Speed climbers slow down for Chinese tea and gardens

In Wujiang, China, to compete at the IFSC (International Federation of Sport Climbing) World Cup, the New Zealand speed climbing team found time to slow things down and take in some of the more tranquil sights, learn about Chinese culture and relax over a local brew. The team consisted of coach Rob Moore and climbers Sarah Tetzlaff and Julian David. In this article Sarah describes their experience and what made the trip so special. The team was supported to experience cultural activities while in China by a grant from the Foundation's Community Sports Fund.
Two female climbers racing up a climbing wall

NZ speed climber Sarah Tetzlaff competing in China

Our stay in China began in the beautiful lake city of Suzhou, Jiangsu. The World Cup competition was still a couple of days away, so we had one day free to go exploring before we competed.

In our exploration, we were determined to learn more about the Chinese culture and appreciate the vast amount of knowledge and innovation that the land and people held.

We chose to first go to one of the six ancient towns of Jiangnan region, Tongli, in order to get a small glimpse into what ancient life in China may have been like hundreds to thousands of years ago.

Built during the Song Dynasty, the town is incredible — arched cobble bridges span narrow canals of jade water, intricate tiled-roof buildings rise high in the sky and trade shops line endlessly meandering alleyways.

The craftsmanship of the town is difficult to comprehend, knowing that everything had been built meticulously by hand, long ago.

It was amazing to see that some of these streets and buildings still stood against the test of time and would continue to do so for many centuries.

Old traditional Chinese building lining a canal

Visiting the ancient town of Tongli was a highlight for the team

After wandering through the winding streets for a few hours, we took a quiet moment to ourselves in a modest tea house overlooking one of the towns many canals. Drinking jasmine tea and patting the local cat, we contentedly watched boats gently float down the canal below us.

The competition itself was amazing - the Chinese crowds cheered loudly and brought a positive, excited buzz to the arena. We competed indoors which was unusual as normally speed competitions are held outdoors on freestanding walls, but it was nice to be indoors and shielded from the weather. The wall was nice and grippy and great for going fast. 

Both of us were really pleased with how we went. We each broke Oceana records for the competition and ran close to personal bests. We went into this competition aiming to settle our nerves for the season and put down some solid times, and we absolutely achieved that! The results in China gave us confidence and have set a great tone for the rest of the season. 

 The day after our competition, we travelled to Yu Garden in Shanghai. This was a breathtakingly beautiful place.

The gardens had been carefully designed and landscaped to create what once would have been a peaceful place to wander, lost in thought.

In present day, Yu Garden is certainly a larger tourist attraction than we expected, and many others had also come to enjoy its flowering greenery and meandering cobble paths.

There were many hidden pathways, bridges and even caves to discover throughout the garden.

Nestled in among the trees were many small tiled-roof pavilions and galleries, all overlooking large ponds teeming with tangerine koi.

It was a magical place set in the heart of Shanghai.

Two photos, one showing a person's hand holding a cup of tea overlooking an old building on the other side of a canal

Sarah: "Realising our love for tea, we reserved our third and final day of exploration for the Yixing Ceramics Museum."

After many hours of walking, we found another tea house to unwind in, where we enjoyed a fragrant brew of osmanthus tea and munched on some sunflower seeds.

This tradition of taking the time to sit and share a cup of tea with others felt very special, and we really enjoyed experiencing this in among the intensity of travelling for an international competition. 

Realising our love for tea, we reserved our third and final day of exploration for the Yixing Ceramics Museum.

This is where the famous “purple clay” teapots are crafted, and we were very excited to learn about the history of teapot making.

The museum did not disappoint — there were thousands of teapots on display, of varying shapes and sizes and of all shades of clay.

Some ceramics dated back to as much as 7000 years ago, which was truly unfathomable for us, coming from New Zealand where humans have only inhabited our country for some 900 years.

As we travelled through the museum, we were able to observe teapots from different dynasties, reflected in the ever-changing shapes of the spout, handle, body, lid and foot of the teapot.

Sarah and Julian standing with a woman in a store giving the thumbs up

Sarah: "Our time in China came to an end far too soon, but the impression it left on us was deep and profound."

Outside of the museum, we were privileged to observe a resident ceramicist working in his studio.

He sat on his wooden stool, carefully shaping the smooth purple clay, creating a perfect curvature with just his hands.

He checked the balance of his work with rulers and strings, and the finished product was the most beautiful, unblemished teapot we had ever seen.

Each of us were so taken by the art of the teapot and the ceremony of tea drinking that we each purchased teapots, teacups, and jasmine tea from the Yixing area, so that we could carry on this special Chinese tradition back in our home country and share this with our loved ones.  

Our time in China came to an end far too soon, but the impression it left on us was deep and profound. We look forward to returning next year to compete again and to connect further with the spiritual places and special traditions of China and its people.  

Our sports programme provides New Zealand sportspeople opportunities to grow more knowledgeable, connected and confident with Asia.

The Foundation's Community Sports Fund provides funding for community sports groups travelling to Asia for sports to include cultural activities to their itineraries.