A Day in the Country

In celebration of the end of intensives EF decided to treat the staff and take everyone out for a day of hiking outside of the city. A few days before they come around to get a count of how many people want to go and without hesitation I said I was in. I always enjoy being outside and I was really looking forward to and exploring China’s natural beauty.

We were told that we were going to take a bus ride there, but instead of the bus picking us up where most of the teachers lived–“the Chew”– we had to meet at the EF building at 8 am. That meant I had to wake up by 7 am on my day off, and I am not a fan of waking up early. I got to EF by 7:50am (I like to cut it close) and I was immediately worried about the trip ahead of us. The night before I had a big meal at Wu Gong’s restaurant and I was worried that I would have to go to the bathroom while on the 3 hour bus ride to the place we were going. I ran upstairs to try and use the bathroom in our office. But as we all know whenever you try to force it, it never seems to happen. Point of the story is you have to let it happen naturally. Anyway, I ran back to the bus, hoping and praying that the urge wouldn’t overtake me while on the bus.

The bus ride started off fine. I was able to fall asleep with no problem. About half way into our trip I was jolted awake by the rumbling of the bus. We had moved from the smooth surface of the asphalt pavement to the rocky, uneven, bumpy dirt road of China’s countryside. We spent the next hour and a half on this bumpy dirt road.

The bus driver was driving like he was racing the Indy 500, going as fast as he could. So when we hit a small divot, the entire bus jumped and bounced. I became really nauseous and began to feel ill, but as we went further and further into the countryside the scenery became more and more beautiful.

Finally, as we got closer to the nature preserve, we hit a paved road again. Thank God! During this time a tour guide got on the bus and started talking in Chinese. Unfortunately, no one was translating what she was saying for the English teachers. I was getting annoyed and asked if someone would mind translating. In response to my request the tour guide would talk for about five minutes and then there would be about three sentences of translation. What are you gonna do?

We got to the nature preserve, which is called Peach Tree Forest, and made a pits stop so that everyone could go to the bathroom. I got out to stretch my legs and empty my tank. As I walked in to the bathroom I almost threw up from the smell alone. As I walk past each stall I saw piles of poop just sitting there in each toilet. It seemed like no one had flushed there in probably two years. I tried to breath through my mouth but the smell was so strong I could taste the shit on my tongue. I think that was the fastest I’ve ever peed in my life.

We got back on the bus and drove about 10 more minutes to a big dam that created this beautiful lake surrounded by gorgeous mountains. We were told that we were going on a boat ride. I was not super excited about it but it seemed like a nice activity so, why not? At least we were going to go hiking later. We got on this boat and started sailing around this lake. The lake was probably no bigger than 4 square blocks. It was pretty small. The whole boat ride only took about 45 minutes to hour. I was kind of annoyed because we had just spent three hours on the bus and now we were sitting on a boat for another hour. What about my hike?


After the boat ride we got back on the bus and headed to a little river not too far away. That is where we were going to have lunch. As we were getting off the bus we saw the TAs and the sales staff start pulling out bags of food. The teachers were wondering: what is going on? The Chinese staff asked us why we didn’t bring a lunch for the picnic? We told them that we didn’t know that we had to; we thought lunch was going to be provided. Apparently the night before the hike, the person who had planned the trip put a notice up but forgot to tell any of the teachers about it. So we (the teachers) just sat there with nothing to do while the Chinese staff enjoyed a leisurely lunch.

We teachers started wandering around to see if there was a little store where we could buy some food. Being in the middle of nowhere we came up empty-handed. We did bump into some Chinese people who were working nearby. They offered to take us into this basement to see some statues. We thought that they were leading us to food. No such luck. So we looked at the statues and left.


As we were sitting around for lunch to be over, we saw a number of different couples dressed in their wedding attire. Apparently they were all there for their wedding photos. In China it is very popular to have very gimmicky staged wedding photos (like wearing the same outfit). There were about eight couples that came out to this nature reserve to take their pictures. It was very cute.


After lunch we were told that we were going to do more boating. This time it was to be rafting on bamboo. We all put on life jackets, as most Chinese don’t know how to swim. The rafts had no railings, no seats, nothing from keeping you out of the water. If too many people get on your raft, your raft started to take on water.

When we finally got on the raft we found out that it was man-powered by pushing long bamboo sticks into the water like a gondola. The area we were allowed to float in was probably no bigger than a quarter of a football field (25 x 40 yards). Everyone was really nervous about falling in because we all had our valuables with us and not on the bus (phones, cameras, iPods, etc.). Apparently you can’t trust anyone and people felt that they would be safer with us then with the bus driver.


 At this point I am just jonesing to go on a hike. But after the rafting we were told that we could not go on the hike because it had been raining the past two days and it was supposedly “too dangerous.” They told us that instead we are going to see this great museum with ancient statues. It turned out to be the basement we were shown during lunch.

At this point I just wanted to spend as much time as I could outside in nature as possible as I had enough breathing of that city smog. I decided to walk around while the rest of the group went into the “museum”. I then came across some kind of obstacle course and I made up some games to be played on them with the guys who were with me. Nearby was a small house with a single room in it that was an optical illusion. The floor was tilted 18° but you think the room is flat so that when you try walking, you fall over.


At the end of the path was an overlook of a waterfall and a mountain. The mountain is called Beautiful Woman Mountain because if you look closely enough, the outline of the mountain looks the bust of a woman lying down.


The last part of our outing was a visit to what was described as an authentic Mongolian village. We arrived at this village and all there was were four small huts and one big hut. Inside the big hut are a few bows (for shooting arrows) and some costumes to dress up in. A few of us decide to try on the wardrobe. Of course I joined in but apparently I put on a woman’s outfit instead of a man’s. The next think I know I hear karaoke going in the background (karaoke is very big in China). Is this really what Mongolians do for fun in their spare time, shoot bow and arrows and then sing karaoke?


Finally, we got back on the bus to go home. It was another three hour ride with the first half being bumpy and nauseating. As we got closer to Qinhuangdao we were told that we were going to go out to dinner to a fancy restaurant. Our boss Richard or as I like to call him, our benefactor (the guy who owns EF) was treating. What is funny is that Richard owns an English school but doesn’t speak a word of English himself.


It was a lovely meal with plenty of food and plenty of beer. Overall it was a fun day even though I never did get to go hiking. I guess the thing to remember is that things aren’t always as advertised.


About JoelS

Spending a year teaching English and saving the world in China
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