A few months ago, my mind wandered back to a song that I was obsessed with in high school. I tried to search for it but I didn’t remember neither the title, nor the singer. I could almost hum out the melody, but not quite. The only thing that I knew for sure was that it had funny Sino-esque flash animation, and it might have been the first Viet music video using flash. With such little recollection, no wonder I could not find anything, though I even combed through my old emails to see if by chance I had sent it to someone. I remember I was listening to it every single day and telling all my friends about it. No luck.

Till today!

I was looking for Chinese music to download when I came across a song by Richie Jen and that catchy melody was instantly recognizable. So turned out it was another song ripped off from Chinese (typical in Viet music), and the song that I once couldn’t get enough of is Thằng Tàu lai (mixed Viet-Chinese kid) by Jimmy Nguyen, a Viet-American singer. The lyrics is quite silly, and the animation is even more nonsensical. It might be just nostalgia, but it still gives me a laugh. And yeah, I used to wail along Đau, đauuuuuu!

The Viet version’s lyrics has nothing to do with the original Chinese, which is also rather silly and light-hearted, about a guy unlucky in love because he can’t understand girls.

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Meili xueshan (snow mountain) in northwestern Yunnan by the China/Tibet border was the initial inspiration for my trip to China. In a sense, I wanted to reimmerse myself in the kind of beauty and purity that I’d found hiking the Annapurnas in Nepal back in 2014. And I also wanted to get a glimpse into Tibetan culture without having to go into Tibet, which now requires a separate permit that stipulates group tour option only.

My original plan was to leave Kunming for Shangrila right after arriving from Vietnam, go to Meili, then trace my way from Shangrila back to Kunming overland. I’d booked my flight to Shangrila but had to ditch at the last minute. I fell horrendously sick right before the trip. Ran a high fever for a couple of days and actually had to take pills (first time that I could remember in my whole life.) By the time I boarded the plane to Kunming, my coughing fits were still unstoppable and chest splitting. I decided I’d better go by bus, making a couple of stops along the way to buy myself more time to recover. Those 5 extra days were exactly what I needed. But although my cough did get better, it proved to be way more persistent that I’d expected. My lungs couldn’t handle much exertion. Whenever I started to walk uphill, they’d send up loud protestations.

From Shangrila, it’s another bus to a town called Deqin. I was really excited because we would go over the famed Baima pass. But it wasn’t passable due to snow, and our driver had to detour to take the low road. The 5 hour ride turned into 9 hours, not too bad in itself but really draining when you weren’t expecting it. It was also on this road that I first experienced the notorious Chinese public toilet. I’m very far from being squeamish and have also lived in India where hygiene is not a well-understood concept, but this was easily the most revolting I ever had to put up with in my life. By a far margin. All the shitty stuff (not so figuratively) that people use the toilet for gets exponentially more disgusting as it lies visible and accumulates instead of getting flushed away or properly thrown into trash cans.

The next morning, I took a van to the trail head and was relieved to find 3 other Chinese who planned to spend the same amount of time in Yubeng – the village that sits at the foot of the Meili – and then walk out a different way. This second trail I was told was much less used and less defined so I wanted to tag along with others. I didn’t quite want to walk in with them, however, afraid that I’d hold them up and they’d be too scared listening to me trying to spit out my lungs. But no they were not gonna leave me and patiently waited at each turn. I almost teared up at their thoughtfulness and really wished I spoke Chinese. Thankfully it was only 10kms – not 20kms like someone had told me.

I hadn’t seen proper snow like this since my New England time, which was already 6 years ago. I’ve never been a fan, but it was indeed a refreshing sight that brought back much memory. Prayer flags kept us company along the whole way, a sure sign that we were indeed in Tibet land. And at the top, they hang thick and heavy across tree branches in all directions. We walked around laughing delighted like little kids at the colorful fluttering fabric.

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Meili xueshan, Yubeng, Yunnan, China, hiking

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There are quite a few rest stops along the way because this is an important pilgrimage route, but this time of the year everything is closed. My companions were lively among themselves, but didn’t seem as inclined to socialize with the few other hiking groups. If we had a break and saw that others were coming, we’d get up and start walking again. And one of them even picked up litter along the way. I was so impressed! They truly shined after we got to the guesthouse, where they took out a dozen kinds of Chinese snacks, dried green tea, aloe vera face masks, and then promptly went to get hot water for the three plastic basins. And thus I was ushered to put my smelly feet into the hot bath and got my face pampered while sipping hot tea. I don’t think I’ve ever ended a day of hiking with such style.

