Monasteries & Mountains & Mummies & Donkey Meat: Cangyan Shan

If I were to say that Shijiazhuang is a small city, would you believe me? It’s only about 10 million people, which as compared to Beijing I guess is quite small. It certainly does seem to have a bit of a different flair that what my limited experience in Beijing. For instance, right away I notice that the traffic here is much more intense. Clearly I am not an expert after just a few days in a city, but right away I feel more at home here.

This morning I head downstairs with Tara to get some breakfast. If I may, I will call this street food. There are a couple vendors with their carts parked outside this ginormous apartment complex, and I find out from Tara that indeed these people are the regular vendors here at this spot. I suppose if another person were to decide to set up their pancake shop they would very quickly get into a turf war. Honestly, it won’t be me if that’s what you are wondering. Although, maybe Finnish pancakes would sell here? Maybe not.

Tara skillfully orders two different types of pancakes from two different vendors using her Chinese language skills. Now, I am proud to tell you that Tara is so smart! She learned to speak the Chinese language so well that she even won an award! Most people seem surprised to hear such a beautiful blonde young woman speak fluent Chinese, but these vendors are not. Tara is a regular customer here, which means of course that the pancakes are delicious.

Tara has a busy schedule this morning so we run off with her to their office, which is located high atop an office tower at the Lerthai Center. Lisen, Tara’s maid of honor who is from Sweden, joins us this early morning hour. I snap a few photos of the office space.

Tara has a hair appointment this morning with her wedding consultant/stylist, so we make our way over to the shop. My eyes catch some beautiful traditional Chinese gowns in addition to the rows of western style wedding dresses. I should think if I were the bride I would have a hard time choosing a gown! Well, let me add if I were the bride, and was about 20 years younger, and had a beautiful figure…..

The consultant/stylist spends some time on a trial run for the wedding hairstyle. Tara has natural beautiful blonde hair like her mother.

Now I have to say that Tara is pretty much the antithesis of a bridezilla. Like who can entertain a group of 11 foreigners in the days leading up to their wedding? I wonder if there is a term to describe the opposite of bridezilla? Maybe “chill-zilla”? We are lucky.  Lisen and I get a sneak preview of the wedding dress and we get to help pick out a headpiece and veil.

We head back to the Tara and Charles’ office. The high rollers from the Hilton Hotel have finally woken up and made their way over. While we all enjoy the view I snap a few photos.

Charles’ father has rented a minibus for our group and today we are going to hike at Cangyang Shan mountain. There is a beautiful hanging temple there, and you can hike up steep steps to the top of the mountain. You can also take a ride up there by cable car.

The drive to Cangyan Shan goes along the Taiyuan – Shijiazhuang expressway up some mountain passes. There are literally thousands of trucks on the highway. Who knows how good their brakes are. We see one trucker stopped at the side of the road throwing water on all his truck wheels to try to cool down the brakes.

On our way we stop at the side of the road to buy some fresh honey from a stand. This family lives here in these tents.

Tara and Charles have two dogs, Mercy and Porshe, and they are with us today. They really are puppies, just one year old. An interesting tidbit of information is that large dogs are illegal in most large Chinese cities, although that kind of depends on where you live. Now you may know that I am a little afraid of dogs, although recently I have been getting a little better since I now have two grand puppies. Once the puppies get settled in the back of the bus it is pretty smooth sailing. Now that the dogs are out of the car they are super energetic and really excited to be in this new place. For a bit Tara lets them run free, however we quickly notice that the Chinese people here are truly afraid of the dogs. Whenever one of the dogs approaches them they are visibly shocked and shaken. The path in narrow and steep, and I worry that someone will get injured when they overreact to their fear of dogs.

Jules is a very happy hiker.

When we reach one of the temple areas a woman approaches us. Apparently for an extra 5 yuan we can go see something unusual. She says it is a dead person. A dead person who has been dead for over 1000 years, she proclaims. If we pay her the money we can have access into the basement tunnel where we will find this “dead person”.

Now, I am not sure why I would want to see a dead person. I end up seeing plenty in my line of work as an ICU nurse. That’s something that I don’t think you can ever really get used to. I will tell you, though, that in 1999 David and I had gone to Egypt and more specifically to the Cairo Museum, which was absolutely incredible. We had an Egyptologist along with us, and he was really knowledgable about all these cool things in the museum including the King Tut tomb artifacts that were there. He showed us, for instance, a boomerang (Australian technology) made of birch wood from Scandinavia, which demonstrated how well traveled the world was at that time in history. The Egyptologist told us that for a small extra fee we could have access to see some mummies that were in a vault at the Cairo Museum. We decided not to do it,  and we have regretted it ever since. I am not about to regret it this time. If there is indeed a 1000 year old mummy in the dungeon here, then I am certainly going to go see it! Some of us, shall we say, more adventursome spirits (or foolish) pay the woman the fee.

