Let’s Take Teacher to Kaifeng Part 1.

I left Portland in the summer of 2013, to begin a new adventure in China as an English Literature teacher for EFL Chinese students who were prepping to move to the U.S., and Canada to continue their educations. It was really a whim. I had been feeling trapped and stunted, doing my usual, what am I really accomplishing in this life lamentations. This a usual lamentation that I’ve been singing since I first left college in 1997. It’s a familiar song that is on a fairly continuous loop kind of like when a horrible pop song gets stuck in your head. In truth, I’m sick of the song, but at times it can lead me through interesting doors, albeit I’m generally singing the same tune too loud to be able to pay attention to my  immediate surroundings. Surely, more then once I have missed an opportunity to grasp some enlightening notes to help me in the great quest of purposefulness. Regardless, if I had the overwhelming desire to be a great teacher or to experience China, or to be an avid traveller (all of which I have at one time or another felt) I ended up in China. It was more a case of who I knew than what I knew, but the outcome was the same; I was in China.

As I write this post from a coffee shop in Busan, South Korea, the days tick away from my time in China, and four years have past. Since China I have moved to the Czech Republic and traveled to parts of Eastern and Western Europe then returned to Portland, and now I sit in cafe called Coffee Farm in Saha-gu in Busan. This post will remain static on this page, and the days will continue to tick. Perhaps you have stumbled across this blog while looking up something on China, and as you read, five more years have passed since I’ve posted, and who knows what I’m writing and where I’m writing. Will I still be traveling? Will I be writing? Will I be alive?  I haven’t posted much about my experiences because thoughts have been in the way, more personal, more emotional thoughts and feelings that have been an impediment to sharing my general experiences in China, and in the other places that I have been since then. Occasionally, I am able to force myself to the page, but the moments are far and fewer between. Yet, that need to record my life, maybe in some attempt to have some relevance beyond death, is still there; small as a wisp, but still there.

There are moments when my thoughts are drifting and some brief yet strong memory from my year in China resurfaces. I never know what triggers it, but it always brings a smile to my face, and a slight nod to my head, which at times baffles and amuses me because I struggled in China. It goes to show that things can become better when nostalgia sets in. Even though I discount my pleasant experiences there I will state that it wasn’t all a struggle or at least that there weren’t moments of joy in the experience of struggles. I do hope that in the coming years that I can and will devote more time to the practice and art of writing so that one day I can accurately and succinctly convey the emotions, and the experiences that triggered those emotions, in a way that can take my readers to China. Can I reach the ability to tell my history like a poetic story? Can I transport you with my words to this place without sounding sentimental or whiney? I honestly don’t know if I will ever be able to do such a thing, but if it’s true that practice and deliberate practice bring about true growth, then I have to look at each post, be it about an event from the past or this current present, as a step toward learning to create that transportive storytelling.

Here is the beginning of one such deliberate practice of a storytelling:

Once upon a time, I had a complete and total meltdown at school, number 47 middle school, where I taught high schoolers,  in Zhengzhou, China.  I was in the office talking to one of my best and favorite students when one of the staff dropped a little bomb on me. On all of us. In a typical Chinese administration fashion, a set holiday was taken away from the teachers and the students in a very last minute non ticket refundable manner in order to use the school for Gaokoa practice testing space. Gaokao is this brutal future life determining test  that all Chinese students who want to attend higher education have to take in order to have a hopefully prosperous future. It is considered one of the most difficult tests in the world. Post test results are the top students have their photos in the national papers, and a number of suicides which are not reported in the same papers. It is stressful, and also status building. So it means nothing to the administration to forgo much needed and desired vacation time for students and teachers in order to be the poster school for testing. I, of course as can be determined by my current tone, don’t think this test is the be all to life, and at the time pretty much lost my shit at the knowledge that I just lost my vacation-days days before they were to take place. I had no concern for mianzi or guanxi. These are Chinese words for saving face or keeping up appearances and relationships that are far more complex, yet central to Chinese society, then I can effectively explain. Needless to say, my “face” exploded. I lost it in full view of my student and my Chinese co-workers.

