The Hallelujah Mountains of Hunan

ZhangJiaJie - Tianzi Mountain 天子山-3

Sitting in my comfortable chair with a nice cup of coffee in my hand, I can’t help but wonder “what lies around the corner?”

Curiosity cannot help but push us towards this unknown.  It may be a quick look or it may be the beginning of a long, new adventure…  The one thing I am sure of, we cannot help but take a look.  Humans by nature are curious creatures and the desire to learn and obtain wisdom in life lies deep within everyone’s heart.

天子山 ~ 武陵源-1

This desire to learn is a gift children have in abundance.  Differences (be it culture, language, food, religion, etc…) can be eerie for the young; frightening if not so compelling.  There are times when children cannot help but to stare at someone, often with mouth agape, as they try to register what it is they are now experiencing.

Often a turn towards their parents to understand how they should proceed follows.

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In my experiences, parents let children explore differences with “the mind of a child”, open and questioning.  When that something strange is someone, all it takes is a glint in the eye, break of a smile, warm laughter or something similarly simple to cross all boundaries and all cultures.  We are one.

The ability of children to focus on the newness that triggers questions is what fascinates.  A child’s mind pursues answers to understand how “differences” fits into their world, and they grow.

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Not a bad lesson to learn from little ones: never cease expanding the mind for if we do not grow with all the changes the world brings every day, we’ll be lost.

It is crazy to think of all the opportunities that lie around in today’s world.  Places to explore right around the corner: a neighbor, friends or a new restaurant with an exotic menu that opens an opportunity to jump into a new world.

What is most beautiful to see are parents who push their children forward with curiosity instead of pulling them back with fear.

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“Pushing forward with curiosity instead of pulling back with fear” 

It was this last sentence that caught my attention while staying in a small home on top of the Hallelujah Mountains in Hunan province, China.  Huddled around a small stove with a couple in their mid-30s from Beijing, they told me they grew up restricted by fear, in part due to the chaos of China in the 60s and 70s that lingered in the minds of the people through the 80s.

The couple contrasted those fears of the past with what has replaced it in today’s society: healthy curiosity.  Civilizations thrive when the people are pushing forward with confidence instead of pulling back in fear.  Chasing after the answer, pursuing curiosity, can lead to places that never before have been envisioned.      

Zhangjiajie - 黄石寨 袁家界-629

How we found ourselves together in this small cabin was a result of curiosity.  As the family whose house we were staying were members of the Tu-Jia minority (土家族), the couple from Beijing enjoyed Tujia food very much, and wanted to experience it on the mountain, while I came for the photography…a perfect match.

As our conversation ended, the lady from Beijing asked me to join her along with the old couple, to go out back to their smokehouse.  There I witnessed a 30-minute discussion over what piece of smoked meat would be used for our meal.

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It was amid questions, stories, more questions interspersed with laughter that “the best piece of meat” was found and preparation of a traditional Tu-Jia meal was confirmed.  We would have 土家腊肉 (Tujia Bacon with Wild Vegetables).

Wild vegetables, tofu, rice and A LOT of Hunan spices made for a great meal.  Standard for all such meals is a glass of their homemade ‘moonshine’ which after a long day of hiking went down smoothly.

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The experience of Hunan and Hallelujah Mountain was unforgettable.  The photography ended up being a bit of a disappointment, as the weather did not cooperate on top of the mountain… after one clear night, the cold rolled in along with a light rain, which meant a bland, grey fog blanketing the area.

I had hoped for heavy rain, followed by small weather breaks, which would have given perfect conditions to record the rare “peaks above a sea of clouds” scene, but instead Lady Fate gave me a another great reason to return here again and search for that elusive shot.

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Getting the urge to explore, to let the curiosity get the best of us is a good thing.  Whether it is taking a small trip, or listening to a story from someone next door that contains wisdom that people would normally have to travel around the globe to collect.

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Some of the best memories I have, are of growing up and learning about things: wheat, cattle, sports and nature from people around my home town.  Yet, I also learned about China, the Middle East and the world from those very same people…as I was curious and they were eager to tell me a story and share with me the mystery.

As an American, it excites me to see such diversity around the world and in our communities.  Opportunities right next door just waiting to be tapped for the wealth of experience and wisdom to be shared.

It impresses me to no end how easy it can be to invite yourself into a new culture, a new life just by following your curiosity and allowing yourself to be swept away into mystery.

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115 Comments on “The Hallelujah Mountains of Hunan

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