From Chengdu Station, I took a bus to Mt. Emei. As I boarded the bus a man in the second row eagerly waved me over and offered me the seat next to him. “Please, please, sit here,” he said in English. How could I refuse?
“My name is Andy,” he tells me. “I own a hotel in the town of Mt. Emei. It’s called the Teddy Bear Hotel.”
“No kidding, that’s where I booked to stay tonight”
“Oh really? That’s great, I called you over to sit with me so I could convince you to stay at my hotel!”
Three hours later, at about 10 at night, the bus slowed to a stop in the downtown area of Emei City. Of course, it would have been convenient had the driver taken us all the way to the bus station since the Teddy Bear Hotel is located literally right next to the station, but that kind of thing just happens here sometimes.
Andy was kind enough to cover the cab fare- which I found out was complementary service of the hotel anyways- and helped me bring my things inside. I found the hotel common area completely empty except for the people working at the front desk. An odd situation to be found in a youth hostel so early in the night. Most of the travelers, I assumed, were resting up for a long day of hiking the mountain.
The cook was asleep but Andy was eager to whip up some local food for me himself as he is also a chef. “This local food is the best kind of food you can get in China. Definitely.”
Yes, of course.
Andy originally worked as a street vendor selling dumplings in his hometown of Emei City. He eventually opened up his own restaurant called the Teddy Bear Cafe which later became the Teddy Bear Hotel.
In the beginning, Andy ran the Teddy Bear Hotel as a youth hostel that catered mostly to western travelers seeking adventure on the mountain. He later expanded and upgraded his home into a full-fledged hotel to accommodate both international and domestic tourists. He spoke passionately about his hotel -which he referred to as his home- and about all the work he poured into it over the years. All of the wood used to build the new hotel came from trees cut down from the mountain that were dragged down and then sliced into the shapes and sizes that eventually fit together giving material form to his dream. We stood below bulking beams that hung from the roof like the shoulders of a wooden giant and Andy acted out the process of shaving off the bark and cutting the tree into form before finally applying a coat of lacquer. Every piece, every process, so much time, so much money. Like a kid excited about his favorite new toy, he showed every unoccupied room, each with its own unique variety of the hotel’s core design theme.
And in every room a teddy bear rested comfortably, waiting to greet their new guests.
Mt. Emei, located in Sichuan province, is the tallest of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains in China, soaring to over 3,000 meters high. It is well known for a giant Buddha statue and heavenly views from the mountain top. When the weather is right, you are literally looking out over a sea of clouds. Along the way to the top, hikers may also discover monkeys roaming the trails like hungry little mountain children looking for human snacks. I took a bus from the Emei station to one of the mountain park entrances and began the climb.
Old ladies stood on the stairs waiting for tourists to pass by, hoping to sell large incense rods to burn at one of the dozens of mountain temples.
Although Emei Mountain is essentially a national park, people have been living there for who knows how long and still reside in mountain villages to this day. The tourist economy must have done wonders for their standard of living because most of the houses I encountered along the main paved mountain path were newly constructed and boasted brand new cars in driveways.
I came across this man who crafts his own wooden canes.
“Which country are you from?” he inquired.
“Oh, ‘you qian ren.'” (You qian ren literally translates to “have money person”)
I think of myself as a poor college student still subsidized by my parents. But to a lot of the people here in China I may as well be Bill Gates.
As the stairs went up and up into the clouds themselves, what was a light wet mist at the bottom of the mountain became a soft snow flurry.
I stopped to take photos of this waterfall. A Chinese family was there already snapping shots of each other in front of the lovely view.
As soon as I showed up, though, the cameras not so surreptitiously turned in my direction to get footage of a foreign traveler for their family photo album. I feel like I’ve said this before but I swear me and my American friends are being displayed at family get-togethers all over China. But this time I got payback. No free modeling this time! Take that China!
It was a loosing battle as the wife held a camcorder, capturing every moment of my existence she witnessed during our brief encounter. One day, China, one day…
Yes, that’s very cute and all but, personally, I think the monkeys on mountain are greedy little brats. And its our fault! Before entering the monkey reservation, I passed by people selling “monkey food” from carts. A man stood in the path holding a bundle of bamboo rods saying “hey, monkey monkey.” What does bamboo have to do with monkeys? I though it was only pandas that eat bamboo…
I waved and said no thanks I don’t want to feed the monkeys I’m just going to pass through, see some monkeys, and be on my way.
Yeah. That’s what I thought.
I reached the reservation which was separated from the path by a rickety bridge straight out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom that ran not-so high above a small stream. A group of frightened teenage girls stood shaking before the bridge. “Come on,” I thought. “It’s a perfectly safe bridge, what’s the big deal.” Silly foreigner…
The years of tourists flocking to the reservation and handing out free food has conditioned the monkeys to expect food from any and every human that passes through their domain. Tourists wield bamboo sticks for their own safety against these greedy little primates.
See for yourself:
I tried to pass through their land without the proper offering… Did not go so well. As I approached the other side of the bridge, monkeys swung from trees and scurried down rock faces. The largest monkey of the group, a bundle of pure muscle and fur, stood at the front of the bridge like an evil troll. I walked past, trying to ignore him as he peaked into my pockets only to find my Chinese-English dictionary. A small group of reservation workers stood by throwing unintelligible Chinese in my direction. “No, no, no, I don’t want a picture with the monkey. No thanks, I’m just going to keep going.” I didn’t realize until after, but what they were really telling me was to feed the guy soon or leave immediately. Because as soon as I took a step too far into his territory, he ran up and grabbed the front of my coat trying to pull me back. Not thinking too smartly, I persisted forward and the monkey closed his mouth around my thigh with a bite that said: “This is a warning, try it again and I will fuck you up.” Shocked, I turned and looked at one of the workers who brandished a bamboo pole. She swung it at the monkey and told me to “get out of here immediately.” Yes, please! I hurried across the bridge with a troop of monkeys in my wake like a horde of hungry zombies.
So yeah, other than that little encounter, Emei Shan was great! Here are some more pictures:
The mountain is filled with wondrous sights that would take me days to discover. To stay on schedule, I was on the mountain for only one day. Unfortunately, I did not reach the summit of the mountain (which is supposedly the best part, whoops), but my friend Matt Lurrie went to Emei back in October and did make it to the top. Here are some of Matt’s pictures, enjoy: