September 30 – Upwards

I woke up a bit before my alarm went off at 7, probably a lingering effect of yesterday. I got on my computer for the hour that I had, and made some progress at both a math problem, and some programming. I went down to some breakfast of porridge, some preserved vegetables, and hard boiled eggs. Enough to sustain life. Some of the kids were worried about the mountain and paid for extra bread that they packaged up to take with them.

My backpack had a beanie, my camera, a couple bottles of water, a two pack of muffins I picked up at the supermarket, and random stuff I haven’t bothered to take out.

After breakfast we got in our normal bus and drove the 5 minutes to the base of the mountain, something that probably could have been walked, but we were a tour group after all. We stopped in a parking lot, which was the end of where civilian vehicles could drive, we went through a metal detector, and showed our entrance tickets, and then were taken to another bus to take us to the gondola. That bus went up a good 20 or 30 minutes on a winding two lane road, the only traffic were other identical busses coming down past us.

At the gondola we had to walk for a bit past stalls selling walking sticks and sweatshirts. I just had on a t-shirt and shorts, and it was a bit nippy, but I wasn’t that worried. I did get some sunscreen from steven, since it looked like it was going to be another hot day. The line for the gondola wasn’t ridiculous, probably less even than it is a whistler sometimes, and the gondola looked much newer than the one from earlier on the trip.

We got up to the top to some beautiful scenery, and me and jeremy bid farewell to the group. I guess I didn’t write about this yesterday, since it happened pretty late, I ended up talking for a while with Prof. Wang to figure out what we could do. I wrote out a liability release saying that I was aware of any dangers of separating from the group, and would pay for additional costs. I then grabbed jeremy and had him do the same, and we talked with Prof. wang about where we would go. She recommended an area past where the down terminal to the gondola was. (three gondolas in the area, two parallel that we rode up, one that we rode down, and a cable car that goes to some other settlement that’s completely in the middle of nowhere.) The area recommended was called the fishes back, and was apparently a big exposed rock face that you would climb up with indented holes and a chain, she warned that it might be crowded though.

We got up, not really knowing what we would do, the maps we were given really weren’t very good, and seemed to partially show some of the trials that existed, but were more for decoration that guidance.

We started out on the main drag, exiting the gondola. and there were people everywhere. We walked out for a bit and there was an overlook and we took some pictures. Of note was that the path was new, very even steps and platforms the whole way, and there was always a guardrail of cement shaped and painted to look like logs.

We headed north, and eventually the crowd thinned a bit. The pavement was still new and even, but we weren’t in quite the majestic area as before and so not on the main drag. We passed several hotels, Prof. Wang had said that in the event that we couldn’t make it down and were stuck on the mountain after 6pm we should find a hotel rather than try and get down. The hotels looked very nice, they also had a camping option, possibly specifically since this was the national holiday week. The basketball court in one was filled with numbered tents, and another had pitched tents in a garden in front of it. Not exactly what we would call the wilderness experience. There were also many gift shops and restaurants along the way.

We started following signs at the forks to something called the north gate to the grand canyon, which sounded interesting. The crowd continued to thin but there were still people all around. Eventually we came to a smaller turn off called purple cloud peak, that looked deserted so we decided to take that. The stairs were older on that path, and we didn’t see anyone else besides a cleaning lady coming down. (china has janitors for their national parks, also fire hydrants and trash cans.) At the top of the ridge there was a wonderful view of the valley we’d been in. Across from us was one of the hotels we passed, and above it was a dam holding a large lake. The fog started to descend as we continued up the ridge, over a little bridge, and we finally saw some other tourists taking pictures. Continuing to what looked like the final bump, we got most of the way up to be stopped by a sign saying that the peak was closed by restoration. (and by sign I mean a big chain link fence across the whole path and extending in both directions.) Probably why there were so few people.

We went down a different way than we came up, and ended up quite near the northern cable car terminal. (the one that goes to some town that doesn’t appear to link to anything.) It was only 10am, and so the park as we understood it was much smaller than we had been led to believe, since we’d seen a quarter or so, and it seemed strange that the short path the main group was taking was really 20km.

We continued past the cable car after wandering around to figure out where the path continued and ending up at the employee dorm. The path was new again, and mostly stairs down as we entered the grand canyon area. These were some of the best views we got all day, the path was on pure cliff a lot of the time, and you could see the steps wind all the way down to the valley floor. The grand canyon appeared to be an area that you could go down and up, we weren’t quite ready for that, so after looking around and seeing the stuff that didn’t require dropping down too far, we headed back.

This whole area didn’t have that many people, there were people everywhere of course, but there was always plenty of free space, and you could easily pass anyone going slowly.

We walked back to where we’d entered that trail, and headed towards one of the main attractions (bright light peak or some such.) The lines weren’t too bad getting there either although we got stuck behind tour groups a couple times. (i’m alluding to this point a lot, it gets better). at about lunch time we ended up there, the fog had settled by this point, and most of the upper mountain was shrouded in thick fog, masking the views. We met up with the main group at that point purely by accident, they were heading on their path and we were planning to stop there to eat some lunch. We didn’t really talk to them except to say where we’d been and they were quite impressed at how far we’d gone.

After lunch (we sat at one of the observation points and looked at fog, then some chinese guys came by and we talked to them for a while) we continued on the main path. It was pretty crowded, and we ducked out to try our luck at the other entrance to the canyon. That is, heading to the other ridge that the path come back up to, that showed a bridge and another attraction on our map. That trip was about 3km out to the bridge, which was spectacular. Again, the path was much older than on the main road, and there were many fewer people. We stopped at the bridge for a while, snacked and had water, and then made the return journey (uphill this time so a bit longer) by 1:45 ish.

