September 18-21, 2000
Other China Pages
Nine Flowers Mountain
We got up at 5:30 and were in the lobby by 6 to climb into our waiting taxi. He drove us down to the bus station by the main gate (Da Men) but finding no bus there drove us down to the lower gate (Xiao Men) looking for the bus to Jiuhuashan. When he didnít find it there either, he gave up and took us back to the bus station and dropped us off, helping us find out where to buy tickets before he drove away.
Jan bought two tickets and was told the bus was due at 6:15. It didnít show up, however, until 6:25 and was visibly quite full when it arrived with a big pile of luggage already on the roof and no room for ours. The conductress was visibly upset and kept telling us to wait a little. In the end, however, the driver told us to carry our bags to the back of the bus and he managed to find enough room in a small trunk there for our two big bags, luggage cart, and Janís hat and walking stick. The bus (minibus rather) seemed so full, that Jan was surprised to hear Gerry say that there were two seats just waiting for us. They were two seats at the front, one in front of the other.Gerry took the front one and had a great view. Janís smaller legs managed to fit into the seat behind.
The conductress still seemed unhappy as we drove back down into Tankou. First we picked up three more passengers, who took the seats on top of the engine, between the driver and Gerry. Then the conductress got off the bus to pick up some stools as if more passengers were expected, complaining all the while. Finally, three more passengers got on, including a young woman in her late twenties or early thirties who was placed on the engine seat next to Jan. She immediately started making a big fuss and arguing furiously with the conductress. At one point they even came to blows. Although Jan couldnít understand much of what was said, she guessed that the woman felt she had been promised a real seat and here she was perched on the engine. Eventually another young woman offered to give up her seat and so finally the woman shut up. Jan surmised that she was expecting to get the seats that she and Gerry were in. But nobody ever indicated in any way that we were to give up our seats.
Finding a Hotel
We got to Jiuhuashan shortly before 11 a.m. and stopped at the Da Men to buy entrance tickets which cost Y60 each for us. We learned later that Buddhist pilgrims, students, and the elderly could get a discount to Y45. The bus then drove on through town passing the Julong Hotel which we had thought might be good for us. The bus eventually stopped outside of a small hotel to which the independent travellers, including us, the troublemaker woman and her party, and the nice girl who gave up her seat and her friend, were all invited to inspect rooms. We were the last to emerge and were reluctant to be railroaded into the hotel. Jan was elected hotel inspector because of her choosiness and so she looked at the rooms offered by the young woman hotelkeeper. By this time, the other travellers seemed all to have accepted her hospitality. She showed Jan two rooms, which were nice and clean, had modern-looking bathrooms, but didnít have any kind of view. Jan indicated she would like to look at other hotels so the young lady took her to two other hotels, which were certainly a little more upscale (having phones, for example), but still nothing but walls and rooves for views.
Having rejected everything she had seen, Jan was almost ready to walk down to the Julong when the young lady decided to try her own hotel one more time. She showed Jan the same two rooms, which Jan again refused and then finally the message got across that what Jan wanted was 1) a western style bathroom with a tub, and 2) a view of the mountains. Jan was ushered into another building, up a flight of stairs and into a room that actually had a view of the mountains and the requisite tub in the bathroom and cost the princely sum of Y100. Jan went back down to tell Gerry and when he saw the room he instantly liked it.
The room turned out to have its small problems: no towels, toilet paper, or hot water. But all of the problems were solved. We were given three very small towels, some very tiny toilet rolls, and learned that the hot water came on in the evening hours. Having settled all this, we walked downstairs, across the yard and into the kitchen of the hotel which looked very clean. There we used the pointing method to order some food for lunch. It was delicious and very reasonable at Y20.
We spent the afternoon wandering around the town and exploring among other things, the other hotels in town. We were happy to find no buyers regret. Our room was a very good deal and we were happy with it. We did some shopping in the small markets around town. Gerry bought a small tube of toothpaste. Jan bought two half litres of UHT milk at twice the price she pays in Shenzhen, but she was happy to find some unsweetened milk.
At around 5, we were in the square in front of the Julong Hotel when we spied a westerner. He turnedout to be German and told us he had just walked down from the highest peak with his Chinese girlfriend. He said it had taken them ten or 11 hours to walk down and that they had taken a rather long route that was not well marked or maintained and was missing a bridge over the river at one point. He sounded rather exhausted.
At 6, we walked down to the Qi Yuan temple where we had been told earlier in the day that there would be some kind of service. The service consisted of four chief monks sitting on high chairs with fancy hats leading the main body of monks (maybe 20 in all) in chants. At the same time, four women seemed to be taking part in some way as supplicants or penitents, it was not clear. We understood nothing of what was happening but sat quietly on the side for about an hour. At seven, we decided we had had enough and slipped out of a side door and left the temple.
By now of course it was dark, but Gerry decided he would like to walk back to the hotel via a back street. As it turns out the street he chose was in some sense the main shopping street as it had the bank and the post office on it. It was clearly a pedestrian street and seemed to us a more authentic old street than any other we had seen in China.
