The strangest thing happened at breakfast this morning.
I was sitting with my Lijiang crew at Mama’s Guesthouse #3, eating the usual three-yuan banana pancake which is enough to split your stomach, and whining about the crap weather. Suddenly, we heard some excitement outside.
A quick glance through the window confirmed…the sun was shining for the first time in days!
We all jumped up and ran outside just to make sure that it wasn’t a cruel hoax. For the first time in so long, I could feel the warmth on my cold cheeks, and everything seemed so much more alive. Even the birds were happy enough to sing about it.
Lijiang has become a sort of waiting place, like a base camp for climbing, only most people are waiting for the weather to cooperate long enough so that they can tackle the Tiger Leaping Gorge. I am also one of the soggy, miserable ones who has been here for nearly five days with wet clothes, a sore throat, and fighting weather-based depression.
Fortunately, we have made the best of it, and the people that I have met here have more than made up for the crap weather. I have had so much fun being lazy and partying with this crew, that I honestly gritted my teeth when it was time to part ways. Even us manly trekking men were giving hugs to each other.
To celebrate the break in the weather, we all hired bicycles and hit the road to the small village of Bai-sha, about 45 minutes north of Lijiang. We were mostly just wanting to get outside, but we did have one mission on this particular journey: we were seeking out Dr. Ho, an old Chinese herbal doctor who has reached near-celebrity status somehow. He has been featured on BBC and in various magazines. Even National Geographic was here three weeks ago filming a special about him and his miracle herbal cures.
The ride through the countryside was spectacular, and doctor or no doctor, it was so nice to have some exercise. I forgot what the blue sky and mountains looked like.
Once we reached Bai-sha, the good doctor was certainly easy enough to find. There were signs out front advertising all the TV shows and magazines in which he had been featured. Doctor Ho came outside to greet us, and there was no doubt that he was the real deal. The man looked the part; from his white stringy beard to his intelligent demeanor. His dark eyes shined with the enlightenment of someone who was doing what they had always known to do. If he had not been wearing a white doctor’s coat, he could have passed for Pai Mei or some other legendary kung fu master.
The doctor spoke perfect English and invited us inside, where he gave us free herbal tea and chatted with us for a good 30 minutes. The walls were covered with postcards, thank you letters, and newspaper articles about him and his natural medicine. The air was thick with the smell of old papers and fresh herbs and plants. He showed us letters from American and European doctors declaring that their patient’s leukemia had been inexplicably cured during their visit to Dr. Ho.
This was the real deal, and despite Doctor Ho reaching some sort of cult celebrity status, it was still an honor to meet him. At no time did he ever exploit that status and try to sell us anything. That is a first in China.
I told him that I was doing some writing, so he gave me some paperwork with facts about his life — I guess to make sure I got the facts straight! Way more than I want to go into here, but I do plan on doing an article about him when I reach Bangkok in a few weeks.
As we started back to Lijiang with smiles on our faces, a light rain started. We stopped our bikes and made a group decision to continue on to Lijiang, rather than wait it out in a cafe. Within minutes, thunder rocked us off our bikes and the clouds burst open with the coldest and hardest rain imaginable. We rode on, with wet backpacks, shoes, clothes clinging to our body — everyone was soaked and chilled to the bone. Becky was laughing like a maniac and shouting “just embrace it!” over the roar of the rain hitting the muddy road. And that is exactly what I did. I laughed the whole way home, which helped keep me sane somehow. We took turns shaking our fists at the sky and shouting, “is that all you’ve got??!” The good news is, if I get more sick, I know where to go now: Doctor Ho.
I will leave you with a picture of the “drowned rats” gang. From left to right, Tara from Australia, moi, Ben from Washington DC, Becky from California, and Jirtka from Czech. Woot!