From here, the only real option was to go to the cable car, on the other side of it was the fish back area, and the only mountain between us and that station was closed for restoration. Another interesting thing is that heading out we passed a construction site for a new eco-hotel. The picture on the blue tin wall that blocks all construction sites in china had grass growing on the roof, and looked very integrated into the hill side. On the other side of the trail were a bunch of laborers with chisels and hammers turing blocks of concrete into fake logs. (chiseling the wood grooves into the concrete pillars.) it didn’t look like they had the best jobs in the world.

We headed down the main trail next, and were quickly stopped by the fact that nobody else was moving. We continued in this way for the next 4 hours. (that is, it took 4 hour to go the 1km or so to the cable car) The path was nice, is suppose, but there was a constant full press of people, between 6 and 2 wide at all times. At the point where we got to the turnout for the fish back mountain it was already 4 ish so we decided to just grab the gondola down. We called the main group, and they were saying that they were going to walk down, since they’d been told there was a 4 hour wait for the gondola, and it was four hours to walk down. (note as to where the line starts, and the conversation happened. The conversation happened when we were in the official line and had about an hour left to wait. The actual line started about a km earlier, but there wasn’t a designated lane for us to cram into until after the turnoff to go down by walking or over to the fish back place.)

I mentioned the weather earlier, I guess this is a decent part to mention it again. The whole upper mountain was fogged in for this whole time, so past the fake cement tree railing there was just fog. I put on my beanie and was a bit chilly in just shorts and t-shirt, but it wasn’t that bad. There were many many chinese people around of course, all in large winter jackets, who unanimously looked concerned and asked me how I could be not cold. By the end I kind of wished I’d brought my jacket.

We came down at just about 6pm, and the professors had just reached the bottom and waited for us at the bottom terminal. We took a bus down to where we’d gotten on, (longer since it was coming from a different gondola) and walked back to the hotel. Prof. wang was right that it got dark at 6, because it was light coming down the gondola, but definitely night by the time we finished the bus ride.

There was it turned out many confusions in the main group, and I’m glad we did what we did. It sounded like they stayed on the main drag for the whole time, and really didn’t see much. They got split up into several group, one of which didn’t have phones and was worrying to the profs. Additionally the tour guides were quite unhelpful and didn’t tell the profs of any of the places that weren’t on the main drag or under the cloud level.

We got back, dropped our stuff and went out to dinner with the main group. This was probably a mistake, and I should have rested and gotten food on my own, especially since it was national holiday and so all the restaurants were in full gear to get as many people through as possible. Me and steven got tasked ordering, and eventually got through 8 dishes. (It’s a pain when multiple people are doing it, some people were requesting spicy food, he was only ordering non spicy because he didn’t like spicy food,… etc.) At the end I left my portion of the bill with jeremy and left, leaving the others to squabble and try to get a discount because the food had taken too long.

I came back to the room, and rested for a bit. Had some tea, finished up the programming I started this morning, wrote this. I’ll probably go to sleep pretty soon, I’m pretty tired. I took at least a hundred pictures today, we’ll see how successful I am at finding a good way to post them online.

September 29 – Onwards

I was roused by gongs at about 4:30, and snoozed until my alarm went off at 4:45. Jeremy and I got up, and walked outside, it was still dark out. The sky was totally clear, and there was an amazing view of the milky way, I got cold after a couple minutes and went back inside to put on a jacket.

We went into the main ceremony room as the morning class was starting. The same nuns were there as last night, along with the villagers who had sponsored yesterday’s ceremony. THey were again blessed, in much the same ceremony, some aspects were different, a bowl of rice was presented to the buddha and then the nuns used some ornamental chopstick/hand things to scoop and bless some of the rice. The whole thing lasted another hour and a half, with consistent chanting. (we were standing still for the first hour, and then kowtowing repeatedly for the last half hour). I kept thinking about the talk I listened to from the ‘brain machine’ gadget, which flashes lights and claims to make you meditate, the little electronic device I made over the summer. In that talk the guy said that one of the main things you find in a lot of old chanting and rituals are this ability to ‘entrain’ brain waves, that is offer a steady external beat of about 10HZ that the brain is able to synchronize to and induces a form of meditation. I definitely felt that effect, and noticed a lot of similarities to what the brain machine did.

Me and jeremy were the only two who got up at 4:45 for the ‘class’ even the teachers didn’t make it up that early, but a few more people were awake afterwards at 6:30 for breakfast. Breakfast was mostly porridge with beans, with some additional greens to add flavor, and was quite acceptable. We were free until 10am, so after breakfast I retreated to my room for a bit.

I meant to do some math homework, but ended up napping until 8, when I decided to get out and do something. I walked up from the temple, on a different path that we’d taken yesterday. Up a set of stairs, not very far at all was another temple, this one built right into a rock face, with advertisements of a cave on the signposts pointing towards it. I poked around for a while, and didn’t see anything beyond the expected, so I headed back down.

I went into the village, walked pretty much the whole length again, observing the morning activities. Lots of policemen around since today is the beginning of the national holiday week, so we were warned that there will be tons of tourists for the rest of the trip. I picked up a couple liang of tea (a decently sized bag) for $40 kuai. It’s been hand picked by the monks or nuns of the area.

