Monthly Archives: August 2012

Day 70: Xining (西宁) – August 27

Nothing much, spent the day resting and eating at the night market….and ended up losing my phone!

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Day 69: Xining (西宁) – August 26

Alarm was set at 6am, as we had to take an 8:30am bus back into the city of Xining. Water + Electricity, here we come!

One issue: It’s over 850km away, and despite having actual ROADS (unlike the muddy mess we’ve been used to for the past couple), the trip is estimated to take 15hours!

More issues: The bus had no air conditioning, people were smoking in the bus, sunflower seeds all ovr the floor, and people keep throwing up! The bus had windows, but somehow people don’t like opening them. So we sat in stale, vomit-smelling air filled with smoke from 8:30am to 12:05am the next day!!

To add insult to injury, my seat was broken so instead of keeping your back straight like a normal chair, it would recline into the lap of the person behind me everytime I leaned back!!!!!!

After this bus trip, our tolerances for long-distance trips have exponentially increased….. We quickly got into our beds and got some much needed rest.

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Day 68: Yushu (玉树) – August 25

Waking up to the sound of construction vehicles rumbling past the road, we decided to shift our stay to another place with running water and hot showers, since it’s been 3 hot days since we’ve showered. After walking about 2km in dust (because the air-to-dust ratio was probably less than 1.0), checking out 4 different ‘hotels’ and riding 2 different cars, we finally settled on a “Officially Appointed Government -sanctioned Hotel” (which was a glorified set of portables), with a public shower hall guests can use for free, once. Running water, electricity generator and very expensive would be how I’d sum this ‘hotel’ up. Continue reading

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Today was a very relaxing day, grabbing lunch, buying train tickets to Lhasa, catching up on pictures/blogging.

Dinner was complete with a stroll down the night market, gorging ourselves with street meats, taking pictures of everything with my phone, until realizing I don’t have it anymore at the end… The problem was, the market wasn’t even packed with people!!! 

Thieves got skillz. 

Oh well, maybe it’s time to move to Android?

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Day 68: Yushu (玉树) – August 24

The morning, we got a lift again from Mr. SUV since he was headed into the same direction. Along the way, the clouds lifted and the scenery was pretty spectacular. We arrived at Shiqu (石渠), and found a car to take us to the world’s longest ‘prayer wall’, 巴格玛尼墙 before dropping us off at our next stop of Yushu (玉树). There was another person in the car that rode with us to Yushu.

Background: Yushu is a small Tibetan region within the Qinghai province famous for two things, Tibetan Mastiffs (which can easily sell for over a million RMB per dog!!) and cordyceps(虫草) – the price now for the top quality ones are $300 thousand RMB per pound. It is also famous because the city was pretty much destroyed by a magnitude 6.9 earthquake back in 2010. The city itself is still under heavy construction, but for most people it is life as usual.

The prayer wall is extremely impressive, being over 1.5km long and made of long pieces of rock with scriptures carved into it. One thing that impresses me the most though is that every individual rock is unevenly sized, but somehow someway when put together it forms a solid wall! Imagine playing LEGO with different sized pieces and try to build a sturdy wall with it! Our driver, who was Tibetan, tagged along with us to walk around the prayer wall. Along the way, he pointed to some leafy thing growing out of the ground and told us it was edible! He ripped open its stalk to unveil its celery-like inners, but it wasn’t very good =P

At the end of the wall was a large white stupa, and thinking it was the proper thing to do before turning back, I put my palms together as a sign of respect to the stupa. The Tibetan driver saw me do this, and said “Whats inside?” and started looking at the stupa to see if there was anything special with it…. THERE WASN’T. Okay…. it’s better to be extra respectful than disrespectful now isn’t it?!?!

We stopped by for a quick dinner in a nearby town, and the extra person in the car, for no good reason, treated us for dinner!! Dinner was about $110RMB, but in a place where the average monthly income was $1500RMB, I’m not quite sure how people are so generous with strangers!! The Tibetan driver was also very nice, and bought drinks for all of us. Seriously, how many drivers ever buy you a coffee at the truck stop?

