Introduction 3: Photograph


Merebear note: This is the online version from so it differs slightly from Chapter 10 of the published version I did back on 5/31/2020 (POV is different, a few things added, difference in wording on some things, etc). Enjoy!


Everything was always changing, and most things could only be guessed rather than predicted, such as my encounter with Lan Ting. I always thought that she and I would only have an ordinary cooperative relationship, but I didn’t expect this kind of surprising situation. 

I began to wonder what Lan Ting meant. We met accidentally because of a project, and although this wasn’t the first time we had met, it should be regarded as our first formal meeting. After our conversation when the meeting was over, she suddenly found me and told me that she had also been to the desert where I had been and had encountered something strange.

This sounded a bit like the beginning of a mystery novel. Was she testing whether the beginning of her novel was enticing? Having a friendly joke at my expense?

But I looked at her expression and found that she was very serious.

People like me who had studied photography had a special intuition when it came to the expressions in people’s eyes. This was because after reaching a certain level in photography, the lens captured what was deep inside the subject. Immortal photography works often captured people’s souls. As a result, I could tell that there was no hint of teasing in her eyes.

“What was it?” I asked. “I’m a photographer, not an expert on deserts. I wonder if I can even help you?”

She continued, “That’s why I came to find you.”

“Oh?” I was stunned. “Is it a photography problem?”

She smiled a little reluctantly, “I also hope it’s just a photography problem… do you have time to take a look at it for me now? Let’s find another place to talk.”

I looked at my watch. Although I was very sleepy and wanted to plop into bed and watch some American TV shows before falling asleep, I felt that it would be too cruel to reject her at this point. Plus, I had been in the industry for fifteen years and was quite conceited about my photography skills. If someone were to ask, I was still a little vain and wanted to show off.

So, I smiled and nodded.

She also smiled, “Great, let’s go. I remember there’s a tea shop in front. I’ll tell you what happened.”

She requested this in such a natural way that it was obvious that she was used to this kind of well-intentioned interruption.

I had met a lot of celebrities and understood that they would experience various kinds of intolerable harassment because they were famous, which would eventually cause them to give a fake smile at any sign of such harassment. But Lan Ting’s smile gave me pause, because it was so soft that there wasn’t an ounce of stiffness to be seen.

This added yet another level to my favorable opinion of her. Artistic people always tended to love the whole thing just because they liked it a little bit. It was called discovering the beauty in the details. But I was still very sleepy and smoking was prohibited here, so I could only rely on eating to stay awake.

Then, I watched as she took out an envelope from her bag and poured a bunch of photographs on the table.

There were a lot, and as I picked them up and looked at them, I found that they were taken with an entry-level SLR. The photographer was obviously a novice, but the frames weren’t bad and most of them had the desert in the background.

While I was looking through the photos, Lan Ting gave me a brief account of her journey into the desert. A novelist’s way of speaking was different from others, and even if it was casual, it was also very interesting. As she spoke, I felt that the photo in my hand seemed to come alive.

Unlike me, Lan Ting simply took a tour in the desert with a group of friends.

This was the kind of pure, adventurous activity normal travel friends took, which we called Route B. The scenic spots they visited were pre-arranged. Although the route seemed to have entered the deserted wilderness, it was within the range of human control and ensured that a Land Rover could rescue them within four hours.

The probability of accidents during such activities was very low and common accidents were usually caused by the participants’ own physical problems. Some girls were too physically weak and easily got dehydrated during the long journey, thus suffering internal organ failure without getting to the hospital in time. But tour guides today were becoming more and more professional and most groups were equipped with medical staff, so this kind of situation was very rare now.

Another situation would occur when the tour guide didn’t abide by the rules and suddenly proposed to go to some unplanned places midway through their trip in order to earn some extra money. This was what happened with Lan Ting’s group.

Her tour group had some high caliber people. When I saw them posing in one of the photos, I noticed that one of them was the host of Shandong Satellite TV and another was an illustrator. I could see that Lan Ting obviously had a good relationship with the illustrator, since many of the photos were just the two of them posing together.

“This is Daodao, my best friend.” She explained to me as I looked through the photos.

In the middle of their trip, they had a dinner party together in a deserted village about twenty kilometers west of Badan Jilin. It was called “Lu Shambhala”, and was the Shangri-La for tourists since it was a place where basically every traveler passed through and rested. Although it was far less mysterious and beautiful than Shambhala, it was still more lively than the lifeless desert.

They met a group there that seemed to be in a daze, and it was only after asking that they found out that the group had just returned from Gutong Jing. After discussing it, their guide asked them if they would like to go there to have a look.

This group of people were young, bold, and unrestrained. Plus, they were only halfway through their itinerary and weren’t tired, so they all unanimously agreed to go. Gutong Jing was only seven kilometers away from where they were, so it only took them two hours to arrive there the next day. They only stayed there for fifteen minutes, however, because the place really had a bad vibe.

As Lan Ting recalled, she couldn’t help but feel heart palpitations and nervousness as she approached Gutong Jing. At the time, the sun was burning high in the sky, but she couldn’t seem to suppress this feeling or explain this phenomenon. It just felt like some instinct in her body was afraid of the place. When she reached the depths of Gutong Jing, she felt a strong sense of discomfort and confusion that was like heatstroke, so she just took some photos and came back.

There was nothing wrong with those photos. They just showed a few low rock mountains that had been eroded into a spiral by the desert wind. They were surrounded by continuous sand dunes with gentle and beautiful lines like the Goddess Venus’s back. I looked at the photos and knew that they should have been taken in the area of Gutong Jing, but I didn’t think that the rocky mountains there were so sparse. I couldn’t see anything special about this place from the photos Lan Ting had given me.

That night, she had a lot of chaotic nightmares. She later wondered whether the scenery there subliminally gave people negative thoughts, or if it was because some local legends had affected them. But neither case seemed to make any sense. Without a doubt, that place was really strange, and she believed that she wasn’t the only one that felt like that. When they were in Gutong Jing, she clearly saw that everyone’s faces looked unusual.

After they came back, the uneasiness they felt at that time was slowly diluted. But when Lan Ting returned home and developed all of the photos, she discovered the problem.

When Lan Ting said this, she gave me another stack of photos, “These are all the photos I took after I came back from Gutong Jing. You can compare them and see what’s changed compared with the previous photos.”

The light in the tea shop was a little dim, so I held them under the light.

Truthfully, I didn’t see anything wrong with these photos at first, because in terms of photography principles, they were free from any problems. Although the shooting methods and expressions were naïve, that wasn’t considered a “problem” but more of a “shortcoming”.

I compared the two stacks of photos over and over again, and finally found that the problem wasn’t the photos themselves, but the contents of the photos.

One person was missing from the photos taken after they had returned from Gutong Jing.

<Introduction 2><Table of Contents><Introduction 4>


Translated by: Yvette
Edited by: merebear226

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