Saturday, April 21, 2007

Mountain-Climbing 201

Tracy called earlier this week to say that there was a law school-sponsored outing for all law faculty this Saturday. (These kind of trips are pretty common at Xiada, apparently. When I mentioned that we had this outing scheduled to a friend who teaches in the mathematics department, she said, “Oh, yes, the spring trip. Our department does that, too.”)

This trip, just like the International Women’s Day excursion, would also be to a mountain park – but a different mountain park. When Tracy said that Si Bo, Zoe’s friend, would be going on the trip, that cinched it – we’d definitely be going! I actually felt a little smug at the thought of another mountain-climbing excursion – I’m in so much better shape than I was six weeks ago when we went on the LAST mountain-climbing trip. The uphill walk to school is no longer a struggle, and the other day I found myself accidentally climbing to the 6th floor when headed for my 5th-floor office, because the climb was so easy I didn’t realize I’d finished it! Oh, boy, was I wrong to think I was ready for this trip! The first hour going up the mountain and then down the mountain wasn’t bad – but the second hour going up ANOTHER mountain was a killer! But more about that later. (Perhaps I should have realized that this was going to be more like the Bataan Death March than a stroll up gently rolling hills when we were each issued a sack with a bottle of water and a loaf of bread before boarding the bus!)

The bus ride was longer – two hours instead of one. It was interesting watching the scenery change as we headed out of Xiamen. First there is the urban landscape of the city itself. Then came the suburbs – still large apartment buildings, like in the city, but not much in the way of commercial structures. Many of the developments were brand-new, and had distinctly Western-styled architecture, with lots of European-looking statuary. Then that gave way to light industrial plants and car dealerships – we passed dealerships for Hyundai, Volkswagen, and Buick (I don’t think Buick has penetrated too deeply into the Chinese market – I haven’t seen a single Buick in China!). Then we passed heavy industrial plants – most looking very new. We then reached the rural area – small villages surrounded by farm land. We saw rice fields under water, mango trees, bean plants climbing poles, and lots of stuff I could not name, all lush and green as befits Xiamen’s tropical climate.

By this time, the bus was heading up into the mountains. We passed THROUGH a mountain in a long tunnel, and then we were at the park. (BTW, we’ve seen a number of tunnels in and near Xiamen. China is on a huge road-building kick, and since Fujian Province is heavily mountained, that means lots of tunnels. There is one under construction very close to campus. We often hear the loud ka-boom of dynamite explosions as crews blast through the mountain.)

Before getting off the bus, we were issued red and blue baseball caps – the universal sign of tour group membership in China! Every tour group gets matching hats, which certainly helps in keeping the group together. It sure was helpful for Maya and me, as we often lagged behind the group, but could always spot it by the hats!
Getting off the bus was pretty much the last we saw of Zoe. Like the last trip, she ran ahead with Si Bo and his mom while Maya and I brought up the rear. So that explains why you’ll see no pictures of Zoe here!

First we headed down stone steps cut into the side of the mountain to reach the river. We crossed the river on man-made stepping-stones, and started the climb up to the top of the dam. (The photo at the top is a straight shot from the top of the dam, which gives you some idea of how high up we were!)

There were other groups walking the same narrow paths as us, including a group of high-school students who were thrilled to find an American to talk to. I think I was photographed a dozen times by that group – sometimes we’d pass them, and then they’d pass us, and each meeting was another excuse for photographs! Maya refused to speak, despite their efforts to coax a few words from her, and eventually turned uncooperative for photos, too! Still, she was a real trouper about the arduous climb. And I, too, got irritated by all the photo requests after a while.

After climbing for about 25 minutes, we made it to the top of the dam! Hooray! The hard part is over, right? Mmm, maybe not!

We crossed the dam, and then headed for our first downward climb. This proved harder than climbing upward, since the stairs were all at different heights, and I had to hold Maya’s hand the whole way, bent over like the Hunchback of Notre Dame! Still, we made it, and we weren’t even the last of our group to make it down the mountain (OK, so the laggards were all over 70, but I’m not proud – I’ll gloat over beating ANYONE on that climb!).

And this is where I made the fatal decision. We could have walked the rest of the way down the mountain to the bus on a gently winding road. Or we could climb higher up the mountain and see the “Dinosaur Park” – an area with statues of dinosaurs in a life-like setting. How far are the dinosaurs, I ask. Not far, the guide says. Well, Maya wanted to see the dinosaurs, so up we go! (Perhaps I should have taken the hint when all the 70-year-olds vanished down the mountain!).

