So with Tina as our guide and Mr. Gong at the wheel, we left Nanchang on a five-hour drive to Jinggang Mountain. We arrived in the middle of the afternoon, with the pleasant surprise of seeing a countryside that looks so very similar to some of the beautiful areas around Southern Oregon! And the town itself is sort of like Ashland, with its small-town feel and small university and tree-lined streets. The mountain has a highland forest where we came across square-stemmed bamboo and views of Five Fingers Peak (memorialized on the back of the old 100 Yuan bill). The area's claim to fame though comes from its historic importance to the Chinese Communist Party. It is considered the "Revolutionary Cradle"—the spot where Mao launched the Long March in 1934. We wandered through the Revolutionary Museum and a reconstruction of the former revolutionary quarters that both helped us understand the history a bit better, then hiked up to see the Cemetery for the Martyrs. Red Army uniforms could be rented at almost every historic and scenic spot for picture-taking and Carrie just couldn’t resist dressing the kids up for a photo op. You just have to be a tourist sometimes!
We also had the chance to try lots of the area’s “local specialties:” stone fish, Mao’s favorite dark green fried vegetables, fried dried tofu, Red Army fruit……you can tell this place takes its history seriously! The town itself is beautiful, and we walked around the very peaceful lake that is the centerpiece of town just before sunset, taking in the sights of the rope-lighted paths, the spot-lit bridges, the ornamental temples and pagodas, and all the lush vegetation.
The next day we drove into the deep countryside on an incredibly gorgeous calm sunny day, took the cable car (Asia’s longest and highest) to near the top of Mt. Bijia, then climbed who-knows-how-many steps through the thick forest of trees along the ridgeline of the mountain range until we made our final push up the increasingly steep steps leading to the peak of the climb – the platform at the top of Yangmei Peak, the highest point on this range of mountains. We had conquered the summit! And the 360º view was amazing!
After taking in the stunning views from the top (and taking the time to catch our breath…….), we then returned on the considerably easier side of the mountain, on a serpentine concrete path with hardly any steps but which just hugged the mountainside, returning eventually to our starting point.
This was an extraordinarily good day, and after this exhilarating hike we were ready for Mr. Gong to pick us up at the bottom of the mountain and head down the road to where we’d spend the next two nights. Unfortunately, we were in for one more of those unexplainable Chinese delays. Just when we were getting ready to board the cable cars for the ride back down the mountain, everything just stops! The cable is at a standstill and the cars are bobbing in place in mid-air! Fortunately, we hadn’t gotten in one yet! As it turned out, we had about a three-hour delay, and we never did find out the reason! So we hung out on the sun-soaked outdoor plaza at the top of the mountain and ate snacks and played cards.
Eventually the cable started moving again and of course everybody and their brother was rushing like frightened cattle to jump in any available gondola. We thought we’d be stuck somewhere near the back of the line because we don’t have that Chinese predisposition to clamber to the front, but thanks to our quick-thinking friend Tina who came up with the brilliant idea to simply let the people who were controlling the masses know that we “had a plane to catch”, we ended up in the very first car! Right on, Tina!
We used the city of Ganzhou as our base for the next two nights, spending the day time on a trip into the countryside in the very southern point of Jiangxi at a town called Longnan. It was a three-hour drive, followed by a very atypical two-hour lunch, which was just fabulous! Somewhere out in the deep countryside we pulled over to a wide spot in the road to a tiny little place that served food.
After we ordered, the owner must have made a few phone calls, because soon one by one up drove motorbikes, with one guy carrying a bunch of freshly-cut bok choy, another guy came up carrying a fish in a plastic bag just pulled from the river, all while the lady sat at the outdoor table and peeled red potatoes (or something similar) for our lunch. Anyway, over the course of the next couple hours, we finally got our VERY fresh meal! And it was certainly worth the wait! Seriously yummy!
