Maijishan and Immortals' Cliff

Trip Start Oct 19, 2007
Trip End Jan 23, 2011

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Flag of China  , Gansu,
Monday, August 2, 2010

I had a lovely day today, even though it started off less than blissfully. This is another way of saying I woke up with stomach cramps and the runs in a room with a squattie. Ugh, why me?! Then again, having eaten dodgy meat baozi outside the bus station for breakfast in Pingliang, oily spicy noodles for dinner in Tianshui and then consumed two cups of  boiled tap water before going to bed the night before, I might have been asking for it. I popped the pills I got in Hailaer for just such a situation and went out to meet Mr Chen the driver (one of the bus station workers I talked to who convinced me to go to Maijishan called him for me - 200RMB for the day). So far so good, either the pills work or it was only a mild case of the blahs.

The first stop was Maijishan, famous for Buddhist grottos. I didn’t really think I was big on this kind of thing (perhaps I was soured by almost melting in the crowds at Leshan last year) but it turns out I am completely mistaken. I loved Maijishan. The combination of old sculptures, cliffs, forests, mountains and climbing had me completely hooked. I went for a bit of a walk in the forest behind the grottos too after coming down from the maze of steps that lead around the cliff face. Fabulous. (Tickets 75 RMB, 10 RMB for the little electric buggy to get there if you can’t be stuffed walking the 3.5 kms uphill to Maijishan, #34 minibuses from the Tianshui train station seem to go there).

Next stop was Immortals’ Cliff (Xian Ren Ya). I had not actually even been planning to go here but I had lots of time left so thought, why not? It was brilliant. Cliffs and trails up mountains, old temples, a lake, forest… I wandered around the trails for a good three to four hours. Long enough to make me sincerely wish that I had eaten lunch before entering the park. Oops. While I was at the 18 Rohan temple, I met a young woman who was selling candles and incense. She said hello then followed me into the temple to continue chatting. At first I was a little on edge wondering if she was going to ask me to buy something. What I should have been wondering was when on earth I became so cynical. She comes from a family of farmers who live near the entrance of the park and sells candles to help her family out. She had never spoken to a foreigner before, was thrilled that we were able to have a conversation, decided to ditch her job for the day and wander through the rest of the park with me considering it fate that we‘d bumped into each other in the first place. She convinced me to climb up onto the landing at Tizidong when I would have steered clear of it because it looked rickety and I was worried about getting told off for climbing over (or worse, falling through) the antiquities. All the other workers in the park seemed to know her and one of the photographers dumped a customer to take our photo together. I was horrified when she paid the photographer (who initially actually refused her money), but got soundly boxed about the ears by both of them when I insisted on paying. I got my own back later by treating her to ice cream, before leaving the park. She was pretty sad to see me go and asked that I consider going back to her house for something to eat, or even staying the night at her family’s place. I was pretty bummed because I really would have like to, but I couldn’t leave Mr Chen outside starving and I had already bought my ticket to Linxia the next morning as well as having paid for that night in the Zhao Dai Suo, so I said no. We swapped phone numbers, hugged and said goodbye. What a lovely random thing to happen in the middle of Gansu. Mr Chen thought it was a great pity that I hadn’t taken her up on the offer to stay the night, which I didn’t really need to hear because I thought so too. But I got over it fairly quick because the two of us chatted (mostly) politics pretty much all the way back to Tianshui. When he dropped me off, Mr Chen pointed out a couple of good places to get some chao mian pian. He also told me to call him if I needed any help while in Gansu, particularly if anybody gave me a hard time. I was touched.

I staggered (apparently I walked up one mountain too many) into a shop and ordered a small bowl of chao mian pian and asked the cook to go light on the meat and heavy on the vegetables. She did and it was the best food I’ve had since I left Ningxia. Spicy, salty and loaded in vegetables. The young guy who works at the noodle restaurant came and sat down in front of me, which for a second or too I thought I was going to have to object to, assuming that he was following in the footsteps of the old ladies the other day and was getting a good seat to watch the foreigner eating (as in about 80 cm from my face). It turns out he was just bored, extremely curious and wanting to chat. So we chatted for about half and hour.

He was an interesting character. I’m not sure how much of his story to believe. To be honest I hope it’s not all true because it made me pretty sad. I assumed he was a high school student and asked if he was on holiday, but he said he didn’t go to school and didn’t even graduate from primary school. I asked him what had happened and if he could read. He said he could and that his mother and father had fought a lot and then finally divorced when he was young. He stayed with his dad in Linxia, while his younger brother stayed with his mum in Xinjiang. He ended up going a bit off the deep end and ran away. He’s not been home since. The teacher in me gets all maternal when I hear about people who didn’t make it all the way through their schooling for whatever reason. He was really curious about foreign countries (like everybody in this city) so I suggested a website where he could learn languages for free. He wanted to know if he and a friend could drop by the Zhao Dai Suo to chat later on, at which point I (mostly) feigned great fatigue and talked about the earliness of tomorrow’s bus and how I was likely to fall asleep as soon as I packed my bags and washed up (teacher pangs and wanting to encourage somebody who has had a rough time do not stretch as far as allowing a couple of strangers to pop by my room in the middle of the night for a chat, thus eating into my beauty sleep, which after 3 weeks on the road, I am in desperate need of), but that he could go to my Chinese blog to check out the travel photos there and add me on QQ. He seemed pretty pleased with that. Then we said goodbye.

What a day! And all this in a place I wasn’t even sure I wanted to come to. The world certainly works in very mysterious ways.
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