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17 December 2010 @ 02:33 pm

This past week has been the perfect mix of busy and lazy, as I revel in not having many places to go whilst running errands and finishing up sundry tasks for ETTI and VIA. Not to say this week hasn't had its share of oddities or stories---climbing around the ruins of former Zhongdian while watching a white wall of snowstorm slowly obscure all views and blow towards me; or ending up at KTV (karaoke) with the police--- but all the same, it seems a good time to finally write about the week spent in Qinghai Province. (see previous posts for background info.) We also continue not to have running water at the house.... This means needing to break the ice in the buckets each time I want to flush the toilet, and when I tried to put on deoderant this morning it was frozen and needed to be shaken thawed.

On my 2nd full day in Qinghai I went for a hike with Jonas and Sarah above the Kumbum Monastery, which is just a bit outside of Xining City. We took a shared car to the entry of the Kumbum and walked through the outer courtyard before starting up the kora, the circumabulatory route around the monastery. We walked past several pilgrims prostrating themselves flat out on the path at every third step as they went! I had heard of this before, but it was the first time I'd actually seen it, and wow. After a bit of walking on the kora we left the path and went up a hill, through trees (a rarity in arid Qinghai), and continued along the ridgeline.

What you need to know when going to Qinghai is just how arid it is. Coming from the fertile 3 Parallel Rivers region, I was continually surprised by the dry brown expanses of dirt and rock. According to Jonas, the only things that grow in Qinghai are: sheep, potatoes, and qingkejiu(青稞酒,barley liquor). Unfortunately for hiking that day the air was full of smoke from people burning fields, and probably from coal-burning in Xining too.

As we hiked along the ridge, Sarah, Jonas and I tried to sing "Lh*sa Bar," “拉萨酒吧" by the current most popular T1betan singer, Genga 根呷, but couldn't quite remember all the words. That song has become a VIA obsession!! Watch the video under the link to get a taste of the song; the video itself isn't very awesome, but (surprisingly) there appear not to be many music videos of it out there.
*Jonas and Sarah looking rockstar on the ridgeline, backed by prayer flags:

Unfornately for walking along the ridgeline and--especially once we saw rifle-toting men moving through fields, clearly searching for something--coming down the ridge, I was reminded that my shoes have no tread. I fell multiple times and ended up sliding down much of the hillside on my butt. The stronger gravity and increased altitude of Xining's comparatively low altitude of 2200 m (7213') contributed to the gravitational pull of body to ground.

After evading the mysterious gun-toting men, we walked down a valley and through a few small villages. Village children ran up to us shouting, "Hello!" and got quizzical stares + "Hello!"s from the adults. Finding ourselves on a major road, we waited for a bit to take a bus back into town, but every bus that came by was so full we could not even have crammed on if we had tried. Eventually we waved down a van, and for the price of 5 yuan/each (70 cents) we rode the 40 minutes back to Xining.

Aside from exploring Xining for a few days (and getting lost in the doing) I went on an overnight trip to a town called Rebgong, ~3 hours south of Xining, to visit Brooke. Rebgong is a small-ish town dominated by a large monastery, where donkeys wander the streets. I took a few walks in the hills above said monastery when Brooke was in class.
*Yak pelts on Rebgong sidewalk:

*Donkey above early morning Rebgong:

In Rebong I was also deputized by Jonas to buy him a bucket. A bucket of what??....... of yogurt!!

I left Rebgong on the afternoon of Thanksgiving. Mid-kora around Rebgong monastery that morning, spinning interminable prayer wheels big and small, I realized the holiday and found it completely appropriate to be doing a kora and spinning prayer wheels on that day. When I returned back to Xining we had a veritable feast, with 11 people present! Including---very cultural---KFC in place of turkey. Having been raised vegetarian I didn't care whether or not we had a bird, but some of the others did. We also had a few rare-in-China delicacies like pie.
*Rebgong prayer wheels; *Remnants of the meal (KFC & beer); *Devin and dad prepared to 'carve' the KFC.


*Somehow we managed not to buy any of this butter (yes it's all butter!!) for Thanksgiving.

