Category: Chinese Culture

Chengdu Bicycle: Missing

So the school I work for Tian Fu College, soon to open a joint venture with a university in Missouri, has the foreign teachers ride bicycles from one campus to the other, which are about 2.5 km away from each other and there is talk of a mystical bus appearing but no signs of it yet. Another option to riding a bicycle is taking a san lun che (like a tuk-tuk form Thailand) for anywhere from 6 to 10 yuan one way, this really isn’t an option for the cheap and those who like living since these things can be very dangerous. So the school has bought several bikes for the teachers to ride however these bikes were made for children not my 95 kg behind. I have been riding them to and from the other campus in hopes that this helps me get some exercise and the fact that I am too cheap to pay for the tuk-tuk. I also had one fall over on top of me the other week because the driver turned his head and then turned his entire body to look behind him at someone speaking. Well today the 27th of September I rode my borrowed bike to the other campus as usual and had class as usual but when I came out to go home the bike was missing…I looked around and at all the other bikes parked NEXT TO THE GUARD SHACK that was occupied by two guards and a small boy. The bike that I had used and locked up next to the guard shack wasn’t there. As I was looking around one of the guards came out to help me find the bike I had used I told him, in Mandarin, which number bike I was looking for and he asked was it this one or this one and I repeated the number. He then asked to see my key to make sure I had the correct number, which I did. No one could find the bike, but they did offer me another bike but was speaking horrible Mandarin or a completely different language, I couldn’t understand it so I’m not sure.  The process of getting a new bike took ten minutes; all I really needed to do was fill out some information.

The most amazing part of this was the proximity to the guardhouse that was occupied by the two guards to the bicycle that went missing…You have to wonder what the guys are doing and why the school would pay them for it? Oh China, you truly are a mystery.

And here is the second and final installment of the pictures taken this summer. These links include the Buddhist Mask Dancing Festival and the horse race that took place the day after in the temple that is down the mud trail from Ba Mei

Links for your viewing pleasure: Buddhist Mask Festival 雪顿节 Horse Race 赛马节

Her are the links to the pictures from this summer’s trip in the Tibetan part of western Sichuan…

 Tagong 塔公 Ganze 甘孜 Dege 德格 BaMei 八美镇

More to come later.

When I first arrived in China I was working with a woman who wanted to try and publish her memoirs. I have always been a bit of a smartass and I suggested that she call her book “Drinking Water Gives You Cancer: And other stories heard in China,” of course I suggested this thinking that this was ridiculous, until I woke up one morning to find this article. I personally have certain water that I like in China and certain ones I think taste funny, and in-turn don’t like them.  I wish they had listed which specific water was going to kill me, however I do realize that this would tank their operations (well deserved) and this is coming from a Chinese paper about Chinese companies so a cultural issue may have stop them, though they do list companies…I guess it is time to translate that Nongfu bottle to see if I’m dying.

Carcinogenic found in 6 bottled water brands

This article is about the conflict going on between Beijing and the Vatican. I have always thought the the separation of church and state and think this is a great reason for it. This is not Beijing’s first meddling in religious affairs, see a certain western region in the PRC. I am not Catholic and have never been a big fan of the Catholic Church however I do respect their power within their own realm, those who choose Catholicism. But to interfere in the appointment of Catholic officials is taking it a step too far, again I know this is not the first time they have done this kind of thing, but not to this kind of world religious power. I will be interested to see how all this plays out and how many more will be excommunicated…could we be looking at a “Holy” Church of (The People’s Republic) China?

Church and State Divide

This is a video of some kind of pimple cosmetic operation. I really don’t understand why this person doesn’t just do it themselves…

