Monday, August 28, 2006

If you can hear a piano fall, you can hear me comin' down the hall

Sunset in the middle of some mountain pass

Sorry for not posting anything new in a while: I sat down and cranked out a great posting a few days ago but these public computers get so full of viruses that they are incredibly unstable and somehow they even foiled Gmail's draft saving feature, so all was lost.

Monkeys on Emei Shan

Today we're in recovery mode. Two days ago we took a bus and gondola to the top of Emei Shan, known as Monkey Mountain to friends of George, and billed as "No. 1 Mountain Under the Sun by the road sign. The environment here is incredibly moist, and the mountain is a jagged, nearly vertical shard erupting from the town below and reaching a peak at 3099 meters. The first day we hiked the short jaunt up to the peak and had our first monkey encounters. Mike, who'd been talking some pretty tall talk about being able to fend off 5 monkeys at a time and walk away with a "magic monkey paw" was caught a bit off guard when the first monkeys we saw went straight for his cookies and his only defense was splashing them with his Pepsi. An effective and humorous retaliation, it wasn't what Mike had in mind when he started talking trash, as he had yet to find a proper bamboo pole to defend himself with. Nowadays, he's seen skateboarding through the town swinging the pole at invisible enemies and mastering his "swing to whack" maneuvers.

Arriving at the monastery at night

In any case, that night we began the hike down the mountain and just after dark we reached the first monastery. We negotiated some rooms and had supper with some Chinese "whiskey" that we are all sure was just baijou and played cards under an exposed light bulb that attracted hundreds of tiny insects and dozens of the largest moths I've seen alive. When the monks began chanting and then working on the building, we were awoken and continued the downward descent. 3099 meters is something like 10,300 feet, which is something like a whole lot of descending stone stairs. Hence why today is a recovery day: none of us have a full range of motion of the calves or quads. But the hike was well worth it. We had numerous monkey encounters, some of which were quite tense with these spoiled brats feeling entitled to not only defend their mountain, but to also lay claim to any morsel of food visible or hidden within one's bag or pockets. Mike's bamboo pole did come in handy for fending off a few aggressive males that began by coming a hair away from biting David's leg and then just resorted to some humping when George yelled and banged the stick at them.
Aside from monkeys, there were waterfalls, plants and insects like I have never seen before. And a great swimming hole at the end which made a perfect reward for completing the trek, featuring a short natural rock water slide. The water was crystal clear (undoubtedly the only well-kept region in China -"Nationally Recognized Clean Mountain" according to the signs) and cold but refreshing.

Real American heroes

It's been a few days since we've been on the bikes, but it's amazing how much stamina I have built up compared to the start of the trip. We bang out an 8 hour ride and it seems to pass in a fraction of the perceived duration of a meeting at work back home, discussing XSDs and bean definitions. There is a midday hump where the ass still gets tender, but on the whole, I still feel like I could ride a few more hours, if it were still light at the end of the day.
I think I understand a bit more why we attract so much attention. Earlier I had said that our bikes aren't loud. The other day we had to move hotels from one end of the block to the other, and I wound up doing the short jaunt without my fully-enclosed helmet on. Our bikes are quite loud. And the bikes are very different looking from the other Chinese bikes; I have yet to see another dual-sport bike on the road, plus ours are brightly colored, as opposed to the dark red that most bikes here are painted.
David's bike has taken to backfiring, and even with my helmet on, it sounds like a gunshot. While it has to be doing wonders for his hearing, I don't mind it at all. I generally prefer to take the third or fourth slot in the line of bikes, for a number of reasons, but the backfire is one of them. First, it occurs when we slow down suddenly, which alerts me to coming obstacles or turns. Second, most of our sudden slowing takes place as we pass through small towns. The sudden explosions spook kids and adults alike and following David, I get to see the effect. In general, people point, double-take, drop what they are doing, nudge their friend, smile, or throw some sort of skeptical look our way. With the backfires, the looks of shock and surprise are downright hilarious at times.

