Hangzhou

Hangzhou turned out to be exquisite, it was the place high-ranking officials went for holidays. It also had the strangest street signs we'd ever seen; signs that announced "Do well in sanitation, build up socialist civilisation" and "No spitting, a spittoon". They attached signs like these to lampposts all over the city.

spitoonWe were visiting the Park one day and sat down to rest on one of the picturesque bridges they have in abundance in China. We were joined on the bench by an old lady and her grandson. The little boy was curious and kept staring at us while his grandmother tried to distract him so Anna and I smiled at him when he looked at us then we pretended not to be looking and we would suddenly turn to catch him looking. The boy guessed this was a game and played along while his grandmother smiled at him and us. boy with ballon dogI put my hat on and raised my eyebrows up and down to make the hat move up and down then the boy wanted to try so I put the hat on him but he couldn't get the hat to move. I then took out a balloon, blew it up and twisted it into a dog for him. I'm not sure if he had ever seen a balloon animal before but both the boy and his grandmother were just smiling away and thrilled to receive this small gift.

The boy was squealing so much with delight that he attracted the attention of a large crowd of Chinese visitors, a tour group. By the time the group came over to see what was happening I was showing the boy a trick called a paddle trick. The paddle trick is very visual with black spots jumping from one paddle to another. The tour group were very amused and amazed by the trick so I did a trick with sponge balls, again it is very visual and balls would disappear from my hand and appear in the hand of someone else. I then did a couple of other visual tricks for the group. One of the group could speak a little English and expressed his gratitude on behalf of the group. He wanted to know why we were in China and we explained that we were just travelling and taking a break from Hong Kong. Before I knew it I was performing for the whole group to huge cheers and applause. The spokesman said they were on an outing from their workplace, he proudly announced they were in the metallurgy industry. He asked if we had ever been to a steel works and when I answered that we had not he got some paper and wrote out (in Chinese) a pass to get me into No. 3 Steelworks Factory in Shanghai. He said to hand that in at the gate and they would inform him we were there then he would give us a guided tour. He explained to everyone what I had said, everyone clapped and stuck their thumbs up. Sadly we never got to Shanghai but we still have the invite. The boy's grandmother asked the interpreter to tell me she was honoured and grateful that I had given the gift to her grandchild.

public healthAnother incident happened in Hangzhou; Anna and I visited another Park, this one had a Pagoda at the top of a hill and we wanted to see the Pagoda and the view. I can't remember how many steps there were up to the Pagoda but I remember it was a lot and at the bottom of the steps was an area with benches so we had a rest before tackling the steps up to the Pagoda. There were many people milling around and as we walked around, I spotted a group of men squatting down watching something so we went to have a look. The group was watching a person throw three cards onto the ground in front of him and were betting on which one was the Queen. I was intrigued because they had their own heckler; this was a technique I had seen nowhere else. At a certain point the thrower would show the Queen throw it down and put it under his knee (he was kneeling rather than squatting), the heckler would walk by and shout something and the thrower would look up while some "wag" from the crowd would switch the card from under his knee "without him feeling anything". After a bit of banter with the heckler the thrower would take the card from under his knee and clumsily mix it around on the ground with the other two cards and people were putting money on the one that had been taken from under his knee, they lost their money. I had never seen the cards mixed without throwing them and wanted to watch a little longer but I guessed they would try to involve me, eventually.spitoon

When we felt rested Anna and I trekked up the steps to the top. The area was at the top was small and in one corner there were a group of young Chinese people, male and female, who dispersed as soon as we appeared. One of the group who stayed in the corner squatted down and laid out a small mat then brought out three cards and started throwing them until he got the attention of the group he was with initially, they pretended that they didn't know each other. This was different to the group at the bottom of the steps they were much younger and it involved the females in this scam unlike the all-male group below. I was very interested to watch but all my instincts told me to leave and quickly. When Anna and I walked towards the steps a group member tried to guide we back towards the game. When we insisted on leaving the group surrounded us and a few of the males started cleaning their fingernails with their knives. As luck would have it, a Policeman appeared, and the group went back to the corner. The Policeman made us understand that he had followed us because he knew what was at the top.

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