The Chinese used to be able to fly, Croutching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-style
That is, until the Cultural Revolution when Mao had all the ancient texts describing the philosophy and theory behind it burned.
I told that little story to one of my Chinese friends, who did actually believe me. I guess not all of them are going to rule the world in a few years. I do, however, think that Mao had books on camping burned, or at least banned. Robert and I went camping on the weekend of April 1st with the Camping Club at BNU. I think we were the most experienced people on the trip.
Interestingly, this trip almost didn’t happen for me. Robert inadvertently got his signals crossed with the organizers of the trip, and thought that the sign-up time for the trip was the sign up for the club itself, so when they told him to meet on Thursday night a few days before the trip was to depart, he assumed that I could sign up then. I told a Chinese friend of mine who wanted to go, who in turn told her friend, who also wanted to go. So the three of us show up to sign up for this camping trip, only to find that they’ve already ordered all the bags and tents for the people who understand Chinese fluently and thus signed up when they were supposed to.
I got an insight into some genuine Chinese bargaining, as I watched my buddy 曲威 （Qu3 Wei1, but we call her Chew for short, or 嚼 (jiao2), which means “to chew” in Chinese. She hates that nickname.) go to work on those trip organizers. Within fifteen minutes, we went from being three people who were trying to get on a full bus without any camping gear, to three people who had spots on said bus and a contact at the local camping store from which to rent our own stuff. Problem solved.
This is Chew and her friend 小八 (xiao3 ba1). They’re both teachers who taught us EAP students in the past. Chew was my 会话 (huihua, or conversation) teacher last semester, and her friend taught EAP kids during summer session.
On an interesting note, Xiao-ba and I have become fast friends. It turns out that not every Chinese person is that traditional, boring, introverted stereotype that seems so overwhelmingly reinforced during my everyday interactions with BNU students. Ba has taught me more vocabulary that you will never find in a textbook than anything that I have actually learned in a textbook. I can almost guarantee that I know as many, if not more, sex-related words in Chinese than many of you know in English. Because obviously vocabulary like that is more useful than the crap they teach me in class.
But back to the trip–
We took a two-hour busride up to this mountain, and we disembarked in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. And we started walking. There was no sign, no entryway, no nothing. Just the paved road that the bus drove up with dirt on one side. We started walking down the dirt, which quickly turned into thick, smelly mud with rotting corn stalks (and cow shit) in it. The fun had begun.
This is Robert’s attempt to get out of the mud. He jumped down eventually and got mud all over himself. A valiant effort nonetheless.
I don’t know if this counts as beautiful, but this was some of the nicest of what we saw.
This guy was the leader of the trip. He was so overzealous and overbearing, and I made the mistake of having a camera, so every twenty feet he would call my name and make me take a picture of him doing some stupid Chinese pose.
The ONLY ‘wild’life we saw the whole time.
Turns out that dopey looking white cow was a momma.
As soon as the group leader saw the cows, he charged at them to get me to take a photo of him with them.
I took this opportunity to have a little fun. The guy wants a picture so damn badly with the cows, he’s gotta get closer, right? So I had him move closer and closer to the stomping and snorting mother cow, until she had had enough and charged his annoying ass. Gotta love being a trustworthy American. Additionally, this was the last photo I actually took of him. I never pressed the shutter release for the other ones he demanded I take of him.
Here’s another Darwin Award winner tempting fate.
It was still cold enough for there to be ice on the ground. Probably a good thing, as ice is easier to walk on than deep mud.
The last bit of ice shelf left from the frozen river we walked along for the whole trip.
Chew and Ba having a great time. I think this was the first time they had ever done anything besides teach or study. I think this might have been the first time they had gotten outside, or even had fun.
Trudging along. Very barren.
We actually didn’t cover too much distance during the whole trip, but the Chinese had to take rests every 50-100 meters. It was agonizingly slow. It was also like watching cows follow one-another to the slaughter. That passive, drone-like following the tail backpack in front of you, with not a single inkling of free though, of logic, of “maybe I should go a different way around that tree, seeing as how the idiot in front of me is taking ten minutes to cross a branch, when I could just as easily go around the other side, WHERE THERE ARE NO BRANCHES.
Some of the head of cattle at the rest stop 50 meters ahead of the previous rest stop.
Unlike my Jiuzhaigou post, the colors of this river are not natural. In fact, I’m pretty sure they’re due to the pollution and wholesale chemical dumping that takes place in order to keep a developing capital city like Beijing running. That and a good polarizer.
The whole area was very….brown. Good thing depth-of-field makes that look cool.
I love that moon-faced, deer-in-the-headlights-life-flashing-before-its-eyes look. Very befitting.
See those rocks along the left side of this photo? They took FOREVER to get across. For everybody else. This camping trip was a learning experience in of itself. Ground that Robert and I didn’t even register as even existing, let alone as an obstacle that would need attention to get around, required teams of three or more to help everybody get across. My favorite was watching this one person get down on their hands and knees to crawl up a sandbar which was about five feet long at a 20% grade. For a sense of comparison, think of one of those ramps they have built for handicapped people to wheel their wheelchairs up, except made up hard-packed sand. Only instead of it taking the disabled person 15 seconds to go up the ramp, it took this otherwise able-bodied Chinese person about two minutes. Made my day–I wish I got a photo of it.
One of the rocks we had to climb.
Robert and the leader arguing over which route to take up the rock.
After waiting around for the better part of an hour and a half for the rest of the group to climb that mini Mount Everest, we were greeted with this beautiful sight.
Yep, more polluted river, dead earth, and a strange beauty. I think it’s mostly because I haven’t seen a rock that’s not part of a building since I went to the cabin during winter. I can’t wait to come home so I can go to Yosemite or the Grand Canyon and see some good ol’ American nature.
Walking on the thawing river. This was hilarious, it was like watching that scene in Rambo IV, where they force those villagers to run through rice patties that they have littered with landmines. Only this was PG-13. Every few steps, the river ice would break and some poor unsuspecting Chinese person would have a river mud cast of their foot inside their boot.
I wonder how that tree up at the top survived. More sun maybe?
Robert and I ran ahead for a while after getting sick of waiting for people to negotiate the arduous obstacles of flat ground. We got a few pictures of ourselves by the spring water.
Getting close to our campsite.
After we pitched our tents (right next to the riverbank, when it was forecast to rain. Whatever.) and designated the pooping areas (they don’t pee, they only poop-I’ll explain later), Robert and I decided to climb over one more boulder to see what was on the other side. We were greeted by a bouldering club.
They were pretty cool, and pretty green at it. Robert’s got some experience bouldering and rock climbing, and climbed up this without using his legs, which put a damper on a lot of the other boulderers’ efforts. Haha, America!
After, the leader guy divided us into teams, and made us play games. In order to split us up, he made us count off 1-5, and split us up accordingly. As people went down the line counting off, it came some girl’s turn to count off her number. Instead, she burst into tears and ran off screaming and crying. I’ve been trying to figure out why for the past few months, but I can only come to the conclusion that she did it to leave me with a hilarious memory of a crazy girl making this camping trip hilarious for all the wrong reasons.
After we were split up into teams, we had to make up all sorts of team songs, dances, hand gestures, and slogans. I’m sure everybody has seen those photos of soldiers who teach kids in the Middle East the finger or the shocker. Well here is Robert looking at me taking a picture of him, both of us knowing exactly what the other is thinking–we need to do our Patriotic duty.
They loved it.
We also taught them how to make an A with three people.
The games quickly lost their fun, and we ended up hanging out and schmoozing with the various Chinese people who came on the trip. We also taught Chew and Ba how to place Strip Texas Hold’em, and we subsequently took them for one sweatshirt before they wanted to quit. Being the enterprising entrepreneurs we are, we decided to change the stakes to massage-hours. We played one hand, and ended up winning three hours of massage. Suckers. All of a sudden, camping rocked.
The next day we started our hike out of the river valley. On our way out, we passed the bathroom area. I remember that when you go camping in America you usually dig a small hole, drop the Cosby kids off in it, and leave no trace. We walked by another minefield–it seemed like every single person in the whole group decided to hold off on crapping until they went camping, because the whole area was littered with piles of dook, with the occasional piece of toilet paper. This leads one to wonder what other methods were employed to wipe…but don’t wonder too hard–you probably don’t want to know the answer.
Still, Robert decided to take a piss on it.
This is the way out. Looks a lot like the way we came in.
I think this is somebody’s firewood. I wouldn’t put it past them. The leader made our bonfire out of corn stalks, and had a Chinese fire-drill of people collecting and passing a constant chain of quickly-burning dried corn stalk to the fire in order to keep the fire somewhat smoldering.
We started to see signs of permanent human life, and soon we hit a little village tucked away in the mountains.
Complete with a run down pick up tractor abomination.
They even had their own crotchety village elder.
We finally got to paved road, and followed it to this dam, where we ended up relaxing under the warm sun for a few hours. It was actually really really nice, after lugging around a 50 pound backpack for a day, to just lay back on the warm concrete and chill. I even got a few minutes of sleep.
The bridge to what I assume is the top of the generator tower. In America this would be fenced off and electrified and plastered with warning signs, but in China it’s just one more fun jungle gym to play on.
The actual dam.
After hanging on the dam, we decided to climb a mountain before heading to where the bus was to pick us up.
Believe it or not, her hands and face are actually that white. This was the longest she’d ever been in the sun without an umbrella. Ever.
The mountains were terraced, though I have no clue as to what is grown there–probably more corn?
We got to this run-down, abandoned village in the middle of the mountain pass. There was no explanation, no history, just a sign that said “Welcome to the Folk Mountain Village”
Abandoned except for this single old man plowing the rocky dirt.
After passing through the village, we again followed the river, which was no a mere trickle, with a lot of icy patches. I watched three Chinese people roll their ankles pretty badly, one more fall through the ice, and this one almost fall through the guardrail and off the rocks.
After that, we got to the exit, where a group of Chinese people informed us that we needed to pay them in order to leave, because they owned the land. There were no signs, no nothing, just three or four Chinese people. We had forty or so people in our group. They had three. Robert and I almost got into fights with them because we refused to pay, but the Chinese logic to call and wait for the local (read relative of the guy who was extorting us) policeman to come and settle the dispute for us. He arrived an hour later and told us to pay up. Whatever.
Luckily, during all the commotion I managed to pilfer a can of their engine quickstart fluid, which has in turn enabled us to more easily light the charcoal for the two grills that we recently purchased. All in all, I think that, combined with the shocker and the cows, made this trip definitely worthwhile.