Pre Day 1:
Long before the eight (8) delegates arrived one June 30th departure date a lot of work went into making this exchange happen. All participants would like to thank Pat Lechelt of the ASPRWF and Tim Leer of Hockey Alberta for their tireless efforts that went into setting up this exchange on very late notice. Without the extremely hard work of these two individuals this exchange would not have been possible.
A large thank you to the Coaches that are attending, many taking time off work and their own holidays to make this 12 day commitment happen. The Schedule has been very loose at best, which essentially has had the coaches prepare generally, but not knowing what to expect heading into the 6 days of lectures in which they are being asked to present on various topics.
Day 1 - Combination of June 30th, July 1
This day started with the eight member delegation meeting at Edmonton International Airport at 9 am on June 30th. The group was again guided by Pat Lechelt, who provided the delegation final briefing, and three of the largest suitcases most had ever seen. The suitcases all were carefully chosen gifts for the delegation to provide to their hosts while in Harbin.
The day was slated to be long, with 15 ½ hours in the air on three flights, + over 6 hours in various airports for connections. It was going as well as could be expected right through Customs in Biejing, when all appeared smooth. Soon after clearing customs the delegation was presented with its first “thunderbolt” which it needed to deal with. We found out we needed to get our checked luggage in Beijing and get it onto the next flight to Harbin, which was scheduled to leave shortly. Thankfully, two members of the Beijing Airport authority noticed the Alberta Delegation’s Blue Hockey Alberta golf shirts while waiting at the luggage carousel. At that time we learned that we were in jeopardy of missing our Harbin Connection. They helped us a great deal and we rushed to the Air China Gate to learn that the flight has been cancelled due to weather. At this point these two gentlemen took over, and brought us from counter to counter to counter with our 17 pieces of luggage in a hot Beijing Airport. Our group was still very calm, and we were very lucky to have these gentlemen helping us the way they did, as they were able to bypass some long lines with their stick-to-it-tiveness! Without question, without these gents, the eight member delegation likely would have spent the night in Beijing Airport, as many flights were cancelled and the various desks of Air China were long line ups and chaos. We found that our next opportunity to fly to Harbin would be exactly 24 hours later from our scheduled flight. They helped us change our flights. Lloyd Bentz contacted our Harbin contact, and they assisting in communicating with them on our situation. Finally, they brought us down to the right line, right place, with our large cumbersome luggage to catch our bus to a hotel that Air China had set up. We had no paper or confirmation of this, only a line to stand in. We understood this line would have a bus which would take us to a “to be determined” hotel. Thankfully it all worked out, and in the end was quite efficient. We stayed at a nice hotel in Beijing, CTS Hotel. At 830 pm we had our first meal together, an authentic Chinese meal at the hotel, complete with just what we needed, each of us received a large 600 ml beer !
Day 2 - July 2
Through Lloyd Bentz hardwork with the Alberta Ambassador to China in Beijing Doug Wong we were very fortunate to be able to set up a bus, a guide/interpreter, and tour of parts of Beijing and a trip to the Great Wall. As Larry Golby stated “this might be one of the best “thunderbolts” I have ever experienced”. Our guide, Chris Wang, was sensational and the group stopped at the Government approved Jade factory. I am not sure if it was witnessing the workmanship of China’s famous “Jade” or the salesmanship of female representatives on the floor, however there were a few Chinese Yuan spent at that warehouse that day!
Onto the Great Wall of China. Words really cannot describe the excitement that the entire delegation had to be able to be at the Great Wall, due to the change in our plans. It was +30 with incredible humidity on a very hazy day when the group arrived. Chris Wang advised us that in China, men who climb the Wall are called “great men”. We were very fortunate to have the opportunity. The delegation set out to climb the wall. While it is one of the wonders of the world, it may not applicably named. The “Wall” should have been called “the largest set of man made stairs in the world”. Countless steps and approximately 1 ¼ hour later of a straight climb up the Great Wall the group made it to the Station 13, the top part of this section of the wall. As some of the photos show given the weather and the length / altitude of the climb, it was clear that the members of the delegation earned the large beers they had the night before. While there, climbing the wall in those conditions is an incredible challenge. However in reflecting on the opportunity to do what we had the chance to do, the delegation was humbled with the opportunity. We had the chance to be at, and climb a small section of the Great Wall. (it did not seem very small yesterday). As Rick Swan applicably stated “This is a bucket list item, I cannot believe I had this opportunity”.
