Szu-Ting Yi aka Little Po: Interview of Adventure

Christine Cauble | December 9th, 2010 - 4:58 am|

Szu-Ting leads "Invisibility Lessons"; Joshua Tree, CA

As the rambunctious “Year of the Tiger” leaves for its silent exit, 2011 welcomes the “Year of the Rabbit”, which happens to be Szu-Ting Yi’s animal in the Chinese horoscope. The rabbit is known to be calm, gentle yet persistent and quoting one expert, “Quite fanciful, they respond to the power and beauty of nature and are always being pulled one way and the other to examine what they find.” Startlingly accurate for a woman that is forever drawn into the mountains to explore challenges and to fulfill curiosity; whether it be in traditional climbing, bouldering or the highest ascents of snow and ice-frosted peaks.

One of Szu-Ting’s latest and most exciting projects has been the start up of her guide company, Little Po Adventures.  Through it, she not only finds a good reason to climb as she leads clients up the karst cliffs of Yangshuo and other parts of China, but she gains contentment through the gift of giving her clients unforgettable memories as she chaperones them through Asia, at times being their translator and leading them into new cultural and physical discoveries that stimulate all of their sensory; sight, touch, taste and sound.

It was with great pleasure that I would finally meet her, thanks to our mutual, Taiwanese, climbing sister Yiwen, when she swept through Las Vegas and we were able to set this interview up. “Little Po” shares her story:

Looking out from a pavillion in Zhi Shan Garden

RRRG: Please briefly tell us your background?  Where are you from?

Szu-Ting:   I was born in Yunlin, Taiwan (1975) and my family moved to Taipei County when I was 4 or5 and then Taipei city. I started elementary school in Taipei city so I consider myself being raised there.  I moved to the States in 1998 and currently, I live in Seattle.

RRRG: How did you discover climbing?

Szu-Ting: My older brother was a member of the Alpine Club of National Taiwan University (NTU) so I heard much about his backpacking trips and occasional climbing outings in Long Dong (north coast of Taiwan) however, I had never witnessed any myself back then because my mom always wanted me to talk my brother out of these “dangerous” activities.  I knew that my mom would not allow me to do the same “seemingly interesting things” like my brother but it planted the seed of trying it out when I was in college.  Finally, I got to the States and I was off the leash and I started to seek ways to get outside.  At that time, my goal was to become a well-rounded mountaineer and I decided to take a beginner climbing course in a local gym because I thought that I needed to know climbing to be a mountaineer.  I didn’t like gym climbing too much back then because I wasn’t athletic at all until my friend took me outside to climb in the Gunks.  I only followed a 2 or 3 pitch route but I made my mind that I wanted to be a trad leader (because I wanted to lead instead of following and to be a trad climber is the only way to explore alpine routes).  Gradually, I fell in love with rock climbing more than mountaineering.

Here is a blog entry after I first climbed outside:
http://www.littlepo.com/2006/10/17/finally-rock-climbed/

RRRG:  Did you have any mentors when you first began?

Szu-Ting:   A quick answer is no because I didn’t understand the sport and I didn’t know anybody.  I learned how to climb in a very academic way.  I guess that’s because I am used to that kind of setting.  I have a hard time learning by doing or watching other people do it.  I need to know why, first, and I like to learn things in a systematic way (I took a rock climbing course from NOLS and this started my trad climbing path).  I do want to say that my family has influenced my character building a great deal.  My mom is really persistent and I have learned to never give up due to her.  My older brother had always encouraged me to make my own decisions and become independent and my father has a great sense of humor and is very personable.  I look up to the good qualities of my parents and my older brother.

Hiking up a steep, snow slope; North Cascades

RRRG: What is your favorite type of climbing and why?

All smiles after following up a route in the Gunks, NY.

Szu-Ting: I started as a trad climber and it’s still my favorite because it gives me a sense of freedom. As I mentioned above, I wanted to be a well-rounded mountaineer and trad climbing is, of course, the choice. Sometimes when I look back on many decisions I have made, I realize that I want to have as much freedom and flexibility as possible and trad climbing complements that. Recently, I have been climbing more sport routes because I want to develop my strength. I would not consider myself a “strong” athlete. One thing I love with climbing is that even though I am not a strong athlete, I can find ways to enjoy the sport.  However, at this point I have some climbing goals that require me to develop my strength and sport climbing will help me accomplish this.   I have never been to keen on bouldering because I am afraid of heights; also, I started climbing after 30 and I want to minimize the chance of injury. Bouldering seems to make me injury prone, so I avoid it at all costs. I used to enjoy mountaineering in the past and I attempted Denali and Aconcagua. I love the views and the sense of team work but I haven’t done much mountaineering since Aconcagua. I like to say the reason is because the approach is too long for mountaineering and I like technical stuff. But I might pick it up again so that I don’t forget the skills that I have acquired.

another blog article for your reference:
http://www.littlepo.com/2009/05/25/sport-climbing-traditional-climbing/

RRRG: Where is your favorite climbing area? Where have you climbed?

