We left Shanghai on Thursday, October 29th…as I had convinced Jason to leave work a couple hours early and to have a day off on Friday. I had bought our train tickets earlier that week at the local train ticket office, it was a great practice of my Mandarin and a success. Surprisingly, you can get around speaking English in Shanghai fairly easily, which is a bit unfortunate for a shy student of Mandarin – I don’t HAVE to speak Mandarin.
Before we leave on Thursday, I buy snacks at the local LianHua and upon arriving to the train station early. We purchase four na’an from my favorite Chinese ethnic group, a pomello, and Jason’s beer – as he was pretty bummed our last train trip for running out of beer so soon with Ned.
Upon entering the waiting room, the cattle lines are already in form and I am able to find a short line to the far right. We board our train car, and it seems a bit more retro and older than the train we took to Beijing a year ago. It’s okay, of course, I just hope we don’t have any roommates, let alone snoring roommates or people that love to listen to their “ringtones” and “songs” off their cell phone without headphones. The unfortunate part is that we are next to the bathroom. I am a light sleeper, let alone on a moving train with loud cackling girls next door (I believe that’s where the local party was that night)…I begin to imagine the knocking of the door throughout the night or even better, the wonderful noises I will awaken to in the morning. In the West, we are so modest about our bodily functions and sounds…here, it’s all very open.
We gnaw on some na’an, I have 1 beer and Jason has a couple more, munch on some Pocki, peanuts, and tofu. Jason buys a toothbrush from the cart man, ends up having to buy 2 and has to convince the man he does not want to buy toothpaste.
I love staring out the windows of trains through China. Seeing what I can see – though it is dark by the time we leave Shanghai and enter Suzhou. The landscape lights up in blues and purples from the 1 “sky rise” in town – coming from the local KTV. The landscape is generally KTV – factories – fields – factories – KTVs – Apartment Buildings – factories – fields – train station – and so on. I love it though. To compliment the cool blues and purples of the KTVs, the factories are a warm yellows and oranges. My mind wanders…what is this town like? what are these people like? who works in this factory? what do they make? is their laoban nice? is for export?
The night ends early after one episode of “This American Life” on the iPhone and a couple of chapters through “Oracle Bones”. It seems that I do have a “snoring” roommate, thought its not too bad and I am use to this “roommates” snoring.
I can’t fall asleep, more looking out the window…I can’t stay asleep…I keep waking upon arrivals to train stations to the train stopping…to the train GOING BACKWARDS…or the man singing next to the bathroom ever couple of stops. There were a couple of moments in the evening when I was walking between a dream and lucid state – translating the announcements. I wake in the morning a couple hours before arriving to Huangshan, to again, translating the breakfast announcements down the hallway. Then come all the morning “announcements” from the bathroom – though I swore I could still smell the smell from using the toilet the previous evening.
I get up slowly, and look out the window. It’s foggy, it’s early…I see the old villages we are going through. The water buffalo? oxes pulling little men through scattered fields. The women watering crops…lots of women are working…”Jason, where are the men? Are they being lazy?” The crops fields are small and never in a perfect square – there isn’t John Deere here…it’s old school. There are these little hay huts through the fields…they look similar to the hay in the US if the bundle was pushed on it’s side and then a little pointy, Chinese style hat was placed on the top. Maybe hay for the animals? For cooking?
The homes are white with the traditional roof tiles that I am a bit obsessed with. It’s beautiful out here, it’s clean, and orderly, and peaceful. I spot some tea fields but mostly seem to be food for the local communities. I hate riding by train…I just want to jump out the window and land in this town and look around – though I would stand out terribly. I wish I could go invisible through these towns…and I am sure if I were to roll in on a bike alone – there would be no chance of being invisible. Make note…bike ride 2010: Anhui.
We arrive…really, the train station is so small and old…good sign – “off the beaten path”.
Upon exiting, we buy a map and then bombarded by old women wanting to sell us rain coats, maps, bus tickets. Over and over and over and over. Even though we have a map in our hand, they need to sell us more. We are now in Tunxi, which according to a website, it was a must see if you travel to Huangshan. It’s about an hour and half from the Mountain.
We find our hotel, stop by a KFC for coffee, go walk around the city, buy return bus tickets (rather than the train), go back to watch some tv (Jason naps / I shower), go check out this area of old buildings and some 1000+ year old stone slab walk way then walk along the river…we take a very long walk at night. Out to kind of nowhere – aimlessly looking for something to eat. The entire walk, I am looking around, imagining what I would do if I were alone and had a bike to lock up and needed to sleep. I am imagining the situation and wondering how my survival skills would fare.
My recommendation…just another small Chinese town. If you live in China and have ever spent more than one day out of a First or Second Tier city…don’t stress about staying in Tunxi. Two thumbs down from me.
