By Xinhua sportswriters Li Linhai and Shi Yu
XINING, China, Sep. 7 (Xinhua) -- Tang Jianzhong, 52, can read the river like a book. Over a decade after settling in China's first national park in northwestern Qinghai province, the old sailor claims to have found wisdom and his true self from the white waters rippling against his rafts.
THE MAN AND HIS RAFTS
As the song goes, summertime and the living is easy. But here in Namse, a small town on the banks of the upper reaches of the Mekong River in Qinghai's Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, summer days are written in the water as the days turn chilly when August ends.
The town, lying in the heart of China's first National Park - Sanjiangyuan, namely the source of three rivers - scheduled to be established this year, is an ideal place for white water rafting.
Tang has been running tides for 16 years. On his first car ride to Namse, the icy and bumpy road reminded him of "the intrepid waters filled with obstacles at every twist and turn".
From June to August, the region's evanescent "summertime" is the perfect and only window of time to go on the river. Instead of having the summer to himself, Tang is always busy with explorers who make their way here to sail engineless down the river.
On an eight-day expedition along the 210-kilometer waterway, Tang and his explorers spend the day rafting freely and sleep after dark under the stars by the shallow waters.
Nature gives nothing but the bare truth, however cruel it might be, he said. During summer, water rises and the river runs more rapidly, making exploration much more dangerous. "It's our protocol to make sure everything is good to go before we set sail. We call it reading the water."
STILL WATERS RUN DEEP
If still waters run deep, then Tang is a deep man. Beneath his tough-guy exterior, Tang appears to be much humbler than he should be.
Working as a mountain guide in the 1990s, Tang began rafting in 2004. With his great passion and years of experience of traversing jungles, he soon mastered the sport, becoming the only Chinese captain to successfully raft from Lee's Ferry to Diamond Creek at the Grand Canyon, without tipping in all the dangerous bunds.
"In spite of speaking no English, Tang manages to leave every trip as everyone's favorite guide and best friend," reads the website of the rafting agency that he works for.
Outside of his rafting job, Tang also casts bread upon the waters as he reaches out to local residents of the national park.
Tashi is one of Tang's favorite students. Born and raised by the Mekong River, Tashi spent his childhood floating down the river on abandoned tires. "I never thought that I could turn my childhood interest into a career."
After learning professional rafting skills from Tang, Tashi became his own boss by setting up his own rafting agency in Namse. "With community tourism based on sightseeing and rafting, people can learn more about the national park that we call home," he said.
THE SHAPE OF WATER?
"We see a different world on the water. Rafting exposes you to nothing but the wilderness," he said. On the unpopulated land that Tang passes by on every expedition, he always spots fresh footprints of rare animals, which makes him feel even closer to the wild nature.
According to Plato, water takes the shape of an icosahedron, a 20-sided polyhedron. After years of battling the rapids, Tang said that water can never be defined in whatever form. But the veteran sailor does agree with the idea that water has many faces and can be enigmatic.
The raft can sometimes be violently shaken and pushed to its very limits, as if the water was trying to consume it. But the raft can also suddenly be embraced by the nature of the waters, flowing in harmony. "The water is a mystery," he pondered.
Though having total confidence in navigating his drafts, Tang admits that he sometimes finds it harder over time to unravel the enigma of the water under the keel.
"After all the gentle splashes of paddles and the extreme currents, you always make it to land. I guess that is what life all about," he whispered. Enditem