Finally, it was time to leave. There was only 1 flight/day between the provincial capitals of Xining-Chengdu-Kunming, so I left at night, arriving in Kuming at 1:30 a.m. (gross.) But it turned out well, because this meant I had a day of urban delights, such as finding a Carrefour and buying hot chocolate mix; and getting a cheap (!) sandwich from a bakery, before taking the sleeper bus overnight back up to Shangri-la.

*Sign in Chengdu airport, as found in a women's bathroom:

*In China, Red Bull isn't an "energy" drink, it's a "Vitamin Functional Drink." I was drinking it for the vitamins and the functionality. This picture taken at the guesthouse. Sandwiches in China are such a rarity.


Current Location: Shangri-la
Current Mood: lazylazy
Current Music: Lh*sa Jiuba
09 December 2010 @ 12:41 pm

This is the phrase I hear most often nowadays when buying almost anything. A typical converstaion goes:
"How much does this cost?"
"_____ yuan."
"But previously it cost ________!"
"涨价了,没办法。The price has gone up; there is nothing to be done."

I first started hearing this back in October, I think, but it has become far more common and overarching as time has progressed--and especially regarding food. Previously I heard this phrase only when buying certain food products; now I hear it when buying almost anything. These exchanges also make me wonder to what degree the vendors are telling the truth, and whether they are using inflation to continue the long theme of foreigners in China getting charged higher prices (exploited).

This is something I learned on the streets before ever reading about it in a newspaper. According to this IB-Times article,

"Chinese consumers bought 30 apples less for 100 yuan ($15) in early November, compared with the same amount in November 2009. Reflecting a sign of rising inflation, a spending of 100 yuan ($15) by consumers got 6 kg less garlic, 90 less eggs, 1.5 kg less chili peppers and 4.5 kg less flour."

Yikes. I had a variation on this now-familiar debate on Tuesday afternoon when I went to the public showers for the first time. I had scoped out the location a few days earlier, knowing that with my house's lack of hot water I'd be paying a visit to them soon. (Yes, that's right, for a few days our pipes froze and we had no running water at all; now we have a trickle of water, but it's cold only.)

When I went to the showers for real, I locked my bike to the railing on a rickety bridge crossing over the canal near the showers building. The sign above the doorway said "2nd floor," but when I went up I saw only an internet cafe to the right-hand side. When I continued up 1 more floor I found myself in a pleasant residential-looking courtyard with sheets drying on lines stretching across the center. Seeing a woman with wet hair standing in her room, I asked how to get to the showers. "You just go downstairs and it'll be there." "Is it on the right-hand side or the left-hand side?" "Just go down and it'll be over there! You'll see them." "uh...."

When I entered the room across the hall from the internet cafe I found a man standing in a glass-enclosed box, selling a shelf full of prodcuts to fill ubiquitous Chinese needs; things like instant noodle bowls.
"I'm looking for the showers. Where are they?"
"They're here. That'll be 8 yuan."
"But my friend told me yesterday it only cost 7 yuan." [actually I'd been told maybe 3 days prior.]
"The price has gone up."
"It's gone up since yesterday? If I were Chinese would it only cost 7 yuan?!"
"Look," he said, tapping at a sign on the glass that I hadn't noticed existed, "the price has gone up for everyone."
"Oh. Sorry," I said, feeling like a jackass. "This is my first time coming here."
"Well in that case, since it's your first time, I'll just charge you 7 yuan."
"No, um, that's okay... I'll pay 8."
"No really, only 7 yuan this time. But we keep our showers very clean--someone cleans them once every 3 days [or was it 3x/day?]. After you shower just tell me whether you were satisfied."

1 yuan of difference is not a lot of money; it only equals ~US$0.15. But it's the principal of the thing. And in China, Y1 can buy you much more than you would get for US$0.15: a piece of street food, a ride on a city bus, or two entries into public bathrooms.

Thankfully the public showers are very nice. Each person gets a private room + a small cubical in the shower room's antechamber for storing your bag and clothes. Not only that, but there seemed to be ample hot (running!) water, and in the lobby, public-use hair driers and combs.

