峨嵋山 Mount Emei, China 2010

The bleary, overcast sky did not bode well for us when we left for Mount Emei in the morning.

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Mount Emei is the highest of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China and traditionally known as the place of englightment of Puxian Pusa 普賢菩薩, a boddhisattva. My mom, a Buddhist, was awaiting for the chance to climb Mount Emei and to pay homage at one of the many Buddhist temples near the mountain top. Mount Emei was selected as the location of the first Buddhist temple built in China in the 1st Century. The ascent to Jingding [金頂], our destination, is an hour’s hike from the mountain’s peak.

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We took the cable car up to Jingding, where the gusts were something fierce. The fog was so dense that we literally could not see beyond 10 feet in front of us. All of Mt. Emei was shrouded in icy mist–something my mom and I were not dressed for. Neither of us expected the temperatures to drop below 50 with windchill. After about 20 minutes of running around taking pictures of the temple, I was ready to head downhill. Most of the people in our tour group took refuge in the convenience store at the peak.

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We walked several steps down to see wild monkeys toying with items (water bottles and even a camera) that were likely stolen from tourists sucked into their cuteness.They taunted us with sad, pleading eyes as they snacked on corn or bagged peanuts.

The further we continued down the mountain steps, the more my fear of heights started to take over. Looking down, I saw only steps upon steps–a few hundred. My legs grew weak and my mom suggested that perhaps I should ride the 滑竿 [hua gan] down. 滑竿 is a method of transportation were the passenger is carried by two people in essentially what is a stretcher made of bamboo; the seat is merely a slight bump for your bottom to rest on and all you can do to not fall off is to hold onto the sides.

I didn’t think about this when I agreed to get on. It ended up being far more terrifying than just walking down. I was lifted over the shoulders of scraggly, weathered old men and I held on for my life as they raced down the face of the mountain, carrying me at a 30-degree angle. I may or may not have shed a few frightful tears. When we reached the bottom of the steps, I stumbled off the cot, legs nearly buckling and hands tangibly shaking. Never again.

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We concluded our final night in Sichuan province with a few of their specialties:  湯圓 [tang yuan]/glutinous rice balls filled with black sesame paste, and 擔擔麵 [dan dan mian]/spicy noodles served with chili oil, Sichuan peppercorns, scallions, crushed peanuts, and some white sesame sauce. The 湯圓 was the best I’ve ever had anywhere; I still daydream about it once in a while. Its skin was amazingly “Q”–tender but chewy, still slightly sticking to your teeth–and the black sesame filling was perfectly sweet.

And oh boy were the 金银饅頭 [jin yin man tou], or deep-fried steamed buns, amazing! There was this thick, crunchy golden layer of fried goodness; once you broke it open and the steam from the hot buns kissed your face, you’d take that pillowy-white inside and dip it in sweetened condensed milk. Mmmmm.

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