Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a numbers girl. Give me a book report to write any day over a math worksheet and I’ll be a happy camper. But, my deficient numerical neuron firing doesn’t mean I lack a sense of judgment when it comes to the passage of time. And yet, somehow this weekend, a three and a half hour drive turned into nearly eight hours, with me and ten others from the consulate crammed, knees to chin, on a bus, headed to the great yonder of Sichuan. I’m not entirely sure what reverse magic happened to double the travel time from Chengdu to Bamboo Sea, but I do know several factors, including a bus with a regulator that capped out at 100 kilometers per hour (and believe me, I heard the GPS-voiced woman telling the driver to slow down every time we inched up on that mark) and a nightmare of road construction that narrowed five lanes of traffic to two at a toll booth didn’t help matters. But, whatever the cause of the extended road trip, the hours on the bus were well worth the aching back and crunched knees.
Bamboo Sea was a sight to behold!
After checking into our traditional Chinese-style hotel, complete with hard beds and the requisite toothbrush kits, it was time to go explore the park. (This hotel did come with a couple of bonuses as well, including Wi-Fi, heated pads on the bed and one lonely bathroom cockroach. That was definitely 200RMB well spent!) With several paths winding through the west corner of Bamboo Sea, Thad and I followed the stream, heading up it to where we could hear waterfalls, seemingly around each bend. But, there was no quitting until we reached the much lauded (a sign at every path split!) Polyester Dust waterfall. What a glorious, rustic, natural world-provoking name cascading water- Polyester Dust. Just hearing the name made me felt like I should scurry back to the consulate to grab an N-95 pollution mask, buy extra cancer coverage on my insurance and eat a couple leafy green vegetables with my dinner. (That sentence originally contained the word “extra” before “leafy,” but then I realized that since I don’t really love the leafy stuff to begin with, rather than extra, any at all would be beneficial.)
But, no outdoor trip would be complete without my lack of coordination displaying itself, this time in the form of, what else? A trip! Walking down the stairs (it’s China- stairs everywhere!) from the peak of Polyester Dust, I got much too animated with my story about a man who dropped his trash on the trail in front of us, and with arms flapping, entirely missed the single step down along the pathway, making quite a spectacle of myself as my ankle turned under and I squawked , altering all in the vicinity that the foreigner bit the (not polyester, but more common natural-form) dust. At this point in my spastic life, there is little pride to be lost in such convulsive moments, so after a quick check to make sure my lower limbs were still functional, Thad hauled me back to my feet and I finished out my story about the redemption seeking Chinese litter bug.
Not content to let the rest of the weekend slide idly by with just a single moment of embarrassment, I met Sunday morning with another great episode of Ways Michelle Is A Wimp. You see, I’ve got a couple of phobias, but none rank higher on the freak-out list than heights. As a child, they didn’t bother me. I’d happily climb to the top of our weeping willow tree, creeping through the branches to the outer edges where the boughs made a perfect slide to the ground; I’d walk the balance beam of fence posts that surround our llama field; I’d jump from the peak of our playhouse, perfecting a nice tuck and roll as I hit the ground. None of these things were an issue. And yet, somewhere along the line, I decided I’d had enough of being off the ground. On Sunday, that (granted, involuntary) decision made my life a little rougher for about twenty minutes. Bamboo Sea is made up of rolling mountains (bigger than rolling hills, but smaller than anything we would call a mountain in the Northwest), none of which I wanted to hike. (In case it hasn’t become clear yet- I’m not an outdoorsy person. I don’t hike. I don’t camp. I get sunburnt when I even think about sunlight. The mosquito bites turned massive welts on my legs right now can attest to the fact that I should never again set foot outside a building. I’m a book girl. I read. I write. I like temperature controlled spaces. Inside is for me. Not outside. But I digress…) So, since hiking for days was out of the question, the best way to get to the top of the mountain was the cable car. For a mere 30RMB ($5!) I was able to risk my life, dangling from a metal cable in a metal tin can, begging Thad to stop turning his head or even breathing for a short while, as each of those actions rocked the car enough that my life was flashing before my eyes. This isn’t my first pony ride on the cable car extravaganza, and every time I just pray for the end to come into sight. The problem on Sunday was that every time we inched closed to the top of a ridge and I just knew I was going to be placed back on safe ground, we’d come over the peak to see another expanse of cable pulled taut in front of us. Twenty minutes of dangling above endless acres of bamboo is pretty close to an eternity.
Eventually, after going up a ridge, down a ridge and back up another one, we reached to unloading hut, where I bailed from the cable car, possible faster than I’ve ever moved in my life. (Wait. Stop. I admit to the literary employment of hyperbole there. I’m sure I’ve actually moved faster at a fabulous shoe sale or to put a bit of distance between myself and any creepy crawly little critter. But, you get the idea.)
Before loading back up in the van to head back to Chengdu (which turned out to be a mere six hour drive!), we had one last stop on our itinerary- the setting of the famous Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon lake fight scene. (I saw famous, because apparently *everyone* has seen this movie. I am not *everyone.* As a matter of fact, I had to Google the name of the movie, as I can never get the words in the right order. I know there is a tiger and a dragon, which is awesome, and I know one crouches and one hides, which seems less awesome, but which critter is in which stance is entirely beyond me. Thank you to the primary colored search engine for its quick and efficient fact-checking prowess.) While this connection to the popular kung-fu movie was a draw for many, I was hooked when the guides said we could rent a bamboo raft and row around the lake on it. Now, remember, I’m not outdoorsy and definitely not athletic. When someone tells me I can rent a raft and float on a lake, I kind of assumed that meant I was also renting the dude to row the boat. Nope! Apparently, I was the dude to row the boat, gently down the stream. (Well, my faithful boat buddies and I!) After a bit of a fiasco, as we didn’t know which end of our boat was the front, we got some synchronized rowing going, making a loop around the lake. As our fellow boaters sang Communist-era songs, we just tried to keep our oars from tangling up with one another and keep our boat pointed in the right direction.
As we headed back into the city, I quickly realized what a great weekend it was to get out of town. Not only is any trip a good thing, just in general, but as it turns out, this last weekend was particularly bad on the air quality front, with the levels spiking into the 300s, which is pretty high for anytime outside of winter. By my calculations, taking a group of consulate folks out of the terrible air this last weekend should help realign my karma. I may have lead a different group into the epicenter of an earthquake a few months ago (you can read that adventure here!), but this last weekend I saved their lungs a bit of heartache, so I’d like to balance out the CLO-karma ledger for this year! I still retain enough of my middle school math knowledge to calculate a minus one and a plus one create a nice even balance on the ethereal number line.