Wandering off the beaten track has always paid dividends in rainbows and colourful people. Just beyond 九寨沟, we ate every night at a dumpling house owned by a proud 23-year-old who had left home aged 13, and hiked 20km up the mountain to seek his fortune. At 16, he opened the place, and this year, he made more dollar bills than Alex and I combined. He had no concern whatsoever as to the whereabouts of Australia (靠近香港, 对不对? Somewhere near Hong Kong, right?). As far as 大哥 was concerned, the world began at his front door and ended in his kitchen (which would be heavenly if in fact the case – his specialty dumplings were nothing short of excellent, even on my Mother’s standards). Through my shaky translation of his local dialect, he and Alex became quite good friends, and without the ability to scope out his life story on any form of social media, we never ran out of things to talk about.
In the same way, we stumbled into 树正寨 (my boots were not made for walking) on our way up to 长海 (Cháng Hǎi) just as the sun made it over the edge. Like the majority of small home clusters dotted over the entire mountain range, 树正寨 was distinctly Tibetan and wildly magical. The elderly are up at sunrise to spin their prayers, the young to chase each other breathless and climb all over passersby (Alex’s blonde hair was extremely popular), and, as it would seem, the rest invite you back for lunch. The following day, we sat with a group of ten rosy-cheeked villagers under a thousand neon prayer flags cast out from a proud Chinese flag, and dissected our lives. Alongside the wonderful people I met in remote Costa Rica five years ago, these were the happiest people on the planet – and the happiest people have an incredible ability to make you both high on life and feel so completely selfish at the same time. My law studies only existed because money makes humans bad people, but Alex’s psychological education was interesting, and likely necessary to restrain humanity from self-destructing. I decided not to mention my fashion career, but one of the female elders devouring yak soup with us complimented my coat and mittens. Always look up, said a 树正 mother of three little snotty-nosed monkeys – you’ll only regret looking down all your life.
Perhaps the rest of China should take note… talk about a New Year’s Resolution.
On that note, a Happy New Year to you all! Brace yourselves for another round of my New Year’s Resolutions.
Until then, continue eating cake.