Friday, October 30, 2009

Fragrant Hills, but very crowded

Last weekend, I visited a well known site outside Beijing called 香山 (Xiang Shan), or the "fragrant hills", as it is usually called in English. I was invited to go by a Chinese student who I am doing a "language exchange" with, and her three roommates.

The place in question is a natural park just outside Beijing, on my campus's side of the city. It consists of hills covered by forests and dotted with traditional buildings and relics. The highest peak, Xianglu, is 557 meters high. The park is particularly popular in the autumn, when the numerous maple leaves turn red, covering the place in red. I find that the Chinese have a very strong cultural tendency to appreciate flowers, leaves and plants, and this is the kind of thing which reallly warms their heart. Chinese students often ask me what particular flowers or trees are called in English, and of course more often than not I don't know the answer.

Anyway, we went to the park on an october saturday with lovely weather, exactly on the same day that the entire rest of Beijing had the same idea. Given Beijing's huge population, if you go to a famous site exactly at the time of year when it is most popular, and on a weekend with nice weather, you are bound to find it is packed. Naively I thought the park must have space for everyone, soo it wouldn't be a problem. However, even getting to the place proved to be a major issue. We planned to take a bus, but the bus which takes you to the park was so full that it was impossible to even get near it, let alone get inside. Even though it passed by at a frequency of about every 10 minutes, we immediately saw that it was useless even trying to get in. We decided to go by taxi, but the only taxi driver we managed to stop refused to go, saying that there would be too many cars around the park, and it would take him too long to get back out. We spent ages, literally ages, trying to stop another taxi, but every single one was engaged, even though in Beijing there are usually free taxis available all over the place. Perhaps everyone else had the same idea. In the end we decided to take what is known as a "black car", in other words an illegal taxi. The only problem is that in a normal taxi it would have cost us about 10 or 15 yuan for the trip, while in a black taxi it cost 10 yuan per person (about 1 euro actually, but all the same...). What's more, even the driver of the illegal taxi refused to go to the entrance of the park, saying that there would be too many other cars, and left us somewhere which was a 20 minute walk away from the park. Of course, the road to the park was jam-packed with other Beijingers going to get their share of fresh air. At the entrance, we had to struggle through an absurd mass of people to buy a ticket. Only undergraduate students are given discounted tickets, not post-grads, so I had to pay the full price. However, the girls I was with (who are also doing a master) had fake undergraduate student cards which you can apparently buy for 10 yuan outside my campus. I must do that sometime.

Anyway by the time I got inside, I was already quite tired, and it was already much later than we planned. We decided to give up going up the highest hill in the park, which is what most people do, and just walk around the base of the hills. Wherever we went it was full of people, on the paths, on the grass, on the rocks, etc.... however, we managed to relax a bit and have a nice picnic on the grass. Of course, the Chinese girls I was with were very excited about the red leaves, although personally I must say that I found the traditional Chinese buildings much more interesting than the leaves. Getting back home was of course also a feat. The queues at the bus station next to the park were unbelievable. However, in the end we made it back to out campus.

It is after days like this that one really appreciates the wisdom of the one-child policy, and almost wishes they would enforce it more strictly!
(The photo is of the crowds waiting to catch the bus to get back home)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

you are so popular among chinese girls,so i can understand why you know a lot about girl,especially chinese girl./aileen