So I'm sitting in our pristine apartment (we've just finished our weekly cleaning blitz and went all out this time). Everything was dusted and we moved every bit of furniture to sweep then mop then go over with a squeegee. We also washed up, cleaned the kitchen and the bathroom as well as getting washing on and tidying up our rooms. The place is sparkling and I'm chilling on the sofa with a bottle of our favourite milk (not really milk but we call it that anyway because it's white). It's actually a thick fruity mixture and this one is coconut and ties for the top spot with one in the same bottle but with purple decoration not brown and we have no idea what flavour it's meant to be - it's lush though. We've spent the last three days in Shangrao because our school has been having its annual Sports Meeting (the Chinese don't do sports day, they feel the need to extend it over at least three days despite covering less events). So it was that on Wednesday morning Rob and I packed our kit and walked to the bus station in order to meet Ivy at 08:15. Ivy (her English name, she's actually called Ning Jing) is one of our three waibans and is an English teacher - she has the best English of any Chinese we've met. She organised the trip because an old classmate of hers lives there and had offered to pay everything for us.
The bus would take 4 hours and with our experience of the awful bus and state of the roads between Yihuang and Chongren we weren't particularly looking forward to it. We needn't have worried however, the bus we got onto was a coach with proper comfy seats! There was room enough for us to take two each so I had a window seat with my bag next to me and my chair reclined. I plugged my new beats into my playbook (ipod stopped working a few weeks ago…) and spent the next four hours dozing in the sun. The travel cost us 70Y due to a 20Y discount because one of the school's Chinese teachers part owned the bus service to Nanfang and was on the bus with us! We arrived and were met on the side of the road by Ivy's classmate, Mr Su, in a decent black car. The guy was pretty cool, he's a policeman and was the same height as me and Rob! I was actually just taller but when we saw him walking around he looked impressively huge - I hadn't noticed before just how big we look to the Chinese and we were much bulkier than he was! He took us straight to a lovely restaurant where we sampled some unusual specialities of Shangrao before dropping us at our hotel to have the standard midday rest despite the fact that I'd spent the entire morning sleeping. I read more of Sherlock Holmes (we bought 7 SH books…) and I'd just like to point out that Conan Doyle uses the word 'singularly' an infuriating amount of times. Every single novel or short story is filled with every character describing everything as 'singular.'
We met Ivy in the hotel lobby at 3 and she took us for a walk to find a shopping centre to play games. She meant an arcade and we spent a couple of hours trying our competitive hands at every game we could find. Then we left to walk back to the hotel and meet Mr Su who wanted to take us to a restaurant for hotpot. This was an extremely fancy hotpot restaurant - there was a chandelier hanging above our table and instead of a single hotpot to share each person had their own hotpot directly in front of their plate. 13 people were seated around the table and Ivy explained that most did not know each other, some were Mr Su's friends, some were his colleagues, some were his Uncle's friends and some were just friends of other friends. One thing was for certain - they were mostly people with a fair bit of money and power. We were astonished to learn that Ivy couldn't understand what they were saying because of the dialect - we were in one of the closest cities to us! She could understand when they spoke Putonghua though (the Chinese name for Mandarin which is essentially a national language that all Chinese learn as well as their local dialects which are indistinguishable from one another). One thing that did cross the language barrier though was their desire to get everyone else as smashed as possible. Some letters I've received warn me against alcohol etc and I'd like to point out that we actually don't drink much at all here! We only ever drink at banquets which are not very frequent now the initial excitement of our arrival has died down. We still get invited to a fair few but we can get away with not drinking much now. We can't drink on most days because of teaching the next morning and apart from banquets we only drink if we're with other volunteers and again we don't drink much because we're so busy when we do meet up.
