Friendly Yaks and Heart Attacks

The next day I woke up nice and early to eat breakfast before horse trek attempt #2. I hiked up the hill to Emma’s and ran into my friendly Australian neighbor. He saw that I was a little pink from the day before (not that it was warm or anything), and asked if I had a hat. I said I had applied a little sunscreen, but he ran down to his hostel to grab me a hat anyway, because I didn’t have one- super nice! At 9:00 I crossed the street to the horse treking company and was surprised to see the same guide with Nate’s horse Dana. Where was Ilu? It was good that I had the same guide though, because it might’ve been awkward all by myself with someone new. He told me that since we went East yesterday, we would go West today! We crossed the street and I waited with the horses while my guide went to go buy us some sort of unflavored, greasy doughnut bread.


When my guide returned we hopped on our horses, riding through a village alley and then up the mountain. We rode up the mountain for a decent while, passing by a Tibetan village. We then continued along a mountain ridge for a few hours, finally going off road to sit at the very top of a small mountain amongst a herd of yaks! They were everywhere! But unfortunately they’re very skittish and were afraid of either us or the horses… probably both. We sat out in the sun on the grass and the guide pulled out his weird doughnuts. They were okay… they looked like the American long, twisted sugar coated doughnuts, but they had no sugar, were a little greasy and weren’t that great. I was hungry so I ate two, but there’s only so much greasy doughnut bread I can eat. My guide kept trying to get me to eat more but I really did not want any more. I took half of one to appease him, because apparently saying “I’m soooo full” 500 times doesn’t work. We ended up having an interesting conversation about China, when he randomly asked “Do you like Obama”. I told him I did, and he told me he didn’t. When I asked why, he said “I don’t know, I just don’t like him”. Okay?… I told him that I thought he had good ideas, but it was hard for him to get things done because the country is so divided on what they want, and he’s not allowed to make all of the decisions himself. He told me he still didn’t like Obama… okay then? At least the conversation was a test of my Chinese abilities. I guess I can officially talk about politics in Chinese!


Eventually I decided to ask him about the yaks. “Are they nice?”, I asked. He didn’t really understand. So I asked him if, theoretically, I could pet one. He said they were normally afraid of people, but they might not be afraid of me. I didn’t actually try to pet any Yaks because they were pretty far away, but I did get my photo taken with them! My guide handed me the rest of the doughnuts (yum…), and we headed back down the mountain.


We stopped at a temple on the way down, that wasn’t finished being built yet. It’s very funny that a lot of things in China that look old are actually new. This temple was designed to look ancient- and once it’s finished being built, people will probably start telling tourists that it is hundreds of years old. I asked my guide what the characters on the temple meant- he said he couldn’t read characters. Oh right! Chinese is his second language too! Tibetans speak Tibetan and have a script, not characters- so while most Tibetans in areas with tourists and Han Chinese speak Madarin, many of them can’t read characters fluently.

We made it back around 4:30- just enough time for me to rest before dinner. I ate dinner at Emma’s… again, I had no idea where else to eat that had individual sized portions, as opposed to shared Chinese dishes. I also didn’t want to go too far away by myself. I was going to pay to use Emma’s internet, but she informed me that my hostel had wifi. Since when? There was nothing advertising wifi anywhere! Apparently I had to go up to the sketchy tea shop above the horse treking building to ask about the wifi password. The tea shop was full of 40 year old men, smoking and playing cards. I could barely even breath because a thick layer of smoke permeated the room. I asked the owner about the wifi password, which he wrote down for me. He then told me to come back anytime, with a creepy brown-toothed smile. No thanks. No, I don’t think I will be coming back ever.

I went back to the room and checked my email. It had been about three days since I had checked it last, and I had an email from my mom saying my 17 year old cat was sick. Uh oh! But I knew she’d be fine, she has always been super healthy, and she was perfectly fine a few days ago. Then I logged onto facebook and saw something on my newsfeed I wasn’t expecting: my brother had posted a video of my cat with yesterday’s date… the kind of thing you only do when someone dies. WHAT?! I sent an email to my mom demanding to know what happened to my cat- I was freaking out. But there were still a few more hours until my mom would be up. I tried to distract myself with books and facebook and writing this blog- but I couldn’t focus. Nate wasn’t much help either. Like I told you, he is the least comforting person ever and all he could say was “I’m sorry, that sucks”, and then went back to reading his book.

If you know me, you know how much I love my animals, and I was by far closest to Lizzy. Whenever I was home she would sleep next to my pillow, she always came when I called her, and her favorite spot in the house was laying on my chest. I’d had her since fourth grade, and I loved her more than I love most people. She was a little crazy, partially blind and had the funniest meow I had ever heard, but she was my weirdo. Eventually my mom emailed me telling me that yes, she had died and that she was waiting until I was back in Xi’an to tell me over skype. Nate was already asleep, or at least pretending to be asleep so he wouldn’t have to deal with me. My brother was under the impression that my mom had told me, but apparently there was a little miscommunication. Basically Lizzy got really sick, stopped eating and needed to be put to sleep. That night was probably my worst night in China thus far. It was pouring down rain, but I went outside anyway. I found a spot in the courtyard that was dry and sat on a chair with my panda and cried. A Chinese woman saw me and gave me a pack of tissues (Nate had used all of ours).

