The End - Sadness, Joy, Farewells, Beginnings. Return to Kangding at the end of my Summer Kham Trek!
post in progress... last few days of Summer Kham trek, spent in Kangding...
Wednesday, July 25 - still working on this post...oops hit “publish”
8 hour trip to Yushu, nice Tibetan boy and sick mom, singer in the backseat, small town noodles and stares, terrifying detour....terrible hotel, changed to slightly better
Thursday, July 26
Yushu is large city compared to Ganzi. Very dusty and lots of construction. Garbage trucks play “It’s a small world” like US ice cream trucks.
hotel search, more stares, people taking photo, nice hotel, walk to end of town for hitchhike to Batang. Picked up by Doje and invited to family gathering and spent the day with them. Wonderful food, new friends, and lots of learning and sharing!!! Yay!
Discussing politics, govt hiding fake food and pesticides, not giving info
surprised i am Buddhist and how many Christians force their faith and their way is right.
Business owner owns the land and has tents with furniture set up. Families rent the tents. Traditional and new.
Many questions to me about begin Buddhist and how I became Buddhist, Buddhism and science, how govt lies about population statistics and Tibet is overrrun with chinese. Schools only teach in mandarin so, children dont’ learn their native language. Like knowing English because it’s very helpful for jobs and enjoy learning. Family had 6-8 adult sons/daughters, who all had 1-2 children. All there with spouses.
Friday, July 27
Woke up around 2am unable to breath regularly while sleeping. I thought I I would have adjusted to altitude by now or I would’ve had Dr. Mail Rx to Dartsendo/Kangding. I even began counting my breaths: lengthening my inhales and shortening my exhales so my body would’t
Sunday, July 29
The past two days were “a wash”. I had a seriously serious acute case of Acute Mountain Sickness, that was—if symptoms are any gauge—was deteriorating into HAPE (see previous post). So Friday was spent in bed, recovering on oxygen. Saturday I spent the morning on and off the O2 while packing for the return to Kandze/Ganzi. With the help of Tserin and his wonderful staff at Susan Liuili Hotel in Yushu, I shipped a few extra items that were weighing my pack down. I brought my travel tea set, but haven’t been using it. I’m not wearing my shorts in Kham anymore, after learning that Tibetan culture is very conservative and the women don’t show their legs (I always do my best to respect the culture of which I am a guest). And then there are the rocks... yeah, yeah, yeah, rocks. I’ve had an affinity for rocks since I was wee; probably picked it up from Dad: all our time spelunking and exploring and me gaining from him awe of and intrigue in nature. One of the (odd? Nah!) things I do when I am exploring a place that is special to me, is pick up a rock that jumps out at me as significant and symbolic of the place. I should begin labeling them, because there are now too many for me to recall where I picked up each one, except a handful I hold with sentiment because they came from sacred ground of spiritual locations. Rocks and clothing and other accoutrements only cost 40Y ($6 US) to ship back to Chengdu!
Aside: ya’ll need to get your sh** together in ‘Merikuh, and get Rump out of office! The dollar keeps
dropping in value compared to the freaking CNY! It’s dropped 10% in one month! What the heck
is going on over there! Now if I transfer any $$ home I am losing big-time: $10 for every $100... ughh!!!
Saturday continued auspicious enough, after getting my belongings shipped off to Chengdu. I had met a girl from Poland my first morning in Yushu, and after hearing her stories of hitchhiking and travels around China, I decided to start hitching. I already knew it would be safe — it’s China afterall, not ‘Merikuh — especially after hearing from numerous people about their hitching experiences. It was more a matter of timing and convenience: Would it be easy to gain a seat? Would the arrival town be one I desired? How long would I have to wait in high-altitude sun for a ride? Therefore, I took a taxi to the east end of town (after first agreeing on a price; no more will I be ripped-off by some unscrupulous taxi drivers —not all of them, though!) to stand in a prime spot for people departing Yushu, heading south and east. I waited less than 4 minutes and was picked up by a van filled with a triplet of Hans, Tibetan driver, Tibetan monk, and nice Tibetan man (you’ll see photos soon!). The monk and I immediately began chatting—if you can call my handful of Tibetan words and signing, as a conversation, but it worked. I’ve found that it is easy to win over Khampas and Tibetans when they notice my mala bracelets and necklace, signifying Buddhism. The conversation begins with curiousity about the malas, and leads toward where I am from and where I am going. When I describe my perambulation of Kham, from Dartsendo to Yushu and back, using the word “gompa”, to explain my pilgrimage from monastery to monastery and mountain to mountain, I gain an immediate nod of approval and a new friend!
It’s Sunday, July 29. I am Day 14 into my summer break. School begins on August 13, which gives me exactly 15 full days before I need to go to sleep early for school the next day! Originally I planned to enjoy a 3-week long vaca, returning Aug. 6. But now, I think to myself:
Why return so early? What for? What will I do for a week? Nothing! I have nothing to do in Cdu
except look for a new apartment! So why go back early? Why not make the most of this vaca
and extend it for as long as possible??!! Why not return August 10th? I don’t have to unwind
from my vaca. I don’t have to relax. All I have to do is unpack and maybe dust!
How many times can a person be awestruck and still live?
Apparently, the human mind and heart can hand multitudes of mind-blowing sights in one day!
I’ve seen plenty of beauty and stunning visual delights in my life as a traveller; SCUBA diver, sailor; resident of the Caribbean; Republic Korea; North Carolina; and sojourner in the countries of Europe, Central America, and North America. I’ve been enveloped in a whirlwind of silvery fish, creating a funnel about me, meters below the surface; I’ve witnessed the elusive “green flash”, seen for a split-second at sunset, while in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight; my heart has fluttered in the mountains of Korea and North Carolina; and I’ve held crumbling dust and pebbles— aged nearly two millennia—from the ruins of cities underneath cities in Zaragoza, Spain.
But, here, in the area of Kham, in the town of Kandze (aka Kardze, Ganze, now designated as western Sichuan, PRC), high up on a mountain, where hues are fiercer and mountains are fearsome; no emerald, no jade has ever been so green, all shades of green must envy the colors on this mountain... nature’s first green is gold... youth, blooms...
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Both the young monk boys whoop-whooping as they fling themselves across the beyond-verdant terraces, and the verdis of the blooming plants brought these lines by Robert Frost to mind. The caelum blue above expands, closing in, and the clouds are the grandest white. It really does feel like the “Roof of the World”!
