We went to Hua Shan (Flower Mountain) day before yesterday, and climbed partway up one of the peaks. Hua Shan is a mountain near Xi’an, that makes me finally understand all those Chinese brush paintings with trees growing from sheer cliffs on craggy mountains. I’d never seen trees growing from small crevices in sheer walls before, but Hua Shan is full of them – soaring walls with vegetation unimaginably clinging to the rock.
The lower sections of Hua Shan (i.e. the ones we visited) are extremely crowded, and full of vendors selling drinks, tourist gewgaws, fake swords, and locks. This seemed counterintuitive to me until I discovered that the mountain was the ancient site of a (legendary?) martial arts competition – martial artists would come from far and wide to compete at the top of the mountain. Thus, the swords.
The locks are another matter. I was completely mystified by this sight along almost every handrail:
The locks are engraved with Chinese characters and decorated with red ribbon, and locked onto the chain. You could see lots of people carrying locks with them.
Why on earth anyone would want to haul a lock up the mountain and then lock it to the chain was bewildering. Mike and I thought it was a “Look, I climbed the peak!” until I finally asked our tour guide, who told us it was a love emblem: the lock is a symbol of love in China, so couples would buy a lock, have their names engraved on it, and then lock it in place on the mountain so the sun and moon could see their love. Very sweet.