Szu-Ting: Many, many places all over the U.S. and China and Taiwan.  In the US, that includes:  Red Rocks (Nevada), City of Rocks (Idaho), The Gunks (New York), Index, North Cascades, Leavenworth (Washington), Squamish (Canada), Smith Rocks (Oregon), Moab (Utah), Joshua Tree and Yosemite (California) and Yangshuo, Dali, Fuming, Nanning (China) and Long Dong (Taiwan).

I used to enjoy Red Rocks a lot because there are so many moderate trad routes and I love trad climbing and multi-pitch routes.  I miss the Gunks because the cliff has so much to offer and it was a good training ground for me (even the lower grade routes have bulges and roofs there) but now I want to climb more in Index.   I think it’s the best crack climbing ever…even better than Indian Creek.  Crack climbing is my favorite type of climbing.

Leading a crux pitch on Epinephrine; Red Rocks, NV

RRRG: When you were first learning to climb, did you have any fears?  And what did you do to resolve that fear?

Szu-Ting: I did and I still do. I think accumulating experience and mileage is the way to go.  Once I have experienced the same kind of crisis more, the crisis is no longer a crisis anymore.  I am afraid of falling still.  I think overcoming fear is an on-going process.  I read the book “Rock Worrier’s Way” and practiced falling in a gym and have learned to make smart decisions; to “continue on” or to “bail” can both be good depending on the situation.  What’s important to me is whether I learn something from climbing, not whether I have a 5.12 under my belt (and I still don’t :p ).

RRRG: How are women that climb/mountaineer perceived in Asia (specifically in China and Taiwan since you have experience there) as opposed to the US ?   Do the people look at you differently when they know you do this?


Leading at her home crag in Taiwan; Long Dong (Dragon Cave) on the north shore

Szu-Ting: I think in both worlds (Taiwan and the States) people still consider guiding and being a “climbing instructor” not real jobs, but in the States people accept it as a normal hobby and nobody will not question me on whether I know how to climb or not. However, in Taiwan especially coming from my mom’s generation, climbing is dangerous and something out of the ordinary.  My mom thinks I am not feminine because I like to lead and do all sorts of crazy, outdoor activities.  She thinks I should find a 9-5 job and build a “normal” family.

In Chinese culture/society, they believe you may play when you are young but you will eventually come back to the normal path (like being a doctor, lawyer, etc) and therefore, my mom always says  “you have played for so many years, now it’s time to look at your responsibilities to the society.”  In America, it seems that people might consider “living your dream” romantic but it’s not the same in Taiwan, especially if you are a girl.

RRRG: Have you ever had an incident where someone told you you couldn’t climb as well because you are a female?

Szu-Ting: No. Thanks to Lynn Hill. :)

RRRG:  Big points for Lynn. :) How did your nickname come about? Little Po?

Szu-Ting: When I was a freshman in high school, I got a nickname called’ Potato’ because my skin is pale and I have two dimples underneath my eyes like the eyes on a potato.  However, it never got popular until one of my classmates changed it to “Xiao Po” – “xiao” means “little” in Mandarin, Chinese.

RRRG: Cute story!  Please tell us about your guiding company…Lil Po Adventures (www.LittlePo.com) and how you came up with this idea?

Szu-Ting:  I think I’ll give you this blog article: :)
http://www.littlepo.com/2009/12/17/developing-business-ideas/

RRRG: Do you still work full-time in the computer industry?  Or freelance or part-time while you pursue your own company goals?

Szu-Ting:   Not full time, but I still work some part-time consulting….it pays better.

RRRG: How does your family feel about you climbing?

Szu-Ting: My parents don’t really understand about it.  My father doesn’t say much but my mom is super worried and she thinks it’s not a job that a girl should take on.  The relationship between my mom and I seems to be my life-long challenge because my mom has very strong opinions on what I should do…but so do I. Therefore, we have many conflicts which is a major stress in my life.

Leading up a route in Long Dong as her client, Heather, belays. Taiwan.

RRRG:  So sorry to hear about that.   I hope that is eventually resolved in the future….   In what ways has climbing changed your life?

