Monday, July 26, 2010

tea tastings

 Last night’s bed was hard as a rock. We were laying there, trying to get some sleep and I was joking at how the pillow was so hard that it felt like a bag of rice. When I pulled back the Hello Kitty towel at my head, I found a bag of barley. Awesome.

We got up at 5 to fly back to Hong Kong. Mom sent us off with milk tea and handfuls of zampa for the ride.

We said our goodbyes and now we’re on our way to Guanzhou.

Uncle Tim went straight on to Hong Kong to see Jin and Skye and Joel took me to the tea market in Guanzhou. It was amazing. We spent hours shopping and tasting different teas. I had no idea it was so elaborate!


Sunday, July 25, 2010

the full experience

Tonight we’ve decided to stay at Joel’s girlfriend’s parents’ home in Xinings. Think of the most stereotypical Chinese house and you’ve got the image. Origami, lanterns, pictures of cats and fluffy dogs, ugly sandles. The parents are so cute! 78-year-old Grandma was there too. We had lunch for over 3 hours! They shoved food down me as if I was going into hibernation and wouldn’t be eating for months. It was probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do the whole trip. I honestly thought I was going to explode. They must’ve made at least a dozen dishes. And one toast of Baizho after another! They’ve given me a Chinese name because Elly is too hard for them to say. It sounds kind of like nnie and means something like midnight concrete/clay/mixture. Again, we had to go over the whole vegetarian thing… they really don’t get it.

After we ran some errands around town, we came back home only to be greeted with the offer of even more food. At least this time it was a smaller meal of barley in wine and yogurt. Joel bought some movies about Qinghai life that are supposed to be really funny. We let Grandma pick out which one to watch and she chose the one that translates to ‘fuck wife.’ (We only found that out later.) It ended up being standup comedy so we didn’t understand anything- it’s all in Qinghai dialect. Grandma thought it was absolutely hilarious though. She kept elbowing me at the funny parts to laugh, as if I knew anything that was going on! I just smiled and laughed- but mostly at her.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

mental exercise

We went to an antique/junk and wood market today. I would love one of their motorized bikes for school next year!

We spent forever in the Tibetan Medicine Museum. A Chinese girl who’s studying in Beijing befriended us and gave us a personal tour of the place. The place is home to the longest Thangka- ½ a mile long1 It was mentally and physically exhausting to follow! So, when we finished, Uncle Tim and I got blind massages. My back really hurts from it. I thought the woman was going to go right through my back. And Uncle Tim looks like he got seriously beaten up- he has huge bruises/welts all over his back.

Tonight we went from a club to bar to restaurant then back to the hotel room only to see the sunrise across the horizon. We laughed, talked, and enjoyed one another’s company. I feel like I’m starting to understand more and more Chinese. I wish I could talk back though.


Friday, July 23, 2010

no room at the inn

Today we had to find a new hotel, but there’s hardly any room anywhere between some bicycle race and the fact that we’re foreigners. One place finally agreed but said no as soon as Uncle Tim and I walked in. After some yelling and negotiation and bribery, they let us stay.

We found a lovely non-Chinese cafe (run by local missionaries) that had real, non-powdered coffee and fresh food.  Finally something familiar!

We had a lovely day wandering the city. Walked around, stopped in some tea shops, then picked up some fresh fruit at the market for dinner and watched the sunset. A new one today- a monk was trying to discretely take a picture of me so we offered to get him in it too. We laughed- I’ll probably end up in between pictures of Kobe Bryant and some Chinese actress… my dream.

Uncle Tim and I went to a Chinese nightclub for kicks and giggles. Outdated hairstyles, paid dancers, fine American music, state of the art dancing, and the gender separation you’d see at a Middle school dance… oh boy! I just couldn’t take the place seriously!


Thursday, July 22, 2010

quest for the dalai lama

Had another early morning. We got up to join the monks in the temple at 5:30. I had a nice meditation in the company of the few monks that showed.

Another long day in the car… first to Tongren to see a thangka museum. I guess it was cool but after a while they all look the same. I do admire the artists though. They must devote so much time and concentration- but what else do they have to do after all?

I was unaware of this but supposedly our very original plan was to hike around ending up at the Dalai Lama’s birthplace. It wasn’t until a week before we left that Jimpa changed the itinerary for safety reasons. So today we decided to try to get there by car anyway. The DL’s home and village have been completely taken off all maps. It simply doesn’t exist. He’s been marked as a terrorist in China- thus his departure to India, where he is now.

I was told to disguise myself as a Muslim, trying to wrap my noticeable, blonde hair into a hat. In case we were stopped, we had this whole story of trying to get to Xining via the country roads etc. Jimpa removed is front license plate- we had another story for that too. The road up there was treacherous, hardly suitable to be called a road. Every couple hundred meters we’d have to get out to lighten the car so it could get over these concrete bumps. Then we’d have to run back in so that the villagers hopefully wouldn’t see us.

