What is climbing? If you think about it all it is is moving your arms and legs to get up a rock or cliff. Why are there different lines, routes or problems on the same rock? Why not just get up via the easier means possible. I guess to me climbing is more than the movement or sport… It is the whole lifestyle… The obsession… And the ups and downs… A bit like life itself.
I’ve always talked about how I got into climbing and inspirations but I’ve never talked about my background and what it means to me and others around me.
I’m Chinese, born in China and moved over to Australia when I was 3. I still remember the moment I was holding mum’s hand as we walked down the stairs and off the plane at Tullamarine airport. As a kid, soccer was my thing. Dad had a leather soccer ball that he gave me which I recall was a present from my uncle and I kicked it day in and day out at the local park. Whenever dad would come home from work on the weekend and on the rare occasion that I see him during the week, I’ll nag to have him kick the ball with me despite how tired he was from his 3 jobs. I was quite an active kid and had a go at whatever sports kids were playing in the playground. I went to the AusKick clinics when I was in year 4 till year 6 when I had to leave cause I was too old. I played basketball at high school where I still remember I scored 6 three pointers in a row one morning. And then I continued to play soccer at lunch time with the boys.
I was also into anything and everything that was not normal. I didn’t like being the same as everyone and always liked to do my own thing. I remember when a little circus school came to our high school for a clinic.. I was so keen on the diablo that I convinced mum to buy one. Growing up and even now I’m still the luckiest person in the world cause mum and dad has always supported me. Mum more actively and dad quietly in the background but I knew he had my back when the time came. Mum always bought me everything I wanted that was associated with school and study and if I nagged hard enough, she’ll go out if the way to buy me whatever sports gear and games that I wanted. I guess she didn’t want me to feel like the other kids had something and I didn’t despite how limited money we had. I still recall coming home from school when I was young and was always hanging out the garage whilst mum and dad would work away on sewing machines sewing clothes to help put food on the table. I still remember last year when I asked dad “how money did we make for each shirt you guys sewed?” 5cents was the answer dad gave me.
Throughout highschool I went through a number of different phases and interests. So as I mentioned.. I had the school sports… Then there was DJing, gymnastics which mum drove me to every week and waited for me. Every now and then when I did something cool I’d look over and she’d be watching with a smile =) um… I got into wing chun Kung Fu, piano, saxophone, normal weights at the gym, playstation gaming all holiday long, counter strike, bikes, fixies, coffee, etc. . My folks pretty much gave up on me for doing well at school… I never studied and just played games really..and came back with really bad grades… Cause I was so far behind in school that I gave up on myself. I’m super lucky things worked out. Despite all that… My family stuck with me.
What does it mean to come from a Asian heritage growing up in a Western country? You’re automatically expected to be a lawyer, some medical related profession or commercial. I was definitely not commercial… Had no idea… Still don’t. It also means that there’s this pressure as a 1st generation migrant of succeeding in life. For an Asian family.. That means get a good job, find a wife and have a steady life and career. I mean all the work they’ve put in… The 3 jobs… Always putting me before themselves…. There’s a lot of pressure on me to perform =P and yoloing is really not on the Asian list of desirable aspirations.
Going back to my list of activities.. There was nothing I could really stick to for long periods of time.. Did wing Chun for a year and changed to gymnastics… Did that for a year and busted my ankle.. I was yet to find something that I could continue to pursue throughout my life. Climbing came along one day and changed my life. The obsession didn’t come straight away… Well it did but not to the extent is it today… I remember the day I blew my left ring finger pulley. I thought that was the end of my climbing phase… I came home icing my finger and dad asked what happened… I told him I blew my finger…. He gave me the disappointed head shake and walked away. I managed to come back from it and continued climbing. I think climbing is what’s been keeping me sane for the transition between Melbourne to Perth… It’s helped me to meet new people and even my last girlfriend. It’s taken me to places that i wouldnt have gone to on adventures beyond my wildest imagination. It’s consumed every spare thought and moment of my life like a disease… And I’m pretty happy for that. I blew my right knee… Again thought it was over.. That id never heel hook again… It started getting better and blew my left knee… My friends carried me down from hollow mountain cave… It shook up everything in my life… I remember how embarrassed I was when I told mum that I was at the hospital but she was supportive. It shook up my relationship with my partner as she was just as psyched to climb for the 5 days and only got in half a day before we had to leave. But like they say.. Time heals all wounds… I bounced back and now feel better than ever. Mum’s pretty understanding and knows I pretty much go climbing every weekend. She kinda expects it and we always catch up Monday morning to talk about it. She even calls me Sunday nights to know I’m ok and made it home. Despite my poor Chinese and translation of climbing news to her.. She does pretty well to remember. I remember explaining to her about the Dawn Wall.. How honnold dropped into the boys to bring them snacks. I remember giving her a daily update even though I’m sure she doesn’t care.. Out of the blue one day.. She even asked how Kevin and Tommy were going =P made me smile. I explained the difference between bouldering, trad and sport. She’s even trusted my gear and abseiled off it despite how dodgy it looked =)
That’s mum… Now dad… I don’t mention climbing to him.. When he asks I just tell him in going away with mates… But I’m pretty sure mum tells him. Dad is the guy in my life who keeps me on track.. Keeps me grounded. He’ll be the one to remind me to pay this, do my taxes, sort out my place, long term stuff and that’s cool cause without him I’d be like a monkey off a leash. I think when I was a kid… I always felt that dad was disappointed in me and I’d always try really hard just to prove him wrong. I think that’s where my competitiveness came from. I remember it was the day I got offered a job with Woodside was the day everything changed. That was the turning point.. He’d talk about me in front of his friends and how proud he is. I think also moving out helped just so we had space. He’s still proud of me.. He won’t mention it in front of me but I know he talks to others about my climbing, travels, work and photography. My sister.. Thinks I’m crazy and obsessed but she puts up with it.
So back to climbing.. What is the climbing lifestyle? It’s basically devoting your life to climbing… Bit like a religion… It’s a passion, a lifestyle, takes you places and an international language. It’s living simply… Cheaply whilst getting as much climbing as possible. It’s blowing money on new gear and having so many pairs of climbing shoes that you need two hands to count. It’s exploring new areas, re-establishing new mental and physical boundaries
Being a climber isn’t always easy, despite the joys it continues to bring … There’s also tough decisions that has to be made. It’s the love of my life but what about when I’m asked to choose between climbing, family or my partner? That’s super hard. The first time I made such decision was in guangzhou China. My folks were going to my aunties house to stay for a week in another town however I met some climbers at the local gym and they were going to take me out climbing. I decided to stay back and climb for the day..
That was definitely an unexpected response and I think my aunties were all wondering how mum could let me do that.
So what now? After bouldering exclusively for 6 years or so I got on a rope.. Got into trad… Got on slab.. And went to the states for a climbing trip. Climbing is one of those sports where you just continue learning.. You’re always pushing your mental game.. Run out trad.. Getting efficient for anchor building… Learning to bolt.. Aid… Rope work… It keeps going.
It’s hard to explain to non climbers what it means to me… They just think it’s hiking… So I don’t really bother trying to explain especially if they aren’t really interested. The plan is just to keep climbing… Till I’m old and droopy. It’s part of me now and has really defined who I am and how I live to some extent. I’m not happy when I’m not climbing =P
So what is climbing? I think the words determination, persistence, learning and lifestyle describe it for me.
What’s climbing to you?