Inflation hasn't stoppped this past week from being a week of banquets and dinner parties, though. First a lunch to welcome ETTI's new general manager; 1 dinner party 'just because;' 1 going-away potluck; and the zenith of the week on Tuesday: a staff banquet lunch following the ETTI graduation, and a banquet dinner with the students that evening. yum. At the lunch we even had copious amounts of beer, culminating in a few staff members with low English levels shouting "chug! chug! fuck-chug." [don't ask because I don't know; but it was funny.]

Students preparing food for the dinner:

The finished spread, replicated at each table in the cafeteria (8 tables or so?). Ah yes, and including Budweiser beer and orange-drink:

Did you notice the matching purple sweaters? ETTI students and staff have become the Purple Posse around town. And now that the students have graduated, most already have job offers!! And the ones who do not yet are putting in applications.

Current Location: hibernating
Current Mood: goodgood
04 December 2010 @ 09:19 pm

In the absence of a menorah or candle-holders, this is what Chanukah looks like this year here, in China, where it's called 光明节,Festival of (Bright) Lights. When I first arrived and the electricity was often out, I bought candles and tried in vain to buy holders for them. Every single shop I went into told me: 没有 ; Just melt wax and stick them onto a table. Later I began to see that some people stuck candles in bottles to substitute for holders, with the help of a 1 jiao note to make the candle stay in place. 1 jiao is ~US$0.01.

Chanukah began on December 1st, but in the complete absence of anyone else here of my same minzu 民族 (ethnic group), I missed the first night and didn't begin lighting candles until the 2nd:

Tonight is the 4th night (of 8). I sat in the kitchen at the table, warming my hands over the red glow of the hotplate center, eating noodle soup and drinking hot water as I watched the candles slowly burn. The light in the dining room is broken. Most of the time the lack of light is frustrating, but tonight the lack of option helped set the scene, making the candles seem brighter than they otherwise would.

Happy Chanukah! 光明节快乐!:-)

Current Location: house
Current Mood: warm
Current Music: Shambhala 香巴拉 Song
03 December 2010 @ 04:51 pm
ShiKa Snow Mountain, 石卡雪山 ,as seen on Monday's bike ride. Beautiful but cold.

I still need (want) to write an entry about the Qinghai trip, but it's been a full and somewhat frustrating week back in Shangri-la. When I returned on Sunday I was too tired to do much of anything but laundry, so on Monday afternoon I went on a bike ride. It turned out to be a very cold windy day, with the wind blowing hard across the grassland. My goal had been to see the endangered black-necked cranes that winter on Napa Wetlands, and see them I did. I also saw that it had snowed in my absence. These snow-capped peaks are visible from in town, but of course more spectacular when seen outside of town.

I'd begun the week thinking I had 4 days to review with the students, followed by 2 days of final exams (Friday and Saturday). With this in mind, I made a vague plan for what to review and on which days. But near the end of class on Monday morning, my waiban came in and put something up on the wall that looked like a schedule. "Let's continue," I said. "We still have 10 minutes." But the students would not be dissuaded from looking at the paper, so I did too. Lo, the schedule had been changed, and put both my and the other English exam on the same morning, a.k.a. Tuesday, and left 5 whole free days with naught on them but "dance performance preparation." I was angry because I felt dancing was being given a higher status than preparation for their academic classes.
 "Um...let me go ask about this," I told the students. “Wait a moment.” I went upstairs and knocked on the door of the other English teacher so we could both know what was going on, or at least more so.
"When was this schedule changed?"
"But it's impossible to give both English exams on the same day! We need to do speaking and writing components."
"oh. Well...how about Thursday morning for 1 of them? And by the way, this afternoon we have on the schedule 'exam review,' so please be there to help the students review."

In the afternoon when I showed up, most students were slumped over their desks, and I was too annoyed to run a productive class. Plus the students needed to have some free time to self-study (since, surprise!, the exams were to begin 4 days early). So I let the students go and told them I'd answer any questions they had. They all left. And I set out on my bike ride across the grassland which ended in near-hypothermia and stumbling around the kitchen making noodle-soup while being able to see my breath in the air and coughing spasmodically.