By the time we got to Yushu it was already 10:30pm, and we’ve been sitting in a car for well over 11 hours and was extremely tired. We tried to find a hotel, but because of the earthquake, everything is still under construction and also very expensive! After a long, and tiring drive around a dark and power-less city, we managed to find a reasonably clean (Note: Our standards have dropped dramatically because there’s no other way, and I’m pretty sure most of the readers will not be too happy with the level of cleanlisness we’re forced to be accustomed with) place. The problem is there was no power, and without power the hotel couldn’t pump well water up to be used, so there was no water!!! Power was available through gas-powered generators, but not enough to pump water from the well.

After the past couple of days, it reminded us that most things taken for granted living in the city is not there, and it really doesn’t take much to sweep us off our feet. Either way, we once again got a great night’s sleep with our sleeping bag despite less-than-desirable conditions. Must say, having a great sleeping bag makes the surroundings irrelevant!!

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Day 67: Manigange (马尼干戈) – August 23

Heading out to the lama temple after breakfast, we got a ride with his ‘friend’. Again, not sure what to expect we hopped onto their car with a sense of adventure, and a bit of skepticism about what’s to come. Then, the music comes on and it’s the familiar sound of melodic Tibetan chants. At that moment, it hit me that, it would make an awesome intro to some sort of Metallica-type song! Then, before I could share my thoughts, *cue hard guitar riffs*, Tibetan-Metallica starts playing!!! This was a start to an adventurous day… Continue reading

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Day 66: Dege (德格) – August 22

The reason we got to this city is that it is one of few places in the world that still prints scriptures inside the monastery… by hand! We asked a local store-owner what time they’d start, thinking it was one of those ‘old’ things which only happens in the wee-hours of the morning. Store-owner told us 7:00am, so we bought some breakfast and set our alarm for 6:00am…. After a brisk walk up the hills, only to find out the monastery opens at 9:00am!!

We left our grudges aside and followed some random lamas around to the entrance to a classroom. A few gong rings later, a group of young lamas were all lined up one by one. It was a pretty cute scene, sorta like a bunch of kindergarten kids going to class, except they’re all lamas! A final gong rang, and the lamas lined up neatly, folded their clothes up nicely, made a bow towards the headmaster….. and thinking it was time to go inside, we were wrong! They all scattered quickly and most of them went to take a piss on the side of the road….haha so random.

The monastery opened shortly after, and the scripture printing was possibly one of the neater things we’ve seen so far….story at the bottom!
Note: This monastery received a special blessing back in the Qing Dynasty by emperor Kangxi, being the ONLY monastery that is allowed to use a pair of peacocks (孔雀法轮)  as its emblem instead of the usual pair of deer.

After the tour of the printing process, we realized it was only 10am and there was nothing else left to do so we stuck around playing with the monastery cats. Not long after, we were joined by this lama who chatted with us in broken mandarin. We didn’t know what happened next but he said he’ll show us around the city, and since we had plenty of time we followed his lead! I must say though, having a local show you around is much better than wandering aimlessly yourself.

We managed to get a ‘private tour’ of all the halls within the monastery, even ones that we didn’t even knew existed! It was pretty great to have a guide to explain to you whatever questions you had as well! The cool part was, we found out this lama’s ‘home monastery’ is in the same direction as where we were heading, and he offered us a ride! But to go a step further, he invited us to his home? We’re not quite sure what he meant, if he means home home home, or home monastery home…. we’ll find out tomorrow!

After visiting all the temples, we thought it would be a polite “Thank you, have a good day”, but not so fast! The lama invited us over for some tea, and despite being pretty tired from walking around for 9hrs since 6am, we sorta said yes. By now, there wasn’t much conversation as communication is somewhat difficult. In the end, he took a nap, then woke up, and then I took a nap before really saying good bye and heading back to our hotel. The problem was, before we said goodbye, he asked us out for dinner! I mean, we sorta said no, but through a combination of a lack of understanding and persistence on his end we agreed again.

