THE BEGINNING: Day 4, Monday September 02 2013

“Go down that road, well I don’t know if it’s a road, but cars drive on it, and then you’re going to head towards the mountain and you should pass the pool. If you pass something you think is a tea house it’s not a tea house it’s a really awesome ‘hole in the wall’ restaurant so you should go there. But yeah then just follow the path up. But yeah if that makes no sense and you get lost just ask the locals. That’s what my parents did. I’m sorry my directions aren’t very good.” Our mission for the day was to climb our mountain, the one behind our house. Katrina gave us directions, or at least tried to. Her parents had climbed it when they’d visited. I had been under the impression that she had climbed it as well, but this morning she told us she hadn’t.

I’d woken up early that morning, still not used to the time change. We hadn’t gone to bed until 3 am, but still I was awake at 6. I tried to do a blog post, but found out, despite my research, WordPress is blocked. We bought breakfast from “the noodle place” or so Lainey had described it as. When we went in there however there were no noodles at all! For some reason despite it’s lack of noodles we kept referring to it as “the noodle place” or “the noodle factory”. It also had a sign on the floor that read “please carefully slide”.

Katrina’s directions weren’t half bad, they at least got us headed in the right direction.

We passed a school on our way surrounded in big metal fences. On the other side of the road from the school were rows of little stores swarming with children in their school uniforms. There were all sorts of doodads and school supplies. We felt like we’d struck gold for teaching supplies!

I bought a squishy steamed bun key chain with a giant grin on it. In the weeks to come Nate would hold it up to me to see it’s face for comfort when things got rough.

Further down the road was a market with cloth, food, flower and beans, and grains in big bins, fruit, live chickens and fish, and turtles that we weren’t sure if were meant to be pets or food. We passed the pool Katrina had mentioned so we knew we were going in the right direction, and then the city buildings came to an abrupt end and we found ourselves standing in ruins.

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There was so much garbage, cheep toys, wrappers, and boxes. I commented to Nate that it looked like someone had dumped the dollar store there. We stepped carefully past the garbage and into the maze of crumbling walls and stairways that led to the ghosts of first floors past.

By our next visit most of the walls would be gone and the “ruins” would be nothing but a dump. Scavenging was a way of life for some people in China. Nate and I would learn to leave our recyclables beside the garbage bins to make it easier for the old men and women who would pick through the trash in search of them every night.

We weren’t sure where to go from the ruins. There was a man chipping away at a bit of remaining wall in order to extract whatever good bricks he could find. Nate and I walked up to him. We didn’t know enough Chinese to say more then hello we both mustered up our best confused faces and pointed at the mountain. The man just shook his head.

Not far away another scavenger, a woman squinted up at us from where she was working. She simply pointed, her mouth drawn and serious.

We saw a boy with a water bottle ahead of us. Figuring he looked like a hiker we followed along behind him. Leaving the ruins behind us we noticed corn growing against a wall on our left. We followed the boy down a narrow path on our right that led between some bushes and fences.

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We felt like we had stepped back in time to a rustic, rundown sort of paradise. Ruins had been turned into gardens and the farther up we went the thicker these gardens became. They were all surrounded by rickety little fences, and we could hear the sound of roosters coming from behind some small buildings. The most gorgeous of these was a large garden with a raised section that a small shack sat in. A path ran through the garden and wound it’s way around the plants up to the raised platform, perhaps the remnants of an old building foundation.

It wasn’t all beauty, there were bits of garbage scattered all along the path, but we saw only the good, the old floor tiles that were used as a decorative path, and the twisting vines that coated the trail and covered the trash. We nicknamed the place Narnia.

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From the top we could see silver glint of city buildings stretching out for miles, but to the East the mountains took over the landscape. I imagined what it would have been like when all those metal giants had been nothing but small shacks like the ones we’d passed in the gardens on our way up.

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There was a park below us with a roofed shelter that encircled a garden. Beyond that was another mountain with a gazebo on top, and we immediately began plotting out our route to get there.

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View of our apartment complex from the top of the mountain.

We passed a school on our way to the park. The students were in the yard for gym class, and they all stopped what they were doing as we walked by, and stared at us. We get stared at everywhere we go, I guess it’s something we’ll have to get used to.

A large flock of sparrows flew from the garden as we stepped under the shelter. Below the ceiling was covered in paintings that appeared to tell a story. We took picture in hopes of getting them translated.

We weaved our way through the streets towards the second mountain (later we were told it is called Swallow’s Wing mountain because of it’s shape) stopping to poke through stores and pick up ice cream and drinks. We ended up going down a dirty road full of stinky garbage and of helmet-less construction workers where we found a path that appeared to go up the mountain and followed it.

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Below us was a giant pond of spring water where a dozen or so locals were swimming. We were hot so we went in in our clothes figuring it wouldn’t take long for them to dry.

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Saw these little white things swimming in the water that appeared to be jelly fish! They were everywhere and did not have a sting.

“Up we went following this narrow path that often disappeared on us.” We reached this concrete drain and used that as our trail. Near the top even our concrete “path” ended and we had to bushwhack the last few meters.

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We emerged from the brambles and found ourselves at the base of the gazebo, a dozen sets of eyes staring at us. The locals thought we were crazy! One guy kept pointing to the real path and saying something in Chinese. He seemed very concerned that we take the right way back down. The paintings on the gazebo was more warn and chipped then the ones in the park but were almost more beautiful for this effect. There were a bunch of 20 something boys hanging out under the roof. They were training at the military academy just below the mountain. We had fun communicating through our small Chinese phrase book.

We took the path back down. It led to a Buddhist temple, and then down the far side of the mountain. “We could hear the bang of a drum coming from inside. Two women were kneeling inside involved with some sort of Buddhist ritual.”

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We went to “Cloud Dream Cafe” for dinner and ordered chicken. It was full of tiny little bones and we were forced to eat it with our fingers. Worst of all: no napkins!

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