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Asia » China » Sichuan » Emei Shan
October 4th 2009
Published: October 4th 2009
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Hey all,
Sorry I haven't posted anything in a couple weeks, but, y'know, typical excuses like busy classes etc. I'm all well, rest assured. I try to update everyone on my life here as much as possible, but also keep in mind that I'm pretty busy here, and not on the internet often, so don't get yourself worried every time I go a week or more without posting a sizable blog or sending out personal e-mails. I'm trying my best to keep in touch, but I need to sleep too, haha

A couple quick, but major points: Because the semester here ends Jan. 30, and my semester at ASU starts Jan. 19 for spring, I was confronted with a tough choice--go through the procedure of extending my stay here another semester, and therefore have a few weeks in Winter to travel the country, or take my finals early and leave in a rush, without traveling or enjoying my last couple weeks here, but getting back to America as planned and graduate in 4 years. I eventually chose the latter, and my finals are tentatively scheduled (after much confusion at multiple school offices here) for the time around Jan. 12-14. This will give me less than a week upon returning home before classes start for me again, but I could not bring myself to push my finals any further up than necessary--I'd simply do poorly on them if rushed.

On a lighter note, my teaching gig here is finalized, and begins a week from tomorrow. I'll be instructing 4 separate, 25-person classes of freshman on the new campus of Sichuan U. ever Monday afternoon, for 45 min each, in speaking and listening skills. I'll be paid 400RMB ($60 USD) a week for this, which actually goes quite far here. I might buy a portable English-Chinese pocket translator, in fact, knowing that just two weeks of work (and just one afternoon a week) will pay it off. On a darker note, my second bike got stolen a couple days ago. My lock had broken of its own accord a day or so before, and I just hadn't gotten around to replacing it yet. Still, I parked my bicycle on campus, in a conspicuous place. I'm quite disappointed in this aspect of Chinese life.

But on the best note: It's vacation week here! Oct. 1 was 60th Anniversery of the People's Republic of China, and a massive, too-expensive parade was held at Beijing's Tiananmen Square (many Chinese seem to be upset about the cost of this, , but I won't get into that here or now). And yesterday was Mid-Autumn Festival, the traditions and histories of which are numerous and interesting, and I suggest you look them up.

Because of these two holidays being so close this year, we have about a week off school, and me and three friends I've made in class and in the dormitory (classmates Vincent and Nick, and Nick's roommate also named Nick who I'll call Nick S.) took advantage already and went to Mt. E'mei, a holy Buddhist mountain a couple hours south of Chengdu by bus. At 10,000+ feet, it was by far the tallest mountain any of us had ever hiked, but we did it together and in record time, while still taking time to enjoy the sights and sleep and eat in tucked-away monasteries and temples. Unforgettable, life-view-tweaking two days and nights. My writings and thoughts during this trip were numerous, and even as I'm writing at the moment, I don't know how much to try to cram into a blog entry. For now, I'll put up the link to the pictures:

<< http://s294.photobucket.com/albums/mm93/sterlingsin/Chengdu2009/EMei%!S(MISSING)han/ >>

And here's Day one of the three-day adventure:

written at: 9 p.m., Oct 1 ... current altitude: 1752m ... currently staying the night at: "Heavenly Peak Monastery

Having a train departure of 8 a.m., we got up at 6, left the dorm before 7, and caught a taxi to the station. We got on the train, a cheap, pack'em-in passenger train, on time, and killed time by playing cards (Hearts) for a while. We really stood out on this bus. A blue-eyes Arizonan and three guys from New York. There were several hundred people per car, at least half of them standing, many carrying boxes of moon cakes for the family Mid-Autumn celebrations they were en route to. It was quite uncomfortable, but at least we had seats. I ended up letting an old grandma and a small grandson squeeze in next to me on my seat, because the old lady looked in pain and the little boy was falling asleep standing. When he awoke, we gave him a moon cake, and his grandma shared their oranges with us. The train took 2 hours more than necessary, because of the slow pace and too-long stops at empty stations along the way, and we didn't arrive to EMei City until noon-ish.

We ate lunch at an authentic joint just outside the station, and the 老板儿(boss, or guy/lady in charge of the restaurant) set up a ride to the EMei Museum for us. Nick's professor in the U.S. had researched a book on this mountain at this museum, and so Nick wanted to try to meet the worker there who had made friends and worked with the professor and get some advice on our trip. So after looking around at anthro- and archeological finds for about 45 min, we asked a security guard if he knew the guy. We were taken directly to an office in back, past a courtyard, and were introduced to a small but affable man who offered us to sit, chat and drink tea with him. He then pointed out on Nick's map the best, least tourist-crowded routes on the mountain and best cheap places to eat and sleep. This sort of pre-planned, efficient route ended up being key to the trip's success, especially because we were on a time frame--Nick S. had already made plan reservations to Taiwan, and would leave in three+ days. That meant we had two, 2.5 days tops to climb and get off a mountain that most people take 2-4 days just to climb. But most people aren't us.

Our new friend recommended pushing to a monastery a little over halfway up the mountain to stay the night, so that we could spend more time enjoying the summit tomorrow and either begin climbing down or take the bus down the next day. We agreed and set off, knowing we'd have to push into the night to get there. This nice guy also got a museum car to give us a ride to the mountain's public entrance, saving us both the price of a bus ticket and key amounts of time.