Toothpaste Face

So in China the bellybutton is a very important part of the body. This magical place is a direct “door” into the inner body. I was dating a typical Chinese girl in the spring of 2011 when I found out about the intricacies of this holy of holies. We were sitting on the couch when I had my arm around her while watching a movie when I put my hand over her bellybutton. She jumped and swatted my hand away telling me about the highly delicate part of the body that if touched can cause sickness. Now, this became a game where I would see how close I could get to touching it before she would swat my hand away. I would usually get pretty close and once or twice I had my finger covering the hole. During that once or twice I felt something hard within the sacred realm. Now I have had many years of exploring my own belly button through my younger years of just being curious to the now lint trap that is has become and having to empty it. Needless to say I wanted to find out what was this strange substance that I had touched. Trying to find out was like pulling teeth since I had to fight through squirming and playful slapping. I finally discovered what foreign object had lodged itself in the dark crevice. I had found what could be considered the most disgusting thing to ever find in a partner’s bellybutton, dirt. Now, just dirt in itself I would not consider to be so gross, everyone’s gets a little dirty every once in awhile but this dirt had been collected and aged over 25 years. Things like wine are great when aged but dirt that has never been cleaned because of some old wives tale makes you want to…have someone hold a bag for you. Now here is the story gets a bit stranger. Well I have always enjoyed picking at things, as my mother did, and I wanted to help my, now ex, girlfriend to clean her bellybutton. One day she was taking a nap on my couch when I decided that this was an excellent time for an expedition and possibly minor surgery. Armed with my tweezers and nail clipper and nail file combo. I was very careful to not disturb the patient but started to take a closer look into the dark cavern that was obstructed by a dark object that I was determined to remove. After about two minutes of separating the obstruction from the walls keeping it in place she began to wake up and the extraction became a bit more hurried. I dislodged the dirt and pulled it out and showed it to her. She looked at it and could only talk about how she was surprised that she didn’t feel any pain when I exercised the foreign object from her body. She went on and on about this talking about how I should be a doctor, I guess that game “Operation” really helped to prepare me for days like this. While she was going on about the lack of pain I was thinking about the size of the dirt clump with a diameter a little bit larger than my pinky nail and how anyone could live with something that large in a location that small. She was very worried that she was going to become sick after I pulled it out, but she never did. Even though we are no longer together I hope that she will be thankful for a clean bellybutton, as long as she keeps up on the maintenance. I also asked her friends if they cleaned their bellybuttons and they all said no or only on occasion because they did not want to get sick…

July 31: Chengdu (成都) to Ya’an (雅安) to Tianquan (天全).

Met Jeremy in Chengdu at the XinNanMen bus station in hopes of getting as far away from Chengdu today as possible. We bought tickets to Ya’an, which was the furthest bus that would go from this station at this time since all the buses for Kangding had already left for the day. Once we got to Ya’an we wanted to get further since there was still light left in the day, we bought tickets to Tianquan, this looked like a good idea. We stayed at a hotel across from the bus station in Tianquan. We walked around town and settled on a restaurant. Both Jeremy and I enjoy learning about local “culture” and our first choice of moonshine wasn’t so bad but the second small pitcher tasted like paint thinner. After dinner we followed our ears to what we thought would be the local disco but when we entered the building we found that it was just a dance hall, there was no one under the age of 35 and they lacked any kind of spirits, but we bought some water and watched for a few minutes. After getting asked to dance by some older women we decided to leave and get to sleep since we were unsure how far we could get the next day.

August 1: Tianquan (天全) to Kangding (康定).
Tianquan was difficult to get out of because all their buses went to small villages in the area and to Ya’an, but not to Kangding. We had to walk out of town to the highway to try and flag down a ride. While we tried to catch a bus going to Kangding none of them would stop. We ended up going to a bridge on the west side of town and with the help of the local three wheeled bike drivers, who were collecting commission, we were able to flag down a small van going to Kangding. After arriving in Kangding we went to the bus station and asked about tickets to Tagong, but they could only say that foreigners weren’t able to buy tickets. Outside the bus station we were harassed by local van drivers about where we wanted to go and as soon as we started speaking to one more swarmed over and began speaking in Tibetan about where we wanted to go. Eventually we both got tired and just decided to stay the night in Kangding, which sits at the bottom of a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains. Jeremy led me up a mountain to the Zhilam Hostel, which he had stayed at before. This is a great hostel but get directions before going since it will be very hard to find without them. I had joked earlier and told Jeremy to take me to the best pizza place when arrived in Kangding…Zhilam Hostel has a great yak pizza and the yak burger is also amazing. The hostel is clean and the people working there are incredibly friendly and very knowledgeable about the area. There I met an American who signs his emails “Losang,” who runs the “Land of Snows” and “Kekexili” blogs, he was full of information and extremely helpful with all the questions we had. He also informed us that the prefecture governor had said that as of today all places in Ganzi were open to foreigners.  We walked down into town and close to the main square, which is very small, we walked into a tea house. This teahouse had a Tibetan green barley beer that we ordered to try and get a taste of the local culture. After taking a few sips we decided that we needed the other type of alcohol that had also been offered to us, qing ke alcohol, mainly as a chaser to get rid of the taste of the Tibetan beer. After a small pitcher of the unlabeled alcohol we returned to the hostel to try to get some sleep for another day of traveling.

