Emma (Li Guirong) at her café, May 2008 ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn
A large part of any successful travel experience is meeting and connecting with interesting people along the trail, fellow travellers of course but most important in my opinion are the local people that actually live in the places you visit. They are not just props that colour your travel experience more vividly but people with real lives that if you can communicate in a mutual language (or are clever with body language and show them genuine empathy) often make your experience one of great warmth and depth.
As you can see from the posting below we really had a great time with our horsemen but let me tell you a little about a person that most people probably remember best from a visit to Songpan: Emma of Emma's Kitchen. I have to admit that I actually knew Emma before this visit to Songpan (she is the sister/sister-in-law to friends in Chengdu) but she is such a special person that I want to give her a "promotional plug" all on her own. Emma was born in Songpan and has lived there her entire life. She is one-quarter Tibetan/three-quarter Han Chinese (her Chinese name is Li Guirong), speaks fantastic English, knows every single person in Songpan and the surrounding valleys and has since the early 2000's welcomed foreigners into her café with one of the warmest smiles in China. She has energy and gusto like few others and during peak season works 20 hours out of a 24 day. She barely stands "five feet off the ground" but is a powerhouse of organisation and positive energy. Her entire family is like this: her little brother David helps out in the kitchen with her, her mother is often seen behind the counter, there is another sister somewhere and her brother Mike Li used to run one of the horse trekking companies in Songpan (before Emma opened her café she worked in the horse trek company).
During last year's earthquake Emma generously took care of all the foreigners stranded in Songpan and she will gladly help you in any way she can. She has very interesting ideas on how tourism can expand and benefit the Songpan area and helped very importantly when I put this family horse trek together. If she has the time she will gladly tell many interesting things about life in this very unique part of China.
Emma's Kitchen (Xiao Ouzhou Xicanting/trans. Little Europe Western Café) is the only really authentic backpacker's café in Songpan and she serves both Western and Chinese food. She also gives all sorts of advice and travel information for free. You can contact her via her email and she will gladly help you: firstname.lastname@example.org. The café is located in the northern end of town (Shunjiang Beilu), next to the horse trekking office (Ma Dui) and the horse trekking motel (Shunjiang Nianqing Kezhan). Give her a hug from me when you meet her in Songpan!