We have met many interesting people during our trip and in Milin (米林), a small town about 40 kilometres away from Linzhi (林芝), we met a remarkable man Mr. Wu Tao (吳濤老闆) who did not only design and built a chain of unique guesthouses, he has changed the livelihood of the little village he resides in.
Linzhi (林芝) is most famous for its peach blossom festival (桃花節), which attracts hordes of tourists each spring. We only went as it was en route to Lhasa but when we arrived at the city centre, we were pleasantly surprised by its comfortable environment and modern infrastructure. We learned that Linzhi is considered one of the most pleasant cities to live in Tibet due to its relatively low altitude (3,000m) with a decent infrastructure and proximity to the airport.
I always try to pick accommodation a bit out of the way and therefore we chose to stay at a guesthouse away from Linzhi. I was intrigued by the Internet pictures of one particular guesthouse as each of its room has a different style and the place looks so dreamy as if it is out of a fairytale. I decided to take a look even it was a bit out of our meagre budget.
It took us a while to figure out where the guesthouse was as its wooden front gate was too subtle to catch the eye. When I walked in, I was immediately greeted by a bunch of super friendly dogs. I called out a few times but it seemed the place was empty. I walked around and saw many organic looking bungalows with an idyllic looking pond in the middle. I opened a few doors and each door led to a room of various enchanting style, which looked even more beautiful than what I saw on the Internet.
Just when I was wondering whether we should leave, I heard some noise and saw a Ford pick-up truck arrived at the gate. A man with a slight moustache and baseball cap appeared and that was my first encounter with Mr. Wu.
Mr. Wu just got back from the airport to pick up another guest and he showed me a few different rooms (which in fact I already saw myself before he arrived). I chose the smallest room (but still of decent size) as it is the cheapest. I always try to bargain the price as we want to keep our costs down. But he is so soft-spoken and gentle mannered that I found myself a little embarrassed to ask if we could get a discount. I did ask him and he said yes but did not say exactly how much the discount was. I left it at that and started getting our luggage into the room.
We stayed in our room the rest of the day and did not see Mr. Wu until the next morning. We had breakfast in the spacious and comfortable dining room right next to the pond and started talking to Mr. Wu. As we still have not paid for the room, I asked him how much we should pay him and told him that we might extend our stay for a few more days. He kept saying that we could pay him later without confirming how much. Once again I was flabbergasted by his kind gesture and did not press him.
We love talking to people but there is something charming about Mr. Wu that we found ourselves quite drawn to him. His place was so peaceful and magical that we did not go out the whole day and just relaxed in the dining room and played with his dogs and cats. Mr. Wu cooked and we ate together and talked more.
The next day he took us on a short tour next door and only then we realized that he has rented a huge piece of land in the village and built over 70 rooms, a huge outdoor bar and BBQ area. It dawned on me that why we were so fascinated by Mr. Wu as clearly there is so much creativity and energy underneath his subtle and modest demeanour.
He had some business to tend to in town and he asked if we wanted to join. Of course we were more than happy to go along. He went to the government building to get some application forms and then took us to see his acquaintance in another village who is in the process of renovating a building into a guesthouse and restaurant. His friend showed us around and we could tell that he really respected Mr. Wu’s opinion on how to improve the use of space and look and feel of the guesthouse.
Wherever he went, people know him. The more time we spent time with Mr. Wu, the more we admire his vision and the way he interacts and helps the locals. Bit by bit we came to understand why he is so well respected and well connected. Mr. Wu has lived in Milin for eight years and his guesthouse business has expanded and boomed. He has created many job opportunities for the locals and he even sold some of his bungalows to other people. But due to the coronavirus impact, he has only kept one guesthouse going and took the time to renovate some of the other bungalows. Each day, we saw Mr. Wu patiently taught the locals how to improve the garden and cleaning the rooms.
One evening, we went out to Linzhi (林芝) to pick up some taobao (淘寶) deliveries (Chinese equivalent of Amazon orders) from a hotel. In China, small villages and towns in remote areas can still order taobao but deliveries are usually sent to the nearby courier outlets or in this case a hotel. Mr. Wu said that he taught the locals how to buy taobao and he often helps to pick up their parcels. Mr. Wu wanted to buy a stapler but he could not find one that night. Guess what did he do next – he went to the police station and asked to borrow a stapler and a box of staples. It shows how good a relationship he has with the local people and the authorities.
Then one morning, Mr. Wu’s friends came to visit. One of them was a professional photographer Mr. Huang and he came to shoot the recently renovated bungalows for promotion purpose. Mr. Huang is devoted to photography and spent years capturing the beauty of the Great Wall. Another friend is a young woman who used to run a guesthouse in Linzhi (林芝) but has gone back to Sichuan (四川) three years ago to raise her children. We had a lovely lunch at the guesthouse and Mr. Huang recommended us to visit the sacred Lake Lamula (拉姆拉措) and stay at his Tibetan friend’s place. The young woman stayed after lunch and helped Mr. Wu photocopy tons of applications forms the whole afternoon.
By now, you probably notice that we were so happy staying in Mr. Wu’s sanctuary that we had no motivation to do any sightseeing. As there were not many other guests, we got to spend much time with Mr. Wu. One day, we all went hiking together. A Tibetan teenager joined us and we hiked up the hill behind the guesthouse together with the dogs. Mr. Wu has known the teenager’s family for a long time and we could tell the boy really looks up to Mr. Wu and loves doing things with him. We visited the boy’s home and his relative’s house on the hill. We also visited a lama’s place and we learned that Mr. Wu donated the building materials to help rebuild the place. Mr. Wu told us how in the beginning, he hiked with the locals and spent days cutting trees on the hill to get the wood to build his bungalows.
Mr. Wu was quite open in talking about his background and the hardship he and his family had endured. Despite our different upbringings, we bonded and clicked on many levels and we both greatly treasured this chance of learning each other’s experience and thoughts. So our conversation just flowed naturally and we felt so at ease together.
We never anticipated that we would have spent a week in Milin (米林) but it is truly wonderful when you met someone so special like Mr. Wu and had the time to know him. When we finally paid for our one-week stay, I was shocked that Mr. Wu gave us such a huge discount and did not charge us a single meal. I could not help asking if it is ok and he said “of course, we are friends”. We have become good friends indeed and I am sure that our paths will cross again as we will make plan to see him again either in his hometown Puer, Yunnan (雲南普洱) or wherever.