Monday, October 25, 2004

Went to Yunmeng Shan National Forest Park on Saturday. The trip was arranged by my school for the teachers and their guests. Angela went with me and we had a great time walking along the mountain paths. We were skeptical, at first, about the intensity of the adventure, but as the day unfolded, we quickly dispelled those thoughts. Apparently, my school occasionally hosted trips of this sort, which I thought was a nice benefit.

Originally, the trip coordinators were taken aback when we accepted their invitation to join them. They thought they wouldn't know how to take care of or communicate with us if something happened, but I did my best to reassure them that we would be fine and, eventually, they relented. Perhaps, they were simply extending the polite gesture, but how could we pass up an opportunity to do some sightseeing? They were going to provide us lunch and we didn't even have to plan anything ourselves! We just had to get ourselves out of bed and onto the bus by 7 AM.

Here we are gathering at the front gate of the school. I didn't expect such a large turnout, but there were well over 100 people to fill four tour buses, Angela and me the only non-Chinese among them. At some point, unidentifiable by me aside from the obvious general motion of the group, everyone started taking their "lunches," plastic bags piled in large plastic bins near the gate, and moved to board the buses. We did the same and found seats next to three of the assistants who work in my department. We were ready to go!

On the journey there, a full two-hour drive, we thought we saw part of The Great Wall, which I have yet to personally visit, but we never checked our facts. I don't know what else it could have been, though. I began to realize, as the bus climbed ever higher along the winding road, that we weren't just going to a city park. We were heading for somewhere deeper among the great rock peaks and crags that were beginning to form a gorge around us. We crossed a river and continued climbing.

After arriving at what must have been the entrance of the park, we mulled around the buses for a few minutes and then slowly began filing up a long flight of steps. It was a crisp, clear mid-October morning with lots of sun, but not too cold. The mountains were really beautiful, lots of unusual rock formations, the trail was not too strenuous, and we could still see what was left of the fall colors on the trees.

Near the end of the long main path, along which many other paths and resting places branched off, we came to a small village. We thought it was a nice place to rest and enjoy some of the lunch we had taken with us. Two donkeys munched some grass nearby. Our lunch bags contained two bottles of water, two rolls (one filled with sweet bean paste), two tangerines, a pouch of spicy mustard root, and a stick of what I called a pork snack, which was a soft hotdog-like sausage. I thought all of it was quite good, although Angela was not too fond of the rolls. We added sunflower seeds, which we purchased from the restaurant in the village, and relaxed under the great trees that were all around.

Eventually, making our way back to the entrance, we stopped to enjoy a beer before boarding the bus again for the return trip. We'd had a fantastic time on the mountain walk and were happy that we'd done it. The bus finally left, but after about 30 minutes, it pulled over to the side of the road near an apple orchard. We were getting off the bus to go pick apples!

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