A Ghost Story

I was watching My Ghost Story last night, and recalled a similar incidence that happened while traveling in China about four years ago…to be more specific, in Huashan National Park…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe (my mom, sisters and I) took the public bus from Xi’an to the region for one purpose: to climb Huashan (literally it means Flower Mountain). It is one of the five sacred Taoist mountains in the nation, and has the reputation as one of the most dangerous mountains in the world. At that time, we were the only foreigners. After about 2 hours, the driver finally pulled to a stop in front of a motel, turned off the engine and got off. The other passengers followed suit. Not exactly sure what was going on, we also got off the bus. Very soon we learned that was the final stop. Then a man in his 40s appeared from the motel and greeted us in a very warm welcome. He knew some English so that was definitely a huge relief for us. He and the other hotel people were all very friendly. We saw some of our bus-trip companions ordered lunch there, so we decided to do the same before heading to the hotel (recommended by a Lonely Planet guidebook) that we booked prior to the trip. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter lunch, the same man asked us about our plan for the climb, showed us the trails, and explained that most of the climbers started their ascent in the evening so they would get to the East Peak just in time for the sunrise. When we told him that we planned to start the ascent early next morning, he invited us to spend the night at the motel. It seemed like a good idea considering the motel was the closest point to the mountain foot, and the rates were rather good. And it was definitely an added bonus that they spoke some English. It all seemed too good to be true! However, we decided to stick to our initial hotel arrangement. When he learned that we had booked another place, he said  it was OK, and was kind enough to explain the direction to our hotel. As we were paying our lunch bill at the counter, the lady in charge smiled sweetly at us. She was tall and skinny and had long, dark hair (I thought she looked a bit like Megan Fox, except she had small eyes!). She tried to persuade us to stay. As we bid goodbyes, her final words were ‘don’t hesitate to come back’. We left the place with good feelings…IMG_1160 After some hassles, we finally found the hotel we booked. It was a tall, stand-alone building with a modern architectural design. We walked in and saw uniformed staff members. That was a huge contrast to the motel that was quite small, had a traditional design (like an ancient Chinese house) and felt more homey. They could not locate our reservation, and worse, they didn’t speak English at all (that was ironic considering the motel staff did speak some!). We understood that they still had available rooms, but out of frustration, we decided to go back to the motel…

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Waiting for sunrise in the East Peak. It was very windy and cold. But no regrets!

The motel staff seemed happy to see us again (of course! we were like walking dollar signs!). We got adjacent rooms. They were quite spacious, but had that ‘old’ smell and feel. As time slipped, things became quiet again. Before long the night had approached. I noticed we were the only guests left. The others must have been off to the mountain to start the ascent. It got eerily silent as the night deepened. We decided to go to bed to make our early climb the next day. My mom and I shared a room. I wanted to write a short email to a friend before sleep. My mom fell silent. She must have fallen asleep. A few minutes later, the air conditioner beeped and shut off. I thought that was normal so I continued writing. I turned to look at my mom, and she was definitely sleeping like a rock. I returned to my writing. All of a sudden, my mom made sounds, like she was talking but the words just couldn’t be uttered. I was stupid enough to ignore it, thinking she was talking in her sleep (some people do that, right?). If only I had known I was making one of the biggest mistakes in life!! The situation continued for a few more minutes. I acted like it was all normal (yes, go ahead and curse me for being so ignorant!!!). I went to the bathroom before sleep. By then, my mom was silent again.

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Dawn breaking over the East Peak.

We got up as early as 4am. My sisters had joined us for breakfast in our room. I jokingly said ‘mom scared the hell out of me last night. she was talking in her sleep’. My mom quickly responded ‘you didn’t know what happened last night…’. She told us that when she was falling asleep, she saw a tall, dark figure with very long hair emerging from the bottom of my bed. The thing was approaching her. It stood right next to her and lowered itself to the point of becoming very close to her . My mom asked for help but she couldn’t get the words out. She prayed hard, so hard that the thing eventually disappeared. Upon learning what happened, I felt massive goosebumps run down my arms and neck (and I was definitely remorseful for not being there for my mom!). One of my sisters said she could not sleep well because the wind was howling and its fists beating against the window. Both my little sister and I didn’t hear that, or experience what my mom experienced. The room suddenly felt very weird. In fact, everything started to feel very weird and eerie…we quickly packed our things, dropped the keys and left the place…

That’s our ghost story!