Average temperatures these days tend to be a low of -5 C and a high of +10 C (23-50 F). During the day walking around town or sitting indoors it is not so bad. But we don't have indoor heat... and when the wind is blowing, or when you are walking in shade (or both), it is mighty chilly. Some customers have wood stoves that keep the But at least we have electricity and water....most of the time / for now.

Last night I returned to the house around 8 p.m. to find we had no power. In Zhongdian when this happens it could be due to two reasons: A) Someone neglected to pay the electric bill [this happens more frequently than you might guess]; or, B) It is an inexplicable district-wide outage, the sort that happen periodically in Zhongdian, and for an indefinite amount of time. It was the latter, and my lighter having broken a few days prior, I had no way of lighting the candles, nor wanted to sit in the dark. (Later it occurred to me I could've lit candles with the gas stove, but that still left the matter of sitting in a cold mostly-dark house.) I went out to buy a lighter and in search of a warmer, more brightly-lit place, and ended up at the cafe/bar next to school, where ETTI staff get free tea. In true cold-China-place style, when I walked in the staff brought over a  metal basin of hot coals and put it on a pedestal next to me. Probably sitting next to basins of hot coals for long periods of time is terrible for the respiratory system, but in the short-term I'll choose not freezing. Hot coals, hot tea, indoor lighting, and internet staved off a few hours before I dared return back to the house---with the hope but no certainty of the electricity having come back on in my absence. It had, but I lit candles for Hannukah anyway.

Hannukah-in-China + basins-of-hot-coals pictures will be in an upcoming post.
Current Location: school
Current Mood: tiredtired
28 November 2010 @ 08:52 pm

This was both my send-off and welcome-home message at the Shangri-la bus station, and it was fairly apt: “高高兴兴出车去,平平安安回家来。”I'm very happy that I went to Qinghai for my week of vacation, but I'm also extremely glad to be back. As referenced in the last post, my trip began and ended with a 12-hour sleeper-bus ride and a layover in Kunming, in combination with flying Kunming <--> Xining. Despite puking on the return bus ride (mild food poisoning, I think) all travel went smoothly and I arrived back in Shangri-la early this morning.

Where the heck is Qinghai, anyway?! [see map.]  You're probably thinking, Why choose to go north in winter, to a place near Inner Mongolia, when I already am cold much of the time where I live? Ahh, but they have indoor heating!! (I confess I had a bit of culture shock all week at walking into an apartment and it being warm, or being inside without needing to bundle up in sweatshirts and coats.) And besides, 4 of my fellow VIA volunteers live in Qinghai, 1 VIA alum is there, and 1 another volunteer took a 7-hour bus from her post in Ningxia Province to join us [Ningxia is not on this map but just East of Gansu].

When the bus pulled into Kunming at the beginning of the trip, it was pouring outside and--while not actually warm--was much less cold than in Shangri-la. And there were palm trees (!!). These past 3 months I had been so preoccupied with being cold (and being able to see my breath in the air inside the house and getting stuck on grasslands surrounded by snowy mountains) that I'd completely forgotten I officially live in the south. Highlights of the 10 hour layover in Kunming included eating breakfast at McDonalds (fantastic in a slightly shameful way) and managing to take city buses to get where I wanted to go.

I also espied a few fantastically strange shops. These, ahem, "authentic" toothpaste brands were at a store where most things cost 2 RMB (US$0.30). It's the Chinese version of the Dollar Store, except with all the merchandise sitting in low bins against a bare concrete floor. Crene = Crest; Dabfil / Daber / Denge (!!) = Darlie. Who would want to intentionally put something marked 'Denge' into their mouth?!?! This just happened to be near another store called "Unsightly and Peculiar," which unfortunately wasn't open yet meaning I couldn't gawk at its remarkable contents.

At the airport I was again reminded of my southern living and that Yunnan Province is home to the largest concentraion of happy/dancing ethnic minority groups in all of China, when I saw the displays of "ethnic" souvenirs and coconuts. In my tour of provincial capitals, I flew from Kunming (Yunnan) to Chengdu (Sichuan) before arriving late at night in Xining (Qinghai), more than 24 hrs after I'd set off from Shangri-la. In Chengdu I didn't actually go into the airport, though... Our plane stopped mid-runway and passengers not conintuing on to Xining got into a bus heading to the airport terminal, while the rest of us got into another bus that served as our holding pen for the 15 minutes until we were allowed back onto the plane.