When I think back on this 20 minutes of pure fury which I experienced in some bizarre out of body fashion, I wish that I had a camera rolling so I could watch the horror that my co-workers appeared to show on their faces and in their bodies, and the shear madness that I was unable to control. I really went mad. I was a thin line of consciousness from physical destruction. It was this outer body entity of myself that was watching me lose it that was the only thing that managed to keep some small about of sanity about me. I screamed and railed about how this was the very reason why people hated China; and no wonder they don’t return; and how the administration and the bosses treat people like shit even their own citizens; and it just keep going.  I’d grip a desk with a blinding passionate need to over turn it, but this calm voice of reason would wash over me and say, “you look crazy, right now, and this is not their fault, and your student is standing right there. Let go of the table.” So I would release my grip of what ever object I had in my grasp with a rapid snap of force, and scream out, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I know it’s not your fault!” And, immediately my wrath would return, “BUT this is bullshit!” and I would frantically pace the room seething and looking for something to destroy. It was truly a moment of madness where my personalities had split. I would even begin laughing at myself at the ridiculous irrationality of my behavior. I would laugh thinking, oh my god you can’t un-do what you are doing right now. The terror on my co-worker’s faces would only mildly pause my raging. It was only my student who was able to calm me. Unlike my adult co-workers who couldn’t move and just stood in shock staring at me, it was my 16 year old student who threw her arms around me and pulled me into an embrace, and held me in her arms. “It’s okay teacher. It’s okay.” I wanted to cry and collapse into her arms, but a new I needed to pull it together and be the adult I was supposed to be. “We won’t let this happen.” She said, and then she ran from the office.

I slumped into my chair, my head drooped forward over my desk, tears heavily forming into the base of my eyes. “I’m sorry.” I whispered to the still stunned Chinese staff. “It’s just…it’s just not fair.” I sighed, and looked at them. “I know it’s not your fault. I know it ruins your vacation too.” The head teacher held her hands up in a calming manner and said, “just, just wait, I will talk to the President, maybe something can be done.” And she left the office.

I don’t remember much else except that my student returned to the office to declare that her and the other students had decided to protest the change and that they would refuse to go to school on that day. “And if that doesn’t work teacher, we’ve decided that we will take you on a vacation after school is over.” I smiled lightly at my student. I had just incited a tiny revolution, which although oddly charming could result in me getting arrested for subversion, but what a story that would make.  This mini-revolt didn’t take place because the President of the school decided to allow our department the day off. I assume that the head teacher painted a very clear description of the foreign teacher’s utter decent into raving madness. It ended up making me a minor hero among my Chinese colleagues because they were able to maintain guanxi yet keep their vacation time. One teacher came in and spoke to the lead teacher in Chinese and after a moment leaned  toward me and whispered, “Thank you.” I may have been permanently marked the unstable one, but I had my uses.  I know that other foreign teachers had had outrages, but based on the frozen fearful faces of my co-workers I was fairly certain they had never seen anything like what came out of me on that day. Hell, I had not experienced that level of a tantrum soberly in a long-long time, and it was more than I had ever released. I knew it stemmed from the pressures of work but more so from the repressed grief that I had been carrying over my mother’s death. Still, I was shocked by my behavior. I didn’t know that I had an actual demon possession lying dormant inside me.

I suppose in all other circumstances I would have been embarrassed, but China had a way of taking bizarre events that would have what you would think to be a predictable outcome and flipping it into an unpredictable result. Everyone went on vacation, and at the end of the school year, six of my rebellious students took me on their mini vacation which was a complete surprise and a contradiction of expectations.

“Teacher.” My student said during the last week of school. “We want to take you with us on our holiday. Will you come. You just pay for your room and we will do the rest.”

It seemed a little unprecedented to me a teacher going on vacation with students–not as a chaperone, but as invited guest on their trip. It would never happen in the states. I said yes. My students took me to Kaifeng. It was me, six teenagers, and three e-bikes.

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Stopping to Visit the Peonies of Luoyang

In Luoyang every year from mid-April to mid-May when the peonies are in full bloom the city celebrates the Peony Festival. There are many peony gardens to visit in the ancient city that was once the capital of China. The most famous and main garden is the Luoyang International Peony Garden. It is one of the oldest peony gardens in all of China.

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I did not go to this garden. I couldn’t tell you which garden I visited. All I can say is that I was in Luoyang during the Peony Festival.

