, one train, and three automobiles, we finally arrive to our destination city, Weifang, where we will be staying the next 6 days.
We were greeted at the train station by Mr. Wang Hong Li, who would be our guide and translator for the duration of our stay in Weifang. Wang has been helping out with the Weifang Festival for over a decade, and was a joy to be around, as were his wife, and young 3 year old daughter Angie! Wang had arranged for a driver to take us to our Festival host hotel, which only took us 15 minutes to get to from the train station. It was already daylight and it was only 5:30 am. Along the way, the streets were mostly abandoned, but there were already some locals out flying kites. Talk about dedicated kiters!
We arrive at our 4 star hotel, the Fuwah Hotel. This was one of the nicest hotels we’ve ever stayed at in all the years we’ve been traveling to kite festival! The hotel had efficient and friendly staff everywhere to cater to all of our needs. The hotel was actually two different buildings. Our building was about 12 stories tall, with a nice lobby, lounge and restaurant to kick back in and relax with our new kiting friends. The other building was directly across the street, and was rated at 5 stars. It contained huge banquet rooms, a restaurant, swimming pool, and every other luxury that you would expect from a hotel of this star rating. The invited International kiters were furnished with hotel stay and 3 meals a day. We ate all of our meals at the nicer of the two hotels. The food was buffet style with a lot to choose from each day. They even served frog legs and rabbit one day, which were great! Meal times are some of the best times at these International kite festivals, because it gives you the chance to visit and eat the local cuisine with different kiters at each meal.
One of the more unusual things we noticed at this Chinese festival, was that there were over 1,200 kiters in attendance, but we only had previously met a hand full of them at other international kite festivals around the world. A good friend of ours and former Dallas, Texas resident Robert Yen was there, some of the fliers from Taiwan, and Mr. Lee from Singapore was there too. It’s always nice to see familiar faces when traveling abroad! There were kiters in attendance from many Chinese provinces, and from many other countries, including Holland, Germany, Japan, Britain, Australia, South Korea, Pakistan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, Columbia, Canada, Belarus, Ukraine, Philippines, Taiwan, Singapore, etc… There were 4-5 other Americans in attendance in addition to our team members as well. Tom Chung from Massachusetts and a couple from Utah, that we never actually spoke with during the festival.
Finally, we get all of our stuff packed away in our hotel room. But by this time, we found our second wind and decided that we wouldn’t try and get any sleep until later that night. Well, at least Shane and I didn’t want to sleep, so we headed down to the lobby to see if there were any familiar faces we may recognize. Unfortunately for our tired tails, we were asked to arrive a day early so that we could meet the festival’s opening ceremony director about our team’s ballet performance rehearsal… Most of the kiters wouldn’t be arriving until the next day (monday the 19th).
When we arrived back down to the hotel lobby, we (Shane) noticed dozens of beautiful women that all looked like models. Evidently, the first Miss Kite World Pageant was also scheduled as part of the Weifang Kite Festival activities. The festival coordinators had been busy the previous months locating and inviting beautiful 18 to 28 year old women from all over the world to compete in this first ever pageant. There were women from about 60 countries represented in the pageant, including some from, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, UK, China, Japan, Brazil, South Africa, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, all asian countries, and several from North America, which included three former winners of the Miss Teen USA pageant, And one magazine model from Canada. By the way Shane’s other hobby besides kite flying, is the pursuit of any women that will have anything to do with him! So Shane was in his proverbial heaven. Quickly after we saw the women they were whisked away on a bus to make more public appearances in Weifang. I almost had to put a dog leash on Shane to keep him from chasing after the bus as it pulled a way!
Ok, we have an entire day to kill time. So Shane and I headed off down the streets looking for gift shops, or anything else that would catch our attention. After about ten minutes of walking, without finding an shops open, we realized that this was early Sunday morning, and most of the shops were closed this day. So, we kept on walking determined to find something to see or do. We decided to take a detour down side streets and alleys that most tourist probably wouldn’t dare go down. This is where we started seeing how the bottom level of the pecking order of society lives and works. We felt like every eye of every person we passed by, was watching us. Most of these people never get to see other people from other nationalities come down their streets and alleys. We felt like we were aliens from another planet, and we now know how famous celebrities feel when they venture out into the public’s view! I’m positive that part of the fascination with us was because of Shane’s bright red hair. Shane stuck out like a three legged cat in a dog kennel! By the way, his given nickname is “Matchstick”. He earned this nickname for two reasons. Reason one, Shane is as skinny as a matchstick, and number two, his hair is as bright red as the tip of a wooden matchstick.
Along the back streets and alleys there were many very small businesses, from haircuts to authentic Chinese laundry services, clothing alteration shops, and very small family owned convenience stores on most every corner. In addition to the shops there were several old men sitting at a small table playing some sort of chinese board game (not chinese checkers). What we immediately noticed about the Chinese children, was that unlike a lot of young American children, the young ones honor their elders with the respect that they deserve. Something americans could remember to be teaching their children more often!
After an hour or so of wandering the alleys and side streets, we decide to head back to the hotel. Mainly because Shane was getting anxious to see if the Miss Kite World contestants had returned to the hotel. Unfortunately for Shane, they had not… Not much went on the rest of the day, and we finally kissed our pillows at about midnight that night.
Day 4 – April 19
We awake the next morning after a good nights sleep, very much refreshed from our previous three days of travel, adventure and sleep depravation. We headed down to lobby to see if our other team mate Jerry Hershey had arrived safely as scheduled, and sure enough he was waiting for us in the lobby. We then head across the street to the restaurant to have our buffet style breakfast, and to chat about our travel mishaps and adventures.
By the time breakfast was in full swing that morning many other international kiting guest had arrived, and many more continued to arrive throughout the rest of the day. We met Mary and Eve of Britain for the first time… We really enjoyed their company and humor during the week! Mary is a regular on the popular cable television shopping channel “QVC”, where she sells electronic acupuncture machines. Jerry Hershey and I got a first hand demonstration one evening of how these machines work. After Mary spent a half an hour with each of us, giving us electronic acupuncture, we nicknamed Mary “The Queen of Pain”! The Holland team was watching and giggling at Jerry and I, since we were obviously experiencing very much pain. Thanks for the moral support guys! 😉
Later that day our team TKO was taken to the outskirts of the city to the Fuyanshan International Kite flying grounds, were the opening ceremonies and festival would take place. Once there, we were supposed to meet with the opening ceremonies director in regards to our team flying performance that would kick off the ceremony. The communications between our guide “Mr Wang Hong Li”, our team, and the director, was very confusing. Our guide was also our interpreter, but most of the time we needed an interpreter to interpret what was said between our team and our interpreter! So, it turns out that our arrival one day early was all for nothing, since we couldn’t quite get the communication problems solved, or to let the director know that we were there to practice for opening ceremonies. He seemed to be more interested in rehearsing with the 150 beautiful Miss Kite World pageant contestants, suppose I can’t really blame him for that. <grin>
So our team pretty much decided that performing a choreographed team routine to music while flying over the spectator’s heads would be out of the question. We’re weren’t about to take a chance at injuring someone with one of our sport kites. Especially since this was our first time in the People’s Republic of China, and we didn’t want to see what the penalty would be for injuring one of the citizens of this communist country!