There was confusion at the gate, because we thought we would receive a 50%!s(MISSING)tudent discount. However, apparently that is only for full-time students of a Chinese University, elementary or middle school, and not for 1-year or less foreign students. Sounds like some BS to me, but we couldn't really argue, so we paid full price and continued in. The first few km were easy and flat. We took our time, snapping photos of waterfalls and wall carvings, watching with amusement the non-bashful, wild monkeys that live on the mountain, and wondering when this hike would get hard. Oh, how young, naive, and foolish we were.

The crowds or tourists started to thin, and we became dubious of our map's proportions. We'd only been walking for an hour, without breaking a sweat, and according to the pictures on the map, we were already two-thirds of the way to our destination! But, after looking at the small-type distance quotes in the map's top corner, we realized that the tourist-y sections were blown out of proportion, and that the map was not drawn to scale. We had in fact only gone 4 of the 22 km necessary to reach the monastery, and the three easiest ones. We let out a collective "oh, shit", looked up at the mountain towering above us past the clouds, put our cameras away, sucked it up and started hiking.

After plowing through several arduous, all-uphill km, we arrived at HongChun Pin, a Buddhist monastery with accommodations and a vegetarian restaurant recommended to us by our friend back at the museum. We stopped to eat there against my impatient urgings, after verifying with a worker at HongChun Pin that TianFeng Shi had accommodations, decided to push on to the other monastery, knowing it would be another nearly 1000m uphill and at least 1 1/2 hours of hiking by flashlight in darkness. The vegetarian restaurant was delicious, however, and we savored/devoured plates of oil-fried potato threads, "bear paw" tofu (the best, most savory tofu version I've had here yet), and a bamboo/sweet pepper medley.

Then, the push to TianFeng Shi. It was almost 6 p.m., and we still had 15 km to go. This grind is an indescribably painful, sore, persistent, unforgettable, forgotten blurred and sweet memory now, now that we're here.

But, we really, really had to grind it out. Nick S. especially, our eldest at 28 years old, and who packed the heaviest. Also, Vince accidentally palmed a spiky red-and-black caterpillar while too-casually placing his hand on a guard rail as we took a rest break. We had to pick out innumerable minuscule prickles with my tweezers (which I'm so glad I brought now) and his flashlight on the ridge of a Buddhist hole mountain after nightfall. Weird. I'm just so glad he's okay now--given the colors of that caterpillar, I had grave fears it was poisonous.

So, even though Vince had needles in his hand and Nick S. was already taking heaving breaths, we all pushed together, and pushed hard. I can't really describe it more than that. About 6 km from our Temple destination, we caught up to a Chinese family heading to the same place; parents, two daughters (about 10 and 6) and a little boy of about 4 being carried by dad. They just had one flashlight that was already dimming, so we joined up with them, Nick S. staying back with the parents and smallest child, lighting the path with his super-strength LED torch, and Vince, Nick & I setting the pace ahead and watching to make sure those girls didn't run too far ahead of their parents. The prior 9 km had been quite disheartening and steep, but the last darker 6 were actually comparatively upbeat. Probably b/c we chatted it up with our new 小朋友 ("little friends"), these two little girls who kept praying for rain for God knows why and and daring us to be not tired and walk fast.

And we made it. It was 8:15, and we were tired, but we made it, and in faster time than the predicted three hours. Oh man, seeing that big, hospitable Buddhist structure emerge from dense, all-uphill wilderness was one of the more relieving moments of my life.

After filling out (unnecessarily complicated for a Buddhist monastery, you'd think) Accomodation Forms and pay 30RMB each ($4.30/bed/person per night), we arrived, here to a hostel run above a temple on a holy mountain in south China.

The beauty has been indescribable. My strongest acquired trait as a writer has been to learn what I can and cannot describe. 峨嵋山 is not something I can write out, at least not while I'm on it.

What I might be able to describe, later, though, are people, the sense of collective, accomplished relief we felt sitting on our slightly lumpy but quite clean beds, looking back on the map and realizing we'd climbed over half the mountain since 2:30 p.m. that day. In just under 6 hours, we climbed 22km of staircase'd trail, and it was the first time any of us had climbed at night. This is how friends used to be made, through helping one another accomplish tasks too big for us, and grinding out an experience best (and really, only) shared between the people there. Friendship as in camaraderie, not 'friendships' coined on the Internet instantaneously or out of social convenience. Friendships and experiences earned. That's what Day 1 on EMei Mountain was.




...
And the rest, I'll have to type out later, either tonight or tomorrow morning. So consider this a cliff-hanger, I guess


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4th October 2009

Adventure and Insight
Those last three sentences are beautiful. You've been keeping up well with phone calls and emails. You even let me know before you went on this trip. No complaints here, Tye. You've been very thoughtful. Like I wrote to you earlier, in many ways a charmed trek.
9th October 2009

from Dad
Thanks for sharing this awesome experience Tye. I know you will have plenty more before you come back. Hannah really misses you and has made more pictures to send to you in your next package we send.

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