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Hua Shan

It started about five years ago. On the internet I saw a picture of a really janky looking pathway that was nothing more than some two by fours bolted high into the side of a mountain. I immediately wanted to go do it. I did some searches, but came up empty handed. The name and location of the mountain was a mystery.

A couple years later I saw another picture of the mountain, and this time it had a name. Hua Shan. I looked it up, and it was in the middle of China, two hours east of Xi'an.

When I booked a three week trip to China a few months back, I didn't have any good reason or any definite plans except for one-- get to Hua Shan and climb it.

So last Friday my friend Carl, who I'm staying with here, and I took a fourteen hour overnight train ride to Xi'an. Immediately after arriving, we wandered around until we found a bus going to Hua Shan. A two hour ride later, we walked up a hill to the ticket gate. We thought it would be free, and hadn't brought much money, so we walked back down the hill, found a bank, and came back to the ticket gate. From there we began our ascent.

Gifts from Morocco

On to be defined

Morocco - The Country that Travels within You ... i thought it was a strange tagline the first time i saw it. But it intrigued me and inspired me to return soon after my first short visit, to spend a few months in a country that remains within me, wherever i travel, in part because i picked up so many precious gifts from being there ...

SHARING I The first time I encountered someone on the train who offered and shared her kitkat with fellow travellers in the same cabin, it still surprised me even though it was something I had read about. That was repeated time and again on the train and on the bus trips I took exploring the country. It seems such a simple and natural gesture for any moroccan, yet so awkward and difficult for me to simply offer a stranger to share my snack (only good thing was that it prevented me from snacking on the trips just so I wouldn't look rude snacking by myself). Finally, on the bus ride from Rabat to Chefchaouen, I plucked up my courage to respond in kind and offered the lady sitting beside me mandarin oranges; after she gave me an apple. And on the bus ride back to Rabat, I made sure I had two bananas so I could offer the passenger next to me one.

SHARING II My student Mohammed offered to show me Salé on my last day after English class at the cafe in downtown Rabat with Younes and Rachid. We took the blue rowboat across the narrow strip of river and walked to the medina where we had tagine in a little local cafe. After lunch and tea, we walked to the old maderasah which was pretty much like the one in Fes. Climbing out of a window and onto the roof terrace, one could see the whole sprawling city of Salé. The old fort walls along the coast seem a lonely reminder of a once important stronghold of a bygone empire. We walked past the cemetery to the beach where surfers hang out to catch the waves... Mohammed is a surfer too, though he is too busy trying to make a living nowadays and has not gone surfing for a while. He insists on buying my ticket for the train back to Rabat, just as he paid for lunch and tea. I know it's in their culture to offer such hospitality and though I feel bad about him spending his hard-earned dirhams, I knew that the only thing to do was to say shukran and accept with a completely open heart and gratitude. It always humbles me to be the recipient of kindness and generosity from someone who we perceive has so much less than ourselves. Shukran Mohammed for sharing Salé with me and showing me that it matters not how much we have, only how much we want to share.

SHARING III Taxis can stop and pick up other passengers along the way if they are along the same route, to fill up the taxi. There is a separate metred fare for each passenger and all's fair. This is a practice which I have only come across in morocco and yet it seems to make good sense. When public taxis can cater to more passengers, it can reduce traffic; taxi drivers can earn more efficiently and passengers have access to more taxis rather than having to wait for only empty ones. So why don't other cities adopt this practice as well?

FACADESThe walls and doors along the narrow winding streets of Fes and any ancient medina look pretty much the same and one has no inkling of the economic status of the residence that lies within. Whether motivated by pure humility or a superstitious fear of having riches taken away if one flaunts them publicly...it doesn't really matter. Indeed it's a blessing not to be judged by one's facade and not allow others to do that.

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