We headed back to the hotel which is approximately a 1/2 an hour’s drive. We eat dinner, and then head to the hotel lobby for a few drinks and socializing with our fellow kite enthusiast from other countries, and a few of the pageant women.
Speaking of Miss Kite World pageant women…
Shane spent the entire rest of the week each evening socializing with these women, hoping he could convince one of them to take him home with them. Shane was out of luck, since all the pageant women were being watched very closely by the pageant officials, to ensure that they were on their best behavior. They were told that they couldn’t smoke or drink alcohol when any media was present, because the pageant officials wanted them to portray an innocent type of image to the public.
While in the hotel lounge our entire team and Kelly Reed were having a few drinks and chatting with some of the pageant women, Kelly started taking some pictures of some of the women, and within a few seconds the women were approached by the pageant officials who threatened to disqualify these women, because they thought that Kelly Reed was a media person taking photos, while these women were drinking and smoking cigarettes. We had to convince the pageant officials that Kelly was only a kite flier, and that he wasn’t media. I guess since the pageant sponsors paid all expenses for these women to get to Weifang, plus food, and hotel stay for two weeks, they have some right to enforce their pageant rules on these women.
Well after the confusion with the pageant officials, we all decided to call it a night, because tomorrow’s schedule required an early breakfast and hotel departure. The following day we would go to a close location to get some team practice done.
Day 5 – April 20
We awoke early as usual, which was about 6 am. We head down stairs and across the street for breakfast and conversations with other kiters, and with our guide and interpreter (Mr.Wang Li). After breakfast, we load our kites and gear into a couple taxis, and drive a couple of miles to a beautiful park for some team flying practice. We arrive at the park and notice that we would be flying in a huge open area that was covered with beautifully polished marble! When we arrived there were maybe a dozen or so people standing around wondering what us americans were doing. Once we started team flying with our New Tech Desire UL Kites, more people started wandering into the park from the surrounding business areas.
By the time we left the park 2-3 hours later, there were thousands of people in the park watching us perform our team maneuvers, or they brought their own kites to join us. This turned into an impromptu kite festival instead of just a team practice. I’ve been to some small kite festivals that didn’t draw this amount of spectators or Kitefliers! These Chinese love their kites! After all, Weifang is the self proclaimed kite capitol of the world!
After practicing, we head back to the hotel to clean up, and ready to go to the Grand Opening ceremonies for the 21st Weifang International Kite Festival. All the International kiters load themselves onto the buses and are taken to the Fuyanshan International kite flying grounds. The drive over was an adrenaline rush. We drove through an insane mixture of cars, bicycles, motorcycles. scooters, donkey pulled wooden carts, taxis, and people. I know there are road laws in China, but very few people there follow the laws and rules. Our bus driver would pass others by driving on the shoulder, or by driving in the wrong lanes head-on with other traffic. Most everyone on the road were running stop lights and using their horns to let others know that they are coming thru, and to get out of the way. Surprisingly enough, we never saw an accident!
We all arrive to the opening ceremonies unharmed, but a bit shaken from our close encounters of the road kind. We step off the bus and there were at least 2 to 3 hundred thousand people there for opening ceremonies, or to fly kites, sell kites, or sell other hand made goods.
The security was in abundance to protect us from the crowds as we walked a quarter mile from our buses to the opening ceremony stage. We were all being stared at like we were famous sport celebrities, which is kind of fun in it’s own unique way! The opening ceremonies were taking place exactly were the kite festival would be the next day, except that during today’s opening ceremonies, there was a tall steel wall circling the grounds, to keep non-paying attendees from entering. Inside the fenced area was a giant festival viewing building that was made specifically for the Fuyanshan Kite flying grounds.
In front of the building was a huge multi level stage with dozens of speakers, a tall wall at the back of the stage, and a huge digital television screen. Facing the stage were about 50,000 plastic chairs that were set up in rows, for the paying spectators to sit in. behind the chairs was a 40 meter wide by 200 meter long, strip of grass. This is where our team would eventually end up performing our sport kite team routine during the opening ceremonies. Outside the fenced area there were a couple hundred thousand people, several hundred were flying kites of all shapes and sizes. Many people that couldn’t afford a ticket to get inside the fenced area, sat down on a hill that over looks the fenced area. I guess you could call their seats, “the cheap seats”! The chairs were filled with many dignitaries, spectators, and media people, and of course the place were the kiters would end up viewing the opening ceremony festivities.
All of the international kiters were instructed to stand back stage until the opening ceremony began. We stood in a line waiting for about 45 minutes, before we were told to walk onto the stage. When we finally walked on stages from the center back of the stage, we walked down a flight of stairs. All the kiters were carrying and waving banners and their countries flags. At the same time several thousand dance groups on stage that were dancing, playing drums, etc… this was quite an exciting view to us kiters, because when we were standing behind the stage waiting, we couldn’t see what was going on, or how large the viewing audience was. We then proceeded down and across the stage, thru the audience (whom were taking non-stop photos of all the international kiters), and to our designated seating area.
During the opening ceremonies, an official speech was given by the governor of Weifang, and the chairman of the Kite festival’s organizing committee. Then thousands of helium balloon were launched into the sky, as well as a minute long barrage of fireworks. Then for the next 2 hours, there was non-stop performances by dancers, musicians, and some of the countries most popular singers. And of course I can’t forget to mention the introduction and parade across the stage, of the Miss Kite World Beauty pageant contestants. As soon as Shane and Kelly saw the pageant women, they quickly got out of their seats and headed toward the front of the stage to get some photo opportunities. Shortly afterwards our team set up our sport kites and started performing our team formation flying, but without music. We performed, often times surrounded by thousands of curious spectators, which included about 50 of the Chinese red army, and local kiters that had never seen our style of sport kite team flying before.