I came back to the temple at about 9:15 and hung around until the meeting at 10. We grabbed our stuff and walked down to the bus. Without any further ado we headed back down the road.

we got about half way down the road, and stopped at another temple that we had passed on the way up. It had the signature orange walls, and we were told that it was actually a buddhist university. It was slightly bigger than the nunnary we had been staying at, but wasn’t that large. Prof. Wang was able to talk a master into showing us around, but first we got to go to their morning ceremony, which was more standing and listening to chanting, though luckily for only 15 minutes and not another hour and a half. They showed us their old original wooden house that they were quite proud of, and gave us several signed books that one of their members had written. We finished up, went back to the bus, and continued on our way down the ridge.

The teachers wanted to stop at the bottom for lunch but it was only 11, and nobody was hungry, so we decided to delay until we got to huangshan (lit. yellow mountain, one of the 5 great mountains in china.) I slept for most of the bus ride over, which was a nice break, the road was an expressway and so fairly smooth and wide enough the driver wasn’t constantly honking. We arrived at the city that seemed to be a gateway to the mountain, and stopped for lunch, along with picking up a local tour guide for this portion of the trip.

Lunch was fine, it was a somewhat small restaurant, and we had fried noodles, fried rice, vegetarian and meat soups, more eggplant (che-zi, i think it’s spelled) which I’m again happy to say far exceeds the american version, and other various greens.

After lunch we piled back into the bus to drive to a nearby village. I forget the name of the place, but it was a traditional chinese village, it has unesco heritage status, it’s ‘one of the 10 most charming villages in china’, and it has an 80 kuai / person entrance fee to visit.

It’s also the place where at least some of ‘crouching tiger hidden dragon’ was filmed. I’m sure that would be interesting if I’d seen the movie.

The village was nice, I had fun walking along some of the back alleys, the main streets where as expected completely lined by shops, and not really into the heritage thing as much as the getting your money thing. The village was special because it had devised a system to bring water from the river that ran around three sides of it and divert it in small streams next to each alley. That way people could have water for eating and cleaning clothes without having to go up to the river, it sounded like there was some sort of time system, where some parts of the day people would only take water, and so it would be ok to drink, and others they would wash clothes or throw used water back into the streams.

We walked around for about an hour and a half (3 until 4:30), and then came back to the bus. I took a bunch of pictures but didn’t buy anything. The bus took us back to the town we’d eaten lunch at to a hotel. We were told that it was a new three star hotel, so it ought to be pretty comfortable, still no internet though.

I talked with Prof. wang about tomorrow, and asked if I would be able to explore by myself, since having guide led tours always is somewhat tiresome to me. She gave me several different answers (this happened throughout the day), I believe that she wants me to sign a liability release and it might be ok, or otherwise I’ll just go on the group that is going longer tomorrow, and hope there aren’t too many other people. (The distance tomorrow is either 27 or 20 km, depending on if we take a cable car up or walk up). The mountain is about 1600 metres, it’s about 7km up, and then their path is about 20km up among the peaks of up and down. There are two cable cars / gondolas from the map I saw, one on each side, and my understanding is that everyone will be taking a gondola down. I’m more interested in spending more time at the top, rather than wasting two hours climbing up, so we’ll see how it works out.

After unpacking I went out to a grocery store to buy some snacks and water for tomorrow. It wasn’t particularly expensive, and gave me a chance to see the area around the hotel. All the construction is new and most buildings aren’t occupied. A few blocks down looks to be a bit more complete, and the restaurants and stores start up. I returned and at 7 a group of us went out for dinner. We walked a few blocks and found a likely looking restaurant. We got eggplant (at my insistance), greens with garlic, Two noodle soups (one tofu, one egg), a cucumber with pork dish, and eggs with tomato. It was a good time, the staff were nice, as were the guys at the next table over. It came out to only 86, a bit over $10 kuai per person. As we were walking out there was a crash between a scooter and a bus in front of us, luckily the guy was walking around, but his bike looked pretty dinged up.

Came back to the hotel, showered, and am planning for an early evening, since no matter what happens tomorrow it looks to be a workout.

September 28 – Heartland

I meant to wake up earlier today, but was feeling sleepy this morning, as a result of the hiking yesterday. I snoozed until about 8, and then got up and did some math homework and read a bit of the book I brought until it was time to check out at 9:30. There was lots of talk in the lobby of more mice found overnight, but nobody seemed particularly inconvenienced.

Our tour guide hustled us out to the bus, that was quite close to the hotel, and it took us only a little ways to another hotel. We walked across the street from the hotel, past a bright orange monastery and followed a fairly short set of stone steps to a brand new temple. Pieces of it seemed incomplete, and the rest seemed very new, there was a single large main building facing the entrance gate, and a side building to the right, for attendants and cooking.

We waited in the courtyard, and our teachers talked for a while with a layman who came out to greet us, and figured out how we would stay there that night. Eventually we were taken to dorm rooms, guys on one side of the main building, girls on the other. The rooms are small, but comfortable, twin rooms. two fairly hard beds, a dresser and a bathroom. Between the two dorm like areas is the main ceremony area. On the second floor of the two sides are the sleeping quarters for the monks and nuns, and on the top floor there is a library and meditation area.

After dropping our bags we returned to the courtyard area, and the layman who had met us gave us a tour of the area. He took us through the main temple as I described above, walked past the side building and pointed out where the cooking and eating areas were, and then walked back to the main gate. There was a terrace in front of the main building, and spring water is stored under it for when there’s less water. On both sides of the gate are gardens to provide food. They were also building a fish pond, but the main thing were vegetables. A ways outside was a tea growing area, but it was overgrown, and the attendant said that they would restore it once the construction on the main area was complete.

