Written~ two weeks ago
After hearing that hiking was most treasured hobby, my generous host fam set off this weekend to Emei Mountain, a sacred Buddhist mountain where the bodhisattva Pu Xian became enlightened.
With no time to prepare and thunderstorms in the forecast, I threw a raincoat, my Give n Gobble shirt, hiking pants, and my Merrells into my pack. Though grateful for a chance to get out of the city, my stomach simmered a slow anxiety about going on a strenuous hiking trip after one of the most exhausting weeks I’ve ever experienced.
Nevertheless on Friday night, I shuffled into a the back of a massive black Mercedes Benz and fought the urge to fall asleep as we tore past the Sichuan countryside under a blood orange sun and the melancholy melodies of Chinese pop ballads.
The Chinese built the Great Wall, but they sure weren’t concerned about the breadth of the Emei mountain road. After a torturous trek we arrived at our hotel and I quickly realized this was not the hiking excursion I’d anticipated. I envisioned spare rooms tucked away into green hillsides, with plain vegetarian canteens located a small distance away in a nearby town. In essence, an Oregon hiking trip with some Buddhist flavor. I was really looking forward it.
My host parents, however, booked several rooms at Qi Li Ping, a massive and luxurious resort filled with various hotels: think a Neuschwanstein-inspired princess castle, a Panda forest hotel, and ours, a normal-inspired (???) hotel, all with access to the facility’s hot springs.
I’m pretty sure I woke the half the guests up when I saw my room–a massive loft, complete with a King-size bed and walls papered with brush paintings of the mountain. The bathroom was completely floored in marble and the centerpiece was a bath the size of a jacuzzi. #poshcorps
I slept better than I ever had in China and awoke to shovel a few bowls of congee into my mouth. My mom encouraged me to eat more because “today, we’re climbing the mountain.” We piled back into the Benz and to my amusement, went to a bus station that took us up to the mountain.
We finally got to the “hiking” portion. Tourists occupied every inch of the wide, stone stair path. Well-fed Tibetan Macaques deigned to descend from their canopies to accept the attention, and food, of gawking city folk. On our left, vendors beckoned us to purchase snacks, jackets, and rainbow plushie monkeys.
I pushed ahead, hoping to eventually escape the tourist laden area I entered, but to my surprise, it never let up. The entire way was filled with sellers who ensured your every discomfort along the path could be assuaged. For those who didn’t wish to walk up the path, you could even purchase a trip on a huagan, where two extraordinarily hardy old men would carry you up the mountain. Hiking indeed.
After maybe a 3/4 mile, we arrived at a cable car station. My host mother and sister asked me if I felt tired. Their legs had begun to waver and they were grateful to enter the cable car that delivered us to the peak. While waiting for the car, they admitted they didn’t like hiking. I felt bad they went so much out of their way so that we could share this hiking experience.
The peak of Emei Shan is known as the Jin Ding 金顶, the golden peak. Above a sea of clouds, the devout mix with the tourists to visit a giant golden statue of Pu Xian and his elephants. It’s spectacular and gaudy. We burned candles, incense, and 拜一拜’d, kowtowing in the temples and making wishes.
Afterwards, we ate a remarkably bad lunch of instant noodles, and for gluten-free and special me, a flavorless boiled cob of corn. My host sister, Le Le remarked that the noodles were awful and her father replied to her that she should just be glad the noodles were not American instant noodles. He said Chinese noodles were highly sought after in American prisons and the American noodles are certainly worst tasting than these ones. I quickly agreed and we then headed back to the bus to take us to the station. After arriving back, we luxuriated in a giant feast and hot springs.
The whole affair on the mountain was a bizarre but uniquely Chinese experience. I laughed, thinking of my Merrells that I thankfully left in my bag, along with the rest of slovenly clothes I brought along with me to this glorious resort.
Though entirely not what I was expecting, I felt extremely relieved to be able to rest, take in the sights, and see what enjoyable tourism looks like for many Chinese. Thanks to a cushy hotel room and my family’s thoughtfulness, I feel refreshed and ready for one more slavish week of teaching. 加油，昭君！