For dinner, he met up with a few of his friends. The town was very small, so he’d just talk to random people standing on the street and give out hugs like they were free. We headed to this small shop and ended up dining with 3 other lamas, one of whom was his brother? They were very nice, but in a very blunt sort of way (that’s how Tibetans are), but they spoke very little mandarin, and we definitely spoke zero Tibetan, so the whole time during dinner they were doing their thing in Tibetan while we politely sat there wondering if they were genuinely nice or were part of some strange sub-cult that like to invite outsiders to their home before drugging us and stealing our nice clothes?!?!? That’s what goes through your head when you sit in a small enclosed room with a bunch of strangers being wayyy too nice to you!

So tomorrow, we’ll hitch a ride with these lamas! Woo, free ride!

Scripture Printing in Dege Monastery

Without knowing what to expect, but we think this may be the coolest monastery we’ve been to so far. Not for its impressive architecture or sheer magnitude, but instead it was like watching a documentary about the lost art of scripture printing… The monastery was really a printing house with a few prayer halls.

At the main floor, large paper was cut with a scythe to the horizontal rectangles used by Tibetan monks, and in the next room the binded scriptures were sanded to create smooth edge (since cutting with a scythe leaves some rough edges!). The second floor housed these carved metal/wooden panels that have scriptures carved into them, some of which dates back to well over 400 years ago to the days of 康熙! The second floor was also host to the actual ‘printers’, which was a pair of two people that worked like machines! One would wipe ink onto the carved blocks, while the other would roll the piece of paper over the panel! Old school! Even the paper they used were a special type of Tibetan paper, with a thick fibrous feel to it unlike the lined paper most people are used to using. And finally, there was a group of sorters that would take the printed scriptures and sort + bind them into packets.

Scattered throughout the monastery were other printers, some of whom would print scriptures while others would print tongka paintings. The craftsmen were all very focused on their craft, but still took time to give us a quick nod or smile as they went on with their work. The entire monastery existed in darkness and without any light, with the gloomy skies providing the only source of light. Not knowing what it is, but you can feel that each motion, every swipe of the hand, brings you back into time, a simpler time of the past.

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Day 65: Dege (德格) – August 21

Heading up to the monastery with the same name as the city, 白玉寺. As we worked our way up towards the monastery, as all monasteries seem to be built high up on the mountains with the city underneath, we were greeted with many locals. Seems like everybody though, takes a glance at us, then as they bow their sights back downwards, they notice one thing: our prayer beads.

Back in the Labrang monastery, we ‘requested’ (you don’t ‘buy’ these things) prayer beads from a local antiques dealer, and ever since any Tibetan sees it, they’d usually take it out of our hands and start fiddling with it and start talking to us in Tibetan, before ending with a thumbs-up and a “Very good!” in mandarin. We don’t know what the fuss is about, but we’ve got some pretty funny looks, so we guess we got some pretty nice beads….

While in the monastery, we tried to take this shortcut up to the peak, but this dog comes out of nowhere and starts barking at us, causing a chorus of other stray dogs to chime in. At first we were confused, wondering why the dog would bark at us, but then we realized he was trying to lead us back onto the main road…. We tried ignoring him and continue onto the shortcut, but he kept barking… so when we turned back he’d stop barking and lead us back to the main road!?!?! W T F?!?!??! So we gave up our ascent, and made our way back down.

After a long and bumpy (sounds familiar eh?) ride, we finally arrived at the city of Dege. At one point during our trip, we were separated only by a river before getting into Tibet! No worries though, we’ll be there pretty soon.

Missed Story: Back at Wuming monastery, before we left our friendly host we wanted to give something back to her. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much except some Oreos and sausages. Since they were vegetarians, they can’t take the sausages. The host also wouldn’t accept our gifts, but said she would offer it to the grandmaster as an offering…. So… we offered a pack of Oreos to a 活佛!

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