We waited for a bit after that in our rooms, until lunch time. Lunch was at 11, and we were told at the time it was the last meal that the monks ate (2 meals one at 5 or 6 and one at 10 or 11.) The meal was vegetarian, A large pot of rice, with bowls of eggplant (not spicy, but still good), dong gua (literally winter melon, we I think call it chinese squash, it’s like honeydew but not sweet.), bamboo with hot peppers and soy beans (really good, the bamboo was the consistency of beef), and greens of some sort, they vaguely resembled bok choy, but were probably not.

After lunch we went to see the temples on the ridge. We walked for a bit up to the ridge, the steps up were as expected and not that long. There was a wonderful view once we crested the ridge. Across the next valley from us was the area we walked down yesterday, and a lot of wonderful scenery. We poked around that temple for a while, and then walked along the ridge, stopping for a while as a group of 8 guys slowly moved half of a cement mixer past us down the trail.

Farther along there was another temple, this one even perhaps a bit larger. On one of the terraces there were a couple nuns chanting, which was wonderful to listen to. I continued on the path, which wove down the ridge slowly, at the saddle there was another temple, that after the previous two seemed not to be anything special. Up the other side of the saddle there was a large pagoda.

Max and I walked up the stairs to the pagoda before the rest of the group caught up. The stairs were even more well made than the rest of the path had been. There were nice railings on the two sides, and the stairs were very even. At the top was a large somewhat earth tone tiled area with the pagoda in the center. We walked into the pagoda, and donated 50 kuai, which seemed to be a nice token of our appreciation. Max did the formal bowing ritual and wrote his name in the entry log, and then we started walking up the pagoda. Every other floor of the building had all walls completely covered in glass obscured buddhas (probably like 6 inch tall ones). The other levels had larger buddhas in the center of the room that could be prayed to and a doorway out to the railing. All together there were 8 floors, and the top was extremely pretty, and a great view.

We came down and waited around at the saddle for everyone to have their fill and finish looking. Then we headed down back to the city. It was only like 15 minutes until we reached a main street in the jiuhuashan area, and then we walked down it back to the monastery we started at. I was pretty tired and tapped for about half an hour, and then got up to see what was going on. The evening classes which had been scheduled from between 3-4 had been canceled (we’d gotten back at 3:30 and they hadn’t been going on). Instead there was a ceremony at 7pm. I read another chapter from my book to pass the time, and then tried to figure out about dinner. It turned out that there would be dinner provided by the nunnary (it turned out we were at a nunnary, I forgot this point earlier. There were about 12 nuns total, 6 of whom are currently traveling to other parts of the country. THere are also several monks and laymen. This location was the first dormitory for the main temple back in the tang dynasty. The main temple being the one at the top of the larger ridge that we went to yesterday.)

We had dinner, it was much the same meal as lunch, but there was an additional mushroom and greens soup that was also quite good.

After dinner A couple of the nuns put on a buddhism video for us. I couldn’t understand most of what was going on, but it seemed to have much the same production qualities as a motivational video.

We stopped the video at 8ish when the ceremony actually got started. We went into the main ceremony room (there is a large buddha behind glass with two golden figures on either side, lots of cloths and such, and were placed on the two back corners of the room). The ceremony we learned was for four people from a ways a way who were asking for a blessing from the nunnary, they had been at dinner with us as well. The ceremony lasted a couple hours, and was really cool. There was constant chanting, with beating drums and gongs and cymbals. At various points we were cued to do the bowing, and the whole time there was an elaborate ceremony for the participants involving incense and tea and some other elements.

Afterwards, We went back to the dorms, I wrote up this, and am heading to bed at about 10pm. We’re getting up at 5am tomorrow for morning class before breakfast at 6am.

September 27 – Monks

I woke up at 7 this morning when our door was knocked on without trouble. I was one of the first down to the lobby of the hotel, waiting for everyone to congregate with the tourguide to start the day. Various people had complaints about their rooms that were dealt with first; Steven said his rooms was too loud, and wanted to move to something on the second flour, and rebecca had had mice in her room and wasn’t particularly happy about that eventuality.

It was a bit past 7:30 when the hotel situation was settled successfully, and we went out for breakfast. We went to the back of a small local restaurant after it was decided that their prices weren’t unreasonable. There was porridge which was appropriately tasteless, along with bread buns. The group seems to have a mind of it’s own, and kids for whatever reason decided that they were going to be hungry for the rest of the day, and so kept trying to hoard buns for later, which seemed pointless. Eventually the chaperones were able to get everyone out of the restaurant, and we headed to our destination for the day. We walked past the temple that we had visited yesterday, and continued up the road as an occasional car whizzed past us. After a couple turns the road branched, and there was an outpost of whatever company was providing transportation to the area, as evidenced by one of their signature bright yellow busses parked in front of a shack. It looked like tickets for the bus were about 5 yuan/person, and we quickly loaded on the bus which took us further down the road. The road quickly was enshrouded in fog, and at worst we were able to see only about 20 or 30 feet in front of us through the fog. The road was sharply twisting back and forth and weaving along a fairly steep cliff, and it was a fun ride.

Eventually we reached the end of the road at a ‘tourism sub-service center’, which we ignored and walked a bit further past a barricade. THe road curved and went up slightly and ended at the cable car. The thing looked almost exactly like a ski gondola loading area. (Replete, perhaps, with the chinese tourists.) The guides payed a ticked fee, and we were hustled into a loading building, without ever really getting to see where the gondola headed because of fairly thick forestation.

I was at the beginning of the group, and so was on our first group up the gondola. The group in front of us were to tourists from beijing, and were quite impressed by our level of chinese proficiency. A bit behind us were a group of monks who were very impressed by Joe’s dreadlocks.

