Hi Ho around Hou Hai


After weeks of preparation, several trial runs and some nifty computer design, JUMP!’s longest adventure race to date is ready for competitors– Rupert Common joins the pack.

It was Thursday the 28th of April, midday. Six JUMP! facilitators are staggered on the park steps before the Deshengmen Arrow Tower. They sort through their resource pouches, which contain stop watches, compasses, and custom-made challenge cards.

In the shade of a nearby tree, a few men play with cards of their own, and on a sunny bench, some dog walkers chat while their poodles sniff about. The spacious square, which bridges a wide water-way, is empty save for a few kite flyers, who handle their reels with focus. The Thursday routine of these park regulars is about to be interrupted by a flourish of activity.

Led by a white flag, the Grade 7’s from Shanghai American School Puxi crossed the open square. The facilitators organized everyone into one giant circle.

Introductions were speedy and the goals of the day were simple: “Have fun and try to complete the race with as many points as possible.”

Each team was required to have a name, action and sound. I tagged along with a group of boys who called themselves the Beijing Ducks – “quack, quack, quack.” Every member of the group was given a duty (i.e. navigator), and then all the different navigators were to meet for basic training. Once completed, they returned to the group to share the knowledge.

Before the groups could head into town they had to rearrange a chopped up picture. The completed puzzle revealed a splendid red door. Bonus points would be awarded to the team who could photograph it during the race.

Once in the city, disagreements over map orientation caused our team to quarrel almost immediately. “Where are we?” questioned one voice. They began to follow another group, who had received directions from a candied fruit seller, but were warned that not all teams had the same path.

Our first major points challenge was to take place at Deshengmen Bridge, but on the way the boys became preoccupied with a bonus challenge – to photograph every dog they saw for a point each. This would become a group obsession, and they would finish the day with over 50 images.

After making it to the bridge, they were blindfolded, asked to stay silent, and instructed to arrange themselves in order of their birth month. Unable to speak, they clapped their way to success and headed to the Sihuan Market for a whole set of new challenges.

In the open market the boys ran freely and accepted their missions with enthusiasm. They had to locate the largest zucchini possible and the cheapest apple around. Holding their bags of produce, their final challenge was to share a massive jian bing, which is a Chinese style egg-pancake wrap. After the group snack, they returned to the main road in search of a mystery address.

The address belonged to a quiet tea house in which our group almost filled the room. The hostess was expecting us. Half of the group was asked to sit with their backs to the ceremony while the other half were meant to explain its steps as clearly as possible. Their rendition of drawings would later be compared to the other groups, with the most accurate attempt receiving the points.

The next challenges were held in Hou Hai Park, and along it’s lakeside walkway. Before a small crowd of onlookers, the boys attempted to decode a secret pin number by jumping on chalk-drawn numbers. They cracked the code.

As they were celebrating the success of their ciphering, an all-girl team dashed by and started doing pushups. A fleet of rickshaws peddled by on the side road and the girls hurried over to a rider for a group photo. Shortly thereafter the red door from the puzzle was discovered and both groups managed to snap a shot while displaying their official JUMP! flag for a bonus point.

With time running out, the Beijing Ducks had to forgo a visit to the Drum Tower and head back to the starting point.

The day ended much as it had begun: a circle of students in a spacious park, kites flying overhead. The top team received colorful journals as their prize and every group was given a bag of candy.

Although the Hou Hai area is known for its heavy tourist population, it was quite clear that the parks, walkways and markets are a part of the local life too. This particular JUMP! race was all about adventure rather than cultural immersion, but it also encouraged interaction with the community. The kids engaged with the city in a way that a shopping trip or sight-seeing walk could not have offered.

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