Escaping the City

Jake Knotek
July 10, 2019

First the Great Wall, and now more mountains! This past weekend, I embarked on a trip to Yellow Mountain, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This mountain is regarded as the loveliest mountain of China, and I can confirm. Even when we were two hours away from the mountain, I could feel its presence. There was a calming atmosphere surrounding the area. The smaller mountains along the way broke up low-looming clouds and fog, preparing us for the grand display. Humble towns emerged from the valleys as we weaved our way along the landscape. The locals seemed content—they moved slowly, relaxed on their porches, sat by the rivers that their towns embraced. As we drove along, I noticed multiple terrace farms nestled in the lower levels of the mountains with a few locals tending to them. Mountains and clouds replaced skyscrapers and smog. I felt at peace as I breathed in fresh air for the first time since the Great Wall. Looking out the window, I thought, I could live here.

The night before scaling Yellow Mountain, I went to Tunxi Old Street. Shops lined the street, which branched out left and right at various points. Kids ran up and down the streets gaping at the various toys being sold and jumping at the flying drone a shop owner taunted them with. Families ate at various restaurants with tables outside and second-floor balconies. Ivy enveloped the walls of some shops, and loud noises erupted from hidden beatles within. I explored different shops and bought a xun, a Chinese ocarina. The lady who owned the shop showed me how to play Twinkle Twinkle and even gave me a little booklet with different songs to learn. She chuckled as I attempted to use the instrument but clapped with excitement when I finally played the song. Despite the action, I did not feel overwhelmed, and the street did not feel busy. The people did not hustle, rather they wandered. The shop owners did not hassle me, rather they gracefully guided me and offered samples of what they had to offer. Again I found myself thinking, I could live here.

The next morning I woke up to the sound of birds chirping. Later that day, I discovered that it was actually my roommate’s phone alarm...but this did add to the ambience! It was the day of the Yellow Mountain hike. A bus drove us to the mountain, and as the colossal mass came into view, my nose pressed against the window with awe. After getting off of the bus, a generous family gave me and my friend their walking sticks for free. Unable to contain my excitement, I lunged into the hike and always remained at least five minutes ahead of the group. A gondola took us to the top of the mountain, and while I initially thought the building was air conditioned, I realized upon walking outside that the top is about thirty degrees cooler than the bottom. Clouds quickly blew around in different patterns, making little cyclones and rising at us along the slope of the mountains. Peaks rapidly disappeared and reemerged. I felt as if I were in yet another fairytale land, and the views looked artificial. Later in the day, I walked out onto a natural balcony structure that overlooked a vast landscape. As if on cue, the sun erupted from the clouds and cast light everywhere. A golden flare ignited the gray-brown mountains and turned them a shade of yellow, and dark leaves radiated bright green. I felt something physical in that moment, some force from this explosion of light. Far in the distance resided a peak higher than the rest where apparently the Yellow Emperor ascended into heaven thousands of years ago. I could have sat and stared forever, but soon the fog slowly reclaimed its dominance over the land, and we descended to the bus. 

So far, the field trips have been the highlight of my experience in China. As much as I love the towering skyscrapers, markets, local food shops, and clubs of Shanghai, China’s landscape truly has a great deal to offer. The city smog and crowded streets and subways can feel suffocating. Freeing myself through these trips has allowed me to breathe deeper, as well as think less about home. When there is nowhere to move in the city, I am trapped in my head. Roaming into the countryside lets my mind escape. I took a video of a narrow valley stuffed with fog, but a bird breaks through at the end and flies up towards the camera. Huangshan will stay with me forever, and like the bird, remind me to break free during stressful or busy times.

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Jake Knotek

<p>I am a junior in the Integrated Business and Engineering (IBE) program at Lehigh University, studying chemical engineering and finance. At school, I am the President of the Chi Phi Fraternity and enjoy participating in service opportunities, such as tutoring local middle schoolers or leading recruitment for Dance Marathon to raise money for CHOP. I also enjoy snowboarding and traveled to the breathtaking Stowe, Vermont this past Winter. I have a passion for nature and currently intend to focus on alternative energy with my ChE degree.</p>

2019 Summer 1, 2019 Summer 2
Home University:
Lehigh University
Glenside, PA
Engineering - General
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