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-by Ernie Diaz
Expats have been cursing China summer city heat for generations. Nonetheless, with a handful of exceptions, the cooler hinterlands demanded too much trouble and discomfort for most smooth-palmed city slickers. An end to cursing, and a new commitment to actively seek the good in China’s transformations.
Consider how easy to focus on the inflation, the greed, the middle class disappearing under China’s rising flood of money. What good does that do a Shanghai summer victim, slick-necked with sweat, wishing relief were somewhere closer than an airport and two cab rides?
A fast-train to Hangzhou and one lengthy cab ride, then. That’s the trouble in getting to Moganshan, as heavenly a respite as Dr. Seuss’ Solla Sallew. Besides the breezy groves of bamboo and air perfumed by camelia sinensis, Moganshan from olden days has offered civilized hospitality, not the frightful three-star bingguan or soul-less five-star outlet, but boutique destination. The trend is back, irrigated by rivers of disposable cash.
Nowhere is the new trend of rustic Chinese elegance better exemplified than at Moganshan’s Naked, where Bain d’Soleil sundecks and jacuzzis lead to refurbished farm houses and even Conde Naste tree house accommodations. The “premium China experience” set can exorcise their city demons mountain biking and deer watching, then hie to Naked’s wellness center to wallow at the spa post yoga-class, capped with a “culinary event,” surely worth flaunting with some innocent Facebook photos.
Thus do Naked’s website exhortations to leave our glass cubicles and return to nature ring hollow. Naked’s brand of luxurious natural encounter is made possible only by having at long last noosed and manacled the raging beast Nature, milking her sweetness while keeping the rest of her at bay with pipes and electricity. Don’t speak to us of being born naked and belonging to the forest unless crapping in the bushes and killing an animal for its hide are your preferred ways of getting back to nature. Even extreme campers are peripatetic miracles of civilization, civilization condensed into twenty pounds of Gore-tex and aluminum. They never fail in their memoirs to remember how poignantly sweet those last bits of chocolate tasted on the summit of Mount Pinchehoochie.
Our late Victorian predecessors had the right of it. A luxurious European villa, plopped right in the middle of benign sylvan splendor, is the ideal camp from which to make brief excursions into nature, a brief, controlled communion with Gaia for some perspective, and then a return to all the comforts our forefathers bequeathed us through endless struggle against Her.
First came Hangzhou’s missionaries, drawn to Mount Mogan like Israelites to Mount Sinai, reveling in the pure breezes that blow closer to God. Next came those expats who proselytize not through religion but by recreation. Lushan was so 1894; the fin d’ siècle called for fresh gaiety. Some enterprising Victorians bought the top of Moganshan for fifty bucks in 1898.
In those backward times, family took precedence over self-gratifying road trips; vacation efforts were aimed at sober couples rather than alcoholic youths of privilege. Like the French, used to long summer vacations, the Shanghai expats sought in Moganshan a spot to return to, year in and out, and worked hard to fulfill that vision. The Moganshan Summer Resort Association provided for not just public amenities like swimming pool and tennis court bus also church. At the zenith of Moganshan’s first expat era, 1910, Moganshan had some three hundred expats, the majority Brit and Yank, hat-tipping and monocle-screwing about her summit.
Pre-WTO, you’d only dare sleeping in one of the long-abandoned villas armed with respirators against the mildew. Barely over a decade on, and you can get imperialist-doggedly close to the old Victorian experience, at establishments like Le Passage, French country house amenities set amid fragrant tea fields. Once a countryside redoubt for Shanghai’s decadent 1930s elites, Le Passage will lay three forks and spoons by your plate, if you lay out the cash.
Fear not, 99% – we’re no expat mag, pretending anyone with self-respect wipes his bum with 100 RMB notes, in order to attract full page hotel ads! For today’s family, for the city summer refugee who feels awkward in a camp with a wine list, there’s the Lodge. “First to choose the main course, that’s what everyone else eats, and by everyone else we mean the entire restaurant… If you are not the first, we tell you what is booked for that night and you choose to eat with us or not,” admonishes the Lodge dinner menu, sounding comfortingly like Mom on those hot summer days, when she wouldn’t let dad back in the house til he’d put away the grill and sobered up from that twelve-pack in the sun.
The Lodge also features proprietor and cheerful cautionary tale Mark Kitto. He made it big in Shanghai, early on, fast and furious, and gave it all up to plod away making others happy, choosing peace over power. His “China Cuckoo” is a must-read for expats open to the idea that there’s enough money, and much more fulfillment, in doing something meaningful in China.