© 2010 xiao The Mystery

Crouching Tigers, Hidden Dragons

One praise for the Chinese transport system. One full year after my travels to China, as I’m writing about my experiences, I think to myself, of all the sketchy travel plans and the random places I’ve been to at random times, never I’ve been lost or sent to the wrong place. The Chinese system of transport with its trains and planes and most importantly voyager busses is truly a marvel. While western system are more techno-intensive, the Chinese system is seemingly completely based on people with their pen/paper and the all important cellphone. You could be shopping for roadside snacks and if you mention you want to be in another city by tonight, he would whip out his phone book, make a couple of calls and arrange for you to be picked up right where you are by a motorcycle, driven to the gas station the driver of the long distance bus agreed to fuel up and pick you up at, board the bus and pay for the remainder of the bus’s trip for a nominal cut of the deal for the food vendor (often less than a dollar).

This is how I got to the bamboo forest, 蜀南竹海. And fuck the 20 minute motorcycle ride with a laptop and camera sling bag and a 20kg rucksack sucks ass.

Later, I found out I was the only person on the bus heading there. But it was ok. The bus driver, no less expert in his people business has already planned it out for me. He had arranged for another smaller van to wait for me at a road junction who took me into the forest without extra cost. While customers work with cash, the primary medium of exchange amongst these merchants seem to be something else. They work with a system of points/favours. A cab driver who convinces a customer that a tourist attraction is worthy of a visit? The cab gets his fare but he also gets points from the operator of the attraction that he can exchange for a free car wash for example.

Taken by a small van into the forest? Sounds like how every kidnap story begins? Perhaps. Was this the very thing every sketchy China stories has warned me against? Yes. But then again, isn’t this why I came to China? Magnificent sights yes but to figure out life as it is and not as a story, not as someone else’s experience.

So here I am at the bottom of the mountain forest. Here, I’ll rest a night before moving up the mountain in the morning. Besides, out here in the woods, there really isn’t anything to do after the sun sets. When I arrived at maybe 10pm, the owners seem to have gone to sleep long ago and woke up to make some simple food for me.

The next morning, a bit of sight seeing before heading to the middle of the mountain. The climate here is truly peculiar. The descriptions of romanticized historical war stories have not exaggerated their descriptions of the battlefields. This forest does give the feeling of fictions. Extremely dense fogs, accentuated mountainous terrains and heavy vegetation makes one think a massive ambush might spring right out of the woodworks at any time.

The fog is so dense that standing at the bottom of a house, I couldn’t see the top of it. When it clears slightly, I can catch a momentary glimpse of waves of fogs traveling through the trees downhill before the vision becomes filled again.

Not only the visibility is almost zero, the place is incredibly humid as well. This would serve as a solid preparation for Hong Kong as I sweat my ass off climbing wet slippery moss-laden rocks leading up the mountain.

Just as I’m invigorating myself in this amazing sight, some more “professional” tourists zipped by the mountain road in their black Audis. Then we have the men in suits and the women in high heels in what would otherwise be a treacherous mountain.

As a side note, wedding photography is really going on in China. Most importantly, many of them are outdoors in scenic areas.

Since 丽江 (Lijian), I was somewhat influenced by the restaurant owner who says he takes every single landscape pictures with a tripod. So now with his tripod, I’ve been eager to try it out and see the difference. The busy streets of Lhasa wasn’t suitable and the Bamboo forest is my first opportunity to test it out. What a hassle… So glad it was a carbon fiber tripod instead of a metal one.

Even away from the bustling city, from the stressful and the superficial, people still find all sorts of ways to make money. They would even direct trekking routes to loop over water a couple of time such that it becomes uncrossable without paying rafters.

Then a huge trek to the mountains for I don’t know how many hours. Along the way, I passed by a filming spot of Crouching Tigers, Hidden Dragons (could imagine why people would want to film here). On the cliff edges of the mountain, I have no idea how high up I am. With the fog, I couldn’t see a meter off from me. And then the winds came and occasionally, for 5 seconds, I would see the other peaks of the mountain. Incredibly, people have built complexes of temples and houses right into the sides of the mountain.

The next day, after eating some fresh chickens from the backyard, I rented a bamboo raft and only got a long round stick for a paddle. While I was struggling in the water, the woman sitting in their waterfront restaurant-house, playing mahjong with her bunch of friends would occasionally scream at me: “Paddle with it!”. Then why not give me a real paddle? Having given up after a while, I just sat down in the raft, bathed in sunshine and ate sunflower seeds for half an hour.

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