Going Hiking in the Spring

Trip Start Feb 03, 2008
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Trip End Aug 16, 2009


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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

This may be the first time in my life I'm happy to be sunburned.

It means that, somewhere out there, there's sun!

After months of China's white-sky days I have given up on my usual precautions of sunscreen and hats.

But today, as we whizzed along in a local bus, we could see occasional bursts of sunshine brightening the fields. This is why we moved to Guizhou province, Dan and I told each other, passing a village of traditional stone buildings with white-tipped roofs.
 
We were on our way to Lou Shan Guan, perhaps also called Hai Long Tun, a strategic military stronghold for thousands of years, though now most famous for its role in the battle of the Red Army in the 1930s against that certain group of people who later left for an island to the east, the name of which is best left undiscussed in modern China.

The morning threatened rain as Dan and I along with Zunyi coworkers Nathan, Wu Lei and Jane headed to the Mao Cao Pu bus station-itself a good place to start out for a trip to a Red Army battle site because of the 40-foot concrete statue of the Chairman raising an arm in blessing of the buses as they scurry out into the wilds of Guizhou.
 
But as our bus wheezed its way over the hills surrounding Zunyi   the weather held its moisture back and let us have a day of spring. We passed into the villages of the outlying county, flanked by square fields of brilliant yellow rapeseed flowers punctuated with green commas of leafy vegetables or white exclamation points of plastic tarping.

The closest we could get to the historic site by bus was the village of Ban Qiao, a one-street strip town full of shops with their doors hanging open exposing the paucity of goods inside. Old people and motorcycle drivers laughed to see us, as we took pictures and wondered how to get to the site itself.
 
We saw a roof off the main street crowned by two undulating dragons and figured it must be a temple. With no clear street to get there, we ventured up a small dirt path past a garden plot overgrown with small blue flowers and up to the red doors.

Inside, one old, talkative lady and a golden-robed, smooth-headed monk let us look around the three small rooms that made their temple. On one end a statue flipped a middle finger to the worshippers, who knows why. In the main salon a smiling Buddha flanked by smaller icons welcomed donations. We put a few yuan in the collections box and the talkative lady, who grabbed my shoulders and laughed at one point, burned some incense for us.  In the third room a collection of Arhats sculpted like giant bowling pins sat in majesty.

Nathan chatted with the monk a little and learned that this temple had escaped the damages of the Cultural Revolution and that the decorations and building were at least a hundred years old. Perfect.
 
Going back down to the main drag, Nathan and Wu Lei argued with some drivers until we got a tuktuk to drive us up the mountain for 5 yuan each, and we went up a bumpy and beautiful mountain, holding on to each other and hoping not to slide out the back.  

At the top of the mountain the biggest sight seems to be a humongous concrete wall inscribed with red cursive calligraphy. The text, I found out from my adult students later, is a poem about Lou Shan Guan written by Mao Ze Dong. They weren't able to tell me what the poem means, but I assume it is about the battle.

Going uphill from there we went to a memorial for the Red Army soldiers and then to the broken remains of a fortress, or at least of a fortified guard tower.

We took pictures and ate snacks by the memorial, then attempted the higher peak. The trail for this wasn't cleared though, so we had to duck-walk under some fallen trees and at one point hoist ourselves up the hill by clinging to vines and sapling trees.

The higher peak had a small trench hollowed out of the top where we could imagine Red soldiers laying on their bellies smoking cigarettes and sighting through the trees waiting for Nationalists to come within range of their sniper rifles.

After that we went to a concrete platform built overlooking the valley and the highway to Chongqing. Jane and Wu Lei went exploring and Dan and I played with our cameras and snacked on tamarinds while Nathan read some Chinese literature. A peaceful afternoon.
 
Later, our snacks eaten and ready for dinner, we walked down to the Zunyi-Chongqing highway and flagged down a bus back to Zunyi and an enormous steak dinner at a café Dan and I hadn't tried before.

Tired from the unaccustomed exercise but happy to see the beginning of spring, Dan and I are ready for more adventures near Zunyi.
 
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