The next morning I took a bus up to Emei Shan. When I arrived at the bus station at the town's bus station about 8 km away from the mountain, I saw a large sign proclaiming "Make Emei city an excellent tourist city." I took this as an omen for what was to come. This of course meant that farming and industry had completely failed to support the area and that survival depends on sucking out every last dollar from passing tourists, especially passing tourists with backpacks and large noses.
Nothing I'm not used to.
Emei Shan is one of China's holy Buddhist mountains. So besides the scenery, there were shitloads of Buddhist temples all over the place. To help you compare it with Tai Shan, the other holy mountain I've hiked up, I've composed a little table for you:
Advantage: Emei Shan, 5-3
The bus station is purposely placed about a mile and a half from the base of the mountain, just long enough to make it not worth walking there and thus spawn the transportation-to-the-mountain-base industry, the fourth largest industry in this city of 2 million. Unfortunately, I was the only foreigner on the bus. Hence, when I stepped out, the 20 or so people, instead of spreading their yelling uniformly among everyone coming of the bus, all began tripping and fighting for the privilege to yell at me, "Hello! Hello! Emei Shan! Emei Shan! Twenty kuai! Twenty kuai!" The price was a bit much for such a short distance, but there weren't any minibuses so I sucked it up and got a ride to the first temple, Baoguo Si. It was a beautiful temple, but still a bit on the tacky, touristy side. There were hordes of young Chinese tourists buying Buddhist junk and taking their pictures in front of random halls and gates (much like Japanese tourists, they weren't taking pictures for an esthetic purpose. They were taken as sort of a face-building token i.e. this picture proves that they have enough money to come here. Hence, the infrequency of smiles and the tendency to dwarf the subject by their background.) Off to one corner, there was a bell that you could ring…for a fee, of course.
There were several halls, each with a different statue of Buddha in it. Whenever a tourist did the whole kowtowing thing (kneeling on this pad and awkwardly bowing), some jaded-looking monk would hit a bell so the tourist could feel "spiritual." Otherwise, the monk would just be sitting there, fingering his Buddhist rosary, and staring all these passing materialistic tourists down with a look of loathing and disgust.
After a while, I hiked 10 minutes up to Fuhu Si. It was a bit nicer than the last one. It was a bit more subtle and functional than Baoguo Si. When I first got there, I only saw two or three other tourists in the place, and there were about 20 or so in-house monks and nuns, and about 30 or so of these hard-core, incredibly old women pilgrim types staying there for the night. But just when I thought I could escape them, 7 or 8 young Chinese tourists barged in for the night with their mahjongg set and bottle of baijiu. Can you people try living one day, just one fucking day, without your worldly trappings, or would your psyche just collapse at the mere suggestion of a day of contemplation?
I stayed at that temple for the night. The nun I had to deal with to get a bed was a real stickler. On the surface, she looked like such a cute little nun with her shaved head and glasses.
The next day was 12 hours of pain. From 7 AM to 7 PM, I hiked about 35 km with a gain of altitude of 2000+m in near continuous rain. And that wasn't straight up altitude. That was up-down-up stone staircases altitude. To tell the truth, there isn't too much to say about the hike itself. It was a blur of climbing up stairs and looking at temples.
For the most part, I was hiking by myself, a refreshing change from peasants hounding me with their Hello!'s. However, I did go through a small town that was actually inside the park. Imagine hiking through the Grand Canyon and you run into the No. 3 Grand Canyon Martial Arts School or the Grand Canyon Post Office.
The scenery/wildlife was a bit disappointing on account of the clouds, which obscured all the views, and the nearly constant downpour. The weather necessitated the frequent humming of the tune of Zhang Yu's hit song "Yu Yizhi Xia (Rain Keeps Falling)". Emei Shan's greatest attraction is the monkeys, which supposedly pester the hikers. I say supposedly since I didn't see any. Hiking Emei Shan without seeing the monkeys is the equivalent of going to see the Liberty Bell without seeing the crack. I'm sure it was because all the monkeys were sitting in their tree houses thinking, "I won't bother going out. What stupid fuck would be out there in this kind of weather?" But for the former ecologist in me (you can thank my public high school's science department for killing my dreams of being a biologist), there were all sorts of butterflies, moths, and slugs to interest me along the way. The area definitely had the feel of a Mayan rainforest.
But the most disappointing thing about slogging all the way up the mountain in the rain did not come until the end of the day.
They were running two by two inside, each person taking their turn to scurry under a guide's umbrella. Having been turned into a rapidly freezing white raisin from hiking in the rain all day, I did not feel much sympathy for them. I checked into a cheap room without heat or showers, peeled off my wet layers, crawled underneath my electric blanket, and fell asleep by 7:30 to a long winded news anchor going on about reunification with Taiwan. (There's a downright eugenic slant to news reports about Taiwan/mainland relations. They always talk about how the Chinese people are the greater than any other race of people on Earth and how could those insolent Taiwanese not want to be reunited with the mightiest country in the world. Ugh.)
After a breakfast of mantou (flavorless steamed buns) and warm rice gruel, I continued by slogging up to the summit. This time the trail was jammed with people, most of whom had taken the bus up the day before. They actually wanted to experience the last 1/15th of the trail and were hiking the last bit, instead of the majority of the tourists who were taking the chairlift and avoiding any physical exertion to reach the summit.
Inside the temple, though, I met a group of ethnically Chinese elderly Thai people. These Thai people put all the mainlanders to shame. The mainlanders were content with bowing half-assedly a couple of times, taking some pictures, and going to sing some karaoke. These Thai people were very reverent, touching their head to the ground in front of every Buddha, and even bringing these super deluxe incense sticks from Thailand to kowtow with. They were duly impressed with seeing a whitey who knew a language other than English and wasn't completely wasted on cheap drugs (in contrast to every other backpacker "roughing it" on Kao Sarn Rd. in Bangkok.) They were so impressed with me that they treated me to lunch at one of the luxury hotels on the summit and a ride on their bus back to the bottom of the mountain.
During that lunch, one woman showed me a picture of her daughter, who married some American whitey. The guy was ridiculously white trash. He had a furry mustache, a mullet, a denim shirt with the first two buttons unbuttoned, clearly straining because of his portly gut, and a large gold necklace poking through his curly chest hair. He was giving the camera a blank stare as he was holding their newborn daughter. I had to summon all of my social skills to suppress laughing at his picture. She then gave me her business card after lunch. She had a Thai name, Maneerat Tirawatanalert, which was exactly six syllables longer than her Chinese name.
On the bus ride down, the weather had cleared, so I could see a bit of the excellent scenery. Go figure.