And I feel as though I have been transported into a three-dimensional National Geographic magazine!
To be continued...
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My body still needs time to adjust to this altitude. I am definitely going to have the Doc order the RX from Hong Kong, and am wishing I had him send it to Dartsendo/Kangding. :-(. Last night was truly a combat session within my body; I was exhausted and easily kept falling asleep, within a matter of breaths, I was awake again—or should I say, lack of breaths. I kept awakening abruptly with the urgent need to breathe, and breathe deeply several rounds. This has been the worst night so far; previous nights I have either slept perfectly or experienced mild and irregular awakenings.
The following is an excerpt from the article “Altitude Illness”, written by Peter H. Hackett and David. R. Shlim
The high-altitude environment exposes travelers to cold, low humidity, increased ultraviolet radiation, and decreased air pressure, all of which can cause problems. The biggest concern, however, is hypoxia. At 10,000 ft (3,000 m), for example, the inspired PO2 is only 69% of sea-level value. The magnitude of hypoxic stress depends on altitude, rate of ascent, and duration of exposure. Sleeping at high altitude produces the most hypoxemia; day trips to high altitude with return to low altitude are much less stressful on the body...
...Susceptibility and resistance to altitude illness are genetic traits, and no simple screening tests are available to predict risk. Risk is not affected by training or physical fitness. Children are equally susceptible as adults; people aged >50 years have slightly lower risk. How a traveler has responded to high altitude previously is the most reliable guide for future trips if the altitude and rate of ascent are similar, but this is not infallible. Given certain baseline susceptibility, risk is largely influenced by the altitude, rate of ascent, and exertion...
Perhaps next month I will find this elevation gain easier, since it is the month of my Birthday hehehe. That said, can I overcome my genes? Each time I have come to high elevations, I have felt ALL symptoms of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness,i.e.; altitude illness). Considering I (and my ancestors) have lived most of my life at sea level, my body is not built for high altitude, unlike those who born in mountainous areas. This will be a repeat occurrence for me, it seems. I have accepted that, but I will definitely get my hands on acetylzolamide ASAP or prior to any future trips, for sure. Grrrrr....
There are only 3 possibly cures: 1) continue to rest at this elevation and allow my body an additional amount of time to adjust, 2) Descend to lower elevation (not happening until around Aug 1), and, 3) take acetylzolamide (Diamox). The RX would help me almost immediately, but I don’t have access to any. I will ask Nate, the hostel owner is he can get his hands on some. I can handle the frequent breathlessness during the day when I am hiking—it’s expected. But lack of sleep creates misery for me on many levels: physical, emotional, mental. In fact, right now, I just want to stay in the room all day because I am grumpy :-)) But I will not!
I learned from some of the other hostel guests that there is a huge Buddhist festival happening today, at he gompa that sits on the mountain to our west. I am torn between that, and getting back up to the eastern grasslands, where I only made it up partway yesterday due to rain and cold and fatigue. In Dartsendo/Kangding, I can hike 7 or so hours. Yes, I am exhausted, but I can do it. Yesterday, turned back after 2 hours and lunch, pushing myself to even make it back down.
On that note, I’ll close with a quote from Edmund Hillary, the famous mountaineer who was the first (recorded) to summit Everest: "Getting to the summit is optional, getting down is mandatory."
Monday, July 23, 2018 - Adventures from Sunday and Monday travels!
Same town, multiple appellations due to variations on Tibetan to English transliteration, pronunciations, and Chinese designation (Ganzi). This name also brings much confusion because it is the name of the county and some think you are referring to Dartsendo/Kangding. Add subtle pronunciation changes within the word itself—or mispronunciation by moi—yeah, confusing. Let’s just say I am now in Kandze (traditional Tibetan), 370km nw of Dartsendo/Kangding , and 460km from Yushu, to the northwest, in Qinghai province.
The journey the last few days has been exciting and near to overwhelming! My friend Bamu (“Bah-mu-ah”), one of the Tibetan women that works at GouZhuang Namwu Hao Inn, had me put on her Tibetan dress for photos. I am definitely going to buy some Tibetan clothing! The dresses—even the everyday-wear— are elegant, feminine, functional, comfortable, and warm in winter. The fancier dresses are simply magnificent; like the landscape here in Kham!
Saturday I departed for Dawu/Dafou with the German family who was also staying at GouZhuang Inn; they departed in Lhagong and I continued on to Dawu. Although the hotel was a 4 Star room of beauty and comfort, I did not care much for the part of town in which I stayed: it was noisy with horns and machinery and not very attractive in comparison to other towns—admittedly, I only saw a small part in the apparent industrial area.
Sunday, as I walked to the spot where all the taxi drivers accost you to win your fare, a lovely elder Tibetan woman struck up conversation. By “conversation” I mean a lot of hand signals, a few Tibetan words by me, and lots of not-understoodby-me Tibetan sentences from her. She was a sweet woman and kept trying to pull my carry-on bag for me. I stopped to by some Tibetan bread for breakfast and bought two, but she refused and motioned that I should eat them. These thin, hardy Kham people can eat a lot of food! In fact, I asked her is she was a Khampa, and she nodded assent. I tried to express that I love Kham. We parted ways at the taxi pick-up point, but not before she made sure I had a ride and was in good hands. “Tashi Deleg” was our farewell, with hands together in prayerful respect at the heart. That was a pleasant and fun experience. Then, there is the process of getting a shared van—which brings the complete opposite feeling! It is not a fun process, especially with the language challenge. Shared vans do not depart until they are full—really, really full! First, you are surrounded by a number of drivers, all calling out the town name: “Kangding?”, “Ganzi?”, “Tagong?”, etc. with no awareness of the Western definition of Personal Space. This is not too bad, the most aggressive driver usually wins, elbowing the others back. Basically, the one who stands in front of you, in closest proximity, is the one who “wins”, if the price is good. Once that is agreed on, they grab your bags (sometimes doing this prior to gaining your agreement, and you have to grab them back!), and and put them in their van/car. These are usually narrow, Asian-style 7-8 passenger vans. Not the big U.S.-style airport vans that come to mind. Think family mini-vans with two rows and a small cargo space behind the second bench. After they’ve loaded your bags, then they try to communicate that they will go get more customers. This is the trade-off for the low price of these shared cars, as opposed to the fixed schedule, but slower buses ( buses are even cheaper, but take hours longer): you might not leave for an hour or more. The driver sign-languages that I should go eat and wait on him. I waited 45 minutes, and then got a nother driver, convincing him to depart immediately for double the price. Still, 200Y ($30US) for a 4-hour drive is not bad, considering the other offered 80Y and an overfull van and a longer wait. I had already decided that morning to pay 200Y if I could get a quick, comfortable ride. We passed several buses along the way, (that’s the key word here: passed), and they didn't look too bad, but I’m not sure if the No Smoking Rule is enforced, and they stop at rest stops and intermediate towns. While the bus is cheaper, a 4-hour trip would take at least 6 hours. No thank you!