After the opening ceremonies performances were complete, a 10 minute long fireworks grand finally filled the sky! My only regret was that it wasn’t dark outside yet when the fireworks went off, and it would have been much more spectacular if the organizers of the opening ceremonies would have scheduled the ceremonies to conclude after dark. But over all, the grand opening ceremonies were very grand indeed!
Our team and all the other kiters were escorted back to our buses, and then back to the hotel for dinner. After dinner Shane and Kelly went to find the pageant women in the hotel lounge (kids). Jerry Hershey and I were stopped by a couple women that came over from the local university. They were english majors and wanted to talk to english speaking kiters, so that just maybe we could help them improve their english speaking skills. I told them that I didn’t know how much help we could be, since we were from the southern part of America, and although we spoke english, we spoke southern USA english, and that our southern accents and slang words may be confusing to them. They decided to give it a try anyway. So Jerry and I invited them to sit and chat with us in the hotel lobby. They asked questions and we supplied the answers. We actually enjoyed the conversations as much as they did! We taught them how to say things like, ” ya’ll, howdy, fixin to, ain’t, Dallas Cowboys, Goat Roper, redneck, rodeo, grits, corn bread, and yee ha”! They had to leave to go back to the university by 9pm or they would be locked out, but they promised to return the next evening.
Jerry and I wander over to the hotel lounge to get a drink, and to see what trouble our two children (Shane and Kelly), may be getting into. There they were like two virgin high school boys, hoping to get lucky (well at least Shane was), with the pageant women. They were having drinks with 4-5 of the pageant contestants. One from Russia, two from the USA , one from Canada, and one from Romania. Jerry and I decided that although we were married (Me, Jerry and Kelly), there was no harm in having a few drinks and a bit of conversation with these extremely attractive women. We also met one of the pageant staff guys who asked if Kelly would mind helping with the playing of some dance music, using Kelly’s lap top PC. Evidentially, the pageant girls were to have a girls only dance and disco party in one of the hotel’s large meeting rooms. The room was just 40 meters from where we were all sitting in the lounge. Kelly happily agreed to help out. So off the Kelly goes to help get the music set up and going, and Shane followed Kelly like a lost puppy, so that he could sneak into the all girls dance party. It worked and the pageant officials thought that Shane was there to help Kelly. In no time Kelly and Shane were headed to the dance party room, did they think of their kiting buddies to see if we were coming along too? Jerry and I won’t soon forget this, and we will remind them of this next time a similar opportunity arises! 😉
Mean while, Jerry and I were continuing our drinks and conversations with some of the girls that hadn’t yet left for the dance party room, when a couple of the pageant girls asked if we wanted to come to the dance party too? We said, “why not”. So we followed them to the room, but a we started to enter the room the pageant security staff said that Jerry and I couldn’t come in. The Pageant girl that was from Texas, tried to convince them to let us in, but to no avail! Oh well, it’s probably best that we didn’t get to go in anyway, since we were both married and neither of us can dance, even if our lives depended on it!
Jerry and I sat out in the lobby for a couple more hours and have good conversations with some of the German kiters, before we decide to get some shut eye… Kelly and Shane get to the rooms and in bed at about 2am. Lucky dogs!
Day 6 – April 21
We awoke early once again and had our breakfast… Shane told us during breakfast that during the dance party the night before, he fell in love with one of the Russian pageant girls, but as we found out later in the day, the Russian girl was a lesbian and she was just being nice to Shane, because he looks like the the cute red headed freckled face character on the old Andy Griffith show “Opie Taylor”. Or was maybe it was the puppet from the Howdy Doody show?
All the kiters load themselves and all their kites onto three buses and are driven to the kite festival grounds, and as we pulled into the entrance, we couldn’t believe our eyes, because there hundreds of thousands of people already there to watch the kite festival, and to fly kites. We unloaded ourselves and kite gear from the bus, and noticed that there was a line of Chinese red army standing side by side along our walkway, to keep people from gathering around us, and blocking our entrance to the festival… Was this royal treatment or what?
We stopped several times along our 1/4 mile walk to the kite flying grounds to gaze into the sky that was filled with thousands of kites of all shapes and sizes. Finally we enter the kite flying grounds and look for a spot to set up kite camp. We walked around for 10 minutes before finding a spot that was vacant of kites or kite gear on the ground. We were there to team fly, but as we looked for an open space in the sky, we realized that team flying would be impossible because there was literally zero open air space, that would be suitable for a stunt kite team to fly back and forth. So we gave up on that idea, and decided to get our single line kites out. I assembled a large 14 feet wide by 40 feet long Pyro delta kite with a 20 foot long spiked ball wind sock, and handed it to Shane to fly. It was obvious that Shane rarely flies single line kites, because he got the kite tangled with 4 other kites, within the first 5 minutes of flight. Jerry and I helped get the kites untangled and handed it back to Shane, and pointed to a somewhat open piece of sky for Shane to go fly the kite in. Next I put together a 7 foot tall american flag Rok with a matching 6 ft spinning basket for Jerry to fly. Jerry spotted an open spot of sky and ran over to stake claim to that spot.
Before getting out a kite that I could fly, I took a few minutes and just glanced across the sky in amazement of all the wonderful kites. Of special interest, there was a team of chinese kiters preparing to launch a very large kite that was made to look like a Chinese missile. It looked to be about 30 meters in length and about 4 meters across. The kite flew for a minute or two at a time, and each time the team would try and run launch it, they tangled with many other kites in the sky, one of those kites was my Pyro delta that Shane was flying. I look over to where Jerry was, and see that he too was tangled with the missile kite. Mr. Robert Yen was helping Jerry untangle the spinning basket from around the missile kite, but wasn’t having much luck because there were no less than fifteen other kites also tangled with the missile kite. Robert had to actually untie the bridle of the spinning basket to get it free from the missile kite. After that mess was straightened out my eyes were drawn to a very large 800 square foot flow form style kite that had special appliqué sewn into it, that was designed to look like Tianamen Square Rostrum. It was fantastic to see such a piece of art, fly so well in the beautiful blue sky!
