Hiking Huangshan Mountain

Imagine standing above the clouds and watching them roll over mountains like a waterfall. Imagine granite peaks, unlike anything in the U.S., shooting up from the depths of the abyss below you. Imagine a perfect setting in which you realize that your view is the inspiration for so many famous Chinese paintings. This is Huangshan.

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Prior to coming to China, hiking this mountain was at the top of my list. It is said that James Cameron found much of his inspiration for the scenery in Avatar from this location.

About Huangshan

Huangshan is considered one of the top three most famous places to hike in China. Located in China’s Anhui province in south-eastern China, this mountain range is not to be missed for any avid outdoor enthusiasts coming to China.

Hiking Huangshan

There are MANY routes throughout Huangshan. Over a 100 to be exact. However the two most popular routes are as follows. Walk up the Eastern steps and down the Western steps or, you guessed it, walk up the Western steps and down the Eastern steps. Walking up the eastern steps is MUCH easier than walking up the Western steps. I hiked up the eastern steps and walked down the western steps and was more than satisfied with the experience.

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walking down the western steps

Getting There

From Shanghai you can take a regional flight to Huangshan airport, about 40 miles from the mountain range. If you want a cheaper option, there are many buses that run daily from Shanghai South Bus Station. The ride is about 5 hours.

Average Costs

Hostels: $25-30 USD  for two person room. $10 for a bunk bed in a communal room.

Meals: $5-$10

Huangshan entrance ticket: $40 USD

Do’s

  •  Bring lots of snacks
  • Try to go from September December when the crowds are less and the weather is cool.
  •  Spend the night on the mountain. You must do this. Seeing the clouds roll over the mountains at 6:00 was one of the coolest things i have ever done. There are lots of hotels on the mountain. If you are going in summer, MAKE A RESERVATION. There are several hotels, i believe six, that are on the mountain itself.
  • Make sure your hotel has a restaurant. You will be hungry. Our first hotel didn’t have a restaurant so we checked out and went somewhere else.

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  • Hydrate
  • Sunscreen. Seriously though, in a lot of parts there isn’t much coverage and you will fry without sunscreen.
  •  Relax after a long day of hiking, have a mountain beer and enjoy the most incredible sunset.

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Don’ts

  • Carry a lot of luggage. There are some very steep steps and your legs are going to already be sore as it is the next day.
  • Hire a guide. You will be ripped off. There are lots of maps around the park.
  • Rely on cable cars. In the summer you might have to wait for two hours just to get in line.
  • Be this girl.

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Suck it up and hike the whole thing. It is SO worth it!

 

 

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Back to America I go!

After eight months in China, I’m heading back home for a short bit. As I sit on my couch and drink  my Chinese tea and look at my Chinese plants,my head is swirling as to what America will feel like after being away for so long.

While I’m only returning for a short time, I think that is going to make it all the more strange. Here are some of my expectations of what America will be like.

1. The air will taste clean

I’m pretty sure I’ve adapted to a new normal here. I think one of Beijing’s most beautiful days looks something like an average day in the states at best. Having perfectly sunny days with no pollution, are few and far between so I have a feeling that everyday on the coast of North Carolina is going to seem like a brand new oxygen tank . I have this image in my head that I’m going to look like a person in a yoga class inhaling and exhaling deeply when I first arrive.

2. I will see far less elderly people

One of the reasons I love Beijing and China so much is the influence elderly people have in their children and their grand children’s lives. I see more grandparents in my apartment lobby than I do parents. It’s a wonderful sight to see grand parents toting their grandchildren around everywhere and teaching them about the ways of the world.

3. The world will seem MUCH quieter

As I’m writing this I can hear children and mothers shouting outside, men talking on their phones and motorcycles going by my apartment. Beijing is constantly noisy and there is constantly something going on one of the many charms of the city.

4. Southern Tide, Sperrys & Bowtie overload

I grew up in Texas and went to school in North Carolina so while I was in the states I was pretty accustomed to the “preppy” southern look. However, in China the style is nothing of the sort and I can’t quite put my finger on what the style is another post on that soon. It’s going to be strange and awesome  seeing men wear sear sucker suits with gin & tonics in their hands. Women will be wearing brightly colored printed dresses with cute clutches. I have a feeling my whole time in America will feel like I’m flipping the pages through a preppy catalogue.

