Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Chinese Confession - Huang Shan II

Today’s blog is dedicated to my capstone project and two finals that should have been the focus of my attention when I wrote this back in December. I also dedicate it to procrastination, since this also took place about 10 months ago. Procrastination is an amazing thing. Whenever I find myself being extra productive, it is almost always because I am putting off something else, and because I am not the type to do absolutely nothing. When I am procrastinating, I instead find marginally productive things to do so that I can still live with myself. So yes, procrastination is a great thing. Without it, my room might never get cleaned, blogs might never get written, and photos might never get posted. So next time you think procrastination is a bad thing, remember that even procrastination has its potentially good qualities.

Okay, it has taken me a bit longer to document my hike up Huang Shan that I originally anticipated (obvious understatement). Fortunately I took hundreds and hundreds of pictures, and I easily could have taken more. For some reason, all of the typical cliché statements like “breath taking” or “awe inspiring” fail miserably to do justice to how amazing Huang Shan really is.

Huang Shan is easily among the most beautiful places in China. It’s actually not just one mountain, but rather several all in one area. I haven’t been everywhere in this country, but I certainly can’t argue against it. Lonely Planet, which is basically the bible of tour guide books, certainly thinks so. It specifically mentions Huang Shan as being a must-see and one of the top scenic places in the country. I think it is actually ranked as #1, though I don’t have a Lonely Planet book, so I can’t verify. But you don’t have to just take my word for it. I have pictures and even found some videos on youtube. Check them out:

We arrived at the base of the mountain fairly early, and the crowds had already begun making their way up the steep path. Being from Colorado, with an elevation of about a mile above sea level, I expected it to be a fairly easy hike. The peaks of the mountains are barely above 1,000 meters, so I figured it would be a breeze. How naïve of me. Unlike in the Rockies, where mountain trails usually feature switch backs, which make a hike much easier, the Chinese seem to be a bit more hardcore. They go straight up the mountain with little side-to-side deviation. In fact, the path was actually made almost entirely of stairs.

The first few hundred meters were a good warm up. I figured it would then level out and we would climb a bit more gradually. Nope. They kept going. Staircase after staircase after staircase after staircase. That’s how it went. It made the Stairmaster machines at the gym seem like so easy! It didn’t take long before our legs were burning and it seemed to take everything to keep from taking a break. Meanwhile, there were Chinese people who actually had the job of carrying heavy loads up the same path as us. And when I say heavy, I am not exaggerating. They had a bamboo pole across their shoulders, behind their head. Each end had an equal load in a sack or box that was strung to the pole. My friend Kirsten stopped and asked if she could try carrying one. One she had it on her shoulders, she couldn’t even move with it. It easily weighed over 100 pounds, and these people had to carry these things for miles up these steep stairs to the small shops along the path that sold drinks, trinkets, and snacks. After seeing these guys carrying such heavy loads, I told my friends that I am not allowed to complain one bit, and if I do, they can smack me.

I didn’t complain.

The hike wasn’t easy, but the view and the experience overall became more and more amazing with every step. As we climbed, I would look down at these steps – so carefully carved and shaped from cement or stone – and I just had to wonder how many people had to work so hard to make this path so that we all could enjoy such an amazing place. Then looking out at the steep valleys below us, the blue sky above us, and the trees, rocks, and plants all around us, it all seemed so perfect. The weather was absolutely beautiful and, to be honest, probably couldn’t have been any more perfect. It was clear and we could see for miles around us. Had there been any clouds, they would have made the scene even more amazing. Clouds often form at a pretty low elevation around Huang Shan, and when they do, the mountains rise above them so that they are like islands in the sky.

After several hours of hiking, we reached the top of one of the peaks, took some fantastic pictures, got even more pictures taken of us because we were foreigners, and then moved on to the next peak. It seemed a bit odd because as we moved along, the crowds were getting denser. At some points, the path resembled a rush hour traffic jam with people all stopped. Then I remembered that there is a cable car line that can take people from the base of the mountain to an area in the middle of all of the trails and peaks. There are also a few hotels, restaurants, and some places where tents can be rented. Staying overnight in hotels is pretty popular, but apparently they don’t have heat and it gets really cold at night.

At one point, we stopped to take a break in an area between two peaks that had some restaurants and tourist stores. As we sat there watching the crowd, a few Chinese people with video camera equipment came up and asked us if we would like to be in a movie since we are foreigners. Of course our answer was “Heck yeah!” So the next moment we were doing whatever they told us to do, which included letting Kirsten climb up on my shoulders as we provided entertainment for the crowd that had gathered around to watch us.