And the climb up to the dinosaurs was not bad at all. But even that little bit didn’t seem worth it – the dinosaurs were not very realistic. . . .

. . . and there was this awful piped-in noise that was supposed to be the sounds of dinosaurs. And of course Maya decided it was all pretty scary, and we had to have the whole no-more-dinosaurs, what-does-extinct-mean, talk as we walked! (I'll always remember this talk with Zoe, because once she realized extinct meant dead, she started saying that her great-grandmother, may she rest in peace, was extinct!).

And then the real fun began. We continued to climb up and up and up and up . . . . Every time we turned a corner or reached a flat spot, I thought we must have reached the top of the mountain. But, no! There would be another set of stone steps, each a different height, each a different depth. (Maya asked me at one point, "Why 'Oh, My Lord'?" which is when I realized that was what I was saying on reaching each new flight of steps! (Don't worry, I wasn't taking the Lord's name in vain, it really was in the nature of a prayer!) ) And by this time, it was noon, and the sun was simply blazing down on us. Between sunburn and exertion, I began to resemble the proverbial boiled lobster, which is probably why I sounded like one of those growly dinosaurs when I told the high-schooler who wanted to take our picture for the fifth time – NO! Find some other red-faced American to take a picture of! (Not understanding English, he took the picture anyway).

Maya was doing great, but by this time she was saying, “I want to go home.” I had to keep telling her that the only way home was to keep going UP the mountain! Still, my independent little girl never asked to be carried, not once. She just kept on truckin’.

FINALLY! We reached the top! I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say there were probably about 800 steps up that #@% mountain – that’s like going up a 40-story building! One of the guides stuck with us the whole time, but his sole contribution was to say “be careful” again and again, and to say “we need to go” every time we stopped for a break! When we made it to the top, we actually got cheers from the remnant of the group that also lagged behind but reached the top before us.

OK, so we’re at the top of the mountain – how do we get back down? The guide says we can walk down the road . . . or we can pay 10 yuan and ride down in a van. Guess which we picked?! (We probably should have walked -- we had to wait 30 minutes in the blazing sun for the bus (but we would have been walking in the blazing sun, so I guess it wouldn't have made much difference to my sunburn!)).
When we finally made it back to the bus, it had been about 2 hours since we’d seen Zoe. She cried when she saw us – she was sure we were lost and that no one would wait for us and she’d have to go home without us! This, even though Si Bo’s mom assured her that the guide was with us and that she wouldn’t let the bus leave without Maya and Mama! Poor Zoe, I knew she'd be worried about us, but there wasn't much of a way to HURRY up that mountain.

Not surprisingly, the girls were worn out and fell asleep on the one-hour drive to the restaurant for lunch – Si Bo, tough little boy that he is, actually fell asleep first. And Maya, of course, was the last one to go . . . .

Lunch was excellent – but then anything other than bread and water would have been excellent by that time! Still, we got quite a spread -- shrimp and crab and octopus and fish, of course, given Xiamen’s location by the sea. As usual, I liked the veggies the best – stir-fried celery with garlic and cashews, and Chinese broccoli. Maya was happy because there were two kinds of soup. Everyone at our table was so impressed that Zoe served Maya even before she took food for herself. Thinking you've lost your mom and your sister has quite a salutary effect, it seems.

One more hour on the bus, and our excursion was over. We had to walk back home from the law school, which is about a 30-minute walk, but since it’s downhill on a nicely paved road, it was a piece of cake! Despite pleading utter exhaustion during that whole walk, the girls pepped up enough to put on princess dresses and dance once we got home. Mama, on the other hand, collapsed on her bed until time to make dinner!

And the next time someone in China suggests we go to a mountain park . . . I think I’ll be smart enough to say we’ll be out of town that weekend!
Post Script: I've been reading Tang poems (circa 7th century) -- in English translation, of course. I just ran across one that made me think of our mountain-climbing trip and I laughed out loud. It's called "Hard is the Road to Shu" by Li Bai, and begins like this:
Oho! Behold! How Steep! How high!
The road to Shu is harder than to climb the sky
Hah! I certainly sympathize with poor Li Bai!


Sophie's Mom said...

I enjoy your adventures, and your blog so much. Thank you for sharing, and for updating so regularly.

mimifrancoise said...

You kept writing about Maya and then I thought "of course Zoe must be at the head of the group". I am surprised she cried when she saw you and Maya. Surely she did not think you would get lost. Does SiBo's mom speak English or does Zoe understand Chinese now? It looks like you had a good day. I hope there will be an outing like this when I am there.