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Ji Tangtang walked into her room and put her card into the slot to turn on the electricity. She turned on the TV and flipped through all the channels, before finally settling on the music channel.
When her phone rang, she’d thought it was the TV at first. She was lying still on the bed, until she realized the sound continued repeating. She climbed over to grab the phone from her waist pack.
The caller ID lit up the screen: Ling Xiaowan’s family.
Ji Tangtang answered her phone and walked up to the TV to turn off the power.
On the other end of the phone, a timid voice sounded, “Ms Ji?”
“Mm. Mrs Ling, right?” The image of a haggard middle-aged woman flashed before Ji Tangtang’s eyes. “I’ve already arrived in Lanzhou, and I’ll be heading to Xiahe in the morning.”
“Then… Thank you for your help, Ms Ji.”
“Don’t mention it.”
The woman seemed a bit embarrassed and unsure of what else to say, so Ji Tangtang spoke up, “If there’s nothing else, then goodbye. We’ll be in touch again.”
She set down her phone. No longer interested in resting, Ji Tangtang opened her backpack and pulled out her laptop. She signed onto the hotel’s internet and typed a URL into the address bar.
The hotel internet was a bit slow. Ji Tangtang crossed her arms and rested them on the back of the chair. She watched as the webpage loaded. It was a forum post made by Ling Xiaowan’s university classmate, calling for help in finding the girl. The post revealed the following: Ling Xiaowan was 19 years old and a third-year student at Beifang University of Agriculture. She was a senior member of the school’s backpacking club, and several days prior, she had traveled to Gannan by herself, after which, contact with her was lost.
A picture of Ling Xiaowan was included in the post. She was very pretty, in a delicate way. Her hair was done in two braids and tied with candy-colored beads. It was rare for girls to put their hair in braids like that nowadays. Whether you want to admit it or not, it’s often seen as tacky. But it didn’t look tacky on Ling Xiaowan; rather, it looked quite cute.
Ji Tangtang sighed and extended her hand. She ran two fingers over Ling Xiaowan’s face on the screen, and she couldn’t help asking aloud, “Where are you?”
Of course, the girl couldn’t answer her. A pair of bright and clear eyes stared back at Ji Tangtang, happy and cheerful.
She’d received more details on the incident from Ling Xiaowan’s family, provided by the Lanzhou police after their search: Ling Xiaowan was on a bus from Lanzhou to Xiahe. Partway through the journey, she and some backpackers she’d befriended got off the bus and made their way to Ganai in Luqu, where they checked into a youth hostel.
Ganai is a Tibetan settlement with less than 100 residents. It was originally just another ordinary little town, but then a foreign backpacker traveled through the area. Astounded by the surroundings, they returned home and wrote a travel blog about their time there. They posted this onto a popular travel forum, and then the little town became famous—of course, this was only among foreign backpackers and some adventurous people in China. For most travelers in China though, the attractiveness of this place fell very short when compared to the long-famed cities of Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi’an.
Twenty minutes west of Ganai was the Gasamo Canyon. Most backpackers chose to hike through the canyon for a few hours and then return. In addition to canyon exploration, there were wetlands 30 kilometers away which gave a beautiful view of the Tibetan area.
Ling Xiaowan went missing while exploring the canyon. Theirs was a group of six. They walked a bit and took a break. Because Ganai was more than 3,000 meters above sea level, Ling Xiaoyan suffered from slight altitude sickness, and she took a longer rest than everyone else. The group continued ahead, expecting her to follow. When they didn’t see her, they decided to wait for her at the entrance to the canyon, but she didn’t show up. That’s when the group started to panic. They backtracked into the canyon, searching for her, but they couldn’t find her.
Ji Tangtang whispered the name quietly. Then she typed into her Google search bar, ‘Gasamo Canyon’. Then a space, and then she added, ‘disappearance’.
And indeed, a bunch of entries popped up.
Ji Tangtang skimmed through them. Most of them didn’t have substantive content, but there was one blog that caught her attention.
“We headed out for Gasamo Canyon early in the morning. We’d prepared a lot of dry food, and just as we were heading out, Ah Kun, the owner of the hotel next door, called to us, ‘Be sure to head home early. If you get lost inside, no one will be able to find you!’ Haha! Did he think we were three-year-old kids?”
Ji Tangtang clicked onto the blog’s home page. The newest post was from 2006, which was several years ago. The blog looked abandoned, though there weren’t many posts anyway. Aside from the Gasamo Canyon entry, the other posts were about emotional troubles.
She pulled a notepad and pen out from her waist pack. On the first page, she wrote ‘Gasamo Canyon, Ah Kun’.
After a moment, she underlined the name ‘Ah Kun’. She drew an arrow to the name and added a label, ‘Hotel owner’.
And then, she added a question mark to the end of the label.
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