Chinese Spider-Man

DSC04615paulclimb.jpg

This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, September 07, 2004 was originally posted on September 14, 2004.

DAY 325:  The summer before I left for this trip, my friends (and Blogreaders) Cheryl and da Rzz had started to get into indoor rock climbing, going practically every weekend to an indoor rock gym in northern New Jersey, somewhere between an industrial factory and a mafia safe house.  They had invited me several times to join them so that I too could experience the hard-earned endorphin rushes of accomplishment after reaching the top of a completely fabricated rock face with colorful fake rock holds bolted up to them. 

I didn’t really get too into their newfound hobby — mainly because I didn’t want to get hooked right before leaving the country for sixteen months (or until money runs out, whichever comes first), and besides, rock climbing used up every muscle in my body and it made me feel like I had been run over by an eighteen-wheeler for the next couple of days.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked going rock climbing with them, especially the part when we descended down the wall, took off our harnesses and went down the road to the Tex-Mex place down the road to get some beer and sizzling fajitas.

ONE OF THE MANY THINGS TO DO in and around the Yangshou area is (you guessed it) rock climbing.  With the fair amount of tourists in Guilin and Yangshou and a virtually endless amount of surrounding limestone rock mounds in the Guangxi province, the rock-climbing scene was inevitable.  A few climbing companies had sprouted in Yangshou over the years and choosing one was a no brainer for me; I booked an excursion with the one whose tagline was “the name you can trust”:  Spider Man Climbing, found on a busy street off the main drag across from the Hotel California.  The proprietor of the company was a local guy named Paul who had earned the nickname “Spider-Man” in the local rock climbing community for his speedy ascents up rock faces like a certain comic book superhero. 

I met Paul and three other clients at the Spider Man Climbing office — the one with the toy Spider-Man doll in the window — and we took a van ten minutes away to Jiu Ping Shan, otherwise known as the Wine Bottle Crag, named for the wine bottle shape on one of its peaks.  The Wine Bottle Crag wasn’t as crowded as some of the other climbing sites used by the other companies — in fact, when we got there, a previous group was just getting out of there, leaving us the whole area to ourselves.  A shady-looking local loitered around soon after, eyeing our bags, but Paul paid him off and he left.


I WAS THE ONLY MALE CLIENT in the group of four, not that that gave me any physical advantage over the three female Chinese clients.  As I learned in that summer of 2003 before I left the States, girls in the rock-climbing scene, can — and often do — kick my ass.  I was the heaviest of the clients though, plus I had some indoor experience, which was probably why Paul picked me to harness up so that I could belay him as he free-climbed up the rock face to install the guide safety rope.  Just as his nickname implied, he climbed on up like it was no big deal, like that superhero bitten by a radioactive spider, and latched the rope to pre-existing rings installed into the mountain.  He rappelled down (picture above) and prepared to belay me.  I curled my toes and put on my climbing shoes and stood at the base for my first climb outside of a rock gym.

The first of two different trails was about as high as a six story building up a relatively easy section of the rock wall — I heard it classified as a 5.8, whatever that is — with its big nooks and crannies that made it easy as climbing up a monstrous stale English muffin standing on its side.  That’s not to say the ascent wasn’t simple for a guy like me who didn’t have exactly a superhero physique like Paul the Chinese Spider-Man.  (My physique was starting to look like I had been bitten by a radioactive walrus.)  Rock climbing involves every ounce of energy in every muscle in your body — even ones you didn’t even know you had — so that you can lift your body higher and higher to new levels and avoid the embarrassment of being called a “girl” — by a bunch of girls who are most likely better than you. 

The one thing I enjoyed about real outdoor climbing was that whenever you found a place to grab onto, you could use it — any nook or cranny was fair play.  I often hated the rules in the indoor rock gym where you had to reach out and grab specific holds on your designated trail, regardless if an easier one was closer to you.  In the real world, anything goes, as long as it prevents you from falling off and pulling a Wile E. Coyote.