Even without the bikes we're still center of attention. The other day we wound up in some tiny town after dark. After dropping off our gear, we set out to explore the two streets that comprised the town. In the darkness, our Caucasian features, David's towering height, and George's American flag shirt were hidden, we were sure to blend in, right? At the center of town, all of the town's women were doing some line dancing; more tai chi than macarena, but it was to somewhat modern sounding music. All of the other residents were milling about and some kids caught sight of us. Before we knew it, we were pied pipers, leading a gigantic throng of children and adults as we simply tried to see the town. At one point the crowd got too thick to continue walking. Out from nowhere a woman said "Hello and welcome, where are you from?"
"You must be the local English teacher," George responded, obviously rather jaded but also totally spot-on.
"Please excuse the excitement; people here have never seen a foreigner in person before!" she explained.
We chatted a bit and then entertained the kids with some antics. In general, however, I can't help but feel like we are letting the local crowds down; we could do more. I know they are fascinated simply seeing our bikes, our clothes, and watching us eat the same food they eat, but we can do more. So David proposed that we for an entertainment troupe, White Man Group. The act will contain George's Danger Juggling, some stupid human tricks, and some musical numbers such as America the Beautiful. We are tossing around the idea of working out some barbershop trio songs (can't do a barbershop quartet when Mike won't even stand there and snap his fingers).

The crushing audience

Our run-ins with the law have been drastically reduced since we left that province that required us to check in at every city. There was one officer in a larger city who asked to see our licenses but immediately let us go once David presented our Hero letter. And then there was the issue over the chicken... I had bought a real bottle of red wine to share over dinner. We negotiated a fancy meal with a local restaurateur that was based on the purchase of an entire chicken. When the meal was delivered, and consisted of only chicken feet, the head, and an array of meatless bones, some disagreement ensued as to whether or not chickens actually contain meat.
"It is late, so the chicken is small," was the excuse offered by the daughter of the owner, despite our having watched the slaughter of a healthy-sized chicken.
The cops showed up to help solve the issue, and once George handed over the tab due, they were satisfied and departing until a special tourist cop arrived on the scene. He was clearly completely drunk, dropping things, asking the same questions over and over, and generally maintaining a facial expression that said that dealing with us lowai was not his expectation when he first cracked open that bottle of baijiu. Nonetheless, it was he who was not satisfied with ending the issue when the other cops were satisfied, and his drunken tomfoolery balanced out the general stress of dealing with the situation.
George masterfully guided the drunken cop through the conversation in which both sides of the story were heard and any notion of how we got there and why was completely avoided. With the cases stated, George led the cop towards wrapping things up.
"OK, so the money is paid and restaurant owner is happy. Everything is OK and we can go now, right?"
"No," the officer said, head in hands, "everything is not OK." His voice slowly escalated into an desperate, exasperated tone.
"You... spit... on... R...M...B!!!!"
Oh. That.
That night we learned the hard way that defiling Chinese currency is tantamount to defiling Chairman Mao and China itself. Ordinarily, the cops never would have let a restaurant owner rip off a tourist like that, but this act touched a patriotic nerve. In the end, we lost our our Ping Chang privileges, but we were on our way again with bikes and everything else intact.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chinese "Whisky": 5 RBM

Nights stay at local inn: 7 RBM

Meatless whole chicken: Priceless

Mark H.

8/28/2006 11:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Got to watch out. There is a lot of symbolisms in everything. The more provincial the more superstitious. I consider my parents fairly educated but my parents still tell me things with no evidence or study to back it up like drinking ice water is bad for you.

Monkeys... :-) and poodle

Why were the monkeys trying to hump you? A domestic dog I understand but a "wild" monkey?

Love the pictures. Thank you :-) Too bad there isn't one of a monkey.

8/28/2006 4:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'll give you a midday hump that will leave your ass tender, homo.

8/28/2006 8:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No more dissin' the renminbi. It wasn't all that long ago that a bullet to the back of the head for hocking a loogie on "The People's Money" was considered getting off easy...


PS: What exactly are "Ping Chang privileges" and where/how have you been exercising them up till now?

8/28/2006 11:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ditto, what are these ping chang privies you speak of...and when did you spit on the money? I must have missed that part. Did George spit out of excitement?
My scoot would fit right in with its backfiring it sounds like :)

8/30/2006 5:59 PM  
Blogger Adam said...

Ping Chang was the name of the town we aren't supposed to return to. Yes, it was George who expectorated on the cash that was handed to the restaurant owner; a way of demonstating our disgust at his trying to rip us off, but it obviously backfired!

9/03/2006 7:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Adam, good blog. Matt forwarded me the link.

It's interesting to read some of your experiences with cops because as a Chinese national myself, I've never experienced that before.

BTW, the pictures are beautiful. I haven't even been to a lot of these places, so I really envy you. You'll have to do a slide-show when you are back.


9/05/2006 2:02 PM  

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