Sunday: I go with a group of expats to see the autumn leaves at Fragrant Mountain, north and west of the city.
It was hard to get out of bed, so I ended up taking a taxi to Wudaokou, where we were meeting, in order to get there at 9. The taxi driver complained to me that traditional Chinese culture was being destroyed by Western culture. I don't consider myself part of that problem. If anything, I am part of the solution.
You never know what taxi drivers are going to say to you. It must make people crazy driving around in Beijing traffic day after day and I think foreigners who speak Chinese must be a favorite target of ranting, theorizing, and all sorts of babble. One time a taxi driver (along the same route) expounded at great length on how the U.S.'s two greatest friends in the world were Israel and Japan. I suppose it's possible that's true, but I've just never thought of looking at the world like that.
Anyway, I got there with time to spare. A lot of time to spare. Aside from me, KP was the first to arrive. We stood in front of the el, I drinking hot black tea with milk that I'd brought from home, her drinking cold black tea she'd bought from a nearby stand. About a quarter after 9, LK (expedition organizer) showed up. Then, because there was an icy wind despite the bright sun, we retired to a nearby bakery to wait for the fourth person, who claimed to be on his way. He showed up after a further half an hour and declared it necessary to partake (slowly) of baked goods while we sat waiting and trying not to be impatient. So much for our early start though.
Chinese people wonder why we have such an aversion to doing things in groups. Perhaps when they get together they don't experience this phenomenon, that inertia seems to increase exponentially with the number of people, so that by the time there are four or five it's practically impossible to get moving at all.
Finally, we caught a very crowded bus.
The Fragrant Mountain was actually in the direction of my apartment. I believe it may be the mountain I look out upon when the weather is fine.
The crowds there were intense.
The fall colors could not compare with New England or even Eugene, but the fact that such huge numbers of people had come to see them made them somehow more interesting. The people did so outnumber the trees! And it was clear that each brilliant-hued tree upon the path played a lead role of hundreds of different photographs every hour!
The narrow paths up the mountain were so crowded that sometimes we couldn't move at all. It was like a traffic jam for people. There were even traffic cops directing the flow of people as they hiked up or down the mountain. (If you look carefully ata this picture you can see them.) And it was no small hike either--probably about like climbing the Butte in Eugene. But mobbed, all the way up. It was the first time I had had this kind of experience in China, and all of a sudden I could see what the guidebooks were complaining about. Clearly it's best not to do things on weekends if it can be avoided at all. Though on the other hand, the crowds are also an integral part of the experience.
Here was a victory: I found a person who was selling leaf-origami, such as I had glimpsed and unfortunately passed up earlier on. I wasn't passing it up this time, and bought a magnificent preying mantis. That was about halfway up, but we knew we weren't coming down that way again, so I had to buy it. I then spent the whole rest of the day holding and trying to protect this fragile leaf creature. I didn't care; it was worth it to me. Especially since it was the only thing in the whole day that left me feeling victorious. Also, it startled people and made them do double-takes because it looked so much like a real preying mantis. That was fun.
At the top, we sat awhile. Here are my companions. I was the only one with a camera. I just realized, looking more closely at this picture, that I was also the only one who without sunglasses. Haven't worn sunglasses in ages, because I depend so heavily on my actual prescription glasses and have a bad tendency to lose clip-ons. Well anyway.
The wind was icy. The temperature dropped steadily. We had decided to take the cable-car down because one of our party had bad knees. We didn't realize we would have to wait in line for 45 minutes to do so. And it was cold. My teeth were chattering. If the preying mantis had teeth, its teeth would be chattering too. I admit it was a pleasant view though.
Standing in line, I struck up a conversation with the fellow in front of me, or perhaps he struck one up with me. He asked all the usual sorts of questions, and I gave the usual sorts of answers. We chatted intermittently, the way strangers in line do. But I felt a certain sense of privilege because I realized I was just exotic enough to be noticed (unlike Asian-American LK) but not so exotic that I looked scary (like the other two people in our party). No one was talking to them. But I am…I guess, safe but interesting. Of course it's not always an advantage to get into conversations with random people, as sometimes you just want to think your own thoughts. But standing in line on an icy mountain-top--it helps in passing the time.
The cable car was a ski-lift type thing. When I saw it, I felt a sudden fear of heights that I always get when I think about riding a chair-lift. But it's not really a phobia, just a kind of giddiness. I took pictures as we swooped down the mountainside and into the valley.
It was extra cold in the chair-lift. We all felt chilled to the bone. It's a good thing that being cold doesn't actually cause you to catch cold, because otherwise I would have. Hurray for my immune system; it is serving me well.
By the time we got to the bottom, we could barely stand on our numbed feet. We didn't much enjoy the little park there either, despite its pretty flowers, colorful leaves, and whimsical little log figures. Okay, I enjoyed the log figures, but I think my companions didn't really enjoy waiting for me to photograph them. I just snapped these shots really quick.
What they reminded me of more than anything was some of the later books in the Wizard of Oz series. I was always especially delighted by the sawhorse coming to life. I wonder if it's just a coincidental resemblance or whether the person who made these had also read those books?
We took a taxi down off the mountain and back to Wudaokou, feeling stiffer and creakier than the log figures.
There we had Korean food together, from a restaurant near LK's place. We really needed it by then. We had bibim bap, kimchee duk bokum, tofu chige, and scallion pancake (I ought to know how to say that in Korean, but I've forgotten; also my spelling of the romanization is probably way off). Also large amounts of hot tea. We were almost recovered from our hypothermia by the time we had to go out and brave the arctic wind. But we all got cold again really fast.
A bright and merciless day.
I hadn't worn my new coat or long underwear because it had looked like it would be warm. How wrong I was. Street vendors were doing a brisk business in hats and gloves.
By the time I got home, all I felt like doing was putting on my long underwear and coat, and huddling under the covers with my laptop to provide extra warmth to my lap. Who says a processor that generates a lot of heat is a bad thing? It's not bad in a Beijing November chill before they've turned on the heat in your apartment! The only day I'm looking forward to more than November 15 (turning on the heat day) is December 14--I'll let you guess why. (Only 1 month, 6 days, 6 hours, and 27 minutes as I am writing this. Google Desktop kindly furnishes me with a countdown.)