The morning after the near death experience with fireworks we went to a nearby national park called “Baishuizhai Scenic Spot,” or as everyone else called it “9999 Steps.”
Now if you’re asking yourself how many steps 9999 is I’ll tell you. You won’t make it. You’ll die before you reach the top. Not kidding. We got there around 11am and started on the trail. There were thousands of people there. The trail got narrow in several places and the boardwalks were made of old, water-soaked wood. The fact that they supported all that weight is astounding. Possible safety issues aside, the landscape was very beautiful and seemed largely untouched despite all the people around. There wasn’t even that much trash which was refreshing since we just came from the post polluted city I’d ever seen before. One thing that totally blew me away though was that when we were passing by a stream running from the top of the mountain, Jen, her aunt, mother and cousin started splashing water on their faces and a few other people even had the grapes to drink it.
They offered me some and I refused. When asked why I said because people at the top of the mountain are probably peeing in it. “How do you know that?” Jen asked me. “Because it’s what I would do!” I said. The last few days had been very chilly but then all of a sudden it was in the high 80’s around noon. Everyone in our group aside from me was dressed in heavy sweaters and jackets, while I was in pants and a thin shirt. Sometimes being white and having a natural resistance to cold is nice. B-)
Two things I noticed on our little expedition. Every 1000 steps there would be a small eating area where there would be drinks and snacks for sale. And the higher you were the more expensive it was. A bottle of water that cost 3 RMB at the bottom cost 15 RMB at the 3000th step. And the other thing is that the number of people on the trail dropped considerably the higher you were. My group was about as unprepared as you could be for this trip. But there were women trying to do it in mini-skirts and high heels and guys wearing business suits and stuff. Zero preparedness. At least my group had a big bottle of water. To be shared among everyone. So after about a half hour of hiking with a bunch of women who don’t know how to ration vital resources we were out of water. So guess who got to pay for some overpriced orange juice? That’s right! It was this guy! Now I figured I was in pretty decent shape. I eat healthy when I’m at home and exercise fairly regularly. But this mountain chewed me up and spit me out. All the girls aside from the aunt were exhausted and stopped at around the 3,500th step while me and the aunt kept going. I got to precisely the 4000th step before I was like, “I’m gonna die up here.” So we turned around and started the long walk down. In all it took 4 hours to go up and 2 ½ to get down. I even had to carry Jen on my back for about 200 steps because her socks were too thin and she was getting blisters. It’s a good thing she only weighs like, 90 lbs.
And then some dudes walking behind me called me a “Gwailo” to which I replied “Gwailei teo mo!” That was a preprogrammed response that my Chinese friends told me to say. Still not sure what it means. Something about body hair I guess. Needless to say they were both shocked and after a few seconds of awkwardness the guy apologized. And as fate would have it they would be on the bus that we took back to Zengcheng. They were so embarrassed that I actually felt a little guilty about it but it's a good life lesson for them. Don’t run your mouth about somebody who’s standing right in front of you. That’s an important lesson to learn. When we got home everybody was sweaty and gross so we took turns in the shower. But not knowing that we would be climbing a mountain straight out of the seventh layer of Hell I didn’t bring a change of clothes so they gave me some of the uncle’s things to wear. This guy is a head and a half shorter than me and at least 50 lbs lighter. They gave me a paint-stained Harbin beer shirt and some Steve Irwin shorts. Let me tell ya, it was quite the chore to make sure my package didn’t flop out and scare everyone. And did I mention that I had to share a bed with the aunt's 14 year old son? Weird…… They kept making jokes that I was going to lay on him or do something gay. That poor kid. Kudos to him for being a good sport about it. But they must have really freaked him out with those jokes since I woke up to find him sleeping on the uncomfortable wooden couch. He’s going to go to school and tell all his friends about how some laowai kicked him out of his own bed. Anyway, one day I’ll go back to Baishuizhai with Jen and conquer this impregnable perch of the gods. Even if I have to drag her kicking and screaming to glory.