Zhangjiajie ft. Me

Alright so here’s the situation: you’re at the train station. You pick up your ticket. You have about two hours until your train leaves. Thinkin of hittin up one of the three KFCs in that train station for dinner. And then you realize:

You’re at the wrong train station. The one your train leaves from is across town. It’s rush hour traffic right now.

Do you:

⚪️ Open the DiDi (Chinese Uber) app and order a DiDi before you even exit the train station and then realize you have no idea how to exit the train station

⚪️ Run around aimlessly trying to find the exit, considering climbing over barriers, running after people who look like they know where they’re going, all while taxi drivers try to convince you to let them drive you for double the price of a DiDi

⚪️ Ditch half the group and leave them to fend for themselves and find their own way to the other train station (don’t worry, they knew how to DiDi)

🔘 All of the Above

I was trying to contact our driver to let him know our location, but data is terrible and nothing would send. Not because of the terrible data, though, but because of the inappropriate nature of what I said, which was: “we are by parking garage 13.” The app said it would not translate or send that because “This message contains inappropriate content.” I don’t know what parking garage translates to but uh?

??????????? How bad could it be?

The driver did eventually find us and when he did, I showed him my ticket and what time our train left and asked “will we make it in time?!?” To which he said “…no..” so I decided he couldn’t understand me and prayed that we would. And guess what. We made it. We got out of the car and booked it, the other girls coming up in a taxi right behind us, and then we weaved in and out of Chinese people, running to catch our train.

Then it left late. 🤷‍♀️

I’ve heard a lot of stories about Chinese trains, but luckily I didn’t experience any of them.

Didn’t have to stop in the middle of the night to pee in a trough ✅

Didn’t have to stand for 15+ hours ✅

No mysterious liquids on the ground ✅

However, we did have to sit upright overnight for like… 14 hours? And that was.. rough. But I met a little kid who was pretty cool and knew how to say “what’s your name?” So we had that conversation quite a few times. Yet still I forgot his name because it was a Chinese name.

We got into Zhangjiajie at 9:40ish am and ate at this cute little bakery right by the train station and then went to our hostel which was a pretty neat place. After checking in we headed to the National Park, which was harder to find than we thought it would be. A few wrong busses (and a correct bus) later and we were in the AVATAR MOUNTAINS.

So Day One At Zhangjiajie National Park:

It was honestly one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. The picturesque pond, the stony mountains, the random giant heart lock on the ground just for kicks? Just an awesome scenery. Then half the group ditched us to go hike somewhere because we got tied up in looking at dragon pillow souvenirs that I didn’t even commit to buying. Shucks.

So we found some stairs to climb that went to the Huangshei Village and we had the ~brilliant~ idea to climb them thinking that uh…there was a cable car up top to bring us down?

(Yeah that’s a thing in China, you don’t really hike up mountains, you climb stairs to the top of a mountain. A lot of stairs. Who needs a stair master when you have the mountains in China.) we hiked with a shirtless Chinese dude for a bit and then he stopped and took some stuff back down so we went on alone. We never actually talked to him or anything, and he honestly probably thought we were just out of shape Americans.

So 3000+ stairs later and you’d think the view was awesome but our timing had us looking at some sick fog instead. There was a cool lookin pagoda up there too.

And there were a bunch of people at the top of this lookout and we would occasionally just hear this “ooooooo” sound, so we climbed up to see what was going on and every time the fog cleared even a little to where you could see the mountains, they really ate that up. So we cheered along and then I took a video where I (very poorly) sang Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September” while openly disproving the line “never was a cloudy day.” You can find it on the ‘gram. Though you probs don’t want to.

Then we hiked down (because we couldn’t find the cable cars…or the village, tbh) and that’s when I counted the stairs. Then it got dark and we exited the park while a taxi driver harassed us because he really wanted to give us a ride (aka take our $$) but we found a bus instead and man let me tell you, after a 13 hour bus all night and and a 3000+ stair hike all afternoon, we smelled pretty rank. Holla at the showers.

Day Two:

We hit the Yellow Dragon Cave and spoiler: there was no dragon. and it wasn’t even that yellow. Honestly I was a little let down because it was just a cave with different colored lights in it but we still ended up climbing about 800 stairs (#werk) and taking a neat lil boat ride so it was not a complete loss.

Also, in the cave, there are two gates that you have to choose between—the gate of happiness and the gate of wealth. They lead to the same place (hahaha) but it posed an interesting question: would I rather happily live in squalor or be able to dry my tears with dolla bills? We all chose happiness but we came through the wealth gate on the way back and does that mean I’ll be happy and rich? Or double poor and extra happy? Or neither because I chose to get greedy in a Chinese cave? Or neither because literally it’s just a cave? I mean either one, I think I’d be fine with.

On the way to the cave, there was this lady taking a picture of her friend in front of this little pagoda thing over the bridge and she came up to me with her camera so naturally, I expected she wanted me to take a picture of her and her friend, and naturally, I was wrong. She asked me if I would take a picture with her friend. So now I am captured in the memory of a Chinese lady’s trip to Zhangjiajie. Magical.

There were street shops outside and we practiced our bargaining skills. Got pretty good. Realized that no matter how low the price, I still didn’t want any of the stuff. But I got a cool magnet for 5 yuan so I scored big. Also the ice cream was way good.