I look around and the sky is even more congested with kites than before, so I decide to get out a Revolution 1.5 SLE and a set of 50 foot lines. I figured I should easily find enough room to fly this kite. While I was assembling the Rev, the crowd of people around me started growing very quickly, as they had when we assembled our other kites made with modern materials. Only this time the crowd was 4 times a large. I was told by our interpreter that most of these people had never seen modern kites like the revolution and were curious. I walked over to a small open spot of ground and set up the kite to the lines and handles. I walked back to my handles to launch the kite and there was a crowd of people around my kite. Many of which were taking pictures and measurements of every part of the kite. I was told my our interpreter (Mr. Wang) that a lot of these people probably work in or own a kite factory and would most likely try and make a similar version of it… I’ll bet Revolutions patents don’t cover China! 😉
I have to have Mr. Wang clear the crowd from around my kite so I can launch the kite from the ground. I began to do fast dive and stops with the kite to clear the crowd from under the kite. The Revolution kite is also very loud when flown forward at full speed. This was good and bad, It was bad because it drew more people’s attention around me, making it difficult to move on my feet without backing into people. The good thing out the noise was, I could dive the kite at full speed, but at a safe distance from people’s heads, and they would quickly run out of the way, for fear of being hit. That only lasted a short time before they realized that I had total control of the kite and was purposely diving it at the ground. The crowd was growing even larger by the minute, as I did typical quadline maneuvers with the kite and was doing a bit of show boating. I did some 3D catches and throws with the kite, and each time the crowd would clap their hands with appreciation (I’m really hating this, NOT!).
Before I knew it, a hour had gone by and I was really enjoying flying during this grand festival, when Mr. Wang Li said it was time to go back to the hotel, and that we all had to pack up our kites and gear. This was 11:30 am and we had only been there since 9:00am. We asked if we would be coming back, and we were told no, this was it for the international portion of the kite festival flying, and that people had to get ready for the big awards banquet that evening. Boy were we disappointed, that we traveled half way around the world and we only got to fly our kites for less than 3 hours, not counting our 3 hour practice the previous day.
So, we all pack up our kites, walk to the buses, and go back to the hotel for lunch and to get ready for their International kiters awards banquet. We have a great lunch and talk of our day’s kiting experiences with other kiters.
I hope the event coordinators are reading this and take what I am about to say as it is intended, as constructive criticism… Most all of the kiters we spoke to at lunch that day and the rest of the week had wished we could have flown an entire day or two, instead of only 3 hours. It would of been more enjoyable for the international kiters, and more entertaining for the spectators that came to watch all the fantastic kites that the international kiting guests had brought with them. Many invited kiters didn’t even have the time to fly all their best kites or put on their best show, despite being invited for their respective skills and presentations!
An hour after lunch our team “TKO” and the Holland Team were told that the media and the event coordinators wanted us to go back out to the kite flying grounds and fly. We originally had planned to do a sport kite team performance to music, and the Holland team had planned to launch 6 very large French Military kites, and use an attached harness to lift one of their women team mates into the sky 30 meters. Neither of our two teams had airspace during the festival earlier that day, to where it was possible or safe for us to do the performances that we were both invited to Weifang for. So we reload our kites on a bus and are brought back out to the festival grounds. Surprisingly enough, there were still a lot of local people flying kites out there.
We (Team TKO) pick a spot to set up for our performance, directly in front of the stage and speakers. And the Holland team is trying to find a suitable spot to start setting up their kites too. As our team is getting our kites and lines set up to fly, we notice that an occasional motorcycle or car would drive directly through the area where we would be flying. As we get closer to completing our pre-flight set up, more and more people start gathering around us and our kites. And once again, we had people constantly trying to pick up our New Tech Desire kites and take measurements and pictures. We had to have Mr. Wang and some of the Chinese Red army, keep the area clear so that we could perform our demo, without getting our kites ran over. Finally, the music starts and we can’t hardly hear it, so we decide rather than try and communicate with them anymore and waste time, we would continue with our half an hour performance. We do some team flying, some pairs, some individual flying. All the time the large crowd is giving their approval with applause. After we landed the kites, the crowd gathered around us and our kites, similar to when someone starts feeding a large flock of seagulls. And once again people are picking up the kites and taking measurements and pictures.
Shane takes off running toward the festival entrance. When he returned, I asked him where he had went in such a hurry? He said that some old guy had picked up one of his kites and was trying to steal it, and when the thief was caught by Shane, the guy just laughed about it. I really doubt the old guy could even speak english, and that’s probably why he laughed at Shane. Or maybe it was because he also thought that Shane looks like Opie Taylor or Howdy Doody!
I asked Mr. Liu Zhiping what he thought about our performance, and he said “Very Good, you won the competition”! I said “What competition? I thought that we were invited here just to demonstrate”? Mr. Liu Zhiping just gave me a big smile and hand shake, and said we’ll see you at the awards ceremony in one and a half hours. One hour? Good grief Charley Brown, we have to get our kites rolled up and get back to the hotel, take a shower, get dressed and find the awards banquet room in the Fuwah hotel. Not much time considering it will take us 15 minutes to pack up our gear, 10 minutes to walk back to the bus, 30 minutes to drive back to the hotel, 10 to 15 minutes each to shower and get ready, 5 to 10 minutes to walk to and find the banquet room. Well, believe it or not, we made it to the awards banquet with 5 minutes to spare, and that’s only because I left the water running in the shower when I got out so that Shane could just jump on in without adjusting the water temperature. The entire week it usually took a few minutes to get the water adjusted right.
By the way, the Holland team would not have time to set up their kites to do their demo that day, so their demonstration would have to wait until tomorrow. We promised to help them, anyway we could.
We walk into the the huge banquet room, and most everyone is already seated at round tables, that are elegantly decorated. Everyone is dressed in their best clothing. the room was huge, and was like something you might see in a movie. There were chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, fancy wall fixtures, beautiful carved artwork statues, and a large awards stage with a huge banner behind it that listed the sponsors and the event name. There were at least 100 wait staff running around catering to everyone’s needs. Bottom line, this was 1st class treatment all the way!
