10.11.2007 - 10.13.2007
We met a guy from NYC earlier in our China travels who is teaching English to primary schoolers in Beijing. He shared some of his interesting stories with us. He was having trouble pronouncing some of his student's names during roll call, so they requested that they have English names in class, and he agreed. Some of the more entertaining names that were chosen included Nightclub (apparently this youngster frequents the nightclub scene), Mountain, and Tiger Dinosaur. Thinking this was great, Char, Ellen and I immediately adopted these names. Char had to be Nightclub since she does indeed go to a lot of clubs, Ellen had to be Mountain because she's the tall one, so that left me with Tiger Dinosaur, which isn't significant of anything but I quite like it. Since then we've come across other Chinese with reason to have an English name, mostly because they have a job in the tourist industry. For example, our tour guide in Xi'an was called Candy and another woman who gave us her business card, in case we wanted to book a tour though her, goes by Cinderella. Oh, pop culture.
We awoke Thursday morning in Yichang and hopped on a bus headed north to Wudang Shan. Shan means "mountain" in Mandarin, and Wudang Shan is one of the more famous mountains in China as it is the home to several Taoist temples built during the Ming Dynasty and is supposedly the birthplace of Tai Chi. It was actually the setting for part of the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, though I do not think the movie was actually filmed there (so I have been told). We planned to stay in a hotel part way up the mountain (to experience the mountain life!) and hike to the summit during our stay. It did take us 8 hours in a bus from Yichang to get to the town of Wudang Shan, however. It wasn't so bad, though, as I think you just get used to long periods of travel after a while. It was interesting to see the countryside: many rice paddies, suprisingly large homes, other crops (a lot of cabbage and corn) and water buffalo. We drove through a few smaller towns (actual small towns), which is good because we got a flat tire at one point so there was a place to go to get a new one.
We stopped at some gas station/restaurant for lunch where we all bought a ticket and were served the same buffet meal. I was last in line and, thankfully, they ran out of the mystery meat by the time I got to the front. I got a peak at Nightclub and Mountain's trays, though, and I don't know what it was, but it still had hair on it. The driver of the bus walked by and rubbed his belly and made an "Mmmm" sound. We responded in kind, doing our best to look excited about our meals. We were the first to finish and get back on the bus.
We finally arrived at our destination, or so we were told, as the driver pulled over to the side of the road right after going through a toll booth, and gestured for us to get off. We knew that the town of Wudang Shan (at the base of the mountain) was a small town, but we were clearly still on the outskirts and not quite sure where to go to get to the train station (where we were meeting another traveler before heading up the mountain). Again, though, we were able to walk a short way and then solicit the help of someone nearby to help us by hailing a taxi. Phew, we made it. The town of Wudang Shan didn't seem to have too much to it. Just the usual food stalls on the street, people walking around, shops, haze. We did see someone driving a scooter with a dog draped across the back of it; a very dead dog. Dinner, most likely.
We found our way up the mountain to the hotel and restaurant stop, called Nunyan. This is as far as the buses go, and the start of the hike up to the summit. There are several hotels and restaurants, as well as souvenir shops all in the same little area. Before we even got off the bus, locals were pantomiming sleep (by putting both hands under one ear and leaning to the side with eyes closed) and shoving their business cards at us, trying to get us to stay at their accomodation. When we got off the bus, it got even worse, and we couldn't turn around without being harrassed. Finally, we ducked into the first hotel we saw just to get away, and we ended up staying there. We booked for two nights, thinking we'd hike the mountain the next day, and leave early the following morning. I'm not sure why, but I think we were the only people staying in the hotel that night, it was kind of eerie. Perhaps the weather had something to do with it. It was definitely cold, but luckily they had a heater in the room, otherwise we would have all frozen to death. In addition to being cold it was very foggy and rainy (though the air felt much more fresh and clean!). Not wanting to go out in the cold rain again, we ate a very satisfying and inexpensive meal at our hotel (again we were the only people) in their small kitchen. In fact, the wonderfully friendly staff at the hotel always seemed to anticipate when we'd want to eat as they'd be waiting nearby whenever we came down from our room, smiling and ushering us to the kitchen area. We went to bed early as there was nothing else around, but only after turing on our TV to find Arnold Schwartzenegger's Commando on, in English I might add, so we had to watch. A little taste of home. The room was nice, although a little cramped. Our bathroom was a little scary, but it had hot water. We called it "The Throne":
Yes, that is the shower in the upper left hand corner.
The next morning it was still cold and rainy, so we decided to hang out for the morning and hope the rain cleared by the afternoon so we could hike to the summit. It did not. We watched Commando 1.5 more times, played 3 different card games, and finally decided to hop on the bus outside and see where else it could take us. I'm glad we did because we came across this temple farther down the mountain called The Purple Cloud Temple. It was so hazy, though, that when we got off the bus we could only see about 15 feet in front of us, and had no idea where the temple actually was. Some others waiting at the bus stop pointed us in the right direction, and we found the temple to be only about 50 feet away. The mist here is extremely thick and dynamic; ten minutes later, it had ebbed to the point where you could indeed see from the bus stop to the temple, though if you're not careful it will roll in just as quickly and envelop you.
It was extremely peaceful there, and you immediately understand why it was chosen as a site to practice meditation.
Once we ascended back up to the hotel level, we thought we'd eat somewhere new for a change and popped into a few restaurants to check out the menus. Strangely, the first place we stopped had exactly the same menu as the one in our hotel, as did the next, and the next. The proprietor of each place was very eager to have us eat there, but none seemed as clean as our hotel, so we wandered back there instead, all of us trying to figure out the purpose of standardizing the menu for the whole town. I assume this was implemented as part of socialist law? Or was it a local community decision? None of us spoke enough Mandarin to ask.
We ended up having to wait until the next day to climb the mountain as it kept raining all through the night. I don't know the distance we hiked, but it certainly humbled me, especially since there were plenty of people more than twice my age hiking up on their own two feet, some even smoking along the way. Luckily, the entire path was paved and mostly consisted of stairs. There was clearly a lot of construction going on as we saw many workers carrying materials along the path, up and down the stairs.
There were a lot of tents, or lean-tos, on the way up that sold various souvenirs. I got the impression that people actually lived in these dwellings, at least semi-permanently. I saw people carrying water in buckets that they had collected from a nearby waterfall, and many of the dwellings had a make-shift stove in it and, of course, many also had televisions, which was interesting since that meant there must be some source of electicity.
Besides being completely winded and having sore knees, I was struck again by the mist, and watching it move in and away. Once we got close to the summit, though, it was consistently a thick cloud. This is a view looking over the edge, near the top of the mountain:
The summit is called the "Golden Summit". Note the translation below:
There were a lot of people climbing the mountain that day, and all came to burn incense and pray to the shrine at the summit. It makes you wonder what all the monks think of the crowds coming to pay homage at their temple(s), although they must have agreed because here we are, and it is no doubt a significant source of income. Here is a view I caught on our way back down the mountain, looking up a stairway we had just descended:
All in all, it was nice to get away from the chaos of the rest of China and spend two nights in one place without needing to get up early to move onward. But, no rest for the weary. Next, we are heading to Hong Kong.