The collected writings of a Renegade Tourist

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Shangshan Cafe, 4:41 pm

What my eyes see as fairy-tale-esque, the camera screen shows as flat. Three verdant mountains rising up in my left, one behind the other, their sides dotted with clusters of white tong flowers. The mists swirl around their peaks, alternately revealing the greenery for a moment then hiding it again. In front and to the right the valley opens up, lighter greens and more white flowers, another mist shrouded mountain in the distance. I take a sip of my tea then pick up the camera again, readjust the settings and put my eye to the viewfinder. Let's see if I can capture that magical atmosphere this time.

Dakeng Trail No. 9, 10:48 am

oise, vendors announcing their prices, groups of hikers talking to each other, old men listening to music on speakers rather than headphones. This is not what you expect when heading out hiking. A few other people, sure, but not an entire horde of merrymakers. That whole thing of going out in nature and getting away from the stress of city life is pretty meaningless here. I turn and head up trail number nine, hoping the crowds will thin out...

The Office, 9:57 pm

stripe repeating over and over. The beige floor and white tiles in the ceiling, florescent tube lights at regular intervals. Off to my left are the offices of the managers, frosted glass in aluminum frames separating them from the rest of us. The managers have all gone home, their rooms are dark and empty. I'm all alone here. I know there are people in the assembly hall and warehouse but they might as well not exist. There's always some noise in the office, a phone conference in one corner; someone walking by with a cup of coffee, a couple people chatting at their desks, the clatter of people typing emails; but now it's completely quiet save for the ambient hum from the server room. Half of the ceiling lights are off, my section still has light but the far ends of the room are enveloped in shadow. It feels so bizarre to be here, like I'm in an abandoned building but I know it's not. Like the daily routine has been put on pause and I'm here like an outside observer, seeing what's left behind when the workers leave. 

Mountain Road 竹29, 3:57 pm

The road is narrow, barely more than a car’s breadth, nature closing in on both sides, a ribbon of cracked and broken asphalt zigzaging its way through the forest. In a car I’d be taking it slow here, but now I’m going as fast as I dare, leaning from corner to corner, fully focused on the road ahead. Shift down, counter steer, accelerate out of the corner, green trees whizzing by. Shift up for the straight, just a few seconds, patches of blue up above then eyes back to the tarmac, ease it down for the next corner. Just me, … Read the rest

Wuliaojian trail 7:34 am

I don’t think my photos can accurately show how steep this is. It’s more like rock climbing than hiking. The trail is a jumble of rocks and exposed roots, polished smooth by thousands of hands, thick knotted ropes trailing along the sides for you to hold on to. Climbing is strenuous work: two steps forward, take a deep breath, step over a jutting out boulder, take a deep breath, grab on to some roots and haul yourself up, take a deep breath, a few meters of flat ground then at it again. This is exactly the kind of hiking that … Read the rest

Baishuihu, 11:26 am

tall grass line the road and poke up through the cracks. Low waves, little more than ripples on the pond's surface, lap the edges of the asphalt. The ride is bumpy, every now and then I have to slow down to a crawl to avoid hitting a large pot hole too hard, and the weeds keep rubbing against the sides of the car as I go along. It feels like I'm the first person to drive here for many years. The road is long enough that I can't actually see if it connects to anything at the other end or if it gets swallowed up by the water somewhere up ahead. I really hope that it goes all the way across because it's so narrow it would be really hard to turn around. The thought that I might have to drive the entire distance in reverse flashes through my mind but I brush it off and press on. A sensible person would never go down a road like this, but there's something about the dilapidates state of it, as well as the fact that I can't see where it ends, that imbues the place with a sense of adventure and compels me to steer my car down it, heading towards the unknown.

Sanming Park, 6:55pm.

I try a few times but it seems impossible to take a decent picture and my son, sitting in the carrier on my back, is impatient, I don't have time to fiddle around with the settings. Instead I put down the camera and take a moment to memorize the details. In front of me is a large steel ring, maybe two meters in diameter, suspended in the air between two trees. In the middle of the circle is a trio of LED lights. A series of nozzles all around the ring are spraying a fine mist into the air. As it falls, floating slowly down to the ground, it catches the light from the LEDs, cascades of orange, purple and white that spread out and drift into the darkness. The colorful mists envelop the little grove of trees, creating a fairy-tale-esque atmosphere and you forget for a moment the ring of nozzles and the LEDs.

Touqian River, 4:47 pm.

What's normally a small stream flowing lazily through an otherwise dry river bed has swelled with the rains of the latest typhoon to a wide, swift flowing river. Just a few meters from where I'm standing there's a kind of wier, consisting of a series of large concrete blocks, stretching across the river. Normally you'd be able to get across to the other side by jumping from block to block but today that's not possible. The entire wier has been turned into a waterfall, the concrete blocks engulfed in muddy brown water. Just below it, there's a massive standing wave, the water curling in on itself as it flows across the stones and concrete. A loud booming fills the air of this otherwise peaceful river valley. That even a relatively small typhoon can transform a river this much is a stark reminder of the truly awesome power of nature.

Luoshan Forest Road, 3:46 pm

Despite the name, this isn't actually a road. It's more like a hiking trail that's possible to ride with a motorcycle...Well, barely, the trail is so narrow the plants growing along the sides keep whipping my legs as I go along, and the ground is treacherous with patches of loose gravel interspersed with large rocks. I go bumping and skidding down the trail as it winds its way through the forest, my eyes focused on the ground in front of me, my mind fully concentrated on riding, my muscles almost vibrating as I'm constantly adjusting my course. I would like to go slow but I find it's easier to navigate this terrain if I keep the speed up, so I go fast as I dare, the forest flowing past me within arm's reach; it's simultaneously scary and exhilarating. Right here, right now, this is the feeling of adventure I always long for.

Bar Resurf, 10:22 pm

This place is all atmosphere. It's dark, only a single dim spotlight over each table and a few warm yellow lights behind the bar, nothing more, the tables like islands of light in a sea of darkness. Soft jazz in the background, so low you almost don't notice it but loud enough to fill the silence and bridge the gaps in your conversation. Limited customers, only two people at each table and a few pairs spread evenly along the length of the bar, the gaps between them enveloped in shadow. No beer, no wine, no shots, only cocktails, mixed with precision from quality ingredients, served in stylish glasses, well balanced subtle flavors. Low conversations float through the room, it almost feels rude to laugh or talk too loud, and looking at your phone must be sacrilege. Three bartenders, dressed in black shirts and suspenders, calmly working their craft, serving the drinks in a laid back but friendly manner. This is the coolest bar I've ever been to, it could be some kind of hipster place but it doesn't feel pretentious, the coolness is genuine.

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