Our team was seated at a table second from the front of the room. At the front of the room was a huge round table that looked as big as the round table in King Arthur’s court. Seated at that table, were the business CEO’s that sponsored the festival, the top brass of the International Kite Federation, the kite festival’s coordinators, and one representative from each of the attending countries. less than two minutes after our team had sat down, I was told that I would be sitting at the big table. They brought me up, sat me down and pinned a rose on my shirt. I thought our other table was lavishly decorated, but this one was decorated as if we were royalty! Well some were royalty (so to speak), but I felt a bit awkard sitting up there amongst all these important people. On my left was the owner of a wine company that sponsored the festival, which by the way, makes some great wine and spirits (http://www.cyqlb-wine.com)! To my right was the Vice Mayor of Weifang. Two seats left of me was the President of the International Kite Federation. I was sitting there trying to be sophisticated, with my hands folded on my lap, and trying to sit up straight. All the time I kept staring over at Jerry, Shane and Kelly, and they were trying their best to try and get me to laugh, because they knew I was a bit uncomfortable! Making the best of the situation, I started speaking with the wine company CEO and the vice mayor, whom both were very friendly. The vice mayor spoke very good english, and told me that he had been to the USA a couple times, with the sister city program. He had also admitted to losing money in Las Vegas, and enjoying the festivities at Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana. 😉
All this time we are being served course after course of fine food and wine… We even ate sea cucumber! The wait staff would cut our food for us, and every time our wine glass was empty and the glass was sat down at the table, they would rush over and refill it. I was feeling no pain that night!
After about 45 minutes of dining on fine food and drink, and being waited on like royalty, the international awards presentations began. To our surprise, our team received two first place awards and a gold medal for each member of the team. I guess we really were competing in their international kite competition, and we didn’t know it. One of the awards was for “The Most Optimal Flying Kite”, which I later found out was for our team demonstration performance. the second award was for overall team performance during the festival. I believe all the international kiting guest received the gold medals. Needless to say, we are very honored that the coordinators and the judges liked and appreciated our sport kite team flying performances, considering there were 30-40 international teams competing, as well as 1,100 local teams. Our heart-felt congratulations to all of the other participants for their contributions to the festival!
Then we got to pose with our awards for the media and for other ‘s cameras, and I spoke with my team members about how I won’t soon forget they way they tried to embarrass me that evening, and how pay back is a bi_ch.
We leave the banquet and head back to the hotel. Shane and Kelly rush into the hotel lounge to see if the pageant girls are there again, and they were! Jerry and I almost forgot about the 2 english majors from the local university that we spent a couple hours with the night before, teaching southern slang english to, until we were half way back across the street to our hotel, and there they were waiting for us again. But this time there were 4 of them. We invited them into the lobby again, and continued their english education (southern style). And once again, they had to leave by 9pm so that they wouldn’t get locked out of their dormitory. they said that they would return again the following night.
Jerry and I headed over to the bar to check on Shane and Kelly, and sure enough, they were knee deep into pageant girls! Shane was over sitting next to the Russian girl that he had falling in love with, until he found out that she was a lesbian, and that his chances of getting intimate with her were slim and none, and slim had left town! Shane took the news like a man, and immediately started talking with the other girls. Kelly was offering to let the girls use his lap top PC to e-mail home. The girls hadn’t been allowed internet access since they had arrived. Good stuff Kelly, what a gentleman (giggle)!
We continue conversations for a couple more hours and Jerry and I decide to call it a day. Kelly and Shane stay up again closing down the bar with the pageant girls. Although they don’t know when to give up, at least they aren’t quitters! 😉
Day 7 – April 22
We receive a wake up call at 7am from our guide Mr. Wang Li, and he tells us that we have one hour to get ready, eat breakfast, and then catch the tour bus to a kite factory complex at the edge of the city. One thing we learned about our host, is that we should always be ready at anytime, to do anything that they ask, on a moments notice. No offense to our host, but that is how the entire week went. The coordinators constantly changed or deleted parts of the scheduled activities, so that nobody was safe with planning any other tours or shopping on our own, for fear that we wouldn’t be at the hotel when and if they decided to change the days activities schedule. I don’t blame our guide mr. Wang Li, because he was only telling us information as quick as he received it from his bosses.
So once again, we rush to get ready, grab a quick bite of food, and get on the tour bus. The drive to the kite factory village brought us far north of town from where we had been earlier in the week. There were a lot of farms on the way, most of them grew trees and ornamentals plants. We arrive at the kite factory and head inside the complex, which is made up of dozens of buildings. Some buildings were gift shops which contained the kites that were made there, and numerous other souvenirs, from China and Russia. We toured through 2-3 kite building shops, where we got to see the tedious work that goes into making these traditional chinese bamboo and silk kites. It’s basically an assembly line. One person cuts, carves, and bends the bamboo that will be used to frame the kite. Several people draw the outlines of the artwork that will painted onto the silk skins of the kite, others will take those pieces of silk and hand paint each piece, others will then glue the silk pieces to the bamboo frames, and finally others will carefully pack the finished kites into very nicely crafted boxes with nice metal latches. This work looked very tedious and time consuming! It definitely gave us a better appreciation of what goes into making these hand crafted kites and what a great value these kites are to buy and collect!
Many of the other buildings contained history of the chinese kite factory, and of kites themselves. Other buildings contained for sale works of art, from furniture made from raw trees, to hand made vases, and marble statues. As we were walking through the complex, a special mock wedding processing was staged for us. It consisted of lavishly dressed people in silk costumes, the groom riding a horse, and the bride being carried. there were other playing musical instruments, banging drums, and singing or chanting.
In the middle of the complex was a very nice oriental style pond surrounded by an artificial rock hill with an observation tower at the top, with a nice white ivory made statue. As were were taking pictures of each other next to the statue, giant rain drops started to fall, and we headed back toward the tour buses. Along the way back to the buses, there were small grass fields between some of the buildings. In the fields were dozens of kite factory employees flying the kites that they had been making. I don’t know if this was for our benefit, as a way of saying ‘hey look, our kites really do fly good”, or if they were just doing a bit of testing.
We get back to the parking lot at the entrance to the complex and a large group of drummers and dancers that were also lavishly dressed, started putting on a show for us, and for some visiting dignitary that was visiting there with his bodyguards. Soon after the performance the person of importance was whisked away in a limousine.
We load back onto the buses, and head back to the hotel. We get back in time for lunch. During lunch, we are told that we will once again that our team and those from Holland will be going back out to the kite flying grounds, so that the Holland team can finally show their French military kites, and lift their teammate into the sky. We didn’t have to go, but we had promised the Holland team that we would help them prepare and launch their kites, and we were glad to help!
We take yet another exciting bus ride across town and thru dangerous traffic to the kite festival grounds. the rain had stopped shortly after we had left the kite factory complex, but the sky was still very dark and overcast, and the winds were almost perfect for the Holland team’s show. We arrive at the kite grounds where the Holland team spent about one and a half hours assembling there six french military kites, and anchoring them to a large truck. In the time the Holland team was preparing their kites, Jerry, Shane and I were helping Kelly Reed assemble his train of 9 New Tech Maximas stunt kites. The Maximas are 10 feet wide, each kite. If you’ve ever assembled a train of stunt kites, then you know it can be very time consuming. You see, Kelly was supposed to travel back out to the festival grounds the day before when we were asked to perform to music, but Kelly wasn’t prepared or willing to go when asked. We couldn’t wait any longer for Kelly, and the bus left without him.
