All it takes is one ride on the metro during rush hour to make you question why you live in Shanghai. Today I felt like a rag doll, being shoved and laughed at while I watched a man grab a woman for no apparent reason. She responded by hitting the man in the shoulder while they both yelled at each other. I though the excitement was over when I was finally able to extract myself from the mob and head out of the train. As I headed toward the exit I heard a zealous, “Hello!” and turned to see who it came from.
It came from a short youngish man who wore glasses and a big grin. He said, “My name is so and so, I am from North Korea!” “Nice to meet you, my name is Lindsey!” All the while he kept shaking my hand, refusing to let go. “You are Cinderella and I am Mickey Mouse,” he continued. I thought, ‘He must be taking classes at Disney English,’ yes, it is a real “English school” out here. “O.K. I have to go!” he finally let go of my hand, but went in for the hug. “Oh, O.K.,” I said, and just then he planted a big wet one on my cheek. I quickly let go and hastily said goodbye. Why do I attract all of the crazies? I practically ran up the escalator, but had to stop because some people weren’t following the stay to the right if you just want to stand rule. I didn’t dare look back in fear that Mickey Mouse would be right behind me. I stepped off the escalator, and like a scary movie, the guy was right behind me again. I swerved into Uniqlo, said goodbye again as he shouted, “I am Donald Duck!” ‘I wish I was still in Moganshan,’ I thought wearily.
When you live in one of the biggest cities in the world, sometimes you just need to get away. Although I would love to take a weekend trip to Southeast Asia or Hainan every few weeks, it’s just not going to happen. But the great thing about Shanghai is that the railway system is fast, easy, and affordable. In about an hour you can be out of the gray and gloomy skies in the city and into the ancient water towns of Suzhou and the famous West Lake in Hangzhou.
Last weekend we went to Prodigy Outdoors, an all inclusive getaway in the bamboo forest of Moganshan. Moganshan is located about 2 hours away from the Hangzhou railway station. It is amazing, and when you breathe in for the first time, I swear you can hear your lungs saying “Thank you”. It seems like Moganshan is the only place in China that you won’t see a bevy of long necked construction cranes, or traffic, or pollution. Actually, on a clear night, one can see stars. Such a simple thing, but I bet there are children in this country who have never seen a star.
Moganshan has an interesting history. It used to be a very popular place for expats to live before the Cultural Revolution It was a place for families to get together and beat the summer heat. Now, it is emerging once again as a respite for city dwellers, both foreign and Chinese. In fact, wealthy Chinese couples visit places like naked Retreats with their friends. Last weekend I saw three women, in true city fashion, climb the rocky steps of the bamboo forest path in thick heels and skirts. Only in China.
Prodigy Outdoors is a no frills kind of place, which is what one usually wants after being surrounded by nothing but frills in the city. There is a fireplace in the common room, 3-4 private rooms, and a large room with bunk beds on the second floor. In case of rain, there is a flatscreen TV and a good selection of movies. The food, cooked by the cutest Ayis, was delicious. Breakfast comprised of fruit, steamed buns, toast, congee, and fermented tofu. If you are brave, try the tofu, after that, you won’t need any coffee, it wakes you right up! For dinner, we had wood oven pizza and barbecued everything. The spread for lunch was just as impressive: egg and tomato, fried poi balls, chicken, beef, fresh peas, carrots, broccoli, and more.
naked Retreats is an eco-friendly venture, and the prices are more steep than those at Prodigy. If you are looking to have a romantic weekend away, this is the place. naked offers private bungalows that are equipped with wood burning stoves and radiators to keep you warm in the crisp mountain air, a fridge stocked with juice, milk, water and more, a basket of wine if you feel so inclined, and kitchenette. In the morning and at noon, an Ayi will come knocking on your door with a basket full of food she carried on a bamboo pole and basket on her shoulders. She comes with fresh bread, vegetables, and baked chicken if you like. If you would rather cook for yourself, you can do that as well.
The location of naked is ideal, as the paths in the forest are well marked and clear. One can take a walk up the stone path to the tea fields. If the season is right, naked will help to organize a tea picking adventure. There are a also a few cool things to see on the various paths, a serene lake where villagers fish with giant bamboo poles, a nunnery, and a small town dotted with a few restaurants. It is the perfect place to get in touch with nature.
Although I am a little sad to be back in the city, I am trying to make the most of it. Still, I look forward to the next getaway…India!