But finally, Xining. It is a CITY. Despite knowing that it's a provincial capital, I somehow forgot to fully process this fact. I have grown unaccostumed to cities and therefore gawked at splendors such as escalators, elevators, and tall buildings. Many days the sky was obscured by smog--whether it be "morning haze" or a full-day result of burning coal. This picture is taken from the 16th-floor-level Lete Hostel. The tallest building in the picture is the Red Cross Hospital where comrade Jonas had to go for his wholly unfortunate-sounding procedure after breaking his nose in a taxi accident; you can read about it in gruesome detail (with pictures!) on his blog.

Xining also features some odd international partnerships, such as the Cuba-Xining Opthamology Hospital & the West North Korea and US Eatery. Not just any part of North Korea, mind you--this food came only from the western part, but (I guess) is paired with styles from all over the US. ummm, what?

I'm going to leave it there for now, because I really ought to give numerical grades for my students' tests that they took 2 weeks ago (pre-internships) before giving the papers back to them tomorrow. Next post will be more about Qingahi, including what I actually did there.
Expect such highlights as throwing meat on chandeliers, hitchhiking, and bargaining for beer. ;-D

Current Location: Shangri-la
Current Mood: coldcold
17 November 2010 @ 12:46 pm

Believe it or not, regular classes are over for the term.  The last day of class was Friday, and now my students have 2 weeks of internships at local businesses. It wasn't a day too soon, either, because they had been very disruptive during most of last week, to the point where on Thursday I almost walked out. "What happened to the Confucian ethic of student-teacher relations?" my mom asked. No longer: now is the period of Reform and Opening Up. It's true I encouraged them not to be shy in class, and of me...but this went beyond non-shyness. Some almost cried when I took away their cell phones during class or when I reminded them not to talk during the test. "No baby students! Use your brain!"

Friday night and Saturday I had a cold and hibernated in my room watching bad downloaded TV shows and eating soup, in preparation for Sunday's end-of-term all-day barbeque. (Though a hangover on Sunday didn't particularly help...but that's another story.)

ETTI hired 2 public busses to drive us out to a bbq place out in the countryside, equipped with picnic shelters, grills, and the ubiquitous-in-China mini-tables and stools. It wasn't too far out of town, and late in the afternoon when I was ready not to be at a bbq anymore, another teacher and I walked the 1.5 hours back into town. The weather was beautiful and sunny, with a brief snow flurry.

Good thing I eat meat now, because that constituted most of the food. Here is my roommate Danma tending the bbq....even though she doesn't eat much meat.

The students had fun, and after 1.5 days of hibernating, I was even glad to see them again.

This week I have different obligations, and next week I have vacation!! I'm leaving a day early and heading northwest to visit comrade volunteers in Qinghai Province. TOMORROW NIGHT I take an overnight sleeper bus for 12 hours south to Kunming, then fly from there to Xining, the capital of Qinghai Province. Sleeper buses are both wonderful and terrible: Yes they have beds inside!; Yes the bunks come with blankets!; No there aren't bathrooms, and when the bus stops at a roadside toilet, you'd better be quick so you're not left behind in the middle of the night somewhere in the Chinese countryside. If you've never seen a sleeper bus, here are pics from when I took the same bus in August, from Kunming north to Shangri-la. From they outside they look like relatively normal long-distance buses; but from the inside...

More about Qinghai once I'm there!

Current Location: ye olde Shangri-la
Current Mood: coldcold
Current Music: Bach
11 November 2010 @ 04:09 pm

Last Sunday I went on another crazy hike, a la A Spiritual Journey to Bond with the Nature, and in an area near there. However this hike was ultimately more of a test of will than a spiritual journey, culminating in walking back to town across the grassland in a cold wind, hoping that a car would happen to come along and have room for us. Let me tell you: even out on the grassland, with the clear atmosphere of 10,000' (3,300 m), the Stars don't Brightens the Way (unlike the slogan I saw the next day painted on the side of a car).