The hallway is dimly lit and has some quirky looking statues along the way. When we reach the end of the passageway there is a glass case with a human-like figure in it. The glass on the case is dirty and smudged, making it difficult to visualize the contents. I study it closely. I don’t know. Maybe you could argue that it is a real mummy. I look closer at the hands. The fingers seem suspiciously thick and unnatural looking. I am going to go with my suspicion that they have attempted to dupe me! Luckily I didn’t pay any more than one dollar to see the fake mummy.

When we leave the dimly lit basement corridor the same women try to get us to pay money to tie a red rag on this “money tree”. No thanks……I know where money grows, and for me it is not on trees. Maybe if I owned a nursery it would grow on trees, but for now I am not buying it.

The views are beautiful!

Katja, baby Jules, Reija and I decide to hike on up a little farther. Everyone else takes the cable car down. Personally, I am a bit nervous about the cable car, and trust my legs much more for getting down safely. When we hike up to the next temple area we find some beautiful pink flowering trees! As we approach them we realize that they are completely made out of plastic!

Colorful roof tiles……

The sun is getting low in the sky.

All the while we are feeling a little worried. The others have been waiting for us a long time already. We rush down as fast as we dare to go. I am nervous about Katja and the baby. If she trips the baby will get injured. I think probably about every couple minutes I warn her to be careful with the baby. While we hike down we try to decide who to blame for being late. I don’t want to be the one to blame because I am kind of a big mouth, and the less offensive I am the better. Maybe it is best to blame Reija….

When we get back to the car our plans on who to blame were in vain.  No one was visibly upset about us taking so long. Andrea said they had a nice relaxing time with Erkki. Because of his back they had taken the cable car up and down. Andrea often tells me that she can never be as daring as me, however, I did not tell her that I would never have dared to go into that rickety cable car….

On the way home the traffic is a little crazy. We are driving on a narrow mountain road. I have to tell you that we nearly get into a severe collision. A car is driving in front of us, and for some strange reason it comes to a complete standstill very suddenly. Our vehicle is notably heavier than the car that stopped in front of us, so our driver brakes and swerves into the oncoming lane even though there is no visibility around the curve in the road.  Just as soon as he did that, a huge semi truck fully loaded comes barreling around the bend straight at us. Our driver skillfully slams the brakes as hard as he can and swerves back at the last second into our own lane. There was only millimeters to spare from hitting the semi truck, and hitting the stopped vehicle in front of us. We notice that the reason the man had stopped so abruptly was because he was talking on his cellphone.

Everyone gasps after the near collision and the anxiety level in the vehicle increases to almost an unbearable level, rightfully so. Most of us are parents with many people depending on us. Some of the moms are asking Charles to tell the driver to slow down and stop taking unnecessary risks, which I guess in a way could be quite insulting to the driver. I remember when I was a teenager I used to ride with my older brother in his car. Sometimes his driving was really scary, like passing cars with millimeters to spare, but I learned that I was not even allowed to as much as gasp so that he would not lose his concentration.

Andrea is especially nervous. She is sitting in front of me, so I reach over the back of the seat, and give her a shoulder and neck massage to help her relax. The rest of the trip goes without a hitch.

For dinner we stop at this “village”, as Charles calls it. I can see this type of place being popular in Cave Creek, AZ. This place is built like a village, but is actually a ginormous restaurant. Again we enjoy a delicious Chinese meal that Charles orders for us.

Now I think I can maybe say that I have eaten something that you haven’t. How about donkey meat? Erkki ends up loving it so much that for the next couple days he is asking for donkey meat everywhere we go. I am not sure if he is kidding or not, but he is looking for a donkey burger.


Even Mercy and Porsche, the puppies, were able to join us for this dinner. Too bad they wouldn’t cooperate for this photo.

It is late by the time that we get home. As I lay on my bed I think about how Tara is making her home here in China, in a place so different and far away from her roots. Alongside with Charles she has established several successful businesses here in this vast city, where she seems content and comfortable.  I imagine myself moving to a place like this. Could I do it? Perhaps not. Maybe for a year or two it might be interesting. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that perhaps I could really learn to love living in just such a place. Who knows…..maybe someday…..oh wait…….I forgot……no Facebook! I don’t think I could do it after all. Hopefully Zuckerberg can fix that now that he is making China his home…..