HUA SHAN

»The travel by train from Pingyao to Hua Shan (Flower Mountain) takes 7 and a half hours. As soon as I get on I realize there are no free seats - that's normal on Chinese trains, I have figured out by now. After one and a half hours standing, a lot of people get off at a station and I find a free seat, which makes me exclaim in relief "Hurray"!
I spoke too early though, because at that same station another herd of people gets on, and the train is as full as an egg, to the point that a guy sits on my knees and there will he stay for the rest of the journey. Meanwhile, despite the "No Smoking" signs, the guy in front of me starts smoking, blowing smoke directly on my face. When my endurance comes to an end I decide to speak to the conductor - I am aware it's not easy due to the language barrier (I show the No Smoking sign? I use gestures? I show him the "Smoke" word on my English-Chinese pocket dictionary?) but I am resoluted. At last I see him passing by...with a cigarette in his mouth!! A brutal end to my dream of a better world .

Finally the train stops at my destination, I get off in the dark (the train is late) and it is raining. I emit smoke through my nostrils, but the best has yet to come. There are no more buses directed to the village, so I opt for a taxi who asks me 20 Yuan. On the way the taxi driver shows me a 20-Yuan note at every mile, just to remind me about the fare. Initially I nod but the fifth time, exacerbated, I give him the money in advance, so that he stops with that and, more important, looks at the road ahead. This reminds me of Beppe Grillo who once said, in his "Te la do io l'America" television program, that in New York the glass between the taxi driver and the passenger is there to protect the latter from the former, not the other way around. That probably holds here too .

At the end of this unforgettable day I am as hungry as a wolf: I did not have time for breakfast because I had to catch the train, I skipped lunch on the train because, due to the crowding, it was not even possible to go to the toilet, let alone eating. In short I am tired and dirty, I smell of smoke and I am starving. As soon as I get to the hotel I go to dinner and here I brush up everything that happens to be within chopsticks' range. Meanwhile the attendants look at each other and I can read their thoughts: "This chap is thinner than us Chinese, is more hungry than us Chinese and is more angry than us Chinese. Where on earth does he come from?".

As soon as I recover my reason, I meet a young couple of Chinese who speak a little bit of English. They come from Kunming in Yunnan and they, like me, plan to climb Hua Shan the day after, so we agree to go together. They also said to me that I paid, for the same dinner, twice as much as they did. The shameless practise of the "two menus" (in English with different prices than in Chinese, sometimes twice as much or more) is thankfully fading in most of China, but it is still hard to kill in some places.

The next morning we start our climb early. There is bad weather with rain and a thick fog:

That's a shame because the landscape is one of the best things Hua Shan has to offer. Hua Shan is a holy mountain of Taoism, like Tai Shan where I have been around one week ago. So, since the landscape is hidden by the fog for now, let's focus on the holy spots. Even this sphere, though, leaves a lot to be desired, and here is why: the way is dotted with temples, such as the Jade Fountain Temple:

with signs, even in English, which dwell on their priceless historical and religious value. You go in and there you see the guardian laying on a folding bed and watching television. That explodes the myth, obviously. They could at least keep up appearances for the poor tourist.

My new Chinese friends are not particularly keen on walking, unfortunately, so as soon as we get to the North Peak they say goodbye and take the cable-car down to the village. But hey, I want to visit all the peaks and this means I am very very late. The clouds clear away as I walk and, at times, it even stops raining, so I can enjoy some nice sights:

The "trails" of famous Chinese mountains (Huang Shan, Tai Shan, Hua Shan) are not actually trails. They are flights of steps which allow the visitor a relatively easy climb even when the climb itself is steep; climbing-boots are not needed, jogging shoes are usually enough. The way can be dangerous in wet conditions though, because the steps carved in stones turn slippery, especially on the way down. Some passages in Hua Shan are, indeed, dangerous:

which makes it hard for me to keep a fast pace. On the way to the other peaks and back to the North Peak the sights are really awesome and they more than pay me back of the inconveniences I've had so far:

The way back seems endless to me. It gets dark when I still have a long way in front of me. I had read somewhere that the path is lighted in the night, but these cemetery lamps is everything you can rely on:

When the last sunset lights have faded away:

I come to a bridge and I see dim lights from the village:

Fair enough: a well-deserved rest after a 12-hour hike is in sight at last!

I caught cold during the hike (the temperature was low, around 10 degrees Celsius) and the next morning I have to catch a bus to Xi'an at 7. I wake up in time, it is still bitterly cold and my stomach is aching. I ask the hotel receptionist for a quick taxi to get to the bus stop. He goes out of the hotel, whistles to a motorcyclist who is passing by, and here I am, astride the motorbyke, running at full speed towards the bus stop - the right ailment for someone who's dying with cold.

Finally, let me say that there is another thing that adds a funny touch to my Hua Shan experience and which contributed to make it unforgettable: the language[1]. »The English spoken by the Chinese is colloquially called Chinglish; like the English spoken by non-native speakers around the world, it is not perfect, and there is nothing bad with that. What's hard for me to understand, though, is why in China you find those blunders in documents which are on display in touristic places and read by thousands of tourists every day. There are plenty around the country but, among those I have seen, Hua Shan is ways "superior":

Now: there are many (maybe not in percentage, but certainly in absolute numbers) people in China who speak a good English. What does it take to have them translate, once and for all, those documents?[2] Who knows! It may even happen to see corrections by pen or felt pen, when the English is really terrible - I recall one in particular in Hangzhou. I suspect they come from someone from Oxford who could no longer stand the sight of his dear language so ill-treated.

Let me finish with an absolute masterpiece:

  1. ^I had better be careful here: since this document is being written in English by a non-native English speaker, no doubt there are mistakes here. So I am speaking bad about others' English and I am doing that in bad English.
  2. ^Once back at home, I had a look at the manual of the car navigation system TS 8.3 PND (an Italian product). In the English version I ran into sentences like "Introduce the appropriate data to individualize the desired address" or "In case of block or answered not correct of the device, to effect a hard reset" which can easily compete with the "best" Chinglish sentences.