I climbed as best I could and managed to make it up to the top of my guide rope with all the energy in my body.  Looking down from the top was a great feeling because it’s only at those perfect times that you realize how high you had climbed with your own four limbs, and it’s such a feeling of accomplishment.  Feeling of accomplishment in the mind that is, but not in the body.  I rappelled on down, bouncing down the wall with my feet to the wall and landing back on earth.  My forearms were sore and tight and I couldn’t make a fist.  “I can’t even take off my shoes,” I whined, trying to get my climber shoes off.

The three other girls, Karen (from Shanghai), Angel and Cherry (from Chongqing) went after me one at a time.  While Angel and Karen could only climb about two-thirds of the way up before getting too discouraged to go on, it was Cherry who, without any previous climbing experience, zipped up like a Chinese Spider-Woman.  Apparently some people just have a natural knack for climbing, and everyone applauded when she made it to the top in a much faster time than me.


I BELAYED PAUL AGAIN when he used his superhuman talent to climb higher than the first rope to set up our second one, a class 5.9 (whatever that means) on a section of the wall without so many nooks and crannies.  The surface was like sharp coral that at times just went straight up, without many places to grab onto.  I harnessed up, tied in and started the second climb — a much more difficult one than the one before.  I climbed up to an area where I didn’t know which way to go because I couldn’t find a hold.

“Okay, left,” Paul directed me from below.

“Left?”  I beared left.  “Okay now what?”

“Okay, just go up,” he said.  Just go up?  In front of me was a flat wall with hardly anything to hold on to. 

“It’s okay take a rest.”

Rock climbing is amazing; it teaches you that if there’s a will there’s a way, that if you just wait and think, a solution usually presents itself.  The key is not to give up.  As much as I wanted to give up right then and there, with my arms like putty and my inability to produce a fist, I stuck to it, and amazed myself that, given time, I managed to make it up myself.  I rewarded myself at the top with a couple of photos of myself in action poses.


OUR GROUP WAS SOON JOINED by another group from another company (not named after a superhero) that set up a line near ours.  “Which way to I go?” came the British-voice of a girl who had started her ascent and didn’t know where to grab onto next.

“Up,” her guide at the base joked.

“I bet you say that all the time,” I said to him.  He smiled.

Meanwhile back on our ropes, Cherry the Spider-Woman zipped up the second rope with ease.  Karen and Angel attempted the first climb again and had finally succeeded.  The three of them had came down to earth with similar expressions of tired, but hard-earned happiness and it was clear that rock climbing doesn’t just get you all buff, it makes you feel good inside too.

“Do you want to climb again?” Paul asked me. 

“I know if I try again and I don’t make it, I’ll just be pissed off,” I told him.  “Let’s end on a high note.” 

At the end of the day, I came out with a new perspective on rock climbing.  Rock climbing definitely has its redeeming qualities, not only physically but also mentally.  And even outdoors in the Chinese countryside, it comes with beer and sizzling fajitas right afterwards.






Next entry: Dishes

Previous entry: A Couple of Monkeys




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Comments for “Chinese Spider-Man”

  • YUP, still behind…  please be patient!

    AR5 FANS:  I caught a little bit of the NZ episode…  Wow, YIELDS?  Money taken away?  None of you told me they added new rules!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/13  at  10:05 PM


  • first.  i want to climb rocks…that looks like fun

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/13  at  10:09 PM


  • 5.8 and 5.9.  nice work. i’m impressed.  isn’t outdoor climbing so much better than indoor?!?!?!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/13  at  11:11 PM


  • Perfect ending Erik!

    Oh yeah… BTW AR5 has some new rules…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/13  at  11:39 PM


  • kudos on that ascent, I didn’t know rock clmibing was that hard (what was i thinking?)