We get up early in the morning, check out, grab some food from a cart and head on to the bus/train station to get our way to Huangshan. I am anxious to see these mountains.
It’s an hour long ride in a fairly safe mini van of sorts. Except I have Mr. Loud sitting right behind me…and to add to that…his boistorous voice is non stop and raspy. Probably too many high quality Chinese cigarettes…or just talks WAY TOO MUCH. Non stop for over an hour….Jason tells me has to go to the hospital to see someone.
Arrival at the base of the mountain…I get one of those “delicious” canned coffees – I’m jonesing. (parenthesis often means sarcasm – if you know me in real life – you understand). Some guy, offers to drive us around in his little VW. So we have him talk to our hotel to find the location and we discuss when to see the mountain. It is already 10am and he stresses that it will be very crowded today and by the time we get to the peak it will already be 1 pm. He recommends seeing some other locations and then seeing the main point very early in the morning. We agree.
Check into the hotel, which is at the North Side of the Mountain…my goodness…if I walk out of the hotel and through the parking lot and stand in the road…I see a miraculous view of a mountain. Okay, so I am from the East Coast, of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Those are mountains…and yes, beautiful…but they are far from West Coast Mountains – which I have only seen from pictures and airplanes, besides Mt. Rainer – which I admire from a distance every time I visit Seattle.
It’s been a couple of years since even seeing a mountain so I love it. We get back into the tiny car and start winding through the mountains. Tiny villages, lovely, long winding roads, wonderful, it’s all great – I wish I hadn’t spent the day in Tunxi and come out here instead. It’s quiet, peaceful, empty…at least along the roads – with a passing of tour buses on these narrow roads. Jason and I both are now analyzing the scenery and the ability to roll a bicycle through here. It’s possible…with a lot of work.
We make it to the first peak. We walk up for about 20 minutes…we chuckle when see that you can pay some fellows to carry you up the hill in a chair. We make it to the top, we now see what the locks that were being sold for. There are chains on the look out with locks. We arrive to the peak with no one except for 2 fellows “rock climbing”. Not really climbing…but rather setting up ropes that you can slide down for about 15 yards. Who knows…it’s China! I take some pictures, get chased by bees…we leave.
Next mountain peak. Lots of tour buses…lots of megaphones, lots of black dots with matching fluorescent hats. Women in their heels (as gender roles are stuck in the 1950′s) and men with their briefcases. You never know when business calls!! It’s all appearances here…even in the rural mountainous areas…gotta keep up the image that you are so important you are still wearing your work attire and business documents to go “hiking”.
Jason and I pace ourselves…to stay away from the crowds. I hope this is not an inkling of what is to come tomorrow. We pass the people…we keep walking…walking…along a clear water stream….really?! Clean and clear?! Rare. We pass a hornet/bees next again…keep walking. We walk down to the water, it’s warm out…I’m in a tank top and shorts. Shoes are off, pants rolled up…belongs protected among the rocks. The water is cold, smells clean…feels so good. The water must be coming off the mountain…virgin water. We play in the water for about 20 minutes, just hang out, soak in the sun. Socks and shoes on…we leave. Pass the 40 something tourists just arriving…adios suckers.
Back at the hotel, we eat a bunch of junk food/garbage and then go out for dinner. We buy some tea from an old farmer woman and continuing walking around Tongkou. It’s very pleasant and quaint. The restaurant we choose is so cheap and fairly good. There are dogs playing around, there are kids playing around, we just end the night walking aimlessly. Finish the night off with some television, this evening is like the previous times Jason has napped on this trip…he falls alseep and I yell at the television about how they are full of garbage and don’t know what they are talking about. You know, just being that self righteous, all knowing Westerner (sarcasm).
6am…Shower…Free Continental Chinese Breakfast…Check out…Check Baggage…get on large tour bus for the main attraction. It’s overcast, chilly, and rainy…it snowed in Beijing the previous evening. We are scrunched into the back with some other foreigners – though the bus is a majority of Chinese wearing matching Burberry Print Gilligan/Fisherman’s hats. Our bus driver is obviously a professional…he drives quickly up the mountain, a hairpin turn about every 30 meters – making close eye contact with the passengers of the oncoming bus. We arrive to the Southern part of Yellow Mountain…Jason and jump off the bus and attempt to leave all the rest behind. The further from the masses, the better…though we can seem to shake this couple – he in his dress clothes and her in her velor/velvet warm up outfit – I think it had “Juicy” on her rear or “Abercrombie” or something like that. East consuming West.