After taking 30 minutes approximately to go down the stairs, the delegation went for another authentic diner at a cafeteria which was part of a Copper factory. Another suggested stop from our Guide. The meal was great and while the group still looked like we had gone swimming with our clothes on it was another terrific group meal, highlighted by the fish served with its head, which garnered a few photos from the group. Chris Wang had set up the meal for us, and despite what some may have said about watching what we ate, Chris felt he needed to order more food for our table.
We then set off to try and get to Harbin and make our re-scheduled flight. The group made its way to the airport in Beijing and guide Chris helped us through the challenges surrounding baggage. What is good for Air Canada, is not so for Air China we learned. We then learned that the flight to Harbin was again postponed to Harbin due to weather. We did make it to Harbin, at just after 930 pm local time. We were greeted by Haoyang Wu, our interpreter and guide. Its pretty easy to tell already how great he will be for our group. We arrived at the Harbin International Hotel at around 1030 pm, and at 11, another meal was prepared for us. This time the delegation was not as hungry, but we had an abundance of food once again.
Day 3 – July 3
Woke up today to blue sky, which is something we had not seen in Beijing. Breakfast in the 6th floor applicably named Sunshine room of the hotel kicked off the day in the morning. With sessions starting at 830, the bus picked us up and brought us to the Harbin Sports Complex and Gymnasium. The session was kicked off by Yang Yuyu, Secretary General of Harbin Ice Hockey Association. After brief welcome messages from Lloyd Bentz, Terry Engen and Rob Litwinski, Barry Medori lead off the first session. The first topic was “Player Selection”. The classroom / lecture hall has approximately 60 coaches of various levels in the room. It included a number of females as well. With Haoyang Wu doing all translation for the sessions, Barry Medori quickly noted that in his first presentation adjustments were made in terms of the amount of information that could be presented. He advised the coaches who now will adjust further. Larry Golby did the next session which was featured information on Canada’s and Alberta’s coach training framework.
Prior to lunch the coaches made a key shift, and brought the attendees out of the lecture hall and into a open area to do some team building. The energy was terrific as all attendees really seemed to enjoy the opportunity to be active in this session just prior to lunch.
The Alberta Delegation made their way through a downpour outside to a nearby cafeteria, where they had the opportunity to eat another traditional Chinese lunch, along with their host / Guide / Interpreter Haoyang Wu and his apprentice Xu Jian "Lake".We learned during this session that the coaches that were attending all were from the Heilonijang Province. They also all had to pay for their own accommodations and meals as part of the 6 day training event.
Afternoon featured sessions on how the hockey system works in Alberta, and nationally in Canada, lead by Barry Medori. The sessions in the afternoon featured a large amount of interactive questions. Who knew that a clip from the movie “Dodgeball” could help to start discussions amongst the group in regards to coaching.
The larger arena that is in the same complex as the lecture hall does not have the ice in it. The icetime that will be utilized will be in an attached venue, which the coaches learned today does not feature any traditional ice hockey lines on the ice.
The day was completed with a banquet which featured ranking officials from the Provincial Hockey Association, Harbin Ice Hockey Federation, Harbin Sports Federation, authorities from the Harbin Ice Hockey Facilities and some coaches. The protocols surrounding toasts that were taught to the delegation while back in Canada came in handy as there were many toasts made on this night as the two Provinces, two Ice hockey Provincial Associations celebrated the renewing of this 30 year relationship. The Alberta Delegation was treated to a special banquet and it was very easy to notice how welcome we were to be in Harbin, China.
Day 4 – July 4
A routine has started now, and the delegation headed over to the Harbin Sports Gymnasium at 8 am. Sessions in the morning lead by Rick Swan, Richard Jones and Jay Pylypuik set the pace for another great day.
The afternoon featured 3 full hours of off ice training tactics and fitness. Many players from Female and Male teams of Harbin joined with the coaches for the session held a short walk from the venue we were at basketball court and soccer fields.
