As the days rapidly warm and the blossoms show their fair faces on the streets Nanjing, I’ve had the great outdoors on my mind. In the past few weeks, I’ve found time to hike Purple Mountain, visit its botanical gardens, bike to an island on the Yangtze, and play some ultimate frisbee. The thrill of daytime excursions beckons something greater: an overnight with mother nature.
How does a foreign city-dweller in China go about camping? It is prudent of me to point out to audiences unfamiliar with China that it is not as simple as matter as finding a campsite and pitching a tent (or perhaps it is, as long as you are flexible about the definition of “campsite”). If one were to follow the rules, one must first find a designated campsite. What does this look like? Take a look:
I came across this v. cool campsite when I was biking on the Yangtze River island. It is a tight spot with rows of fire pits and benches lined up next to each other, a small space for a tent beside each and no back yard — dare I say, a little socialist in feel? The entrance to the clubhouse had a drawbridge, as did the obstacle course next to it. And believe me, this obstacle course is not for the faint of heart:
After asking around a bit, I found out that one had to register at one of these clubhouses to use their campsite. Fair enough. But not foreigners? Only Chinese? Hm. Will have to look into this one. Maybe at an official campsite like Purple Mountain they will be stricter to the rules, but on an island in the middle of the Yangtze which has housed fishers and farmers for thousands of years and probably could not care about some silly camping registration rule, I’m willing to bet that Mr. Ding (the name on the sign) will cut me some slack. Will report back later.
In the meantime, something to chew on: my American classmate spent 6 months travel-camping around China’s northeast. He did not register for a campsite once. He camped on ancient city walls, in alleys, wherever. Once when camping outside an apartment complex, an old man came out and said, “You slept in the alley? You should have let me know, I would have let you sleep in my shed!” Screw the rules.
One could carry these conditions over to the market and legal system and make some fair comparisons; a balance of following rules and being entrepreneurial, of being “civil” versus being part of the “Wild West.” The state of camping in China seems to run along these same lines: follow the rules and you may or may not get results. Take a risk, pitch a tent, and you may more likely get exactly what you want.
More later when I do some camping myself!
I’ve camped once in China and it was done illegally. We were in a crowded tourist spot and had no desire to be jammed in on the concrete slabs outside of the hotels on top of the mountain. It was also terribly noisy with all of the domestic tourists yelling and playing music, so my friends and I decided to jump the barbwire fence (which was already taken down in a section by someone with the same thought) and head into the woods. We were run off the next morning by a police officer, but he didn’t try to cite us or anything. I don’t approve of camping illegally when there are appropriate places and reasons for a camp ground (ie: conservation and protection of environments, group gettaways, entertainment), but it seemed unwholesome to set up a tent in what was essentially a walkway or parking lot. China has a long way to go before I will fully respect efforts like these, but that won’t stop me from heading to someplace like Mr. Ding’s.