December’s birthday trip was spent at Anhui Province, a few hours from Shanghai. Boarded a fast train, and the last 1/3 of the ride was done backwards, like we lost our way. I spent a day at Xidi Ancient Town, where I was lead to based on the premise that it was a nice place to take photographs, and that it was the second most touristy ancient town in the area, and therein strikes a good-enough balance for me. Worth going to? Good side-trip, good for an afternoon, but the place is dead after sunset, and I didn’t sense any promise of shooting at night.
The adventure begins the day after, when I set off to stay on the foot of Huangshan/Yellow Mountain. The food ration-picking for the planned two-day stay at the mountaintop was interesting time spent. Sure, the warnings abound about the high cost of food and water up there, but I did get a good deal with a dorm room with breakfast, so I know I shouldn’t go crazy about packed sustenance. The supermarket bread loaves were cardboard-hard. There were self-heating lunches that didn’t match my belief system, that I had to search a online video demo to be convinced. I probably had a fistful-worth of excitement the next morning, as I boarded the tourist bus heading for the gates of the mountain area. The fellow I was with on the cable car pointed out the sea of clouds halfway through our ride, and that you could only enjoy this view come autumn. With two feet set for the trail, two hands fiddled on the phone half-surprised they had wifi.
Dropped my extra bag at Huangshan Shilin Hotel -touted as a photographer’s hotel, with old cameras on exhibit, as well as framed photos of the mountain- and reached two easy peaks. Easy, like after an hour of gradual elevation from a well-cemented trail, I reach a saturation point where I had to stop every 5 minutes, and relished any roofed sightseeing stop on the way. There was a group of well-equipped photographers maybe just a little older than I am experiencing the same torture as I was. I amused myself by breaking the morning ground-ice. After reaching the second peak, and the courage to go near the fenced edges absent, I snacked on Taiwanese sausages -Three for 10RMB! This is normal-priced food! #internetlies– and put away the DSLR for my annual birthday selfie because I really didn’t care at this point.
Also, the voice in my head was letting me know it was OK to take pictures that interest me. Isn’t it strange I still gravitate towards a street photographer’s aesthetic up here? No, it said. You also know that those two dozen feeble attempts at mountain/landscape shots won’t ever satisfy you, right?
My retreat back to the hotel was burdened by a pounding headache, and the bunk bed I settled for was sufficient, even if my respite was nudged when my roommates arrived. They seemed prepared to conquer the peaks, one or two with more than enough camera gear. I spent the rest of the night half-resting, and the rest was spent considering quitting.
I did. The walk of shame back to the cable cars the next day cemented the decision, as even the few hundred meters it took had me wish I had another pair of lungs. There was another option I could substitute to fill the gap now in my trip, since there was a hot springs resort at the foot of the mountain. The Youtube footage of it, with pools of people hobnobbing, didn’t meet my idea of relaxation, so I skipped it. Went back to the first hotel I was in to pick my heavy bag, had a surprisingly easy time booking a bus back to Shanghai -wasting train tickets for the next day, I know- and killed time in the non-holidays sleepiness of the area. Finding lunch for one wasn’t so easy, and then latte was served by a lady barista/bartender at that one cafe/bar spoke English.
The expectation of a bus trip in China for a foreigner would surely be crowded and noisy. My Shanghai-bound ride wasn’t. I still had a few digits left for a hand count, and no one seemed to know anyone else. I entertained myself with the sight of small villages along the highway, and wondered how off-the-grid they would be.
I spent Christmas eve with Raemin, whom I met at my first Shanghai stint more than a decade ago through a local Flickr group. This was us then:
The past year, we’ve frequently gone out for dinners, museum exhibits, where not much has really changed, except that when we’re together, our once-fancy cameras are consciously left home, and phones are now deemed sufficient for the occasional photo-op.
I planned dinner at a hotel buffet, where I wolfed down roast turkey and suckling pig. The for-expat restaurant choices for that day were plenty, but I really just wanted something that didn’t make me want to go hikikomori automatically at the sight of people en masse, loudly celebrating. Raemin did think this was a good setup, and the vibe of social chattering from the other tables was just the right amount of subdued atmosphere totally apt for the evening. Sure, our table probably had the most casual, non-seasonal air around it, where we mostly just commented about the food, but that changed when my raffle number was called, and Raemin was more excited than I was. I won a two-night stay at the place’s other hotel in Wuhan.
As for New Year’s eve, I failed to cook a worthy batch of beef kaldereta, and told the hosts I’d just be bringing pizza. Arrived at the house of fellow-Filipinos where a toned-down karaoke session was ongoing, and I bee-lined for the spread and went straight for the embutido. The time when most community yards will be full of residents lighting up fireworks is long-gone, so everyone just grabbed their phones to call relatives after we heralded in 2017 ourselves.