Hwang Shan Again
In a Buick through a tunnel I go back in time to a mountain I climbed half a life ago. Hwang Shan, in China’s Anhui Province, waits at the end of the freeway as I return to a spot where I struggled to become a whole person after
loosing love and innocence. A time of fog and stone stairs leading I knew not where but only up more into the clouds where the peaks poked out. Now the bamboo leans off the mountain towards me as a different man returns to see and paint stone. Last time I vomited on the local bus. This time a driver with toll roads. Before I had a strong body and weak heart.
Today this is
reversed. But I still have the greed to see what nature breeds. “Life is precious- follow traffic rules” repeats fresh green signs along the road. Life is this precious moment and fully appreciating all the ones we experience makes for a life well lived. Now, on top of Hwang Shan (Yellow Mountain),
I sit in a chair with a stone railing for a table and paint the view of where I climbed two decades ago on this steep expanse of rock. Others now hike up to the tops of the peaks while I sit down below capturing the effort needed to go up against the odds. To push up from below with strength fueled by an almost
blind quest to go higher. To touch the tops of all we are. Later, all is anything but quiet on the Western front.
Eating in the Yu Ping Lo canteen, I am surrounded by loud drinking hikers and I can not hear myself write. Smoke fills my nose as I finish my tofu and eggs. But I am not fazed as I once was. I think I have changed. I see we are all the same- seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Even while painting in a crowd today I talked and laughed with them and it was all a good game.
But sleeping in a
dorm room with six strangers is not a good idea and my enthusiasm dissipated as the man next to me snored until it was time to clear his throat and watch the sunrise at 5am. I had slept not a minute and wanted to leave but little did I know my status on the mountain would soon change. A reporter from the
Hwang Shan Daily had arrived to interview me. As soon as the hotel manager heard that there was a Paralympian on his watch, the first to ever climb the mountain, I was treated like royalty. A lavish lunch was spread before us as I was handed keys to the VIP suite.
Suddenly the world is upside down and that night I was between clean starched sheets with a view of the mountains to die for. The wheels of life had turned, merging Yin with Yang, and the universe was again laughing. In my suite I paint views and feelings from a new vantage point. With swallows darting in and out of the vista I stretch towards the distant finger-like peaks. These stones so slender and strong- not unlike my fingers. The hands that walk, paint and live for me resemble the stone
spires that reach towards the heavens.Returning to these mountains brings me full circle. From my initial excursions as a stranger into a developing China to this place where I am treated with respect by these curious and industrious people who begin taking their baby steps towards a future world that will be determined very much by their actions. I feel fortunate to be ‘in’ with the soon to be ‘in crowd’.
Text by Gregory Burns, Photographs by Angie Tan Burns, All Rights Reserved.