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A Foreigner’s Perspective in the Cantonese Climbing Community

“Quoi!” “Quoi!” The belayers’ voices reverberated across the crag, echoing the fervor of the climbers around me. Amidst the cluster of 25 climbers, 15 routes, and the entwined ropes, a vibrant sense of camaraderie and shared resources enveloped the scene. It resembled the communal spirit akin to the distinctive culture of these Cantonese climbers. Each member contributed their piece, with one owning the quickdraws and another possessing the essential rope. A collective spirit prevailed, where the essence of their partnership dictated the ebb and flow of their climbing endeavors.

Sorting through my own gear, including ropes, quickdraws, and other climbing essentials, I was greeted by a fellow climber. Through a blend of limited English, my even more restricted Cantonese, and a flurry of gestures, we settled on conquering a pristine dihedral. The mutual delight in finding a belayer and the novelty of encountering a foreign climber bridged any language gap. Unbeknownst to me, the area had been developed by an expatriate several years prior, and not a single route had been added since.

As the day waned, my rope had found its way into the hands of every climber on the cliff. Amidst the climbing jargon, I picked up my first two Cantonese climbing terms, “Quoi,” which, when articulated in the third tone, denoted ‘to clip,’ but in the second tone, signified ‘Quick-Draw.’ My tonal deficiencies must have led to several comical mispronunciations, though the climbers graciously indulged my linguistic fumbles.

As dusk settled, I found myself invited to a local restaurant for dinner. Armed with only a handful of Cantonese phrases, I navigated the conversation with relative comprehension, though the specifics of my meal eluded my memory even six years later.

In the universal language of climbing, conversations were translated through animated hand gestures and expressive facial contortions that could have easily won an Academy Award. Amidst the endless expanse of Guangzhou, China, a city known as the Factory of the World, with its perpetual leaden skies and a bustling populace of over twelve million, I had found my niche within the climbing community. It was merely my first month in China, yet I already felt a part of something greater, a fitting prelude to the adventures that lay ahead.

Hailing from the suburbs of Northern California, the experience of living in Guangzhou seemed light-years away from the comforts of home. Despite the initial cultural disparities, my proficiency in Cantonese improved, and I ventured to establish new climbing routes. My circle of climbing companions expanded, and life began to take on a familiar rhythm, mirroring the resonance I had found in various corners of the world. This convergence of cultures through the shared love of climbing wasn’t just exclusive to my journey; it also acted as a bridge that bridled the cultural contrasts I encountered during my transition from California to Tennessee.

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