It was May of 2014, the morning after I had just hiked Mt. Hua with my friend Sean, and his friend Xiang Kai. We had hiked for 14 hours the night before, ill prepared and with little experience, on one of the most dangerous mountains . I’m talking about myself as far as the experience hiker part goes, but I didn’t think Sean was an expert, and I knew Xiang Kai had not hiked many mountains. Hiking in China is different than hiking in the U.S. In the U.S. hiking is a solitary experience. You climb with one other person maybe a few people and perhaps you cross the path of another hiker or two, but mainly it is you and the wild, and the animals who ignore or watch you. In China (or at least on Mt. Song, and Mt. Hua, and the other mountain I hiked) there are no animals only hoards of people. I never saw any animals, not a squirrel or a lizard only a bird or two. I’d never seen so many people on a mountain at the same time except at a ski resort during a holiday. The day we hiked was rainy and cloudy so it wasn’t nearly as crowded as it could have been. Even on a bad weather weekend there will still be hundreds of people climbing. It doesn’t matter if you go early in the morning or late at night it’s still crowded. The key would be to go off season during the middle of the week and definitely not during any vacations or weekends, but when you’re a teacher you have the same schedule as all of China, so either you don’t go at all, or you experience it like all of China-crowded. I had decided that day that I would one day return to China, but not to work only to travel so that I could plan my visits to ancient sights and geological wonders on the off times, but those were and are daydreams for other days.

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It was Sean’s idea that we stop in Luoyang to attend the Peony festival. Xiang Kai had to work that evening so he would not be able to join us. I was exhausted. My body felt worn and broken and I was irritable and still fuming about Sean’s comment that I was too old to climb a mountain. Ignorant boy, my mind ruminated on his off handed remark about my age that only an ignorant boy would make. I had hoped his feet were still suffering from his badly chosen climbing shoes. The wise thing for me to do would have been to go home, eat something nutritious, and then go to bed, but when Sean made the spontaneous suggestion I felt I needed to go. Life is an unexpected ride and you never know when it will stop and where it will start and many times an opportunity is a one time only opportunity. When would I be in China again for the Peony Festival? I had already decided not to renew my contract. I had already decided to leave China. I could tell myself I would be back, but I didn’t know for certain. Some days I hated China, and would think, never again- never again will I return to this country. It had been a hard year for me, and not all China’s fault, but I was in China when my mother died. It was in China when the most important person in my life left this world. My worst fear had been awakened. How many times had she told me that she would not be able to live without me? How many times had I promised I would never let her die alone? How many times had I told myself I would return and take care of her? China was to be my last experience, my last galavant as an explorer of this world living a life style that I didn’t believe was meant for me. I had never imagined I would ever be able to travel, that I would have lived in foreign countries. I was an accidental traveler and it was time to return to my “real life” whatever that was meant to be. I was going to go back to California and going to care for my mother. I didn’t want to live in Chico because there wasn’t anything for me there, but she was there and she needed me. I had been too slow, and too selfish, and I had failed her. I failed as a daughter. I suffered through that guilt alone in a foreign country, a country so foreign from my own that even our process of grieving was different. My mother died alone, and I had not been there to help her.  My anger, and my guilt, and my pain all manifested into my frustrations about a country that was so incredibly different from my own. I did have Sean though, my friend with his choppy english and his oh- so Chinese ways of thinking. Sean my friend who stayed by my side the best he could and tried to show me the things he loved most about his country. Sean was an impatient Chinese teacher, and impatient about many things, and he expressed much frustration about where he was in his life, but through it all he taught me a lot about patience and how to deal with frustration and how to accept that where you are is where you are, but that change is always around the corner whether you want it or not. Uncertainty is the essential part of this life experience and in the uncertainty lies the choices.

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This was life, and I was still living, and I had to take the opportunities as they came no matter how much my body hurt, and how aggravated I had felt when would I have another chance? I agreed to stop in Luoyang and to see the Peonies.

My body was not in full agreement with my mind or my heart. As we wandered from the train station to the nearest garden my body began to pull rank and my brain switched sides and together they caused me to grumble and slouch and move among the flowers like an impetuous child snapping bored pictures here and there waiting to stop to take a nap. Once in the garden all I really wanted to do was lie down in a bed of purple peonies among all the butterflies and drift off into a deep sleep. I did my best to not unleash my grumpiness on Sean, and I allowed him to tell me stories about the history of China and the symbolism of the flowers. He was gracious enough to understand that I was not feeling my best, yet still seemed to enjoy my company. In the end I knew I was not fully present in the moment, and that my body and exhaustion had won this battle, but simultaneously I was aware of the value that the day, and the weekend held.

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We are gifted moments in life and too often they only come once. Some are large and noticeable, but most are small and subtle and too easily we miss them. We don’t take the chance to strike up a conversation with a stranger or take the path that no one is following. I know no other person from my life, as of yet, that has hiked a sacred mountain with friends from China, and eaten prepackaged chicken feet and teriyaki marinated boiled eggs, and then stopped off at a Peony festival that had been celebrated for two thousand years. When I do meet someone who has experienced this it won’t be the same as I had experienced it. We all experience our lives differently, we are similar, but still we are each unique.