Szu-Ting: Many people say that climbing is like life.  By climbing, I learn more and get inspired comparing climbing experience with lessons in my life.  It’s like a comparative study.  I believe that all disciplines share one root and by comparing all the seemingly distinct disciplines and finding the core value shared by them makes my life experience whole. I love that. It makes me feel life is very interesting.

Read more here: http://www.littlepo.com/2008/09/16/traditional-leading-and-maximum-entropy/

RRRG: What are your other hobbies/passions?

Szu-Ting: I like to write and read, cook and eat!

RRRG: What is your favorite food? :)

Szu-Ting: Chinese and sushi.

RRRG: Oh good….then I hope Naked Fish in Vegas hit the spot for you. :)  What are your goals for the future in climbing?

Szu-Ting: I want to climb El Cap by the end of 2012 and hopefully do some alpine first ascents at some point.

RRRG:  Awesome Szu-Ting……we wish you the best of luck and thanks for your time!

Leading 'Sail Away'; Joshua Tree, CA

兇猛的虎年悄悄地收尾,即將來臨的2011年是兔年,正好是我們這次訪談對象易思婷的主宰生肖。生肖屬兔的人冷靜、安祥、有恆心,曾經在哪裡看過一段話這麼形容兔寶寶:「有豐富的想像力,自然的美麗和力量常吸引他們到處探險。」這段話似乎就是思婷精準的寫照:她總是被山岳吸引,情不自禁地到處探險以滿足自我的好奇心,不管前方的挑戰是傳統攀登、抱石、還是冰雪攀登。

目前思婷正在從事的大計畫是她的戶外探險公司,LittlePo Adventures。經由帶領戶外同好攀爬陽朔的鐘乳石塔,以及穿越其他中國的好山好水,思婷不但找到另外一個攀山健行的好理由,同時,在分享中國的壯闊山水的過程,思婷得到相當的滿足。身為一個戶外嚮導,思婷與團隊成員一起領略揮汗之後,對於周遭景色更深一層的體認;思婷同時扛起傳譯的工作,讓團隊成員對於旅經的人、事、物等文化事宜得到相當的領略。

第一次知道思婷是透過逸文,一位同樣是來自台灣的攀岩女孩。而這次在感恩節前,我非常興奮終於在拉斯維加斯,和正在Red Rocks攀岩的思婷碰面,得以完成這計畫已久的訪談。以下是思婷(小Po)和大家分享她的故事:

RRRG: 可以和大家簡單談談妳的背景?家鄉和現況?

思婷:我出生於台灣雲林縣。大約四、五歲的時候,全家搬到台北縣。很快地,我們又搬進台北市。我是在台北市進的小學,所以我一直認為我是在台北長大的。1998年我到美國求學,現在住在西雅圖。

RRRG: 你是怎麼開始攀登的?

思婷:大學的時候,我哥哥是台大登山社的社員,我從他那邊聽到很多登山或者是龍洞攀岩的經歷以及故事。當時我媽媽認為哥哥從事的活動非常危險,常常叫我勸阻哥哥的冒險行為。所以那時候雖然很羨慕哥哥,卻沒有膽量跟媽媽說我也想要試試那些好玩的活動。後來,到了美國,天高皇帝遠,就開始常常往外跑了。一開始我想要成為全方位的攀山家,學習攀岩的起因是因為攀岩的基本技巧似乎是攀山家應學的基本知識。於是在附近的人工岩場上了攀岩課。我不是很喜歡人工岩場的感覺,所以那時候也沒有常常去爬。後來我朋友帶我到紐約州的Gunks爬戶外。那是我第一次戶外攀岩。我沒有做什麼特別的事,就是跟爬了兩三個繩段,不過悄悄立下要趕快學會傳統先鋒的技巧。(我的志願是到戶外、真正荒郊野外的地方爬多繩段的大路線,所以一定要學傳統攀登。)漸漸地,我對於攀岩的熱愛超過攀山。我在我的部落格有一篇關於第一次戶外攀登的心得:http://www.littlepo.com/2006/10/17/finally-rock-climbed/

RRRG: 妳剛開始攀岩的時候,有沒有比較親近的良師益友給你指導?


