Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Friday, July 25, 2008

Got back from Jiuzhaigou late yesterday afternoon. As mentioned earlier, I had decided to go to Jiuzhaigou when my train to Chongqing was delayed for almost a day on Monday.

We left Chengdu Tuesday morning just before 9 o'clock. I had been told that the trip would take ten hours, and I was hoping for the best, but also expecting that there might be delays, because a road that has just been opened up after such a severe thing as an earthquake might be, although passable, just barely passable in some places. We did have several delays, but the turned out to be completely unrelated to the earthquake. It was the bus. And the driver. I guess I should blame it partly on the road, because I am sure the driver would if he were asked to explain why he drove into the ditch, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

The first problem was the clutch. It first became obvious when, due to traffic from the other direction on a particularly narrow section of the road, we were forced to stop while going uphill. The driver could not manage to get the bus started again. It was very frustrating, and I was about to go up front and show him how to start on a hill, but I did not know, yet, that at least part of his problem was mechanical. Eventually, he was forced to back up a little before he could finally start the bus. While we were stopped for lunch in a small town, he took the buss to a shop to get it fixed. It turned out to be a temporary job, not a real fix, but more about that later.

After we had finished eating lunch, which in my case, was a burned ear of corn--it's not just cooked, it's burned black, but it's actually quite good after you get through the char--we got back on the bus and headed out of town. The bus had just switched drivers, and the new guy was going like gangbusters. But I'm not sure I should say that, because it makes it sound like the other drivers don't. Anyway, we came to a curve running pretty close to a sheer rock cliff where the road was particularly narrow. The driver was racing around the corner when he saw a truck coming from the other direction. He should have hit the brakes and let the other guy pass. Instead, he kept going, and then had to swerve to the right to avoid the guy. The back of the bus left the road, and I think he thought he could pull it back on, but the jagged rocks on the wall of the cliff thought differently. BANG! The back of the bus slammed into the side of the mountain. The sharp, jagged shale sticking out from the sheer rock wall tore a mean gash in the side of the bus and shattered two plexi-glass windows. The bus, of course, came to a very sudden stop, and was leaning heavily to the right. No worries about tipping over, though. The mountain wasn't going anywhere.

The drivers called the shop they had just taken the bus to, and a little while later, two guys came driving out of town in a little pickup. When I saw one of them carrying two little jacks over to the bus, I laughed. How in the world were they going to fix this situation with a couple small jacks? But believe it or not, they did. They jacked up the right rear corner of the bus, using the same kind of flat jagged rocks that broke the windows to build a little platform for the right rear tires. They drove the bus off the platform and back on to the road. The passengers boarded the bus and immediately set about the business of knocking out the rest of the glass from the two broken windows, and we were merrily on our way.

Did I say "merrily?" Perhaps it would be better to say, "wearily." You see, the stupid bus still had a bad clutch, and anytime we had to stop for traffic, the bus would stall, and then the driver couldn't get it started again unless it was facing downhill. Level would be OK, too, I guess. But if we were facing uphill, forget it. He had to let the bus slide back until we were on the level. What was supposed to be a ten hour trip dragged on for an extra three hours, what with the crash and everything.

Finally, we got to the bus stop in Jiuzhaigou, where I was inundated by the typical hucksters offering me a place to stay. I never go anywhere unless I already know where I am going to stay, so I just told them all a bunch of times that I wasn't interested. When I could get the hucksters out of my face, I called the lady at the hostel, and she sent her driver.

I actually like that little "Roots" Guest house. Forty kuai for a small room. That's alright. I was tired, so I went to bed. I wanted to get an early start, but I knew it wouldn't be as early as I had hoped, because the day had been so long, and nothing is gained by getting up at the crack of dawn and then being tired and cranky all day. Might as well get a good sleep.

