Friday, October 27, 2006

Horseback Riding - Yeeeehaw!

So last Saturday a friend of mine had her 17th birthday...Being a friend of hers and the family, I finally decided to come along and join in the celebration - Horseback Riding! This is all on the same day that she had to go for 5 stitches in her finger...but that's another story. If you know me, you know that I have NEVER been on a horse before! I've never lived on a farm, never milked a cow, and never ridden a horse. Never even touched one before saturday.

(Everything perfect except I forgot to bring my hat that day!)

And if you're like me, take the opportunity!!! It's awesome! :) For about ¥50 I got to ride for over an hour. For you Americans, that's less than US$7! Now never having been on a horse before, I expected it would be a kind of boring slow trip with someone holding the reigns the whole time.

Not so! Between 40-50% of the time we were galloping! Oh yeah! And there was no one telling me what to do (I wouldn't have understood anyway). No one holding the reigns but me. Whew! Yeehaw! A fabulous time! I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I could do without the trotting though - that speed seems designed to do nothing but bruise you...Speaking of which, I think after 5 days of recovery that all the aches and pains are nearly gone now. :)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Visiting a Legend: Shangri-la!

Shangri-la! You may be scratching your head, trying to remember what you've heard about. Probably it brings up some images of an exotic place, maybe some kind of oasis. Long lost travelers stumbling into a beautiful refuge... Don't feel bad, I don't remember either! :) But I *can* tell you what the real thing is like: relaxing, charming, and literally a breath of fresh air!

Okay, it's not Heaven on Earth, but I would definately consider returning for a holiday. I helped do some renovation on a building there and made some good friends.

(Doing some electrical work - China Style)

A visit to the old town is quite charming! Stone-laid streets, shops with ornate wooden fronts, street food everywhere! Not to mention lots of hotels and hostels, all looking quite inviting and cozy! Lot's of 'trinkets' shops selling the usual tourist fare. But the best part of all is the dancing.

(Dancing - at night of course....only photo I had, all the others are movies)

The dancing I say!!! Every night at multiple spots in the city they have some cultural dancing! I suppose one could vaguely liken it to line dancing, but it's definately something else. All ages participate, the dancing is not too complicated nor too simple. Everyone forms in a circle which slowly goes round and round. Bright colored ethnic clothes are mixed in with the everyday regulars. From children to geriatrics! The large one in the city proper must have had between 300-400 people, while the one in the old city had closer to 70-80 people. If you're ever in China and looking for a getaway, visit Shangri-la!

(Tractor transportation for hauling goods - not allowed in most cities now...Reminds me of a roto-tiller somehow.)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Meet me at the Summit Cafè in Lhasa

Weighing in at 3650 meters, Lhasa definately wins the 'Way Up There' award! The view on the flight over was incredible, flying over the Himalaya's. I even saw fish tail mountain which was kinda cool - I've seen it before when hiking in Nepal. That's a big rock. So what about that flight ticket you may wonder? You better sit down for this... The travel guy DID have the permits for us as promised. They cost ¥500 each, which is about US$63. And the lady at the airport DID re-ticket us at no cost...Now if that doesn't make you believe in God, what will? I definately mark that down in the minor miracle catagory.

Okay, but on with Tibet! I think it must be time for a few pictures now...:

(Jokhang Temple - the most important temple in Tibet)

(Buddhist Worship by Prostration)

So I'm moved by sadness and compassion.. I'm over-simplifying it but the bottom line is that in Tibetan Buddhism you seek to attain enlighten of the 'fact' that you do not exist, which then releases you from all pain and suffering, indeed from all worldly things. This is generally mixed with a bit of animism. The end result is that most of the Tibetans I saw were striving, striving, striving... They give most of what little money they have to the monks or the temple. They spend long amounts of time turning the prayer wheels at the temple. They can travel over a hundred miles, dropping to their knees every three steps and prostrating. This is all done in vain hope that some 'bad things' won't befall them. What really broke me on the inside was after we'd been watching some Tibetans turning a prayer wheel for a few minutes. I then saw a young girl, maybe 12 years old, and saw the resignation and despair in her eyes. Alright the spark of life that you can find in someones eyes was dim. What sort of life does she have to look forward to? These people need hope, and Tibetan Bhuddism cannot provide it.

