CHINA – Zhangjiajie
zhangjiajie national park
I get word that my nephew is born this morning! It’s actually still July 6th in New Mexico, but his Chinese birthday’s the 7th!
We leave Changsha and pass through a two mile long tunnel before arriving at Zhangjiajie National Park. We navigate the prehistoric landscape through various forms of man-made transportation. We take a bus to a thousand foot tall glass elevator that’s secured to the side of a cliff. The elevator soars to the top of the rocky wall and opens into more or less a shopping mall. We all buy different hats as it starts to rain on our way to the cable car. The cable plummets 4,000+ feet down Tianmen Mountain, and carries you for miles through the park suspended in mid-air. Your stomach turns just looking at it.
They’re performing maintenance on the lift, so we hang out taking pictures until it reopens. Our group’s the first to get back on it, and everyone looks a little tentative. Shouldn’t they run a test car or something? But we all break into groups of 5 or 6 and hop into the cars as they pass by. When the car goes off the cliff, Gabby grabs my arm and we all hope the technician made the right decision reopening it. The car lurches down, and then settles in. It’s a smooth ride mostly, except when it nears a pole and gains some momentum. It’s a killer view from inside. It feels like you’re floating through the fog amongst these ancient rock formations. You half expect to see a stegosaurus gnawing on some foliage below.
There’s a 3,000 year old fungi temple in the park, and a rock that reminds us of Pride Rock from The Lion King.
By the time we get back, it’s raining hard, so Daniel and I stay in and watch Federer win the French Open for his first time on the hotel TV.
DAY 20 June 7
blue tea & late night visits
After morning lectures, I go looking for a baby gift for my new nephew. I find lots of clothing stores, but none that sell clothes for infants, so I end up in a milk tea shop. Like the one in Changsha, the menu is only in Chinese, but the cashier helps me out this time. I point to a random item on the menu.
“Blue tea?” she says.
“Sure,” I nod, “Sounds interesting.” I’ve never heard of blue tea. She hands me a cup of green tea. Oh, I see what happened. “Green tea,” I tell her.
“Are you angry?” she asks.
“No, no,” I say, “Of course not. I like green tea.”
“We have food if you are angry.”
“Oh. Hungry. No thanks” I say, trying not to laugh.
On my way back, I follow a path along the Lishui River that goes through a beautiful little farm. Everyone says hello to me like they’ve never seen a tourist wandering by their rows of vegetables before. And then it occurs to me that maybe I’m trespassing. Either way, they seem really happy about it. Farther along, I pass a large heap of trash. Zhangjiajie is like that. There’ll be random mounds of garbage in the streets followed by somewhat nice areas.
Finally, I find a baby store that sells a onesie. Success.
Dan and I have dinner at this duck head place, although we wind up ordering noodles and a King beer. Later, we’re relaxing in our hotel room when our doorbell rings. I get up to answer, thinking it’s someone from our group, but there’s a Chinese girl outside, who I don’t recognize. While I am surprised to see her, she isn’t surprised to see me. As she stands in the doorway saying something in Chinese, I can sense that something’s not quite right, like she’s on drugs. I think she’s lost and forgotten what room she’s in, so I call Dan over for some help. She leans in and whispers something into his ear. Dan shakes his head and shuts the door. I think for a second, “Hey, that’s kind of rude,” and then he tells me, “She’s a prostitute.”
DAY 21 June 8
It takes about 19 tries, but our bus finally starts. After stopping to check out a rice paddy, we arrive at the Huanglong (Yellow Dragon) Cave just down the street from the Hallelujah Concert Hall with its green, grassy roof.
I have never been to a cave before, so I’m not sure what to expect. I think the damp air inside the cave makes us loopy. We pose for all sorts of random photos, my favorite being four of our heads stacked vertically, peeking around the corner. Some of the scenery almost looks fake illuminated by the techno-colored lights, but there are some pretty amazing formations. In one vaulted area with tall, skinny stalagmites, we test the length of our echoes. We explore most of the cave on foot until the end when we board boats to take us down a river to the exit. It reminds us of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. I brace for the dip, but there isn’t one. Dan’s glasses fog up as we exit.
Nearing the airport, Dr. Wang announces we have only 15 minutes for dinner, so we all run out of the bus and grab food. The bubble tea place Kaitlin and I go to offers us some “Jack” in our tea. And by “Jack,” they mean “Jack Daniels.”
DAY 22 June 9