We make it to the gate…file into line with about 70 people in ponchos. Jason gives me his look…like “what the hell have you gotten us into”. He can’t stand lines and crowds more than I. Jason, I apologize, I didn’t know it was going to be like this. In my American Imaginary mind…I imagine it to be like National Parks at home. Where you pay a couple dollars to get in and you are surrounded by nature and peace and quiet – not tons of people. It’s loud..it’s crowded…it’s obnoxious…it’s typical. This IS NOT “off the beaten path”. I don’t want to see people, I don’t want to hear your conversations, and I don’t want to smell your breath because you are standing so close behind me. Deep Breath – make this the best you can.
After waiting in line for about 30 minutes we make it to the cable car which takes about 15 minutes to get to the top. We share the care with the trailing end of the tour group we were sardine’d in with in line. “ooooooohhh…ahhhhhhhhh…hen gao”….picture taking time. I follow their lead and capture Jason with his “I hate this but only you know” look. Sourpuss.
It’s so cold and wet at the top. And we are greeted by even more people/tourists. It’s only 8am…I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like in a couple hours. I turn to Jason, “okay, let me take some photos and we can leave”…not so easy.
We try to avoid the crowds, even more difficult. I am watching the pushing, the shoving, the disregard for anyone’s safety. On overlooks, there is a woman waiting for her partner to photograph her and she is pushing people away at arm’s length. With a grin the whole time and motioning how humorous it all is to her.
Within 20 minutes, my Mamiya 7 quits working. The battery is frozen…this must be the reason…the only reason I can come up with. Digital it is then. There are moments when the sun breaks out and lights up the area around us…these brief moments are beautiful and make up for the the wind nearly blowing us down these man made stone steps that go along the peak of this mountain. How do we exit…I ask a tour guide where we are in Chinese, no help. We just go along the paths…passing people…surprisingly enough I only spot a couple other foreigners – because the crowd is one thing but people staring at me just adds to the irritant.
WHOA! We arrive to the canteen and I find myself standing next to the smoking area. WHAT IN THE HECK??!!! This is a National Park, in the forest, on top of mountain, and you all are just smoking like chimneys. God Bless America!!! I have to move in disgust, we walk away not before having to walk over people’s “picnic areas” where they have laid a sheet down over the entire sidewalk for their crew of 7-9 can eat their lunch. Eating time is very VERY important here…my nerves are gone…Jason’s were gone by the time we got in the cable car. We push up the mountain walkway…straight up…passing people walking 4 person wide lines on a 2 meter wide path. I don’t care anymore…I push through…”When in Rome”….passing women in their heels and men with briefcases. Most everyone is eating something, loudly.
I will NEVER EVER go to a “must see” location in China…I’ll save my money and time and have someone drop me off in the middle of nowhere with a sleeping bag and tent.
(wow, I can feel my stresses all over again just by reliving this)
We make it to the most Northern peak where the cable car is. It’s broken. Let’s start walking….
MY GOD IT TOOK US 3 HOURS TO WALK DOWN STEPS!!!!! At one point we stopped by another snack stand for a bathroom break. As I was waiting for Jason, I sat on the picnic bench where there was food, a worker, and a woman. Some man comes over and starts raising his voice to her, she gets up to go sit with the other women. OH, look at you big man…
We continue down the mountain, amazed at the men carrying buckets of supplies, cases of water, heads of cabbage, and bags of rocks up the mountain. I try to guess the age of the men as they pass me and we discuss how they may get paid. I predict that they are paid by the weight they carry up. Because some of these young guys are loaded down. I wonder if it would be better to carry a really heavy load and only make one trip – though it would take you all day. Or to take 2 light loads. Those steps were a nightmare (our legs hurt for 4 days afterwards – where we played a game of “poke my leg muscle” and see who flinched more).
Jason is pissed, I am tired. Return to the area of our hotel.
We are eating lunch and about 3/4 way through Jason looks at me and says, “Some guy just pulled a dead dog out of those bushes over there. And it wasn’t the body of a dead dog, it was like the skin and paws – no body. It was kind of big”. I look over to where I had approached some puppies the day before and didn’t see any dogs. “Why’d you tell me that?”
We are tired and over this trip. We grab our bags and ask how to get back to the train station. Supposedly we can wait along the road for a bus to take us back. We wait 15 or so minutes before Jason asks the guy on a motorcycle. He points to the bus that’s been sitting there since we arrived with a napping man in the drivers seat. We are informed that is the bus but he won’t go into town until the bus is full….
…alas, then a small bus straight out of the moving “Darjeeling Limited” arrives. This is our transportation back. We are the first passengers and we begin to head down towards the city but pull over to the side of the road. The ladies try to sell us tea through the windows but we have enough and don’t need anymore. One woman gets onto the bus and sits down. Her hair is coal black and pulled back into a bun. She has a makeshift basket/backpack loaded with tea. She is wearing light blue utilitarian pants with some horizontal patching along the knees. She must be in her 50′s but her skin appears to be so soft and clean, with deep inset lines around her eyes.
