Decoding the Mountain

The area around Moganshan has swiftly become my home away from home away from home, mostly due to the clean air and wide open spaces. It’s hard to quantify just how important the stillness of a pine forest and an unobstructed view can be to one’s peace of mind, but it’s nonetheless obvious to me the moment I get out of the cramped taxi or minibus and greet the swarm of dogs tumbling down the slope from the Bamboo View Guesthouse.

This weekend we took a whole gang of teachers from Bara’s school up to stay at the Prodigy, which seems to be undergoing some fairly extreme growing pains. A slew of previously unheard of fees made for some static at the reservation end, but a bit of arguing and an email to the owner has, I hope, sorted things out a bit. Basically, the young couple who actually run the place and work up on the mountain taking care of guests and dealing with the local contingent of cooks, domestics and handymen are being poorly treated by a well-meaning, but absentee owner. Our group was instructed to pay a 10% “service fee” on top of every other charge for the weekend – similar to an agency fee in the advertising world. The owner also instructed us to pay a 50 RMB per bottle (!!) corkage fee for bringing our own wine and even sent a couple of his buddies up on the shuttle with us. I’m not really opposed to sharing the shuttle we paid for (we ended up giving a Shanghainese girl named Ling a ride back down with us), but I do think it is rather inconsiderate not to ASK us first and just assume that we won’t mind. The guys who rode up with us really had no business being there, as they didn’t help Ling at all and basically just took up space. I actually had to guide the driver up the mountain in the dark, because none of the lot had ever been to Prodigy before.

To top it off, the owner called up and gave Jing (the girl who pretty much runs Prodigy herself) an earful, blaming her for the problems and inchoately accusing her of stealing the 10% service fees from him. If anyone reading this makes it up to Prodigy, please let the owner know what you think and save the 10% service fee as a tip for Jing and the local staff – they are the ones who deserve the tips, if tips are to be given.


Silly little things aside, the weekend itself was flawlessly beautiful. Ideal weather, clear skies and a light wind shook the tops of the hairy bamboo as we walked. I managed to locate another loop trail which takes in the old Temple then cuts through the village on the far side and up to the fire road on Wuzhishan before cutting through the pine forest and down past the large waterfall. As usual, I’ve posted my routes from the weekend here:

In the course of sharing some of these routes, I’ve discovered that there is some irritating inconsistency in the rendering of the maps using Google. After some research online, it became clear that the Chinese government has somehow altered all of the maps relating to China so that the GPX data sets plot about 250-300 meters to the Southeast of where they ought to be. You can see it plainly in the image below – the blue line is my route, which followed the horseshoe bend in the road plainly visible to the left. I’m not sure how to remedy this, but although all of the GPX data you can download from the Wandermaps site shows incorrectly on Google Maps it will work perfectly once loaded into your device. It’s frustrating, but “This Is China” as the smarmy long-term expat says. Another workaround, if you absolutely must have the correct map rendered, is to use the Chinese version of Google maps.

I’m not even going to get into why they need to screw with the maps in such an obvious and irritating way.

On the left, the route as plotted on Google Maps. On the right, the same route plotted on

The empty temple was a nice find, although visitors to Mark Kitto’s Moganshan Lodge will know it from the “Temple Hike” map – the only hike map currently existing for the area. The sign at the base of the temple drive was an interesting artefact. Rusted away as it was, it describes the temple and the community that used to live there. Sadly, the one remaining monk will eternally remain 76 years old, delaying his achievement of nirvana or reincarnation as one of the sundry local fauna until the sign crumbles away into the dust. It was a bit of a lesson in “What not to put on signage”, poignant as the rest of the valley is besieged by diggers and the road building mania that will eventually destroy the delicate sense of isolation in nature that remains.

These building the roads say they are doing it for the local bamboo harvesters, but the claim rings a bit hollow. The harvesters will not be able to make much more money based on the volume they deliver to the waiting trucks, and the clearing of the tops of Yangshan’an and Mengjiashan look suspiciously like preparations for tea plantations. It’s hard not to empathize with the local harvesters, who break their backs hauling 100’s of kilos of bamboo down the treacherous slides all day long, but something tells me that the locals are not the ones who will benefit from this spate of road-building. A few “exclusive” mountaintop hotels and some tea fields planted by big shots from Hangzhou will likely sprout like poison mushrooms, dripping sewage and phosphates down the mountains to eradicate what’s left of the wild. It’s hard to imagine how this will benefit the locals in the mid or long terms. The approach the roadbuilders are taking speaks for itself, really. As you can see in the image below, they’ve plowed a digger right up the middle of the stream bed which feeds one of the most impressive waterfalls in the area. The 30 meter falls now runs brown with mud and it’s only a matter of time before the water is diverted entirely by the new road.

I’m very interested to know if there is any sort of nascent environmentalist movement in China. Given the pace of development, now is the time for China’s Stephen Mather, John Muir and Aldo Leopold. Who knows, they might even be due for an Edward Abbey.

Plowing the stream bed


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About themicah

I'm building a boat

4 responses to “Decoding the Mountain”

  1. Orel Di Angelo says :

    Interesting article, and the thing about the maps from google and stuff is crazy :S

    • themicah says :

      I know, it just seems completely pointless. Obviously, anyone with “military intentions” would not be using Google Maps to plan their assault, so all it does is make things mildly irritating for people who like to hike and camp. Well done, China!

  2. nommoc (@nommoc_app) says :

    Dear Micah and Bara,

    I found your blog while researching individuals connected to China and Chinese. However, based on the date associated with the most recent post, not sure if you are still connected to China much these days… however, I noticed in your “about me” section, the invitation to contact you via the “comments” fields thus I’m doing so… ; )

    The reason for contacting you is as follows, I am a Chinese student who is on a personal search for 100,000 people who are interested in learning how to write Chinese together.

    Perhaps you are already able to write Chinese. If so, that is awesome! I wish I could say the same. Since learning Chinese is hard work and takes a bit of time, I want to try to get a group of people to all learn together. Hopefully dramatically increasing all our chances of success and making the situation far more interesting.

    Thus I’ve done/doing the following:

    1) had an app called nommoc made (
    2) started tweeting via @nommoc_app and #commonchinesecharacters daily about the characters I’m writing
    3) begun looking for 100,000 people who are interested in taking this journey to Chinese “literacy together

    Are you perhaps interested in joining in?

    Either way, all the best in your ventures!



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