My first hike outside of Beijing: ShangFang Shan National Park

For my first hike outside of town, I joined a Russian group of hikers to go to ShangFang Shan National Park, just 2 hours south-west of Beijing. This Russian woman is organizing these excursions approx. once a month, for her and her Russian group of friends in Beijing. A friendly crowd.

It was amazing to be in the mountains, to be in such a beautiful nature environment, knowing that we are still so close to the big city.

IMG_9722We went up in a small cable car (trust always needs to be part of the adventure…), and visited first of all some deep caves that were beautiful and huge, but strangely lightened with a mix of all colors, from dark blue or green over pink to bright yellow, orange or red. “Kitch” is a word that gets another sens here, sometimes. Strangely enough, there was a photo booth in the cave, with a woman working there, in the complete dark. There definitely is a person working everywhere in China, whatever the conditions are.

Everybody had lunch then on top of the mountain (next to a cute mountain kitty-cat who seems to live up there 🙂 ) and we walked then back down during all afternoon. The trails are quite well prepared, some parts with a lot of steps, and especially the last part was very steep – the result was intense pain in my calves for the following 4 days or so.

On the way…

we did see different little temples, a lot of Buddha and other statues included. And this man selling, amongst other things, these big mushrooms that are apparently very rare to find. Chinese Traditional Medicine is another aspect that I want to discover being in China.

Though some of them were actually under construction, and we could observe all these workers walking up the mountain with big pieces of wood or stone on their shoulders or tight on their backs. Some donkeys were used. But I guess due to the steep steps, the main donkey was man himself. Another proof that manpower is definitely not what is missing here in China. Cheap labor everywhere.

The last stop on our way down was at a little temple up in the rocks where a teacher has been living and teaching until his death. He is supposed to be still sitting there, mummified in gold, and people do still join the temple for weekly sessions, to find rest, and peace.

On this Sunday day-trip I met quite a few different Russians. And as well this woman of another differing nationality in the group: She is American, wife of an Embassy employee, living in China for more than 20 years – not working but organizing “American wives social life”. And with all these multiple messages and emails (daily!), with photos, smileys, colours etc etc that she is sending around, she really has given herself a full-time job here. It made me realize how much there is a “side-world” in China that was built up over the past 2-3 decades, foreigners somehow disconnected from real life, living in a bubble. Especially these expat wives who just live here without working, spending their life taking classes, organizing day-trips or charity events. Though some of them are really dedicated to contribute something good to their community around them, I think that’s great!

Finally the last stairs became really steep to get back down… instead of running down with my new friendly but somehow hyperactive American friend, I had joined some of the Russians, going on a slower pace.

The clash with real life is huge here. Such a bubble must certainly exist in other countries too, but I want to think maybe not so much in Western countries? Though while I mainly meet lovely people that are very welcoming and helpful, even if my communication skills are still that limited, I do definitely feel like an alien here. Maybe that’s why these women spend their life playing bridge (the winner gets the panda trophy to take home!) and organizing charity events with their compatriots. Getting out there and trying to integrate into the Chinese society is definitely not something easy!