Eye of the Chicken
A journal of Harbin, China

Er Long Shan
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Well, finally, after three years of trying, I have managed to go to Er Long Shan - a recreation area about 80 km from Harbin (although the drive takes over an hour). Our hosts booked a tour through a tour company, which was in itself an adventure for the new teachers. We set out at about 9:00 yesterday morning (eleven of us, in a van)


and arrived around 10:30. We spent the day (which was very nearly completely planned for us) playing in the water, taking a boat ride, and climbing the "mountain." We stayed in a good Chinese hotel - decent beds, decent bathroom - but, as is typical, there was no restaurant on the premises, and we ate our meals at a restaurant down the road, in typical Chinese tour fashion; you show up at a predetermined time and the food has been prepared and is waiting for you. It was delicious.


Er Long Shan means two-dragon mountain, and it was so named for a legend that involves two dragons playing with a pearl. Here's the entrance to the park, depicting the dragons and the pearl:


See the pearl? It's painted red.

First we went down to the lake to walk along the causeway. It was an overcast day; it rained last night, in fact; but the air felt very fresh, although the pictures don't depict that very well.


Then we took a boat ride.


Not on this boat; we all got on this boat and had our picture taken,


and then we were told we should be on a DIFFERENT boat. Oh, well; such is life, I guess . . .

Then, much swimming ensued. I don't have swimming pictures because I was in the water, but we created quite a stir. There were maybe 20-25 other people in the water, and the only ones swimming at any depth were men, and they were still in water where they could touch the bottom. So, when Celina and Jessica and I lit out for the island in the middle of the lake, well . . . we could look back to shore and see everyone watching us, as if we were on a ship setting sail. I felt like we were Wagner's Rhinedaughters, or something . . . But one of the totally cool things about swimming in a country where not many people swim is that there are NO LIFEGUARDS!! W00t, w00t!! There was no clearly-demarcated end to the swimming area, and nobody to call us back in . . . we didn't go all the way to the island, though, because there were boats out there. (Chinese people who want to swim in open water usually have brightly-colored inflatable buoys attached to their bodies with cords, so they're visible when they venture out into boat traffic.)

When we returned to land we were treated like celebrities.

Then we climbed the mountain. It was a darned steep climb, although a short one. There were stone steps (on a scale that fit nobody) set into the mountain, and it's a good thing.


But, boy, was it worth it. The views from the top were spectacular.





It was an interesting 24 hours outside the city in a wooded environment. Our Chinese hosts told us that Er Long Shan is now way more developed than it was fifteen or twenty years ago. Nowadays there's a ski resort, an amusement park, a beach, and several hotels. But it's very nearly one of those places that you can't get to from here; if you don't have a car, your only option is to go with a travel agency because there's no public transportation there.

It's interesting to think about how personal wealth is going to change the landscape of places like this. You can already see it; as we drove down a two-lane pothole-filled road, we were driving next to construction of two additional lanes, and passing high-rises going up like mushrooms. (In characteristic fashion, the Chinese idea of a "vacation home" is a unit in an apartment complex, not a cabin on a piece of land . . . )


(That photo was taken from the top of the mountain, obviously; the tallest buildings are all apartments that are now under construction.)

I wonder who's going to buy those apartments. Are people really getting that much money that quickly? My friend Rob mentioned that 85% of Americans now live in cities; I know that the figure is almost exactly reversed in China. I suppose if people really do move in from the country, the apartments will be filled, but what will happen to the agriculture?

It feels snotty and first-world to say that I wish these people would re-think their development plans and their headlong rush to modernity, but I know there are Chinese who feel the same way I do. There are so many people in China that even if there were resources enough to go around (and nobody thinks there are), if they develop the way we did, they'll despoil their country overnight. You can see that in the number of cars on the streets in Harbin, and you can see the paradox, too: Everyone agrees there are too many, but almost everyone wants one.

The Chinese, like everyone else, are coming to grips with the question of what makes a good life. Depressingly, but entirely predictably, they're coming to the same conclusions as the rest of the developed world: What makes a good life is more stuff. And, speaking as a person who has way, way more stuff than anyone I meet here, I feel like an idiot saying, "Maybe you should re-think that idea." But then, who better to know?

I'll be very curious to see what Er Long Shan looks like the next time I come here.

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