Austin Daily ’19
“I want to do something this weekend,” I said on a Friday morning, sitting in a classroom at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. With nothing planned for the weekend and most friends attending various countries around Asia I searched Google for flights for a new potential country to visit, but was hit with staggering last minute prices I couldn’t afford.
Beginning to think I would be spending another weekend in Hong Kong, I remembered that a National Park in the Chinese mainland named Zhangjiajie was rumored to have amazing scenery and could be accessed via train, albeit a long ride. I booked the train tickets and would leave two hours later. Armed with a VPN to get past the Communist Chinese Internet Censor and not any bit of knowledge of the Chinese language, I embarked on my 19 hour journey to a part of the world rarely visited by Westerners.
Rural China is an interesting place because it is extremely isolated. As a foreigner, we are celebrities to many of the Chinese that have never seen people that look like us. I had my picture taken at least 15 times with the local Chinese people. Not a single person spoke any English and we were stuck pointing to a Chinese map with pictures attempting to navigate small villages and find our hostel all without the help of Google maps (Google is banned in China). After some maneuvering, we found our hostel and the adventure really began.
Thirty-three thousand steps later and we were at the top of the highest mountain in the park looking at some of the most unique rock formations in the entire world. These formations were limestone and living proof that life is remarkable and can really grow anywhere. Fully grown trees stuck out of the sides of these mountains as moss and plant life enveloped all the way to the top. This Yellowstone of China allowed for days of exploration and the pictures captured cannot do justice in the slightest in understanding just how massive and grand this national park is. In awe the entire time, we reached the pinnacle of the journey when we arrived at the “Hallelujah” mountains.
“Everything is backwards now, like out there is the true world, and in here is the dream.”- Jake Sully
James Cameron’s Avatar was known for lush landscapes and otherworldly scenic vistas but nothing could compare to the beauty of the floating Hallelujah mountains in the movie. Well, I saw those very mountains in real life. No, they were not floating, per se, but they did present a vast landscape of untouched beauty that provides an image that will never leave my mind.
When you’re studying abroad you are constantly searching for the next thing. The next night out, the next country to visit, or maybe the next exotic food to eat. This drive to explore is something that I think unites many of the people who decide to take this crazy journey as you meet people who all speak the same language. No, it’s not Chinese, Spanish, or English. It’s a language that can’t be taught but must be experienced. It’s the language of adventure. And I don’t think I’m anywhere close to mastering it yet.