I didn’t get to enjoy the Peonies to the fullest of my capacity, and I wasn’t able to collect the memories of the day here in a nice well packaged form to share with others as to the best way to see the Peonies. I didn’t have to because no matter where I go in the world I am going to be me. That means me in a bad mood, me in a good mood, me irrational and me aware. Me wonderful and me not wonderful. My goal is of course to lean my life more towards the awareness and wonderful, and to be in the presence of my life and embrace the moments. Some days work and some days don’t regardless if I am climbing a sacred mountain in China or washing laundry in a laundry mat in Portland, Oregon. Years later I can think back on my hike and my visit to an ancient garden with my friend from China, and look at the pictures I took of flowers that had been planted and cultivated for two thousand years. I can accept the fact that flowers and gardens are not top on my bucket list, and I can say to myself, I did that, and I went there, and I was in a bitchy, irritable, and grumpy ass mood, but I was there. I took that moment and received all that it offered me even if the gratitude came a week after some solid rest.

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A Hike on Huashan China’s most Dangerous Mountain

Not too long after my mother died, my friend Wu Shao bo who calls himself Shawn, (many Chinese people will pick an English name when they are young) suggested that we should go to Huashan together. I agreed and he invited his friend Liu Xiang Kai who I call Xiang Kai to join us. Xiang kai which sounds like Shee-ang K-eye did not have an English name.

The trip to the mountain although considered a sacred mountain was not meant to be a spiritual trip. After my visit to Shaolin I had let go of the idea of China’s sacred places as being sacred. This was modern China, and much of the spiritual part of the journeys to places like the five sacred mountains, and Shaolin, along with any of the many buddhists temples were now commodities bought and sold to tourists. You could still find the faithful buddhist burning incense and saying prayers, but for the majority of Chinese tourists prayers involved a camera of some sort. You could think that nature itself was some kind of spiritual experience, but the crowds and the litter that they brought with them, was too overwhelming to be able to absorb the majesty of the mountains. Eco- tourism is also huge in China and thousands of Chinese are flocking to mountain hikes and gorges, and valleys for adventure and for photo ops.

Not to tear apart modern China, but up until about twenty years ago these mountains were hiked by monks, occasionally pilgrims, your rare break from the mainstream Chinese person, and the adventure foreigner. Today with the budding commerce of tourism and eco-tourism, and the fact that more and more Chinese finally have some leisure time, nature has become a literal stomping ground. It is a communist society, but it has also embraced capitalism. I often saw many parallels between American capitalism and Chinese capitalism. I fully believe if Americans had the same population size as China that we too would destroy our own national forests. There are of course many, many, conscientious Chinese people who honor the earth, and do not like to see their beautiful country littered and polluted and they take measures to not add to the destruction , but for every 5 conscientious Chinese you have about 20 who don’t give a shit or think someone else will clean up the litter. In America our numbers are smaller, but the fact that there is an almost daily battle to preserve the land, it would not surprise me that if we had a population as large as China’s that we too would have an uneven balance of entitlement versus preservation. There are other factors involved of course, but the reality is that this once sacred and very dangerous mountain is not that sacred, but still very dangerous.

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There are five sacred mountains in China, Taishan the East mountain in the Shangdong province, Hengshan the South mountain in the Hunan province, Hengshan the North mountain in the Shanxi province, Song Shan the Center mountain in Henan province, and Huashan the West mountain in the Shaanxi province. I had been to Song Shan when I had visited the Shaolin Temple. Hua Shan was close enough to travel to in a day, but it’s reputation was that of the five sacred mountains it was China’s most dangerous. It’s difficult to find numbers as to how many casualties have occurred on Mount Hua. My friend had told me that you can’t find any numbers because they don’t want to decrease the numbers of tourists, but with the sketchy conditions, and the large, large hiking populations by inexperienced climbers, and days of bad weather I’m sure the number is not small. I fit into a number of the above categories, and had a few moments where I felt like I couldn’t hold on, but my life literally depended on my keeping my grip. My life and the lives of about 50 people nose to ass beneath me.

