Just as any other youth who aspires to change the world, Li Yue volunteered to venture into an unprecedented enterprise -- starting an express delivery station in Taxkorgan, China's westernmost county on the Pamir Plateau.
He soon discovered that it was quite a world of change.
Taxkorgan has a long history as a trade depot on the ancient Silk Road. The old caravan passage, however, is now less traveled and left beleaguered by glaciers and snow mountains. The absence of express delivery only adds to the embarrassment of the former trade stop in the e-commerce era.
People's living standards in Taxkorgan have long been impeded by its challenging geography. Over the past decades, everyday necessities were subject to high prices and poor diversity, and there was no tap water or electricity for a long time.
Li's ambition was to make a difference, but his original excitement took a head-on blow as soon as he arrived. The headaches and upset stomach he suffered from the 4,000-meter altitude made it difficult for him to carry on with work.
"Apparently, it is not easy to be a 'Visitor on the Icy Mountain,'" Li joked, referring to a Chinese hit film depicting the story of border defense and a romance that took place near Taxkorgan.
What pestered Li most was the fact that a trying mountain road was the only access to the county. No airlines, no trains and no expressway.
Li decided to be more than a passerby. "Taxkorgan is largely populated by Tajik ethnics, whose lives are passionate but beset by inconveniences," he said. "And I'd like to help them out."
"Inefficient as it might be, the only method to bring cargo from Kashgar, a city 300 km away from Taxkorgan, was pickup trucks," Li said. "Freight trucks are simply too large and dangerous for the zigzags on the plateau."
Rural communities in Taxkorgan are loosely scattered among mountaintops and valleys, and between them are 1,500-meter drops. Li's door-to-door service had to cover 41,000 people in an area one and half the size of Beijing.
"Although we wanted to help the locals, I knew that opening an express delivery business here was not economically sensible," said Tan Wanbin, Li's superior in charge of business in Kashgar.
To Tan's surprise, two months after Li's watch began, some 1,000 orders had been made and delivered to his station. Parcels ranging from sleeping masks to recently released smartphones were shipped through the mountainous trail.
"I noticed that home appliances are gaining popularity since a lot of farmers and herdsmen have moved into new homes," Li said.
Thanks to local authorities' augmented efforts to alleviate poverty, over 1,500 poverty-stricken households in Taxkorgan have resettled in new houses, and more than 3,000 have been provided job opportunities.
"For people living on the Pamir Plateau, diverse and reasonably priced commodities are now only one click away," said Li, revealing a sense of pride.
E-commerce has become an indispensable part of the lives of many Chinese. With 569 million online shoppers, China saw its online retail sales shoot up to 594 billion U.S. dollars during the first half of 2018.
"We provide the same services here as coastal regions, such as returning and exchanging products," Li said.
"It is now a world of difference from what I saw before," said Ning Yingjie, who came to Taxkorgan in 1985 among the first group of incoming adventurers following the implementation of reform and opening-up policies.
"To fetch water in winter, we had to make it through the one-meter-tall snow on the grassland," Ning said. "And the local roads were once too narrow to accommodate two vehicles coming from opposite directions."
The roads in Taxkorgan are now undergoing another round of upgrading, and Ning has opened a well-equipped hotel in Taxkorgan, receiving cross-border businessmen, construction workers from the east and tourists who crave the raw beauty and fresh air on the plateau.
Li said he saw a business opportunity in the revitalization of the small mountain county, and his express delivery station began to receive more regular customers. The monthly orders have ammounted to around several hundred.
"The station I founded on the Pamirs is a small one," Li said. " But it will help Taxkorgan connect with a wider world."