National Geographic : 1997 Jan
forbidding mountains-of being "the first white man who. .. ." Inevitably, however, on his months long journeys he became disgusted with China's chaos and corruption and with its "miserable comfortless towns" and "opi um sots," as he called the many addicts. He vowed many times to leave China for ever, and indeed he did depart several times. But he kept going back. Like a man without a country, he found that he was also repelled by "automobile-mad America" and the "so called civilized world." He wrote in 1930: "I have lived on excite ment for the last ten years and a humdrum existence is next to unbearable to me." When visiting GEO GRAPHIC headquar ters, he would wander down to the office of a sympathetic illustra tions editor and pour out his homesickness for the mountains of Yunnan. He saw them last in 1949, when, with the communist takeover imminent, he departed for good, after 27 years. Rock, who died in 1962, would be enor mously pleased that he is still remembered in the village of Nguluko, in Yunnan Province in southwestern China, where he made his headquarters in 1922 and resided off and on until 1949. When I went to the village last year, every oldster I talked to recalled Luo Boshi, as they still call him. "Luo" is the approximation of Rock, since the ro sound is difficult for some Asians to pronounce. "Boshi" means doc tor-an honorific he liked and which even found its way into the GEOGRAPHIC, despite Rock's lack of formal education. The villagers are Naxi, a Tibetan-related people with their own language, numbering about 275,000 in Yunnan today. They are slightly darker than the Chinese and are often tall. Some of the Naxi (also spelled Nashi, Nakhi, and Na-Khi) who were hired by Luo . IW Rock won the loyalty of many by treating their illnesses. "When my great grandmother was very sick, Luo Boshi gave her some medicine, and she recovered," declared Li Congguang, who lives in a house that Rock occupied. "That is the main reason all my family helped Luo Boshi in his work." Another man, 75-year-old Li Shijun (most of the villagers that I met had the surname Li) said Rock enabled him to avoid being forced into Chiang Kai-shek's army in the 1940s. Rock looked contemp tuously upon that cor rupt regime, just as he abhorred the commu nists. When soldiers came to take away the young men from the village, Rock hid Li Shijun in his own house, probably as a favor to the young man's older brother, a Rock bodyguard. Several villagers still cling to things that Luo Boshi brought to their families from the U.S. or left behind when he departed. A saw and chisels, for exam ple, and even dental tools. Still used by a villager who practices rough-and-ready den tistry, the dental pliers have by now extracted hundreds of local teeth. I hoped I might discover Rock's rubber bathtub. But when I asked about it, the villag ers responded with blank stares. GULUKO's plain houses of wood and stone cluster beneath the towering Yulongxue Shan-Jade Dragon Snow Range. The village has changed little since Rock's day, although it is now called Yuhu, Jade Lake, for a nearby body of water. It was summer when I went there, and in the fields women, along with a few men, were bent at the waist, scything grain. Rock had noted that women did most of the daily labor; a National Geographic,January1997 Boshi for his caravan journeys were taller than their employer, who stood five feet eight inches.