Once our moment of popularity had passed, we moved on with the rest of the hike. Along the way we came across some Buddhist monks from Vietnam, took even more pictures, gave me the nickname “National Geographic” because I had the fanciest camera and was taking the most pictures. When we finally began our descent, it was about 3 miles and getting dark. Fortunately most of us had some kind of flashlights. Just before the end we ran into our driver who was supposed to meet us at the bottom and take us back to the train station. Because it was getting so dark, he had busted out his flashlight and proceeded up the trail to find us in case we were stuck without light. I just have to say, as a former taxi driver, there is no way I would have gone out of my way so much to help people out. I was really impressed.

Finally we got back to the city, had dinner, and took our overnight train back to Shanghai. Then after nine months, I got around to actually posting this blog!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Chinese Confession - Cilantro

For the most part, I consider myself to be a very non-picky eater. I really appreciate good food, but at the same time, I can find the good in a lot of food. At times it can be problematic – for example, when trying to decide what restaurant to eat at with friends. Even that isn’t usually much of a problem though.

One thing I do more and more frequently request is that we don’t go to a place that puts cilantro in their food. It’s something that I’ve been emphasizing ever since I first got to China. They put a lot of cilantro in a lot of food in Shanghai, and seemingly in a lot of Chinese food in general. When I go out to eat with people, normally my only request is that the food not have cilantro. This is the same whether I’m in China, the US, or wherever. As long as there is no cilantro in the food, I am good to go. If someone is making Mexican food, I plead for them to not add any. For quite a while I thought that perhaps this made me more of a picky eater than anybody else. I seemed to be the only person I knew that really disliked it. Just thinking about it makes a grimace break out across my face and practically ruins my appetite. I couldn’t understand why so many people would like it, yet I would find it so utterly vile and repulsive. Even more, people usually had a complete look of shock when they found out just how much I hate the stuff.
As time went on, I started to consider that maybe cilantro just tastes a bit different to me than everyone else. I didn’t think much of it, though, and merely contented myself to avoid it as much as possible.

Well, last night I finally learned something that shed a lot more light on this whole cilantro ordeal. While playing our weekly game of trivia at a pub in town, one of the trivia questions related to this peculiar herb. As I am pretty vocal about my disliking of cilantro, I was talking with my friends about it. Then MC of the game mentioned as a side note that some people have an enzyme that makes cilantro taste like soap.

*Metaphorical smack in face with a frozen turkey*

It all fell perfectly into place. I couldn’t really describe what it was about the taste of cilantro that I hate so vehemently, but I just didn’t see how people could like to add it to food. It had such a powerful flavor that seemed so unnatural and didn’t mix with or compliment any of the other foods it was served with. No matter how powerful something would normally taste, if it had even a tiny spec of cilantro on it, that would be all I could taste and it would make me gag and want to spit it out.

Finally! I have a fully justifiable reason to use when I ask people, as kindly as possible, to not put cilantro in food. I have this enzyme!

So, in case you can’t quite relate, just picture yourself sitting down to eat some Mexican, Chinese, or Indian food that smells really, really good. Take a bite and chew it for a second or two, then reach down and grab a bar of soap, put it in your mouth, and take a nice big bite. Voila! Now you know what cilantro tastes like to me, and now you know why I can’t help but grimace at the very thought of eating something containing it.

If you want more information, just check it out on Wikipedia:


Also, when I was researching this a bit online, I came across some humorous things other people say cilantro tastes like:

* Aluminum foil
* Air freshener
* It tastes like a migraine
* It tastes like hitting yourself in the head
* It tastes like how a closet might smell
* It tastes like shoes
* Powdered soap and metal shavings
* Stink bugs (this one is most accurate in my book)
* Soapy lawn clippings
* A moldy swimming suit that’s been left to fester in a high school locker

One woman on a site (http://www.culinate.com/articles/features/Mixed+feelings?page=0&pageSize=1) who moved from Southern to Northern Brazil said she lost 17 pounds because she “couldn’t eat the cilantro-laden food.”

I checked on facebook and there is even a group dedicated to those who hate cilantro as much as I do! I just couldn’t resist posting some of their pictures on here.

Finally, I can find rest for my weary soul simply knowing that I’m not the only person in the world who absolutely cannot, cannot, cannot stand cilantro.