It’s hard to remember the last time I found solitude - the kind of solitude that allows me to switch off from work; from worries and anxieties; from forgotten goals and neglected dreams; from thoughts that creep in at four am when my subconscious wakes me up and decides to have a pity party.
When the pressure gets overwhelming, I pull myself out of the city and head towards the mountains. Having heard of Moganshan recently I decided to skip my usual Hangzhou retreat and try this new place.
While paved roads do snake up the slopes of the mountain ranges, most of Moganshan is still shrouded in bamboo forests. There are a few built up areas with large scale hotels, but for the most part, this region is dotted with clusters of villages. I was well aware that the boutique hotel I had chosen would be in a remote area, but I was not expecting what the surrounding man-made environment would be like. Aside from several lodgings, most of the houses were derelict. They were either boarded up with chains and padlocks, or has wide open doors with very little furniture inside. This is unusual for many Chinese. Compared to the typical Shanghainese homes that are completely covered with belongings wall to wall - a hoarding mentality is commonplace - these villagers lead austere, almost ascetic lives. The average age of the residents I’ve come across during my walks is fifty. Though these concrete houses seem to be built in the last ten or twenty years, they are reminiscent of the bygone Maoist era fifty years back; of a time when the bourgeoisie were exiled for re-education through manual labour. These old residents were the ones who stayed behind while their younger counterparts ran away to the cities to participate in modern capitalist China.
And of course it’s the same capitalist mentality that drove the young back to this region. Amidst the old villas are lavish Mercedes, Audis and a cornucopia of SUVs, flocking to this mountain range when the cold winter has loosened its grip. The hotel I am staying in is a testament to what New Money is capable of building. Much like other boutique hotels built in the last two years that I’ve stayed in, modern Chinese interior design is firmly rooted in industrial Minimalism; exposed concrete, bath tubs outside of the washroom area, and semi-concealed toilets. A wall is an outdated concept for the young generation. The choice of furniture could be art deco, Ming-style Minimalism, or even Japanese, all tastefully arranged in an open floor plan. I spent three days researching the perfect room in a perfect setting, one that allows me to take hot baths - a luxury for me as I do not have the space for one at home - surrounded by the view of lush greeneries. And so I settled on one that has the style of Japanese art deco fusion.
Most new developments take place in the lower slopes of the mountain. Large, grand mansions are in the midst of construction, although many more villas remain lifeless. The higher up the slope I walked, the further I plunged into the past. Doors closed, windows broken, houses long forgotten by their previous occupants. The dogs are less friendly because they don’t come across people as often as the packs that roam the streets on the lower slopes. As I passed by more dilapidated villas, I could smell strong stench of manure and ammonia. They were from freshly planted saplings in small patches of gardens, probably one of the few signs that local life still goes on in this ageing village.