30.10.2011 - 01.11.2011
Wu Dang Shang – 30th October
Wu Dang Shan is a mountain about 500km south east of Xi’an, it is known as being the home of Kung Fu and Taichi. Buried deep in these mountains there have been schools that for centuries have taught those that have dedicated their whole lives to learn about Martial Arts. The techniques of Taichi , Shaolin Boxing and Meditation are all taught in schools around this misty mountain. This is a place that I wanted to see, and I was desperate to escape this bubble of mass tourism that I had been caught up in. Few travellers had head of it so I knew that this place would be slightly off the beaten track and I would not see many other westerners, which at the time sounded like a bloody good idea. I didn’t realise that the by going on this little trip that I would be putting myself in some of the most testing situations I had been in so far.
It started from the word go really, the bus ride I thought was to Wu Dang Shan was in fact only to Shirya and from here I still had some way to go, in fact what I hadn’t realised at this point, was I still needed to take another 3 buses, one rickshaw and one taxi. Not knowing a word of Mandarin, and armed with only a lonely planet that had half the pages missing there is no way on earth that I could have managed this without the help from a guy who went completely out of his way for me. He showed me where I needed to go and how I should get there. He even paid for my 20p (20 Yuen) tickets and wouldn’t accept back from me. All he wanted was a photograph of him with the foreign guy.
After a torturous time getting to Wu Dang Shan I was completely depleted. I was dumped in a scrap yard on the high street of the town. I stood there on the street corner and took one big gulp, I looked around at the place I had just landed in, and the place took one big look at me, we didn’t get on at all. I had landed in a large scale version of peasant-ville and I, being the only guy with meat on the bones, was lunch. I went straight to the train ticket kiosk, and bought a train ticket to get out of town, and I took first class thank you, I needed it since I had been through hell to get here. The town was not how I was expecting; it was a town that had been built in a hurry, people had descended upon it in their masses and they were all spilling onto the streets with nowhere else to go. The muddy road that ran through the city was filled with trucks roaring through the town, leaving behind a cloud of dust and black poison. I had to get out of here. It was not that I had felt physically threatened; I have never once had an issue with that on my travels. I was not being harassed or abused. It was a state of mind that I had gotten in. Travelling on your own in China will do that to you. People will talk openly about you, they will point and look, joke about you with their friends. They are curious about you, about why you are travelling in their country, some of them have not seen westerners before, but they are so blazon with their curiosity. It is extremely hard work and the state of paranoia I had gotten in was the worst I had experienced.
I was encouraged to hang around only once I had bought my tickets out of this place. By chance I bumped into a Belgian guy who had been studying Taichi in Wu Dang Shang for 2 years, who had briefly brought me to my senses. By the time I had got to my hotel, which of course I had not booked in advance, only figured I would ‘wing it’, I had been travelling for over 8 hours. I was now 1500 meters above sea level in an isolated hotel on a misty mountain.
The next day, although I was still emotionally damaged from the previous day’s episode I had figured it was all worth it. The mountain was covered in a deep mist which gave it an eerie feel. Walking around the temples you could hear the hypnotic chanting and rhythmic banging of drums as Kung Fu students took part in morning meditation. I walked past the schools and saw the Kung Fu Masters walking around, probably never having left the mountain for decades. I could smell the aroma of the incense burning all around and it only added to the mystique of the mountain.
The hike was a tough one and it took me to the peak and back down again to the hotel, it took me around 6 hours.
Back at the hotel, Jackie Chan happened to be working in the hotel I was in, I watched him throw himself down flights of stairs doing flying kicks making those Kung Fu noises I only thought really happened in the films. He was a small guy but was a fierce little bastard. He reminded me of Cato, that little Chinese guy with the slick back hair who would spring up and pounce on an unsuspecting Mr Clouseau from behind a door. This guy was doing the same, springing up from every corner and finishing his workmates off with a flying roundhouse kick. Strange.
I now had to think about my next stop, I wanted to do a cruise on the Yangtzee River. My train I found out was at 09:23, there was no chance that I was going to be able to get down the mountain and to the train station in time for 09:23. I had to check out of the hotel early to stay somewhere closer to the station, but it was now 16:00. Once again I was homeless and without a train ticket, only this time I was on top of a mountain.
I found a bus, and at the bottom of the mountain I flagged a taxi…. “Lulipig”, it’s the word I knew as it was the name where the train station was, but I thought that it was not so far away. The taxi took me out of town, I began to worry, he was talking to people on his mobile, and it was to do with me I am sure. He stopped on the edge of town, I started to worry but I had spotted a “hotel” nearby, if I needed to I could take refuge in there. I was asking what is going on, he wouldn’t take me further. He was waiting for his friend. No way, I know what’s going to happen now, your mate is going to come and this is the time when I get to meet my maker, well that isn’t going to happen. My paranoia had returned with a vengeance. It was dark, the street was not lit up and I was in between towns on a dusty road. “What the fuck is going on here!!” I was genuinely shitting myself, I was physically shaking such was my state of mind, but it must have just looked like I was one angry bastard, I was shouting and waving my arms about, I gave him the fare and started off for the hotel when another taxi arrived who wanted me to get into his cab. I threw some more money at him and said forget about it, I was going elsewhere. The taxi drivers carried on trying to get me in the second cab, but they seemed genuine. “Sod it” I thought, I got in and prepared for the beasting, I will give as good as I get I thought. I was taken further away out of town and then he came to an abrupt stop by some side street. He pointed up the street to a big building which I could only assume was the train station, but the street was narrow and filled with vermin. I cautiously walked up to the street, still perturbed after the taxi ride. This was when I was at my most vulnerable. I was on my own, with plenty of cash on me, plenty of saleable assets, I had no train ticket and no place to stay and it was already dark. I was immediately accosted by an overly eager family who wanted me to sleep at their hotel for the night. They followed me to the train station, almost begging me to stay with them. They were a family of 3, a couple who looked as if they had seen better days, who had a daughter who could speak a little English, she was not more than 7 years old and was their little treasure. They all followed me to the train station, I bought my ticket and began the negotiation of how much I would pay for a room, we haggled and they conceded £2, I agreed to stay for the price of £8. The realisation that I would be staying at their hotel was overwhelming, they enthusiastically showed me to the building where they would fuss around me almost panting and out of breath, their 7 year old daughter checked me in. I did at this point feel quite relieved. The room was very basic but I didn’t care. The next step I needed to get some food. I went back down to the street which, with ticket in hand and a place to rest I could now walk with a bit more courage and swagger. I sat at a street vendor stall where I ate some spicy noodles I bought for the grand total of 60 pence. On the street I am the star of the show, but tonight people seemed friendlier and happy to see a foreigner who was casually eating in this dirty street, it allowed me to relax a little. The next day I checked out and the father came scurrying out to see me, he slept in a room behind the counter. He was wearing bright red long johns and was again fussing, I was glad that I had stayed there.
I am making my way from Wu Dang Shan to Xiangfan where I will change trains for the one bound to Yi Chang. From here I want to catch a cruise to go up river to Chongquin where I will be able to simply relax and be a tourist for a while. The options I have are to go on a Chinese cruise ship, or a tourist cruise ship. I opt for the tourist cruise ship, I would like to speak with English speaking people once again, and I want to be able to relax a bit more, being a foreigner in China is impossible.
My £8 a night ensuite bathroom
My £8 hotel room