5. There will be far fewer people using their phones

Even after living in China for eight months, i am still shocked at how much cell phone usage there is. It’s like American usage on steroids. I’m going to go ahead and say that Beijingers,I’m not saying Chinese people because Beijing is a wealthy city,between the ages of 15- 35 are never without their phones. My Chinese colleagues take pictures of absolutely everything that happens at all times. There are selfies galore and if you are out with young Chinese friends you might have to stop every few minutes to take a posed picture in front of a building.

6. I will have a sense of personal space when in public

I have gone ahead and thrown my personal space out the window while traveling on the bus and subway. I was expecting to do that prior to coming here. However, i think it’s going to be wild and thrilling to be sitting in the back seat of a nice car where i can roll down the window, stretch my legs  and feel that CLEAN air brush across my face.

7. Hugging won’t be awkward

I’m a hugger. I often hug people upon meeting them. I don’t see a lot of same-sex hugging in China. I”m really close with a couple of my Chinese colleagues and I continue to force hugs on them even when they don’t hug me back and they kind of feel like a limp noodle.

7. American sarcasm how I’ve missed you so

This one is hard to explain. The way Chinese people socialize amongst themselves in public is something very different from Western people. Many Chinese people rely on small talk in public and don’t bring up big pressing world issues, or topics where one would have a definitive opinion.Now I’m talking about the public sphere here, not when a Chinese person is in their own home.  It’s something I completely respect about Chinese culture and understand, but to be honest I’m really looking forward to being in a room where there is more than just three Americans. I”m looking forward to people telling jokes and hearing real American sarcasm although I do applaud my students for trying to understand sarcasm. I’m looking forward to people willingly express their worldly opinions in public.  Most of all, i’m looking forward to the good’ole belly aching American laughs.

These are my expectations, time will tell if I was right!

 

 

Hiking from Jiankou to Mutianyu section of The Great Wall

This past weekend, we hiked an incredible part of The Great Wall. This hike entailed a trail that leads from an older more unrestored section of the wall called Jiankou, to a much more developed area called Mutianyu.  Hiking from Jiankou to Mutianyu allows you to experience a contrast between old and new and provides  insight to the two different sides of the Great Wall of China that are world’s apart.

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unrestored Zhengbeilou tower on Jiankou section

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restored section of Mutianyu

Our journey began by taking bus 916 from Dongzhimen’s long distance bus station.We then got off in Huirou county and got a ride from one of the many people offering to take us to sections of the wall. Negotiating a price is a must for the trip from Huirou to any section of the wall you wish to access.

We started our journey at the Zhongbeilou tower of the Jiankou section and walked east towards Mutianyu. This is one of several sections of where to start hiking along Jiankou, however, it is said that starting from this point because the views are incredibly stunning and said to be some of the best on any portion of the wall.

There are four basic ways to reach Zhengbeilou: via the Great Wall from the east (Mutianyu), via the Great Wall from the west (Jiankou), via trail from the south (Shun Tong trout farm at Zhenzhuquan near Wofo shan zhuang), and via trail from the north (Xizhazi).

We accessed the trail from the south at the base of the trout farm and it was a tough two-hour hike before we even reached the wall. However, the trout farm was really cool because there is a local restaurant where you can catch a trout and they will cook it up for you for lunch.  So if you like a challenge, definitly go this way to reach Zhongbeilou. However, many sites recommend accessing Zhengbeilou form the north(Xizhazi) because it’s much easier.

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more unrestored sections of Jiankou

Also, it is highly recommended to hike from Jiankou to Mutianyu and not the other way around because it is much more strenuous and dangerous.

From Zhengbeilou to Mutianyu it took us around three hours with breaks for water and snacks. All in all, our trip from the trout farm to Mutainyu took us five hours. Once you reach Mutainyu there are several ways to descend. There is a cable car, a slide and a walking path down to the base of the mountain. There will be noticable signs around for those options. Due note that the  cable car and slide close at 5pm.