My next story won't evidence this explanation much… Everyone was given a glass of baiju at the start (after lots of shouting and checking everyone's was the same level) and so the meal began in style. By the way, baiju is the Chinese people's specialty. It's a white spirit that is roughly between 50 and 60% and is not our drink of choice. Anyway, the ganbei-ing started in earnest and since Rob and I were white and everyone wanted to honour us we were ganbeied the most by absolutely everyone. Once we'd finished the glass we decided that was quite enough baiju we'd stick to beer. We did manage to get some beers but only after drinking quite a bit more baiju - the Chinese automatically fill your glass and can be very forceful if your refuse. If you ask for a little bit they'll fill it to the top then ganbei you and it gets extremely annoying. You literally have to hold your glass under the table with your hand on it and then you might get away with a small amount in glass to toast 'one more person with.' Ivy sneakily poured water in our glasses which looks the same as baiju so for a few minutes we were able to toast in peace while pulling stupid faces after we'd drank to make it look like we'd just downed what tastes like petrol. We then got our beer and were told we should ganbei every single person round the table to show our respect - we persuaded them that only a half glass was necessary not a full one for each person (as China goes these glasses were big!) and that me and Rob should each do half of the table. Of course we each ended up toasting every single person on the table, of course we ended up with more than half glasses each time, of course we were being toasted by other people as we were doing this feat and of course some people we had to toast two or three times. By the end of it everyone wobbled out of the room and piled into cars to go to a pool bar where we were plied with more beer. There were lots of beautiful young Chinese girls and loads of pool tables in the bars and a couple of the guys we were at the meal with immediately went to work their 'charm' despite being middle aged, fat and not particularly attractive. Ivy explained that because they had money and power they assume they should be attractive to any woman; we really didn't like them. We played some pool - the girls were employers of the bar who were exceedingly good at pool (again, Ivy explained that every Chinese man here wanted to play a beautiful girl rather than a friend). Despite this I still beat one of them - I was getting hammered the whole game even though I had started off really well but then she potted the white and black at the same time mwahaha. After a couple of songs on the karaoke and a few more games we were taken back to our hotel where Ivy told us she was going with Mr Su and his friends to KTV but we 'needed to rest.' We asked to go and for some unknown reason they said no. They'd just spent the best part of the last few hours doing their utmost to get us drunk and just when we were they told us to go to sleep… this wasn't going happen I'm afraid so we walked in the hotel and went up then straight back down in the lift and got a taxi to a club. It was decorated in Halloween stuff and we danced about for a while, even though the place was pretty empty, and had a few more beers. Then we visited KFC and returned to our hotel for some kip.
The next morning we met a still slightly drunk Ivy at 07:30 ready for breakfast and a journey to spend the day at San Qin Shan (San Qin Mountain). Over breakfast we told Ivy of last night's deception and adventure and she was amazed, she translated it to Mr Su who just kept giving us thumbs up when he'd finished laughing. Poor Ivy was extremely hungover and proceeded to be sick in a bin before and after getting out of the car to the restaurant, not eating anything and then throwing up again before she got back in the car. She got some plastic bags and tissues and sat groaning in the front seat while Rob and I crammed on either side of a Chinese guy on the back seat. The car wasn't overly big or comfortable and I wish I'd have known before hand that the journey would last nearly three hours. We were held up for ages at a toll station where no traffic was let through for some reason and I spent the rest of the journey trying to sleep in an increasingly hot car, in an uncomfortable position, around bumpy and windy mountain roads. I felt uncomfortable so we felt sorry for Ivy who was quietly being sick at regular intervals in the front of the car. By the way, the second journey I've spent sitting behind a puking woman. At least Ivy was quieter and it didn't smell. When we arrived Ivy decided to go and sleep in a nearby hotel and the two guys vanished leaving me and Rob to San Qin Mountain on our own. We went and bought tickets (lucky we even bought money considering Ivy had said 'only pay for transport') which were an absolute scam. You had to buy a cable car ticket but it was only later we found out that was one way - how else are you supposed to get off the mountain?! So at the end we had to splash out on another cable car ticket, again lucky we even had money because we could have easily spent it all and there was nowhere to get money on top of the mountain. On top of this you had to buy a ticket to enter the natural beauty spot - the same one that the cable car led to. It was the only place that the cable car went and there was nothing else up there apart from this beauty spot so all in all a pretty big scam. 330Y lighter I was sitting in a cable car gently swaying up the side of some impressive mountains. We were almost at the top then discovered it was a false peak and saw the cable cars stretching far into the distance up the side of an even bigger mountain. The first we passed over had been towering above us but the sight of this new one dwarfed it. We were heading up between two mountains that were covered in green forestry for the most part but had magnificent rock formations randomly sticking up.