To be continued...
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Getting to Daofu/Dawu was hilarious, interesting, amazing, terrifying, exhausting, dehydrating, headache-causing, and beautiful. The drive to Lhagong/Tagong was a traffic-filled, whiplash-inducing exercise in stop-and-go until we reached the turnoff for Lhagong. It then became a pothole-avoiding, jerky, swervy, bumpy, traffic-free ride into high altitudes, which after a while, resulted in a headache for me. Part of the headache resulted from my not drinking enough water during the drive, in consideration of no “rest stops” and leaving 2 hours late. During the 4-hour drive, I drank less than two 550 ml bottles of water, which should have been nearly double that since we were passing through elevations of 3700-4200 for several hours.
In traffic, it took 2.5 hrs to drive the 93km to Lhagong from Dartsendo/Kangding. Their are two routes, and we took the one that heads right (north) at the main turnoff to the airport. The alternate continues along 318 for a while, before heading north on S215 and is a bit longer. Hmmm, choices...traffic or potholes... either way is rough going. Luckily, NuWi had set us up with a very capable driver, who turned out to be her nephew. Shared cars are available at the shared-car-hawking center, where you can bargain and haggle your ride in a crowded van or car. The bus option from Kangding to Ganzi and beyond is much cheaper, but no thank you! It cost 250Y and I gave our driver 300Y because it was so late and he would be driving back to KD at 8:30pm after dropping me off (even though it was sort his fault that we left so dang late. When not hanging on and sliding into each other around curves, or being distracted by the jolting, the scenery was quite amazing. Of course, I’ve ridden along the airport road 5 times now, so I’m familiar with much of the beauty, but it certainly doesn’t grow old, and the beauty changes each time. As we closed in on Lhagong, we entered the grassland elevations, and the sharp ridges morphed into rolling meadows of stone houses, yak herds, horses, nomads, prayer flags, and flowers!
Lhagong was simply amazing! In my uninformed and nascent view of this culture; it is quite the traditional Kham town. Square, two-storied buildings, a narrow main road through town, and traditional architecture is the backdrop to the traditionally-dressed populace. The people of Kham are beautiful: sun-darkened skin, prominent and graceful bone-structure, and decorated with mala beads and brightly colored accessories to contrast the earth-toned clothing. The women are beautiful and the men are handsome. Part of the drive I filled with daydreams of living within this Khampa culture. I must return to this town and spend a few days on my trip back down from Yushu!
After Jonas and his family got off at one of the hostels in Lhagong, it was another curvy 1.5 hours/108km drive to Daofu. I would add 30 mins. to both of those trips if the trip is in a van or with a slower driver. In a bus, probably an extra hour. The traffic to Lhagong was bad because of the number of cars and because of 3 breakdowns we passed along the way. This is a two-lane mountain road with no shoulders and rare vista pull-offs; if a car breaks down, one lane is entirely blocked which means traffic in both directions must give way. This will back up traffic for a mile or more!
Once we left Lhagong, the surroundings reminded me very much of the Texas Hill Country in that the hills and mountains were sparsely populated with lone houses. Tibetan stone homes, some with grass roofs, replaced Texas ranch houses; but both rested on acres and acres of land. Herds of free-roaming yaks replaced fenced-in cattle. But both places have cowboys riding and caring for their horses and herds! In fact, some westerners have written of the Khampa Cowboy culture. The Khampas are traditionally cowboys and warriors! And they are still handsome! There are small townships every 20 minutes or so, and I notice much new building going on. If you think Tibet is a “poor, third world” area, well, you are wrong. These houses are richly built and obviously owned by wealthy Khampas or Tibetans. One sign of this is many cement private roads; a rare sight in the countryside of Kham, or what is now called Western Sichuan by the PRC.
We finally begin descending about 7:45pm. The ranch lands turn into mountains which are surprisingly similar to the mountains of North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee! The entry into Daofu is both impressive and the opposite. To be fair, it was raining and dreary, and approaching dark at just after 8pm. The main highway through town has been built up and modernized and spreads into a four-lane road with fancy lights (not turned on) and sleek-modern municipal buildings. These buildings seem very out of place when compared to the surrounding side streets and town center. When left uncompared to other towns, it is probably nice, with a mix of modern and traditional. If one seeks a traditional Tibetan township, like that of Lhagong, Daofu could bring disappointment. Then again, my assessment is incomplete and probably unfair, considering I have seen only 10% of the town! Nephew found me a collection of expensive (relatively speaking) hotels on the Main Street, and I spent the evening in a 280Y per night boutique hotel, which turned out to be a 4-star place. Fine by me! There is nothing to be found online about where to stay in Daofu and I could get no recommendations in Kangding. All I can say is that my hotel is lovely, but it’s surrounded by machine shops and since it sits on the main road, it is loud as *&%$%^!
Here in Daofu, I slept (if you call it that) at 2940m, an increase of about 400m, which should make my acclimatization in Ganzi easier, which averages 3500m in elevation.
Daofu town center is sooooo freaking loud. Heavy trucks shift and growl through town all morning and into the night, accompanied by the alarming and unnecessary constant horns honking. In fact, I was awakened sometime during —what began as— a nice, restful sleep, by a car horn honking repeatedly for 5 or more minutes directly below my thrid floor window. Apparently the dude was trying to get someone to open a gate for him. I yelled down at him to quit honking his damn horn, as though he would understand. But it made me feel better. I will ask for an inner facing room next time! As I lay awake on and off hearing the *&$!*^ horns all night, I wished it was against the law in China to use your horn, or that they were disabled. Granted, many times they are used for safety; as a warning to scooters, pedestrians, parked cars, etc., that the car is passing. But OMG it’s like fricking NYC or Chengdu in this little town. Hammers and machinery and...*^%@#%* horns! I want to leave because of the noise. Another lesson learned, ask for room far from the main street!
As I depart in the daytime, perhaps I will see a more attractive side of Daofu. Then again, maybe there is a reason there are no recommendations for lodgings in this stopover on the way to Ganze. Hmmm...