Anyway, we get Kelly setup and help him launch his kites, then we head over to offer our help to the Holland team. They had just completed the assembly of their kites and were ready to perform the delicate launch procedure. With kites that create this much pull and lift, it is very important that the kite train be released ever so slowly, so that the line doesn’t snap, or so that the truck doesn’t get dragged across the ground. The process of launching the kites is very time consuming, and makes use of about 40-50 helpers that each are wearing a pair of cotton gloves, so that when they are slowly releasing the kites into the sky, they don’t get friction burns on their hands. The team leader of the Holland team is giving verbal commands to the chinese helpers, so they will know what, how, and when to perform each phase of the launch procedures. Our job was to help properly translate the commands into proper english ya’ll! I worked right next to the team leader from Holland, while Jerry helped hold down and release the rope with the chinese helpers. Shane was off to the side flirting with some local girls (one track mind). We get Shane’s attention and he joins us in helping. One of the Holland team members was needed, and Shane said he would find him, so Shane did a tip toeing fairy style run across the field, and was yelling “Antonio, Antonio, where art thou Antonio”! We all started laughing at Shane, but the one girl that Shane was flirting with a few minutes earlier, rolled her eyes, and said “stupid, stupid boy”! But of course she thought Shane was still Howdy Doody cute 😉
After about half an hour, the Holland team was successful of getting their kites all in the sky on one line. They rushed to get their female teammate into the safety harness which would be used to secure her to the flying line of the kites, at about 30-40 meters up the line. She was connected to the line, when all of the sudden the wind started losing strength. The team managed to get her in the sky for a few minutes at a time, but not for as long as they had hoped for. Still it was long enough so that the few thousand people that were witness to the show, were able to actually see a women lifted into the sky by a kite. What was really beautiful, was the women was enclosed in a jump suit made of white tyvek material, and the jump suit had attached to it, a 25 meter long cape, that when she is in the sky, dangling up on the kite line, she drops the cape down so that it floats in the wind, which gives the illusion that she is really flying!
After a few more attempts to keep her in the sky, the wind decides to totally drop the kites out of the sky. the team leader catches her without any harm, and our team goes to retrieve and roll up the six large kites. The kites ended up coming down in a tree nursery that was being worked by a couple farmers who were plowing between the rows of small trees, using a donkey pulled plow. The farmers stopped what they were doing to help us roll the kites up. Total retrieval of the kites and packing them away, was less than half an hour. We all get back on the bus and head back to the hotel, where we are told that we have half an hour to get ready for another important banquet dinner and meeting of the International Kiting Federation Board of Directors. FYI, shortly before I went to China I was officially asked to join the Board of Directors of the International Kite Federation. I gladly accepted!
The banquet was in the same elegant room as the the previous evening’s awards banquet. Once again I found myself seated at the large round table with their dignitaries. The only thing different from this night, as compared to the previous night, was that there were no awards given out, and instead it was countless numbers of toasts to each other’s health, good fortune, and good will, with the great wine that was supplied by the sponsors. Once again my team mates were sitting at their same assigned table, trying to make me laugh.
After the dinner, we head back across the street to the hotel. And sure enough, the university English majors wee waiting for us again by the front of the hotel, but this time they brought eight more of their English class roommates. Jerry and I decided we needed help, so we spotted our new friend “Mary” from Britain who gave us a hand in speaking with these knowledge hungry girls. We figured Mary may have to start the class over again from the beginning, because they had already spent the last two nights learning american southern English slang from us, and Mary speaks real English, not what’s been phonetically torn apart by us americans! 😉
We spent an hour with the university students again, before they had to leave early again to make the dorm lockout curfew. They said they would be back again the next night, and we said that we would be looking forward to their visit again. Little did we know, what the next day’s plans would be!
While we were helping teach the university students improper english speaking skills this evening, and just like the previous three nights, Shane and Kelly were once again more interested in spending some quality time with pageant models. Jerry and I walk into the bar to find the two sitting with women again, but this time Shane is sitting with the two young women that he met earlier in the day on the kite flying field. These were the one’s that called him a “stupid, stupid boy” when Shane did his fairy dance across the field, and Kelly is talking with a couple of the pageant girls. Shane comes over to me and asked me to help him get away from the Chinese girls, because they were ruining his slim chances with the pageant girls. I told Shane that I would come rescue him in about ten minutes. It worked out that I actually had to have a meeting with Shane and Jerry about the next day’s schedule that as just told to me by our guide. Shane, you owe me one! Ten minutes later, Shane was seen sitting with the pageant girls, Jerry was having a debate with a specialist that has been experimenting with the ideas of future human flight that doesn’t involve kites or engines. The guy had been researching all types of flying things for the past 15 years, yet Jerry was being Jerry, which means he can’t resist debating and disagreeing with other people’s expertise. Who cares that this guy had been researching the topic for 15 years, compared to Jerry’s 30 minutes of listening about human flight. So I headed to bed, leaving the conversations to the experts, and to Beavis and Butthead (Shane and Kelly).
Day 8 – April 23
We go down to the hotel lobby at about 7 am, because we were expected to participate in the Annual Weifang Kite Festival parade, which was to include all the international kite guest, and the Miss World Kite Pageant contestants. Outside the sky was mostly cloudy, and the organizers said that the parade would be cancelled because they thought that it would rain. They told everyone that we could do whatever we wanted that day, but that this would be our last day in Weifang. Today everyone would be leaving on busses to go to the city Qingdao, which is the location of another kite festival. Most everyone except our team and the Holland would be going to the Qingdao kite festival after Weifang. We were to be ready to leave by 2:00 pm that day, so what ever we decided to do, needed to be done soon. Jerry Hershey and I decided to go visit the Weifang World Kite Museum, Shane decided to go with Mary and Eve from Britain to do a bit of shopping.
Jerry and I caught a taxi to the museum, we pay our admissions fees, and take a guided tour of the museum. The museum is huge compared to other museums I’ve ever been to. The building itself is a masterpiece of architecture, just like some of the temples in Asia. Each room is filled with kiting history from China, and boast kite photos, custom made kites from around the world. There were also a couple gift shops where you could buy Weifang built kites, and museum souvenirs.
