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Published: September 12th 2009
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Thousands of people in long processions or individually turning beautiful, ornate or simple praying mills as a matter of course . . .
About Tibet, Buddhism and kind people
Arrived in Chengdu on 10th of June. The next couple of days I spent finding my feet in town, walking long distances to the Carre-four shopping centre and looking at all the nice things in bakeries etc. I then booked a tour to the biggest Buddha in the world, which I visited with an American couple. A lot of climbing because a path leads up to the top, and apart from that, the statue or shrine is part of a much larger park where other interesting things are to be seen. But at first you get at the head of the Buddha. Generally, the enormous piece of rock is not much more than that, more rock than finesse and artistic detail, in other words. Also, the statue stands close to the river and can not be seen properly unless you stand on one of the cruiser boats that take tourists out to look at it from a distance. We had not been aware of that and were satisfied with the less complete view.
A day or so later I took the bus to the Panda breeding centre, not far from the hostel. Maybe
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The massive, powerful statue of a Warrior on horse in Yushu, Western China
there is a lot of difference between this artificial environment and the natural one, but there is no difference between this facility and any zoo. Its just a zoo with panda’s only, black/white (the famous one) and the red panda, much smaller, brick-red in color and not as cute as the better known variety. There are lots of visitors here, many of them thrilled with the antics of the (colossal) baby’s as if they were children of there own .
After yet another day of doing little I meet a small group of people who are planning to go to Tibet and need a fourth member to form a group of four. Such a group meets the requirements of the Chinese authorities in order to get a permit to visit this territory. All other requirements were met and the travel desk of the hostel would do the rest.
Originally it had been my plan to travel much further North, to Xining and join a group there to take the train to Tibet. It would have been a much shorter distance. But here was the opportunity, ready to take advantage of and so I agreed to join. It was a Belgian
Very modern architecture, the museum of science and technology in Nanning
girl who had assumed leadership, a (South) Korean boy and a Japanese gentleman who appeared to be a professional photographer later. Only with the girl, who most of the time spoke rapid Flemish, there was some conversation possible. It took a few days before the permit was granted and received by the hostel admin, and soon after we were set to go. It was going to be a 46 hour train trip and we had been booked in a sleeper train. The track runs up North first from Chengdu to Xining, than turns Westward and somewhat later almost due South, towards Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. The first day there is nothing much to be seen, until the train reaches Xining. Soon after that there is a mountain range and this must have been the first obstacle that made experts say the train construction was impossible The way I see it, the climb to the plateau behind the mountains is too steep to allow a train track to be built, so what the Chinese did, was construct a circular track with a diameter of well over a km, and let the railway cross it’s own track by a viaduct. This
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Nifty sunray reflector as seen in Western China. No energy required!
way the elevation was sufficient to start the long haul towards the highest pojnt somewhere midway towards Lhasa. The train, not a very long one, is pulled by a diesel-electric horse, the track is not electrified and single, so often we have to wait on a side track to allow an oncoming train to pass.
We went higher and higher, the horse was chucking along through a vast green plane and low hills, not very fast but steady. Plastic tubes for breathing oxygen, to be pushed into the plug-in connectors in the passage way and over each bed were supplied for people who had difficulty with breathing. Most stretches of the track were elevated, very often by low pillars to get over the numerous rivulets, channels and small lakes that had formed to allow water to flow to lower places. The plane in Tibet was almost a complete marsh, with yaks grazing alone or in groups, tents of nomads , here and there, mountains in the distance, some topped with snow.
Arrival at Lhasa was disappointing, because the railway station lies way out of town. Were met by our guide, good looking and speaking good English. Bundled into taxi and
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Praying (chanting) monk. For R 10 pictures could be taken in this temple which was an exception. The very low rumple of payers emenating from his lips was enhancd by his drum and cymbals,
taken to hostel. No small dorms available, but big, untidy dorm on fifth floor, no lift, toilets not flushing, stinking. Walking in town, taken to Posada, official home of various (pre- and present) Dalai Lama’s and taken for a tour through a lot of chambers with sepulchers of past Dalai Lama’s and praying rooms. Full of atmosphere but darkish, lot of other people and worshippers. Gained very broad insight in history, significance and importance of Buddhism for so many people. No sign of Communist interference in religion, so far. But city under siege, with Chinese troops at strategic points, even on roof tops.
Next day taken by minibus to sacred lake where many Tibetans come to worship, say prayers and add their white or small colourful prayer flags to those who are there in great numbers. Very colourful and even from afar fantastically blue, beautiful lake.
Back to our hostel with the smelly toilet. Complained about it but with little positive response. Next day by 4x4 to monastery deep into the country. Beautiful landscape, good road, (Chinese made to develop tourism, they are keen to improve the flow of visitors.). Mountainous with some snowy caps in the distance.
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This picture shows mysery shining through a brave smile and is one of the best I ever made. Yushu, Western China
was a treat. Very busy with tourists (90% Chinese) and local worshippers. Had a look at various temples and a praying (chanting) monk, full of atmosphere and devotion. The picture can’t do any justice to the impression, because the chanting was in a very low key and enhanced by drum and cymbals.
It was really impressive and because of all the religious activity here, including the turning of the prayer cylinders once again filled with incredible devotion.
The music in this part of the country is also something to write about. To my knowledge it is unique, a strong, female voice, somewhat raw and singing in very high tones has something dramatic, something basic in it that is difficult to describe. At first I felt uneasy with it but after having heard that kind of music more often, it became almost haunting in its beauty.
After the monastery the car took us to a small town, where we were booked into a hotel. The others were going to a Himalaya base camp the next day, but because of the expected climb, I opted out. Found a much cheaper hotel the next day and stayed there until the group was back,
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Prayer Beads, a most important part of their entire life.
not very impressed by what they had seen. The guide had warned me not to wander far into town, because as a group we were welcome only at places as mentioned in our permit, but as individuals we could get him in trouble. Even booking into the cheaper hotel on my own caused a small problem.
Back in Lhasa arrangements were made to leave the town, back to China the next day As individuals or even as a group we could not stay, our permit did not cover that.
Just as a matter of fact, maybe its not coincidental this time, that the entire West side of China, comprising more than a third of the total territory, is occupied by people who are not in accord with the rest of China: de Uigers (pronounce Wigers) in the North West with the capital of Urumqi are Muslims and very outspoken with violent radicals in their midst, about their wish to have little to do with the rest of China, and the Tibetans to the South West of China who are Buddhists, more pliable but not agreeable with the Chinese occupation of their country. Even if, and that is undeniably so,
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A man loving his own decorations, Yushu
Chinese money has, economically speaking, brought increased prosperity to both.
The Belgian girl was in a flap because it proved impossible to fly out of Lhasa, she would have to take a train first and then take a local flight to Beijing where she had an engagement. For me, the situation was not much simpler. Firstly I did not want to go back to the hostel because the toilet was still not repaired, and secondly it proved the train out of Lhasa was fully booked. But help was near.
The guide took me to a reasonable cheap hotel where I met his boss, who arranged for a room and promised to take me to the railway station early the next morning and get a
train ticket there. So it was done and on the 23rd of June I was on my way to Xiang, where I did not want to go. My helper, who spoke to the ticket seller had understood me wrongly and instead of Xining, had understood Xiang, a long way further East and in the wrong direction.
No problem, I would be able to get a refund at Xining and find my way from there. It
Lord of the Rings-type mountains along the road to Genze, South West China
was not that easy. There was no “refunding” office and it took a long time to explain that, although I had a ticket to Xiang, I did not want to go there. At last something shook lose in their heads and I got a (meager) refund and the help of a few “workers” as they were called by a female railways official, to find a hotel. Mark here, they were not called “colleagues” or railway personnel, but workers. Like in “bee’s“.
In a taxi to the outskirts of town where there was, as appeared, a closed youth hostel. It was functioning, after all but not for me. Much too far out of town. In the center, the Post hotel, mentioned in the Lonely Planet, would not allow foreigners, another was full (they said) and the next one had a 2-bed room with a Chinese watching TV and leaving the room shortly after my arrival, not to come back. It was sufficient until the day after the next and cheap enough.
During all this time in Tibet and Lhasa the weather had been pleasantly warm with no rain and nothing like howling winds from the mountains and blinding snow-storms as more
Yushu, busy with their dayly work: praying and gossiping. They are so gentle.
or less expected.
And so started my journey on the “route less traveled”.
On 25/6 I boarded a bus Southwards, to a small place called Shinghai, a most backward place, almost like Bangladesh, but much friendlier and not poor either. Just not yet used to seeing a Western face. People stopped and stared, ganged up to see what you are buying and pointing fingers at you. It’s a two-street town with a traffic light in the center, and praying people, mostly elderly people, with the help of their praying cylinders. Waving at them gets you a warm smile and something like “Hello!”
Stayed at big hotel for 120 Yuan, after apparently having been misdirected to the most expensive hotel in town.
No bus going to my next stop: Yushu.
Eventually, a few days later, I was able to book on a bus going somewhere else, but at least out of Shinghai with the help of a Chinese boy . Started at 4 am the next day.
Just before boarding the bus, I noticed a cage with live chickens on the roof. As cages for chickens are seldom fitted with ablution facilities for the animals, some time after departure I noticed
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Funny girl on the way back to Lhasa, wanted her picture taken and left me with the impression of a pretty girl I knew nothing about, then walked away.
a rapidly widening stream of brown muck sliding down the window where I sat. Realizing what it was I didn’t take much notice of it, but the guy in front of me reacted in a rather strange way. He moved away from the window as far as he could and he obviously was extremely disturbed by the sight.
I have never in my life seen anyone so horrified by something that could do him no harm .
As coincidence will have it, at a road construction holdup, the same Chinese boy who had taken care of me earlier, spotted a bus going to the right place, Yushu, right behind the bus we were sitting in. Transfer was quickly arranged, but it cost me dearly. The fare I had paid for the first bus didn’t count, because it was from a different company. Also, I never learned where it came from, from which town if not from Shinghai, but of coarse that was of less importance.
It was 5 am when we arrived at our destination. It had not been a very pleasant trip, what with people giving up in plastic bags and trying to get comfortable. The road had been
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Snake lady in Chendu shopping center
very rough and not everybody had a strong enough tummy to deal with that. Babies had difficulty getting to sleep because they wanted to lie down and there simply was no room for.
Obviously, long-life batteries have their setbacks as well, because with normal ones the babies would have gone to sleep much earlier.
The town was dark, unwelcoming and it was raining. I promptly went where there were no hotels and eventually haled a cruising taxi who took me in the right direction and helped me find a place to sleep. We woke up a few night-porters, but found that one hotel was full, the next one too expensive and the third one would not open up. At an unlikely place at the outskirts of town we found a hotel that would admit me at 45 Yuan per night for a pleasant room with bathroom en suite and hot water in a thermos flask, a very good deal. I fell on the bed and slept.
Yushu appeared to be a very interesting little town with lots of commercial activity going on and large groups of people gathering at places to discuss or participate in one thing or another. There
Evening mood on the ferry to Haiku, South cost of China
was a lot of demolition going on, like in Xining, and people gathered the used bricks for use somewhere else, or maybe selling them. There also is a fantastic statue of an armored warrior on a powerful horse, domineering the centre of activity (and lots of it) where you could come from the hotel in a pick-me-up street bus for 1 Yuan.
It rained now and again, but never so you couldn’t walk without a brolly, and I found company in a small place where they sold pizza (not very good) and other more Western-style food.
Most people in this area, so close to Tibet, are very devout Buddhists. They run their praying mills, praying softly and fingering the beads-on-a-string, visit temples and so on. It’s mostly old people who fall in this category, believing in re-incarnation and having to be a good person to enter the next life. I suppose it makes them more aware of the impending final days on earth. There are lots of beggars and begging monks, some of them anything but polite. I’ve come at the end of my “less traveled route” and it is time to leave this part of China. With regrets.
On the ferry: eating icecream is a JOB, you know!
day I learn there is no bus to Ganze, the next place on my journey. Heck! I would have to wait until the 29th.
So I do and eventually get on board of bus to Kangming, where I hop on the bus to Chengdu, and the cozy garden hostel of Sim‘s. A few days later I travel to Chong Qing, from there to Guiyang and, on the 16th of July, to Nanning.
That town became infamous because of the Japanese atrocities there (The raping of Nanning) and still has little character to offer: its one long avenue with no distinct center, and little attraction as an urban unit. So I did not stay long, but took the train to Haikou, on Haikan island off the Chinese South cost. I had been told it was very pleasant there and willing to believe that I booked (was drawn) into a cheap hotel with very reasonable facilities, where I stayed a few days, before finding the bus to the more touristy place of Sanya in the South of the island. Here, the suggested hostel by the Lonely Planet) (I get increasingly more disappointed by the suggestions they make) was very expensive and unattractive,
What I would call a monstrosity, the golden Grand
hotel Lisboa, dominering Macau skyline.
so I moved to fractionally more expensive hotel room (70 Yuan with private bathroom instead of 50 for a dorm bed).