Saturday, July 21 - Heading to Daofu/Dawu or Zhaggo/Luhou today!
Met a nice guy from Germany today, who currently lives in Beijing, and is traveling with his folks through Kham. They are staying here at Gou Zhuang NamWu Hao Inn and we started talking about travel plans at the party last night. We are heading the same way, so I lucked out, because Nu Wi had arranged a private car for them to Lhagong/Tagong, and then requested the driver take me on to Daofu/Dawu. Jonas has studied Mandarin in Beijing for one year and is quite fluent; he translated for everyone at the party last night, as we went around in a circle offering introductions. (I introduced myself by saying “Hello, my name is Gina”, in Tibetan! “Nga ming la Gina tser.”) He will return to Germany with his folks at the end of their four-week exploration.
We will head out today around 2. They will stay in Lhagong/Tagong and I will continue on to Daofu/Dawu. That will put me 4-6 hours out of Dartsendo/Kangding, and another 5 or so from my next destination, Ganze. I will get just under a 500m increase in elevation in Daofu, which is the recommended maximum increase per night. Ganze, around 3500m, will add another 500m as well. I want to spend at least two nights in Ganze, before heading further west and north toward Maniganggo (3900m) , Sershul/Serxu (4200m), and finally Yushu (3900m), which is about 11 hours driving from Ganze!
Another great day to be had!
Although it’s odd, I still am not quite in “vaca mode”, as it seems I need to return to school on Monday and I still have school on my mind! Heeheehee. Not for long! In two more weeks, I will not want to return to Chengdu. I am already considering an extension of my vacation to a full four weeks, instead of the originally planned three! Why not!!!
Wednesday night, I slept heavily; straight through the night, but that’s been the only night I have slept without interruption. Last night, I tossed and turned, suffering from the damn “perioding breathing” that can occur at elevation. This is what happens when your brain can’t figure out whether you should continue breathing because you need more O2 or that you don’t need to take the next breath because your CO2 is low because your breathing has increased to the point of expellling too much CO2*. Thus, I stop breathing for a sec, which is followed by a large intake of air, which wakes me up because I have a slight sensation of not getting enough air. I dread using the term “suffocation” because that sounds terrifying, when it’s less disturbing than that; more like sleeping in a very small room with no ventilation. So, I fall asleep, and then awaken with a deep breath and the need to breathe deeply a few times, and then attempt to fall back asleep. This happened for hours, and then a few times through the night. But, of course, I wake after sunrise, despite sleep mask and ear plugs. My Body must feel the sunshine on its skin, which causes all sorts of biochemical and endocrine reactions, and my Mind demands that my Body open its eyes and rise upward. Need I say, I feel tired today? Yet I will ply my body with coffee and breakfast to make my way up, up to Paomashan; not by way of the German-made cable cars that would take me to the top, but with my still-tired quadriceps, gastrocnemius, biceps femoris, and the many muscles I won’t name here that enable me to climb the requisite 500-2000m (?) uphill to gain the summit of Paoma.
And for breakfast, I enjoyed the usual, with some leftover yak and pepper sauté, and I sit with my lovely Tibetan hostesses: Lamu and Bamu. Bamu loves to read through pages of my Tibetan phrasebook after I attempt to say something in Lhasa Tibetan. For instance, in Lhasa dialect, “Good morning” is “nga-to delek”. In Kham dialect, it is ————-. (Oops, I have already forgotten he correct beginning, and have to inquire again!) Nu Wi and her friends show up a little later and join us. I believe her niece is here, who lives in Chengdu but works in Dartsendo, and her sister and aunt, but the relations may have gotten lost in translation. They invited me to join them yesterday to (finally) find JuiLianshan grasslands, but I had gone the day before. This morning, I was invited to go to the museum, but that’s the one I visited yesterday! But Nu Wi determined we would have a party tonight and that I should join them, rather than eating out! Definitely!
I should be off, it’s almost noon, and I’m still waiting for the caffeine to kick in. I still have to shower, and then head upwards!
Day 4 and I feel good. The headache is gone, but my legs are pretty tired from the hike up yesterday. I stopped by Zhilam hostel next door to find out the best transport option toward Yushu. There, not only did I receive lots of great info, I met Patru, whom I had met previously at GouZhuang Inn, and also Gyaltso, who is the host at the hostel. Kris popped in too, the owner of Zhilam, and he recalled our brief meeting in the Tibetan Quarter of Chengdu, when we were trading spots in a taxi, last month. Gyaltso and Patru offered me tons of useful info: where to catch a shared car to Daofu and Jang Gu/Zhaddo/Luhou, hostels in the some of the towns I will visit, a map of the grasslands I’ve tried to find twice, and where to find the trailhead up Paoma Shan. Now I feel a bit more settled because I know how to get around; my trip to Yushu might not be so rushed. I still have to overnight in Janggu/Zheddo before stopping in Ganzi or Manigango due to elevation increases. In order to acclimatize easily, sleeping elevation should not be increased by more than 500m per night when 3000m is reached.
I’ve also had reconfirmed how useless the Lhasa dialect, which is what is offered on ALL online sites as well as in guidebooks, is! Kham dialect is completely different from Lhasa dialect, so whatever I pronounce from my Lonely Planet phrasebook is completely lost on the Tibetans here in Dartsendo and further northwest!
I am enjoying an omelette and lei cha. The omelette is delicious, thought it feels odd to eat Western food when I have been enjoying so much local cuisine! The menu here is primarily Western, which I am sure all the foreigners that stay here appreciate. I’ll request a bit more info from Gyaltso, then be on my way. My plan is to head into New Kangding today, walking for as many hours as possible to continue to build my endurance and strength.
Monday, July 16. After unpacking, I begin the short walk to Lhamo Tse Gompa, marveling at all the new blooms along the way. There are always fresh surprises for me, even though I have walked this road many, many times now. This Tibetan Monastery is called Namwu in Chinese, and “gompa” is Tibetan for monastery. Perhaps you have noticed that I have started using the original Tibetan terms since I have learned them. My eyes are opening more and more as I read about history of this area. I refrain from stating strong feelings—or even too many facts—as I wish to remain in the country (insert subtle, uncomfortable, sardonic laugh here). You can infer my meaning. I will, however, offer the comparison made by another writer: the history of and relationship with the government that has “claimed” a land area is a mirror image to that of government that “claimed” Native American land. “Claimed” being a soft, cowardly, and inaccurate term for facts. From this, you may conclude what happened and is currently happening in the areas formerly free from rule by a larger, more powerful government.