The top wasn't quite what we were expecting. A path went to the left and the right and we took the left one. Each had been signposted with something we assumed to be the name of the particular walk and we thought we'd wander round one then give the other one a shot. These paths weren't just any paths though. They were concrete walkways hanging off the side of the mountains; meandering around the rocks and following the natural curves. We set off in good spirits and when we reach some stairs leading off the path we decided to take it thinking they would lead to a viewpoint. Each set of stairs led to another set of stairs and we climbed higher and higher up stupid amounts of curving steep steps. At one point I ran ahead a little bit and while bounding up the steps two at a time in a carefree manner I suddenly found myself on the floor staring at popping coloured stars and wondering what happened. What had happened was I had ran straight into a bloody tree branch hanging right across the path at the perfect level for an Oompa Loompa or your average Chinese person to walk under. Clutching my head in the hope of holding my brains in we set off at a slightly slower pace and finally reached somewhere. It was a random ramshackle restaurant with a souvenir stand attached. Lots of Chinese tourists were milling around and many paths each with different names branched off from here. Despite being in the shadow of one of the mostimpressive rock formations of San Qin Mountain we were still the main attraction and after dragging ourselves away from more photos we chose the path with more steps - our theory being we've climbed this high we might as well keep going rather than losing the height.
We soon discovered that the names on the sign were the names of rock formations that looked like stuff and while there we admired brilliant rocks that resembled a new born chick, a Taoist worshipping the moon, a young lady with open breasts, the giant boa, the old woman, the fox eating the chicken and many more (their names not ours…). Some were stretching the imagination to the limits to say the least and the new born chick and the fox eating the chicken tied in top spot for just looking like normal rocks. The Chinese were either really scraping the barrel, have extremely vivid imaginations, better eyesight than us or it's possible something was lost in translation. We continued to trek up the steep concrete steps cut into the mountain side and every twist and turn brought a new sight of stunning scenery. Eventually we reached a peak and chose a path that started to head down. We were aiming towards a big white building that looked good and in the hope of finding a path that would return us to the cable car down as we were now pretty tired. Upon reaching the big white building we found a map and found this building was another cable car place with a few souvenir stands and food for sale and we were just under half way round a huge loop that would take us back to where we started. Luckily we had managed to choose paths that would keep us going in a fairly simple to follow big loop. Faced with the knowledge we weren't yet half way and the stairs we could see winding up another towering mountain we began to plod. We made good progress and climbed some enormous flights of steep steps through the 'gates of happiness and longevity' (basically the steps disappeared between a towering crack in the middle of a huge rock). Eventually we discovered a path bearing left marked with way we needed to go and we began our final descent which curved around the side of the mountain that we started on. The views at San Qin Mountain were spectacular and I think it's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to in my life.
After purchasing cool cowboy hats and small souvenirs to send home we climbed back into the uncomfortable car and did our best to doze away the long journey to Shangrao. When we got back we were left for a while to have a rest (obviously we needed to recover from the tiring sleep in the car home) and then Mr Su took us to a restaurant where I ate an absolute shedload of food. I was eating long after everyone else and finished off the entire barrel of rice on the table to the astonishment of Ivy and Mr Su. When I'd sorted out my appetite Mr Su took us to the cinema but explained that he couldn't stay because his son was ill and he had to go home. This is when things took an odd turn - we saw his wife at the cinema and she didn't seem particularly pleased to see him. If their son was ill then who's he at home with? He bought us tickets for Bourne Legacy 4 (In English but with Chinese subtitles) and we were surprised to see his wife reappear when Mr Su had left and walk into the cinema while doing her best to ignore us. I said 'ni hao' when I passed her walking in and was treated to being completely blanked. We were even more astonished to find her in the same film as us two seats down from me (in Chinese cinemas your seat number is on the ticket). The empty seat between us stayed empty though she occasionally broke her stony silence to mutter something to the guy behind her, also sitting on his own. This guy suddenly appeared in the seat next to me when the lights went down, like I wouldn't notice, and they sat together for the entire film. When we left I kept my eye on them and they left separately but the as soon as they thought we were out of sight they reappeared together as a twosome. Not very subtle at all.
Anyway, we got a good night's sleep and a lush breakfast provided by the hotel. Then we got back on a bus to return to Yihuang. It wasn't nearly as comfortable, we had to change at Fuzhou for a much worse bus and the journey took us 6 hours but it wasn't too bad. When we got in we spent a good 3 hours tidying and cleaning the flat from top to bottom then waited for Beth and Cat to rock up for another fun filled weekend visit.
And that's me pretty much up to date for the first time in a while!