As an outsider to China it is easy to attach myself to the romantic connotations associated with ancient Chinese traditions, Daoist beliefs and Buddhist rights of passage. Like some scene from Seven Year’s in Tibet or The Rivers Edge, I pictured myself reaching the peak of the mountain, and when in a moment of reverie the sunlight would break through the clouds or rise over the crest, and I would be filled with a sense of peace and gratitude and a higher understanding of what life is about or why we are here, why I am here, and then I’d feel a dawning acceptance of my mother’s death, and I’d understand- no- not understand but I’d know that it is beautiful. That death like life is beautiful. Sadly, but not surprisingly to say, I did not reach my zenith, I was not awash in enlightenment; I was achy and irritable. In retrospect, I’m a little disappointed I’m not writing a post about my spiritual awakening, but then again, perhaps my journey was to feel exactly what I felt; achy, despondent, irritable, depressed, and still, always still, grieving, and wanting my mother to be alive.

Although, as I mentioned above, that I did not view it as a spiritual exploration I still grabbed some of my mom’s ashes and put them in my back pack. I decided to take her with me. She never got to travel in her life and I thought I could take her with me now. If I made it to the peak then I would leave that little part of her there on that mountain top. It would be the closest I’d ever get to the stars (Everest is not in my future). If I made it.

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Shawn didn’t have a lot of money so he insisted that we take the cheapest slowest train. Although, knowing Shawn I think even if we had money he would insist we take the slowest and the cheapest. On the fast train we could have made it to HuaShan in about three or four hours, but on the very slow train it took us about 8 to 9 hours. We did the overnight train. The idea was to sleep on the train and then to start our hike in the morning. If you have ever traveled on a Chinese train in a non-sleeping compartment you’ll know sleeping on the train is not that easy unless of course you are Chinese. I’ve discovered that Chinese people in China can sleep anywhere. On the sidewalk, on their e-bikes, bent over or smooshed between seats. They are like cats able to find any place as a suitable place for sleep. I had often been overcome with jealousy at this ability since I find it so difficult to sleep sometimes even when I am in a bed in a dark room. The train was packed. On these trains once the seats are all sold they continue to sell seats so sometimes there are people standing in the isles for up to eight hours. People are constantly switching seats around every time someone leaves in the hopes that they can sit for a couple of minutes. When you are sitting you have people leaning against you or over you. It is a crowded that most Americans in America will not ever experience. We were in a section of six seats. Two rows of three facing each other. Shawn and I were able to sit across from each other but Xiang Kai had to find a seat somewhere else on the train. I am bigger in size than your average Chinese woman, but I am also smaller in size and sometimes width of your average Chinese man. All the seats were occupied by men, sleeping men who had spread out as much as they could in the spaces available leaving me with very little room, and since I did not have the Chinese power of sleeping I was awake for the entire 8 to 9 hour train ride. This is not the way I would recommend prepping for hiking the most dangerous of the five sacred mountains.

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Zhengzhou before the train trip.

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Shawn and Xiang Kai

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Snacks for the train

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Late night in the Zhengzhou station

 

We boarded the train around 1:00 am and arrived around 8:30. We took a taxi from the station to the town at the base of the mountain, and began our hike around 9:00 a.m. We had three large bottles of water, some strange meat paste, a few bready bits of snack food, and a bag of spicy chicken feet. I kept thinking shouldn’t we have some trail-mix or something?

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Chicken feet

 

For hard core hikers the beginning of HuaShan is not much of a hike in the sense that it is paved for a large portion of the lower part. You do not disappear into the mountains you stick to the path. Once you ascend deeper into the mountain the hike becomes more of a challenge and more of a climb and sticking to the path becomes necessary to keeping yourself alive.

There are steps on Hua Shan. These steps were carved deep into the mountain’s side thousands of years ago, all by hand, and by the monks that would make their pilgrimages to the top where they could meditate. On the side of the steps chains have been drilled into the mountain for you to hold as you pull yourself up. You need upper body strength to help you on the climb. Upper body strength that at times I thought I might not have.

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ancient carved steps

 

Compared to most saturdays it was not very crowded by Chinese standards of crowds. It had been a rainy night and it was cloudy and grey. On one hand it was nice because you had a small bit of breathing space (to me it was still very crowded but I was aware of what a real crowd in China was) perhaps during our climb there were about 200-300 people climbing Hua Shan that day but at night during our descend hundreds of new climbers were making the midnight treck. In total maybe 800 people were on the mountain. Oh, and the thing of Hua Shan: there is only one path up and one path down. When you are coming down and they are coming up you literally have to crawl over one another− crawl over one another 1,000 meters high on a steep mountain side with wet steps and cold thick metal chains, and you are climbing backward. You get the picture. The downside of the rainy day was that the steps were wet and slippery and at times the dark clouds dropped so low around the mountain that you could not see two feet in front of you. Then you had to climb over someone, I need to add, without any safety harnesses or safeties of any kind.

