Monday, July 24, 2006
Saturday was strange. Very, very strange. We set off from Xiaoshan just after two in the afternoon for the forty minute drive to Hangzhou. Newly built apartment blocks had sprung up on either side of the dual-carriageway, many with Alpine style roofs or mini-pagodas and Eiffel Towers tacked on top. Rose bushes had been planted every few metres in the central reservation, stretching mile after mile after mile. Crossing the river, flat barges moved silently through the grey water like gunboats on the Mekong.
Then came the paintball. In stifling heat I sat through an hour long induction conducted entirely in Chinese, during which I gathered precisely two things: we would be carrying full size AK47 replicas up and down a hill, and we'd be shooting high velocity beebee pellets at each other rather than splodges of paint. My enthusiasm plummeted still further when the costumes arrived - camouflage trousers that ended at my ankles, a plastic GIs helmet and a Darth Vader mask with a few pin-prick size holes for ventilation and no peripheral vision.
We started the game minus half our body weight after half an hour's marching around and standing to attention practice, which the Chinese kids lapped up with worrying eagerness. Unfortunately nobody bothered to tell the foreigners what we were supposed to be doing, so I ended up still playing the first game as the second one was starting. In a blow to national stereotypes, the French girl quit after two minutes while the Pole fought off five hundred Asians in a desperate rearguard action before she surrendered and her home was razed to the ground.
The barbecue was pandemonium. A free for all involving fat Chinese rich kids, skewered raw meat, live shrimp, smoke and fire. I stayed in the corner cooking bits of tofu. The karaoke kicked off later, at almost exactly the same time as the heavy rain started. A 15 year old kid stripped off to the waist and started gyrating in front of the teachers. Another used his camera flash to strobe the dancefloor after the techno music started banging out. As we drove home huge forks of ligtning ripped through the night sky.