思婷:簡單的說,沒有。因為我剛開始爬的時候,誰也不認識。我學攀岩的過程,很正規正矩,像是上學一樣。可能是因為在學校久了,這變成我比較習慣的學習方式。很多人學攀岩可以看著人家做一次,就能跟著做了。我不行,我一定要知道背後的原理,有系統的學習才學得快(這也是後來我報名NOLS的攀岩課程的緣故)。不過我倒是想提提我家庭對於我人格養成的影響。我媽媽是很認真嚴肅的人,從媽媽那裡我學習到從不輕言放棄。我哥哥總是鼓勵我培養自我的獨立精神,對於自己做的決定負責任。我爸爸非常有幽默感,跟任何人都相處融洽。我從小就對於爸爸、媽媽和哥哥的這些精神和原則相當佩服,這對於我性格的養成影響很大。

Leading a cultural tour; a fan painting workshop in Yangshuo, China

RRRG: 你最喜歡的攀登形式是什麼?原因是哪些?

思婷:我一開始攀岩,學的就是傳統攀登,一直到現在傳統攀登仍然是我的最愛。傳統攀登給我很大的自由感。前面我有說過,我最初的理想是成為全方位的攀山家,傳統攀登是不二的選擇。有時候我回頭看看很多我人生路上的選擇,我發現靈活度和自我是否能夠擁有足夠的空間,這兩點對我來說很重要。我想這也是我熱愛傳統攀登的緣故。最近,我開始多爬運動攀登,我希望能夠藉此變得強壯些。我從來不是什麼運動員,我喜歡攀岩的另外一個理由也是如此,就算不是個肌肉女,我也可以找到許多許多方式來享受攀岩。不過,最近我有些攀岩的目標,需要變得強壯些,我想是時候多從事運動攀登了。對於抱石,我比較抱持著敬而遠之的態度。我30歲後才開始攀岩,所以我盡可能小心以避免運動傷害,常聽很多人因為抱石不當而受傷,所以很自然地就少做了。我曾經很喜歡攀山,也嘗試過攀登Denali和Aconcagua。我很享受攀山過程遼闊漂亮的視野,還有振奮的團隊精神。不過自從Aconcagua之後,除了North Cascades,也少從事攀山了。可能是我覺得攀山的技術性的比例沒有攀岩多。不過我倒是想該是時候再踩在冰川上,免得都忘記怎麼攀山了。

給你另外一篇文章作參考,是關於比較運動和傳統攀岩的:http://www.littlepo.com/2009/05/25/sport-climbing-traditional-climbing/

RRRG: 妳最喜歡的攀岩地域是哪裡?曾爬過哪些地方?

思婷:曾爬過美國的很多地方,還有台灣和中國大陸。在美國,像是Nevada的Red Rocks、Idaho的City of Rocks、New York的 Gunks、Washington的Index, North Cascades, Leavenworth、Oregon的Smith Rocks、Utah的Moab附近、California的Joshua Tree和Yosemite等。加拿大有Squamish,中國爬過陽朔、富民、南寧,台灣當然是龍洞。我對於我爬過的地方有稍作記錄,有興趣的可以參考:http://www.littlepo.com/climblog

其中,我去過Red Rocks很多次,是一個很棒的地方,有很多難度不高的多繩距路線,很適合傳統攀登的地方。我很懷念Gunks,除了那是我剛開始爬的地方,那邊的岩壁真的超有特色,是一個很棒的訓練場,就算是簡單的路線也有天花板和仰角。不過我現在住西雅圖,最喜灣的是Index,那邊的裂縫攀岩真是獨一無二,我個人覺得比Indian Creek還要棒。

Enjoying the granite in "Joshua Tree" with her friend, Brigette

RRRG: 你開始攀岩的時候,有沒有恐懼?你是怎麼克服恐懼,變得更強壯?

思婷:當然有囉,我現在還是會害怕。我覺得多爬就是了,慢慢就會習慣了。類似的驚險鏡頭看多了,也變得不驚險了。說是這樣說,我還是不喜歡墜落。我看攀岩者和墜落的愛恨情仇是一輩子的。曾經讀過這本有名的書Rock Worrier’s Way,也在室內岩場練習墜落。我覺得最大的收穫還是體驗到,要做「聰明的決定」,繼續爬或者是撤退都是好決定,取決在是否過程中有學到東西,而不是是否完攀了5.12(5.12對我來說還是很遙遠,一笑)

RRRG: 在亞洲他們是怎麼看待女性攀岩者的(尤其是在你生長的台灣或是中國?),和美國有什麼不一樣。當人們知道你從事這項活動,曾經給予過異樣的眼光嗎?