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The last night in Yubeng, my Chinese companions had a lively discussion on where I should go next. My plan was to bus over to Sichuan to check out Yading, but I was a bit worried that it’d be too cold and snowy. Here in Meili xueshan, we could only hike up to about 3500m elevation where the snow was too deep to continue on (about waist high). Yading is even higher at 4000m, its main hiking destination at ~4700m. And during our hike earlier in the day it’d snowed the whole time; I was reminded once again of why I’m at heart a beach bum sun lover.

A few options were brought up, but all involved going south like Xishuanbanna in Yunnan, and most favorably Yangshuo in Guangxi – a place so iconic among the Chinese that its landscape is printed on the 20 yuan note. Frankly they didn’t interest me much. Going south means getting close to Vietnam; I’m sure the scenery is pretty but I feared it’d not be novel enough for my eyes. After more discussion in broken Chinese and English with the help of translation app, I picked the one that sounded the most fun: Mohe, the northernmost town of China – and that properly freaked the girls out. They promptly responded: Forget everything we’ve said, just go to Sichuan like you’d wanted to. Not really sure what I wanted anymore, I decided to go sleep.

Our hike out to Ninong along the Lancang river was beautiful, sunny blue sky, and my heart said: Yes, I’m ready for more snow mountains. Yading it would be!

The back road from Yunnan to Sichuan is served by one daily bus connecting Shangrila and Xiangcheng. I had not seen such a desolate landscape in years. For the middle half of the road, we didn’t cross any villages or see any vehicles in either direction. There was one single family that lives 2.5 hours from the last village and 1 hour till the next. I wonder if it’s much more lively during the summer.

Sichuan, Yunnan, backroad, China, bus, winter, Shangrila, Xiangcheng, Daocheng

Sichuan, Yunnan, backroad, China, bus, winter, Shangrila, Xiangcheng, Daocheng

Sichuan, Yunnan, backroad, China, bus, winter, Shangrila, Xiangcheng, Daocheng

Xiangcheng to Daocheng – the departure town for Yading – was another 2.5 hours by shared van. I actually bumped into a guy who just got back from Yading at the Xiangcheng bus station who told me not to go because it was too much snow and ice. But I went ahead and jumped into the van anyway. It started to snow, and soon was a white out.

Sichuan, Xiangcheng, Daocheng, winter, snow

Luckily the sun came out shining bright again the next day. It was off-season in Yading. Ticket was half price. And not too many people were headed in. All good for a thrifty crowd-hater like myself. A driver told me in the summer there are 8000 visitors per day and buses and electric cars run back and forth all day. Looking at all the big tour buses lying idle in the parking lot behind the ticket office, I totally believed it. But for us (me and 4 other from the same guesthouse in Daocheng), we only had to share the whole park with another 20 visitors or so. The not so convenient thing was that the buses only ran 2 or 3 times a day, depending on demand. If you miss the last bus, then keep walking. (From the park entrance to Yading village where you can spend the night is 6kms, and from the village back to the ticket office is +30kms. No outside vehicles are allowed past the ticket office.)

Sichuan, Daocheng, Yading, Aden, winter

The main attractions in Yading are the 3 snow peaks (Chenresig, Jampayang, and Chenadorje – believed by Tibetans as emanations of the 3 Boddhisatvas) and the 3 lakes (Pearl Lake, Milk Lake, and 5 Color Lake). Pearl Lake is easily accessible year round, but to Milk Lake and 5 Color Lake is a 6 miles walk round trip. I was doubtful I could even reach those 2 and was so sure I would miss the last bus and not be back till after dark. We headed out late and I lost much time because everyone in the park from visitors to staff once they heard of where I wanted to go held me up to explain why I should not. One guy spent a solid 15 minutes saying I didn’t know what; he was so into it he probably forgot I didn’t understand but a few basic Chinese words like “not safe” and “not good”. I have to admit I was a bit annoyed, but still appreciated their concern just the same. The only person that thought I was completely sane was the young Tibetan running the guesthouse in Yading village. But he did tell me to absolutely not go past the lakes as there would be no trails visible this time of the year.