It started out innoculously enough, with hiring a van to drive us 4 people and 1 dog across the grassland to a place out behind the airport and near ShiKa Snow Mountain.
"Let's go climb that mountain!" and the next one, and the next one, and the next one...

In some places there was snow:

And in some places this is how steep the path was, no exaggeration:

What these past 2 hikes have taught me are that: 1) if you just keep on walking you will get crazy high up; 2) I really need to buy an altimeter so I know how high I'm hiking. On this hike I think we got to 4500 m! (14,764 ft!), because we could see over and beyond ShiKa Mountain, and that's how high ShiKa is.

This was the highest point we climbed. It doesn't look very massive in this picture. But if you zoom waaaaay in, you'll see that 2 of the dots on the left side are actually people. Here it is, from below:

The wind was blowing hard and cold, and I suddenly grasped in a way I hadn't previously why there are no trees above the treeline, and also how it wouldn't be unlikely to find a body frozen on the slope. Here is Lulu resting in the lee of the rocky stupa at the peak:

The views were again amazing. We couldn't see Mt. Kawagebo this time, but we did see many mountains stretching out in Yunnan, Sichuan, and T1bet. Here is Haba Snow Mountain through the trees, and then as part of the broader landscape. In the second picture, Haba is to the right and the TianBao Mountain Range is to the left. TianBao is the holiest mountain for this whole area.

Now imagine 10 hours of this kind of hiking. Up and down mountains, across valleys, through snowy trails and muddy slopes. And descending after those 10 hours in the twilight, down a steep muddy/rocky path and across the grassland and finally finally to the road. Then we walked for what seemed a long way on the road in the dark to a guesthouse that's sort of near ShiKa, and sat there warming up a little.
"Can we get a ride back to town from here?" we asked. "Or can you help us call a taxi?" [you don't seem to be able to do this in Shangri-la. I don't know why.]
"No," they said, "the drivers have all gone home for the night. You'll have to start walking back towards town and maybe a car will come."

So, on top of the 10 hours of mountainous hiking, we began walking the  _____ miles back to town. It was on the main road, but the road runs through the grassland, and the cold wind continued to blow. It was rather miserable. After a long long long time of walking, 2 people got into a van already crowded full of village women, and the other two of us continued walking. A car stopped and we rode with the driver until the entry to his village, then continued walking yet farther until a taxi thankfully came along and took us back into town and to where we each lived. After being out on the mountains and plateaus all day, the lights of town seemed very bright.

Current Location: Old Town
Current Mood: coldcold
05 November 2010 @ 08:31 am
Recently I've been taking my students out in small groups at night to prowl the streets of Shangri-la's more-touristy Old Town in search of unsuspecting foreigners to ambush so that the students can practice English. It's called "Yes we can speak English!", what another volunteer called it last year, and what I can only guess is off of the Obamaism.

"You can do it!" I tell them. "Don't be scared. Don't be shy. Be polite."

Swiss tourist we found hiding behind a tree watching the nightly dancing in Old Town's Moonlight Square:

l was apprehensive about doing this activity, because Chinese people are constantly impolitely accosting foreigners. "Helloooo!!" they yell, while driving past you on a truck or as you walk down the street. Sometimes I respond but mostly I ignore them. So I gave my classes the politeness lecture: "Hellooo!" = not okay; "Excuse me, can we ask you some questions?" = much better.

"Do you know these foreigners who we'll meet?" one student asked me in class. "Nope!" I said, "That's why you have to be polite."

And so far it is going splendidly. Most of the politely-ambushed foreigners say that because they can't speak Chinese, this is their first meaningful interaction with Chinese or Tib*tan people. And the students leave the encounters feeling both overwhelmed at what they didn't understand, and empowered by what
they are able to say and understand. I am immensely proud of them.

I often wonder what the students' perspective is on the outside world. Most are coming from small villages; at ETTI they're "develop[ing] the skills they need to survive in a changing world." But what does their inner process and changing perspectives look like?
-they requested to sing the World Cup song "Wavin' Flag" and like it a lot.
-they ask questions about the US.
-they said Africans were monkeys.