When I made the reservation, I had asked the lady if I could get a bus from there on up to Langmusi in Gansu Province. She had told me that I could. But when I tried to make the arrangement after arriving, she talked to one of the drivers who takes people up there, and he said the police were not allowing any travelers through that area (it's a Tibetan village). Great. That means I have to go all the way back to Chengdu. I was irritated with her for not telling me that in the first place, but I suppose if she had, I would not have come, and I really did want to see Jiuzhaigou.

Jiuzhaigou is a beautiful nature preserve set in the majestic mountains of Sichuan Province. I was told that it usually gets 10,000 to 20,000 visitors a day during the summer time. The day before yesterday, when I was there, I heard there were about a thousand people visiting the park.

Generally, it's a good idea to get there as early as possible, then you can get on a bus, and when it stops, you get off, look around, and then go back and find a bus to get on. This year, since there were so few people, they were just stopping for a few minutes, and then having everyone get back on the same bus they had come on. I decided early in the day to break that rule. The problem, you see, is solitude. The last thing I want to do is just follow a group of people around all day. I wanted solitude. I wanted to be alone with God. So the first time we stopped, I deliberately got lost in the woods. I knew that if I didn't, I would not be ready for the day. I was feeling ornery and irritated, and I needed to settle my spirit. I found an isolated spot, and sat down to hear what God had to say. This is the verse that greeted me when I opened my Bible:"Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is this not to know me? says the LORD." (Jeremiah 22:15-16This is Jeremiah's rebuke to the son of Josiah. Josiah was a good king, who cared for the poor. But his son only cared for making himself wealthy at the expense of the kingdom. The message is clear. You want to know God? Then judge the cause of the poor and needy. You don't want to concern yourself with the needs of the poor? Then forget about knowing God. Knowing God is not what we think. We make it complex and religious. But to God, it is simple and practical.

But I'll leave the sermon for later. I emerged from the woods to see that my bus had left. But there was another bus with a small private tour. They allowed me to hop a ride since I was alone, and they had an extra seat.

I can't describe the scenery to you. You will just have to come here yourself. And you won't get out of it by telling me about the high prices your travel agent is quoting you for a tour to China. Remember, I don't do tours. I don't believe in them. I travel by myself and use public transportation. It's a lot cheaper, and much better, because you can follow your own schedule, not one prescribed for you. To be sure, you do need to learn a little Mandarin if you want to travel independently in Western China. And, of course, you have to put up with hucksters, wild drivers, and....oh, I don't want to start.

As I said, it's just not possible to describe, in words, the expansive natural beauty of this place. And I can't show it to you, either. The camera that could capture it has not been invented. It's almost a sacrilege to be standing there gasping at the grandeur of God's creation, and then pick up my camera and be forced to zero in on one little tiny square inch of the majestic panorama. It offended me. I felt like throwing my camera in the lake. I was filled with anger and resentment, and I decided not to take any pictures. But I just couldn't resist.

Fortunately, it was a very beautiful day. And the park was not crowded, because of the unusual circumstances of this summer. Still, I did hope to do a little hiking on my own at least sometime during the day. I talked with one of the tour guides, and she helped me map out a hike from a drop off point, to a pick up point further down. Solitude. What is it? Gary Kinnamon defines solitude as being alone without being lonely. It's not that easy to find in China, and many Chinese people seem to have resigned themselves to living life without it. But this is not good. Everyone needs some solitude.

Jiuzhaigou is a very pretty place. But isn't really the place to come to if you just want to get close to nature. It's much better, then, to find one of the many mountain villages in Western China, and stay for a few days. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't come here. You should see the place. If you can, try to schedule your trip right after a major earthquake, when the roads have been closed so that it's much harder for the tens of thousands of tourists from all over China to get here. And it wouldn't be a bad idea to arrange for a local uprising, so that the floods of European tourists, who generally flow down from Lanzhou, will be diverted to other places. It's an unusual combination of circumstances, and it made for a much less frenzied experience.

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