I’m not kidding. The tour that led me up to the peaks of Mount Huangshan was named 快乐之旅 (Happiness Tour). In a most ironic way, the journey was so arduous that many a time I found myself wondering if I was truly happy (我是否真的快乐.) The journey, like Sun Wu Kong’s journey to the West, was peppered with ups and downs. If not for 四个武汉的大汉（four men from the Wu Han province) and one uncle from 黑龙江 (Heilongjian) I think I might have gotten lost and spend a chilly night in one of Huangshan’s caves…. The question is, will climbing Mount Huangshan make you happy?
The Start of the Journey
At 9am the next morning, there were a series of raps on the door. “Xiao Jie, you are late. The tour bus is already here,” said the security uncle standing outside my door.
I glanced at the tour receipt and it said, to be at the lobby at 9.10am. The tour guide saw me and grumbled in Mandarin. “Hurry up!” She said. “If everyone were to be late like you, we’ll never get there.” Customer service? Fail.
The 40 seater bus that had arrived was already filled with Mainland Chinese, of different ages, sizes and abilities to walk long distances. I found a seat right at the back. In front me was a 老太婆 (old lady) and that got me thinking, “Super sian, how I’m suppose to hike up Huangshan with this lady, (and many others of similar gray hair, tagging along?)”
The bus went a couple of rounds more to fetch passengers. (I must say that at each hotel, all of the Chinese tourist were exceedingly punctual.)
Then the boot camp began. Boot camp because the two crazy tour guide ladies started barking out commands, all with the attitude that if you refuse to obey their instructions or want to complain, “we’ll stop the bus and you get out. We will not refund your money.”
The commands are as follows:
1. It is your responsibility to follow the group closely. You can take down our handphone numbers. But if you get lost, it is not our problem.
2. Huangshan is huge. We will designate certain timings for you to reach each destination. If you enjoy hiking and want to walk, please go ahead. Or you can take a cable car. But you got to be at a designated spot at a certain time. You must judge your stamina wisely. If not we will move ahead without you.
3. Accommodation (This is a pain point for me, cos their accommodation really sucked). Basically, only on the moving bus did they give a description of the type of accommodation that was in place.
Grade A – Personal. very posh hotel room with hot running water and hot meals (SGD200 – 300) (do pardon inaccuracies if there are any)
Grade B – Shared 8-room bunk with running water (bed sheets are changed after every person has left). There is running water for bathing and drinking but no meals. (RMB500++)
Grade C – (Did not say how many people were sharing the room). Bed sheets are not changed every time a person has left, so sometimes it does have a sweaty smell (yucks). Perhaps, bedsheets are changed only at the end of the month, or “when the hostel staff feel like it”. No meals. (RMB300++)
Don’t say we didn’t warn you. By the time you see the state of your room and want to upgrade, it will be too late. If you want to upgrade, better do so NOW and give us CASH.
That’s what they said.
I suspected my room was in the Grade C range, cos it was the early end of RMB400. But I did not want to upgrade, because I felt that this was blatantly Cheating. I signed up for the package with the understanding that a dorm bed would come with new bedsheets? I thought this is an international understanding – it’s like when you book a room at Shang Ri La, you would not go and ask the reception, Excuse me, is a fresh change of bedsheets included as part of the entire package? Gosh.
(I refused to upgrade, though one of the guides did try to persuade me to shell out SGD8 (40 yuan) to get a better room. No thank you, I politely refused. I am not paying more for something I already deserve! But upon hindsight if she did mentioned about worms in the toilet and a 32 man room full of snoring old folk, that SGD8 would have flew straight to her hands immediately.)
4. Extra tours to an emporium and tea shop at the end of the trip. If you don’t like it, too bad. The tour agency must make money to survive. And these excursions are essential, like it or not.
On the way to Ying Ke Song (Be there by 2.30pm, we missed the tour group narrowly by 3pm)
The journey continues and we reach the entrance of Mount Huangshan. Once again, there seems to be an avalanche of tourists, each of the them wearing certain coloured caps, and tour guides blasting their loudspeakers.
At the beginning, I broke off from the tour group because I had considerately let a couple of aunties from another group scan their bags at the security area. By the time they were done, the 快乐之旅 (Happiness Tour) group was gone. Even the slowest aunty had disappeared. Then I realised, that this is China! If I ever wanted a faintest hope of viewing one of Huangshan peaks, I should throw Considerate out the window, and start pushing and shoving people.
We arrived at the Western steps and were given the option of taking a cable car (80 yuan). Of course I refused. At that point of time, I was confident, (albeit slightly overconfident on hindsight) to conquer the steps of Mt Huangshan. The instructions were to meet at this place called Ying Ke Song at 2.30pm. I couldn’t comprehend that until an 50 plus uncle from Hei Long Jiang repeated that to me.
“We got to hurry he said. There is no time.” he said. What’s the hurry I thought to myself. It was 12pm. Little did I know what was waiting for us.
The Uncle is from Hei Long Jiang and speaks with a slightly different accent. It sounds quite pleasant to the ears because there’s a sing-song type of tune to it, compared to the sharp intonations made by the Mainland Chinese folks in Singapore. And so we started walking up hill.
The photos don’t do justice to what was actually experienced. After climbing up the grey concrete steps non-stop for 30 minutes, I started to wonder if those McRitchie hikes and 10km runs had any use. I was panting non-stop and sweat was dripping down my brow, amidst the strong afternoon sun but cool weather.