On Wednesday morning a group of US university students came to school to talk with the students--for the ETTI students to practice English and the US students to practice Chinese. The US group has been studying in Kunming and now is traveling in Yunnan + will be conducting research projects.
This is in my classroom, btw:

Current Location: house
Current Mood: time for school!
01 November 2010 @ 07:11 pm

One of the still yet-to-be-built Sheraton Hotel's slogans sums up my weekend best: A Spiritual Journey to Bond with the Nature. Basically it was amazing. (But first on Friday night I went to the bar, as all epically spiritual- / nature-oriented weekends ought start.)

On Saturday morning the weather was so beautiful. I set out on my bike at around 10 a.m. As I was leaving I ran into two students:
-Student: Teacher, where are you going?
-Me: I don't know. Maybe somewhere around Napa Hai.
-Student: But Napa Hai isn't fun!
Me: But...it's beautiful. And I want to relax and bike a bit.

And so it began. And I did head towards Napa Hai, but at the juncture I didn't turn off on the road going around the lake but instead headed straight, towards ShiKa Snow Mountain, 石卡雪山. [Check out the picture under the link!!] Near the base of Shika was a turn-off to a village. I squatted by the side of the road and ate an orange while I decided which way to go.

Ultimately the theme of the morning became: Because there are roads, I should take them. So I headed down a bumpy dirt-rock road into the village, circled the small stupa clockwise 1 time and the main stupa 3 times (the number you're supposed to if you're not lazy), then continued on through the village. The few people there looked at me oddly; if I were them I would look at me oddly too.
View of the main stupa as I was heading out of the village:

After the village were two roads. First I took a bumpy dirt path that ran between a tamped-mud wall and a birch forest alight with fall colors, all the way until it dead-ended at a gate.

Then I turned around and went back to the edge of the village, where another path continued out onto the grassland. Because there was a path, I took it. After a long while I saw a structure against a distant hillside, so when the path forked I headed towards the structure. It turned out to be a former mining site:

View from in front of the mining structure. And when I scrambled up the rocky incline to the top of it, view across the grassland with Zhongdian town against the horizon. Can you spot my bicycle in the 2nd picture?

3 hours after I'd set out I returned to town.

Sunday's hike though was a whole different animal and one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. Oh. My. Gosh. I feel like an ant on the face on the Roof of the World. At 8:30 a.m. I set out from the house with a colleague, and were on her motorbike by 9 a.m. We didn't get back to town until 6:30 p.m.! I didn't bring my camera, so you'll just have to believe me about the absolute splendor of the views.

First we headed up a mountain next to the aforementioned ShiKa Snow Mountain, which right now actually doesn't have any snow. We passed through birch and pine forests, hiked up logging trails and dry streambeds and through pastures. We lunched on raisins, caramel peanuts, and mushroom-jerky in a picturesque meadow. But then!--we climbed up even farther, until, as Christine put it, there was only sky above us. ShiKa off in the distance rose at 4500 m, but we weren't too far off: Probably up at 4300 meters!! (13,000' !!)

We could see mountains stretching out in Yunnan. We could see out to snow mountains in Sichuan to the north, and even some distant snow-capped peaks in Tib*t to the west!! We could see to the holy Haba Snow Mountain (Yunnan), and to the most holy of mountains for this area, Tianbao Shan. And even to Mount Kawergebo which borders with Tib*t!!:

(image via Wikipedia)

 Today I was a bit tired. Thankfully I recently found decently-priced pre-ground coffee after awhile of searching around---and at one of the bigger markets, of all places! The woman at the foreign-goods' stall assured me "this was the brand that all my foreign friends bought." (I know who some of my foreign friends are... but who all does this entail?) Regardless, I jumped on that bandwagon and this is the result. But where is it from??--The package says, in quick succession: "France 1912. Coffee Italian." And with a production location of Kunming (Yunnan)! In the end though I don't particularly care, because it meant this afternoon I could sit inside, drink coffee, and read. It's a Monday, after all.


Current Location: ETTI house
Current Mood: groggygroggy
Current Music: neo-Tib*tan fusion dance music
25 October 2010 @ 06:26 pm

This past long weekend I went to the town of Nizu for 4 days, also called Niru 尼汝. It's in northwestern Shangri-la county, towards Sichuan province, and 5 or so hours from Shangri-la town (where I live). I thought I was going there for Nizu's horse festival and to celebrate the opening of a friend's guesthouse, but it turned out to be sooo much more. For one, I re-realized that I live in one of the absolute most beautiful places in all of China. I took oodles of photos and can give you the link to see more if you want. But in the interest of this blog post not being a kajillion pages long (which it well could be), here are just a few.