Sichuan, Yading, Aden, Pearl Lake, Zhenzhuhai, Chenresig, Xiannairi, winter

Yet for all those forewarnings, the hike turned out to be a breeze. I kept wondering “is it gonna get tough soon?” the whole way till I suddenly got to the sign post that announces my destination. Quite anti-climatic. It was icy in parts, and I had to take more pauses due to the altitude, but overall really not bad, and surprisingly little snow left on the ground.

Sichuan, Yading, Aden, winter, prayer flags

Sichuan, Yading, Aden, hiking, winter, Milk Lake, Five Color Lake, Wusehai, Niunaihai

I was up above Wusehai at 2pm (started walking at 11:30am). 5 Color lake was now only 1 color, and Niunaihai (Milk Lake) was also entirely under snow. I could only imagine how breathtaking their colors would be later in the summer and fall.

Sichuan, Yading, Aden, winter, Milk Lake, Five Color Lake, Wusehai, Niunaihai, Chanadorje, Xiaruoduoji, Chenresig, Xiannairi, hiking

I was admiring all the panorama with not a soul around when it suddenly dawned on me that if I hurried, I could actually catch the last bus and go back all the way to Daocheng. We’d stayed one night in Yading. And normally I wouldn’t have minded another night in that quiet village, but there was no running water due to frozen pipe and I wasn’t too fond of carrying buckets to flush down the toilet. And a hot shower at the end of the day sounded irresistible. So I started jogging down. I did make it just in time. We said goodbye to Yading as heavy clouds rolled in and felt lucky for having 2 beautiful days in the mountains. But our luck didn’t last all the way. The power was out in Daocheng and by the time it went back, I was already ready for bed.

Or: How I repeatedly disregarded my hunch and ended up paying dearly for it.

Woke at 6:30am. The rain had started the night before and I had thought I’d call the whole thing off if it was still coming down in the morning. But instead, I got dressed, went out in the dark, and bought a bus ticket.

Got off at Wannian temple and bam, Chinese tour groups and loud speakers! Maybe it wasn’t too bad compared to normal but to me it was shocking because I’d spent the past couple of weeks in remote quiet places. Thought about turning around. But then went ahead to get entrance ticket. 185 yuan, so freaking expensive.

Most tourists take the cable car up to the temple proper; i was pretty much by myself walking. (The temple was so noisy I didn’t even go in.) Passed a mom and daughter team, daughter already in middle age and mom a granny; I was so impressed. Crossed a young guy who seemed to want to walk with me but I ditched him. Big mistake. Why I ditched him I have no idea. He seemed nice enough. I was just in a cross mood. It was raining the whole time, sometimes fast and hard. My pants were wet, my shoes soaked. I took my socks off to wring out the water when I stopped for lunch and had to put them back on frigid after. I seriously considered just saying f*** it and turning around. But I pressed on. My feet were numb for an hour.

Sichuan, Emeishan, winter, hiking

So many times on the way, I paused and said out loud to no one: “what the hell, you’re crazy!” And in my head I was thinking: “did your parents raise you all those years to do this, taking a miserable hike in the cold wet rain and not even being able to see anything past 30 ft?” It was incredible misty and foggy. Finally climbed to the highest temple and then it started going down for a bit. This was getting slightly better.

But no! The monkeys appeared. There had been so many signs along the way: “Aggressive monkeys! Don’t joke them!” and I’d thought: No of course I don’t engage with wild animals; I’m not even interested a tiny bit in monkeys having seen too many of them in real life… Let’s say those signs were a serious understatement. I will never forget the leader’s mean face with his teeth out. He jumped right on my backpack and stripped the rain cover off and started gnawing at the top part. Then he very smoothly unzipped the side pockets but found no food so back to gnawing again. I got my pack off because he was weighing it down, which was a big mistake in hindsight. Should have just ran downhill with it (and with the monkey, but maybe he’d have bitten my neck off). I tried to tell the gang I’d give them all my food, and even attempted to unzip the top part for them so they’d stop tearing it. Of course they thought I was getting the bag back and started biting my legs. Hard! And from behind! Those sneaky thugs! Things were falling out and they got hold of my precious sleeping bag, and wanted to carry both the bag and the pack (and in it my passport) away, which really pissed me off. I started screaming, snatching both back and hitting the meanest one with the sleeping bag (wanted to find a stick but didn’t see any, and sleeping bag definitely doesn’t even hurt an ant). More bites ensued.

