Challenge 12: ACCOMPLISHED!

Posted by Adrian on August 23, 2010 under Challenges | 4 Comments to Read

Map updated!

Challenge 12: Learn about Chinese calligraphy and write your Chinese names.

Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) is not only one of China’s most beautiful spots, it has also had a strong influenced on Chinese art. The breathtaking scenery of rugged stone peaks dotted with pine trees is re-created in many years of traditional paintings. Even today, artists come from all over the world to immerse themselves in the scenery and find inspiration, so where better for us to study one of China’s most famous art forms – calligraphy.

We woke up at 5am to beat both the tour groups and the sun up the mountain. Our hope was to find artists working near the summit. Instead we only found dozens of incredible men whose job it is to carry supplies up to the hotels on the peak. They walk up the steep path – 4 miles of steps – once a day, carrying loads of around 165 pounds  (12 stones). It takes them around 5 hours and their strength is simply amazing.

We had to wait until the evening when we were back in the town to find our artist. Mr. Xie, a nationally renowned calligrapher, took great pride in unrolling his work and spreading it out on the floor as he explained his various techniques. We learnt such interesting facts as the thinner brushes are made from goat hair and the thicker ones are made from wolf fur.

Under Mr. Xie’s guidance we enjoyed having a go ourselves and he politely said he was impressed with our efforts. More than anything, it was a relaxing experience; one which Mr. Xie says he does for up to 2 hours every evening before bed in order to sleep well. After our tiring day on the mountain, we did too.

Challenge Progress

Photos (click on them to see the full image)

(To see captions for each picture, please visit the website)


(To see video, please visit the website)

Challenge 11: ACCOMPLISHED!

Posted by Albert on August 21, 2010 under Challenges | 5 Comments to Read

Map updated!

Challenge 11: Visit a nursing home.

“Where to?” the taxi driver asked us.

“Are there any nursing homes in Yíchāng?” we asked him.


“Great. Take us to any one of them.”

We were turned away from two government-operated nursing homes with our gift box of fruit still in hand before the taxi driver found us a small, private “tuō lǎo yuàn” (support old center) that welcomed us with big smiles.

We were moved when we heard the story of how Mr. Liú and his wife opened “Long Life” nursing home ten years ago and have selflessly taken care of the elderly residents who have come to stay with them ever since. When we asked if they ever have time off, they said, “How could we take time off? Who would take care of our residents?” Just to clarify that they hadn’t had a single day off in the past ten years, we asked when their last vacation was. They looked at each other for a few moments and replied, “Well, we used to have two days off on weekends at our previous job.”

The owners and residents couldn’t have been more welcoming. We chatted with a 40-year-old woman visiting her 53-year-old brother and heard the story of how he came to stay at “Long Life.” We also chatted with a 91-year-old woman, who insisted we just call her “Grandmother,” about some of the changes she’s seen in China since her birth in 1919.

This is yet another chapter of the book we can’t wait to write and another experience we’ve filed in the already teeming folder labeled: “Challenges that far exceeded our expectations.”

Photos (click on them to see the full image)

(To see captions for each picture, please visit the website)


(To see video, please visit the website)

Challenge 10: FAILED!

Posted by Adrian on August 20, 2010 under Challenges | 5 Comments to Read

Map updated!

Challenge 10: Win three games of Mahjong in a row.

“My father has lost a lot of money because of it. More than 1000 yuan RMB (100 pounds or 150 dollars) a night is common.”

“My brother’s wife was addicted to it and it caused the end of their marriage.”


The above stories were told to us by people we’ve met on our trip. What was the cause of their problems?

(a) drugs
(b) alcohol
(c) Mahjong


Well, as you may have guessed from the title of our challenge, it’s Mahjong. While these are of course extreme cases, there is no denying that the popular Chinese game is a national obsession, especially with older women. We took a 3-day cruise through the Yangtze River’s three gorges with the aim of finding out why.

We spent the evening of the first day learning how to play from our cabin-mates – 3 medical students from China’s top university in Beijing. We then took what we’d learnt out onto the streets at one of the small towns we stopped at along the river and challenged some old ladies. They continued our education with a ruthless lesson in how to lose every game.

By the time the final night came, we were as ready as we’d ever be to enter the ship’s on-board gambling room and take on some serious players. We agreed the stake (very low!) and amid a smokey atmosphere, which was so bad we resorted to wearing face masks, we played the Chinese at their own game.

And actually we made a dream start, somehow winning both of the warm up games! We were on a roll, our luck was in and surely nothing could stop us. But once we started playing for money everything changed. Out of the 22 games we played, we won only once!

We eventually left the room still wondering just why so many people are obsessed with Mahjong and having predictably failed the second challenge of the trip!

Photos (click on them to see the full image)

(To see captions for each picture, please visit the website)


(To see videos, please visit the website)