(Potala Place - the govermental capital of Tibet)

(Tibetan woman with prayer wheel)

Older Tibetans are constantly 'sending up prayers'. Notice not only the prayer wheel that the woman is holding, but also her apron. That apron signifies marriage. Most of the ethnic clothing of the Tibetans is really colorful, quite nice I think! And look at the picture of the palace. That first wall is 3 meters thick!!! Too bad I couldn't find anyone to take a photo with me in it. I think I'll finish with something a little bit happier...!

(Kettle being heated by solar power)

(Sign at the entrance to the main bus station)

In my opinion we have two very cool things here. First, a kettle being heated by solar power! Let me tell you, the sun is a VERY powerful thing in Lhasa... I saw those kettles boiling away. Second, a VERY confusing sign. Anyone interested in a job doing translation for virtually every business in China & Tibet that has signs in English? :) I was actually there and I couldn't figure out what the sign meant...

Friday, October 13, 2006

Last night in Chengdu

My last night in can I make the best of it? Well, I chose to go out with some friends to the Minority university and participate in the English Corner. I'd never been to one before so I wasn't sure what to expect...Let me put it plainly - it means being mobbed by as many nationals as can be in ear-shot!

Many are shy and don't try to speak, others want to strike up conversations to practice their English and learn more about us foreigners...Questions range from the usual 'where are you from' to 'how do different generations in America relate?'. Many wanted to know what I was doing in China, if I had visited their province before, what my job was, etc.... :) It was a great time!
Before hand we walked over to the table-tennis area and showed them how Americans play... :)

(Table-Tennis Friends)

And in the evening we did something you probably have trouble believing I would be involved in... We went for Karaoke! Scary!! We had a good time though and lots of laughs....

(Karaoke Action)

(So Happy, Singing .... Together!)

Thought I'd include a few photos this time, hope you enjoy them!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Missed Flight

So things often don't work out as expected, do they? Right now at 8:48am I expected to be on a flight to Lhasa, already nearly half way there. What Happened?

I had an excellent, if short, time in Chengdu. I got to hear alot about what is going on here, see some friends (including one who accidently dropped China's national treasure, the Panda Bear...A story for another time), get a hair-cut (they come with a scalp massage here), etc.... We got to the airport in plenty of time unlike my flight to come to Chengdu. I barely made that one, climbing up the steps to the plane 3 minutes before scheduled take off.

You still need travel permits and tour groups for Tibet. Who knew? Not I!! The travel agent got us the tickets easily enough. But when we tried to check in we were told we couldn't fly because we didn't have the travel permit for Tibet. So we talked to a manager. What can be done? 'You must go to your original travel agent' they say. But that's back in Kunming, another flight away! 'Yes, that's who you must go to. Only they can get the permit for you.' Well what about refunding our tickets? It's more than a 1/2 hour before takeoff, we would get a better refund if we do it now. 'No, your tickets are not valid without the permit. We cannot refund them'. Well, to make a long story a bit shorter, they promised (but would not put in writing) that if we go and get a permit from a local travel agent, they will then give us new tickets for free. I'm not going to hold my breath on that one. :)

It's out of our hands now really. We'll go to the travel agent when they open up this morning and hope for favor. It sounds like we can only go with a tour group which would be expensive and might take several days to organize......which would make the trip unpractical. We'll see! More later.....

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Just Arrived and it's already time for a trip

Funny how things are sometimes....I've barely gotten my bearings in Kunming and it's already time for a trip! I'll be traveling to Lhasa, Shangri-la, and Chengdu over the next 10 days! I'm not really well prepared for the colder weather in Lhasa but now is my opportunity and I'm going take advantage of it! Plane tickets are paid for, time to pack again and look for a new adventure!!

Arrival in China & the Moon Festival

Here it is, the inaugural blog that marks the beginning of my adventure in the land of Bamboo! I've been here just 9 days now and things are going quite well! I've got a great temporary place to live, at the southside of Kunming. Life here is quite a bit more modern than expected, but I think I can live with that. :) We celebrated the Moon Festival last night (didn't you?). In case you've forgotten, it's a time when family likes to be together! In the past if you were apart from family or a special someone and you missed them, this would be the night that you look up at the moon and eat your moon cake and know that you are together because you are both looking at the moon on this night. Well, now we live in the internet age, but we still lit paper lanterns, ate moon cakes, and stared at the cloudy sky where the moon must have been hiding. One last note - these moon cakes seem a bit strange to me, being a newcomer to China and all...somewhat sweet but with a hardboiled egg yoke in the center? Well, welcome to China!