Our museum guide spoke very limited english, but was very kind and courteous. The kites in the museum were great, especially the traditional asian kites. There were many unique designs that we had never seen before. This trip to the museum is a must see, if ever you go to Weifang! We were told that morning by our British friends Mary and Eve, that we should ask the museum staff for copies of the kite festival posters from this year, because they weren’t available for sale, and we would need to ask for them. We did as Mary and Eve had said and with the staff’s very, very limited english speaking skills, it took us about half an hour to get them to understand the meaning of the word “poster”. Finally, a young man that worked there appeared with two different copies for each of us. they also gave us 2-3 paperback books that told about the museum, and chinese kite history. We took pictures with the staff members, and left the museum. As we walked toward the street, we realized that we had forgot to have our guide “Mr. Wang Li”, write us return directions from the museum back to the hotel, in Chinese, so that the taxi driver would know where we wanted to go. Jerry goes back in the museum and has a staff member write direction to the Fuwah hotel, in Chinese. We catch the first taxi that comes by, and are taken back to the hotel.
When we arrive back, it is about lunch time. During lunch, Shane tells us that him, Mary and Eve had watched the parade, by where they were shopping. The parade wasn’t cancelled after all. The only thing that was cancelled, was the kitefliers participation in the parade. The Pageant girls still participated. Needless to say we were a bit disappointed of what happened, because we had really been looking forward to the parade! Well, maybe next year we’ll have our chance.
After lunch we head to our rooms to do our final packing, and get ready to check out of the hotel. When I arrived to our room, Mr. Liu Zhiping had delivered a custom made large Dragon kite for me. I had traded him a stunt kite for the dragon. The problem was, the dragon wasn’t packed in a box, and it was too big to store it as a carry on, in the airplane. The original plan was to have it delivered to me in a sturdy box that could be checked in with my luggage at the airports. It is now 1:00 pm and we only have an hour until we drive to Qingdao, and it is obvious that a sturdy enough box wouldn’t be located in time for our departure. I ended up leaving the dragon with Mr. Wang Hong Li, and asked him to e-mail me when I returned to America, and let me know how much it would cost to ship the dragon kite to me. After I returned I was informed that it would cost $875 USD to ship the dragon. I told them that my airline ticket to Weifang was less than that, and I guess they would have to invite me back next year so that I could bring it back with me. Perhaps the the plan all along was to hold my dragon kite as ransom so that I would have to come back next year (just joking)?
We check out of the hotel on time, say our goodbyes, take some group photos with Mr. Liu Zhiping, Mr. Wang Hong Li, Mary and Eve. Some kiters take a train back to the cities they had originally arrived to from their home countries, most take the buses. We were informed that our team and Kelly Reed would be riding a bus by ourselves to Qingdao and would be taken directly to the airport there for a connecting flight to Beijing that evening at 8 pm. The other bus was also going to Qingdao, but would be taking the kiters directly to the Qingdao Kite festival host hotel. Off we went on our hour and a half drive to Qingdao, via one of their many turnpikes. There were only four of us and the driver on this huge touring style bus. It was fine with me, as the driver allowed me to go to the back of the bus and smoke a cigarette, if I opened a window. Shane and Kelly took a nap along the way. The country side was littered with tree farms along the entire route. The scenery was fairly flat and looked similar to the midwest area of the USA. Once we got closer to Qingdao, large mountains appeared west of the city that were quite beautiful!
We arrive at the airport at about 4:40pm, unload our kite bags and luggage, and go into the airport to see if we can check in our bags early. We convince then to let us do an early check in, so that we don’t have to carry them around with us for the next three and a half hours. But once again I had to tell the baggage check employee about the rules regarding oversized bags. My luck still holds out and they allow our oversized, overweight bags to be checked, without additional fees.
We go outside the terminal and find a cafe to sit down in while have a few pints of some chinese beer and wait for our flight to depart. After a couple hours and many beers later, we go back into the airport terminal, pass thru the security checks, and go to our departing gate, only to be told that our flight to Beijing would be delayed or possibly cancelled, because of mechanical problems with the airplane.
Our airplane was supposed to have already been in route to Qingdao, but was still sitting on the ground in Shanghai. Immediately the passengers started panicking and demanding answers from the airline staff. We sat back and let the smoke clear until we could inquire as to what the situation and options would be if the flight was rescheduled or cancelled. For the next few hours things weren’t looking too good for our flight, and we thought that we may have to opt for another one to Beijing the next morning. The problem with this was, we were supposed to be at the Beijing airport by 2pm the next day to check in for our 4:40 pm flight to Chicago. This would be cutting it close if our flight was cancelled this evening.
Most of the passengers decided that our flight would be cancelled, and went to the airport hotel that was provided by the airline. There was another passenger from Germany that was working in Beijing, and he had close ties with this airline, his sources said that our flight would not be cancelled so, we decided to stay at the airport and wait and see if our flight actually gets cancelled or rescheduled. We go into a nearby restaurant and have more beers with our new German friend. Finally at 12 midnight our plane arrives, and we depart for Beijing. We arrive in Beijing at 2:30am, get our checked bags, and go outside the baggage area to locate the person that is supposed to meet us at the airport and drive us to our supposedly, prearranged hotel.
After a half an hour we never found anyone yelling our name our holding up a sign with our name on it, so we hired a hotel shuttle to take us to their hotel, where we stayed for the night. The same exact thing happened to me and John Barresi in Mumbai, India in January, while coming back from the Gujarat International Kite Festival in Ahmedabad, India.
By the time we finally checked into to our hotel and got to sleep it was 3:30am, with a wake up call at 7am. We had scheduled a trip to see the Great Wall of China before our flight the next day, and we needed to leave early because the drive was one and a half hours from Beijing, and into the mountains. We have to be back from the Great Wall to the airport by 2 pm.
Day 9 – April 24
We get our wake up call as planned, take turns in the shower getting ready, and go down stairs to eat some breakfast, which only cost us $1.25 USD. After breakfast we have the hotel staff arrange for a round trip taxi ride to the Great Wall, which was one and a half hours drive up into the mountains outside of Beijing. We say our farewells to Kelly Reed, because he had already seen the great wall before Shane and I had even arrived in China, and he didn’t want to see it again so soon. He had made plans to go do some more sightseeing and would leave to fly back to Austin, Texas the following Monday (two days).