Jimpa dropped us off to walk the rest of the way up the house and drove around the corner in case we needed a getaway. The 3 of us walked up to the huge wooden doors only to be turned away a woman who we suspect is one of the DL’s cousins. She wouldn’t let us in and she kept trying to say ‘police’ in English. From what I could see, the inside was beautiful. But we reluctantly turned away- it wasn’t worth risking. The landscape there was beautiful! Big, green, steep mountains with fields of a yellow flower (we think sorghum) and farm plots. I never knew that pea plant flowers taste just like peas!

We decided to head directly to Xining instead of camping as planned due to the fact that foreigners are totally not allowed. On our way, Jimpa showed us one of his favorite Rampi places- a dirty stand on the side of the road. I couldn’t watch the woman prepare it because the place was just disgusting, but the food was great! Go figure.

We kept driving through several fields only to get a closer look and realize they were marijuana plants. Right on the side of the road! hahaha

sweet mother of ganja!

Xining is a much prettier place city than Lanzhou.

The first real stop we made here was a sauna/spa. Like I had expected- lots of stares, laughs, naked Chinese women running around. They would all talk at me at once getting progressively louder as if I would be able to understand them if they spoke louder. I couldn’t wait to take my braids out and wash my hair! But, in the shower, I couldn’t tell what was shampoo or body wash or conditioner. It all looked the same. I tried watching other women, but that wasn’t helpful. I ended up putting any and everything all over. I couldn’t get clean enough. After more harassment I was given paper clothes to wear into the big massage/lounge room. Mostly men in there- big men smoking and reclining in these beds watching TV. I met up with Tim and Joel and we got our nails trimmed by a large, very sharp razor. I just couldn’t watch- made me too nervous. They kept asking if my hair was real and if I would sell it to them. I like this place! They think my hair is actually pretty! But, my fear of balding has increased tenfold. I’ve never had so much hair come out between the showers and massages. We did get head massages so hopefully that will stimulate hair growth! My hair if finally blonde again now that it’s washed after a couple weeks. Gross!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

i fell into a...

Finally it was warm enough not to have to wear my mummy hood on my sleeping bag. I woke to a herd of yaks coming through the camp. A bit startling. Ever seen a yak run? It’s like watching a big sheet bounce around with four little peg legs sticking out of the bottom. They’re so funny looking.

We hiked further downhill until we arrived at the monastery where Jimpa used to live. We stayed in the 10th Panchen Lama’s father’s home who died just a couple years ago.

shocking- women working

water run

We went to another fire puja. This time it was initiated by a business from Lanzhou for the prosperity of the company. It was very commercial and didn’t have quite the same spirituality.

I just got back from an exploration to find another toilet. Mission accomplished. We did have to bust a door, but at least this new one has stable concrete around it. Our original one was a large hole with some old wood laid across to stand on. The wood bounced and squeaked so one wrong move and you’d be in deep shit, literally.

at least it has stable footing

We’ve been trying to get train tickets to go from Xining back to Shenzhen or Hong Kong. Turns out, the train tickets are super hard to get because of the Mafia. Jimpa has sent out different people to try to get some, but no luck. It’s a mess. Confusing and very weird.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

life's a journey

For most of our hike today, the discussion was again my future. We finally concluded by setting my long-term goal to education.
an abandoned site

We came across another nomad camp where we were invited for tea and zampa. The woman gave us each a bowl of yak butter, cheese, and tea and she piled up heaps of barley flour into the bowls. We mixed with our fingers. Maybe I’m just getting used to the yak taste, but it was really good. Her young boy (maybe 2 years old) clung to her shoulders. He just held on everywhere she went, weary of getting too close to us.

We got a little lost today and didn’t find our camp until it was about dark. Some women in the village where we camped invited us for tea. We gave her daughter a Hershey’s bar. She snuck it outside and ate it all in one bite. She didn’t think we could see her, but we definitely could.

Jimpa neglected to tell us until tonight, but it’s his birthday.  What a great place to be for your birthday!

Monday, July 19, 2010

wish upon a star

woke up to ice everywhere. Every step I took crunched. Jimpa gave us a lesson in Tibetan medicine this morning. Tibetan doctors diagnose patients based on their skin, muscle, and bone pulses in the arm. It’s really cool.

I walked mostly on my own today. I enjoyed my own pace. I sang songs, made up games, and reminisced senior year. I realized just how much I loved it! I thought about all the memories made last year and at Lovett. What great times!! -As well as the 14 year journey of which Lovett, my friends, and family were a big part.  I thought about how Nate will experience his high school years as an only child, and I won’t be part of it like he was for me. That makes me so sad.

We collected wood along the way in hopes of building a fire tonight. Mind you, we are in grasslands where there are no trees so it was a bit tough. But we were successful enough. There’s the decaying carcass of a yak right by us. I have developed a nasty, infected blister. We are at our highest camp and will begin descending tomorrow.