This is Nizu town, as viewed from the guesthouse porch and then from the back when we were leaving:


The night before I left for Nizu I tried this beer. You know, to prep for going to the horse festival, because...ummm...there's a horse on the can. But unlike the advertising claims, "Tropical Fun" brand is unlike any beer that's remotely popular in the US, except maybe the absolute shittiest cheapest ones:

The actual horses however were gorgeous.

But first we had to get to Nizu, which was no small matter. For most of the drive the road was a rutted dirt lane that climbed high up on mountain passes, overlooking gorgeous valleys a steep drop below, alternating with driving through lush river valleys. Going both directions too we had transportation difficulties (interestingness-es?).

This is our jeep that overheated going up a mountain pass. You can see it has no windows. It also lacks seatbelts, and the "roof" was a piece of canvas. Driving was cold, but at least it wasn't raining. But what to do??

Thankfully we were traveling in the company of 2 Italian chefs and a French baker who had brought with them bottles of wine and loaves of bread. "Let's open a bottle of wine!" said Diego. "We brought 6!" And so we did, and drank it from small ceramic (rice) bowls as we waited for the engine to cool. Of all the places to stall, too, it was rather picturesque. You can see that the road isn't very wide or high quality, and as we stood sipping our wine a few cars came up behind us and had to wait.


We weren't the only unsafe ones on the road.... There were a lot of contestants, but this motorcyclist might win "most unsafe" award: a chainsaw is sticking off the back of his bike! And right above a tank of....petrol? But lack of helmet is common.

But we did make it to Nizu, so back to Nizu happenings. Friday was the horse festival, and all the towns'people started gathering on the main road in the early morning, where the race was going to take place and near the main stupa. Both before and afterward we sat there in long lines, hanging out and eating/drinking from small bowls that people came around and gave to everyone (yes, to every single person!). Tibetan women in this area tend to wear pink-and-blue outfits. The boy's hat is made from the now-rare red panda.
Before the race we ate yak cheese and bread and drank yak butter tea. Afterward we drank hot Tibetan beer with yak butter added, then ate yak / raddish / yak butter / potato soup. I really like yak butter tea, and find hot non-buttery Tibetan beer ("chong") to be good too... but the buttery beer I had a hard time drinking, even with dipping bread into the bowl to skim off some of the butter.

On Saturday some of us went on a hike to Colorful Waterfalls, 七彩瀑布。It was 3 hours to get there and 2 hours to come back, with some mountains in between. It turns out that I really suck at hiking at altitude, ~3000 m (10,000'), plus going up mountains. It was gorgeous, though. Check out this meadow we hiked through, backed by more mountains. Those dots in the foreground are the others in my group. I was wearing bad shoes and walking slowly:

Then of course on the way back a jeep broke down too. Not the one I was in, the other one. I was riding in the back of the jeep, along with 5 or 6 village children and a government official, with a good view of the scenery and hoping not to get bounced out of the jeepbed, especially on the mountain passes with sheer dropoffs to the valleys far below. The guy in our group who was fixing it is squatting over the jeep engine with a lit cigarette in his mouth, dangerously close to dripping hot ash into the engine (is that safe???) These are two of the children as we wait for the other jeep to get fixed.

Awhile later we ran into a landslide. Luckily again we were very close to the biggest town between Nizu Village and Shangri-la Town, a place called LuoJi 洛吉. So while we waited for the earthmover to come clear the road--though it also subsequently broke down--all but 2 people climbed up and over the landslide, managing not to fall into the river valley far below. Then we continued on the road for a bit before hiking up the mountain into LuoJi and eating lunch.

A few hours later we were back on the road... With the children and many adults dropped off in LuoJi, I sat inside in the jeep, though these two chose to stay outside. 3 hours later, we were back to Shangri-la and "regular" life.

Current Location: school
Current Mood: hungryhungry