I met a Shanghai girl called Amy on the stone steps of Mount Hua. She was quite something. Her climbing outfit was a fur neck coat, a pink sweater and shiny leather boots.
“I always climb mountains dressed like this” she told me.
Amy had flown to Xi’an from Shanghai and joined an organised day tour to Mount Hua. The rest of the tour group were struggling behind her.
“Where’s the guide?” I asked her.
“Oh, he stayed on the bus” she replied.
Around 2,000 years ago, Taoist monks came to live on Mount Hua. They climbed up the almost vertical slopes to surround themselves with nature. The fools. I’d come by cablecar and bullet train.
Looking up, I saw a portly Chinese man in a leather flatcap stepping down.
“Laowai” he bellowed in my direction.
I took this to be a shout of encouragement and gave him a grateful grin. Then, Lisa told me that “Laowai means foreigner“. Well, at least he was accurate.
The trail was busy with all kinds of people. Dusty labourers lugging sacks of sand, a well-drilled Korean tour group and a frightening number of women in high heels.
Some middle-aged Chinese climbers had already bought gold medals at a trailside stall and hung them around their necks. They were not even halfway up yet. I was full of admiration for their confidence.
Later that evening, back in Xi’an, I met Amy again. She told me she alone in her group had climbed all the peaks.
She had something for me, a fake gun cigarette lighter. She asked me to take the gun back to Shanghai for her. Understandably, she did not want to take it on her flight.
Of course, I promised I would. I can’t say no to a girl in leather boots.