As I wrote in our last post, we unsuccessfully attempted a hike to Shen Xian Dong temple, which is perched on one of the hills behind town. A few days later during attempt number two, we made it about 500 meters further, when a minivan chock full of people veered off the road in front of us and lurched to a halt, nearly crunching our toes in the process. It’s been our experience that Chinese drivers are quite possibly the worst we’ve come across, so we didn’t think much of it until the side door slid open and we were beckoned inside.
We are the only Westerners in Weining, and have accepted the fact of our novelty here. A giant squealing pig sauntering down the middle of one of the main roads drew less attention the other day than did the redhead walking quietly down the sidewalk. So we just assumed that van’s passengers wanted to stop and gawk. But then we saw the smiling face of one of our new friends, Principal Liu, the head of the local primary school with whom we’ve been working. Although she speaks no English, she waved us into the van. People shuffled around to fit us in and off we zoomed up the hill.
After hearing that we were headed to the temple, the driver, who spoke a little English, asked if we wanted to join them at a different mountain instead. Knowing that some of the most exciting adventures we’ve experienced were unplanned, we happily agreed. Of course, we weren’t quite sure where we were headed, what we were going to do, or who we were with. Minor details, really.
As the van pulled off the road a few miles on and lurched down what seemed to be more goat trail than proper thoroughfare, we learned that we would be joining in a combination picnic and ancestral grave visit. About 8 carloads of friends and family arrived soon afterwards and the picnic festivities began.
Waiting for everyone to arrive, we hiked up to the crest of the hill, hoping to see more of the countryside surrounding Weining. What really caught our attention were the trees. We are in the poorest county in the poorest province in China. Therefore deforestation is a major problem; the smattering of 5′ high pine trees comprised the biggest “forest” we’d seen in weeks.
Picnic food seems to be pretty much the same as other meals here. However instead of a typical restaurant’ massive lazy Susan where a variety of dishes can be shared, food was doled out from huge bowls into plastic bags. These were then divided evenly among the groups of people, with newspaper acting as our tablecloths. Potatoes were tossed right into the campfire, resulting in an end product with flaws similar to a microwave burrito: scalding on the outside and uncooked on the inside. A plunge in chili sauce helped the situation.
It was one hell of a day. But we still hadn’t made it to Shen Xian Dong. Stay tuned for the story behind our third and final attempt.