I have taken part in national youth meets before, and I had loads of fun, I won't deny that, but after spending a little more than a week in a foreign country with talented people my age, singing, debating, and trekking, I have come to the conclusion that international meets are way cooler! Not only do you get to interact with people from other religions/backgrounds, but it is a whole new learning experience, something we three delegates from Pakistan whole-heartedly agreed on.

We, unfortunately, joined the program a day late and had to therefore miss out on the opening ceremony and introduction. Nonetheless, the fun had only just started when we arrived at the Prairie Ramblers club on the 26th. The day we arrived, the other groups had already left for a small hike, but were back in a short while for the international youth forum, an interesting and important part of the whole trip. Participants from each country were to come up and speak about mountain conservation and the efforts of their own countries. I myself spoke on behalf of Pakistan and our presentation was aided by a video of the NCMCM 2003, something that the other participants enjoyed. The accommodations were quite satisfactory and we all enjoyed the facilities of the camp, e.g., archery, basketball etc.

The next day was a bit less leisurely and much more tiring, for this was the day the hiking began. This was truly a test of strength and only a few (I don't mean to brag, but I was part of them) could take the actual route to our next camp. This new camp, although much bigger, did not have the many facilities provided by the previous camp. This was probably a good thing, as we got to spend time with our fellow participants and learn more about their culture. Speaking of culture, The cultural evening was also held the same night, another important part of the trip. That evening was devoted to learning about the cultures of all the participating countries. Some sang national songs, and some national dances, and some, like ourselves, performed both. Sir Aftab and I entertained the rest of the participants with a duet of "Jazba-E-Junoon", an energetic song that the rest of the participants enjoyed (or so we hope). We then made all of them, yes, ALL of them do the "luddi" while Sir Aftab sang an old folk song. It may sound funny but it was nothing compared to the other dances and games we played, though I guess its no use narrating them as you had to BE there to enjoy it.

So the cultural evening ended with most of us have had an increase in our international cultural knowledge, as was the purpose of the evening. We spent the night dreaming about Nepali folk dances and Bhutani songs. And so the night changed into day 3 of the trip.

Day 3 was a day of casual outing and a visit to the Kung Pao Marshes. This too was pretty entertaining, and at the same time informative. Hard to believe it could be both? Well, it was. We saw thousand of migratory birds through the provided binoculars, a site that one could NEVER see in Pakistan. I quite enjoyed the stroll through the marshes, learning more about the birds from the marsh official there.

After we had had our fill of watching the birds, we set off towards a rural part of town to have a so-called "traditional Chinese lunch". Now this was probably my favorite part of the trip, because, being a Kashmiri, I'm a big food fan, and I was expecting lots of noodles and rice when I walked into that small restaurant. I was in for a surprise. The "traditional" lunch consisted of a huge bowl filled with every imaginable creature that lives. The top layer was that of prawns, one of the many, many things I hadn't had before. Other constituents of the "flesh-feast" were pork (something we abstained from, being Muslims), lamb, chicken, and mind you, when I say chicken, I mean every part of the chicken from the head to the tips of its feet.

So full to the bursting, we made our back to camp, trying to remember all the meats we had had. We were told that as this was the last night of the program, we had the closing ceremony, followed by a barbecue, the latter of which was the most memorable part of the trip, because everyone put their differences aside, forgot about their countries, and sat around fires not as delegates from their respective countries, but as friends.

The closing ceremony was all about our expressing our views on the trip and presenting and receiving small yet meaningful tokens of our new found friendship to the other delegates.

The next day was departure, and it was quite sad, as we knew we would probably never see our friends again. Some of the delegations had stayed behind to do some shopping in Hong Kong, and we were part of them, though we knew, that even though we will be living in the city, it could not have been more fun then being part of that group. I myself made many friends from many different countries and hope to stay in touch with them via email.

Gone are the days when I've make fun of people of Chinese/Japanese origin; when I ever call them mere "Cheenies". From now on, I refer to them as my true friends all of them. As a race worth being part of.

-- Wali-Ullah Sheikh