The frost covered coaches lined up patiently awaiting the copiously clad interns in the half -light of the icy dawn.   Snowflakes fluttered in the frozen wind, coating the ice-glazed pavements in fleecy whiteness.  The pallid heavens polished the way for the tour bus snowploughs to voyage across the dicey Beijing boulevards.

The Summer Palace stood, precisely contrary to that, defying the bitter windstorms and callous hail.   But the beauty of the still crystal waters and pastel shrines upon the snow-white landscape, proved to be nothing less than fit for a fairy tale.  As the dazzling sunshine trickled through the bleak white sky, the snow drops twinkled and the gleaming mist swirled round the winter worn branches, injecting their wooden veins with glittering life for a mid-morning spectacle.  Along with the stark woodland silhouettes, our much-loved Niles Erikson got captured in the moment, welcoming the glimmering flecks from the young sunshine.  He appeared as one with nature, as the snow flurries twirled around him romantically, while he gazed up through the glacial glare- what a wally!  But only a spoilsport would deny him of this utter Kodak moment!

The interns braved the freezing temperatures and icy chills, chattering along, blinking in through glassy eyes, the sheer beauty of the enchanted winter wonderland; A perfect parallel to an otherwise, Summer Palace.  Not a soul in sight hindered the striking splendor of the wintry snow dome, as the tour groups owned the Summer in disguise.   A childlike magic cast over the interns as they skipped around, hiding from and seeking one another, laughing and joking in a playground parade.  Snowball a plenty!

As the weather-beaten bunch bundled back onto the warm bus smuggling the stolen TTC flag, sing songs were in full swing and made for hungry work apparently, as brunch was served at approximately 10:30.  A chinglish cuisine of potato salad, fries, chicken breast, noodles, rice and many more a comforting concoction were laid out before the two traditional dining rooms.  And interns really made the most of the western delights! Nearly three weeks down and western food really starts calling a craving! Mark my words. So this surprise buffet was received gratefully and in abundance!

The coaches skidded along to Houhai next, providing the interns with a Starbucks situation!  I have never seen a group of people move so fast.  The busses had barely come to a halt at the entrance and the coffee lovers were pushing and shoving to the front of the bus.  When the doors opened the hoard of interns bounded forth to the magical Starbucks.  Lengthy queues formed as gingerbread mochas and cinnamon cappa’s fused to frozen fingers.  Our very own Miss. Media, Kirsty, opted for a hazelnut, soya, latte- large- to warm her cockles.

With cockles well and truly warmed through, the caffeine charged chums strolled around the Christmassy lake to meet with a row of rickety rickshaws.  The busses were to be abandoned for the next stint of the trip as couples clambered into the rusty rickshaws ready for the race around the hutongs.  The cobbled alleys surrounding Houhai Lake are ‘hutongs’, that are lined with pokey, old-fashioned houses.  These ancient homes are famed in Beijing for their raw authenticity and preserved for a taste of tradition.  As the rickshaws flung round tight corners and slipped down slender hutongs, the peddlers puffed and peddled, peddled and puffed as interns grinned from ear to ear throughout their jolty journey.

From one famous tourist spot, promptly to another- Tiananmen Square was up next on the agenda.  Tiananmen ice rink more like! The interns competed to impress as they slid and sashayed around the slippery square in sight of Chairman Mao.  Stacks and stumbles, spinning and sliding and the odd moonwalk didn’t quite impress, but thoroughly amused all the same.  Tiananmen melted into Sanlitun as the interns requested another trip to the Yashow clothing market to browse through the hidden treasure.  The pirates scattered, scouring every floor for sparkly trinkets and golden garments while Niles and Journey cuddled round a soothing hot chocolate in the top floor café.  And before long it was bus ahoy and dinnertime!

With a yo ho ho and a cuppa’ green cha, dinner was served and Christian proposed a toast to his fellow interns to their last free day on the morrow and suggested they gather at the end of tour day to revel in merrymaking one last time before the start of their teaching practice in a few days.  Dinner was speedily served and gobbled up just as quickly as everyone wished the meal away to reach the fabulous finale that was dawning.

The acrobat show left every jaw gaping wide as it was clear that health and safety in China isn’t quite what it is in the West! The close calls were far too close and the split seconds were far too split as one somersault blended into another ten.  A suspended, spinning hamster wheel donning a blindfolded man provided a nail biting finish.  It was not a show for the faint hearted but the real life performing parrots and some physical slapstick comedy candy coated any immediate danger that was out to shock and alarm.  And indeed it did shock and alarm!

After some exhaustingly demanding experiences (and that was just the acrobat show!) it was finally time for these TTC’ers to scramble back onto the busses one last time.  A thin layer of snow still dusted every corner and every tree stump but this brave bunch weren’t prepared to retire into the dark just yet.  After Christians attempt to unite the group once more, the majority of interns were off to dance the night away before the start of their teaching practice week.

It is unbelievable how fast three weeks have passed and that in several days time, everyone will be heading off to their schools and for most it’ll be ‘bye bye Beijing’.  So for one more night let midnight come and go, let the cocktails flow and let the good times roll.  But as for us weary TTC staff- we were knackered and in our thermal P.j’s within ten minutes of getting back.  We’re definitely not as young as we used to be!!

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