The night was finished off with another welcome banquet. This event was hosted by the Government of HeilongJiang Foreign Affairs office. Head of the Division Wang Haijun as well as two high ranking Directors Zhao Erli and Niu Lihong joined 5 other staff from the foreign affairs office. Lloyd Bentz had met Mr. Wang before, and they recalled their meeting. Our eight person Alberta Delegation once again had a fabulous night. As we learned the night before, toasts are very much part of the welcome with traditional Chinese White Liquor as well as Beer. One of the focuses of this diner from the Foreign Affairs people was to point out the variety of local dishes and local beer from the Heilongjiang province.
Day 5 – July 5
We learned this morning that the three administrative members of our delegation would go to visit one of the 24 Hockey schools in this province opened by Charles Wang Hope Foundation for Ice Hockey . This day also featured the first one ice session for the coaches. A very exciting day. We did ask to have all our delegation visit the hockey school but were informed the timing would not work, therefore we did not want to miss the opportunity, nor take away from the coaches on ice sessions.
The Hockey School was approximately 45 minutes away from the downtown of Harbin in one of the cities surrounding districts. Upon arrival, we were greeted like movie stars, being treated very royally. We sat down with the head members of the school and they informed us more about the school. There were approximately 200 students at this special school for ice hockey. There was no rink attached, they used the Harbin arena (the one we were at) and also in the winter they used outdoor facility that they build just behind the school. Children in this school were aged 6-13. In a surprising fact, the children spend 6 out of 7 nights each week sleeping at the school, only one night at home with their parents. They gave us a tour of the facility and showed us the dorm rooms which featured bunk beds and looked to sleep approximately 12 to a room. The majority of the students were wearing uniforms. We had the opportunity go outside and see some of the drills they were working on in the playground with their coach. They were working on about 8 stations that the children rotated through with wooden pucks. Very interesting to see the passion many of these athletes had for this sport. It is not hard to see how in the not to distant future, if many of these children continue along this passion, and with specialized hockey training as well, that China could continue to rise in terms of hockey in the world. This school we were informed was focused on female players. The School have 40 employees including its teaching staff. More than 70% of the players that are on the national team, including the captain and goalie have their roots tied to this school. The experience was one that the three members of the delegation will never forget. For Rob Litwinski, with three children at that age, and hearing that the children left home for 6 of 7 days, this piece of information hit home. After the tour we were hosted to a lunch at what we were told was the “best restaurant” in the district. As we have become accustomed to, we were treated very well, and say with 8 of the top officials of the school. As we have also become accustomed to, there were many toasts made with the same Chinese White Liquor and local beer. The difference this time was that we were still at 11 am!
The coaches were very pleased with how the session went. Our guide/Interpreter Haoyang continued to show why he is the best he also put on skates to ensure that he could continue to translate on the ice. The coaches said the ice did feel very soft. The temperature in Harbin has been around 28-30 degrees for most days including today, and this ice facility referred to as a ‘Gymnasium’ has windows all around it, so the ice plant must be working very hard, as the days have been sunny here too. The Alberta coaches were very excited to get onto the ice and take the opportunity to put into practice many of the things that had been talked about in the lecture hall. Hockey Alberta’s coaches had their helmets on, not the practice in China. Also, many of the coaches did not have their skates on, and stood in the bench to listen to the instruction.
This day finished off with Haoyang and Lake taking us approximately for a 10 minute walk to a downtown shopping centre. One of the highlights was crossing two sections of the 4-6 lane traffic circle that is right outside of our hotel. The facility we went to was amazing, it was a six story shopping centre. The prices of many of the brand name items that our group saw were no cheaper than they would be in Canada. We settled on this being a viewing only and not a shopping trip. We did find that the supermarket on the bottom of the facility carried two beers familiar to Canadians Moosehead and Coors Light.
Tomorrow will feature a tour of another sports school and also another on ice session in the afternoon.
Day 6 - July 6
The three administrative members of the Alberta Delegation had the opportunity to go and visit another sport School. This school was for Primary aged children, with the focus being not just on hockey but also one other well known sport in China. Table Tennis. The three members of the Alberta delegation much like yesterday had the chance to sit and talk about the program with the administrators of the program. As was the case with previous day the visit ended with a celebratory lunch. For Engen, Bentz and Litwinski this would make the 6th straight such event in six days, and this one played out very similarly. The restaurants are set up in each their own rooms for hosting events such as this one. Whether it be for 8 people or 16 people. It is not something we see in Canada, where restaurants try and use every square foot to put more tables into. It caters to socializing and of course “toasts”. It was learned during this discussion that the province of Heilongijiang has a hockey registration of 600 athletes between the age of 6 and 18. Their population is 38 million in this province alone. The members of the delegation from Alberta also had the chance to play table tennis against some of the teachers. Quite a thrill, as Table tennis is to China what Hockey is to Canada.