2: Tagong (塔公) to Bamei (八美镇)
We returned to the bus station early in the morning trying to get tickets to Tagong, but were again refused because we were foreigners, I guess the workers hadn’t gotten the memo about foreigners being able to travel freely in the area. We walked across the street and got some breakfast before jumping into the fray of the unofficial transportation bureau outside the bus station. We found an acceptable price but had to wait for the driver to find two more people before he was willing to leave. We waited at the bus station for awhile but then we got into the car and drove up and down the streets to another unofficial bus station where we found one more passenger but the driver still wanted to find one more to fill the car. After a few minutes passed we went back to the real bus station and the man that had joined us got out of the car and walked away to find another ride, now we need to find TWO people going to the same place… the driver would come back and we would return to driving around the streets. We finally found a woman going to the same place and after what may have been between thirty minutes to an hour both she and the two of us were getting very impatient and told the driver that if he didn’t go we were leaving. He asked us to split the four person’s fare but we all refused threatening to find someone actually leaving. Our driver would finally give in and we were off to Tagong. The landscape between the two places was gorgeous, except for the incredibly ugly writing on the side of the one of the mountains that said, “The Love Song of Kangding,” in Tibetan, Chinese, and English, this was really an eyesore. Close to the Kangding airport there were several nomad camps with their herds of yak grazing on the grasslands.

We arrived in Tagong, which isn’t much more than one street with a few hostels, a temple, and some restaurants. We entered Sally’s hostel because Jeremy wanted some coffee and I had a yak breakfast sandwich. There were many people walking around the temple in town as part of the pilgrimage.  After finishing our lunches we wanted to walk around and take some pictures so we took some time to enjoy Tagong. I walked around the temple clockwise, as Tibetan culture calls for all religious things to be walked around in this manner. When I arrived around the backside of the temple I saw monks jumping around in the field and thought I would have a look as to why they were jumping around.

I walked over cautiously because I wanted to be respectful and didn’t know if I could walk over but they told me that I could take pictures and eventually asked me to sit with them and talk. We started speaking in Chinese but then one came over who spoke a fair amount of English. We spoke about Buddhism, Obama and the Dali Lama, and other general things. They also told me that their jumping around was because they were practicing for the festival that was coming up the following week, from what I remember it takes place between the 11th and 13th days of the lunar calendar. During our talk I was able to find out a lot about the monks’ and apprentices’ lives. The rule is that if you are under 18 years old you cannot consent to becoming a monk and the apprentices study Buddhism for long hours everyday. The age range that they said they had in the monastery was from 12 to 90 years old with about 100 men living there at this particular temple. Sitting in the fields with the monks let me sit back and really take in what was around me instead of walking around with the camera attached to my nose. They have some of the most beautiful skies and green covered hills, after living in cities with populations over one million for so long I had almost forgotten what clean air smelled like and that skies are actually blue not grey, it really was beautiful.

From Tagong we moved on to Bamei, Jeremy had really wanted to see this town more closely since his previous trip out into western Sichuan. Like most specs of civilization in this part it was a one street town with a few hotels, restaurants, and the unofficial bus station, where they are all too interested in where you want to go. Every hotel in the city, there is about three of them, charges 120 kuai a night for a room with double beds, and they will not bargain on this. Jeremy said that there was a temple close by that I may enjoy, but first we wanted to get something to eat. Like most small restaurants in this area there is no menu or the sign out front has what they serve but with no prices. The Mandarin out this far starts to deteriorate into a local dialect, but is more like a separate language. Luckily I had picked up some of the local dialect from two Sichuanese locals who were dating my coworkers, which helped a little when it came to food. After finishing our meal we asked the restaurant boss where the temple was and what it was called. A driver would actually come into the restaurant as we are asking for information trying a make some money by driving us out there. We would hire the guy to drive us out there for 80 kuai round trip for the both of us. We would find out that this was just kind of the going rate for all outsiders. As we are going down the road the driver told us about the rain that had made the road to the temple and to Danba AWEFUL. This road was in horrible condition because it was dirt and a major route going north to south. We arrived at HuiYuan Temple (惠远寺) and began to walk around and noticed a gambling event going on, it looked like craps but instead of using numbers they were using six different animals. I need to clarify that this was not inside the temple but within the residential area that surrounded the temple. Our driver not too long after arriving told us that he would be waiting for us close to the front gate and not too far from the Chinese zodiac craps game. We walked around the area and saw many prayer wheels and the new temple that was being built behind the old one. We walked around for about an hour until it really started to threaten rain and we walked back to where we found our driver laughing it up while sharing a beer with some other drivers. On the way back to Bamei our driver told us that that today was the first day of a three-day festival. The following day would be monks doing a mask dance and the day after would be the horse race. Our driver dropped us off at another temple that was right on the outskirts of town and we walked around there taking pictures. Jeremy ran into some oh so wonderful people from Shanghai. Luckily I wasn’t there for most of the conversation, but from the things I did hear, this kid from center of Chinese westernization was so enlightening. He thought that it was really cool that we were traveling like locals in Sichuan even though we didn’t speak Chinese…(妈的种族主义者呆比). He told us that the mask dancing would start around 06:00 since his vast experience in Buddhist studies led him to believe that their festivals would start early due to their trained discipline, he also said that “Buddhist believed in Buddhism for no reason,” oh Chinese educational system you have done wonders with this part of your future. When we returned to Bamei we went to go eat at the only real restaurant in town, most of them were just little whole in the walls with grease lining the walls.

