The lips of the backpacker were almost cracked when he suddenly discovered that the yurt of Alatanula the herdsman was unlocked.
Not even a single drop of water could he coach from his empty kettle. If his thirst had not been unbearable, the backpacker would never have broken into Alatanula’s yurt in such a rude way. When he pushed the door open, the backpacker found a kettle of milk tea on the stove that was still warm. He hesitated for a second before he lifted the kettle and drank up the milk tea in one breath, like an aged horse that had trudged over one thousand miles of gobi.
At first the backpacker left 20 bucks on the table. Then he thought it a bad idea and decided to wait for the host. He hadn’t expected that he would wait for a whole day. Alatanula had taken his sheep to the faraway Urigen. He didn’t hurry back home until it was totally dark.
Hearing the sound outside of the yurt, the backpacker stood up at once and hurried out. He said apologetically, “Grandpa, I am awfully sorry. I saw your door was not locked, and boldly broke in. I am sorry for it.”
Alatanula seemed so focused on driving the flock of sheep into the sheepfold that he totally ignored the backpacker.
The backpacker, who thought what he had done had irritated the host, dared not move but stood where he was, as awkward as a Japanese iris in autumn.
The host kept silent until he settled down his sheep, “What is lock?” he finally voiced.
The backpacker then realized that there was no lock at all on the door and he fell into total shock.
It was incredible that there were people who did not know of locks in the 21st century. He tried to explain to the host what a lock was, which was, however, a mission almost impossible. How could you explain a lock to someone who had never seen one? It was like trying to describe how to lasso a horse to someone who had never seen a horse. So finally he decided to tell him what the lock does. He answered, reluctantly, that a lock is a metal tool to install in the door and when the door was “locked”, no one could enter the room until the lock was opened with a key. A key can open one lock and only that one lock.
The host immediately shook his head, “How is that? Absolutely not!”
The backpacker said, “Why not? It can make others unable to enter the room.”
“Is it a good idea? What if the herdsmen who are passing by get thirsty? They can’t get the water in room. Where can they find kumis to keep warm? What if they are caught by blizzard? Where can they take rest when they are exhausted?” the host asked the backpacker, confused.
So the door was open to provide sustenance for people as thirsty as the backpacker had been to even consider “stealing” water.
The backpacker was completely speechless. More than that, he was deeply ashamed.
“We herdsmen usually set out to pasture from the east in the morning and can’t come back home from the west until evening. It is a long journey. Everyone will end up hungry, thirsty and exhausted, no matter how strong you are.” Alatanula tried to make him understand with words and gestures.
“Why not return from the same direction?” said the backpacker puzzled yet again.
“Genghis Khan said we shouldn’t tread on the same piece of land twice in one day. Monke Tengri bestows us the vast grassland as a blessing, not something to spoil.”
The host then made a fire, asking the backpacker, “Young man, Spend a night here?”
“Well, great, thank you!” the backpacker agreed with excitement, not forgetting to say, “Sorry to bother you.”
At dinner, the backpacker made another try—how could it be possible that the old man hadn’t seen a lock? It was unimaginable. He asked, “So is it true that none of the herdsmen here use a lock? Aren’t you afraid of your belongings being stolen?”
“But why people steal? Every Mongolian of Hardan Bateer Grassland has his own hands to work.” asked the host.
“Aren’t you afraid that others might eat and drink up everything here?”
“I will also eat up others’. Today I went to Urigen and feasted myself there. Ha-ha.” He laughed, as if he had been quite pleased with his meal.
Lying in the warm bedding beside Alatanula, the backpacker found he couldn’t fall asleep. It would never have occurred to him before that day that locks were unknown to the herdsmen on the grassland. As unbelievable as it was, Alatanula had said, doors were only against wind and chill instead of thieves.
The next morning after leaving the old man, the backpacker visited several herdsmen to find not one lock on their doors.
The backpacker was completely convinced of the truth of Alatanula words and by what he had experienced. Soon after returning home, his travel notes entitled “Miracles on Hardanbateer Grassland” was published by Traveler, the travel monthly with the largest national circulation. For a while, travelers rushed to Hardanbateer Grassland in swarms.
It was a year later when the backpacker returned to Hardanbateer Grassland. This time he was even more shocked—the doors of all the herdsmen were locked!
He couldn’t wait to find Alatanula to find out what had happened in the past year.
Alatanula’s door was also locked—the dark green plum-shaped padlock appeared unpleasantly dazzling in the sunlight.
“At the beginning, Chaketu lost his teapot. Soon, Khaserdun lost his three-generation family heirloom, a carved saddle.” said Alatanula who rode back at noon, “I lost my leather boots and stirrup.”
“Everyone here lock the door. Now I have to ride for such a long way to have my lunch at home.” He said grouchily.
It was Tuesday siesta on Hardanbateer Grassland, but the backpacker felt the only the faintest twinge of tiredness. But soon he felt a sudden thirst attacking him, making his lips unbearably parched. He felt like beating someone, but he ended up doing nothing. All he could do at the moment was stand there, alone, to confess for the rest of his life.