From Beijing we flew to Huangshan, a small city of 1.5 million. The contrast with Beijing was striking. We were no longer driving along plant lined highways. Roads clogged with buses, cars and bicycles were replaced by streets filled with motor bikes, scooters and motorised bicycles, many that did not stop, they just tooted their horns and kept on going. From my seat on the bus I saw rice fields, water buffalo and vegetables laid out on the ground for sale. Our main reason we visited Huangshan was to climb up Yellow Mountain, which we did the morning after we arrived. As we travelled we saw, on either side of the road, crops planted up the sides of steep hills. Tea, corn and all kinds of vegetables were growing on the hillsides and occasionally we would see a farmer tending them, balanced on the seemingly impossible slope.
The closer we got to the mountain the wetter and foggier it became until, when climbing up via the gondola, we could see only about ten metres ahead of us. The path up the mountain was busy despite the weather. Along with the tourists, there were porters carrying loads on poles over their shoulders. This is the only method used to carry goods to and from the hotels up the mountain. We enjoyed a delicious lunch in one of these hotels before half the group headed back out into the weather to see more of the mountain.
They had a wild and exhilarating experience as the wind and rain continued. Although the view was very limited it was possible to see the shape of the trees and mountains which are featured in many Chinese paintings. (The next day as we walked through an art gallery we saw many paintings of the scenery we had barely glimpsed through the fog.) As we neared the city again, our guide, Ping, instructed us to go straight to the dining room where we would all drink a magic drink ordered to make sure none of us came down with a cold. The magic drink was hot coke with ginger! No one came down with a cold; I’ll have to remember that remedy.
In the evening we participated in a lengthy and detailed tea ceremony involving green tea, black tea, chrysanthemum tea, jasmine tea, and oolong tea. I wish I could remember all the steps, including the different ways ladies and gentlemen drink their tea, but I can recall only parts of the process. It was there that I first saw Yixing teapots Andrew had suggested I look for. Our guide had informed me that the best place to find a wide range would be Hangzhou, so I held off, hoping I wouldn’t regret it. From there we wandered up and down the ancient street of Tunxi. On each side of the street there were shops selling silk goods, pottery, inks, brushes and paper, artwork, food and many other souvenirs. Once again we were expected to bargain over the prices and I watched and encouraged A11 as she made her purchases.
Before leaving Huangshan the next day we visited the Abacus museum, the ink factory and a city museum. At each place we saw techniques, artifacts, art and architecture which were hundreds, or sometimes thousands of years old. Our guides gave us loads of information, often explaining which dynasty the buildings, customs or items came from. With so many details to take in it was impossible to retain it all but, the intricate detail and painstaking nature of much of the decoration impressed me again and again.