Story (CMC's Article by Freelance Marc Ferris)

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For Outdoors Lovers, Mountain Club Is Tops
Chinese group hikes, eats and falls in love
By Marc Ferris
Marc Ferris is a freelance writer

September 25, 2002

Members of the Chinese Mountain Club get around.

Almost every weekend, a bunch of them hike the mountains north of the city.

On occasion, they will trek to faraway mountains in Maine, Colorado, Alaska and Hawaii.

"When we're on the trail, we'll take a break and make hotpot, a traditional Chinese meal, where we boil water in a big pot, dump in a lot of raw seafood and vegetables - whatever everyone brings - and make a stew," said Elizabeth OuYang, who joined the club in 1995.

Started in 1985 by four friends who shared a passion for the great outdoors, the almost one-of-a-kind club has swelled to 200 members. (The German-American Hiking Club of New York & New Jersey, founded in 1958 and also known as the Deutscher Wanderverein, is the only other local hiking club of this ilk, organized along ethnic lines.)

The mountain club also sponsors bicycle trips, camping and rock climbing, and shares its appreciation for hiking with city children. It has, for example, led field trips to Harriman State Park and the Appalachian Trail for children at the Asian American Youth Center in crowded Chinatown.

"We could take them to a video-game arcade or to Great Adventure, but it's good for them to go outside and experience nature," said Kelly Ko, the center's events coordinator, who has hiked with the club. "The kids must have had fun and told their families."

The club also boasts some love connections. Two of OuYang's friends met on the trail and got married on a mountaintop, she said.

Born in Rochester, OuYang now lives in Brooklyn, but she has no preference for treeless asphalt. When the weekends roll around, she and fellow nature lovers carpool out of town and pick up a trail into the hills for a day. They usually split the nominal cost of gas and tolls.  Hikes are separated by skill level, from A for beginners to F for hardcore devotees.

Inadvertently, Ko said, the organization also helps ease first-generation Chinese immigrants into mainstream Chinese-American culture, placing them in situations where they can interact easily with second-generation Chinese-Americans, along with a few Koreans and Japanese.

The clubs mix people of different ages and occupations, as well as those from widely separated and culturally distant regions of China.

"Some people speak Cantonese or Mandarin, others are from Taiwan or Hong Kong," said Joe Jwo, the group's president. "Since we have so many different local dialects, we sometimes speak English so that everyone can communicate."

The Chinese Mountain Club has considered changing its name to avoid seeming exclusionary to other Asians, said Jwo, but no one has so far agreed on an alternative.

"Someone who doesn't speak Chinese may feel left out," said OuYang, "but the intent is not to offend anybody. The intent is for us to feel comfortable being ourselves."

Last weekend nine members marked the August Moon festival by eating mooncakes under the stars in upstate New York. As some of them put it, communing with nature is the top priority. Being Chinese is a close second.

"I'm comfortable in a setting of first- and second-generation Chinese-Americans, where no one says our customs are strange," said OuYang.

Copyright (c) 2002, Newsday, Inc.


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