It’s no secret that I love Paleo and CrossFit more than most human beings. Both provide me with a low carbon footprint (err… minus the flying), mental and physical development, and a killer butt. What more could I ask for? If I ever take over a small struggling country (Greece seems desperate), I’m going to require statewide membership and the completion of FRAN as part of the citizenship application process. No excuses. Motivated people only.
But until my glorious reign commences, I have been wandering around the outskirts of Beijing to really understand the culture of my new home. On Wednesday, my co-worker Matt asked me if I wanted to find some ancient caves with him on Friday…
Me: “Where are they?”
Matt: “Some where north.”
Me: “How are we getting there”
Matt: “Some sort of bus.”
Me: “Can I wear my “Eat Like A Cave Woman” shirt and bring Paleo snacks?”
Matt: “Only if I get to eat them too.”
DOWN. SSSOOOO down.
I know it SEEMED like we didn’t have a plan… but we did. We had a bus number… and then we were just going to ask for directions once we got to the last stop. Everything was going to work out just fine. Personal safety wasn’t really a concern to be honest. China is BY FAR the safest place I’ve ever lived in because everyone is too afraid of the consequences to rob/murder anyone; especially a foreigner. Thank you capital punishment.
About 10 of us met at a major bus terminal in the heart of Beijing. Our group has some idea of what we were suppose to do… and when I some, I mean we knew of a bus number that would PROBABLY take us to where we needed to be. So we hopped on a bus and then sat in it for the next two hours.
“Is this where we’re suppose to get off?” piped up one of my friends. WEEEELLLLL it had been exactly 2 hours so lets take our chances? 10 foreigners piled off the bus unapologetically and then, assessed the situation. Here were our priorities:
2) Location of Caves
3) How early is TOO early to start drinking?
During the bus ride, someone already whipped out some Bajiu on the bus so #3 was already in progress… at 10am.
For those unfamiliar with Bajiu (“bye-joe”), it is the NASTIEST and STRONGEST hard liquor this side of the Atlantic. You mind as well be drinking gasoline.
….Actually, I will try to order gasoline instead next time.
Later in the year, I really want to do a piece titled: “Things I’ve seen people do while drunk on Bajiu.” Keep an eye out.
Next, we stopped for some food at a local hole-in-the-wall restaurant, and then FINALLY, we started our journey to the caves. We thought we were suppose to take the 919 bus, but then someone told us to take the Y1…
Unfortunately, these instructions were also given in Chinese… maybe 2 people in our group have formally studied Chinese in the past.
Out of no where, our group was immediately swarmed by a herd of aggressive and scantily clad black cab drivers. “Black Cabs” are “unofficial” cabs that offer to take people around for a “negotiated” fee, instead of a meter. They normally pray on foreigners and desperate people at 3am; normally I’m both. Today, they decided to dedicate their day to making our experience a living hell. They kept screaming at us in Chinese to get in their cabs, but we refused and continued to ask locals if they could help us. One black cab driver started stalking us. He would threaten people to pretend not to speak English… or he would do something to them in retaliation.
He kept saying: “Tell them to get in my cab.”
This same bastard… cabby… started screaming in Chinese at my southern friend, Exie (Find here blog here!), and she started screaming back: “I don’t speak Chinese. I don’t know what you’re saying.”
I stepped in and told the guy (in Chinese) that she was an American and didn’t know what he was saying… so then he started yelling at me. Great.
After an hour of getting nowhere/screamed at, I decided to give my Chinese a go again with other drivers. Because I live in the suburbs, negotiating with cabs is basically the only thing I know how to do (lol). I was able to get three NICE black cab drivers to take us to the caves for 20 kwai a head. That’s a little under $4 USD. It was a 30-minute drive. #winning.
I was also able to convince them to stay at the caves and wait for us to return.
Cab: “How long will you be gone?”
Me: “Three hours”
Let me be clear: I have no formal Chinese education.
I took a minor course in Downtown Boston for 5 weeks, but I barely remembered how to say “Ni hao” when I landed in China. The reason I’ve been able to pick up so much in such a short amount of time is because I’ve no choice. No one speaks English out side of the main city so if I want to eat, I must use my Chinese. If I need help, I must ask for it in Chinese. My Chinese is CRAP, but it’s still Chinese.
It’s amazing what desperation will help you accomplish.
Once we arrived at the caves, the trip was a cakewalk. We paid the entrance fee and headed up the beaten path to find the ancient palace we had heard so much about! After traveling around Europe so much, I already had a preconceived notion about what a palace should look like. Perhaps something comparable to the Egyptians? They were also an ancient culture…
Wrong. So so wrong.
When they say ancient… they mean, like, PALEO ancient. The “palace” was a series of caves that wove in and out of the mountainside. Someone had-somehow-carved rooms and paths… out of stone. My mind nearly exploded. Hundreds of years later… and I can barely carve my way through a turkey, let alone a stone mountain. As we gazed out into the canyon, it was obvious that some sort of glacier had been here, at one time, and whether or not these “cave people” were here to see it, is beyond me. But they were here. The glacier was here. And now, I am here too.
But this is culture. This is history. This experience is truly celebrating human excellence. If these cave men can build a life in stone, then I can certain learn Chinese. I have an iPhone and they MAYBE had a stone and a stick; and from these resources, they created a home, a system, and a life.
So this article is dedicated to the Original Wanderer. May you rest in peace and continue to be an inspiration to the rest of us. You were fearless, resourceful, and forward thinking; something that our society is struggling with now. It would have been easier to build huts… but you were thinking long term. You were thinking about building a sustainable society; and we, in the 21st century, salute you.
Be brave. Be curious. Wander onwards.
NOTE: These were the Beijing Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian