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Published: October 13th 2015
This is only a portion. It weaved in and out, and just when you thought you were at the end, you'd find another room.
This past week we took a plane and met up with some of the Shanghai kids in Qinghai. Qinghai is much farther north than Beijing, and is also at a much higher elevation (on average 9,800 ft above sea level). However, because we left early Sunday morning, we had half a day to ourselves so we ended up visiting a Tibetan medicine museum. Inside was the world's longest thangka (a traditional form of painting on a cloth tapestry) that at 618 meters took 100 people 3 years to complete. Thangkas are traditionally painted to tell stories about the Buddhist religion, and they are always super detailed.
The next day, we met up with the Shanghai kids from the Intensive Language and 21st Century City programs (apparently they have a total of 40+ kids spread through the four Alliance Shanghai programs, although about half went to a different place for their field trip. We have a total of 12 on two different programs). After a long morning of informational sessions and such, we visited a Muslim Mosque. We arrived at the tail end of one of their prayer sessions, and apparently the women pray in a different location,
so besides a few other tourists, it was pretty much all men, most of them seniors. They were all very interested in us, and it almost felt like we were there for us to stare at, rather than being there to admire the Mosque and to learn a bit about the religion. (Qinghai has a very large population of Tibetan Muslims.) At first, the men would just group together and stare, but they slowly warmed up enough to approach the guys in our group. I had to approach them in order for them to interact with me at all, and communication was interesting because they had a very limited knowledge of Mandarin. They were all very friendly, though, and didn't seem to mind us taking pictures of them or their holy area. Wang laoshi decided that we hadn't done enough that day, so he asked our tour guides to bring us to another location. We ended up visiting a Buddhist temple located on a hill at the edge of the city. The temple itself was beautiful (as they all are) and behind the temple as a very beautiful area that overlooked the city. I for one climbed the hill very
We're so cute
From left to right: Ian, me, Anna
Photo cred. Wang laoshi
slowly, as the entire time I could feel the altitude right in my chest. I know, I know, I'm from Boulder; the altitude shouldn't bother me. To be fair though, I attend school at sea level, and was only home for about three weeks before I was back to sea level for four months. So I was definitely feeling the altitude. After a much longer trek than I had anticipated (and a bit of cheating by scaling the more vertical dirt paths rather than following the longer stairs), I did make it to the top, where they had built an outlook spot with an indoor venue that is probably great for parties. Making it to the top was definitely worth the great pictures I got of the surrounding mountains, as well as the pride aspect of being from Colorado and not letting the Midwest/East Coast kids outdo me.
Tuesday, we split into Intensive/non-intensive groups, and went to different areas. Out first destination was Qinghai lake, about a three-hour drive from the city. Outside of the city, Qinghai is dry prairie grass and rolling fooothills, framed by snow-capped mountains looming in the background. Wire and post fences mark land ownerships,
and the occasional house dots the hillside. Rather than cows or horses, herds of goats, sheep, and yaks stand out in brown and white spots against the yellow of the shrubbery. The sky is wide and blue, only marred by the white heavy clouds that slowly make their slow journey east, leaving golden patches of light on the ground below. Sound familiar? I was definitely missing home on the drive! Around the perimeter of the lake live quite a few Tibetan nomads who work to protect a special species of fish found in the lake. Fishing from Qinghai lake is illegal in China, but the price one can get for the fish in the lake make the risk worth it for poachers. One man in particular works to promote the protection of the wildlife in and around Qinghai lake, and every year he gets students, both Tibetan and Han, from universities across China. Over the past few years, he and his team have pulled tons of netting and hundreds of used batteries from the lake and its shore. After hearing about the conservation of the lake, we made it to the actual lake and got to bask in its beauty.
I fail at not smiling during pictures... thanks parents
From left to right: Jude, me, Ian
Photo cred. Wang laoshi
Apparently we got super lucky, because the night before the highest mountain peaks got some snow, which hadn't melted by the time we visited. The snow-capped mountains only added to the beauty of the lake, and reminded me of those yearly family mountain vacations. However, only a short drive away found us in the middle of sand dunes, which is not something I've seen in Colorado. We stopped at an established tourist spot, where they offered slides down the dunes, horseback riding (on a lead, so I chose not to spend the money), and other various activities. Overall, I would say that the six hour round trip was worth it!
On Wednesday we visited the Kunbum Monastery, which is located on the birthplace of the founder of the most common form of Buddhism in the area. The Monastery currently has about 400 practicing monks, although in the past it has held over 3000 at once. The Monastery is also well known for its butter statues. That's right, butter statues. First of all, instead of using wax, all of the candles in the Monastery are made of yak butter. This gives the temple a... special fragrance. In addition, one of
the temples houses a very elaborate Buddhist-themed carving, made entirely of yak butter and some sort of paint. The carving is housed behind a glass partition, and getting close enough to see it clearly means entering the smell radius of the butter. And to put it bluntly, yak butter STINKS. Speaking of yaks, this past week I have had the opportunity to eat A LOT of yak and yak products (butter, milk tea, etc) and have come to the final conclusion that I really dislike the taste of all of it. According to one of the girls, yak tastes like goat (which I've never tried), but I think it just has this particular flavor that I cannot stand. But if you want to try yak, Qinghai is definitely the place to do it!
Thursday we drove to a small tibetan village. Nestled among the foothills, the village was very traditional. Some of the others did a homestay for the night, and stayed in the house of one of the villagers (who turned out to be the brother of one of the tour guides). I chose to stay in a hotel for the night, and while those who did the
homestay seem to have loved it a lot, I'm glad I stayed in the hotel (it was the nicest one we stayed in during the trip), as the dinner that night was AMAZING. So far, Qinghai has had some of the best food that I've had since being in China-it must have something to do with those Tibetan Muslims. They know how to cook. Anyways, while we were in the village, we stopped by the school, which housed grades 1-3 (the older kids had to travel into town to attend school). The kids were learning Chinese, although the littlest ones ended up playing outside with some of the guys from Shanghai. They were adorable though! And you could definitely see how rural their village was in their clothes and responses to all of the strange Americans. Most of them were super shy, especially the girls, but obviously very interested in all of the strange white people.
Friday was spent in Tongren county, where we went to another temple and got some souvenir shopping done. I don't think they get many foreign tourists there, because my classmates probably got the most stares while we were out shopping around the town.
The next day, our last day in Qinghai, we drove to Kanbula National Park. If you are interested in beautiful scenery, this is definitely a place you do not want to miss! We took an awesome tour that had us starting out in a bus/van that drove us up the mountain to a dock on the Yellow River. The bus ride was awesome, because although there was absolutely no suspension on the bus, and for the most part the roads weren't paved, the driver careened up the mountain and around the curves in the road. It was honestly better than any roller coaster ride I've ever been on (although the one girl prone to motion sickness probably wouldn't agree...) Once we got to the dock, we rode a ferry across the Yellow River. Because the river originates in Qinghai, it was not yellow where we were, but rather a very beautiful blue-green. It is surrounded on all sides by mountains, and is crazy beautiful. After crossing the river, we got in another bus, where the driver careened down the mountain. This time we stopped at a few choice spots on the way down, where we did some more souvenir shopping,
At one of the Temples
From left to right: Will, Jesse, Joellen, Grace, Bri, Ian, me, Luke, Dukar (our tour guide), Yinka
Photo cred. Wang laoshi
and took lots and lots of pictures, because oh my god the scenery. At the very last stop on the observation deck there was a man with a hawk (or eagle) and a vulture. He was offering the opportunity to hold them and take pictures with them for 5元 (not even USD$1). I only held the hawk/eagle, but some of my classmates did both. It was so much fun! And afterwards, the guy said it was okay to pet them both, so I can officially say that I've pet a hawk/eagle and a vulture. At one point, a kid went up to the birds waving a cracker around. The smaller bird didn't do anything about it, but the vulture chased the kid off. It was actually really funny, as until then the vulture seemed only to want to just hang out and admire the scenery.
Overall, my time in Qinghai was amazing and I'm so glad we went there! It's not the kind of place that I would have thought to visit on my own, but it is beautiful and the people are very friendly. I had a great time meeting the Shanghai kids and spending the national holiday
exploring a part of China very different from Beijing. Qinghai was also a wonderful reminder of home, and made me miss everyone! It also served as a great reminder of how lucky I am to be surrounded by the mountains at home, without worry of air quality (apparently one of the days we were gone, the AQI got up to something like 400+). On the other hand, it is nice to be back in Beijing, because I honestly really love this city as well. My classmates are glad to be back in an environment with significantly fewer stares, and I am glad to be back in a place where I'm not spending 4 hours a day in a vehicle.
Anyways, I love and miss you all, and I will see you next time!
PS. Sorry about the late post! In return I have posted extra pictures 😊
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