Separate Ways II

“It will be 20 km. to Yixing, and then we see,- maybe we go another 30 to Liyang,”- says Volker brightly in the morning. Just 20 or 50 km. – peanuts after a week of biking. After yesterday’s leg along Taihu, along the perfect and virtually empty biking lane, with the shining lake on our right, with the fields and orchards and villages on our left, shielded by rows of blooming decorative trees, – I felt I could bike not merely 50, but even 100 km a day. In my mind I was already putting together a program for our stop at Yixing, the town famous for its unglazed ceramic wares, especially the clay teapots that are prized by tea connoisseurs all over East Asia. Our friend in Shanghai – the calligrapher and painter Xu Gufu, has given us a contact to an atelier in Yixing, in which he also works. In the recent years he has started carving calligraphy on Yixing teapots, from which frottages could be taken afterwards, and I was curious to see his works, may be even have a look in some kilns.

After approximately 50 minutes biking, with us being already unnerved by the traffic, noise and head wind on the way out of Jiapu, a sign appeared: “Yixing 31 km”. What?! No, that can’t be – how could our navigation be wrong? The vision of a real Yixing teapot to add to our collection of teaware started to fade. And then, to make things worse, the road began to slope upwards. We have namely left the flat shores of the lake behind. Volker claimed these were but small hills, however, for me, being pulled back by 240 kg. weight, with legs trembling, they could be the Alps, for all I know. Constant shouts from Volker direction rear: “You are not pedaling!”, from me to Sarah: “Pedal!!”, from Sarah back “Ich trete doch!” and from me to the front “I AM pedaling!” Few such ups and downs, and I remembered the bad reputation tandems have regarding family stability.

By the time we reached Yixing in the mid-afternoon, teapot shopping was out of question, even if there were countless shops with teaware along the streets. It was more urgent to get to Maoshan with the kids before the evening. Armed with the newly bought maps of Jiangsu province, we started flagging down taxis. It was not easy, though. Driver after driver were telling us that their shifts were finishing as soon as they heard our destination. Finally, one driver called his boss, negotiations between him and Volker followed over the phone, and the deal was made. I climbed with Sarah and Nora in the taxi, which we were supposed to change shortly after for a better car. The better car came with a new driver- the boss in question, aided by a friend of his, who was navigating with the help of his smartphone. “Do you know the place?”,- I asked as soon when we were inside. Unanimous nodding and assurances followed. In the course of the ride, however, both driver and navigator seemed to become more and more confused, stopping and consulting the satellite navigation. When I offered them the newly purchased map, they immediately refused it – it is already outdated, the roads are different. I looked at the impressum: first edition: 2013, 2nd edition: 2015. At the end, we reached Mt. Mao neither with the help of satellite navigation, nor following road maps, but thanks to the oldest and most reliable method – simply by asking other drivers and passers-by.

My knowledge of Mt Mao finished somewhere during the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD), when it was the center of one of the most important Daoist schools of those times – the Shangqing, Supreme Purity Daoism, – and enjoyed generous imperial patronage. However, one will not find Mt. Mao in the modern guidebooks – although one of the most sacred Daoist sites in medieval China, its numerous temples were completely destroyed in wars and revolutions in the 19th and 20th centuries, and until two-three decades ago there were only ruins. I didn’t have an idea what is the situation now and simply aimed for a village which was supposed to be at the western foot, and where we expected to find accommodation, – some simple hostel or a “nongjia le” (homestay at a peasant’s house). Suddenly on our right there appeared a perfect straight avenue, stretching towards the mountain slopes, lined with monumental marble buildings of the same type, everything new and empty, as if looking at a life-scale architectural model. Right at the crossroad there stood a hotel with the auspicious name “Fudi bingguan”, “Blissful Land” (a type of Daoist paradise) – also of marble and glass, with three huge tripods placed in front of the portal. At 18.30 Sarah and Nora were running and shouting through the labyrinthine marble corridors, all deserted (what great echo!), and we sat in a big private room in the restaurant with golden wallpaper and a table set for 12. Instead of a simple farmer’s home, we enjoyed the most luxurious and cheapest accommodation in the last 10 days. I braved myself for surprises on the next day.

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