Chapter 12 Traveling Notes

In fact, the best material to guide the water from inside the hot spring to the outside wasn’t wood but bamboo.

There was bamboo local to Motuo, which was called Motuo Fangzhu.(1) One of the locals took me and Fatty to a place with bamboo, but when I looked at the trees, I suddenly had a very bad feeling—this bamboo looked different from all the bamboo I had seen before. I took out my cell phone and looked it up, only to find that it was Motuo Fangzhu. It was listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, and its protection level was endangered.

We almost went to jail, I thought to myself. Fatty and I filled out a form on the website to apply for the protection of the area, respectfully bowed to these bamboo trees, and left silently.

In snowy areas like this, you had to think before doing anything. After all, you may not be familiar with many of the things here.

Our local guide told us that we could go to Beibeng Township to buy bamboo since there were industrial bamboo forests with many kinds of bamboo there. We went by motorcycle and bought bamboo as thick as a wrist, along with some rattan for weaving. The two of us then tied it all to the motorcycle and rode back to the temple, looking much like Don Quixote.(2)

Fatty called on a few tourists in the temple—the kind who worked and traveled—and lured them into making a simple water diversion system for us with the promise of a hundred yuan a day. The first part of the plan involved moving a bunch of stones up to make a kind of stone sink and then sticking the bamboo into it. The ends of the bamboo were cut in such a way that they could be connected together and then sealed with yellow mud (the yellow mud came from the dismantled loess wall, which we repurposed after mixing it with water). Once that was done, Fatty put one end of the bamboo into the hot spring while the other end went into a large snow pit by the entrance of the cave.

This snow pit wasn’t far below the cave and was about thirty square meters in size. In fact, you’d pass right by it when climbing up the mountain.

He then took a water jar and put it into the snow pit. To fill the jar with water and get the siphoning process going, we sucked the hot spring water through the end of the bamboo tube and then placed the tube into the water jar.(3)

The water was so hot that it quickly melted the snow, and soon filled the water jar to the brim. As the hot water overflowed, all the snow around the jar quickly melted.

I didn’t know if it was just me, but as Fatty and I squatted on the edge and watched the snow pit turn into a spring pool little by little, the whole process made us smile happily.

This was a good way to decompress.

When the entire snow pit melted completely and became a hot spring pool, we found that the bottom was full of sharp stone gullies and a bunch of daily necessities. It seemed that this snow pit wasn’t the kind that lasted for ten thousand years. When it melted with the changing seasons, some people must have thrown their household garbage inside.

Fatty and I went into the pool to clean it up, but it didn’t take long at all. Once that was done, we took our first dip.

Under the bright sunlight, all I could see were the snow-capped mountains. Plus, the sharp stones under my feet and butt were kind of uncomfortable. Although it made it hard to sit still, it kind of felt like a foot massage.

I had to admit, it was pretty nice being able to soak after doing all that labor. I never thought that I could build a hot spring myself.

This kind of experience was definitely pleasant.

Next, we went down the mountain and started to look around for some Motuo ceramics factories. We found a lot of materials and ended up choosing the kind that were relatively smooth. We carried them up the mountain and put them next to the hot spring pool so that people could put their clothes on them to keep them warm. This was especially true for the felt blankets that were used here. After getting out of the water, you could put one on and sit on the rocks nearby as you waited to dry off. Since the blanket and rocks were both warm, you wouldn’t feel cold at all.

We worked until about two o’clock in the morning. The head lama even sent people over from time to time to take a look at our progress.

That night, Fatty and I were so tired that we slept like the dead. Although the work was very simple, it was all manual labor. I suddenly realized how different Jiangnan(4) was compared to this place—carrying rocks from the waterway was a lot easier than carrying them up the mountain on foot.

I originally wanted to put up some decorations around the stones, because I saw that other Tibetan hot springs had a lot of colorful flags around theirs that looked very beautiful. But after that first day, I didn’t want to do anything anymore. In the end, I decided that it was good enough as it was.

The next day, we decided to take a break because all the people who helped with the hot spring project couldn’t get up.

Fatty and I were also paralyzed. Fatty said that men relied on eating to recover while women relied on sleeping so we should go eat.

So, in the evening, our little group went down to Motuo and ate a sheep before heading back to our rooms to continue sleeping. Once again, we all slept like the dead. On the third day, I touched the stubble on my face and knew that my physical strength had returned.

The hair had actually grown a lot.

