Photo by Justin Roth

Her name was Chiaki, she was the first girl I ever kissed back in third grade, and ever since then I have always had a certain fondness for Asian women. I find them beautiful. Thus understandably, my heart fluttered when three attractive Chinese women approached me last week, shyly holding delicate smiles behind their thin hands, and made lissome gesticulations that indicated they wanted to have their pictures taken with me.

I felt unprepossessing and awkward as each girl took a turn standing beside me while the other two giggled and snapped photos with their camera phones. Then they dispersed like lotus petals in a breeze.

My climbing partner for the day was Daila Ojeda—girlfriend of Chris Sharma, who, on that day, was belaying Dani Andrada while he sent his five-pitch mega project. After the Chinese girls left, she came over and teased me.

“Que guapa!” she said, nudging me with her elbow.

“I don’t know what that was all about,” I said, still blushing.

“Mate,” said this random appearing-out-of-nowhere Australian, who was standing next to us and had observed the whole thing, “They think you’re Chris Sharma.”

“What?” Though we’re both technically climbers, and we’re both technically Americans, the similarities between Sharma and myself end there. I was, however, climbing with Daila, which I suppose could cause some confusion were someone able to ignore the fact that I look nothing like Sharma—not in person, not in my lumpy, slouching gait, and most definitely not on the rock, where I tend to shake like a nervous, wet dog.

“Yeah, I heard the girls say, ‘Chris Sharma!’ ‘Chris Sharma!’ Then they came over and took pictures with you. They thought you were Sharma, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

I didn’t know whether to feel flattered or deflated. Either way, this Aussie was pissing me off. He was still laughing.

 

Turned out, as I learned over the last two weeks I spent in China, in the deliriously far-gone Getu Valley, Chinese people don’t give a kung-fu fuck who you are. If you’re a foreigner, they want your autograph and your photo. I wonder how many people there are in China who now have my picture on their cameras—not to mention what they plan to do with that photo. I bet it’s at least 1,000. Funny to think about.

Ideas of personal space are just one of the fascinating differences between American and Chinese cultures. China is as absolutely dissimilar to the West as it gets. Nothing here is familiar. And this made the experience of being here one of a lifetime.

The Getu valley is a really poor, rural region in Southern China, in the Guizhou Province, one of the country’s poorest provinces. But what it lacks in material wealth it more than makes up for in geological beauty. We traveled from the capital city of Guiyang to Ziyun to Getu through a distinctly oriental landscape—the vista you might envision if you asked to picture what China looks like. Sharply pyramidal mountains of grass and karst were set against stepped rice and tea fields containing oxen and farmers in funny-shaped hats. Cities contained masses of people that seemed completely disinterested in each other. Children roamed wild. I saw a child no more than two or three years old lashed to the back of a motorcycle. A gang of 10 year olds were spotted buying beers. I saw one kid, I swear no older than six, smoking a cigarette.

It was roughly 50 hours after I left my home in Carbondale that I stumbled out of the erratically suicidal shuttle bus in front of the Getu Hotel, which would be my home for the next 16 days. I’d been invited by Petzl to come and cover the RocTrip China—by all measures, the biggest RocTrip in the last decade that this incredible community event has been running. And because I am currently writing a feature on the area for Rock and Ice magazine, I can’t spill too many beans here. But let me just say that there are so many interesting aspects to this story and if I can get a tenth of what’s in my head down on paper, it should be one of my best articles yet.

Check back throughout this week, though, because I’d like to continue updating this blog with anecdotes and posts from the trip as they return to my head from the fog of jetlag.

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