This is what we would have exclaimed, had we been ancient Romans. There was a very interesting exhibition about Ancient Mediterranean societies at the Hubei Provincial Museum. Ancient Rome was an urban civilization, with the patrician in cities being of a leisure class. The ancient Roman concept of leisure, “otium”, is a concept in contrast to “duty”, meaning enjoying eating, playing, contemplation, as well as withdrawing from public life to engage in private activities. The rise of the Roman Empire made the countryside villa an important place for a leisurely life of nobles. The “villa with a garden” and “villa by the sea” were often associated with otium, with the god bringing about peace, simplicity and quiet which contrasts the hustle and bustle of city life.
On our second full day in Enshi, we hiked into the Ténglóng caves. They are situated close to Lichuan, a small town within Enshi county, and on our way there we stopped to chat with locals, who were picking cherries on the mountainside. They were happy to see us, and we were allowed to climb the cherry trees and pick some for our trip to the caves. They also picked some cherries for us. We ended up getting at least one kilogram of cherries, which was more than we needed. The cherries growing in the mountainous areas of Hubei are small and orange, and they aren’t too sweet – in other words, some of the best cherries I’ve tasted.
When you arrive at the caves, there’s a ticket sale booth on the right side of the road. The entrance costs 180 yuan, and you can spend the whole day hiking. This price proved to be reasonable: I would say with about 90% conviction that we’d never experienced anything like this before. The cave is about 200 metres high. When you enter the area, there is an underground white water river flowing 16 kilometres underground. The cave itself is several dozens of kilometres long. Yes, kilometres. There are waterfalls flowing down from the cave roof. There are also underground lakes, about the size of a regular swimming pool. Stalagmites and stalactites can be seen everywhere. The thousands-of-years long flow of water has shaped them to look like art sculptures. Some look like networks of veins on the cave floor. Others look like smooth “hair” flowing down from the roof of the cave. There are even mountains inside the cave itself. The cave is lit up with all kinds of coloured lights, and you can wander several kilometres into the cave. The cave itself is like a labyrinth with paths taking you deeper underground. There weren’t many other people when we entered the cave, and the silence and darkness – although you can always hear muffled water flowing on the other side of the wall, or somewhere in the distance — is enthralling. We walked for hours, and I estimate that we walked for at least 10 kilometres altogether. At its highest point, there was a cloud inside the cave. The caves are situated at about 2500 metres over the sea, so it is easy for the humid air to accumulate into cavities at this altitude.
My friend reminded me of some practical things I need to advise my readers about. The first one involves money. Few banks accept foreign cards, and we had to drive all the way back to Enshi to withdraw cash. Zhongguó Rénmín Yinhang (People’s Bank of China), Zhongguó Yinhang (Bank of China) and ICBC work very well (evidently). Nowadays places with a direct card payment possibility are increasing, but this service tends to be available for Chinese cards only (eg., UnionPay), especially outside central cities. Chinese people also have access to WeChat and AliPay payment: they tap in the sum on their WeChat account, and transfer it to the seller directly. This corresponds to our service, MobilePay, which is picking up popularity just now – we are lagging behind China in this regard. You can also translate WeChat messages in real time – you write in your own language, and the recipient receives the message in theirs. There are app services for basically everything from bike rental to food ordering. You need an app for scanning the QR code on the bicycle. Then the bike is unlocked, and you can drive anywhere. When you are finished, you can leave your bike practically anywhere, and scan the QR code again. The bike locks itself, and another user can pick it up after having located it with a GPS service provided by the app. One-time usage costs about 2 yuan, or 30 cents. In Finland, a similar bike rental costs 8 euros – per hour, not per usage. You also can’t just leave the bike anywhere, you need to find a specific bike storage spot to leave it in. Seriously, even the small amount of people can’t make up for this price. 😀