3: Bamei (八美镇).

We got up and left the hotel around 08:00, we ignored the advice of our local Shanghaiese travel guide mainly because we had asked someone at the temple about the start time and they had told us that it would begin around 09:00…but we may have forgotten to tell the oh so wise kid from Shanghai, who was running around with a cape on. We found one driver that wanted 40 kuai per person to drive 11 km down the road, that was also the price was to go to the next town down the road. Since we were having some trouble getting a good price at the “bus station” we walked about half a kilometer down the road hoping to be in a better position to catch someone already going there. After a short while we found someone going to the festival that was willing to charge us only 20 per person. We picked up a few more passengers on the way and arrived shortly thereafter. We entered the temple courtyard where people had already started setting up their benches and there were already people walking around with cameras. Soon the courtyard was filled with Tibetans, a few Han, and even fewer foreigners. Once the music started the Han picture takers jumped into the middle of the performance to try and get good shots, and reluctantly Jeremy and I both followed suit because we wanted pictures sans Han people. After a few minutes the Tibetan monks had set up under a tent to play music for the performance, one monk emerged from the temple wearing a large white mask. He prostrated three times and then began laying out several pieces of cloth. Behind him several young monk’s apprentices were gathering including one very young one, much younger than the others. The laying out of cloth was a set up of a kind of game. The apprentices had to steal the cloth without being seen by the monk in the mask. If the monk with the mask saw them stealing the cloth he would throw flour at them. While this resulted in a standoff between the monk and the youngest apprentice for the last piece of cloth. The monk coated the young apprentice and in the furry of coating him he changed aim and started coating the Han photographers, I laughed and quickly put distance between the monk with the flour and myself.  The monk was successful in scaring off  all the photographers since we all had expensive equipment and it is hard to take pictures through a lens covered in flour. The day was filled with different dances preformed by monks and apprentices dressed in varieties of elaborate masks and costumes. There was a break around noon for about and hour and a half, which was some much-needed time to rest my trigger finger. We bought some steamed buns with vegetables and meat inside, without hot peppers and vinegar steamed buns are just not good to eat. After finishing my mediocre lunch I went back into the temple and sat down on a vacant bench that I had noticed some of the apprentices sitting on. The dances resumed after the lunch break and included the firing of two blank rounds from a gun and a few more loud explosions. Around four or five in the afternoon Jeremy and I both had had enough shooting since we were getting the same shots we had earlier in the day, so we went to go find a driver to take us back. We could only get the price down to 50 yuan for the both of us, but overheard the driver tell some other people on the road that he would only charge them five, though I was not completely sure of where they were going. Tibetan seems to not be a purely separate language from Chinese in western Sichuan seeing as I could on the rare occasions make out a few words even with my Chinese listening being as bad as it is. The day was pleasant with on and off light showers, and the locals got a kick out of me wearing shorts, they found both the size of my legs and the amount of hair on them to be interesting.

4: Bamei (八美镇) to Daofu(道孚).