At this point I was shrieking so hard, someone finally heard. (There were quite a few people coming down after but no one was passing by at that point, such was my luck!) He came over, my savior!!!! He shooed the monkeys away and I was just standing there shaking and couldn’t stop crying. He kept saying “meishi meishi” to calm me down. And I was choking over tears to utter a few words asking him to give me a minute, and explaining to him that I don’t speak Chinese. He gathered my bag and the few essential things that were scattered around, and asked me to walk down a little further to a couple of small shops where I could rest (and where he came from). I was still crying the whole time. The monkey teeth tore my pants and sank quite deep in my flesh and blood was soaking out. I was completely shaken. The first time in my adult life, crying out of fear and helplessness.

I composed myself a little after sitting down. They cleaned my multiple wounds with alcohol (6 were bleeding and the others were more shallow and had dried up), gave me a place to change into drier clothes, and also a bucket of coal to warm myself and dry my shoes. Tears were still rolling down my cheek but I wasn’t choking up anymore. At this point I thought I could just walk down the mountain myself, but I’d need someone to accompany me past my tormentors. Of course I couldn’t say all that in Chinese (didn’t even know the word for monkey) so i decided to reach out to Kaylee for help. Girl is so golden. She was in Shangrila and after learning of my plight, made a series of calls to see what my options were and what could be done. All thanks to her, an assistance guy was dispatched to my place to help me get back to the foot of mountain. 14 freaking kms. At least most of it on the descent; instead of another 10 kms uphill. (None of the hikers that came after even saw monkeys. Make me wonder if they actually spied and seeing that I was alone and without stick, decided to ambush me.)

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That walk back might have been the best thing of the day. I was thinking: damn this is the most romantic I’ve ever done, could be straight out of a Korean drama, a guy and a girl walking arm in arm in the rain under un umbrella in the forest. I’m sure my companions didn’t find it that way. The first guy looks 19 and he was panting way too hard and sweating quite a bit, having to carry my (light) pack and supporting me on one side. I almost didn’t believe I’d climbed up all those stairs in the first place. They were just never ending. (And now I can’t believe I made it back down.) A couple of locals offered to carry for 800 yuan but I declined of course.

Got a free cable ride at the end. Then driven to a clinic where they cleaned the wounds good (and damn it hurt), bandaged them up, and gave me 2 rabies shots. They even gave me money for the extra shots I’d need to get in Vietnam. The staff who drove me to the clinic left to go home before I was all done. I thought that meant it’d be easy to get back to hotel but I was wrong. After getting a walking stick and a goodbye wave from the doctor, I was on my way. Hobbling along a dusty road near lots of construction filled with trucks and vans, bamboo stick in one hand, torn bag in back, sleeping bag dangling on the side, and a super miserable face, I must have been such a sight. People gave me some good long looks. That was really the least of my concern then. I thought the doc had said I could find lots of cars to get back once I got to the big road, but there was no taxi in sight. Quite a few big buses but there was no way i could just flag them down and tell them what i needed and climbed those steep steps. Stopped a few guys to ask to borrow their phones to make a phone call back to my hotel, but they just laughed and told me to use my own. Tried to say my phone wasn’t working (ran out of money from all the calls up on the mountain) to no avail. They just walked away. So here’s what to remember, if you can’t help someone in need, at least don’t laugh in their face. That’s bad manner. It turned out ok in the end though, that they left me helpless. A moment later, I saw a police station and went in. They let me use the phone, then drove me back all the way, and even checked to make sure I was back in proper hands. Thank you Emeishan police! And really Emei, you should stop pasting those cheerful monkey faces on all kinds of signs and banners. The staff took photos of my wounds, I hope you’ll put those up on warning signs instead.