That’s what’s hard about going to a foreign country for a long period of time- things happen and you can’t go home. I found out my cat died over facebook before I even knew how sick she was. A part of me really wishes I had other… more comforting friends with me in Songpan, but I didn’t and it is what it is. I had to deal with my best friend in the entire world dying by myself. While this seems weirdly personal to be showing the entire world, it’s part of my experience in Sichuan and I wouldn’t be showing the real experience if I didn’t include this part. It was awful, and I know the worst part will be going home and not having her or my dog there (he died about a week before I left for China), but at least I still have one more cat… if I can convince him to snuggle with me instead of my mom.


The next morning I skyped my parents for the first time in over a month. With all of my computer problems I hadn’t been able to talk to them in forever. I’m not going to lie, I looked like crap- I had barely slept and my eyes were so puffy I could barely open them, and I was extremely sunburnt (I guess I shouldn’t have taken the hat off halfway through). But I talked to my parents for a couple hours- first about my cat, and then about my trip. Nate was finally starting to feel better so he went to Emma’s to give me some privacy, and then started tutoring a little girl in English outside the room, which made me hate him a little less. Okay, that’s not true- it made me a little less “disappointed in him and how he wasn’t there for me in my time of need”. Is that better? I was so hungry while skyping them, but I didn’t want to leave so I ate the weird donuts which were even worse cold. Eventually I pulled myself together enough to go eat something. I put on some makeup so I wouldn’t look like death, and the two of us went back up to Emma’s so I could eat some food and drink some English Breakfast Tea (it was necessary). I got my food: some fried rice, started eating and realized that I didn’t feel too well. Uh oh… I ate a few bites and then started eating slower… and slower… and slower. Nate made a comment about how I was the slowest eater he had ever seen in his entire life, but I just really wasn’t feeling well. IT WAS THE DOUGHNUTS. THE EVIL DOUGHNUTS. I had eaten them a few hours before, and they were not agreeing with me. I eventually gave up on the rice, which shocked Emma, who asked me if the food was okay. I told her I wasn’t feeling very well and she said “oh, you too now?”. Hahaha.. haha. ha.

After “eating”, we spent the afternoon walking around Songpan, admiring the awful English translations of signs, and even stumbling upon a market selling fruit, electronics and even baby ducks! I bought some stomach medicine and tried to get something for my sunburn but the pharmacist said “oh that’s not bad, don’t worry about that”. AKA I have nothing to treat that. I should’ve brought my aloe! -But I packed it in my big suitcase. Nate and I decided to relax by watching “Game Change”- the movie about Sarah Palin, which was actually pretty good. That night I finished Kosher Chinese, which is extremely entertaining, and tried to take a shower- which was the biggest disaster of my life. The “shower” could not maintain a stable temperature and had zero water pressure. It would randomly be scalding hot and then go freezing cold- all without me touching anything. While the cold is awful, it’s the hot that was the worst, and I got burned a few times. Eventually I gave up and turned it all the way to cold and just washed my hair. Nate had a fun time listening to me swear up a storm in the bathroom. So much for a real shower.


Honestly, overall I really like Songpan; it reminds me of a quaint little European town… except Chinese. The only problem with Songpan is the trucks. The main highway from Chengdu to North Sichuan goes right through Songpan, so this means that semis and tour busses all need to go right through Songpan, which really disturbs the peaceful quality of the small town. The problem with these busses and semis is that they honk at everything. And when I say “honk”, I mean heart-attack inducing, ear-splitting, deep-roar honks. And because there are mountains on either side, the honk echoes. It’s awful. They really need to divert the traffic around Songpan if they want to increase tourism. They honk at anything, everything and nothing. A little tut tut riding on the side of the road, not in anyone’s way? HOOOOOOONK. A dog crossing the street? HOOOOOONK. A car not going 20 miles over the speed limit? HOOOOONK HOOOOOOOOOOOONK. Obnoxious.

Overall Songpan is a great town to visit. I would recommend going for about two days: One day to hike or do a horse trek and one day to explore the city. Songpan has a lot of Tibetan flavor which is really interesting, along with really nice people and a small-town feel (if you can get over the trucks). While I had some unfortunate experiences in Songpan (Nate’s stomach and my cat), I still look at Songpan as an overall positive experience and I would love to go back again to see how much it has changed, meet Emma’s baby and maybe finally pet a yak.



About Richelle

Expat, traveler, and spicy food lover, I've spent the last few years living in China and traveling around Asia. In my spare time I enjoy salsa dancing, exploring night markets and stuffing my face with street food.

4 comments on “Friendly Yaks and Heart Attacks

  1. Wow – what a post. This area reminds me of Leavenworth in some of the photos. Also, I didn’t realize how different the Tibetan people look. Cute pics of Liz too :)

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