    BTW it’s amazing how these backpacker places can look so uniform…this place you stayed doesn’t even remotely look like China at all, really nice place though…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/14  at  04:28 AM


  • BTW2, in Hong Kong AR5 is on Friday 20:30 on TVB Pearl…if you are still there

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/14  at  04:30 AM


  • CHERYL:  Count me in for climbs next summer!  Outdoor climbing in China is great, but the Mexcian fajitas have nothing on Jose Tejas!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/14  at  04:42 AM


  • wow, that paul guy is pretty hot. makes me want to go rock climbing in china too. =)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/14  at  07:28 AM


  • Alice - I was going to make some comment about that too, but you beat me to it!

    I am not the biggest fan of rock climbing, mostly b/c of the climb (rapel) down. So, I give you GIANT props for it!

    The Mexican food looks a little suspect - like those tortillas look like mushu pancakes, or wonton wrappers. smile The beer is authentic, or so it looks.
    How did Hotel California look?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/14  at  09:07 AM


  • NOELLE:  You’re right about the mushu pancakes…  I didn’t expect real tortillas anyway…

    Hotel California?  Mirrors on the ceiling, pink champagne on ice…  It’s such a lovely place, such a lovely place, such a lovely face…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/14  at  11:20 AM


  • thanks for the action photos spideykek…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/14  at  04:50 PM


  • wow, that looks like a LOT Of fun, and your landscapes are so beautiful smile so much green than anything in CO! but i’m hoping everything will get WHITE wink  N smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/14  at  05:57 PM


  • Good work man!

    A 5.8 or 5.9 is the level of difficulty in a climb. The higher the number the more difficult it is. Right now the numbers start at 5.1 and go up to 5.18. That climb was middle of the road—with a lot of rock scrambling inbetween.

    Can you tell I climbed before? wink

    Word Life.

    Moman!!

    Posted by Moman  on  09/14  at  08:34 PM


  • Hey Erik, got the Lake Baikal postcard, it’s great!  We had dinner with some friends last night, they had a globe, and I told them about your trip—it shocked me all over again when I traced out where you’ve been so far - what a trip so far..
    Thanks for the blog, I’ve saved 42 pictures that I liked the best, gonna make one hell of a slideshow!!

    Darcy

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/14  at  11:51 PM


  • ERIC - “Spidey goes climbing in China!” Sounds like a familiar title. I’m glad you are finally living the dream, sort of. “Walrusman Goes Around the World” would be pretty funny too, I guess…
    All’s well in Vancity. My flatmates and I are planning a Europe-themed party for next weekend.
    Looking forward to my next spot appearance on the blog-
    Sebastian

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/15  at  02:11 AM


  • ERIC - “Spidey goes climbing in China!” Sounds like a familiar title. I’m glad you are finally living the dream, sort of. “Walrusman Goes Around the World” would be pretty funny too, I guess…
    All’s well in Vancity. My flatmates and I are planning a Europe-themed party for next weekend.
    Looking forward to my next spot appearance on the blog-
    Sebastian

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/15  at  02:11 AM


  • ps. One day I will learn to only post my comments once

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/15  at  02:14 AM


  • Good job…that’s really impressive. We were just talking about rock climbing at lunch for some reason…weird. Again, what a beautiful spot. Want some stereotypical feedback? My local Chinese restaurant has a huge back-lit photo of the Li River in the Guangxi province. I recognized those limestone mountains in your photos right away! How cheesey am I?! Ha!

    I can’t believe I’m caught up. This typically means you’ll post 5-6 days worth immediately and I’ll be behind again… Bring it on!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/15  at  02:18 AM


  • Sebastian - we all do it from time to time… so, it’s okay, I’ll forgive you at least. 
    I love Vancouver, btw.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/15  at  05:51 AM


  • DARCY:  It’s great when you trace the itinerary on a globe with your finger, right?  Shows how small the world really is…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/15  at  06:54 PM


  • SEBASTIAN:  Glad to hear from you!  I was just talking about you just the other day, on your philosophy about the intrinsic sense of humor in Canadians…

    BTW, Did that CD come out okay?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/15  at  06:59 PM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.


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Dishes

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