When I lived in China, I used to love to travel around the country whenever I had a chance. One of the most beautiful places that I have ever been, not only in China but anywhere in the world, is Jiuzhaigou (Nine Village Valley). Jiuzhaigou is a natural park located in northern Sichuan on the Tibetan Plateau. If you ever travel to western China, I highly recommend that you visit for it is truly a place like no other. In 2001, when I traveled to Jiuzhaigou,it was only accessible via helicopter or a bus ride along a very dangerous road. The bus I was on passed a vehicle that had been recently hit and partial crushed by falling rocks. I have heard that a highway has since been built that makes the trip much easier and less dangerous. You can Google “Jiuzhaigou” to see pictures of the park, but these pictures do not really do justice to the feeling that one has when walking around the roof of the world, as the Tibetan plateau is known as, marveling at what nature is able to create.
I do not wish to focus, however, on Jiuzhaigou in this journal entry. I wish instead to talk about a side trip that the bus I was on made on the return trip from Jiuzhaigou to Chengdu. On the way back from Jiuzhaigou, the bus stopped in the morning to give us a half a day to climb a nearby mountain. By climbing the mountain, I do not mean with ropes and picks. Many Chinese mountains, given China’s long history, have steps hewn into the rock. This is true of even some very tall mountains such as Huang Shan and Tai Shan. The elevation in this particular location is very high, (I believe around 6000ft to about 15000 ft) and the air is very thin. One of the women on the bus with us passed out suddenly as we drove towards the mountain entrance. She was given some oxygen and water and was fine, but after that, I was very aware of the dangers of exerting oneself in an environment with limited oxygen.
At the entrance to the path winding up the mountain were various venders. Most of them were selling water or post cards, but there were some interesting ones as well. One of the venders was renting out inner tubes filled with oxygen, which attached to a small mask that you could wear. You paid a small fee for the oxygen and left a deposit for the inner tube. The deposit was returned to you once you returned the inner tube back to the vender. Everyone seemed to be renting one of these inner tubes, so I rented one as well. However, I ended up not using it, for the air smelled strongly of rubber, and I found myself gagging when trying to breathe wearing the mask. Nevertheless, I did manage to climb to the top of the mountain. As I strolled around the peak, marveling at the views, I was feeling pretty good about my accomplishments. It was at this moment that I saw a vender selling bottled water for less than a dollar a bottle. I went over and bought a bottle and talked to the man that was selling the water. I asked him how he got the water up the mountain. He said that every morning before sunrise he climbed the mountain several times to bring up his supplies. Although I still felt good about having climbed, with limited air, this particular mountain, what this man did everyday made me put my accomplishments in perspective. I have since had similar experiences, such as the time I was exploring Simatai (a remote section of the Great Wall) and encountered an elderly woman hawking about 40 pounds of souvenirs.
In relating this to the efforts I am making as I work towards my black belt, I do feel good when I work hard or I make improvements in some area of my martial arts. However, I keep the perspective that others have put in this effort and more as they have worked towards their black belts, and I need to always keep working harder.