Click here for the table of contents (second post) to the Round and Square series "Longevity Mountain."
Longevity Mountain 1 Longevity Mountain 2 Longevity Mountain 3 Longevity Mountain 4
Longevity Mountain 5 Longevity Mountain 6 Longevity Mountain 7 Longevity Mountain 8
Longevity Mountain 9 Longevity Mountain 10 Longevity Mountain 11 Longevity Mountain 12
|[a] Mid-Mountain RL|
One volume is planned for each mountain, beginning with the southern peak, Mt. Heng, in Hunan province. The reasoning behind this choice of a starting place took me months to develop, but suffice it to say that these books will take the reader up and down each of the five sacred (sometimes called "Daoist") mountains and around the lunar calendar in an exploration of Chinese life and culture. As an introduction to the series, I have included an introduction that is based on a recent book proposal and a full "sample" table of contents. These are followed by twelve "scenes" from Longevity Mountain that are meant to give readers a sense of the project as a whole. Photographs used in this series were taken during my travels, unless otherwise indicated. My photos are marked "RL."
Mid-Mountain Temple Road
|[b] Gathered RL|
I have lost track of time in the poetry forest, and I now realize that it is past noon. I descend into the lines of roof-covered vending bins and then out to a large row of mountain fast food sellers. Several catch my gaze and simulate a chopstick-on-rice shoveling motion, their left hands cradling an imaginary bowl, even as their raised eyebrows ask:
—Have you eaten?
I am between needs to eat, despite the excitement of the poetry forest, so I just order a small pot of tea and a few dumplings as I check through my notes. There are still more than seven hours of daylight left, and my crawl up the mountain will take every bit of it. I have done the ascent from temple to peak in as few as three and a half hours at moderate pace—pausing for seven hundred pictures along the way—but today is meant to take at least twelve. Today, it is a mountain to be savored. Slowly.
Cables, buses, and cars weave through streaming humanity. Shouting and honking combine with the refueling opportunities found in little restaurants to create a veritable buzz of social energy. I finish my tea and hike up around the traffic bend. Passing restaurants that are doing a solid lunchtime business with the cable customers, I approach what seems to be almost a strip mall of temples. Daoist adpets in their blue robes and four-point caps squat and chat under the shade of cedars growing up out of the concrete. This is a tree-lined avenue with red temple walls set against the smooth flat road surface.
The bus traffic is surprisingly light; much of it stops when the buses empty their loads onto the parking lot and leave the passengers to climb the five minutes to the cable station. Only a few buses continue up this way (most take another route through other scenic locations in the distance), but there is a steady whirr of straight-shot motorcycles, cabs, and private cars, which have become more common almost by the month—their trunks stashed with incense sticks for pilgrim families in a hurry. From the moment one sets foot on what I like to think of as Mid-Mountain Temple Road it would almost—almost—be possible to have a calm hike up the mountain staying on the road itself.
|[d] Old cables RL|
I need to take the cable cars, buses, and cabs seriously; soon every one of the mountains will have them, and they are not just a passing fancy for a few tired pilgrims. They are the mountain for a formidable number of travelers. They are also a gold mine for the capitalists (I use the word with intention) who manage the larger economic elements of the mountain. The transportation is more than a service; it is a tourism lifeline, and mountains that drew few visitors through the twentieth century (other than Nationalists and Japanese) now teem with pilgrims. To what extent is my attitude that of a killjoy? To what extent am I simply advocating a kind of exoticism that I alone might think of as integrity? It is a question that will not go away, and I continue to ponder it as a lone bus bursts out of the 160-degree turn and picks speed just inches beyond the squatting Daoists.
|[e] Tree trail|
Ginkgo biloba L.
I come upon the Daoists and greet them. One nods, still squatting; the other stands.
Where are you from?
The United States. Near Chicago—America’s Midwest.
Chicago Bulls! Michael Jordan!
Yes, they were great. I watched every game from 1996-1998.
Chicago Bulls! Michael Jordan!
Do you live here, or do you spend just part of your time on the mountain?
We live here! Come inside, we’ll show you…
|[f] Meeting place RL|
White E4 Haaaalloooo. How are you?
Black E5 你門好
Comment: Classic opening; quite predictabl.
White Nf3 Oh! You speak Chinese! Your Mandarin is excellent.
Black Nc6 Where? Where? (You can’t be serious).
Comment: Standard development of the knights.
White Bb5 Where are you from?
Black a6 The United States. Near Chicago—America’s Midwest.
Comment: Standard; white with small advantage.
White Ba4 How old are you?
Black Nf6 You guess. How about that?
Comment: Black makes a slight variation.
White O-O I couldn’t guess right.
Black Nxe4 Try, it’s o.k.
Comment: Standard development.
White Please remove your cap first.
A new gambit. White makes a daring move to the center of the board, and I am impressed. I had never considered the “please remove your cap first” response, and I have even greater respect for my new friends. We chat about their hometowns (nearby, in Hunan) and the reasons for their trip to the mountain. They have hiked up, watched the sunrise, and are now hiking down. They can’t afford to spend a lot of money for buses and cable cars. Are they serious about their offerings? Sort of.
|[g] Guess RL|
We are frustrated. This is a very difficult time for college graduates like us. We didn’t go to the very best universities, but we are among those who tested well and got into university in the first place. Now there are no jobs. The pressure is enormous, and we are worried. We came here because we wanted to make an offering and hope…and because we are unemployed and bored.
I note that it is ironic, to say the least, that they have endured the pressure of middle school, high school, and college examinations, only to find this kind of pressure in front of them. They say that they are lucky, and their families are fairly well off, but that they don’t want to go on like this much longer. They want good jobs in return for their educations. I wish them well, pack my bag, and start back up the road.
|[h] Back up the road RL|
Academy On High
My path takes me to school, as I come across an abandoned academy with a resonance combining Confucius...and Hitchcock.