We make an agreement with the taxi driver that he will be paid once we return back to the hotel from our trip from the Great Wall. We did this because we didn’t want to prepay the guy and have him leave us stranded there, trying to find a way back to Beijing. We also told him that our time schedule was very tight and that we need to get there and back quickly. We couldn’t have picked a better taxi driver, because he drove like he was in the Indy 500 car race! The only bad thing about the drive, was the endless disco music that he played very loud the entire trip. We arrive to the great wall at about 10 am.
This section of the great Wall is one of the more popular section for tourist to visit, because of it’s scenic beauty… We’re in a valley between large mountains and from where we parked, walking down a long tunnel that takes us under a hill and past lines solid with gift shops. There are thousands of tourists already there. We come out of the tunnel and have a half mile walk to the Wall’s main entrance. Once there, more souvenir shops await tourists. We buy our tickets and start our climb toward the east, a few hundred yards up a slightly steep grade on top of the Wall. We stop and look back to the west and notice that there are quite a few less tourists hiking the wall to the west, so we head back down, and then start our climb toward the west. We immediately discover why there are fewer tourist hiking in this direction. the hike to the west is mostly stair steps that at some points are almost as steep as climbing a ladder. We climb up a half a mile or so, and then stop to take in the view and catch our breath. The view was spectacular, and was definitely one of the highlights of our trip to China! Jerry and Shane noticed a portion of the wall that was about one and a half miles farther up the wall, and they decided to make that their goal. We checked our watches and decided that whether or not they reached the peak, they must turn around and come back by a certain time, so that we will be able to leave to go back to Beijing by 12:00 pm. That would put us back in Beijing at 1:30, and we need to check our bags at the airport by 2:30 pm.
Jerry had been on a diet for over year and had lost 70 pounds of weight, now in shape for the rigorous climb. A year earlier he wouldn’t have been able to go any farther than where I stopped. Jerry was willing to play this game of Russian roulette with our time, so that he could get his daily workout. So, Shane and Jerry continue their hike to the top. Shane is skinny as a rail and has endless energy, so the climb won’t bother him. Me, I declined to continue on, not wanting to end up getting leg cramps on our long flights back to America later that day. I sit and take in the view for while, and then head down to do a bit of souvenir shopping for my family. This was also rather fun, because there were thousands of tourist of all nationalities coming and going, and it’s always fun just to sit and watch the variety of interesting looking people. While waiting at the base of the wall, where I could see Jerry and Shane when they arrived back from their hike, I spoke with many other tourist, one was also a University english major, just like we had been teaching southern american English to, back in Weifang. We chatted for a good while, when I suddenly realized that the Weifang University students had probably showed up at our hotel in Weifang the previous night, waiting to speak with us more. They probably brought their entire class, only to discover that we had already checked out of the hotel. I mentioned this to Jerry when he and Shane arrived back to the entrance of the wall, and Jerry said “Now we’re going to look like a bunch of jerks for not telling them we wouldn’t be there”. But what could we do?
We make the half mile walk down the mountain and thru the gift shop tunnel, at the end of which our taxi driver was eagerly waiting for us. We have been gone much longer than what he had anticipated, and probably thought that we stiffed him for the taxi fare, and the ride back. Once again, he drove back like he was in the Indy 500, gettings as back to the hotel by 2 pm.
We load our bags from the hotel onto the hotel shuttle bus and take a short 10 minute ride to the Beijing airport. We’re standing in the checked bags line when we notice the team from Holland was also waiting in line. They took the night train back from Weifang to Beijing that night. We talked briefly with them and then said our farewells. I also told them what to tell the checked baggage employees when they tried to charge them extra for their over size kite bag. their bag was about eight feet long… I’m curious whether or not my sales pitch worked for them as well, and if they had to pay extra for their giant bag?
So we get to the checked bag counter and once again I have to give the sales pitch myself… Damn I’m good, It works again!
We get thru all the security check points, the SARS screening test, and locate a restaurant, where we finally get to eat an american style hamburger with fries/chips. After nine days of eating the same chinese food, we were ready for some western style food, and the burgers were a much needed change. They were great!
We finally board our plane on time at 4:40 pm and head home on our non-stop flight to Chicago. the flight’s duration was 15 hours and took us over Russia, Siberia, the Arctic cap, Alaska, the Yukon, Canada, and then finally to the Windy City.
We arrived once again without getting much sleep along the way. Shane slept because he was worn out from the rigorous Great Wall climb, and his week long late night chats with the pageant girls had finally caught up with him. Jerry slept quite a bit too, because he too was worn out from the previous night’s 3 hour sleep, and the great wall climb. Me, I don’t need no stinking sleep! After waiting an hour for our bags to make it to baggage claim, Shane and I somehow got split up from Jerry, and we went our separate ways. Our final connecting flight would take us to Oklahoma City, and Jerry’s flight would take him directly to Wichita, Kansas. Before rechecking our bags, we had to pass through customs, and some other security checks. We then re-check our bags at a quick connecting flight drop off, designed for incoming international travelers that had connecting flights to another city. After that Shane says he’s hungry and we find a McDonalds in the Chicago airport. Shane eats, while I do some more gift shopping.
By the way, we departed Beijing China, on Saturday April 24th at 4:40 pm, and we arrived back to Chicago the same day at 4:25 pm, fifteen minutes before we left… Puzzle on that one!
We board our flight to Oklahoma City at 7:30 pm and arrive 2 and a half hours later, at 10:00 pm. We get our bags from baggage claim, which for the most part are still sort of in one piece, except for the large two inch round hole in my suitcase… Gotta love those under paid baggage handlers, they take such pride in their work, NOT!
Big John Romanek was suppose to pick us up at the airport, but when we got outside the airport, Big John was nowhere to be seen. After a half an hour of waiting, I decide to go into the airport to try and call John. I had no luck reaching him. When I get back outside to tell Shane the bad news, there was John, just now arriving. John’s not known for his being on time. LOL! We drive John back to his house in my Ford F-150, drop him off, and then head back south for our 2 hour drive to Wichita Falls, Texas. Shane says he’s already hungry again. So we stop at a McDonalds on the turnpike, half an hour south of Oklahoma City. Finally, at 2 am, Sunday – April 25th, I arrive home. Shane decided to go ahead and drive home to Denton, Texas which is another 2 hour drive, instead of staying at my house and leaving in the morning.
By the way, I never slept again until the following night because of the jet lag and time zone changes, they were kicking by butt!
Now that’s what I call an Adventure in Kiting and travel! You can find additional tidbits here:
Weifang International Kite Festival:
Miss International Miss Kite:
Weifang Kite Festival – Fuwah Hotel:
See you on the field,