This was a sign that my body had rapidly recovered.

I shaved and did a few stretches, suddenly feeling a lightness that was a lot different from the laziness I felt in Fujian. Life in Fujian moved very slowly and revolved around looking forward to tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and every day in the future. Life here, however, moved very fast, and the people only focused on what happened today or what would happen in the next life.

On the third day, a foreigner joined our little construction team. She was a young girl from Germany whose father came here and died unexpectedly. So, after graduating from college, she came here to have a look for herself.

Fatty and I exchanged a glance but didn’t dare probe any further.(5) This young German girl studied architecture, but her Chinese was very poor so she could only work as a laborer in the end.

She could, however, saw wood. We picked out the wooden beams we wanted to use and had her saw them. Once that was done, I used the leftover wood to make mortise and tenon joints, and soon, the wooden shack was built.

The bottom of the sawed beams went directly into the stones we had piled up. This way, the base of the structure would be very sturdy. The top of the shack was made of bamboo and wood, which we cut to make a simple layer of tiles. After that, we went to the village and found some grass that we could weave together to make a turf roof. After weaving it little by little, we finally had enough to cover the top of the shack.

These were all skills that I had learned in my spare time, so it was nice that I could use them all at once like this. The young German girl didn’t think that the shack was sturdy enough, but when I asked everyone on the construction team to try pushing it, it didn’t move an inch.

This shack was practically seamless, so if a snowstorm came through, all you’d have to do was pour water on all the stones around the base. Once the water froze, there was no way that the shack would collapse or blow away. Other than that, the only significant thing was the heavy snow accumulation, but that wasn’t anything to worry about.

If you found it painful to do something, it just meant that you weren’t skilled enough to do it.

By the time we finished working, the sun was starting to set. As its dying light turned the mountains a bright golden color, we stayed at the construction site and ate the food in our lunch boxes (they were really just aluminum alloy basins). The sticky rice cakes we brought from the temple were filled with big black melon seeds, and a young lama brought us butter tea from the head lama, which he put into the hot spring to warm up. The young lama also scraped some sulfur from the cave and put it into the tea, saying that it was good for our stomachs.

We didn’t really know if that was true, but he didn’t put much in there so we decided not to worry about it. Instead, we focused on watching the sun set over the golden mountains, eating our lunch boxes, and drinking the butter tea.

In fact, butter tea was relatively rare in Motuo. The reason why we could drink it at the temple was because many believers brought it with them when they came to visit.

Although the sun was going down, Poker-Face still hadn’t come back. I counted the number of days he had been gone and couldn’t help but start to feel a little worried.

<Chapter 11><Table of Contents><Chapter 13>


TN Notes:

(1) Fangzhu (方竹), or chimonobambusa quadrangularis, is more commonly known as square bamboo. The culms of square bamboo have flat sides and rounded corners, giving them an almost square shape.

(2) I thought they put them horizontal on the motorcycle but I guess that’s too dangerous so they put them vertical like the lance in the pic below. Don Quixote is a 17th-century Spanish literary character, the protagonist of the novel “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes. In short, he was a would-be knight errant whose delusions of grandeur made him the butt of many practical jokes. Longer explanation: he was almost 50 years old and a member of the lowest nobility who read so many chivalric romances that he either lost or pretended to lose his mind in order to become a knight-errant to revive chivalry and serve his nation. He recruited a simple farmer as his squire. In the first part of the book, he imagines the mundane world of the Spanish countryside as something more exciting and dangerous. In one memorable episode, he attacks a row of windmills, believing them to be gigantic knights.

(3) Reminds me of siphoning gas from a car.

(4) Jiangnan is south of the Yangtze river.

(5) Wait, is this a hint that Feng died?!


Sorry, no multi-chapter upload today. I’m tired and I had a hard time trying to wrap my mind around their construction project process to make it clear in English. So glad I’m not an architect or engineer hahaha


3 thoughts on “Chapter 12 Traveling Notes

  1. Ohhhh you must be right! I totally forgot about Feng.
    And I knew it. Poker Face always made me worry when he disappears. I hope it won’t spoil Wuxie and Fatty happiness and he arrives in time to enjoy all their hard work


  2. I think what you said is true. The girl should be Feng’s daughter.
    “Men relied on eating to recover while women relied on sleeping.” And they immediately fell asleep after eating. 😅
    Construction must be hard to translate, let alone Wu Xie’s creative structures.


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