I guess we got a little too excited about the mushrooms last night because we had more for breakfast and mushroom dumplings tonight for dinner. Mushroom overload. What a beautiful night- mushroom jiaozi, cold air but a warm fire, and millions of stars!


Sunday, July 18, 2010

i think i can. i think i can

I rarely feel my legs anymore. They’re sore, my joints hurt, and they get numb it’s so cold. 
There were Tibetan mastiffs barking up ahead so we positioned our party strategically so that we were prepared to fight off the dogs if needed. Needless to say- I dropped back from the frontline. False alarm. The dogs were staked down and the nomads invited us in for tea. Luckily, we agreed to go in because just minutes later it started hailing. It hailed and rained for quite a while. The woman turned out to be from the same village as Jimpa. The neighboring tent set up a plastic tape along the ground as a boundary in addition to ferocious dogs. Tibetan mastiffs are quite unfriendly. They’re trained to attack any and everyone that walks into their territory. So, last night we practiced how to fight dogs and sharpened the walking sticks. Joel says all he needs is a bottle of Baiju—right…

We are on top of the highest peak in the area. It’s beautiful and so powerful! There are little wildflowers wherever there’s not a pile of shit. I hope I never lose touch with this kind of expansion and beauty, peace. You can see for miles and miles and Himalayan mountains in all directions. Out here, my mind is so clear of petty, trivial things. The monks and nuns give off such great energy. At the same time, I know how easy it is to get wrapped up in shit at home and just go through the motions. And here, if I get frustrated, I can just walk a little faster and try a little harder and everything is ok.

We’ve set up camp in another beautiful site. It reminds me of the Sound of Music. The sisters picked wild mushrooms while we were hiking and cooked them up for dinner with homemade noodles. It was so delicious! It hailed again this evening, but luckily we had just finished setting up camp before it started. We all huddled together in the cooking tent, trying to stay dry and warm in the leaky tent/tipi. We all talked and laughed about Tibetan culture. Did you know that there’s no Tibetan word for “sorry?” The closest word is translated as “don’t be angry.” Somebody really should make a comedy out of this place. It’s funny but it’s real.

So the sisters and horse wrangler have a colorful flashing light hanging in the tent. We joked that they were having a disco party in there, but it’s to scare away the bandits or at least let them know that there are people here. If I were a robber and saw the light, I’d just want to join the party! It just looks ridiculous. We sleep with the mules and horses in between the white tent and our tents to keep an eye on them to make sure nobody steal them. Never a dull moment here! I’m in the process of thawing my feet out from frostbite with hot water bottles. Let’s hope I can sleep tonight with the cold. But, the stars are certainly beautiful despite freezing my face trying to look at them. The moon is so bright and the sky is completely lit up with stars.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

always a story...

Last night was a restless night with a cat and her kittens. Uncle Tim is allergic to cats so we tried to keep them out, but that was a battle. They got in a couple times during the night. Joel and I ran around the home/room in headlights and just barely awake, chasing little kittens while Uncle Tim remained in bed, laughing at us and avoiding contact with the little nuggets.

blister care

We got up to go to another festival at another monastery a few hours away. It was different and really cool. The women sat on one side, and the men on the other while baskets and baskets of bread were carried on the men’s backs up to us. It was quite a powerful image seeing all that bread carried up the hill and placed before all of us. Then there was milk tea, and rice with yak butter-not too tasty.

from below
motorcycles and umbrellas 
thank you's and goodbye

Our camp for the night is beautiful! Right by a stream and nestled in a steep valley. My future has become the hot topic. What I should do, where I should go, what I should study, etc. It’s fun to think of all the possible options out there, but totally overwhelming!


Friday, July 16, 2010

somewhere in the middle

writing away

Today is the 16th. That means in exactly one month, I will go to my first day of college classes at UGA. This time last month, I was recovering from Bonnaroo. And then, May 16th was my graduation day from Lovett, home for the past 14 years. Meanwhile, I am somewhere in Tibet. Crazy!

We hiked back down hill. My knees are still on fire. It rained a good bit and everything got wet yet again. 

these are water powered prayer wheels- all so that the monks don't have to turn the wheels everyday

We're  sitting in the home of one of the monks in this small monastery, trying to escape the downpour outside. His walls are completely covered with posters of NBA stars, movie stars, and the Dalai Lama. He, like so many monks in China, has a big TV, motorbike, and cell phone. Not quite what I expected from the life of a religious monk. 

There are two monk boys, ages 6 and 8, who are focused on their studies and memorizing prayers. I don’t know any kids that age that could be a monk. We tried playing cards with them. They’re smart and quickly figured out how to cheat at the most simple game: war.

The government monitors every TV station so that China is always glorified and the one saving the distressed. There’s a good bit of beating and abusing women. All of the concerts are totally staged- the crowd is brought in, dressed up, and given props to wave, and the singer is some beautiful woman pretending to be Tibetan, lip-syncing and thanking the Chinese.