Our bus turns around, we pick up a fellow and then park in the parking lot near the North Entrance of the mountain. The Entrance where we finished, according to Jason, “our Death March”. We sit, I listen, they talk. Within about 30 minutes, we have smelled about 5 tins of tea and Jason has bought tea from this woman. First she sold us these 2 containers, then she had some others and was expressing how difficult it was to sell them because of grocery stores and such. So Jason wheels and deals with her, and she becomes a very happy saleswoman, handing me a tangerine from her pocket. I can’t help but stare at her…so simple, so beautiful, I want to follow her home and experience her life. I wonder if she has children, if her family has lived here for generations, how many people are in her home, where is her husband…I try to visualize her village. The bus gains 4 – 5 more passengers. I move to the back as my legs can’t handle the small space. The bus starts up and we are off…
…you would think but not such luck. We drop the woman who sells the tea back off where we picked her up…Jason and I wave and smile goodbye. She did good for an hours worth of sitting and talking. We then HEAD BACK up to the North Entrance…the whole time honking at people on the side of the road and opening the doors and yelling at them. This is a slow process. Back to the parking lot. We turn around…repeat process…back to the tea women…turn around…head back to the North Entrance…slowly, shouting…honking. Parking lot…turn around…back down the hill towards the city…some foreigners…they get shouted out – doors opened – they step back slightly startled. Confused. Bus continues…this time past the previous stops of the tea women.
The bus is full. He’s still honking while the other is standing shouting out the door. About 15 minutes we pick up an old man and a young girl. She is about 6 and he must be her grandfather. The “shouter” looks at us in the back row and motions for us to move to the side. I am sitting next to a 6’4″ (I assume) European man and I look back to the “shouter” – “BU KEYI”…he is smirking at us and I can see renminbi money signs in his eyes. I want to push him out the door, as it’s been over an hour now and we are sardine’d – once again. The European moves out of his seat and has to sit on the spare tire on the middle of the bus. We continue…more honking. What are these guys thinking…oh that’s right…the religion of capitalism….
The little girl can barely sit between me and her grandfather. She is more or less balancing against the seat resting against him. They are country folk, and there is something about their smell that reminds me of Virginia in the fall. It wasn’t a bad smell…it was just their scent…a very comforting scent. The little girl was wearing a floral print blouse with a vest and some cordoroy pants and some little boots. He was dressed in your typical navy blue utilitarian/countryside outfit. She was quite adorable with her long black hair and at one point I noticed her eyelids and how it seemed that she had taken a red marker and put on some “make up”. I don’t know if that’s what it was or not.
The Anhui countryside was beautiful…passing the tea fields during sunset. Once again, longing to be off this damn death trap and riding along the road, admiring the scenery. I begin to feel a little strange…and I begin to wonder if there is some carbon monoxide/exhaust pumping into these vehicle. I look over and notice the little girl falling asleep…I hope she wakes up and this isn’t from fumes. I begin to open up the window intermittently to breath some fresh air and get some into the bus. It’s now cold here, where the day before we had been playing in a stream.
Total time from getting on the bus…2.5 hours…total time to drive from Mountain to Train Station: 1 hour
We arrive about 15 minutes before the bus arrives. The woman who sold us the tickets orders us some food from her brothers restaurant and pushes into the bus. Only 3 seats available. Crowded…I’m over this. I sit down and recline my seat…as the fellow in front of me is too. I notice that my seat is being pushed slowly forward. I recline again. Finger tapping on my shoulder…turn around…”What”?
“Can you put your seat up?” – him
“What’s the problem?” – me
“I have no room?” – her
“So you are going to tell me I can’t but this guy can, what’s the deal?!!!”
Jason turns around at me, hearing my angry tone, I look at him…”She’s telling me I can’t recline but other people are.”
Her squeaky voice, “it’s just so small, there is no room”.
I put up my seat and it takes a lot for me not to stick my face in hers and say, “YOU LIVE IN CHINA AND YOU AREN’T USE TO THIS!!!!??? Mind you, she is Chinese. I hope her little tiny legs were comfortable as I got horrible motion sickness because the driver wanted to get us home so soon – 120 km/h. I didn’t say anything because I just wanted to get off the bus, I was still vomiting in my mouth 15 minutes after arriving in the bus station. Jason gets stopped to show his “Chinese ID Card”, but he doesn’t have one so he shows his American passport. “oh”, I tell him, “i heard about this…they are trying to keep track and regulations on the migrants”. Big brother needs to know where you are at all times. They look a little confused at him after his handing over of his Passport, with me standing next to him…and we leave.
Yellow Mountain : 2 out of 5 stars (the 2 for the moments we were away from people)
Anhui Countryside (from inside a bus/death trap/train) : 4 out of 5 stars