While Bamei in itself wasn’t particularly interesting we stayed for two days because they were having a festival and in particular the horse race which is what we had both really wanted to see, and Jeremy had even been to Litang last year  but for the last three years the Litang horse festival hasn’t taken place. I was still very tired from the day before, I might be too tense when taking pictures, and this will have to be something I work on. We got to the temple a little late because of a late start but thankfully not too late. Once we arrived at the temple we just started following the crowds over to an open field within the residential area that surrounded the temple. The monks were saying prayers around a fire surrounded by the horses that would be running that day. After the prayers were over the Tibetan men exploded into yells that reminded me of old western movies when the native Americans would yell, and they began leading their horses around the fire more and more quickly while offering paper prayers into the air. All the horses were taken out the main gate through which we entered earlier and down the road to the beginning of the race path. All the observers went in the opposite direction to prep their perches. I followed a group of men around and through fields, one having a new colt running up and down the field. We were taking a roundabout way to a dirt road where I was told by a monk to run down the road if I wanted to go, not knowing any better I took off down this mud road following and being followed by others running to get to our places so that we could see the racers come by. We came upon a hill over a fence where some people were already standing on top. After climbing over the fence I saw where we had just run was going to be the racetrack. Since I didn’t have a lens longer than 200mm I thought I would try and get closer by going to the opposite side of the road and standing behind a fence. We waiting a long time to see anything and while I waited a young apprentice came over and told me that the place I was standing was too dangerous, even though I was behind two rammed earth fences… He told me that I must be up on the hill for my own safety. I still waited for a long time and finally saw the tiny horses mostly carrying young adolescent bareback riders, even though there were a few adult riders in the back riding very slowly. Tibetan horses are very small and maybe half the size of the large western horses that we are used to back in the US. All my shots of the race weren’t very good because I couldn’t get close enough. After about five minutes or so we actually saw the race and everyone started back for the front gate. On my way back some young girls asked if I was cold wearing shorts, I wasn’t cold in the slightest but I did notice I was the only one wearing shorts that day.

While my pictures of the race weren’t very good I do think that I got some good shots of the post race. The post race activities included dressing the horses in cloth that had the pictures of Buddha and stuffing money into their reins for the top winners. The closing ceremonies consisted of a lot of pushing to get a good view of the winners receiving their prizes. The top four received motorcycles and money. To keep the crowd at bay monks were again given flour and threw it at the crowd when they were hesitant to back up, this would result in surges of pushing; however I didn’t mind this pushing like I mind the pushing in Shanghai, I felt no animosity and sense of entitlement among the Tibetans. After the ceremonies were almost over Jeremy and I went back to Bamei in hopes that we could get to Daofu that day and get one step closer to the Sichuan-Tibetan border. The festival happens every year 6/3-5 on the lunar calendar (6月3到5号农历).

We eventually found a driver willing to take us and we were off. Once we arrived in Daofu the first thing we did was to search for a hotel. We tried two, including the Hotel California, but found a place across the street that was run by Tibetans. All the other hotels wanted 120 a night for mediocre accommodations but the hotel run by the Tibetans was about the same and they only wanted 80 yuan a night, they also said that they don’t over charge foreigners like the Han…this made me like them quite a bit. The most expensive places in China are all run by Han people, I’ve seen numerous cases of this. Today I started to really notice that many of the cars had pictures of lamas, not the animal, stuffed into the sun visors of their cars or sitting in the windshield. I can only assume, because I never asked, that they believe that this will protect them while they are on the dangerous roads that are the major national (dirt) roads throughout western Sichuan.


5: Daofu (道孚) to Luhuo (炉霍) Ganzi(甘孜).

