Right. I haven’t written here in a while. Let’s get that out of the way.
It happens sometimes, especially since I’ve been branching out and writing in other places (shameless link), but this gap is, I’ll be honest, because it’s been kind of hard to share updates about Shanghai Life in the middle of a pandemic.
So much has happened in 2020. Like, I don’t even need to list it. You already know. But life has more or less moved on in Shanghai. Aside from the glaring absence of friends unable to return to China and the imprint of businesses that folded during the shutdown in February, we’ve basically gone back to worrying about more trivial things, like where the best brunch spot is.
And if I’m being honest, I didn’t have the heart to write about it here. Not here, where many of my readers are from places in very different stages of the pandemic. It would be a false comparison. Your home might eventually look like mine; it might not. No one knows what will happen.
For my part, I ran off to go hiking. It was not a long-burning decision. In fact, the desire came to me in a sudden jolt while editing a Sixth Tone piece about the “green trains” of China. While reading the piece I could, in a very visceral way, recall the long journeys I’d made in the past, the hot desert wind in my face, the sense of boundless opportunity that came both from my privileged position of being able to *choose* a green train while others used it out of pure financial necessity, and my long-burning time spent on the road. So much of that was on the rail. So much of myself was shaped on those journeys.
I wanted it back. Badly. The need flamed within me, sudden, urgent.
And there was only one place in China that I could think of: Yunnan. It was the first place I did solo backpacking in 2013, and it is no exaggeration to say that the trip changed travel for me forever. I’ve since been to every Chinese province and region, and other trips have left me with deeper impressions. But no other place symbolizes opportunity to me than Yunnan.
There was less than a month before I’d be setting out. I wanted to go someplace I could never go on my own. I wanted to get as far away from Shanghai has possible, after obediently staying put for so long. I looked into hiking opportunities, going through Amiwa Trek for a week of hiking in Yunnan.
We went to the Haba mountain range, which is also where the Tiger Leaping Gorge Trail is located. But I, two other hikers, and our guide, Amiao, went instead up (and up and up and up) a small path to an Yi village, where we admired the gorge from far above where most hikers went. Then, we went to Yubeng, outside of Shangri-La, where we got to see a glacier lake, a forest of rock cairns (wherein we also made one!), and a sacred waterfall where Tibetans made pilgrimages to race through icy waters to stay well all year.
Some of my favorite memories are the moments of stillness, when we, cold and tired from the rain, sat around a fire with some Tibetans and shared bread, jerky, and milk tea, our jackets steaming as the water evaporated off of us. A moment could feel so infinite when it had space to reverberate.
Of course, there is no returning to the past. This was a completely different trip than my first one in 2013, mainly because I am a completely different person. I wrote in my journal in 2013 that I was a cup waiting to be filled, for the universe to tell me the measure of myself and all I could do. Now, in 2020, after spending months being the one to fact-check the body count for articles, after my own body has become a marker for everything that’s transpired in the years since, I was a cup too full, hoping to be emptied, then filled with something better. The universe couldn’t tell me the measure of myself. Only I could do that, step by step.
And oh, what a view: