Country Roads

“We’re leaving town.”

That’s been our resolute sentiment: Miranda and Chris after putting in six years; Jo and Chris after some frustrations of doing business here; and the Gorilla and I, after feeling a bit suffocated by some obstacles to our creative goals.

Enough is enough; get us out the f outta here. Magic us away to somewhere where the air is clear, the food fresh, the water pure and spirits alive.

Like a kid who’s threatened to run away from home, we cooled down and instead of making a drastic break for the tropics, we camped out in our backyard: in the countryside of Beijing, the northern foothills of a crumbling part of the Great Wall.

We seized the opportunity of May Holiday to beat a retreat to Pat and Georgie’s country house: a restored, stone-and-timber lodge with a great view of the mountains and miles of the ancient  Wall’s crumbling spine, fresh produce growing all around, a barbeque pit, a modest kitchen and cozy bedrooms fitted with traditional Chinese beds, called kangs, which can be heated with coals from underneath its extra-wide stone structure.

We arrived with a hazy squint in our eyes and a pleasant buzz in our heads; we’d already chased away some of that dreadful reality with a few wilted paper cups of wine on the road, the driver towing us through the holiday get-outta-town traffic. Our brain, bathed in wine, plunged into a fresh pool of crisp country air when the door slid open and in rushed that air carrying a hint of earth and smoke and leaves.

The first order of business was fire – behold the primal element! Of course it made monkeys of the boys, who rushed to tend the campfire. The rising of the smoke and licking of the flames signaled the start of the best things in life: warmth, gathering, cooking, eating, sharing stories.

I won’t pretend it was as wholesome as it sounds or as you might expect. Our eau de source was a constant trickle of wine and scotch and vodka. We did weird but new things with local produce (beetroot carpaccio with garlic, spring onion and Chinese vinegar) and ordered fresh Chinese salads and roasted lamb from the crazy-convenient family restaurant right next door.

It wasn’t all completely Bacchanalian either, though. We hiked up the mountain trail to get to the crumbling Wall, some of us with a Corona in hand – hey, if we were drunk we wouldn’t have been able to scramble up and over the loose rocks and gnarled roots to get to the top.

We befriended Ms Zhao of the family restaurant, a woman whose life, gorilla said, “practically revolves around the Great Wall.” A life simpler than ours, for the better? Framed photos in the room show the beaming smiles of the Zhaos, their children and grandchildren through the years, never far from the mountains and the Wall and their inn.

These are some reminiscery photos and simple food ideas to enjoy and escape from reality to.