It was pleasant, but I found little to do. Most tourists there, Chinese and Westerners, relax on the beach and eat expensive fish dishes I could not afford. So I felt a bit of an outsider.
On the last day there I had a good meal though, pork spare ribs with fries. Delicious.
The previous day I had booked a flight to Macau, because it was time to leave China for a bit, before I could come back for the next three months of my visa. The flight turned out to cost only marginally more than bus, train, hotel accommodation and connection into Macau (+/- R580), so I felt it was fully justified. And on the plane I met Spencer, an English guy who makes his money with the help of the internet, and who made a few very useful suggestions. Meeting him proved to be a real bonus.
It was just about 12 o’clock at night when we arrived at the border gate with Macau which closes at that time, so I followed Spencer to a hotel he
At first glance I felt the top should be pushed back, and maybe that is what the architect wanted me to think. . . .
had been in other times and there we split.
The next morning I was up and about at 9:30, but Spencer had left at 7:30 to go back to China and Sanya on Haikan. I went through the border gate, customs and passport control, with one little coincidence, once again. Just as my passport was being scrutinized and my details were entered in the computer, the system broke down. The screen want dead not only where I was, but all other stations, some fifty of them, experienced the same problem. Well, you may say, that had nothing to do with you, surely? But someone with my imagination could easily come to a different conclusion: what was it in my passport that brought the system to its knees? Watch this space if there is anything to add to the story. . . . .
When in Macau I was on my way to the Central hotel as advised by the Lonely Planet when I asked an obviously Western guy (he proved to be American) for directions. And he told me he just came from another hotel after seeing a room in Hotel Central he found beneath his standards and had found
Sending messages up to one of many Buddha's in monastery
a much better option for his money. So off I went where he had directed me, but the idea of having to fork out R300 per night as quoted by the American did not really appeal to me. So when I saw a sigh “guesthouse” I went to investigate and, on the first floor was met by a rather busty woman who gave me the impression to be a sex worker and when I asked for a room, directed me to the next floor. There I was shown a dark room with pealing paint on paper-thin wooden walls and ceiling, a large bed with very hard mattress, fan (no A/C), washing basin, balcony and hot water in a thermos flask, toilet and shower not en suite. For R100 a night suited me down to the ground. And soon I found a really cheap eatery for workmen or so where I had my first meal in many months that was really satisfying: fried sardine and a piece of another type of fish with two veggies’ and rice for R13. All other normal meals would cost me three times as much.
Because I was bent on finding a low priced computer and
Biggest Buddha on earth
Even from this angle the Buddha is most impressive, but at the site it stands in there are many grotto's and nichess with Buddhist religious meaning. It was well worth the visit.
hopefully also a type of Canon “Eus” camera favored by many tourists, I paid a visit to Hong Kong a day or so later, skirting the water of the bay that separates Macau from Hong Kong by jet-ferry (145 Macau Dollar one way, making anything low-priced in Hong Kong instantly 300 Macau Dollar more expensive). Apart from that, the two addresses I had picked up from the Lonely Planet, one for camera’s and one for computers proved to be useless or did not exist. Back to Macau, where, a few days later I found, with the help of Pam, a French/American lady selling old watches in Macau and nearby China, what I think is the ideal little computer to have as travel companion: an HP mini notebook with big letter keys and more power than my old computer, a size less than A4 and weighing just over 1 kg, with WiFi, webcam, 1Gb Rom or Ram, whatever and 160Gb hard-drive. Loaded with software to see films (from my external hard-drive)(it has no DVD drive) and a lot of other goodies, it has everything a simpleton may wish for.
All in all, I stayed more than 3 weeks in Macau and
Entry gate to Panda breeding facility in Chendu
during that time had regular dinner with Pam, sometimes cheap, sometimes expensive, like in the Pacific Coffee Company’s café and developed the idea that, since I did not have to enter China for the second time before November 28, I might as well do something useful in the meantime. And so the idea was born to go to Laos and check our car in the backyard of a hotel near the Laos/Chinese border there. It’s a story I’d like to tell you about a little bit later.
Wishing you all a fun-filled good time in a South Africa that does not seem to go in the right direction at the moment and in all the other places you may roam, take care and go well.
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