Sanshan Island

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Camping out at the pier

Flag of China  , Jiangsu Sheng,
Thursday, October 11, 2012

Hi all,

Hope everyone's doing good. Last week in China was both Middle Autumn Festival and National Holiday, which together lasted from September 30th to October 3rd. Middle Autumn Festival, or ''Moon Festival', lasts for one day and is a full-moon festival based on the Chinese Lunar Calendar. On this day, Chinese people usually eat 'mooncakes', give and receive them as gifts, gaze at the full moon with their friends and relatives and let off fireworks and lanterns I went travelling with my friend, Jerry (and some of his friends) to some really beautiful places. I have to admit, his friends were interesting characters: one of them, a really animated guy nicknamed "Cat Boy", and another who likes to yell things randomly. The other was fairly normal and friendly and kind of balanced out the others!


Originally, we were planning to go to Yunnan Province (where I went last year during National Holiday) but Jerry's grandparents insisted that it was too far. We also breezed past the idea of going to Tibet. After a little while, we decided on staying near the East Coast. Initially, we had planned to go all-out and cover three fairly spread out places in 4 days but, worried that might be too busy for a holiday schedule, we decided on just two. The first was Sanshan Island, a very small island in Tai Lake. The second was Tai Shan, a sacred Daoist mountain in the North-Eastern province of Shandong.

With a lot to do and only 3-4 days to do it, we started out on the coach from Yixing at about 7 a.m. to the city of Suzhou. When we arrived in the city centre, there were scores of people as far as the eye could see. Originally, we planned to take a bus from Suzhou Station but the city's main transit system was insanely busy so we opted for a 200 RMB gyspy taxi! Then we got another gypsy taxi from the local town to the docks.

We arrived at the docks and took a little ferry to Sanshan Island, which took about 20-30 minutes. When we reached the shore of the island, some old ladies on touristy rickshaws offered to chauffeur us around the island for a pretty immodest sum, but - with all we needed in huge rucksacks on our backs - we were determined to hike around for at least a while. Besides, we'd heard that it only takes about 3-4 hours to cover the entire island on foot. That said, the signposts were kinda confusing and didn't give us the kind of detail we needed to find a suitable camping ground. On the way, at least, we came across a sort-of-interesting pavilion named 'Huai 'en Pavilion'. The sun was pretty hot that day and the shade offered by the willows was only intermittent. We decided to stop at a small guesthouse along the route and drop off our baggage there so we could look around the island easier. We told them we were going to look for a place to pitch our tents and that we would be back for dinner in the early evening. We took these (kind of hard to describe) bicycle buggies around the island and eventually went off the main route onto some bumpy dirt roads.

On the way, we saw a team of people taking turns abseiling down the face of a rock cliff. We thought about giving it a try but guessed that it was probably a professional team doing it rather than a recreational activity on the island. Shortly after that, we reached a wooden pier at the edge of the island flanked by a couple of wooden watchtowers and a haunted house (my friend researched the island before we arrived and found out it's famous for this mysterious house). We decided this would be the perfect place to set up camp and watch the sunset later so we rode back to the guesthouse to pick up our bags and have dinner with a plan to return later.

I napped and my friends played games and watched TV as we waited for dinner for just over an hour. Not long after we sat down to a dinner of whole chicken soup, scrambled egg, sweet and sour pork and Chinese vegetables, a hawk swooped into the restaurant overhead and scared us witless (see picture)!

After dinner, the guesthouse worker drove us back to our camping spot on his rickshaw. We saw a team of people camping out in a small clearing at the foot of the rock cliff (possibly the abseiling team) but we set up our tents a little further along, on a grassy clearing next to the haunted house. As sunset began, we sat and drank a beer each on the pier, then played a big canvas board game that my friend brought along. Then we moved our tents from the grass to the pier and camped out there for the night. Later, we went to explore the ghost house in the pitch dark (see our Blair Witchy video!) and - after peeking through a slit in the doors and seeing what appeared to be a black cat zipping around inside - we got a bit freaked out and went back. We followed the trail back to where we saw the people camping out earlier and their blazing campfire - along with their collection of tarps, tents and coolers - made our spot look a bit like a kid's party!

We only stayed there for a minute or so then went back to the pier. My friends spotted some guys looming around our tents and were worried that they were thieves so they ran back. As it turned out, they were just some (kinda drunk) guys from the other camping spot that meant no harm at all! They went back and a couple came along, laid a mat and some candles and other things down on the corner of the pier with the somewhat misguided intention of having a quiet, romantic evening. After that, some more people came to light up Chinese lanterns and set them off from the pier. Some of my friend's friends joined in and there were a lot of cheers as some of the lanterns took off while others just sank into the lake. As they did this, Jerry and I washed our faces and brushed our teeth over the lake. When the others had disappeared, we we all got ready and went to sleep.

The next morning, we got up sometime between 4 and 5 a.m. to watch the sunrise, for which we had to hot-foot it a bit to a slightly more easterly part of the island. After brushing our teeth, we cycled back to the island's dock to take a ferry back to the mainland (stopping at a restroom to freshen up on the way). It was about 8 a.m. and the next ferry was at 11 so we went to the other side of the island to get a speedboat back (which was a lot more fun!) From there, we took a gypsy taxi (the same one as the day before) to Suzhou Train Station. We split up, so Jerry's friends took the cab into the centre of the city and just Jerry and I took a bullet train to our next halt: Tai 'an.
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