Loading the gondola was about the same as anywhere, with a slight exception that since it was a fixed rope, they just slowed the whole thing down each time people loaded. (the deal was the cars were in groups of 3, with a total of 6 of these groups on the rope, so as you rode up, the car would stop briefly two times as the other sets unloaded and reloaded. The Poles on the way up looked pretty sturdy, and the views were nice although pretty shrouded in fog. We were dropped off at a top station in a bit of a valley, after passing over a couple ridges.

We regathered, and let everyone catch up, and then walked basically over to a temple area. (called the sky platform). It was pretty, and it was impressive how high up we were. None the less, there was a booming industry with many shops to sell food to tourists, and other guys standing next to seats that you could pay them to haul you up to the top of the mountain in. We took pictures on the platform, and looked in at the Buddhist imagery throughout the area before starting the climb up to the peak. The guide assured us that the temple we could see above us was the highest point in the area, but just before the last set of steps there was a branch with the other path saying that there was a peak 80 meters and a trail that looked less worn. as the head of the group I sprinted up that and found that this path went up just as far as we could see and ended on a ridge, with a nice view. Before I could come back down the rest of the group decided they too wanted to see, and followed me up.
The guide wanted us to go over to the main path, but we could see a that the path we had started on continued on the ridge, and asked if we could head over to the peak. Prof. Wang said we could, so I took off down the path, which was a bit longer that I was expecting before ending. There was nobody else on the path, and after going a while, and getting to what seemed like a hummock that had a lovely view of where we’d been I figured it made sense to regoup and turn around since we weren’t really going to be able to get to the summit. Once the other guys that had followed me showed up and started taking pictures, jeremy continue on a bit and found that the summit was really just up ahead, so we migrated there and took some more pictures before heading down. On the way down we passed prof wang and some of the others who also were hoping to get pictures, and let them know it was worth it.

I waited back at the junction for a while with bags, for the rest of the group that had gone towards the peak to re-appear, and was shortly joined by a bunch of old women who walked up the other side with baskets of kiwis. they gave me one that was really sweet, and then headed over to the main path to start selling them.

I explored the top temple briefly, it was essentially what I had expected, and it’s location was especially grand, perching precariously on the top of the mountain.

Eventually we all had our fill and began to head down. A bunch of people bought bags of the kiwis, which were really good, I got a peeled cucumber instead to snack on, and we went back to the platform for a break and for people to relieve themselves.

The way down was cool, something like 4000 stair steps. Me and max were in the lead for the whole way down, and talked about various things like how we were ruining our shoes. The most interesting part were the workers we’d been passing the whole time. There was a big industry bringing needed goods up to the temples, and the accepted way was on peoples backs. They had the system figured out pretty well, with the goods typically in two equal loads connected by a bamboo pole over a shoulder, and then a piece of wood they could periodically replace their shoulder with to rest.

by the bottom we stopped for lunch at a little place to the side of the path. once we were done with the climb, we ended up in a little village that had nunneries, and supported the upper temples. The place was good, with fresh eggplant that they picked from their neighbors garden being some of the best, followed by some fish (whole), a dish that was just hot peppers, and a plate of bamboo that was quite good.

After lunch we followed the trail back to the sub-service center we had started at and took another bus back to where we’d started. The walk passed through some farming that we were told was tea cultivation.

Back at the hotel everyone was tired, and they gave us the option of going to the temple across the street from our hotel as a end to the day. I walked fairly quickly through the three buildings before returning to the hotel. the sculptures in them were huge, the largest I’ve seen yet, I came up not even to the top of the lotuses that the figures were sitting upon. I took some pictures and then retreated back to the hotel.

In the hotel the power wasn’t working, but I was eventually able to find out that the one to the tv did work, and so plugged in my computer, in a somewhat overly hopeful attempt to do some math homework. Yu miao came in and requested that we watch the space walk at 4:30, and so I vaguely though about math until then while he napped, and then we watched the tv for about 20 minute.

The space walk was interesting, they basically just went out, waved a chinese flag, and went back into the rocket. The whole ordeal took about 20 seconds, with the camera only cutting out once. He seemed pretty happy about the event, although was confused as to why it was only 20 minutes instead of the 45 that the government had been saying it would take.

Afterwards I finished my chapter in the book i’m reading (future of ideal by lessig, for my Intellectual property independent study) and napped for a while. I got up, wrote most of this, from 6-7 ish, while there were noises outside of people discovering and being unhappy about the discovery of additional mice, and then headed out to eat. I ended up grabbing some snacks for dinner since We’d had a big late lunch and I wasn’t really hungry. I got one of the local exports, which are very reminiscent of almond bark or pralines (but with peanuts). THe have the name of the mountain on the box, which makes them local. I sat with a group from the program for an hour or two discussing various subjects, and then retired to take a shower, solve a math problem, and go to bed. We don’t have to get up tomorrow until 9 or 9:30, but I think the day after we need to get up at 5 or 6, so I’ll just stick with waking up at about 7 and not mess up my sleep schedule too much.

September 26 – To The Mountains

I was woken up at 5:35 by a knock on my door. I had meant to get up at 5:25, but had accidentally set my alarm for pm rather than am. I still was perfectly fine, and got to the bus without problems. We got to the airport just a bit before 7. The plane left at 7:50; sergio forgot his passport, and grabbed a cab back. In the end we all made it on the plane without problems. The plane was nice, despite being a 1.5 hour flight. We got breakfast (hot, porridge), sandwiches, and drinks. Some of the kids on the trip are starting to annoy me a bit, but I’m managing fine.