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A lying Buddhist

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The base of the mountain

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Mountain base

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A Chinese mythical creature

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The gate to the mountain

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The park before the hike

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Xiang Kai and I preparing to fight the mountain spirits

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It took us another eight hours climbing vertical steps, sometimes through wet caves and on the edges of steep cliff sides. Shawn was our guide and he wanted to race to the top of the mountain. Often criticizing Xiang Kai and I if we wanted to sit for a moment or if we were moving too slow. I was grateful to have Xiang Kai on my side. Shawn was the adventurer climbing the mountain to defeat it, to reach the top a conquerer, and to reach the bottom in the fastest time possible. I’m not this person. I wanted to sit and reflect and bask in the nature, and the multitudes of people, around me. I did want to meditate, and reflect. I did want to absorb, but between the crowds and Shawn’s constant pushing us hiking Hua Shan felt more like a simulated virtual wii game than an actual hike and journey. I didn’t know what was in Xiang Kai’s mind except that he wanted to stop and sit as much as I did, and he would shoot me looks of disdain and irritation. Ignore him, he’d say from time to time, let’s sit, make him wait.

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Burning incense and prayers

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Prayers

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A mountain of ribbons and locks for luck.

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These men hike daily back and forth up to part of the mountains to deliver food and water to the shops and hotel.

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The gate to the beginning of the real climb

 

When we reached a peak we did take a moment to take a million photos, but also to just sit and be. It wasn’t easy to reach the peaks (unless you took the tram that I didn’t know about but explained how some Chinese girls were able to hike in flats and skirts) and when we would reach a peak the crowds would disperse and only 20 to 30 people were able to reach certain points. We went from the north peak to the west peak and to the south peak reaching 2,080 meters.

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The first set of stairs.

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The top of the first set of many stairs

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The stairway to heaven

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This was a crazy vertical climb and took a lot of upper body strength and courage. This was after climbing many other steep and long stairs carve into the mountain’s rock walls.

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Ancient step carvings possibly thousands of years old.

 

By the time we reached the top the sun was beginning to set and only five other people had made it to the top at the same time as us. It was cloudy but beautiful. Hiking to the north peak at 1,000 meters was the highest I had ever hiked, 2,000 meters had never happened in my life. I still thought the entire hike was absolutely crazy and badly planned, but I had survived the ascent and was now 2,080 meters above the sea level. Here I took a moment to pull out mom’s ashes and let her small bits of dust and bones catch onto the breeze and float away. It was actually more like that scene in The Big Lebowksi when they throw Danny’s ashes into the ocean and the wind blows the ashes all over them.

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Shawn and I at the South Peak

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Me and my mother’s ashes

 

 

As I dusted mom’s ashes of my sweatshirt I giggled because of course that would happen, and with my mom’s dark humor she would have been laughing. In fact we laughed so hard during that scene that she started coughing. This memory made me feel sad once again. Shawn asked me why I would bring some of my mother’s ashes to the mountain. “She’s not Chinese,” he said. I shrugged. “I don’t know,” I said. “She’s never been able to come here before, I wanted her to get the chance to travel.” I didn’t really know. Part of her was in the California Feather river, part of her was in the Trinity National forest, and the Pacific ocean, part of her was in the San Francisco bay, I didn’t know why. In death she had already been to more places than she ever went to in her life.

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Xiang Kai and I at the North Peak

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Shawn and I

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If you look carefully you can see all the people walking on the blade of a mountain pass. This is 1,000 meters up.

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Success

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A small spot for meditation

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But, not an easy space to get to.

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It was seven when we reached the top and the sun had set. It was now dark on a steep dangerous mountain and we needed to reach the bottom. There were some lights, but not many. Shawn informed me that this mountain was a really popular hike for college students, but most of them liked to hike up at midnight and then stay the night on the north peak in order to see the sun rise. He said we should do it the next time. As romantic and as peaceful as that sounded in words the reality sounded terrible. Hundreds of flashing camera’s trying to simultaneously get the perfect shot of the sunrise.

“Maybe off off season,” I said.

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Through foggy woods

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Wishes thousands of meters high.

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A wish for peace

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The only lights to guide us back down from 2,000 meters

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Huashan 2,080 meters