August 26, 2008

Exhausted But Amazed

Man, whenever I come back from a vacation, or any length of time without the Internet, I've got like 6,000 things to catch up on in my RSS reader. It's a tad overwhelming. I should probably just mark them all as read and move on with it.

Huangshan was amazing. On the first day, we climbed about 7 miles worth of stairs. It HURT. Just imagine that. SEVEN MILES. of STAIRS. OUCH. But it was worth it, for we got amazing photos of the North Sea and West Sea, so named because of the clouds that roll in and out. The rest of the time, it was rainy and misty and terrible.

There are so many other things I could write about, and I might when I have time. But now I am exhausted and waiting for the pictures to upload to flickr. Let me just say that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness nature on such a grand scale. Looking at the vast gouges of jagged earth and roiling tendrils of mist that compose 北海 and 西海, I felt time stop. Seeing those peaks and valleys was worth every sore calf muscle, every overpriced bottle of water, every bug squashed in the hotel room, and every ragged gasp of wheezing breath I just barely managed to exhale as I willed myself to put one foot in front of the other ... just ... one ... more ... time while hobbling up that accursed set of stairs.

Seven miles. And that was just the ascent. It was another seven down, and that's only because we took a cable car partway. There are people who do that ascent and descent twice a day, with loads of hotels' dirty laundry, bottled drinks, and other sundries on their backs. I don't ever want to hear you complain about your day job again.

The pictures should finish uploading in an hour or two, so go check them out. I might post some of my favorites here on the blog. But just know this -- the pictures cannot do the view justice. Everything felt so sharp and clear and in-focus. A picture just doesn't capture the awe-inspiring majesty of looking at those peaks in person. I could have sat there for hours, and I probably would have if the mist hadn't rolled back in. It's amazing. It takes literally 15 seconds for the entire valley to empty out of, or fill up with, an opaque white cloud that kills all sightseeing opportunities. People run from one viewing platform to another, hoping to catch a glimpse of the rock walls that have been obscured for their entire visit. I feel very lucky to have gotten the time and views I did, although there were plenty of other times during the trek where I was frustrated because the mist was blocking a view. It's like, "I know there's something beautiful out there, but I can't see it, dammit!" That's frustrating.

Tourism trips improve my Chinese. I would pass small children with their families and hear them say "... lao wai ..." or "... wai guo ren ..." and then I would say (in Chinese) "Lao wai? Where? I'm not a lao wai! I'm Chinese!" I love hearing them gasp and laugh when I answered them. Unfortunately from then on it was downhill as they would continue the conversation and, more often than not, I would not understand them, haha. But it was still fun.

I met Walnut Lady while taking a picture on the descent to the Hot Springs. She was with her grandson and they were meeting up with the rest of their family. I used my new Chinese phrase "Ladies first" to tell her to go ahead of me while I stopped and took a picture. We got to talking and I managed to do pretty well. Then she said goodbye as she went down the stairs. I saw her again on the shuttle to the main gate, and she waved and smiled. Then I ran into her and her family in Tunxi, and she was so excited. She kept saying something that I couldn't understand -- and nobody with her knew how to translate into English. So I politely said goodbye again. Then, because Tunxi is a stultifying labyrinth of boredom, I ran into her again like 20 minutes later. She tried again, to the amusement of nearby shopkeepers and 7 or 8 passerby who found it interesting to watch a 老人 converse with a smiling but not-understanding 外国人, to say something to me. No go. But Herbert remembered the Chinese phrase, and when we found Charles and Kitty again, we asked her what it meant. "Walnut", she said. So we're assuming that this lady wanted me to buy her a walnut, or vice versa. Thus the Walnut Lady (核桃女) was born. That's how these things happen. I shoulda got a picture with her.

Okay, so, no travelling for at least 2 weeks. Okay? Okay. I'm exhausted. And flickr seems to be borking out again. Boo.

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