Back in the hotel, Jan took a shower while the hot water was still on, but Gerry waited too long and even though weíd been told the hot water would be on until ten, it was off by 9:30.
Walking near Jiuhuashan Tuesday, September 19
We woke up with the alarm at 7 and went down for breakfast. We had been told that it would be something like egg and bread, so we were surprised to be presented with a steaming hot bowl of noodles with a poached egg on top. It pleased us greatly. Jan ate about half of the noodles, Gerry polished off the lot.
We went back up to the room and packed our backpacks for a dayís walking. We packed fruit, chocolate, cookies, and milk, put on sunscreen, and set off. We found the steps that led up into the hilss alongside the Qi Yuan temple and climbed steadily for about an hour. At the top, we found ourselves a shady spot and sat down to enjoy the peace and quiet and read our books for 45 minutes.
The path along the ridge was surprisingly unpaved and natural. It obviously wasnít used that heavily, but perhaps the two people who were clearing weeds and grass from the edges of the path were making the first preparations for putting down the standard stones and stone steps. We spent the next three hours or so wandering along the ridge from temple to temple. In one, we were taught how to pray to the Buddha. In another, Gerry had his Chinese name (Chan, Da Le) engraved into a big stone for Y50. They kept trying to get him to spend Y200, but to no avail. At a third temple, Gerry got his usual medallion and had it carved with his name and the date.
At the end we were hoping to take a path down that was the longer of the two marked on our map, but unfortunately the path seemed to be under reconstruction so we gave up the idea, walked down into town and to the hotel. There we had an early dinner of fish, pork and lots of good vegetables and retired for an early night of photos and diary as usual.
We wrote and mailed postcards to: Bertrand Lavilla,
Pam McNamara, Remys, Ryders, Wincks
Wednesday, September 20
We knew it would be a long day, so we set the alarm for 6 and were down for breakfast by 6:30. Another couple in the breakfast room said they too were going to go to Tiantai, but they started off before we had finished breakfast.
We left the hotel at 7:10 and headed straight for the steps we had come down yesterday. The weather was quite cool and very pleasant. The sky had some light clouds, but the sun hadnít yet come over the top of the Tientai ridge. The village streets were pretty active, though. Shops were removing their shutters; women were washing clothes at the well down from our hotel; lots of activity and fodder for Gerryís camera.
It took us less than ten minutes to find the steps and start walking. Jan was happy to note that her moleskin padding on the blister on her right big toe seemed to be doing the trick. She wasnít aware of the blister at all. She was less happy with the chest cold that she had been developing over the previous two days. Every day she hoped it would disappear, but every day it got just a little worse. This morning she was sneezing a bit, was a bit more congested, and worse of all had a very dry feeling in the bronchial area and back of the throat. She was worried that the cold would affect her stamina and prevent her from making the top.
The walk started out well. The cool weather helped as we walked the 25 minutes or so up the 150m steps to Huaxing Pavilion. We didnít dawdle at the temple, which we had visited briefly the day before and instead headed straight down off the ridge another 150m towards the river and the village where we were to start the 750m climb to the top. The weather really was perfect. There was no-one else on the trail and all was well with the world. At the river, one of the village women was doing her washing on a big rock. They live in a paradise, but life is still pretty hard for them. Thankfully, my mother didnít ever have to wash clothes in a river.
The village was much smaller than Jiuhuashan and struck us as being much more authentic. Like Jiuhuashan, every third building seems to be a temple. Of the other two, one is a restaurant. But everything is on a smaller scale The village is also steeper than Jiuhuashan which makes it just that much more photogenic. In the center of the village we admired the Phoenix Pine, Feng ??
As we left the village, our real climb began. As with Huangshan, it is all steps but unlike Huangshan it is dotted with temples, big and small, old and new, rich and poor. We didnít stop at every one, but didnít skip too many. One of the problems Jan had during the day was the fact that the smoke from the incense sticks irritated her throat and chest.
By 11 a.m. we had arrived at the last temple before Tientai and the turnoff to the cable car. We had planned to take an alternate route to the top which curved around a peak next to Tiantai, climbed up to the peak, and then finished by coming back down to Tientai itself. Jan was a bit worried about the detour as she wasnít sure how many other people did it and so what state the path would be in. She also feared that Gerry was minimizing the difficulties we might have because of the three peaks en route (although the path seemed to cross only two of them). But she was unwilling to be the party pooper and so soon after the cable station terminus, we found the sign to ten kings peak and set off up the very steep stairs.
The first part of the climb wasnít that difficult, except that the steps were rather uneven and often very shallow, meaning that we often had to sidestep. Jan was happy to have her walking stick. But the further we went up, the more spectacular the views and the more difficult the path. Once or twice we had to negotiate portions with very steep drop-offs, no railings, and very uneven steps. The climb also took longer than we had thought, and Jan was happy to hear Gerry say that he didnít think we should try the alternate way down, which he had originally wanted to do.