That aside, I spent a few hours talking with the monk I met last time, learning a bit more about his personal spiritual journey and the monastery. I also began to practice my version of Tibetan. My friend Maria warned me that the local dialects would be quite different than the phrasebook’s teachings, and she turned out to be correct! What is known as “Tibetan” to the rest of the world, is the Lhasa dialect, which vastly differs from the many other Tibetan dialects spoken around the area, such as how they speak here in Kham. Although I have many useful phrases from my “Lonely Planet Tibetan Phrasebook”, my local Kham Tibetan hosts understand it—not! Of course, a lot of it is me, but when I speak the phrase phonetically, Bama (one of my hosts at the hotel) will read the Tibetan and correct me. The sounds she uses are completely different from those recommended in the guidebook! I fearlessly keep trying, and she kindly keeps correcting. Sigh. And my lovely Tibetan friends here do not read Mandarin, and speak only a little, so the WeChat app is of no help, because it does not translate Tibetan! In fact, many translation apps do not support Tibetan! After much searching, I was finally able to discover a page on Omniglot http://www.omniglot.com/language/phrases/tibetan.php, which offers some of the phrases in audio example. I could find almost nothing on Amazon, in the way of translation guides and language learning books, while hundreds of these language books are offered for other languages such as Mandarin, Spanish, Italian, , Korean, etc.! It’s rather irksome! But that may come as a result that it was forbidden to teach outsiders the language until the last century or so (I don’t recall the exact time frame, so my statement on time may be incorrect.
Tuesday, July 17. Yesterday, I just spent resting and trying to explain to my hosts that I wasn’t very hungry, but they would have none of it. Luckily, the phrase “I have altitude sickness” is in my phrasebook, so they encouraged me to rest. I still had three delicious meals, with too much food. Even when I have felt fine and famished on my previous visits, they want me to eat more and more. I wish I could, because the food is so delicious! For breakfast, I had some of the leftover noodle soup served at dinner the previous night: vegetarian and so satiating. But I was also served steamed bread and spicy radish “kimchi” (Chinese-style kimchi is slightly fermented and spicy, but using different spices and resulting in a distinct flavor). Oh, and the requisite breakfast teas: Chin Cha and Lei Cha. Chin Cha is, I believe, a Chinese black tea that is heavily diluted and drunk all day here. It is a clear, brown liquid, and very good. Lei Cha has milk in it, but it is thin and not heavy-feeling. It is a pale white, and slightly thicker in consistency to Chin Cha, but still, a thin consistency when compared to Indian Chai or English-style tea served with cream or milk, the American way.
Then there is the delicious food! I was not hungry at lunchtime, and had gone back to bed to rest and nap, feeling very fatigued from the altitude. But around 3 I felt a little shaky and knew I needed to eat. The useless phrasebook got me nowhere when requesting a small bowl of yogurt (nga sho go), although I was eventually served the yogurt (sho), and small dishes of spicy sauce, Tibetan bread, roasted baby potatoes, and an amazingly flavorful dish of spicy, piquant mixed veggies. Of course, I ate it all; not wanting to be rude, and because it was too delicious to stop eating! I’ve discovered my hosts’ tricks when it comes to mealtime: I am initially served one or two small dishes (like yesterday’s breakfast of steamed bread and radish kimchi). Thinking that’s all there is, I eat most of it. But 10 or so minutes later, whoosh goes the curtain between the patio kitchen and family area, and a few more plates are placed in front of me (again, yesterday morning: noodle soup). The problem is, that after the first course, I am full! Thus, at lunch, I am half finished with the tangy yak yogurt and bread, when—voila!—potatoes and spicy dipping sauce appears! At dinner time, I am still feeling full from lunch, and have no appetite, but Lamu (my other host), knocks on my door and physically insists I come eat dinner with them, despite my hand-signal protestations. Once again, the food is astounding! A large pot of spicy stew overflowing with yak meat, tofu squares, vegetables, and the infamous Sichuan pepper. It is not too spicy, not greasy at all, and oh so flavourful! I am dying to know how the foods are seasoned so I can replicate these delicious meals at home. I would feel so much more content in Chengdu if I could eat properly and enjoy my food—for I am even tiring of the Korean food I make! The flavor is much more complex than the bite of the pepper and the nuance of yak meat. The broth is extremely savory and a mixture of flavors that blend perfectly into a rich broth. Bamu, my vegetarian Buddhist host, brings her own small pot of stew over. One of the aspects of this inn that I love (English name for GouZhuang Nam Wu Hao is “Primitive Trade Place Inn”) , is that I always eat dinner with the hosts, family style! And we get to eat food that is not served to the guests!!! I think it is tastier, for they are served some kind of traditional Chinese dish stewed in a specialized pot nearer to the shape of a tagine, but for boiling rather than oven-baking. Anyway, Bamu sits next to me with her pot of stew and of course I try it, and it comes as no surprise that it is equally delicious. By now, I have learned the Tibetan term for meat: “sha”, and she explains there is no sha in hers, while the larger dish has yak meat. I discover something chewy and maroon-colored in her soup, and thinking it is some kind of vegetable, I am surprised to discover it is a large flat noodle, about the size and texture of a lasagne noodle. Her brew is filled with veggies, glass noodles, and these interesting maroon colored noodles. I presume the dough contains some kind of vegetable or herb that is a deep red, offering a unique eye-catching color to this delicious vegetarian stew. Both are delicious; I am encouraged to keep eating beyond fullness, and I enjoy both and then retire to my room to read, write, rest, and sleep. But unfortunately, sleep is very fitful due once again to my anti-friend: altitude.
Wednesday, July 18. I had difficulty falling asleep last night, and awaken frequently as my body gulps in air. I find myself awake and—not really gasping—but aware of the desire to take deep breaths due to the feeling of “not enough air”. As you’ll find below, the altitude is messing with the acidity of my blood, my brain’s oxygen sensors and CO2 sensors, all which combine to cause my body to stop its inherent autonomic function so necessary for me to wake up in the morning—breathing!
The following is excerpted from “Altitude Physiology”, presented by the Institute for Altitude Medicine. If you are interested in learning more about altitude physiology, high altitude health, and AMS prevention and aid, click:
Trouble sleeping is quite common at high altitude. The low oxygen directly affects the sleep center of the brain. Frequent awakenings, a light sleep and less total time of sleep are the main problems, and these usually improve with acclimatization after a few nights. Some persons, however, will have trouble sleeping despite acclimatization.
