Three Flew Over the Infected Chicken's Nest
Trip Start Aug 29, 2012
25Trip End Ongoing
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No Kung Pao chicken…
Everyone was talking about it. A new strain of the bird flu, H7N9, had just killed its first few victims…in Shanghai! Terrified, we stopped eating meat immediately! Well…that is except for pork, lamb, and beef of course. But no more Kung Pao chicken for us!
We had three days off for the Qingming Festival in the beginning of April. Health nuts that we are, Huang Qian and I decided to get the heck out of dodge and go to the countryside in neighboring Zhejiang Province. Even though we planned on doing some strenuous hiking, the threat of the bird flu was so ominous that Sophie decided to tag along, too.
No good deed…
I pushed my bus seat all the way back and put my feet up on the back of Huang Qian's chair. We’d finally passed Hangzhou, the black hole where hours just drop away while waiting to get through holiday traffic. It was a sunny spring day and all the passengers were relaxing, windows open, enjoying Titanic in Chinese on the Greyhound screens.
I was drifting off when I felt something soft hit my cheek. It was a small white feather. Where did this come from? Much to my horror, I found myself looking up at an enormous truck full of live chickens towering over our bus! We followed the chicken bus through Zhejiang Province, hoping our hearts would go on as we watched Titanic sink.
After we arrived, we walked up the hill to historic Zhuge Bagua Village, home to descendants of the famous strategist, Zhuge Liang from the 3rd century (source: Wikipedia...did not know this while we were there). We sat by the lake munching on countryside snacks and absentmindedly watching Zhuge’s descendants wash clothes in the lake by hand. It seemed like more work than it was worth…we couldn’t be the only ones wondering if they had fancy washing machines at home and were just doing it by hand for the benefit of the holiday tourists.
The hotel near the lake where we had planned to stay was completely booked. Oddly in the Christmas spirit all of the sudden, we walked around the village looking for a place to stay, wondering aloud if we could ask one of the residents if they had an extra room or perhaps a manger. Rather than finding rustic lodging or wise men, we found more and more loose chickens.
We joined some tourists from Zhejiang who were nice enough to drive us into town to find a place to stay. After a night of playing cards, drinking beer, and watching dramatic local programming, we awoke at dawn and caught a motor-taxi to Daciyansi Hanging Temple.
Daciyansi Hanging Temple is built into the side of a mountain near Zhuge Bagua Village. We could see it from the road the day before and it didn’t look that high. We started climbing the stone steps, wet with morning mist. Pretty soon, we realized it was a trick mountain, just like Huangshan! Every time you victoriously climb to the last, slippery stair and think you’re at the top, you turn to find yourself facing an even steeper, longer staircase.
Huang Qian and I had trained for this on Huangshan, but Sophie wasn’t quite up to the challenge. She ended up lagging a staircase behind us all the way up. We stopped for a snack and she caught up. "Sarah, I feel so sorry for you!" she said, trying to catch her breath. “Why?” “Because everybody’s talking about you!” When people passed Huang Qian and me on the path, they glanced at us briefly, looked down, and walked on. However, apparently by the time they got down to Sophie, they felt free to say to each other, “Did you see that foreigner?!”
We rested at the top, watching the sea of fog float around the tops of the mountains, concealing the golden Buddha one minute and revealing it the next. While the foggy morning may have decreased view from the top, it made the swinging bridge over the lake that much more eerie and awe-inspiring.
From Daciyansi, we hopped on a bread truck to Nanjianyan, a mountain trail famous for its stunning views of the rice terraces below. We feasted on farm food: eggplant, homemade corn chips, and pork hot pot with baby bamboo. We shared a cheap hostel room with a “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”-size spider and woke up early to hike. We were entranced once more by fleeting waves of fog, this time flowing swiftly over the rice terraces.
The torrential downpour didn’t begin until we were walking away from the trail, 50 feet away from our hostel. Perfect timing! While we were inhaling our farmer’s breakfast, the hostel owner told us that we should wait outside, close to where the only bus of the day would stop because there might not be enough seats. We looked outside at the muddy, rainy street. There wasn’t a soul in sight. “Um…okay, we’ll keep that in mind.”
The bus pulled up and dozens of people appeared sprinting for the bus from each direction! Caught up in the moment, we ran like hell to the bus and crashed into the last 2 seats! Sophie, unfortunately, kept up her trend of lagging 50 meters behind us at all times and ended up sitting on the wheel hump by the driver, scowling as us as we chuckled.
No slow pokes…
Having learned our lesson about the black hole of Hangzhou, we elected to take the fast train from Hangzhou to Shanghai rather than take a bus through the dreadful city.
We felt Sophie’s pain as we walked up to the ticket window only to discover that all the seats were full. “Don’t worry. I know a trick.” Sophie winked as Huang Qian and I exchanged skeptical glances. She bought three standing-room tickets. The standing car was always claustrophobia inducing, and on the last day of the national holiday, we knew it would be completely unbearable.
We waited by the front of the gate to get to the train. When it opened, all hell broke loose. Everyone pushed forward and Sophie grabbed our hands, shouting, “Run!” We scampered down the stairs and darted to the eighth car, the dining car. Other passengers were pushing into the other end of the car and racing to the seats. We smiled and plopped down into the booths. “It’s free!” said Sophie, with a big grin. We chatted about our adventure as slow pokes ran into the eighth car, their faces dropping as they found it already full.
Back in Shanghai the next morning, I sat back in my office chair and opened an email from the U.S. Consulate. “Message for U.S. citizens: As of April 4, the Chinese authorities confirmed 14 cases of a new strain of avian influenza (H7N9) in Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Anhui.” So much for escaping H7N9 by going to Zhejiang. I scrolled down to, “How can I protect myself and my family?” and, to my horror, read, “… do not go to live animal markets or farms.”