Another later start than planned, I think we don’t set alarms as an excuse to not get up when we planned the night before. Got in a bus going to Ganzi but we stopped over in Luhuo because some of the people we were traveling with from Daofu only wanted to go as far as Luhuo. We were stopped for a long time while the driver tried to get others to go in order to maximize his profits on one trip.  After everyone had taken their bathroom break in what Jeremy considered one of the worst toilets in China, we were still waiting and the two of us along with a man from Guangdong became quiet unhappy. We did finally get out of Luhuo but arrived in Ganze too late to get out to Baiyu, which was our plan for the day. We made arrangements with a driver to go straight to Baiyu early in the morning, around 06:30 was our meeting time. After arranging our ride we took a walk towards a beautiful mountain and on our way down the road I saw a Chinese boy in military camo but since he was sitting on a PINK bicycle I really did think of him as much until he made strong eye contact with me and picked up a walkie talkie. However, I continued on expecting something else to happen. I turned the corner and saw a bridge that got myself even closer, so I started to walk across. As I began walking across this bridge a PLA soldier ran up to me from the other side of the bridge and stops, salutes, and greets me with a “Hello, Comrade”  (同志好) he also requested to see my passport. I granted him his request, even though I felt uncomfortable about him calling me “comrade.” Whenever someone looks at my passport now I get a little bit of a laugh because it always looks like a monkey trying to work a computer, I currently have two PRC visas and seven PRC resident permits, but I did help him to find the current one in order to expedite the situation. The soldier found no problem with my documents and let me through. However, I would soon run into another checkpoint at the opposite end of the bridge. At the end of the bridge I was stopped by one police officer and one PLA soldier, they again asked for my documents, but this time they asked to see my pictures. Now, when someone from the government in China asks to see your pictures there is something close that they don’t want showing up on the front page of the New York Times. My pictures were fine, I hadn’t taken the pictures that were forbidden for reasons unknown to myself at the time. I was also instructed to not take pictures south and southeast of the bridge but the southwest was fine. The areas where I was told not the take pictures were covered in Tibetan prayer flags hanging from trees, I wouldn’t know the significance of the this place until a few days later. After our little walk across the bridge we returned to town and checked into the Golden Yak Hotel, which is one of only five hotels in Ganzi that foreigners may stay at. We had heard that there was a problem with the water there but they assured us that from 19:00 to 24:00 they would have hot water and in the morning they would again have hot water. The service at this hotel is horrendous and I would never recommend this hotel to anyone (except the man responsible for the Great Firewall, but I don’t like him).  After checking in and dropping off our stuff we went for a walk up the street, directly north from the hotel. We would come upon a large monastery that sits on top of the hill overlooking Ganzi. We walked around but separated and went in different directions. I went to the left and came upon an older monk and we talked about Obama and the Dali Lama, they had just recently met and had official talks where Obama kissed the PRC’s ass. I asked the old monk if I could go into the main shrine and look around and he agreed to be my escort. We changed shoes and he took me around showing me all the different buddhas they had inside. He also showed me the chair that is reserved for the Dali Lama when he comes back and informed me that five different Dali Lamas have sat in that chair. I was also allowed, I asked first, to take pictures but most of them didn’t come out well since I didn’t want to hold up the old monk by putting a flash on. After thanking the old monk for showing me around I saw Jeremy walking up further into the residential area for the monks and I followed. We walked around until the path ended and were admiring the scenery when a monk that may have been in his early to mid-thirties came out with a young apprentice. He walked up and began talking to us. As most conversations with the monks went it was always about how they liked Obama, Tibet may be the last place on Earth where Americans are still liked…but this conversation quickly went from someone they liked to a group of people they didn’t like, the Chinese Government. He told us about how monks and nuns were beaten with sticks, some were killed, and a general treatment on par with cattle. It was interesting to hear and seems like they have been liberated from one form of oppression to another.

It started to get late and the time for pictures was fading fast, I was also getting hungry. We went back towards the hotel in search for food. I had suggested that we go to the place that said “Tibetan Restaurant,” mainly because I thought they might just have Tibetan food. We ordered some Lhasa sweet tea, bowls of yak soup, yak dumplings and weak liquor in a can. Only the soup was any good and it was really good. After dinner we returned to the hotel, which still had no water, because we had an early morning the next day.

6: Ganzi(甘孜) to Baiyu (白玉).

Woke up to still no water for showers, and the wrong side of the bed to wake up on is the one without a shower. We found our driver but he wasn’t ready to leave yet but told us to go have breakfast first. After eating we returned and he STILL wasn’t ready to go until 07:30 and we headed off with eight people in a van with seven seats, Jeremy’s seat was a small plastic stool with a monk’s knees for a back, he was not very comfortable. We passed through a checkpoint where the driver told the monk to lie low, I still don’t understand why they were checking for monks at the checkpoints, but foreigners were ok to go… We passed another checkpoint and the driver dropped a Tibetan girl, Jeremy and myself off on the side of the road and told us that he would be back soon but had to drop three others off. This idea of “soon” (马上) is very confusing since sometimes “soon” is 5 minutes or when our driver told us that we would be leaving “soon” but it was an hour later. Luckily we only waited abut thirty minutes and the driver reappeared, but I didn’t mind it so much since we were standing next to a road that was surrounded by beautiful grasslands. After getting back in the van we were asked about stopping to get lunch since we still had another three hours to Baiyu. We would arrive in Baiyu and after only spending a few hours we decided to leave the next morning. We did go into a restaurant and when asked about what they had to eat they pointed to the oven. The oven contained a yak meat pie, which was twenty yuan, and we split that which at that time was plenty.

7: Baiyu (白玉) to Dege (德格).

