After a month of non-stop work, I managed to get some down time this week, down-time being defined as catching up on sleep, cleaning out my cluttered desk drawers, reading a book, and doing some hikes with a friend visiting from out-of-town. On Wednesday we spent the afternoon exploring the Botanical Gardens–what has to be Beijing’s most beautiful park. It’s nestled in a valley at the foot of The Fragrant Hills, just 20 minutes from where I live.
Then, yesterday, since the weather was so nice we decided to head to the hills again. This time we started near the south entrance of the Fragrant Hills Park, and found a road that headed up into the mountains. Well, this little hike turned into our very own Long March. Mao and Company may have been heading for a safe place from which to launch a revolution. What kept us going was the knowledge of a kilometer-long alpine slide at Badachu, another of Beijing’s mountain parks to the south. A map I had along indicated that there was a road that would take us there, but one never really knows. Every so often we’d meet someone else walking along the mountain road, and I’d ask what they knew about the road. Every single conversation went like this: Me: Does this road go to Badachu? He: Yes (then some directions). Hey—you speak good Chinese. Me: No, it’s very bad. Thanks for the directions.
By the time we got to the top of the mountain near BadaChu, we were tired, hot, and thirsty, having already consumed the water we’d carried with us. Then, lo and behold, right there on top of the ridge was a little farmers home, and outside was a sign saying that they sold drinks. Yay! And, wonder of wonders, he was even selling PEPSI, my favorite drink on the planet! We bought a couple of bottles and sat down on the front porch to chat with Farmer Z. He told us he and his family had lived on top of the mountain for 30 years. What a spot—far above the noise and congestion and pollution of the city. I asked him if he went into the city very often. "Nope," was his reply.
Pepsis guzzled, we headed on towards our destination, the BadaChu Park, where we knew there was an alpine slide that would whisk us down the mountainside. We knew we were close because we could see the chairlift, and hear the sound people laughing as they slid down. It was getting late, and we were now starting to fear that by the time we got to the park the slide would be closed. Well, our fears were realized. We got there just after they’d closed up shop. But after we told them we’d hiked fo 3 hours all the way from the Fragrant Hills to ride the slide, they took pity on us and unlocked the shed and got out a couple of toboggens for us. We paid our 40 kuai and off we went….whizzing down the mountainside!!
Adventures like that are a good reminder that Beijing is not all cement and traffic jams—these mountains are barely 5 miles from where I live. As soon as my legs recover from this, I’m heading back out there!