WHAT IS PERIODIC BREATHING DURING SLEEP?
This condition, which can cause trouble sleeping, happens quite frequently but is not associated with altitude illness. It results from a battle within the body over control of breathing during sleep. Oxygen sensors in the body command the brain to increase breathing, which causes the lungs to blow off CO2. But CO2 sensors in the body then tell the brain to stop breathing, because CO2 is getting too low. So breathing then stops for about 12 seconds, until the oxygen sensors take over again. The result is an irregular pattern of breathing, with 4 or so large breaths followed by no breaths. The first large breath will sometime wake up a person, with a sensation of feeling breathless or suffocated. This pattern may continue throughout the day as well, but typically is most disturbing at night as it frequently wakes a person multiple times. Although uncomfortable it is not dangerous. It is easily treated with a small dose of Diamox® (62.5 or 125 mg) taken before bedtime; this smooths out the breathing and improves sleep and raises blood oxygen.
The flight to Kangding is delayed by 45 minutes due to the thunderstorms in Cdu. It’s also full—I have to accept a middle seat. But the flight is a short 35 minute flight. We landed about 11:30, and I noticed during touch down that there are many nomad camps around the airport. It is a very chilly and windy 50-something and raining!
The expected wave of altitude sickness hits hard; I’m out of breath and my heart is racing in the short time it takes to debark and walk 15 steps through the jetway! I pause as I approach the exit to take a deep breath and steel myself for the onlsaught of taxi drivers awaiting me on the other side of the glass. I am like the cow running the gauntlet toward the slaughterhouse, but I know what’s at the end, I am prepared with my Tibetan phrase: “Ga tso re?” (How much?) AFter typing 50 into my phone calculator, I motion “too much” with a shake of my head and move to awalk away and he quickly lowers the price to 35. The same as the bus! Kewl! Feeling triumphant, we walk to the taxi. Later I find out he is Chinese, not Tibetan LOL I am sure I had butchered the phrase anyway! We chat a little on the way, he in his rudimentary English, which is still, by far, better than my infantile Mandarin. The streams have picked up speed and depth with the rains and snow melt. I also notice how lushly green the mountain tops and sides have become, even in the last 30 days since my second trip to KD. Considering my first trip to KD was end of April/beginning of May, I can officially claim that I am now visiting KD every month (at least for the last three months!) My excuse this time is that I will be visiting many other places in Kham as well! Since I’m here in both July and August, I should plan on September ;-) But for reals, we have a Monday off in September , so if I get a motorcycle by then... well, you know... I’ll be forced to try the new superhighway to KD!
And we keep on rounding the curves and braking and passing toward KD. Don’t recall the time, but we were still driving in the clouds and at 3914 when I check my compass, maybe half an hour along (?) After picking up a trio of Chinese dudes, who cram into the back seat, I get out of the taxi around 1pm - only a bit over an hour ride!! Arrived same time as I did last time, and the flight 45 mins. late! Taxis are faster than the big ol’ buses—which we pass all along the way! At the airport you have to wait at least 30-45 mins for the bus to leave, and is much slower than cars, which can pass all the buses and big trucks.
According to the baseline for Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) , I have had SEVERE AMS (score of 6+ on the Lake Louise Scoring System; worldwide medically accepted diagnosis guidelines and definition of AMS created at Lake Louise Convention) the last two times I have been to Dartsendo/Kangding (KD)... and no surprise. High Altitude begins at 1500m, though it is rare for symptoms to surface prior to 2500m*. I flew into one of the highest airports in the world at >4200m/13400ft, my first night in a tiny village outside of KD was spent at 3800m (12500ft), and the remaining nights in Dartsendo/KD at 2500m/8300ft. All stays that follow the first visit begin in KD— including last month and this current trip—which lies at 2550m/9150ft. My lodgings lie at 2544m/8346ft, but the nearby trails take me up beyond 3000m/9842ft.
Each of my three visits to KD have been spent staying at the following, which I give 5 stars and highly recommend!
Kangding GuoZhuang Nam Wu Hao Boutique Inn
Book here: https://www.booking.com/s/34_6/yogaun82
The definition of AMS/altitude sickness is predicated on symptoms categorized in 5 areas: headache, gastrointestinal distress, fatigue/weakness, dizziness, and difficulty sleeping*. A link to the scoring system is found at the end of this post. The end-all is the headache: if you’ve got one after ascending above 2500m (and you don’t usually get headaches), you’ve got AMS. It takes 1-3 days to acclimitaze and it doesn’t matter how “fit” you are. AMS is not life-threatening, unless you are so high you also get HACE and HAPE, which calls for immediate descent, unless you want to die. No joke! You can’t really prevent the need to acclimatize—your body must adjust to higher elevations and it does so in some pretty astounding homeostatic mechanisms that involve acid-base balance, increased kidney activity, increased respiration, and so on.* The symptoms are what you can (possibly) prevent or reduce. Take ibuprofin a few hours before ascent and then regularly to minimize the vise that is seemingly sqeezing your head, drink 5-6L of water each day, take it easy the first few days after ascent, drink a lot of water before your trip and the day of, and don’t drink any alcohol. After suffering two really rough bouts of AMS that literally kept me in bed for a day each time, I found some things that helped —on my third try!
1. Rhodiola Rosea is an herb used by many cultures across Asia and Russia for elevation sickness; start taking it 1 week before ascent.
2. Ibuprofin - I started taking this the day of my flight, I took another at bedtime, another upon waking in the middle of the night (several litres of water did that!), and upon awakening. On my second day at 2600m/8400 ft. I am very fatigued, but hydrated and no headache!
3. The pharmacist at my local Chinese pharmacy recommended “American Ginseng” root (Panax Ginseng) To help with the fatigue and elevation adjustment. I started drinking that each day as a tea prior to my departure.
4. Acetozolamide is a prescription drug which relieves the symptoms of AMS while your body adjusts. For some reason, this is unavailable in Chengdu (apparently, Chinese do not get AMS so do not take this) and so my Doc has to order it from Hong Kong, which will take a week, and so I couldn’t get it in time.
5. AMS depends on sleeping elevation, so day hike at higher elevations, and return to a lower elevation to sleep. I re-ordered my entire 3 week trip based on altitude gains so that I would be increasing slowly.
