Friday we had “Team Building” day and I will preface by saying I was not particularly looking forward to it. It’s become abundantly clear that what my fellow Chinese teachers consider fun is radically different from what I consider fun. And I had to be at the school at 8am which irritated me because I knew it would be 9am before we actually started the day. But if I was late I’d never hear the end of it. So I got there on time and proceeded to wait around for everyone else to show up. At 830 I was told I had to do a demo class.
A high level demo class, so, at least an hour.
And I knew it was going to be a special kind of day when after my demo the line manager told me she had a near religious experience while doing one of the activities. I split them into groups and told them to make a machine. Any machine, a machine that can do whatever they want, and then they had to tell the class about it. This made her think some deep thoughts apparently and she was quite moved.
But once that was over we were on our way to starting our day for real! I got to ride in the car with the other teachers while the line manager and front desk lady took the bus to meet us there. In my exploration of Yan’an I’ve mostly gone east and west and not so much north and south. So I got to see another part of the city as we drove to the countryside.
I am and always will be a country girl at heart. Cityscapes are not my thing. Give me hills and fields and birds and coyotes. So when we finally left the hustle and bustle of Yan’an behind and got into the country where the mountains and hills where bright green and there wasn’t a building in sight; bliss.
We pulled into a small town, which I’m guessing still had a population larger than my hometown, and they finally told me what exactly this team building day was going to consist of. Up to this point the only thing I knew was that I had to be at the school at 8am and we were going to the country. We are at Wanhua Mountain! This is a place I’ve mentioned before, way back when I was still researching cities. It has the largest concentration of wild tree peonies in china. And they were everywhere. Unfortunately, we were a little early for most of the blooms. Anyone who heads over there on Monday though is in for a show because those buds were just about ready to pop. There were enough open though that the air smelled fabulous. For the first time since we went to Sihanoukville I could smell trees and flowers and not diesel and people.
‘Twas glorious. The trees were cypress as well so we had the pungent peony scent with that sharp pine smell and I about swooned.
But I couldn’t go frolicking through the hills as soon as we got there. We had to wait for Line Manager and Front Desk Lady. While we waited the other teachers picked up a quick snack, which for me would have been a complete meal. Chinese people can pack away the food y’all.
When the rest of our group arrived I was almost at sprint for the entrance when Line Manager and Front Desk Lady said they wanted to get a snack too. So I wound up getting a little biscuit/roll thing—stuffed with meat and vegetables and deep fried—from a street vendor while they sat down to cold noodles.
And then, finally, FINALLY! We were off!
I’m having fun exploring the city of Yan’an. There are a lot of small alleys and side streets hiding great food and cool things all over the place. But you put me in with trees and flowers and winding dirt paths and I cannot resist. I have to know. I have to know where it goes, what’s on the other side of that hill, and where does the path lead? So while the city has done a magnificent job of creating a wide safe stone walkway with easy to navigate stairs and handrails that winds you around the peonies about ten minutes into this hike I was gone.
I did try at first to weave between staying on the official trail and wandering off on the smaller footpaths. I really did try to stick with the group. But it seemed their goal was to get to the top of the mountain whilst mine was to enjoy the climb. I was taking pictures left and right and just reveling in hearing birdsong for the first time in months that didn’t come from birds locked up in cages.
I gave up about halfway up and set off to follow a promising path and found a big cluster of peonies in full bloom right on the edge of a drop off. What. A. View. You can’t capture these vistas on a phone, you just have to take my word that it was straight drop off the edge and those hills stretched for miles.
My path got me to the plateau first which I thought was funny because the whole time I was off on my great adventure I could hear them telling me I was going to get left behind.
And at the top we found a whole stretch of peonies in bloom with a clear view of the hills again.
A little further down there was a huge statue and one of my CTs told me it was Mulan.
Holy Hells, THE Mulan? Yes! Apparently Wanhua—where the peonies are—has some kind of claim to Mulan. I don’t know how true that is since it seems when exactly and where exactly Mulan was born is a little fuzzy, but that’s what she told me. Whether it’s true or not, who cares, the statue was freaking awesome.
If you don’t know, yes, it is the same Mulan from the Disney movie. She took her father’s place in the army, with a little less fumbling than the movie portrays, her father taught her warfare and how to use weapons. She was a general in the army for something like ten years and at the end of it she refused any and all rewards and instead married one of her generals and retired to her hometown. There is a myth/legend that she gave birth on the battlefield to a son, but the only one who knows if that’s true is long dead.
I was trying to think of any badass lady statues we have in the US and Liberty is all I could think of and she’s not even a real lady. She’s just an icon. We need more Mulan-esque statues.
After we took a couple pictures with the statue the rest of the group was ready to go back down the mountain. I, on the other hand, spied a small side path. I told them I’d meet them at the bottom and took off before anyone could say otherwise. The path I started on was paved and it just led to a bathroom.
But, just past that were a tiny foot path and trees and glimpses of a view that could rival what was on the other side. Boom. Gone.
If they came looking for me there wasn’t a trace to be found. I was in the bushes and ducking through trees without breaking stride. Found a steep drop half hidden by long grasses and weeds.
And I popped out not too far from where I’d gone in and I was about to head back when off to the right I spied a well word track going further up the mountain.
Well, LET’S SEE WHERE IT GOES!
This is what I needed. This right here. Solitude and silence with a warm breeze and the only evidence of people was the path I was walking. They’ve done a couple studies on peoples’ brains and discovered that even if you were born and raised in the city seeing natural landscapes relaxes your brain. We may have come quite a long way from Lucy, but it still puts subtle stress on our brains to constantly see manmade objects. This is why greenspaces in cities are such a big deal. People need nature. The quantities vary, but we all need to see a flower every now and then to stay sane.
I’m so glad I can take a bus to Wanhua because I didn’t find the end of that trail and I want to know where it goes.