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North Peak. Access to it was the easiest, compared to the other peaks. You can get there either by taking the cable car or hiking from the base of the mountain. We did the latter :). It definitely took significantly more time and energy, but the depth of experience was much deeper. From here, we branched out to the other peaks!

I learned three very important lessons here: 1) be extremely careful of anything that seems too good to be true; 2) when it comes to remote places, go for hotels recommended by trusted guidebooks. Those experts know best; and 3) NEVER TAKE THINGS FOR GRANTED, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR LOVED ONES. Despite this horrible ghostly experience, the trip to Huashan was definitely one of the most memorable ones (of course!!!).

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Locking my golden lock and tying the red ribbon on one of the iron chains built along trails. Doing this is a symbol of ‘locking’ the good things (peace, health, happiness). Part of this timeless tradition requires one to throw the keys into the chasm, but I kept mine haha.

 

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Lots of steep stairs!

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Yay! We made it to the top. The mountain is not that high (2154.90 meters), but an important lesson for me: it’s not so much about the height. It’s the condition of the trails, weather, other climbers, and of course, your physical stamina!

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Reverse Recollection

It feels like it was just yesterday when I was rushing through packing for my leisure-and-conference trip to Tokyo with my good friend and colleague, Reni. That happened five days ago. As I am writing this, I am actually on my way home alone, just as Reni is on her way to her next destination alone. I am physically exhausted, but my mind is racing with thoughts of yesterdays. I can’t stop thinking that it was just less than a day ago when Reni and I were nervously but proudly presenting Malaysia’s national park system and Kinabalu Park to a group of people who had come from different countries, and it was just a few hours ago when we took part in the Japanese dance during the conference dinner, and had pleasant conversations and shared laughter with some of the attendees.

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Group photo with the performers during the conference dinner.

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My colleague, Reni, and I presenting our case study all the way from Kinabalu Park.

IMG-20151206-WA0015It was just two days ago we went to Saitama to see the Chichibu festival (one of the three biggest floats in Japan) with our research friend, Tom, and four other people, and saw things that I had not seen before, tried things that I had been curious about, such as sake. That festival presented a golden opportunity to understand a small part of the Japanese cultures and watch people!

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Japanese gentlemen in their traditional wear, ready to carry the float into the dedicated shrine.

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One of the best things about Chichibu Festival (and many other festivals) is the chance to dig in the wide variety of local foods and drinks. From sake to the must-try Japanese pancake (according to Tom!).

It was just three days ago Reni and I took a day tour to Mount Fuji and Hakone, and had an up-close view of the national symbol of Japan covered in snow for the very first time. It seemed to be at peace, as if it was taking a long break for the winter, like a wise old man with a long white beard sitting quietly after a long day, contemplating the future. Reni, we will be back to conquer the mountain, yes?

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Snow-capped Mount Fuji from the national park visitor center. Its sheer beauty took my breath away!

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An up-close view of Mount Fuji. In my vision, I see Reni and myself trailing its side.

The return to Tokyo by the Shinkansen bullet train was a unique experience in its own right.  It was just four days ago when we arrived right after midnight, took the train to the station nearest to our hotel, got lost looking for it, but eventually found our way with the help of some very kind Japanese. It was truly a blissful moment to be the only strangers wandering in the middle of nowhere in this metropolitan city after midnight when it was cold and silent, and when most of the very people who ‘owned’ it had already retreated to the dreamland… and now I am almost home…time flies, doesn’t it? IMG_3689One day, you are just getting ready for it. Then the next thing you know, you find yourself looking out of the plane window, staring blankly at the skies, and reminiscing the beautiful past. I would like to think that is one of the very beautiful things about travel. It is not just about exploring places, or learning new things. It is a supreme creator of long-lasting memories that no one can take away from you. The time spent becomes very precious. This Tokyo trip is short, but it is certainly one of the most memorable ones. That reminds me of a saying by Abraham Lincoln ‘In the end, it is not the years in your life that count. It is the life in your years’. It is not the length of a trip that matters; it is the memories you are creating. I would like to dedicate this piece to Reni who has been my lost-and-found good friend, a wonderful and dedicated colleague, and one of strongest women I have ever known. Keep travelling, my friend! The world is our classroom! KampaiIMG_3759

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The sun kissing the top of Mount Fuji! Look forward to climbing this sacred mountain.