It is about the middle of my three-month China trip since Nov 12, 2009. This is my third time stepping on Chinese soil, and like the previous two trips, this trip is just as significant. As a climber, climbing steep limestone, surprisingly, is my secondary purpose of this trip. My primary objective is to perform reconnaissance for my adventure travel business, LittlePo Adventures (a working title), and therefore I have been actively investigating aesthetic areas in China for active exploration and ultimate adventure. In the meanwhile, I have been making connections with local businesses and proposing collaboration projects with local residents.
I have been incubating the idea of launching a China adventure travel business since 2004. It was the fourth year of my PhD study at University of Pennsylvania and the second year since I started engaging in outdoor endeavors. Many of my outdoor friends who have strongly related to my passion towards nature and technical skills often asked me what the outdoor environment is like in China and Taiwan. I often was able to amaze them by enumerating geographical facts I acquired from textbooks, literature and historic novels; however, I was not capable to describe any deeper connection and appreciation people usually feel after physical exertion, i.e. hiking, climbing, and paddling etc. I left my friends hanging, longing for adventures and exploration in China’s mountain ranges, scenic rivers, and rich culture. The only difference is that I have been feeling the void for a couple decades and they have perhaps for only a few years. I made up my mind then – someday, I will bring my English-speaking friends to experience China and Chinese speaking friends to awe the natural wonders in the States.
Since then, I have actively accumulated my credentials. I became an active volunteer backpacking leader for the AMC. In order to acquire technical skills in a systematic way to speed up the learning process, I took several NOLS courses on glacier mountaineering and rock climbing. In May 2007, I defended my thesis and secured my PhD degree in computational linguistics and a month later I was in Alaska attempting Denali, the highest peak of North America. Denali climb was, and still is, the most exhausting expedition I had ever endured; I also learned a valuable lesson on Denali: I had to turn around at 19,400 feet because of acute mountain sickness. After I arrived home safely, I realized that while I like computer science, I have to do what I love. It is like when nature calls, you just ought to act upon it. “Like” is not enough to push me far in life; “Love” can and it brings enlightenment along the journey. I practice a near dirtbag lifestyle to climb at various climbing destinations to build up a solid foundation and to familiarize with different type of rocks in order to become a better climber. I work for several outdoor education organizations, including NOLS, and now I dare to call myself a competent outdoor educator and climbing instructor.
Last winter, I spent a month climbing in Yangshuo, one of the most developed rock climbing destinations in China. The experience struck me that it was time to put forth my five-year-old baby into reality. And these three months scouting in China will be my springboard for a well thought-out launch.
Like all small business entrepreneurs, I am always thinking of my niche. What are my strengths? What can I provide? Who are my potential customers/clients? What is my mission? All these questions formed a gigantic spider web and at times I felt anxious and stuck. I went back and forth trying to escape from the phantom threat of this imaginary poisonous spider. Finally, resorting to my original motivation gave me the answer. I wanted to bring my American friends to experience China and that is it. I want to guide a small and intimate group from the States to enjoy what they love to do in the outdoor in foreign terrain. The foreign terrain provides excitement and healthy risk for them to endure and I can enrich the China experience not only because I am a native Chinese speaker but also I am well educated in Chinese literature, history, geography, and philosophy. In addition to my outdoor expertise, my clients who are also my friends can have the safety net in a foreign land.
My plan is to consult with every single client with what they need and what they want to accomplish and work hard towards fulfilling them. My clients will be with me and my local friends from the very first second till the last second and they will not be thrown around between random outsourcing companies. Every trip will be personal and completely customizable.
So far, I plan to present three types of adventures (all the names are working titles):
1. Dirtbag China Climbing Series – suitable for rock climbers who look for maximum time of rock climbing in amazing scenic destinations, are willing to sacrifice some physical comfort in exchange of cost reduction, and are excited to enjoy cheap but delicious street food for most meals.
2. Active China Trekking Series – suitable for hikers or backpackers who appreciate trekking in pristine mountain ranges or hard-to-get-to historical sites to experience way beyond what ordinary tourists can endure.
3. Recon Trip Tag-Along – suitable for anybody who wants to tag along with me on my scouting trip and is okay with only figuring out a few days ahead at a time, and can tolerate the unexpected. The benefit is to explore a totally unknown territory with an experienced traveler and native Chinese speaker.
I am very excited and committed to make it happen. I am also willing to take input and suggestions from any of you to help me refine the plan. Feedback and a different perspective always helps, and that is especially true because the following principle is what I will always apply when conducting my business – “your friend is your guide.”