Dân số VN 90 triệu, 80% dân tộc Kinh -> 72 triệu người Kinh.
1 hộ gia đình 4-5 người -> 15 triệu hộ gia đình.
Mỗi hộ gia đình có 1 ông Công, 1 ông Táo, 1 bà Công-Táo -> 45 triệu vị Công Táo.
Trong 2 ngày 22, 23 có 45 triệu vị dẫn nhau lên trời, đông hơn nhiều so với the largest human gathering recorded (hơn 30 triệu người tại hợp lưu sông Yamuna và sông Hằng năm 2013), và gấp đôi số dân của thành phố đông dân nhất trêm thế giới. Nhưng không biết diện tích thiên đình là bao nhiêu nên không tính được mật độ.
45 triệu vị cưỡi 45 triệu con cá chép. Không thấy nói các vị đi về bằng cách gì, nhưng tạm mặc định là vẫn cần cá chép. Nếu chẳng may cá chép không còn (do bị thả vào nguồn nước độc hại, do bị đánh bắt…) có lẽ sẽ có kha khá vị phải đi nhờ cá chép.
Just some silly thoughts while washing the dishes today.

A bit stressed, a bit sad, a bit depressed. Lucky that these periods don’t happen often, or at least they haven’t yet. Life has always been easy and rather undramatic for me, and the downside is that I’m not so good at handling “tough” times.

Anticipating the closing of this chapter in my life and the starting of a new one. I have no idea what holds ahead. When do I ever? I don’t know why I’m so terrible at planning things out. I do try to sometimes, but it generally doesn’t go anywhere. The only time that I’ve ever pushed myself toward a concrete goal and had it paid off was when I applied to college. After that, I’ve been pretty much swinging it. Maybe because I don’t really want anything that badly.  “I’ll live” – that’s my motto. (Feel bad sometimes that so much money was spent on educating me only so that I end up this unambitious. I am supposed to aspire to grander things.) But this time, I do want something badly, and not so easily obtainable. And yet I have so much doubt about myself.

I can’t say that I’m proud of the past few years, having been too comfortable and not pushing myself hard enough. Hard to imagine I once was such a social butterfly. The only “redemption” is that I’ve grown emotionally. I read so much that I can recognize different nuances in other people and sympathize with them, at least intellectually. It wasn’t until recently that I lived some of these nuances myself.

Sometimes I’m tempted to throw away everything and not have to try so hard. After all, I don’t have any special purpose in life, and don’t plan to go find one. Just go home and hug the pups, or move in with you, live on a farm and see no one but the birds. But I’m just so scared.

Been feeling a bit overwhelmed. Have a big trip to prep for and logistics is a big mess. Most important at this moment is finding an experienced crew to take us and everyone thinks we’re crazy for wanting to go on such a long trip without any experience when it’s gonna be miserably cold, wet, and dark. It’s starting to give me a headache. Here I am crossing my fingers that somehow we’ll be able to put a team together.

Passed the screening round and now gonna sit in a big exam in mid-Dec. Success rate is minuscule. For the first time, I’m actually more driven by money matter than personal interest, let’s say 60/40. The list of study material is endless. Another headache.

Ending my job at the end of this year, and then what? I honestly would love to take a big chunk of time off, say several months, and travel. But the past few months have been interesting (not excluding some of the worst moments of my life) and I’m now at a point where I feel like I really have to chart out my next year carefully, strategically, both in terms of money and career. So much more is at stake when someone else’s involved and my plan is not about just me anymore. Sometimes I do wish that I could make more simple life choices. Having too many options is not always a good thing for the mind. That said, these are opportunities for me to grow and be brave. Being a bit unconventional and still making it work, that requires effort and resourcefulness, and some money would help too. I have never used so many neurons thinking about money before in my life. Lucky I know. Anyway, I’m gonna put all of me into making it work and I’m giving myself a 1-year deadline. If it doesn’t work by then, maybe it’s just too much for us, too far of a fantasy for our reality, or it’s simply not meant to be. Regardless, I love you and I want us.

Working full-time has made me realize how incredibly lazy I am. I have a great job and I haven’t been working that long and yet I can’t stop thinking about not having to work (full-time) anymore. That said, I do have a career plan that has been in the back of my mind for years. And I feel like now is the time for me to try it out. Now or probably never. Question is, will I be able to even get half a foot in the door?

Somehow, I gotta make all of the above things work out, together. Somehow.

Finally got to catch up with a very good friend. Seeing how thriving her business is made me so happy and almost brought tears to my eyes, especially knowing how she’s put all of her life into it and how hard she is still working every single day. We all have these “big” dreams that are really quite simple. We want to live life fully and truthfully.

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