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once you reach this guy selling some goods at one of the towers, you will know you are almost to the restored section of the wall

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view of some of the towers on restored section of Mutianyu

We stayed the night in a local person’s home and it was a great experience. There are a good number of options where you can stay in the Mutainyu village. The beds are modest but cheap and the owners will cook you up a great meal after a long day of hiking. This affords you the opportunity of waking up early in the morning to see the wall in a different light.

If you are traveling with some visitors or really want to splurge on an awesome location, stay at The School House at Mutianyu. This is a series of courtyard homes that have been turned into a pretty cool boutique hotel. It’s also environmentally friendly and they offer a range of activities for children and adults and they even have a spa. Oh, and each room has a view of the wall.

If you want to head back to Beijing reach the bus stop before 4pm and you can catch the 876 bus all the way back to Beijing. After 4pm you can catch the 916 bus to Hauirou than another bus back to Beijing.

Overall, this experience was one of the best I’ve had in China. You truly see some amazing scenery and the contrast between the different sections of the wall is something that you just can’t see anywhere else in the world.

swapping soy sauce for gravy

I know it has been awhile since my last post, but holiday season in Beijing is also very busy. Yes, Thanksgiving was over two weeks ago, but it’s worth telling you about the process of getting a turkey in Beijing and how we managed to make Thanksgiving seem like the real deal.

First, I need to throw a huge thank you to the Schooler and Fidler families who sent us lots of fun decorations to help the holiday more festive.

Second, I had I to figure out how i was going to get a Turkey in Beijing. Several restaurants in Beijing  do all out turkey dinners but Thanksgiving is about being at home with friends and family so I was determined to make that happen. We lack an oven in our apartment so getting an already cooked turkey was going to be the best bet.  I quickly discovered that there were lots of American restaurants willing to sell us whole turkeys. I was thrilled, until I heard the price. 1200 RMB for a turkey, that’s roughly $200 dollars. That price tag was far too expensive for my teacher’s budget and I knew a better deal could be found.  I called over six restaurants and did the thing any normal person would do in China, I haggled the price. If you  told me two years ago that I would be living in China haggling the price of a turkey using Chinglish over the phone, I would have laughed. Well, I was actually laughing to myself as the conversation was happening.

Finally, I found a restaurant that was willing to negotiate their price to a more reasonable one. I got a turkey for 600 RMB and the manager was even willing to throw in a side of gravy! Score.

My manager, who is Chinese, graciously gave me a half day of work because she understand how important this holiday is for Americans. I hopped in a cab from work and headed to the diner where I was to pick up my turkey. I walked in and the restaurant and the whole place was busy prepping for an American crowd to come in for dinner that evening. So, the manager quickly gave me the turkey and gravy and sent me on my way. Although I love to cook, I’ve never really been on turkey prepping duty when it comes to Thanksgiving in the Schooler family. So, i guess what i’m trying to say is damn a whole turkey is heavy.

So here I was with a whole turkey and how were the turkey and I going to get from point A to point B?

It was one of those really windy days in Beijing and my hair ear muff combination just wasn’t working with me. As I walked out of the restaurant, I managed to slowly make it down the steps and across the street to catch a cab. However, every cab passing wasn’t free. So I just decided to start walking down the streets of Beijing with my turkey. After awhile, my arms started to get tired so I did the unthinkable. I put the turkey on my head and balanced it. Surprisingly that worked well for awhile and then I realized that this situation would soon turn into a disaster if i did not remove the turkey from the top of my head. The wind was blowing my hair into my face, my ear muffs came down to my neck and my turkey was the size of a small child. I needed a cab.

I guess it was obvious that I needed a cab because a car pulled over and offered me a ride home. It sounds sketchy, but it happens in China all of the time. But , I decided to solider on and head towards home until i found a cab.

Alas, after twenty minutes of walking, a cab pulled over for me. Never has a Beijing cab smelled so good as then when there was turkey and gravy wafting through the air.  I managed to get upstairs and quickly began prepping the apartment to look festive! A few hours later, all of our American friends showed up. Each person brought a side dish and it turned out to be a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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