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11/05/07 - A Leap of Faith and Bantering Locals

Perhaps calling it “a leap of faith” is a little dramatic. The leap was more a jump, or in fact, a fall. However, the faith was very important as I had to believe that while a lot of things in China are often good imitations but actually fake, this bungee rope was going to take my weight and remain in one piece. Let’s just say I didn’t feel hugely optimistic.

Wu Yi (五一)

Last week was the May national holiday, which in China is literally called five one (wu yi or五一). In celebration, Bob and I decided to escape the city smog and head for the hills, which surprisingly are only a few hours bus journey from central Beijing. Unfortunately, China’s national holidays are like England’s bank holidays apart from the tourist locations here have to cope with 1.3 billion holidaymakers as opposed to a mere 60 million in England. Therefore, on arrival at the bus stop we landed in a swarm of Chinese tourists whose holiday plans were identical to our own.

The queuing system in China is similar to the traffic etiquette. On the road, the person with the loudest and most frequently used horn always has right of way, while when queuing, the person with the sharpest elbows and who pushes the most reaches the front first. I am still learning that if you are polite and wait patiently in China, you don’t get anywhere fast.

Shidu

After a fairly uncomfortable 3-hour bus journey, we arrived at Shidu, which in Chinese literally means “ten ferry crossings”. From the bus we had seen the 55m high bungee platform, so we head straight to the ticket office before our nerves, or common sense, could change our minds. It cost a reassuringly expensive 180 Yuan (~£12) for one jump, plus an extra 50 Yuan for photos of your, perhaps final, descent.

Having taken the cable car up the hill, we had to sign a form stating we wouldn’t blame anyone if we died, not that we’d be around to do anything about it anyway. Next, we were weighed to check the bungee rope would take the extra strain produced by oversized Westerners, and then our weights were branded on our hands in red pen. It was slightly concerning that all the other people were being marked in black pen; we assumed it was a signal to the operators to use the old rope for the laowei (foreigners).

We then had to put up with an uncomfortably long wait before our numbers came up and it was out turn to plummet to our fate. The sun was setting over the mountains as we watched numerous Chinese tourists jumping, or sometimes being pushed, off the platform. Eventually it was out turn and Bob went first. The whole experience was a bit of a blur for him, not because he couldn’t remember what happened, but because he had to take off his glasses so could hardly see the 55m drop in front of him.

Watching Bob did nothing for calming my nerves, so I tried to focus my attention on striking a silly pose for the pre-jump photo. The next thing I knew I was flying through the air, before the rope kicked in and I bounced back up into the sky. It was an awesome experience, even though it only lasted a matter of seconds.

Lost Cost Fun

The following day our activities were limited by a lack of funding. The bungee jump and the hotel had taken their toll on our wallets so we decided to climb a mountain, a very low cost form of entertainment. We head for some hills that weren’t drowning in Chinese tourists and in order to guarantee avoiding other holidaymakers, we decided to head off-road and take a route where there wasn’t even a path.

An Encounter With A Local

While taking a break an hour into our expedition, we stumbled upon an old man who appeared on the other side of the valley looking after a herd of sheep. We went over to give him some banter, although as usual Bob did most of the talking and I just chipped in whenever I recognized a word or two. He was called Mr Liu and he drew the characters of his name in the dust on the floor, which didn’t aid my understanding but does add to the quite idyllic tale.

He invited us back to his house for tea, however we said we’d go after completing mission: climb big mountain. We chose one, Mr Liu told us it was a bad idea as the route was covered in bushes, we ignored his advice and set out anyway. An interesting decision seeing as he has probably lived in those hills for many years, while we were just visiting for the day. The arrogance of Brits abroad.

Off The Beaten Track

By the time we reached the summit, my legs were ready to drop off, I had been poked in the eye and my arms and legs looked like they’d been attacked by an alley-full of angry tomcats. However, the views were spectacular and we questioned whether anyone had been there ever before. Probably not, for one simple reason, they weren’t so stupid as to take on a mountain full of aggressive shrubbery that had no path.

Descending through the forest of prickly bushes was even less fun the second time around, however we eventually made our way along the valley to Mr Liu’s house, which turned out to be more of a hut than house. It made my apartment in Daxing seem like Buckingham Palace and we felt quite bad because they only had two glasses, so they couldn’t drink tea at the same time as us. They also served us dry fruit and nuts that they had grown themselves.

We didn’t stay long as we had to catch a bus back to Beijing, so we said our thankyous, took a few photos and head back into the blazing sun. We promised to send some copies of the photos although I’m not convinced the address is quite specific enough: Hut 2, on a random mountainside, somewhere not far from Beijing, China. (Obviously I’ve just made that up because I couldn’t understand the characters in his actual address).

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See also Lao Beijing Blog


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