Our destination was hebei, in anhui province. The flight landed without issues, and the airport there was a much smaller deal that in beijing. The baggage carriage was just a circular caracal, and the workers loaded bags off the plane onto carts and manually brought them over to the caracal.

We were met by a tour guide of some nature, and a quite nice bus. I claimed the back row and took a nap for the first part of the road. The road was pretty bumpy, and all together about 3 hours. We passed through a lot of toll booths, also over the yangsi river. There was a point about half an hour before we ended where the road was out, and we were just driving over a dirt road. The road was very empty the whole way. Probably because the main holiday is next week. The last 30 minutes was driving along a two-lane road that switch-backed steeply up the mountain. We probably gained quite a bit of elevation in that part.

At the end we ended up in a place somewhat like lijiang. Lots of small narrow streets with cobbled tiles, and like almost all the shops were incense dealers. We stopped in a little hotel, dropped our stuff, and then went to lunch. Lunch was good, the eggplant was good, as was the fish. After lunch we walked around two temples. The second one was really, really good. there were about 500 steps up to a ridge, and really cool fog shrouded mountains up at the top.

The place was flooded over with old ladies on pilgrimage. They were all over, lighting incense and kowtowing to as many of the buddhas as they could. It was a pleasant trip, lots of cool places, and the environment around us was really pretty.

We walked back down, and my camera ran out of batteries, so of course the rest of the walk back to the hotel I was seeing pictures I wanted to take. I changed batteries, walked out to a few shops to look at the incense and got some roasted chestnuts. It started raining a bit, finally making up it’s mind from the mild drizzle we’d had all afternoon. We retreated back into the hotel, and talked for a few hours before heading in. We’re getting up at 7:00 am tomorrow to go up the back side of one of the mountains. They say it’ll be about 8000 steps, which should be pretty exciting.

September 25 – Prelude

I woke up at 7:30 as is routine now. Went to chinese class which was about the same as always, and did fine on the exercises, as expected. During the break, we asked prof. wang where she was from, and she said she was from harbin. I asked about skiing, and she said that the two best ski resorts were by harbin, one right nearby and the other was it’s own resort a bit further away. She gave me the names of the two places, one is ‘er long shan’ and the other bigger one is ‘ya bu li’ (ski area is ‘hua xue chang’ Ôºè ʪëÈõ™Âú∫) After class ended at 10, I decided that I’d waited long enough and ought to bite the bullet and get some computer speakers while I was here. I walked down to the dianzi dasuan at zhongguancun, to look for speakers. I stopped by the hivi booth, which online makes upscale is recommended for upscale speakers, but they wanted the same 400 USD for their speakers I’d seen online, which seemed like a lot for two speakers that are only connected via an 1/8th inch jack. I ended up getting a pair of Edifier R1900T2’s, which are really nice. (580 kuai / $85 usd, they go online for about $100 usd). They’ve got rca inputs, and are decent sized bookshelf monitors, and to my ear they sound great, definitely way better than the internal laptop speakers. It was about 11:45 when I got them setup and back to the dorm. They are pretty heavy, and it was a bit of a walk, also some of the blue ink on the outside of the box rubbed off on my shirt, but washing it will probably fix it.

I went to lunch with sarah, who was heading out at the same time as I was. We went to the three specialized cafeterias, I got a chicken sandwich from the ‘western style’ cafeteria that was very passible, and she got a plate of fried rice with egg.

After lunch, I hung around the dorm until class started at 1:30, it was another one of those awkward time slots where there wasn’t quite enough time to go out and do something. I did transcribe the next set of chinese characters into my notebook so I can study it in anhui.

The lecture at 1:30 was by a professor of political studies at the university. He talked about the chinese government. (Definitely not communist, probably more capitalist than in the US) and about the historical precedent that went into that. There was a lot of interesting material in the lecture, I’ll try and summarize briefly.

China has less labor protection and more competition in most markets than the US or europe. China is also the only country that is still using a pictorial and not an alphabetical language, everyone else uses an alphabetical language (that is anyone at least, he talked about how korea and japan are both using alphabetical systems now.) China feels it’s influenced the west more than it has been influenced, consider the prodigious number of chinese restaurants in the US, versus the KFCS and such that have been constrained to only the major tourist cities in china. China is technically still a poor country, in that the per capita income is less than $3000 / person, but china does way better than the other countries at this level (brazil, the rest of asia). As a result germany and japan have stopped giving china aid as an under developed nation.
The poorness is due to the rural population, (which is migrating to the cities at 1%/year) because they are very self sufficient, but it is unlike the poverty seen elsewhere. The poverty line is $2 / day, and these farmers don’t have that, but they are self sufficient, have homes, decent clothes, and their own land.
State control is dissed by western powers as a monopoly, but allows for efficiency in crucial areas. In china, the state manipulates the market, while in the US the market manipulates the state. He mentioned that in the british opium wars, the drug traffickers were able to persuade the british navy to invade for their profits.
China has been forced into being the world’s factory, as a result of it’s large labor force, they feel backed into a corner in terms of pollution and the like, because as the factory they are clearly the ones doing the work leading to pollution, but it is the western countries that set up the factories and need to take responsibility for them.

He talked for a while about the structure of the government, and how the government interrelates with the communist party. The party these days is an elitist party, and they don’t have a problem with that. You can only join the party if you are already a leader, and an excellent scholar.