We left Baiyu in the early morning and chose to head for Dege. In the car with us was a Miao lady, who was very demanding, and two women with a baby who had come to us the night before begging for money during our dinner. The little bit of scenery I did see on this leg of the trip was gorgeous. We were driving down the highway when a small village popped up on the left, we were heading north, and carved into the side of a giant rock was the words “Tibet” (西藏) in Chinese. We stopped and took some pictures seeing as this might be the closet I’ll ever get to Tibet, I could have swim across the river and been there. At the time of writing the area known as Tibet was open to foreigners IF you first got an entry permit, this is different than the PRC visa, and had a government approved tour guide, these tours usually result in temple temple temple lake temple shops…lots of shops which I don’t want to pay for. We did get stopped at a checkpoint on this leg and had to get out and give them our information, this really is a very small inconvenience. We arrived in Dege and I gave the driver 150 yuan, it was 120 yuan, and he tried to hand me only ten back and I told him that this was wrong, we argued about this for about two minutes until he stopped and did the math… We checked into a hotel on the way out of town and dropped off our bags. Dege is famous for its print house. The print house really is a must see when in Dege if you can catch them printing the sutras. They are printed by using a paddle that has the sutra carved into it and is wiped down with ink, paper placed on the paddle, and a roller rolled over the paper to press it against the paddle all by hand. They are able to make copies with the speed of a well-oiled machine. I started to think today that I might be able to say “Welcome” in Tibetan since we are hearing it from everyone; Tibetans are a very friendly people.

8: Ganzi (德格) to Manigange (马尼干戈).

Left for Manigange around 1130, got into a four-wheel drive vehicle, that is the way to travel on these roads, the road from Dege to Ganze is much nicer than the southern highway. Stopped by XinLuHai (新路海) and took some nice pictures. Got into Manigange and had lunch, they were having a “tiao sheng” festival. Lots of rowdiness on the streets with knives, wanted to get out quick because nothing was going on, some joker said he would take us back to the lake for 1000 kuai. Tried to negotiate but there was a break down in communication, got offered 500 and I laughed in the old man’s face. No cars were around willing to give a good price so we started walking out of town in the direction of Ganze. We walked about a mile out if town when I started losing hope. Jeremy was determined not to go back because he was irritated at the car rates for 12 km. I started walking back into town since there wouldn’t be another building for a few miles and my packs were getting heavy. Not long after we started heading back the same guy that had offered to take us 12 km for 1000, offered us a ride for…1000 kuai to Ganze. After a short while longer another guy covered in scars, including one that ran down the length of the left side of his face and carried a short sword (about 1.5ft) next to his car seat, offered us a ride for 30 kuai each. Reached Ganze. Found out that there are only five hotels in the city that foreigners may stay at and they are all 150 kuai a night. Went back to the Golden Yak Hotel but the younger oh so happy receptionist told another girl that for us they had no rooms. Checked into the Golden Sun Hotel (金太阳宾馆), they were incredibly nice, though not as clean as the Golden Yak. Took a walk back towards Dege up the hill and saw a wonderful sunset, took some more landscape pictures. Went back to get some more of the yak soup we had had a few days before. After we had the soup Jeremy wanted to hang his clothes up since they hadn’t dried from washing them the night before. Talked to a local English teacher and found out about why we couldn’t take pictures across the river. About two weeks ago nuns and monks were beaten with sticks and all the flags were serving as a memorial to that event. Ganze lost internet until about three days ago for residences and are still without internet in commercial places. She spoke about how unhappy the Tibetan people were and how they were afraid to speak out about anything. This makes me rethink about complaining that I can’t get Facebook when the reasons that I can’t get it is because others have suffered so much at the claws of the “river crabs.” I noticed tonight I only had one blister, which is a rarity for me. Currently trying to find a way to write some sensitive things on my blog without it being harmonized by the powers that be in the particular country I live in.

9: Ganzi (甘孜) to Luhuo(炉霍) to Wengda (翁达).

We caught a van from Ganzi to Luhuo early in the morning, earlier than the police had stared their shifts. Once the police had started their shifts they started enforcing parking regulations and because our driver was on the street in a no parking zone the police started to let the air out of his tires, the driver caught them quickly before he lost much air and we took off for Luhuo. Immediately we tried to find a ride to Maerkang but were unsuccessful since at that time of the day most of the vans going that way were going to Seda. We found a ride going to Wengda but he took too long to find other people that we left the van and started walking down the road in hopes of finding a vna that was already moving. The driver we left drove by us on the road and asked if we still needed a ride and we told him that we did, but he had increased the price and we declined. Not too much longer two Han men picked us up outside Luhuo and when asked how much to Wengda they told us that they didn’t want money, this was great. However, one condition of our free ride was that we had to ride to the construction site where they were building a tunnel through the mountain the man riding in the front seat was helping to oversee. We stayed in Wengda hoping that we could catch vans coming from either Luhuo or SeDa going to Maerkang. We stayed at a hotel run by a Tibetan woman that cost ten yuan a night and no shower or bathroom in the building. While I was sitting in the room a little head popped in, it was the head of a fourteen-year-old Tibetan boy who wanted to speak with foreigners. We talked about basketball, Michael Jordan, and Michael Jackson. When Jeremy returned from his walk we sat downstairs and the boy asked us to come inside to get warm by the fire in the kitchen, this was really nice since spring only comes between 13:00 and 16:00 everyday, the rest of the time it feel like late fall during the summer up on the plateau.

