Why do I keep using “yak” in my websites? It all started on a backpacking trip to China…

My friends – fair-haired friends especially – had told me stories about China. They talked of train trips in the 80s during which they met people who had never seen a white person, and those people spent much of the trip trying to hold their hands and stroke their hair. I figured: I didn’t look Chinese, but I also wasn’t blonde.

Apparently a beard counted. My personal bubble had never been squeezed as much as it was in 2010, traveling through Sichuan. I couldn’t walk far through any market before someone would grab and tug my beard, and lift my sleeves to see my tattoos. I wasn’t too bothered, because often next I would be offered a pint of barley whiskey, sweet, like it comes in China.

So – when I spent a day traveling to the Yunnan Province, an English-speaking driver took it to the next level. He grabbed my beard, called me “Yakman”, and gave me the shotgun seat. He taught me the Tibetan words for “I love you! Let’s f#ck!” and encouraged me to yell it at every girl the bus passed (I abstained). When we passed the many yaks in the Himalayan foothills, he shouted: “Look, your mother! Look, your sister!” No one I had seen for weeks had a beard close to as long as mine. I could have been offended, but I couldn’t stop laughing.

This wasn’t the first time I had run into yaks. The first time was when a neighbor – out in rural western New Mexico – purchased a number of feral, illegally transported yaks and brought them into the area, whereupon they promptly escaped. My friends and I were called upon to corner them in pouring snow, out in the woods. We passed around sticks and whips, and someone handed me the slingshot. “Your job is to hit the bull in the nose if it charges anyone around you.”

When a bull charges, you shoot. And dive. I hit it twice. Dove thrice. It broke our circle a half-dozen times. We didn’t trap the bull yak until a random rancher drove by and coaxed it with some bovine tricks I didn’t know. Turned out, we all survived. The yaks were brought farther out into the mountains.

Something about all this has stuck with me.