Zhangjiajie Park, China, 2018
I felt I had an appointment that morning in China. The sensation was so strong that I aborted a tour group, in the middle of the highway, to hail a taxi back to the gateway town of Wulingyuan, two hours away.
The park in this Hunan Province town is a massive 23 square mile area called Zhangjiajie. For some reason I needed to return to a specific area where the makers of the movie Avatar, got their inspiration for Hallelujah Mountain. The urgency was so compelling; I was the first person in the park the next morning, took the first bus to the base to ride up the tallest outside elevator in the world. Rode up the side of the mountain and got on the second bus filled with park workers going to work. I then hiked in the rain, to the overlook and for a few hours, I tried to photograph while juggling an umbrella.
The fog, the rain was unrelenting and I was ready to admit defeat after a few hours. I decided to give one more stab at the viewpoint. It was unimpressive. As I made my way back to the bus, three figures approached. Out from under one of the parka hood, a pair of woman’s eyes crossed my sight. It was distinctly western, it quickly looked away when we passed.
I walked thinking about how rare to see a western tourist in this part of China then returned back to the dreary weather. When I concluded there was nothing more to justify the miserable soaking, I rode down the elevator and paused at the base wondering, “What was the urgency that brought me out that morning?” If it was to photograph, it certainly was a bust.
Suddenly, I see a monkey walk out of the woods. He ambled by, and jumped (more like levitated) up to a concrete railing next to me. He took three crisscrossing steps of hands and feet to approach and then mounted a post. He settles his body around as if to pose. Seeing my first Macaque up close, I immediately went for the camera. The monkey didn’t care. His mind was somewhere else.
He didn’t look happy. A deep gash across his right forehead suggests a fight. He looked terrible, depressed, worse than a normal Macaque. He just ignored me, pouted. A few minutes later, he got up, jumped down, and slowly crawled back into the woods.
“Wow! What was that? No doubt the highlight of my day!” It was the moment I beseeched. It was thrilling; it even got me up the next morning, hoping luck would strike the same mountain twice.
So I rode the 66-second elevator up the third time. ($12 each way!) Since the weather improved, I planned to make the same round but come down the park on the Tianzi Mountian cable car. Once again, it was uneventful — beautiful sceneries but nothing earth-shattering. On my way out of the cable car park, I notice another western face. It was the profile of a young woman with a radiant smile. There was innocence, a sublime beauty full of empathy in that fleeting glimpse. It caused me to turn back and look after they passed. There were three women; two were wearing brown hiking boots. Indeed a fleeting sight but, this was my last day, time to pack for the trip home.
The night, filled with Chinese faces boarding the flight — Three-Hours north to Peking to fly four-hours south to Hong Kong, then 5 hours north, again, to Korea to catch a flight across the ocean, home. I shook my head as I inched forward on the delayed flight. It was past midnight. “Who would book such a route just to save $60?”
From afar, I spot two western women next to an empty seat looking at me expectantly. I store my bag overhead, confirmed it was my seat, said hello to one in the middle, and then greeted what appears to be the daughter. She responded gleefully, and the mother thanked me for speaking English. We talked. They’re on their way back to Peking and have been bouncing around Asia for a year following the daughter’s budding modeling career. Before long, their descriptions of the past two days started to sound familiar. I suddenly asked to see what kind of shoes they were wearing, and I leaned down to see two pairs of brown hiking boots!
It was the quickest 3-hour flight. I was so engaged in the conversation; I forgot to go to the bathroom. By the time I realized I had to go, the plane was landing. I told the mother, “Boy, I need to go pee!” Getting off the plane was excruciatingly long, the walk to the bathroom, even longer. The mother thought it was my way of saying goodbye but don’t tell this to anyone.
It’s the first time I met two girls and wet my pants.