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How striving hard can move mountains in difficult times

Updated: 2020-02-07 07:56:20

( China Daily )

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I've been a homebody of late. In China, there are a lot of us in this invisible demographic these days-not that I have left my apartment to substantiate the assertion. But making the streets quieter and homes busier, as the Year of the Mouse arrived, was the aim of the government's extensions to the holiday.

With a virus to beat, that made sense. Ditto the closure of tourist sites, and people are steering clear of restaurants and bars-the ones still open. I know this because the Wi-Fi signal still reaches into my mouse hole-and the worthiest bandwidth is occupied by the bravery of hospital workers, with those in the essential services also pairing duty with risk.

Although most holidaymakers came back this week, it's a return to work, not to normal. Some workplaces have encouraged employees to work from home, to keep everyone safe. That includes companies with protocols on self-quarantine for staff who return from travels. That's how I became a homebody.

Being cooped up in a bunker for days on end is a small price to pay when others are contending with fear, exhaustion-and grief. Confinement, though, does make you look afresh at the ordinary things around you. So it is with the least-used fixture in the home-the front door. I've come to see it as a wall with a handle. In moments of more expansive thought, the door swings open, and I am on the outside looking in. Instead of furniture and other objects, I see ruts in the floor carved out by the routines of life.

My apartment ought to have a navel for all the contemplation directed at it, and within it, especially now that it's been recast as an oversized box containing the habits of the occupant-not all worth keeping. In more footloose days, this would be the cue for a good walk. Still, it's just a stroll to the kettle, perched by the kitchen window. My rituals of tea making, and imbibing, now incorporate gazes at the world on the other side of the glass-the boxes upon boxes in my Beijing district. While I'm still a few lines short of a sonnet, I have cultivated a long gaze.

Imagine, then, the sensory stimulation when, on Sunday morning, my kitchen window swapped out the gray vista with whiteness. And it was falling as I gawped. OK, it wasn't the first snowfall in Beijing this season. But the world suddenly got a lot closer; it was in my face. Window thrust open, I was leaning out as far as I could. The cold bite of the winter air gave me kinship with the distant figures I could make out.

The kill switch was hit on the impulse to run downstairs. But there's that long gaze. Beyond all Beijing's little boxes I was transported 700 kilometers away. I felt the crunch of the packed ice under foot, I was gasping for breath and I was debating whether to chalk up the lie I had just told as one for the then-vanishing 2019 or my first for 2020. Ahead of me was the peak of Laoshan, 1,100 meters above the Yellow Sea near Qingdao, Shandong province.

The Shandong gem wins on all counts as the wall-busting destination for my time travel. There's the jagged cliffs and boulders artfully dumped by glaciers and the higher up the mountain you get, the bigger the ocean becomes. No mystery why it was a retreat for the sages.

As for the snow, unlike in Beijing at the weekend, there was too much of the stuff on Laoshan that day and the highest trails were closed. My kitchen reverie brought me back to the falsehood uttered on its slopes. A fellow hiker had asked, presumably in encouragement, if I was fit-the word that showed on his translation app when I had got lost in the blizzard of Chinese. I wheezed in the affirmative. If it proved to be a stretch of the truth then, it's even more evident now. My fitness tracker clocks me at barely 2,000 steps a day.

But it's another word that I picked up from the chatty hiker that now sticks with me: litu. My dictionary defines it as "to try hard, to strive to". There's a mountain of that going on in China, and that's one habit to keep. As for me, one day I'll get back to Laoshanthere's a sonnet to finish.

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