The coaches spent the morning in the lecture hall, and ventured outside to work on some team builders. Their comments after regarding the team builders were that the coaches in some cases had a very tough time with the exercises that the Alberta coaches were teaching them. Trust falls and those types of team builders were used and while in the end it was successful, it was clear that it left many coaches outside of their comfort zone.
The day finished off with a one hour 45 minute on ice session where the 5 coaches took participated in many drills in a very upbeat practice. There appear to be twenty very keen coaches who have been a part of all sessions to date, and the coaches have appreciated their commitment. One of the funny things at the end of the session was the zamboni driver who came out, on time even though the athletes were still on the ice. He honked his horn and let the group know that was posing for the group shot, I am not stopping. So the photo did happen, but ended in time for the zamboni man to pass. Who knew that Zamboni’s had horns ?
The day finished off with our guide taking us to one of the very famous streets of Harbin, the oldest street in Harbin, Central Street. It is 1.5 km long and is now a pedestrian street. After a little shopping and walking the delegation ended up near the river and stopped at a beer gardens which featured many local foods as well. For the first time, our interpreter Hyoanglang joined us, which was appreciated by all. He has been unbelievable.
Tomorrow is the last day of the coaching seminar.
Day 7 –July 7
Today featured the final sessions for the coaches. It started with the Delegation compiling many of the items they had brought and holding an draw for the coaches. Whistles, coach pads, golf shirts, track coats, coaching materials were given to the coaches in attendance from China with a random draw. Then it was off the ice for the “teaching competition”. This was a scrimmage where the Hockey Alberta coaches were able to observe and assist some of the Chinese coaches in game like conditions on the bench. The game featured a boys versus girls game with the majority of the two teams being made up of club girls and boys teams. After the session a debrief took place with what some of the coaches observed through the scrimmage.
The afternoon featured a meeting with the Helongjiang Sports Authority where future exchanges for the sport of Hockey with the two sister provinces were discussed. Very good progress was made and it would appear very hopeful that there will be future exchanges. Following that meeting members of the Alberta delegation had a brief meeting and tour of the Harbin Institute of Physical Education. This featured the opportunity to view a terrific hockey / curling facility which was built in 2008 for the Universiade Games in Harbin. Very unique design with the ice hockey rink above the curling facility. One of the interesting features was a lift to be able to transport the Zamboni up to the second floor to re-surface the ice.
The evening finished with an opportunity for the Alberta Delegation to visit HGarbin’s oldest street, Centre street. It is the second longest pedestrian street in Asia. It is filled with shopping and dining options and along with our terrific translators as well as one of the coaches, Madame Dong, we were guiding through the street. The night ended with the Alberta Delegation sitting at an energetic Harbin Beer Tent with a choice of a variety of street vendors. A very fun night for the group and as it turned out one of the few nights that we had that was not a formal diner.
Day 8 – July 8
Off to the world’s largest Siberian Tiger park in Harbin. On the 25 minute drive to the park in a part of Harbin we had not yet visited, it was tough to ignore again how many cranes there were working in the city. Overall, there are very likely more than 100 large cranes we have viewed in this city, all working on high rise buildings. Just amazing development in the City of Harbin.
This park features over 1000 tigers and upon arrival it very much has the feel of a amusement / entertainment park that one would see like a Disneyland type of park. Very commercialized which we were not expecting. The theme of the park essentially is that you get a guided tour through 8 sections of park, which house different ages or kinds of tigers. Even “Ligers” which really do exist. A male tiger that breeds with a female lion is a liger. Each bus has the opportunity to purchase live prey for the tigers, which are then released by a heavily protected SUV, to the tigers while the people in the bus watch. Watching the tigers try and catch ducks in a pond was quite an experience. Ducks have perfected the “dive” which kept the tigers at bay. The record we were told for a duck to survive in a small pond, with as many as 10 tigers trying to catch it was over 2 months!