6. Don’t increase sleeping elevation more than 500m per night.
I had no idea how seriously ill I was, or how dangerous altitude sickness, technically called Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) could be! Actually, not quite accurate. I absolutely knew how terrible I felt! Of course I have read the stories of all who die summitting mountains, with or without oxygen. I just did not realize to what degree I had severe AMS on my last few visits to Kham, until I began researching altitude sickness and prevention. Now I know so much more after visiting multiple mountaineering and medical research websites: medical prevention, physical prevention, fluid intake, do's and don'ts, and cure (there is only 1- descend!!). The information and stats are quite interesting (at least to minds with scientific bents, like mine).
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In the previous century, China absorbed Tibet, similar to what the US and other imperial nations have done: take over (usually by force) another nation, country, culture, creed... The actions of these nations perfectly define imperialism: ”the policy of extending the rule rule or authority of an empower or nation over foreign countries, or of acquiring and holding colonies and dependencies”. I write these words as facts, not as judgments; it is too late for criticism and living as a guest in the country of China, I reaffirm “I love China!”
I’m stilll researching the absorption of Tibet and all the other “ethnic minorities” (China’s terminology, not mine. I prefer to call them individual ethnic groups or tribes or ...?) that live on land that is politically deemed China. Again, similar to US history and policy, in that First Nation-Native Americans are made up of a multitude of cultures, creeds, and origins— they can’t be called “Indians” or even the same “tribe”. The Cherokee vary from the Lakota as much as the Khampas are unique from the Yis on this side of the world.
In essence, if the governing political borders of western China were invisible, Kangding all to its west could be named after the most populous creeds in those lands. While I don’t have firm or accurate statistics on dates and defined political borders, I can explain this much: Kangding and denizens west are largely populated by the individual ethnic groups and Tibetans, with the Han Chinese being a smaller portion of the population. Of course, this seems to change daily, just like Austin, which is now dominated by Californians and Coloradans. The former area of Tibet is now called the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), whereas parts of the provinces that border TAR, such as Sichuan, Yunnan, and Qinghai, are designated as Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures (TAP). Both appellations recognize the majority “ethnic minority” population of these regions. I can’t even begin to discuss Mongolia and Xinjiang. I am still learning about the cultures, the ethnic groups, and the histories of this part of Asia, so if any of this is outdated or inaccurate, give me more time to research and correct myself.
The point of all this is to inform you all why I claim my travels are to Tibet; simply, this is because the regions I visit are dominated by ethnic groups of non-Han Chinese that were once ruled by Tibetans and various other groups, but which are now under Chinese dominion. Just because the US took over parts of Mexico doesn’t make the people of the land any less Mexican, if you don’t count the extinction of culture of time if it is not tightly guarded.
I love all that I am learning about this area and its people—all its people! They are all wonderful!
Written during my stay at "Primitive Trade Place Inn" , aka, GuoZhuang Nan Wu Hao Boutique Inn, Kangding.
Tuesday June 19, 2018
I felt surprised at the deep wanderings of my mind the past few days—but should not be surprised. My mind was free of stress and clutter and distraction, so I was able to ponder more important life topics. I’ve been thinking about concepts I hold about how I should be; about how life should be. I think about all the thoughts that move through my head during the day; some of which I am unaware and become negative thought patterns, some of which I consciously create that repeat those patterns. I know that when I am more present and practicing awareness and meditation, that I can catch those thoughts and turn them around. I recognize that many of the fears I have are unfounded and self-created, and reflect my own self-concept, rather than the reality of what others perceive or think or don’t think. The expectations I have of myself are too high, sometimes unrealistic, definitely non-compassionate, and stem from cultural, familial, and societal “shoulds”. After all these years of inner work, I still struggle with a positive self-image—mainly physically. I like pretty much everything about myself and how my life has turned out, excluding my body and weight. This has always been a struggle. Even at my thinnest, strongest, and most athletic; when I am Spidey-ing up climbing walls and running 10 miles, hiking mountains and cycling 20 miles, I do not accept my physical self. When I think of all the years wasted and all the activities undone due to poor body-image—for decades; in fact, for the majority of my life— it saddens me and makes me angry. Sure, I wish I had saved more money and had more of a “nest egg” built up, but I’ve had an incredible life and I pursue my dreams and achieve my goals, so I have no true regret there. I wish to go back and undo that horribly toxic last relationship I was in, but I also grew from it, and had experiences that I might not have had, and here I am in, living in China. So while I still have angst and despise my decisions at that time, the regret has been slowly seeping away the last few years. That leaves me with only two regrets, if they are even regrets. (I regret an authentic feeling anyway? Or simply the resulting thought from an action. Hmm, have to do some deeper work on that question.) My brother and the affects of body-shaming and body-rejection on the past 3+ decades of my life.
More on this later: it’s time for breakfast and a trip to the Kangding airport!
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Monday June 18
After a fitful sleep of 12 hours—I don’t know how that happened when I set my alarm for 6am— I awoke with a start to bright sunshine, loud Chinese voices blaring down the hallway, and a painfully endemic and sunburned body. My fingers and face are swollen, and the tissue around my eyes is so filled with fluid, it looks like tumorous sacs were implanted above and below my eyeballs in the night. I knew I was dehydrated, when a headache came on inn the late afternoon, toward the end of our hike, that would not stop; it grew more painful as I went to bed despite the liter of fluids I forced down. I think a combination of the altitude, sunburn, and not drinking enough—oh, and not eating enough have been my downfall. The exact same happened in Lijiang after a day of walking in hot sunshine and not eating frequently. Lesson learned twice. Drink more, eat more, and get some sunscreen! I drank a liter while we were out, but it was not enough. I should have paid attention to the fact that I didn’t need to pee all day. When we returned, the dark yellow brown indicated that definitely, I was dehydrated. Making it up does not work! I write this to warn all of you! The temperature was mild and slightly chilly all day, which made my thirst lessen in comparison to a sweaty-hot day, when I would drink more consistently. But the first thing I noticed this morning was swollen fingers; I could feel the swelling in my eyes without even looking in the mirror.
