A couple of days later, I planned a serious hike: to the first of the mountains west of Beijing. Foothills I guess they are even if they rise hundreds of metres. But the mountain ranges run much further west, rising to thousands of metres.
By now I had a rhythm: a few tasks in the morning (Chinese study mostly); a brief visit to the office to deal with necessary but undesirable email messages; a change; water and a couple of bread rolls in my backpack (from the Haolilai bread shop); eagerly march away.
Due west I went, enjoying once again the local delights of Wanquanzhuang Street. The map turned me northward, along the edge of an intriguing green space that I would come to enjoy. Westward again I walked, following signs to ‘West Mountain’. Relatively few were the walkers here, since I was really coming to the edges of the city. But here I made a simple decision that would change my walking patterns afterwards. The footpath ran beside a green strip. Intrigued, I turned into the green strip to find a glorious path among the trees!
Too soon did it come to an end, for now I found ‘Xiangshan Lu’, which would take me to the fabled ‘Fragrant Mountain’ (as it is known in translation). On both sides of the road were high barriers, for there was extensive reafforestation taking place in part of the botanical gardens. All I had a was a bicycle lane on the side of the road.
After a pause to consider my options, I realised the road was the only way. Another unexpected discovery: all such structures (along with many others) carry elaborate posters and slogans. They are always changing, with new proposals being made. By now I was used to the Core Socialist Values, but now they appeared by drawing on traditional Chinese motifs and elements of socialist realism.
My favourite was the one promoting labour: workers in the fields were bending their backs in harvest and surrounding them was a slogan: ‘Labour: a beautiful and harmonious melody’.. A small sign of the significant focus on the value of labour, workers, the ‘laobaixing’ or common people, as central to the socialist project in China.
At about 12 kilometres, my labour felt like it was coming to an end. I hit my wall and found each step a struggle. Rationally, I knew I could walk through to the point of beginning to burn up my few fat reserves. Physically, it was a struggle for a kilometre or so.
The main gate of the botanical gardens appeared, and then Xiangshan village itself. Soon the sun would set, so people were pouring out after a weekend celebration of spring.
Thankfully, Xiangshan now has a now metro line – really a tram or ‘light rail’ line – that runs sedately along to join the main metro system. By the time I walked home from my local metro shop, it was dark. I had hiked more than 15 kilometres.