–Paul Lowney. This is what I read yesterday on the back of Mr. Dai’s shirt (program director of PiJ and foreign affairs at Jishou University) as we were walking up the stairs after having hiked through the Zuolongxia Gorge in Western Hunan. Looking back, the amount of smiles and laughter that we have experienced while in China is exponentially larger than the amount of speaking we’ve done. Sometimes, the only way to get past a language barrier is by laughing.
This weekend was our first weekend trip: we visited Mr. Dai’s hometown– Wangcun, home of the Tujia people, fishing warriors. One of our students, June, is also from here. We arrived on Saturday after a two-hour long drive from Jishou and we immediately settled into the hotel and freshened up to get ready for our hike. I’m always amazed by the fact that all the hotels in China have a computer with access to internet in every room. I checked my email and headed out the door with my roommate Jessica, who managed to have a ten minute power nap and actually have a dream.
Zuolongxia is a place that is can be defined in two words: slippery death. http://bbs.chinadaily.com.cn/thread-757000–1-1.html that link takes you to some photos of the place where we were “hiking.” Hiking because when I think of hiking it is me on a dusty, sunny road in the middle of a mountain. Not this. Not a walk in the middle of a river gorge where you have to hold on to iron chains in order to avoid slipping, or falling, into the water underneath you; where cool water sprinkles your face as you near the waterfalls. Jessica, Nick, Alyssa, Tony and I decided to go swimming in a waterfall, with some disapproving looks from our guide. My white shirt, so as to follow the tradition that I always get soaked when I’m wearing one, and orange shorts were drenched in water. Very cold, cold, not so bad, mmm water. Afterwards, as we continued our hike up the mountains of Zuolongxia, following the course of the river, we all decided to take a dip in another small waterfall where I found half of a hat which I proceeded to put on my head. Chinese tourists would stare at us, pointing and laughing at the foreigners who were voluntarily choosing to get wet.
We ended the hike with a delicious piece of watermelon, so common in China one would think it’s Chinese but it’s actually called Western melon– funny thing. That evening, we went to the restaurant of one of Mr. Dai’s classmates whose daughters seemed to love Christian and Alex, aggressively posing in the pictures they took with them, one even asking for Christian’s number. We ate goose feet (very chewy but tasty, Dad), beef, pork, dumplings, manto with condensed milk, mini fried shrimps, egg and tomato soup, eggplant, a fish head cooked to perfection, tea and water. After getting back to the hotel, Reuben, Alyssa, Kelsey, Linda and I played mahjong. Mahjong is like Chinese rummy with only 3 suits: bamboo, swirls, and “the red pieces.” Finally went to bed around 1130-12 and slept for a glorious 9 hours straight for the first time since last week.
This morning, we woke up at 10, had rice tofu for breakfast and then proceeded to go to the center of Wangcun, which has waterfalls, small shops, and beautiful wooden houses. We walked for about 3 hours in the hot sun, sweating and cleansing all those toxins as Jessica put it until we were about to melt. I bought some gifts and two bracelets– update on bracelet count: 12. After a lunch at the same restaurant of spicy beef, dumplings, egg and tomato soup, eggs and tomato, bok choy, eggplant, peppers, mini fried shrimp, and a crispy fried dough with sweet corn and honey, we got on the bus and headed back to Jishou– another hot two-hour drive, made better by the wind coming in through our open windows. As soon as we got off the bus once we arrived to Jishou, a man in a motorcycle honked at us to get out of the way. Yup, it feels good to be back home.