Suddenly the city buildings came to an abrupt end and we found ourselves standing in ruins. It was our first day off, and we were on a mission to climb the hill that jutted out behind our apartment. We’d followed a colleague’s rambling directions to get this far, but now we were on our own.
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.
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 than 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 followed the pointing finger. Noticing a large crowd of uniformed children, Nate and I walked over to the stores they were crowding. The little buildings were stuffed full of pens, pencils, little erasers, and key chains. “We know where to get prizes,” I nudged Nate. We are encouraged to do little prizes as reward for our students’ good behaviour.
A Grandmother walked down the street holding her grandson’s tiny hand. The boy looked about three years old. His pants had a slit right up the bum, so his butt crack hung out! Nate and I had been surprised to see that toddlers and babies wore these “butt slit pants” in place of diapers!
Down the road was a small street market, with everything from pet turtles, to clothing fabric. An old man spat on the sidewalk in front of us, a custom we were starting to get used to. Sometimes it seemed like everything was different in China, our bed was rock hard, there was no concept of a “personal bubble”, and some restaurants had a very complicated food ordering system, that involved buying tickets, ordering food, getting change in tickets, and then exchanging tickets for your money back.
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.
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 its 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.
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. We could see another hill not far away, with a gazebo on top, and we immediately began plotting out our route to get there.
We passed a school on our way to the second hill. 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.
We weaved our way through the streets towards the second hill 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.
Below us was a giant pond of spring water where a dozen or so locals were swimming. We were hot so we went in clothes and all.
The pond was full of tiny opaque jelly fish! They didn’t sting so we could swing through them. It was incredible to walk through such a dirty street and discover such fragile creatures thriving.
Up we went, dripping wet, 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.
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. 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.
Our adventure had been a success, despite confusion and our lack of Chinese. Exhausted, but triumphant, we returned home intent on collapsing into bed, THUNK! I quickly learned that it is less painful to lay gingerly down on a hard bed. Save “collapsing” for a soft bed.