The basis of all this is that for the last 2300 years, china was a family based country. There were a total of about 150 government officials over the whole country. there was no passage of wealth, land was split equally among sons, and no rich family could persist more than three generations, because if you were rich you would have many sons, and so the land would be divided more, and they would each end up at the same place as a common person. in terms of leadership it was pragmatic, everything was through merit and the government exams, because there was no need for the emperor to really do much beyond be smart and make good decisions for the empire.

After Class, I went back to the pitzer office. There is a group of kids that are staying longer in anhui, since there is a national holiday when we get back. I decided to come back to beijing, because I think it’s easier to explore and such here, than when stuck with a large group of people who can only speak english in a foreign area. The program said they really need to get their tickets back because since it’s a holiday back they’ll have trouble, I’m again glad I’m going back with already reserved tickets. I talked with the director about additional traveling this semester. She said that they could and probably would move one of the activities so an earlier weekend freed up, so that we can go up and visit innner mongolia before it gets too cold. I also asked here about going to hua shan, and she said that it was pretty dangerous and suggested tianzishan instead. The pictures of that one look really cool.

at five was the final taiji class. They gave us pieces of paper with pictures of us doing the various poses they’d taken on wednesday. Then we met with a group of taiji students from the university. I talked for a while with a phd student from tsinghua university who is doing high energy physics. He’s hoping to do a post doctorate at stonebrook, and then work at the LHC. We watched the main taiji instructor do some taiji, and then dispersed.

I headed to dinner with a fairly large group, I got beans with potatoes, and cucumber with chicken, overall not bad but pretty bland.

After dinner I we stopped by the supermarket, now that the olympics are over there’s a dvd shop setup outside, and I found a documentary on miazaki I didn’t know existed, so I picked it up for $8 yuan.

I came back to my dorm, showered, did some various preparation for tomorrow (packing, etc.) and am heading to bed. Got to get up at 5:30 tomorrow. In terms of health, I’ve got some post-nasal drainage, which means a slight cough, but it’s nothing major, and very controllable. Overall, not a very bad cold.

September 24 – Math

Got up at 7:30. Today wasn’t hot for once, with a light drizzle on the walk over to class. Class was fine again, continuing the drill from earlier. During break I went to get a snack, and saw the seaweed wrapped rice cakes in the foreign student shop. They wanted $5 for it, which is ridiculous, and I have decided not to get anything from them again, because the cakes aren’t worth more than $1.

After class, walked back to my dorm, and studied plus homework. I still had the two parts of the math problem, and really didn’t make much progress on that. I did get all the various papers that have been accumulating scanned into my computer. I also searched the internet a bit and discovered some independent chinese artists, and finished my homework for thursday.

At 3:30, my math teacher came over. He had gotten the email I had sent yesterday, and had prepared the two problems to go over with me. A lot of time was spent translating the various terms, the ones I remember are
Supremum = 最小的上界 (literally: the smallest upper bound)
Suppose = 说明
A is an element of B = A在B中
Derivative = 微分 (literally: Small cuts)
Integral = 积分
Calculus = 微积分
(also 啥 = 什么, apparently a dialectical shortening)
Rationals = 有理数
Integers = 整数
b^r = b的r次方
b^2 = b的平方
b^3 = b的立方

It was really interesting. And I’m glad I’m doing this. He left me with the chinese version of the textbook, which is apparently also used in china, and said I could borrow it for the semester. We decided to skip next week since I’ll be gone, and reconvene the week after.

After meeting with him it was time for dinner, I got green beans with chicken pieces, and a sweet bun for desert. I went with a larger group from our program, the first-year students were complaining that their teacher was too strict and pushing them too hard. I got to smile inwardly at that.

I came back, transferred my old math work over to my laptop from home, because I wanted to show the guy that I’d taken an abstract algebra class, but couldn’t really convey what we’d studied.

I read through Chinese stuff again, wrote up various things that needed to be written up, and managed to pass the time without being too board. I have a pretty decent grasp on the characters for tomorrow.

September 23 – Mathematics

I got up at about 7:30 again, I suppose it’s become a habit by now.

I spent the morning on the internet for the most part, since I basically knew the words for the day.

I did get all but one of my math problems done in the morning.

At 11:30 I knocked on sergios door and we went and got lunch before class. We went to yet another campus restaurant, this one a small take-out place. Sergio got a crepe-like thing (you see them a lot around here, a thin layer of batter with an egg, some leek, that’s then wrapped around a crunchy piece of bread. I got a very good stir-fry, with rice, onions, beef, peppers, cabbage, carrots, etc. It was a bit more expensive than the common dining halls, but it also tasted somewhat better.

I spent some time trying to figure out how to run maze on my computer, eventually discovering that it wasn’t possible on macs. Maze appears to be the default way to share music on campus, it’s a p2p application developed by the university, and the cs department extracts usage information from the network and then publishes papers about the observed behavior.

Class was fine again, I’m still essentially on top of the material, so all’s good on that front.

After class we had a brief meeting with Prof. Wang (the director) about the plan for next week. She said that we would be touring a village and a mountain. Stuff is still pretty up in the air by the sound of it, they want us to stay in a monastery, but you can’t really book that, it’s just a matter of if they have space when you show up. we fly out to anhui on friday morning, and it should be quite a bit of fun.

Then was taiji class, he had us hold the poses a bit longer as a ‘final’, and then brought his teacher to show us what taiji looks like after 30 years, which was quite impressive.

finally, I came back to by dorm, drank some tea, and did the Chinese homework.

I basically am ready for tomorrow morning in that regard. I spent a couple hours working on the last math problem, but haven’t completed it satisfactorily yet. I’ll take another crack at it tomorrow after Chinese class, if I still can’t get it I’ll ask my tutor about it tomorrow when we meet for the first time.