思婷:我覺得不管在美國還是在台灣,人們還是認為戶外工作者或是攀岩教學,不是「真」的行業。不過在美國,攀岩為一種興趣是很正常的事,也沒人會議論你的選擇。在台灣就不一樣了,尤其是我媽媽的那一輩,攀岩簡直是離經叛道,似乎太危險了。我媽常說我不像女生,因為我喜歡當領隊,還在外頭野,瘋瘋癲癲的。她認為為甚麼我不能找個正當的行業,朝九晚五,安安定定,有個家庭,生個小孩等等。中國的傳統觀念,也許在現在他們可以接受小孩子年輕的時候玩一玩(就是不做教師、醫生、律師等的行業),最後還是要走回正道才是的。我媽常說:「妳玩了這麼多年也該玩夠了,該是時候做些對社會有貢獻的事。」在美國,似乎大家至少覺得「追求夢想」是很浪漫的一件事,在台灣就不是這麼簡單了,尤其對於一位女性。

RRRG: 相當有趣的觀點,從我個人的經歷來看,我很能體會你的心情。那,有沒有人跟你說過妳不該攀岩因為你是女生?

思婷:倒是沒有,我想我要感謝Lynn Hill。

RRRG: 哇,值得給Lynn Hill很大的掌聲。告訴我們你的綽號「小Po」是怎麼來的?

思婷:高一的時候,有個同學叫我Potato,因為我的皮膚白,兩眼下方有兩個小酒窩,就像馬鈴薯上的芽眼。後來另一位同學將之改成小Po,就叫開了。

RRRG: 好可愛的故事。談談你的公司,LittlePo Adventures,你是怎麼有這麼想法的?


思婷:基本上很簡單,我熱愛戶外,想要經由從事戶外把漂亮的台灣和中國介紹給更多人認識。在我的網站上有很多文章可以看到我對LittlePo Adventures的熱情,以下這篇連結是比較早期的想法,給大家做個參考:http://www.littlepo.com/2009/12/17/developing-business-ideas/

RRRG: 在妳經營你的公司之外,妳還有從事資訊產業的工作嗎?

思婷:有機會的話,還是有做些兼職的顧問,或是寫程式的工作,創業維艱,目前還是得想其他方法餬口。

A windy day on Ancient Art, Utah

RRRG: 妳家裏對於你的攀登事業有什麼看法?

我父母對於這個產業不是很了解。我爸爸倒是沒有說太多,不過我媽媽非常擔心。她認為這不是什麼女孩子該做的正當行業。我和我媽媽的關係常常很緊張,我看是我一生的功課了,我母女兩個都對於自己想要的東西很堅持,所以衝突也很多。母女關係的課題有時候帶給我很大的壓力。

RRRG: 真抱歉聽到這些。我相當佩服妳對於追求夢想的決心。攀岩有對於你的人生產生什麼影響嗎?

思婷:很多人說從攀岩,他們領悟到很多人生哲理。有時候,我真想說讓攀岩就是攀岩吧!不過話說回來,當比較攀岩和人生的時候,我也常常領悟到很多。我認為科學、哲學、等等不同的命題其實都源自相同的地方,但有不同的發展。在比較不同的課題的時候,常常可以發現最核心最重要的原則,而深受啟發。我很享受這種比較、發現、最後歸於成長的過程。我曾經寫過一篇文章比較人工智慧和攀岩:http://www.littlepo.com/2008/09/16/traditional-leading-and-maximum-entropy/

RRRG: 除了攀岩,妳還有什麼其他的興趣?

思婷:我喜歡寫作、閱讀、以及烹飪。

RRRG: 妳最喜歡的料理呢?

思婷:中國菜和壽司!

RRRG: 看來,我選擇Naked Fish是選對了。妳接下來的攀登目標有哪些?

思婷:我希望在2012結束之前,可以登上El Cap。也希望有朝一日可以首攀一條alpine路線。

RRRG: 太棒了,希望妳完成你的目標。也謝謝你接受我的訪問。

With her favorite cat, Mao-Mao!

Biking to the climbing crags; Yangshuo, China

Practicing mountaineering skills in the Pacific Northwest

guiding in the Oriental Alps in the Siguniang mountain range in Sichuan, China

A city view of Yangshuo, China

Great video of Little Po:

History of LittlePo Adventures from LittlePo Adventures on Vimeo.

Interview by Christine Cauble, translation by Szu-Ting Yi.

2 Responses to “Szu-Ting Yi aka Little Po: Interview of Adventure”

  1. [...] are excited about life and don’t fear the challenges, but take them to grow and evolve. In Szu-Ting Yi (Little Po’s) Interview of Adventure I talk about my background, interest in outdoor pursuits and how that transformed into the creation [...]

  2. [...] network for outdoor women but the project died prematurely. The contact with Christine led to an interview featured on her website on my love of climbing and my development of LittlePo Adventure…, ultimately inspiring the Great [...]

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