Very Near Shang Di
November 1, 2007
There I was, minding my own business when I got an Email. There was a team building outing that was at a “natural area”. While team-building can go either way, after another week in Beijing, a “natural area” sure sounded inviting, so I signed up.
Double Dragon Gorge
Somewhere West of Beijing
Saturday, November 3, 2007
First, it’s a long way away. It took nearly three hours by bus, through mountains (and one unexpected detour due to construction). We left just after 9AM. However, once we arrived it was totally different from anything I had expected…
The Parking Lot
We arrived just before noon. The team building game that was supposed to happen right when we arrived, ended up getting pushed to days' end. I feel really bad for the guys who took the bag of balls all the way to Frog Rock and back. More on that later.
We milled around the restaurant areas until we figured out where we all actually had made the reservation… Finally we found the right door. It was an empty dining room like all the other doors, but this was “our” empty dining room.
So, first up was lunch. “Oh, this is country food,” exclaimed a disappointed co-worker nearby. I wouldn’t have been phased if this were another ex-pat like myself. No, this was a local Chinese woman who was being polite enough to say it in English so that wait staff wouldn’t understand. I must say that I’m glad I braced myself for what was ahead, and grabbed more rice than usual (which means as much rice as everyone around me).
In China (at least around Beijing), it seems that the habit is to bring rice last, unless it’s asked for. So it was specifically requested early.
The food was endless, in that one dish after another uneatable dish came out. But that’s not fair, there were a few vegetables that I liked, and a few pieces of meat had enough actual flesh that I could nibble a taste without swallowing bone or cartilage. There was a soup that nobody around me could take more than a bite of, and a cold porridge that had the consistency of a swallowed sneeze. The second of which I tried (before I knew what it felt like going down). Then there was a fish that seemed like everyone’s favorite, but it was covered in something black, and I was too done with the lunch to dare ask.
This lunch is what made me realize that there’s a limit to my ability to try new things. The limit is around 15 minutes where I can not mentally take any more. I will note that the bus driver really enjoyed everything served. Nobody knew where he was from, but everyone assumed he was from the mountains just West of Beijing.
The Parking Lot (again)
Next we milled around the parking lot trying to figure out where to go next. There are grass slides that most of the guys (outnumbered nearly 2 to 1) wanted to go on, and there was a sign that pointed to a big gate that said “Go here for check ticket”, and it must have said something similar in Chinese because we all stood near there expecting something to start happening. The door opened, and someone yelled, someone else yelled, and finally someone yelled “get out of the way”, and the cart drove through bringing grass sleds up from the bottom (having driven around a hill and up from the bottom).
So then someone figured out where we were supposed to go. There’s a train ride to the actual gorge section, and you get on from the other north corner of the parking lot. So, we started our journey beyond the parking lot and into the park.
So a pleasant narrow gauge ride, 6 minutes at a very slow pace. The ride was fairly scenic if you look beyond the grass slides and the parking lot/restaurants. The hills and mountains surrounding the area are very beautiful. It was a really nice day, and I could see quite a long way. Finally, the train brought us to a big cement wall, which is a dam. There are 99 steps to the top of this dam. On the other side, and 2/3 of the way down the wall is where the water is. I knew that waterfalls wouldn’t be as big in the fall, but this tiny amount of water here had me a little worried.
Into the Gorge
There’s a sign that says ’this way to the waterfall’, except the English wasn’t quite right, and the trail led up-river over a very rickety hand-welded and rusting walk-way. Dangling us over the water that usually isn’t so low. I note that as the heaviest person, everyone followed at least a meter back, and I was somehow leading. Even while protesting that I don’t really have to go so cautiously. Someone remarked that I was just kidding around, but that observation was only half true. I was really quite worried about the safety of this structure.
Sure, it’s a gorge, and I expected steep sides, but I guess I didn’t expect the whole thing to feel so cramped.
Here we find another cement wall. This one wasn’t as tall as the first, but starts to define what I’ve come to expect anywhere I go in China, more stairs. The top of this is a full pond with paddle-boats, and some are shaped like swans. There’s a big line here, so about half of the group decided to explore a little further. The path goes two ways, of course, we go up the stairs, instead of going straight and flat.
Gazebo with a Pagoda Roof
Probably the best views of the day were here. I could have left here and been fully satisfied. Of course, there was the waterfall that the photos promised.
Back to the pond, and the paddle boating. I was explicitly instructed to sit in the middle of the boat on one side. This is a bit embarrassing, mostly because from this position, I was unable to paddle. I had two girls opposite me both on the paddle peddles. This didn’t keep me from trying anyway - I got a few minutes in, but my feet were too big to keep up the angles necessary, so I was relegated to passenger.
We had a half-an-hour, around the pond, and still had 20 minutes left. We got together with another boat, and held on, then two more boats joined up, so we had a four boat wide flotilla in the pond. We went back and forth this way a little before being called back.
As we left to walk further, the next people out were hooking their boats together (we may have started something)!
On to the Waterfall
So the bulk of the group walked down the straight path (which still mostly went “up”, and along a trickling stream. Some of the group stayed here to just enjoy sitting. Had I known this, I may have joined them, but I was still near the front of the pack, moving on. There were some bridges, and places where we had to jump across the creek. Then we came to the trickle. It was a fairly high waterfall, but there wasn’t a lot of water. It was pretty, and you could definitely see the potential for a great spring view, but wasn’t really spectacular in this form.
I went up a staircase to the top of the falls, to look down, and expected that this would be the end of our experience. Then the ranking member of the group saw a sign about a scenic overlook some many meters ahead, and decided that we should drive on.
The Path to Frog Rock
This is where I start falling behind the group. The path was a lot of “uphill”, and not a lot of “flat”. I kept going. I passed a few people who had decided to stop along the way and wait for the groups return. I was determined to not be left behind, so I kept going. I caught up to the group again at the second of a few stair-cases (made of rusty metal bound by bamboo), and lost them again not to far later. Someone said it was only 20 more minutes further. 15 minutes later, someone said it was only 20 minutes further.
Finally, we made it to something called “Frog Rock”. It was decided at this point that it was too late in the day, and that we would have to turn back. I took a group photo (without me in it), and we left to head back down the trail.
There was a big bag full of balls and prizes, and no place flat to do the “game”. A few people kept volunteering to carry this bag, and had taken it all this way, just to take it back to the parking lot again.
It had been about 1 and a half hours of walking to get up to Frog Rock. It took 20 minutes to get back. I took some pictures, but we mostly just walked. We got back to the train, and took the last ride out of the gorge to the parking lot (there was a foot-path, but nobody wanted to have to do that).
I decided to ride the grass slide. This was a whole lot of fun, but there’s no photographic evidence that I did it. I can simply attest to the 300 stair steps back up the hill to get back to the top again. I could have taken a second ride, but it simply didn’t seem worth more stairs.
So there was a toss the ball game. Two groups, and the idea was to pass three different sized balls around the group in order, and whichever group got the balls around the most times would win. Then we went back to the bus.
I won a prize on the bus ride for knowing how to spell Eminem. I spelled it both ways, the second… (M-A-R-S-H-A-L-L M-A-T-H-E-R-S). Everyone was confused as to how I knew his real name. I absolved myself from any more questions. It was unfair. I know English much better than anyone else there.