Sunday, January 15, 2012

紫金山 Purple Mountain

A few weeks ago Kevin and I were  getting squirrelish from being inside for so long. So we decided to take a day trip to Purple Mountain.

On the Thursday morning before my final final we woke up early and headed out to the subway, switched lines and got spat out at the foot of the road leading up to the mountain. We didn't really know where we were going (they have some signs, but they mostly indicate where the Ming tomb or Sun-Yat Sen's mausoleums are, not the actual path to the mountain. So we wandered, consulting maps as they came along, getting turned away by security guards, and finding our way to a hostel, which looked like a nice way to spend a few days.

"Little grass doesn't have words, the gentleman please treasure them"
We found our way by following the main road, turning off at one point to see some statues before caving and buying a ticket into one of the main parks that contained the ruins of the Ming dynasty tombs. Of course as we were walking along around there we found the entrance we had previously walked past, which was the free utterance to the park. Go figure.

We meandered around the area, taking the lesser paths to get away from the few people and enjoying the lack of city noises (unfortunately the smog follows where the cars end).

We walked up to and around the big tomb, which looks like part of the great wall was built and then cut off from it's other parts, with a tunnel straight up through the middle leading up. Behind the tomb we found a path that led back along the wall that surrounded the tomb, and we decided to follow it, first going up a hill and then descending down to walk right along the wall.
A quiet little path

It was crazy to think of how long this has stood here.  In order to take in the beauty and silence, we stopped on the empty path for a pb&j and sat for a bit.

After the tomb we decided to explore the area around. I had heard online about a communist-made lake a little up the mountain, so we ascended to see if we could find it. After many steps the lake came into view, a decent sized man-made lake for drinking water, complete with signs forbidding swimming, and old Chinese swimmers already in the freezing lake, scooting along. There was a woman just walking out of the lake (there are steps leading into it all around, but of course swimming is prohibited), two men undressing on a platform across the lake in preparation to jump in, a man napping in a hammock, and a woman dancing a pattern dance to a song in a radio hung from a tree branch while another hung her clothes to dry. It was neat, kind of like we had discovered a little microcosm of Chinese culture.
If you look hard enough you can see the stripped down men

That's looking down, as in almost straight down

City through the smog
That's when we saw the steps. The began at a gradual slope, steepening with the mountain. Kevin and I looked at eachother, said 'why not' and began to climb. There were SO.MANY.STEPS!! We had to set goals and stop to breathe when we got there. These were no switch backs gently guiding you up the step mountain, these were steps set into the mountain's side, forcing you up and up and up if you wanted to keep going. We got to a part where the steps stopped and a gate was, and thought that maybe that meant we were close. After asking some passing by people (a lot of older people use the mountain for exercise because there is a car road wrapping around it to the top) we discovered that we were close, but that the last leg, if we didn't want to walk up the car path, was too craggidy to have steps, and so we for real mountain climbed the last leg. We finally pulled ourselves up the last slope to discover that we had made it. By that time my coat was around my waste and my tank top was free to the world, much to the surprise of the bundled up December Chinese climbers. Boy was it warm up on that cold mountain!

We stood at the highest point surrounded by some high school punks who were hanging out, took some pictures with them, and then decided to go down. We had thought that there would be a chairlift ride to take us down, but of course to our luck it was shut down. So we began our descent, or as I like to call it, 'getting lost adventure'.

We had no idea where we were going, a side from 'down'. We asked people along the way if this was the right path to get down the mountain and they all said yes, but there seemed to be a cultural misunderstanding. When we said 'down' we meant a way to catch the subway and get home. When they said 'down' they meant a way to get to the same altitude as the city. And so we were lost. The path just kept going. We were passing people going up, so we assumed that it was the right direction, but when we finally got to a concrete car way, we discovered our lost-ness. To one end of the road, there was an iron gate guarded by two soldiers, an apparent military base. To the other end, forest.

Well, we knew we weren't getting into where it was guarded, so we set off in the other direction. Walking, walking, walking. Out of water, as we had drank it all when we reached the top, assuming an easy trip down, and getting hungry after our mid-afternoon snack. When we finally made it down to a main road way, we asked the first uniformed man how to get back to the subway, decided that it would take too long, and caught a cab home.

It was a tiring but awesome trip. You could sort of see the city underneath the smog, a hazy mirage from so far away. We saw and heard lots of birds in addition to the sound of the forest. It was lovely. My calves proceeded to hurt for the next several days, but now that they're better, all I want to do is go conquer that mountain again.


 P.S. Here are the pictures we took to give to Mr. Gong, our writing teacher. “谢谢宫老师” means "thank you teacher Gong", and “写作课C班” means "Writing class C"

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