The rest of the afternoon was spent looking through the weiwu in Longnan (translated: big fortressed house with a wall around the perimeter and a maze-like arrangement of rooms and spaces inside) where we could see the lifestyles of the Hakka people (one of China’s 56 ethnic groups). On the way home we stopped at a roadside orange orchard and picked navel oranges right off the trees! And of course what you pick you have to eat. Very sweet, very juicy and just plain very yummy!
That wound up our southern Jiangxi tour and our time in the land we had come to love, so we were off to catch the train to Hong Kong via Guangzhou. Things were going just as planned until Tina took just a bit too long being a good friend and helping us get settled in our train cabin. We noticed the train starting to move and sure enough, trains wait for no one! So Tina (quite involuntarily, but still with a smile on her face) rode with us to the next train stop as we played cards and chit-chatted about traveling and all kinds of fun stuff. Then she hopped a return train and went back to Nanchang. Fortunately, before she left she befriended a young university student who agreed to help us get through the ticket and customs maze at the Guangzhoudong train station. We didn’t even get her name, but she embodied the friendliness and helpfulness we have come to admire in the Chinese people.
Without further incident we made it to our hotel in Hong Kong, and spent the next three days checking out the big city. Hong Kong is technically still part of China, but then again not really the China we’d become accustomed to. It’s a vertical, modern, high-tech, fast-paced international city. English is common in speech, signage and menus. It was a good place to begin getting used to not being in China anymore.
We had a great time hitting the highlights: we wandered Nathan Road in Kowloon, awed by the neon; we took a few rides on the Star Ferry and enjoyed the light show around the Harbor; we rode the funicular tram up the hill to take in the awesome views from Victoria Peak; we marveled at how space in mid-town is maximized and made more efficient at mid-level, including riding on the world’s longest covered escalator, the “travelator”; we even took the free boat at Aberdeen to pick up lunch on the Jumbo Floating Restaurant. We enjoyed the sites, tolerated the hustle-bustle and the hoards of people, and we reminisced a lot about our time back in the “real” China.
And that was that! With four days of laughing and sightseeing with Tina, and a couple of days to just give our minds and bodies a breather in Hong Kong, we were able to ease away from our intense attachment to the wonders we found in China! So with fond memories that will last a lifetime, and the feeling that we truly made a connection during our time there, we bid farewell to the “Middle Kingdom”….…until we meet again!!
And for those of you who have even a modicum of curiosity about where we go from here, any ideas about our next “landing spot”?????? Here’s a subtle clue: Carrie knows better than any of the rest of us! See ya from wherever we end up next!
As the time neared for us to say goodbye to China, we hesitated. We knew it was going to be hard to leave our new friends behind, but just as hard to leave this country that we had grown accustomed to. When we first arrived in China it started out feeling so….…well, foreign. But now we were getting used to the grittiness of the cities, the mostly friendly stares and the crowds that gathered if we stopped too long in one place. We were enjoying the new skills we had acquired…..… we were much more competent with our chop sticks and we could cross those busy, crazy, traffic-filled streets without stoplights or crosswalks (apparently the center line in a 2-way street is meant for waiting mid-stream to let trucks buzz by on either side, or to say hi to someone you know heading in the other direction………..either way, not the place to lose your concentration!) We loved our time in China and felt like nearly three months had flown by all too quickly. The solution to our sadness at leaving was to stretch out our remaining days as much as possible. We had loved our earlier tour of northern Jiangxi Province, so we decided to do a similar trip to the south. After all, our final destination before leaving China was Hong Kong (heading south from Nanchang), so rather than fly we decided we might just as well take our time and see as much of the countryside as possible on the way. So we called our friend Baker, who had led us through our earlier tour, and he and his girlfriend Tina happily put together a four-day sightseeing itinerary for us. We feel very lucky to count Baker and Tina as our friends and we were thrilled to have the opportunity to share our last few days on the mainland with Tina. She was just a fabulous guide, super friendly, bubbly with an ever-present smile, and always took good care of us!