Big Events: Linden Centre Staff Retreat 2017, Tiger Leaping Gorge
All aboard the party bus to Tiger Leaping Gorge.
I arrive at the big tour bus exactly on time to find it’s already packed with the aunties and uncles from the kitchen, housekeeping, front desk and security departments. I move through to the seats left in the back of the bus where Brian Linden sits one row in front of the very last row of seats that contains my office coworker Jiajia and her dog, Panda. It’s funny, looking out at the sea of people, Brian stands out as the only blonde among all the brown-black hair. Soon everyone settles in to individual conversation or listening to music as we start our journey to Tiger Leaping Gorge for our staff retreat.
Upon arriving at 雪映金沙 (Xue Ying Jin Sha) hotel, the staff stare in wonderment at the grandiose lobby with a giant Christmas tree and real giant gingerbread house. Soon everyone is off to wander the hotel on our own while we wait. After everyone has settled into their rooms, the team building exercises begin. We are divided into 4 teams: 风，花，雪，月 (Feng – Wind, Hua – Flower, Xue – Snow, Yue – Moon), the motto of the area.
Our fearless event organizers: Kai, Matt, and Michael (from left to right).
Activity 1: Country Countdown
A list of 30 countries is read out in Chinese, Paraguay, Uruguay, Slovenia, and Uganda, to name a few, are included. Then, each member of each team takes a turn trying to remember the name of a country that hasn’t been said before. Whoever is left with the most team members gets the highest amount of points. My team (风) is left with two people by the end, with a total of 1 point earned.
The right footwear is key & creative shirt exchanging strategies.
Activity 2: Balloon Bonanza
Two teams line up facing each other in a long row. Each team member has one balloon by their feet except for the person at the beginning of each respective line. This first person’s job is to grab a white T-Shirt, with 喜林苑 written on it, put it on, step on the next person’s balloon until it pops, and then take the T-Shirt off and pass it to the next person, and so on. Did I mention it’s a competition? Hilarity ensues as people have a hard time getting those balloons to pop, and start devising optimal strategies for T-shirt passing. Once again, team 风comes in last.
The staff flex their acting skills.
Activity 3: Heads Up
Each team chooses one person to be their guesser. This person puts on noise-canceling headphones and is forced to listen to the catchy and oh-so-annoying song “小苹果” (Xiao Ping Guo) on repeat. Behind them one of the activity organizers holds up cards with words or phrases (in Chinese) that other team members must act out. As a non-native speaker of Chinese, I am lucky to avoid getting a “chengyu,” or four character idiom, and try my best at acting out 淘宝 (Tao Bao) by acting out ordering clothes online, but to no avail.
Some standouts phrases: Brian Linden, Nala, Linden Flower Tea, and a Chinese idioms like “七上八下” which means seven buckets coming up and eight buckets going down—be agitated; be perturbed. Front desk manager Max gets a shout out for getting (almost) every single one right in rapid-fire speed.
Activity 4: Ping Pong Fiasco
Each team takes turns picking up ping pong balls from one bucket and must then face an “obstacle course” of two sets of chairs facing each other in order to deposit these ping pong balls in another bucket. I’m quickly amazed to see elderly security guards leaping over the chairs and running at full speed to deposit these ping pong balls safely into the bucket. Meanwhile, it takes me a good 2-3 minutes to fail at picking up a single ping pong ball. Twice. It’s safe to say I’m not the MVP. I’d like to say this is where team 风 picks up its second wind, and the underdog pulls off an upset, but it’s sadly untrue.
Staff pose with their selected gifts.
After all is said and done, the prizes, in the form of wrapped gifts, are descended upon by the winners, and I make it out with a pretty good prize: an umbrella. But not just any umbrella. I’m told it’s China’s #1 brand of umbrella, and it’s in purple, my favorite color.
That night we have a dinner in the hotel, with speeches from our managers and department heads, and then the 白酒 (baijiu) drinking commences. Somehow, after the food has been consumed, the room turns into a KTV of sorts, with resident voice-of-an-angel Big Mike taking the mike to serenade us. We end the night with a round of different people passing the mic to sing “朋友,” or, “Freinds.”
An early morning wakeup with buffet style breakfast, and then we’re off! A group is going to hike Tiger Leaping Gorge, while B group is going to take a more leisurely approach of staying on the bus.
Group A takes on the 28 bends!
The bus deposits us “A” group people, led by the fearless Panda, at a concrete path that winds through small mountain villages, until it becomes the real hiking path. Quickly I am reminded that I do not exercise enough, and that the altitude makes it harder to breathe. Amid minor complaints and threats to go back from Little Double, we eventually make it to the 28 bends of horror. The only way to power through these sharp, uphill turns is to take breaks, eat clementines, make conversation, and look only at the ground beneath your feet. Eventually we start to fragment off into groups, and I find myself mainly with a group of 3 阿姨 (aunties) who sing old Chinese songs and pick roots and flowers along the way that are apparently good for medicinal purposes.
We all eventually make it to the Cha Ma rest stop, and it’s quite literally all downhill from there. The views are beautiful, and as we descend into the gorge, we see the river water rushing through the mountains. We make it to THE spot where the tiger supposedly leapt across the gorge, and herein begins our biggest challenge: stairs. Going down my legs are shaking from the mountain portion of our hike; going all the way back up makes me feel like my lungs are about to explode. But the scenery is worth it, and after enjoying the views and taking many photos, we head back to the hotel for some well-deserved showers and rest.
That night, we enjoy a buffet dinner, and everyone splits up into groups to watch movies or play card games. I spend my night with a movie and Panda.
We wake up for a buffet breakfast, and board the bus home. As I’m sitting again at the back of the bus, I look out on the sea of heads and feel like super excited to keep developing these relationships when we get back.
Featured photo from the Lonely Planet