In the end, no one managed to find Dong Can. The only clue was a letter from him, which was handed over to a lama (Deren). There was a picture in the letter that had some strange figures on it—it was a star chart.
The letter didn’t reach the intended recipients but was intercepted by someone who couldn’t understand the picture. They didn’t know that the picture was a map indicating the location of the valley.
But those who didn’t receive the letter didn’t give up, and a young man soon came to Motuo. He was from the large Chinese family to which Dong Can belonged.
It was Poker-face.
Poker-face came to investigate the whereabouts of Dong Can. He had a local contact in the area, who was known as Deren. (1)
I can only speculate here that Deren must be the head of a contact point set up by the Zhang family in Tibet. He may be just an ordinary lama whose master was also called Deren, and who was cultivating and waiting for the right time to accept a disciple named Deren.
If Poker-face didn’t appear, all he had to do was continue to be a lama and find the next contact for the Zhang family when it was appropriate.
But Poker-face’s appearance completely changed his life. The name Deren was no longer a fixed monthly salary, and since his boss had appeared, he had to begin working for the salary his name had earned. (2)
I could also infer that Dong Can’s activities here were probably a cover. He may have had other plans here, which were related to a secret in the snowy mountains, so the Zhang family needed to set up a successive contact person like Deren in Tibet.
This concept of ten years also had me wondering.
But something must have happened to Dong Can. Maybe he didn’t continue to perform his duties or he died, so the Zhang family sent Poker-face to find out the situation.
At that time, the Zhang family should have been on the verge of collapse, but the matter was very important and couldn’t be ignored. As a result, Poker-face went alone.
He didn’t manage to find Dong Can in the end, only the place where he lived. And although Dong Can had lived there, everything in the room had been removed except for an oil painting.
I need to use my imagination here. I can’t determine what Poker-face’s inner thoughts were from the notes, but I can put myself in Deren’s shoes to imagine some of the details at that time.
It was an oil painting with a huge lake, whose color was beautiful and extraordinary. When seeing it, a burst of joy and shock flooded Deren’s heart. He didn’t know that such water could still exist in the world in such a remote, mysterious, and isolated way. Where was this beautiful lake?
Deren then saw the reflection in the lake, which showed snow-capped mountains. He recognized what seemed to be Gang Rinpoche Peak (3) beside the lake. The sky reflected in the lake was a gray-white color. This kind of artistic rendering made people feel that the lake was sacred and extraordinary.
Deren was quite resistant to the so-called beauty and truth in religion, but when he saw the painting, he seemed to understand something he couldn’t before.
If the light source in the oil painting changed, he imagined what it would look like, what beautiful scenery would be formed by the various points of light reflected by the lake. He imagined all kinds of climates, such as strong winds, heavy rains, light rains, snow, hail, and even fog. He also thought, what would the fish in the lake look like? Would they be different from the fish in other places?
He looked at the painting for a long time and didn’t react until he found that Poker-face was missing. He discovered Poker-face sitting alone at the door of the room. Among the people who prayed to Mani stones (4), he was the only one facing the snowy mountain in the distance instead of the temple.
After Deren walked over, Poker-face asked him, “Where is the lake in the picture?”
Deren shook his head. He had never seen such a beautiful lake before, but if he had to say it, it must exist in the sky. However, looking at the reflection of Gang Rinpoche Peak, it should be in the snowy mountains, probably in the hinterland of the Himalayas. He explained his reasoning to Poker-face, who then asked, “How can I get into the mountain? I need your help. It doesn’t matter how much it costs.”
It was very, very difficult to organize a team to enter the snowy mountain, but it wasn’t hopeless as long as you found the right person.
Deren’s first thought was the caravan that was transporting goods at the border since only this group of people had experience going deep into the snowy mountains. But they only went on the roads that their predecessors had dug out over time with their lives. They didn’t go to the places that no one had ever been to. Either way, those roads now didn’t look any different.
His other thought was that if these people also felt that they couldn’t do it, then at least they would be much more persuasive when telling Poker-face it couldn’t be done.
But the way things developed took him by surprise and he easily found three porters willing to accompany Poker-face into the snowy mountain. He didn’t know if it was because of the price Poker-face offered, but it must have been quite attractive.
A week later, Poker-face was led by the three porters into the depths of the snowy mountain. The day before departure, Poker-face told Deren that he would come back in ten years.
When Deren watched Poker-face leave, he imagined Poker-face’s journey deep into the snow-capped mountains, the ending he might encounter, the snowy mountain and lake as beautiful as jewels, and what he was looking for under such beautiful scenery.
Of course, ten years later, Deren was dead. But according to custom, a charcoal stove was set up at the temple gate, waiting for Poker-face to arrive. After saying goodbye to Deren, Poker-face plunged into the vast unknown snowfield.
<Chapter 10> <Table of Contents><Chapter 12>
(1) This Deren is the corpse they found in that room (basically the last Deren)
(2) Wording is weird, I know. Basically, Deren had to live up to his name/title and help Poker-face.
(3) Characters are 岗仁格博 which are Gang Ren Ge Po in pinyin according to my dictionary. Apparently in Tibet it’s called “gangren poqi” or “gangren bo qi”, meaning “the treasure of snow mountain”. I also found it as Kangrinboqe.
(4) Mani stones are stone plates, rocks, and/or pebbles that are carved or inscribed with a mantra or devotional design. They’re used as a form of prayer in Tibetan Buddhism. Info here.