Travel Journal

Huangshan & Nanjing, China, 5/7-5/11

(Tuesday 31 May 2011) by Joanne Chang
We use Tunxi as a base to explore Huangshan. It's an hour to the base of the mountain but we decide to stay there it for its ancient old town -- one very long, very charming, tourist-filled pedestrian street called Lao Jie. Upon arrival we make the long walk to the hotel, dragging luggage bumpity-bump down a cobblestone street, passing shop after shop filled with tea leaves and dried snacks, famous Chinese calligraphy tools and carved stone.
We grab dinner at a local spot just off the drag and I try young bamboo with beef for the first time while mom chats it up with the lady owner.

The next morning a taxi driver convinces us to go with him all the way to the mountain due to our late start. We then take a connecting bus to the entrance, pay 230 yuan to enter the park and 80 to take the cable car up (it's another 80 coming down), get mobbed by Chinese tour groups scrambling for a place in line (we are literally the only people here not on a tour), and get to the top where we find the views were better down below. Mom has the idea that taking a cable car means no climbing required, and instead is faced with endless steps up and downhill over many kilometers, weaving around to various lookout points, and she thinks her legs are going to fall off. Old ladies, small children, and hotel service men carrying bundles of produce, water and linen on their backs somehow make it look easy. She quickly realizes why you can't wait until you retire to travel, and by lunchtime (splurge at the Beihei hotel) she's changed her mind about coming back next year with Dad. After I make a solo sprint to Bright Summit and back we take the last cable car down, a car to the bus station, the locals bus to Tunxi, and a taxi to the wrong side of Lao Jie (again). A long day, a lot of effort, expensive, and overcrowded (though a great excuse to treat myself afterwards to a foot massage, delivered by a 26-year old boy who compliments me on my Chinese and won't stop asking me questions about life in America). I imagine skipping the cable car and climbing the mountain is incredible (next time?) but the summit's beauty is diminished by mass tourism -- matching outfits, megaphones, queuing for photos, and nonsensically pushy Chinese people (Mom says it's because their freedoms were suppressed until recent decades, therefore the mentality is to grab, push, every man for himself). But we did it and according to the old Chinese saying, we never need to see another mountain range again, after Huangshan. Ok, check. Next!

We have time before we're scheduled to be in Qingdao, so we take a bus to Nanjing to see the place where Sun Yat Sen and Chiang Kai-Shek ruled the First Republic of China (also the capital under the Ming dynasty), and to pay respects to the Nanjing Massacre. Within two days we've visited the Purple Mountain (people couldn't understand why we'd bother after Huangshan) and Sun Yat Sen's Mausoleum, Xuanwu Lake, Mochou Lake, the Presidential Palace, Nanjing Massacre Memorial, Zhonghua Gate, Fuzi Miao (twice), and the noodle shop near our hotel (also twice!) serving big fat chewy homemade noodle soup and potstickers for next to nothing. We eat barbecue, fried mantou, fried nian-gao and tea eggs on the street, and I try Maotai, a popular 53% alcohol soy sauce-flavored white liquor that is definitely an acquired taste. Mom continues telling me about Dad's family history, stories I've heard before but never really grasped until now. While exploring Nanjing and its historical significance I try to piece together the sequence of events, the relationship between my grandfather's uncle and Chiang Kai-Shek, the Xi'an Incident and Japanese invasion, the end of WWII and Communist takeover. It's all a bit jumbled, but I'm fascinated and want to learn more. And I will never forget the Nanjing Massacre Memorial, a gripping, painfully detailed account of atrocities committed unto 300,000 Chinese civilians and unarmed soldiers at the beginning of the China-Japan war, 1937. In Nanjing, history that used to seem intangible, too distant to be real, starts to take form.

On May 11 we get on a night bus to Qingdao. It has beds instead of seats! My first experience on a sleeping bus and I feel like a little kid, giddy and excited. We don't get much sleep though, being this close to the bus floor is noisy and bumpy; at one point I look over and Mom is trying to sleep sitting up in bed, cradling her head in her hands. She finally lays down and falls asleep after I give her my neck pillow and a shot of Maotai. I try but never quite make it.


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