The afternoon featured a tour of the Provincial Sport facilities. A provincial government funded winter sport facility which featured speed skating oval, hockey rink, curling rink, and many gymnasiums. A very impressive site to see winter sport and the provincial government working together. It did bring to the forefront Hockey Alberta’s plan to activate at Red Deer College for their Provincial Training Centre vision. It is happening in other areas, and it showed the impact that type of vision could have.
The delegation then toured the Sophia Church, a Russian Othodox church build in 1907 in Harbin. Around the church were many markets which the delegation had the opportunity to visit. With three translators helping the delegation through the markets.
The evening finished with a hosted diner by the Provincial Sport Authority. This time we had something a little different, a “Chinese Hot Pot”. A version of a fondu but using boiling water. Each person cooks their own food in front of them with various pork, beef, fish options. The highlight was the live shrimp on the table, some of which flopped/jumped into other dishes. The option was given to us to cook hem or they can be eaten live as well. There were no members of AB delegation that ate them live. Once again good times and the regular number of toasts which the group at this point is now getting used to. A fun night.
Day 9 – July 9
Our last full day in Harbin started with about an hour drive to the Russian Heritage site, a Russian community. It was very good to see more parts of Harbin as well as a trip essentially out to the country. We went through many small Chinese villages on the way to this heritage site that focused on Russian history in Harbin area.
While at the park, we were treated to a special performance of Russian dancers, which featured audience participation. The star of this show for the AB Delegation had to be Rick Swann, who was selected, brought to the back and dressed up to dance in one of the songs. He did an amazing job! In all, four members of the delegation were brought into the audience participation.
When the delegation returned to the hotel they had a few more hours to go to markets. Directly under their hotel was the underground market. A series of small retail shops in a seemingly endless series of tunnels, 1 and 2 floors deep into the group.
The evening finished with our final diner together, hosted Provincial Foreign affairs. Another great night which concluded with us presenting their main leader, Zhao Erli, a Team Alberta jersey. He was very happy to receive it, and instantly wanted to put the jersey on. Final photos were taken with the overall group as well as our translator team of people. The next day would be a long one.
That evening we presented our primary translator Haoyang as well as Lake, our secondary translator Lake with multiple gifts and some of the Canadian liquor and wine we had brought.
Day 10 – July 10
The day started early, 5:00 am local time on July 10th (3 pm Alberta time-July 9th). We caught our shuttle at 6 am and we’re on our plane to Beijing by 830 am. The goodbyes from our delegation to our translators Haoyang and Lake were difficult on both sides. We built a very strong bond with these two gents.
We arrived in Beijing at 10:15 am local time (815 pm July 9th Alberta time). We were picked up by a translator / guide “Koby” set up through Lloyd Bentz and his AB government contacts. He brought us all McDonald’s Big Macs to eat on the bus as we travelled to the Forbidden City in the heart of Beijing. He was very informative as we walked through the Forbidden City, built amazingly over 600 years ago. While it all amazing to think of, the one quote that resonates on the size of this area, is with respect to the number of rooms in the various buildings in this area. A person would be 27 years old if they stayed in a different room each day of their life from the time they were born.
We got back to the Beijing Airport at approximately 3 pm local time (1 am July 10th AB time). Our flight from Beijing left at 430 pm local time. We arrived back in Canada in Vancouver at approximately 12:25 pm local time on July 1st (2:25 am July 2nd Harbin time). Our last leg of the trip had us leave Vancouver approximately 2:25 local time and arrive back into Alberta around 4:45 pm local time on July 10 (645 am Harbin time – July 2).
For those from Edmonton, their journey has ended. For those from Central AB and Calgary, they drive home from the Edmonton airport.
So how was this trip to Harbin China for 10 days?
One of the lasting conversations of the Alberta Delegation was what will we say when someone asks the question” How was China”. The answer we all concluded was not a simple one, not easy to explain. You truly had to be here for these 10 days in July 2011 to appreciate the experience we had. Each of us will have their own highlights and their own words to explain it. But overall I believe each of us appreciated every moment. Moments that we tried to capture in photos, videos, various phone calls home to our loved ones, text messages, emails, twitters and blogs. In the end, we know that those attempts will not do justice to being fully immersed in a life experience was truly amazing. An experience where we were treated like royalty in a country that was very foreign to us. I only hope that when we host a Chinese delegation in Alberta someday that we can leave them with the same impact in their lives.