10: Wengda(翁达) to Maerkang (马尔康) to Wenchuan (汶川) to Chengdu (成都).

Got up around 05:30 this morning and waited until I heard moving vehicles to leave the semi-warm room that barely offered heat, it was only 10 yuan per bed per night. Pressed on to Maerkang in some man’s car, his little boy was in the car too. The ride cost us 150 yuan per person but it was pretty comfortable, well not for the little boy who vomited about four times. Caught a ride in Maerkang after dealing with several people who didn’t know where the buses went, they worked at the bus station and they couldn’t speak proper Chinese either. Jeremy and I passed a motion that Maerkang was the most worthless place in China. Finally found a ride to Wenchuan for 150 yuan a person, after being told both Wenchuan and Chengdu would be 1000 yuan for the both of us. Our driver however was less than amiable, he tried to change the price once be found out there was a tollbooth. We had pre-negotiated the price and were not about to let his little fit that he went into change the price half way there, he also had to use the bathroom like a pregnant lady in her third trimester. We told him to take us to the bus station in hopes there would be another bus going to Chengdu since it was five o’clock. As we walked to the bus station I asked two women where it was and they told me that they didn’t have any more buses to Chengdu for the day, but they said that we should join them since they were also going to Chengdu and that if we worked together it would be cheaper. We followed them back to the road where our less than pleasant driver dropped us off and again we began the tumultuous trial of trying to get a ride. While it didn’t take long to find a ride it seemed longer because neither of us had had a shower, a real toilet, or food in twenty-four hours. When we did find a ride it was with two very nice young people driving a spacious Volkswagen, and they didn’t want any money for the ride. As we were putting our bags in the back I got stung on the back of the head by a bee, unprovoked. We went a ways down the road when we hit the traffic jams of all traffic jams. At first we both thought this was just another normal Chinese traffic jam where two cars were at an impasse and neither wanted to move, this is common even on a two lane street so understandably this was our first thought. After about an hour some bikers rode by and explained that there was an accident and some children were hurt. This quickly changed my mood from annoyance to real concern. The worst part of the four-hour wait was the lack of urgency the police and ambulance had in getting to the scene. Thank God I’ve never been in a serious accident while in China, knock on wood. However the police did feel that it was a good time to enforce parking laws and told the driver of our car that he would be fined and must return to Wenchuan to pick up his license after confiscating it, this meant we had to find a new ride. Not too far up the road we found an almost empty bus and asked the driver if we could catch a ride with them, he said yes for forty kuai. We finally start moving, at a snail’s pace around nine o’clock. We had been fortunate enough to get our hands on two bags of chips and two bottles of Coke, Jeremy had to go to two stores to find this since the first one was sold out. We arrived in Chengdu around 01:00. We hadn’t made hostel reservations but went to my usual hostel in Chengdu, Dragontown Hostel. The guy working the desk asked if we had made reservations since they were booked, luckily two people hadn’t shown that day and they had beds for us. It was now going on 30 hours since we had eaten anything substantial and around 02:00 got BBQ street food, 烧烤, close to the hostel.

11: Chengdu (成都) to Mianyang (绵阳).

Got up this morning and went to the train station. I was able to get a ticket that put me back in Mianyang at 12:08, it will be good to be home again. This trip was an eye-opening experience full of trials, mostly in the way of transportation, but very enjoyable, now it is time for a vacation away from my vacation.

Pictures: Tagong 塔公 BaMei 八美镇 Ganze 甘孜 Dege 德格

Horse Race 赛马节 Buddhist Mask Festival 雪顿节

Last week I went to Chengdu and since I had taken pictures of the pandas earlier in the day I decided that I wanted to take a nap and then would be ready for another set of shooting and I should since I wanted to make the most of my money, I’m kinda cheap. So around 1930 I went to the Sichuan Opera and had to buy a seat even though I never once sat down once the hour long show began, I asked if I had to buy a ticket if I wasn’t going to use the seat. I got a lot of great shots but I only posted some of the 550 I have from the night: Sichuan Opera 川剧

OK all I can think when I hear things like this is this fantastic quote:

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”     -Joseph Goebbels

You to start to wonder if the idiots making these kinds of public statements also believe the crap that is spewing from their mouths or if they actually know what is going on and believe the people to be so stupid in this day and age where you really can’t control the flow of information no matter how great your firewall is.

The Truth About German Internet