Not a ton of news from today, other than that yesterday I went out to get snacks and picked up a bag of white rabbit candy, and today there was a news article that they also tested positive for the poison milk thing. I’ve only had a few, so now I’ve got a whole bag of candy that I can’t eat. sad.

Things are beginning to settle into a routine grind, and so there’s less out of the ordinary to talk about. School is as expected, and so doesn’t in my opinion warrant detailed explanations.

September 22 – Back in the swing

I woke up at about 7am, since I got to bed yesterday so early. I was feeling less tired, but my cold hadn’t gone away fully. I showered, took another look over the vocabulary, and went to class.

Class went fine, the first hour was spent taking two tests, first a written test on the first four lessons, and then a dictation on the fifth lesson. I got a 93 on the written test, missing points for not remembering a few characters. My dictation score was 91. I hadn’t realized exactly what the deal was with the dictation, and was taken off-guard by some additional vocabulary that I hadn’t realized I needed to study. The dictation is actually two sentences from the dialog associating each chapter, so in the future i’ll need to read through that the night before and find out if there are additional words used I haven’t learned yet.

The second hour was spent reviewing the various grammar patterns and words introduced by the fifth lesson. It’s fairly intense but doable. I think it will be more so once I’m over this cold.

Afterward, I went with sergio and steven to the computer center to buy internet access for our computers. I proffered $315 kuai, and after a lengthy discussion the two ladies at the counter asked me for $405 kuai. I told them I didn’t want to sign up for december, and after an equally length calculation, complete with long hand multiplication on the back of a sheet of paper, they came to the agreement that it would in fact be $315, which I gave to them.

I returned to my dorm, and had no problems accessing the internet. I wrote out the new vocab for tomorrow, and chatted with my parents for a while.

In the afternoon after studying for a while, I decided not to stay in my room all day, and walked down to the haibei area. It’s one of the places we went during orientation, and has the largest carryfour (a supermarket) in asia. I spent about an hour walking up and down the aisles and looking at the various things they had for sale. I eventually bought some kleenex for my cold, and some tea.

The way out of the store was somewhat confusing. I followed the exit signs, which resulted in a very long hallway that was bordered on each side by a variety of stores. It didn’t really seem like it’s own shopping mall, and the crowd was flowing out of the carryfour to the exit, which made it very strange that there were a good 50-80 stores there. I eventually exited and hurredly made my way back to campus because the clouds were threatening rain and I had brought my unprotected camera.

I still had an hour before taiji class, so I drank some tea and did some more studying.

Taiji was fine again, we have now learned three of the four poses that are represented in the large garden, there are two more classes before we finish the session. I biked over there today, expecting that it would be finished once the rain started and I wanted to get back as quickly as possible at that point. Instead it didn’t rain, but I got wet since the seat of my bike hadn’t dried from the previous day.

After class I went to dinner with sarah at yet another dining hall. I got a couple of steamed buns with strangely minty vegetables inside, and a bowl of rice and some sort of meat/tofu. The texture of the meat was somewhat off-putting but the sauce was good, so I suppose the meal was a success. We talked about pitzer and how they didn’t seem to be quite as organized about things as either of our schools.

After dinner, I came back did a couple math problems, wrote up my core homework for thursday, and finished getting the vocabulary for tomorrow into my head. I drank more tea and am increasingly happy with my choice which was the cheapest of the three gunpowder teas they had available (tea leave rolled into little balls that unfurl once water is added).

I’m going to bed early again since I’m tired, and even though I don’t have class tomorrow until 2pm.

we just got news that there will be a meeting at 4:15 tomorrow to discuss the deal with traveling to anhui this weekend, it should be interesting.

September 21 – Recovery

I woke up at 7:30 again for taiji. I definitely have a cold, which is too bad, but hopefully I’ll get over it soon. Taiji class was fine, he got through showing us the movement he wants us to make, but said it not really be reasonable to expect all to be good at it in 10 days. I do feel more flexible though, I can touch my toes without effort if that’s any sign. I rode my bike over to the class area, and then rode back to the dorm afterwards. I didn’t really get out much today, and mostly sat at my computer and felt sick. The weather outside was raining all day, which didn’t exactly help matters.

I did get out for lunch, (chao mein / fried noodles) which I had no complaints about, and stopped on my way back to pick up some white rabbit candies, and a pair of slippers, which are actually quite comfortable. Even though I wasn’t hungry I went out in the evening and got a bowl of chicken soup that tasted good.

During the day I worked on various studious things for the most part. Spent a good time going through and working on memorizing the characters so far. The new teaching style where we’re supposed to learn the characters before class Isn’t quite as easy for me to get a hang of, so those ones aren’t quite as clear in my mind yet. The other ones are all pretty much there for the test tomorrow.

I also did a few of my math problems for this wednesday, (along with the reading) wrote up my disp proposal for my Intellectual Property assignment and sent that it, and wrote most of my first assignment for my core class. (A letter reflecting on the scavenger hunt during orientation.) I also signed up for the universities bulletin board system and spent quite a while reading through posts there. It’s quite interesting, and I’m able to decipher at least some of it. There’s a skiing club, and lots of freshmen asking about where to buy things. (The skiing club goes elsewhere to ski for the most part, there’s an indoor ski area in beijing though.)

I drank a lot of tea, Noticed that my account is now power user, which means I’ll start getting invitation for that site next month.

All in all a pretty quiet day, I didn’t really have much energy, but hopefully I’ll do better tomorrow. I’ll post this tomorrow, since internet isn’t working right now. I’ll be able to buy legitimate internet tomorrow though.

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