At one of the rest stops, Mr Hei Long Jiang bought me a weird-looking cucumber. I politely refused but he insisted. It cost 10 yuan (SGD2), very expensive for a cucumber, but I guess high altitude justified the price. I ate it. Very yummy. I asked him if he would like some water (I was carrying a 2 litre bottle.) Then a stranger stopped and asked if he could have some water.
I said yes, thinking that the stranger would be considerate just to pour a little into his bottle. And guess what! That greedy ass poured a full 500ml into his own bottle. I was fuming. Primarily because I was climbing up, and food and water gets more expensive at each step along that way. And that fella was going down. 他妈的！<< A swear word in Chinese>> (I wanted to scold him but the damage was done. No way was I going to ask that guy to “return” me my water.
The journey continues until we met four guys from Wu Han at a resting spot. We then realised that we were from the same tour agency 快乐之旅 (Happiness Tour). They were 出差 (out to a different state for business) and decided to give Huangshan a climb. Strangers in the toughest of times become easy friends.
In Singapore, I’ll never imagine myself chatting with men from Mainland China. But somehow, against the backdrop of jagged peaks and misty mountains, they didn’t seem to be as creepy as the ones on Singapore’s public transport. In fact, I thought they carried themselves some sort of sensibility and brotherliness that was quite comforting when pursuing a tough mountain like Huangshan. (And may I add, none of the creepiness you get from Indian men in India when they try to be helpful.)
Mr Photographer – Quite fit and likes taking photos. Most of the photos of me are taken by him. Seems to be quite of Mr Tummy’s maturity. Was quite taken aback when he first called me 美女(beautiful woman) ，then I realised it’s quite a normal term of addressing girls in China.
Mr Tummy – Quite fit, the oldest of the group. Is a father of three and enjoys travelling. Asked me if Singaporeans like the Japanese. I said, we have 忘记 (forget) about the times in the war, which I then retracted because it sounded wrong. But he didn’t seem to mind. Mr Heilongjiang said that in Nanjing, many of the Chinese still dislike the Japanese eg. they would get very angry if a Japanese boards a bus there. Mr Tummy has been to Xin Jiang once, Zhang Jia Jie (One of the other beautiful mountain places) and Jiu Zai Gou (in Chengdu).
My Quiet – Not so fit, and a little weird. Kept asking me how much does it cost to go to Singapore, and if I will be coming back to China etc. 回去中国也不会去找你!
小胖 (Little Fatty) – Little fatty is quite an epic character. He is one year younger than me, one of those born in the era of China’s One Child policy. If you thought that Huangshan was a remote mountain with no reception, you’re wrong. He was practically glued to the phone, chatting with his girlfriend along the way. Talking, panting and lamenting about how tired he was.. Kept complimenting me, and how my stamina was somewhat better than his.. (hehe)
Guang Ming Ding, and thereafter..
We finally reached Guang Ming Ding, which is the second highest peak in Huangshan. And it’s beautiful. If you can zone out the hustle and bustle of the tour groups, and the colourful caps of the Chinese tour goups, it’s really 壮观 (grand)。Willow trees pop out from each of the peaks like what you see in the photos.
But sometimes your benefactors can also be an obstacle. 小胖 (Little Fatty) , who was responsible for listening to the tour guide’s instructions had led us to the wrong hotel. We had to make another 30 minute detour. By then, I felt that my knees were going, and my thighs were falling apart and all I wanted to do was to curl up in a ball and sleep.
And yes, I was appalled by the “Grade C” accommodation that lay in wait for me. It was a room, about the size of one’s HDB living room, made up of at least 16 double-decker beds. Which were positioned unstrategically near the lump of the ceiling, making the occupants squirm and squeeze in to their bunks in the most uncomfortable of all manner. The Chinese call it 磕头 to get into the bunks. I was one of those, having been left to a top bunk bed.
I am not sure if the bedsheets have been washed. I don’t think they had been, but I think it was best that I didn’t smell them.
Mr HeiLongJiang offered me a basin of water to wash my feet in. I declined politely. I appreciated the gesture, but alamak, how many feets had been in that basin!
I opened my bag and took out some biscuits and food. Mr HeiLongJiang offered me some too. I wasn’t that hungry, quite surprisingly after that epic journey to the top.
What actually caught my attention was a group of aunties and uncles having their little party below. They brought their own instant noodles, sausages, some strange-looking meats and even some 白酒 (That my friend, is not white wine, but the Chinese sort of brewed wine made of rice.)
The toilet was decent, good enough for peeing, but not to bathe because it was too cold and the environment was just too disconcerting.
Little did I know that at 9pm, a volley of drunken snoring sounds hit my years. Just right behind me, 小胖 was calling his girlfriend on the phone, and was having the most rou ma 肉麻 (goose bump inducing) conversation ever possible. He was speaking in the purest, clearest Mandarin, which I sometimes wonder if it was a blessing that I even understood. The conversation revolved around the use of sanitary napkins, and how he wanted to learn about them so as to understand his girlfriend better and her time of the month. Only four words to describe it – 毛骨悚然。He was also lamenting about how tired he was, how sad that he had to eat instant noodles for dinner that night, because he Hates eating instant noodles and how he wished for her to be by his side.. blah blah.. and how she didn’t want him to put down the phone..
After he finally put down the phone, the volley of snoring sounds continued. Lucky the BF had been astute enough to pass me a pair of ear plugs, which did cut down 50% of the sound. As my mind continued swirled around curses at that lousy Chinese tour, I fell asleep, amidst the somewhat “chaos” around me..