Only a five hour bus ride away from the bustling metropolis of Shanghai lies the tranquil mountain range of Huang Shan. Buses depart seven times a day from the Anhui Province, Huang Shan is famed for its beautiful scenery, and depending on the day can offer tourists a view above the clouds.
For RMB 50 a night, my friends and I Shanghai-Huang Shan bus. That afternoon when we arrived, the manager of the hostel—his English name was Dave—picked us up from the bus stop. He drove like a maniac, accelerating around pedestrians, whaling on his horn and constantly crossing into the left lane to pass slow cars. When the road began to twist around the mountains, Dave sped around each turn and sent us flying from side to side in the back seat. Read on after the jump for more on Huang Shan....
After about twenty minutes, we miraculously arrived at the hostel without driving off the side of a cliff.
Starving, we threw our bags in our rooms and asked Dave if there was any place close to eat. "Here," he said, and took us to the basement where a series of round glass tables stood. We ordered several rice and vegetable dishes, and were astonished at how good the food was. Dave's wife ran the kitchen, and their child roamed the room while we ate, occasionally blurting out "Wàiguó rén! Wàiguó rén!" (Foreigner! Foreigner!).
We then walked over to Lover's Valley (Qíngrén Gǔ, 情人谷), famed for being one of the set locations for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. The gorge is a path and set of stairs that ascends a beautiful blue stream. Rock carvings along the walkway depict ancient Chinese love stories, and toward the top is a giant red painting of the character for love, 爱. There is also a zip-line which sends screaming tourists flying down over the stream and trees below for RMB 30.
We got home later that night and walked to another restaurant. The woman in charge persistently pressured us to order the local mountain-deer dish that cost RMB 150. After ten minutes of explaining that we did not want the deer, she finally let us defer to a cheaper pork dish to eat with our rice. The food, like that of our hostel, was surprisingly good.
It was late by the time we got back and we immediately collapsed on our beds, exhausted. My friend Addie and I shared a room, our beds across from each other, and right as sleep began to approach I remembered a time my mother stripped apart an entire bed in a New York hotel in search for bed bugs. The thought came to me as I noticed a large bug on the screen outside our window. I then said something I have since come to regret, as it robbed from me the blissful ignorance I had enjoyed up until that point. "Maybe we should check for bed bugs."
"How do you do that?" Addie asked.
"It's easy," I said. "You just strip the sheets and look for little bugs."
"Alright. That's probably a good idea I guess," he said. His bed was first. We pulled off the sheet and inspected the mattress—nothing. "Well that's good news," he said happily. On to the next. I grabbed one end of my bed's sheet and began to pull. On the mattress lay no less than four of the bugs I had seen at our window, and several clung to the underside of the sheet itself. Addie screamed in a high-pitched schoolgirl tone I had never heard him reach before. We opened up the bedroom door and threw the sheet out into the hall. Back in the room we used flip flops to force the bugs off the mattress, then smashed them into the wood floor.
I didn't sleep much that night. I couldn't help thinking about the bugs that inhabited the bed before me. Visions came to me, the bugs in human-like form. There was an army gathering, a general giving a speech about how they would march and take back their bed from the evil man who took it. I swear I could hear them in the walls, running towards me. Before I knew it the clock bellowed the six o'clock alarm we had set. Dave would be driving us to the mountain's base in half an hour.
Over a congee breakfast in the basement, Addie and I debated telling Dave about the bug problem. "He's been so nice so far, I don't want to make him feel bad," I said. "Yeah but he still should know," countered Addie. We decided to leave him unaware for the time being. After breakfast we hopped in Dave's car and sped off to the bus stop which would take us to the mountain's entrance.
After the RMB 120 entrance fee, tourists are given a choice. Either pay another RMB 80 and have a ski lift type contraption carry you up to the peak, or climb several thousand stairs free of charge. We chose the latter. The next two to three hours were a leg/back/morale-breaking walk up a endless stone stairway that has since blurred in my mind into a very-forgettable memory of exhaustion. What was most disheartening were the tiny old Chinese men constantly passing us carrying heavy bags of supplies and bamboo poles. I am 18 years old and have never felt so nonathletic.
Upon reaching the top, however, every last step was worth it. The mountain, which is known to have inspired many of China's famous landscape paintings and poets like Li Bai, is even more beautiful than its reputation. We took in the view for a couple minutes, then ate the rice lunch Dave packed us that morning. One thing that struck me was how much man-made infrastructure there was amidst the natural beauty of the mountain; cement walkways paved the mountainside, and the hotels at the peak resembled a city on top of the world.
As we walked the path, Chinese tourists constantly stopped us to ask if they could have their picture taken with us. Addie is a black man, and they were especially interested in getting a picture with him. I felt like the drummer of a band, busy signing autographs but not quite as sought after as the lead singer. Often they would first get a picture with just Addie, then usher in the rest of the foreigners for a second shot. I couldn't help but wonder which one they would choose to frame and hang on the wall at home.
At around four o'clock we began our descent—this time we paid the RMB 80. By that time we were tired and hungry, eager to get back to our hostel's basement restaurant. We called Dave, who picked us up from the mountain bus stop. He once again began whipping the car around the road that hugged the side of the cliff.
"It's time he knew about the bed bugs," Addie said as the car barreled on. "Dave, there's something we need to tell you...."