Afterward we went to ride a cable car up to…. a mountaintop where there was supposed to be a McDonald’s but it was closed. Alas, Rachel’s McDonald’s fast was in vain. (She wanted her first McDonald’s in a foreign country to be on top of the mountain, so she purposely avoided McDonald’s until then for that very reason.)

Getting the ticket was insane for me, though, ok? So we get student discounts with our international student cards and it’s half off, which is a pretty sweet deal. So it’s going well and I haven’t had a problem until I go up to this ticket window, and the lady is like (through google translate) “I can’t sell to you with the discount because you’re 25.” And like FIRST of all— I have like three months until I’m 25 so excuse you. SECOND of all— why no discounts at 25? am I all of a sudden assumed “not poor” at 25? Is that what the chinese think is a “get your life together already” age? I guess I can’t really argue there.

Anyway, that was a fight and I was upset, but we skirted around that issue and never had it again! The cable car was cool but I was stressed out because they were standing up and taking pictures and I was worried we might fall. Which we didn’t (shocking). Also another local wanted a pic with me so…is this fame?

When the McDonald’s was closed, we hiked down the mountain and I counted the steps (again) and it was about 3000 (again). But it was cooler this time because we happened upon a pack of MONKEYS. And they had babies! One was so close to us!

Then we had to catch a taxi home and that kinda hurt the wallet but then I remind myself that $1 is 6.8 yuan and that the 70 (per person) yuan fare is like $10 which is actually extremely cheap. Perspective.

And because we were in the McD’s mindset, we sought one out for dinner. The nug life is still goin strong in China, my nuggaz.

Day 3:

We woke up really early and went to the park in the pouring rain where I did not have an umbrella, poncho, or shoe covers. So you know what I got? Stopped, every two feet, by a different lady selling ponchos, shoe covers, and umbrellas. I finally bought an umbrella and it stopped raining pretty soon thereafter, but the bargain I got was worth it. Also it was a pretty sweet umbrella. It says “China” on the handle (as opposed to “made in China,” lest I forget where I bought it.)

We walked around the park, took a bus, did a mini hike, arrived at a convent in the mountains. I thought it was super cool and thought “oh hey I could totally be a nun in these mountains” (or whatever the Buddhist female equivalent of a monk is) and then Adaline reminded me that it would be hard to deliver pizza all the way up there and I reconsidered. Idk man I like pizza but that is such a beautiful place to live.

I tried to look inside the building but there were men smoking and playing cards in the doorway so I don’t think it was open for visitors. Also safe to say it’s not a very religious place anymore.

We hiked (walked) along the river and there was this business that you could pay two men to carry you on a chair along the river. Only 300 yuan to live like royalty.

Also we saw people taking wedding pictures. Can you imagine bridals in the avatar mountains???? Wild. And here is a selection of my panoramas that look vaguely the same yet different because I haven’t had time to go through and decide which is my fave.

We came back to the hostel early and I did some laundry (because stairs + humidity + rain = sweat = gross = my backpack smells very nasty) and guess what it didn’t even dry completely before I had to pack up the next day and take all my clothes home where I would inevitably do the same laundry again.

This is Rach and I atop the hostel roof doing my laundry (the washer was on the fifth floor, aka the roof, aka the place I didn’t leave for a full half hour because no way was I climbing down and back up more stairs to leave and come back to my wet clothes).

We ate dinner at the hostel because we were too exhausted to leave and I had Kung Pao chicken in China. Honestly I think I like our (‘Mercia) version better (uncultured white girl) but also it was the least sketchy meat I’ve seen in this country and for that, I was thankful.

Day 4:

Imagine: more stairs.

So this day, we did Tiananmen Mountain, home of the ~world’s longest cable car.~ It was raining (shook) and the top was just fog. Straight up.

So we walked around until we found this entrance for a trans-mountain escalator? I was intrigued, so I checked it out, and it was exactly what I thought. It was probably 7 or so SUPER LONG escalators that took us down the mountain. What?

(Should’ve taken a pic but I was honestly so shook they put so many escalators in a mountain)

Then we came out at the heavenly gate, which was pretty cool in the fog.

But then the only thing I wanted to do at Tiananmen mountain was hike the Stairway to Heaven but we started at the top and the only way to go was down?

So did I descend into hell or just get more down to earth?

Apparently there was a guy who was wearing a shirt that said “Highway to Hell” while hiking the stairway to Heaven. I guess he had a change of heart but didn’t have time to make a change of shirt? Idk man the Highway to Hell sounds a lot less painful but idk.

After descending, I wanted to hike it, so I convinced a couple of them to do it with me. Apparently the number nine means luck and good fortune in China, so the stairway to Heaven is 999 steps, but you know me… I counted. And either I’m really bad at counting (even though I did on the way up and the way down) or Heaven is full of liars a gullible followers, because there were only like 906 stairs. I felt cheated but my quads were kind of thankful.

The road we took in the bus down was apparently the road with 99 turns. I did not count because that honestly sounds pretty awful. I was focusing on breathing because the nausea was strong.

Then we played games at the hostel for the rest of the afternoon. Our train came at 5 and it was a 13 hour sleeper train and it was beautiful. Honestly was a little worried about it but they gave us blankets and a pillow and I was set. Also there was another little kid and he was singing a weird English song but my word he was a cutie. Big fan of children and Chinese sleeper trains.

That was our short vacation. We got home, I got sick, then it was Friday and we’re literally on another 8 hour train going on our long vacation. Yeah Xi’an, let’s kick it.

Also how do you say sudafed in Chinese because I need that stuff.


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