Monday, April 14, 2008

Siguniang Shan

Two weekends ago we had an extra-long weekend since the students had some sort of sports day on Wednesday and Thursday, and Friday was Grave Sweeping Day, one of the "new" national holidays introduced by the government this year, though in fact it goes way back. As I'm sure you can guess, I didn't stay in town. We don't get 5-day weekends that often, so this definitely called for a trip. Matt, another teacher here, drove Stacy, Tarn, and I (all teachers here as well) in his little hatchback all the way up windy, potholed roads to Siguniang Shan, a 5000+ meter 4-peaked mountain about 7 hours west of Chengdu. It took us 11 to get there. Reason 1: flat tire.

Reason 2: dirt roads inside clouds turn into mud.

The pass the road goes through is at 4523 meters (14,839 feet), which is higher than Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the continental US, so we were all a bit winded after throwing just a few snowballs.

Just down from the pass and around 30 or so bends, Siguniang Shan, often translated as Four Girls Mountain) came into view.

The next day we went for a hike in one of the three valleys surrounding the mountain. The scenery was breathtaking, and I don't think it was just the altitude. It was also nice to be out of the city, enjoying the sun.

There were a number of frozen waterfalls in the valley, some of which had melted on the inside but were still frozen on most of the outside.

Almost all of the trees were covered with moss, either a long stringy kind or this dense fur coat.

Since it's called Four Girls Mountain, we dressed up in "traditional" Chinese dresses.

As we were finishing our walk, it started to snow, but not light, flaky snow. Instead it came down in little balls like Dippin' Dots.

Fortunately, the next day was clear. Not a cloud in the sky.

From the ridge we walked along you could see Rilong, the town where we were staying,

and many Tibetan houses on the hillside above it.

Every year there is a Tibetan pilgrimage to pay respects to the god of the mountain.

On the way back, the blanket of clouds had disappeared and, unlike on the way up, we could see the road and all the surrounding mountains.

We stopped at the Wolong Giant Panda Breeding Centre on the way home.

And now, for the main event: panda wrestling.

So cute you almost forget they're wild animals.

Snack time.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


Yesterday the foreign teachers here had a barbecue in a nearby park. I was expecting picnic tables, grass, and frisbees, but instead we got a concrete amphitheater with concrete grill/tables and concrete benches and loads of Chinese people enjoying the rainy day. The food, though, did not disappoint. We had everything from beef and chicken legs to squid and eggplant, all skewered and coated in hot pepper. Delicious.

After the feast, we stopped by the rock climbing wall in the park. The park has lots of rides, but their rickety appearance and inability to excite through any means but excessive spinning kept us away from them. The climbing wall, though, is new, and uses equipment from my friend's outdoor supply store, so it is presumably safe. Since I'd never climbed before, I didn't plan on doing so, but in the end I was roped in. Harnessed in too. Thanks to my height, I was able to make it to the top of all but the most difficult routes which not even the more advanced climbers we were with could conquer.

And today I went again, to a different wall though, this one attached to the side of a computer market in the middle of the city. This one was higher, more difficult, and ran by actual climbers (unlike the other, built by a farmer looking to make some easy money). Again I managed to make it to the top, but not on the more challenging overhanging parts of the wall. It was amazing to watch some of the climbers there scurry to the top in less than 20 seconds, effortless as a monkey.

Hours later, my fingers are still a bit sore as I type this. But it sure was fun.