After about an hour, we got to one false peak and liked the view back down to Jiuhuashan and the road to the cable car, that we just sat there to admire. And then finally, we did get to the real top and there below was the wonderful sight of Tientai from above. We had enjoyed lots of views of the temple, especially from our bedroom and of course from the lower ridge that we had traversed the day before, but none was as beautiful as the one from above. Because of that, we sat down and enjoyed it while drinking our half litre of milk and oreo cookies. Then we negotiated the rather tricky ridge trail along and down to below the temple entrance to join the steps coming up from below.
Once at the top, we briefly visited an older temple to one side and then walked over to the bigger temple building only to find that it was not even complete. The usual three Buddhas were in place, but they were unfinished and unpainted wooden statues with a few pieces of silk to cover their faces and hands. The arhat statues were also in place, but again they were bare wood, as was the altar. We speculated that the statues and altar had been carved below and hauled up to the top in pieces by the many porters we had encountered on our way up.
A special mention must be made of the many porters we encountered on our way to the top. Most of the ones we saw were carrying bricks. The bricks were in two piles strung from either end of a bamboo pole slung across the porterís shoulder. In addition, each porter also carried a pole flattened at one end on which he could rest his bamboo pole when he wanted to rest. While carrying the pole was often used under the bamboo as a kind of lever that gave him extra carrying power. We saw a couple of these men with very bad sores on their shoulders from carrying. They seemed to carry a single load of bricks up from the village to the top in about five hours. Other than as described, they have no special equipment. They tend to wear soft cotton shoes ó what in Britain we call sandshoes. We have no idea what they are paid for their work, but presumably it is less than it would cost to transport the bricks using the cable cars that carry tourists up and down the mountain. It is one of the ways in which the unemployment and underemployment rate in China becomes visible.
The other notable thing about the porters is that they all, to a man, begged coins from us as we walked up and down the mountain, using gestures to indicate that they were hungry. We very rarely give to beggars anywhere in the world and made only two exceptions here. Gerry gave one porter who had leapfrogged us up a good part of the trail a one yuan coin, and Jan on impulse gave another porter a cucumber, also worth about one yuan. His reaction was one of great surprise, but he could hardly refuse food when he was complaining of hunger! On the whole, though, we think we made a mistake and that the golden rule should be observed even hereónever give to beggars. It makes you feel hard-hearted, but like giving in to ransom demands, it only encourages the habit.
We left Tientai at about 1 p.m. and started down long long staircase to the village below. Jan had worried quite a bit about having a repeat of her Huangshan experience, when she felt many times that her muscles were about to collapse under her. Happily, such was not the case here, and we walked down to the village in about one and a half hours and then crossed the river and tackled the 150m low ridge trail. For the first time, Jan realized that she might not have jellied muscles, but she was nonetheless tired. Still, in only 25 minutes we were at the top and before too much longer we were back in Jiuhuashan and on the lookout for a place for dinner.
Tea and Dinner
We started off walking toward the Qi Yuan temple, but quickly decided that the main street was too noisy and so turned off into the square where the Dong Ya Hotel is. We first went to the fruit stall to replenish our store of fruit and bought pears, bananas, and a small melon as well as some roast chestnuts for Jan. Then as we were wandering further along one side of the square, Gerry espied a stone table and four stools outside of a tea shop and suggested we stop for tea. It was an inspired idea. We spent the next hour sitting out in the fresh air, with a great view of Tiantai in the distance to remind us of our dayís success. We drank tea and munched two kinds of chestnutsóthose we had just bought, and those offered by the tea shop. We didnít know how the latter were not cooked, but unlike the roasted chestnuts, they were crunchy rather than soft. Gerry quite liked them, Jan didnít.
In the teashop, Gerry found two VCDís about Jiuhuashan and Jan found the fan she had wanted to buy for Meganís birthday at Y10 less than at the Julong Hotel. All in all we were very satisfied with our cups of tea. From there we walked across the street to a restaurant and managed to order three dishes, all with mushrooms in! That was not our intention, but thatís what happened. We had pork with mushrooms, tofu with mushrooms, and mushrooms with some kind of belly pork. We did get three different kinds of mushrooms, but still we would have preferred more variety.
Then it was back to the room, stopping at the shop next door to buy some laundry powder so that we could wash our hiking socks. We unfortunately left two pairs of hiking socks in Huangshan the morning we left! On our way to our room, we told the hotel keeper that we planned to leave on Friday morning on the bus to Hefei. She agreed to buy tickets for us. Perhaps provoked by this news, later on the older man came up and asked us for our passports. He took them away for about 15 minutes and then returned with the usual registration forms to fill in.
Then finally we settled down to our computers and watched some of the Olympics on TV. We saw most of the China-USA womenís softball match, but for some reason they cut the match off just as it was in extra innings with no score.