So this past week was pretty crazy. Oct. 1 was the big ol' National Day. It was the 50th anniversary, too, so it was particularly crazy. I had to watch the parade on TV since Tiananmen was invitation-only. But they kept all the floats in the square for a week, so I got a chance to see those last night. Insane. Picture if you will the whole Xi'anchang jie/Tiananmen/Donganchang jie area (a 14 lane wide street). Now picture that with literally hundreds of thousands of people milling about, so crowded in areas that people were pushing each other. Wacky.
Well, I finally had a week long break and was able to get out and travel. I went to Taishan with another person, Amelia, who got the same grant as I did, but who goes to another school and I only had met for an hour beforehand. So many things went wrong. I had bought two train tickets beforehand (an ordeal in itself) only to get there at 9 PM and realize that they were for the day before and thus no good. We were able to buy two more tickets though for a train that night, a hard sleeper getting in at 7 AM. We arrived on plan, wandered around the town of Tai'an lost for a bit, visited some boring expensive temple at the base of the mountain. We bumped into these 3 Australians who had mentioned that they could buy a return ticket to Beijing at the train station and were looking for the CITS travel agent. This was problematic since we were planning on returning the next day and hadn't even looked into buying the return tickets. So we found the CITS and gave the guy some money, trusting he would find us some tickets, and the commenced with the hike. The hike was one big fat ugly bitch of a hike. It was basically a staircase straight up one side of the mountain. The weather going up was half mist/half rain. What disillusioned me the most was the tourist aspect of it. I can deal with 8 km of hawkers trying to get me to buy their fake jade and walking sticks, but it was packed with tourists who fundamentally lacked any sort of environmental sensibilities. There was so much litter on the trail and over the side of the trail that it was literally (I mean "literally" literally, not "exaggerating" literally) dirtier than all of the streets in North Philly that I've seen. I saw at least ten people nonchalantly throw empty water bottles into a nearby stream. Many of the Chinese tourists dressed up in business suits and heels for making their way up the mountain. Of course everyone was entertained by seeing two white people, so they felt free to exclaim "hello!" every 15 seconds. At first I would reply "Hello" in return. Then I just got David Mamet on them and was replying "Go to hell!" in a real happy voice. Add to that everyone was smoking and spitting (real solid, snot-filled lugies) all over the place. Argh.
Another interesting sight that I saw was when we were taking a rest, leaning against this rock next to some vendor trying to sell watermelon rinds and bottled water. Suddenly, this guy comes bounding down the stairs like he's running from someone. Then a group of 4 or 5 official-looking types coming walking down and start yelling at the vendor. They flash some official looking ID and then start to kick his stuff around. They threw all of his food over the side of the trail, upended his plastic barrel and smashed it, and, for good measure, took all of his money. They moved on, mindless of the two gaping whiteys. Whoa. The last stretch of the trail was really steep and the stairs were incredibly narrow. I had hit the wall, so to speak. To entertain myself, I was singing "Stairway to Heaven" (especially fitting since at the top was names Heaven street). When we finally got to the top, it was freezing and you couldn't see pretty far because of all the mist/fog/clouds. It took us a while to find a hotel at the top that would take foreigners, but we did, and by using my crazy bargaining skills, got the price down to Y80 for the both of us. We went to bed early and got up at 5:30 for the sunrise. It was pretty fucking cool, almost cool enough to make up for all of the wackiness that had happened before. The nearby mist had cleared up and you could see that we were above the clouds. Pretty darn pretty. I took about a roll's worth of pictures. I did some scrambling around the rocks but it was hard to get into any Zen-like mindset because hundreds of other people, after spending 10 minutes looking at the scenery, decided it was enough and noisily returned to the tourist circus of blaring Taoist music and people with microphones shouting to get you to buy a medal with your name carved on it. We hiked backed down which only took about 3-4 hours (upwards took 8 hours), and the hike down for some reason seemed more pleasant, less crowded, and cleaner. We got back to the CITS and found out that he could only get one ticket. To make it a short story, after much haggling in slurred Chinese (we were tres tired), and waiting around napping in the park waiting for a response (while in the park, some two year old kid pointed at me and started screaming "Lao wai! Lao wai!" Ask Vinnny about that), we were able to get two tickets for the next morning and a cheap hotel room for that night all out of the money we originally gave him, which was godsend since I was close to spending the night in the park since we had basically run out of money. So we slept in this mosquito-ridden dump and returned by train the next morning. Getting onto the train was quite fun; the stampede to get on was ludicrous. Dozens of people were squeezing into each door or trying to pass luggage through the windows, because most of them had standing-room only tickets in peasant class; if they didn't squeeze on, they'd get left behind. But I focused all of my frustration with China on to everyone else and squished back and got onto the train. (This turned out to be unnecessary since I had a reserved seat and therefore could wait for the hordes to bicker over standing space in the aisles.) I got back yesterday afternoon, whereupon a group of friends was waiting in the lobby, getting ready to go to Tiananmen to see the floats at night. If I were sane, I would have declined, taken my first shower in four days, and gone to bed. But I tagged along. As a result, I'm skipping class right now to write this and catch up on other errands. Whew.