I remained in my room for a few hours, missed chatting with the Brits, but finally emerged from my room slightly less swollen. I declined NuWi’s offer to go visit another grassland area; I need to take it very easy and keep it low key today. I couldn’t decide where to go first, but I took a new route I discovered on Zhilam’s map, and it took me down the back alleys and through narrow neighborhood sidewalks, to the street across from Anju si Monastery. When I walked south to the Tibetan Traditional Medicine Museum, it was closed because of the holiday. Since it wasn’t meal time, I sat in Himalayan coffee again for a while, and enjoyed a cappuccino (35yuan) and a slice of cake (25yuan), before walking across town, north to the bus station. I found new shopping areas, where I purchased some yak jerky in a local store (rather than a tourist spot), and walked along the river until I came to the bus station. Again, I had to ignore all the taxi hawkers, man, they are obnoxious even though I know they are trying to make a living too. I love seeing all the darker skin tones of the Tibetans (and possibly other ethnic tribes) that create the confluence of culture here in Kangding. They have such beautiful skin; it’s not the falsified death-mask white that the Han Chinese revere so much. The Bus Terminal turns out to be for travel between cities, not to the airport, and I am directed (after 10 minutes of back and forth with my translator app) to a local hotel from which the airport bus departs and arrives. After learning that the airport bus leaves in the morning at 0930, I head back to town, and end up on another street full of tourist shops, but farther from the main area, so offering more local items too, like shoes and clothes. I really wanted to buy a stuffed toy yak. The jewelry and prayer beads are something else too, with their exquisite detail, high quality, and beautiful design. I haven’t been in the mood to shop and buy a bunch of stuff, even though I really want to buy all of the necklaces and rings and wrist cuffs; I’ll buy next time. The altitude and sun must have really taken it out of me for me to have little desire to buy!
Dardo, Dartsendo,...now Kangding. Historically the Kham region of Tibet, ruled by kings and warriors, now part of the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, a politically defined area of PRC east of the Tibetan Autonomous Area, also within the political borders of PRC.
I’m always amazed that I feel like I am prosaically “going home”—or arriving home— in certain geographical places. Why is that? This feeling gushes from deep within my soul —or another lifetime— when I arrive to Kangding, is similar to what I feel in New Orleans. My psyche sighs in relief; I feel at ease, I feel hopeful, I feel happiness. It’s a unique feeling, and infrequent.
When I look out the aeroplane window at miles and miles of alpine peaks, as far as I can see—there are ridges covered with snow alternating with darkly forested green, split by lonely roads in deep valleys; some filled with blue water from melted snow or a small village— a word forms in my mind. Only one word, but imbued with everything my brain is registering, flying from optic nerve to conscious realization: “Impossible”. It’s impossible that this is real. It seems I am in some incredible landscape painting, or seeing a larger-than-life outdoor magazine cover that’s been pasted on the plane window. From this view, you FEEL the earth. I don’t know another way to express it. It’s IMPOSSIBLE, and I FEEL the earth.
Our short flight takes only 35 minutes, but 10 minutes prior to landing I feel the disorienting effects of altitude, equally difficult to describe. A feeling of pressure and not-quite-dizzy dizziness. An indescribable feeling of not having holistic control over my body’s vestibular system. Even my eyesight is affected. Then a headache begins, mildly. We landed around 40 minutes ago, and the bus is only now leaving at 11:38. Oh geez, I think we have a driver in-training, because the guy sitting next to him in the jump seat seems to be instructing him and the driver just scraped through the gears a few times. Great... will this be as terrifying as my last trip in the minibus from the airport, the day my flight back to Chengdu was cancelled?
Everything that was graveyard-white is now scrubby-green with patches of white, even here at what appears to be the top of the world. The pressure on my body is rough; I’m so glad we will descend. It’s like my heart and lungs are being squeezed, though it’s not unbearable but noticeable. I wonder how I will fare at higher altitudes when I eventually venture to towns further into the high latitudes.
Just before noon, we just pass the mountain with the boulders that spell out “The Love Song of Kangding”, signifying the famous mountain and its eponymous song. This bus ride is a heck of a lot less scary than the minibus ride last time! The driver goes slower and is more cautious. There is no ventilation in the bus, and it is hot and stuffy with the bright sun, at such a high altitude. Of course, it is interesting (well, on this trip I can say “interesting”) to be passed by another bus on a curve. The other bus passes both our bus and another tractor-trailer truck. Also, I can’t get over all the cyclists slowly pedal-trudging up the mountain pass; what endurance! I wonder how far they ride between overnights, considering all the switchbacks, elevation gain, weather variance—not to mention all the traffic! I think it would be fun, terrible, and an extraordinary accomplishment!
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Today I found many back alleys that I missed yesterday. One led me off the tourist track and through narrower streets filled by artisans, rather than trinket shops. One vine enveloped store beckoned; it looked dark and secretive and inviting with it’s Tibetan silver ornamentation and shocks of color among a warmly lit store. Everything was handcrafted and quite expensive, but absolutely exquisitely beautiful! The shopkeeper and his wife said hello, but then pretty much left me alone, until he asked me to join him for tea. He had been sitting, as is customary of the shopkeepers I have observed in the village, at a tea table, patiently waiting.
After a few minutes circumnavigating the tiny, very-filled space, he offered me tea. I accepted and joined him at the table. I sat on a low, handcarved stool, instead of on the bench covered with soft tiger fur. Yes, it was real tiger fur, and real soft: I petted it to see. Before his offer of cha (tea), I’d had my eye and hands on this beautiful handcrafted tea cup that was way out of my price range. I drank a cup of weak tea, had a short, surface conversation via translator app, thanked him, and continued perusing the store. After a while, I kept returning to the cup. Knowing the bargaining nature of the shops here, I gave in to my cup-coveting and asked him the price. And there it went. The way this works is the price on the item isn’t the real price. I discovered this in every shop I visited: you ask the price, they get a calculator and discount the price, showing you a total. From there, I believe you bargain more or accept it. Sometimes if the price is too high, they will think you are playing hard to get and drop the price even further. This is somewhat maddening. Even at 50% discounted price, the cup was too expensive—more of a collector’s item or display piece than the fancy tea cup I was seeking out. I shook my head no, expressing in English it was too pricey for me. That was at $300US. He thought I was bargaining and took the price down further, to 1200 Yuan. I could not, just could not spend nearly $200US on a tea cup, no matter how beautiful, ornate, special, amazing, or handcrafted. There was a conversation going on my head, rationalizing the purchase: it was a set of two and not just one cup, how often would I find craftwork like this, it would serves as a beautiful keepsake item for years, I really wanted a beautiful tea cup, a beautiful cup is part of the tea ritual, and so forth. The voice of influence won: I offered a lower price and he accepted. After my purchase, he offered more tea. We sat and chatted again, via the app.
Everything in the store was made in Tibet and he hailed from Shangri-La, having owned the store for 28 years. The artisan-quality of the jewelry, idols, decor, and everything was like none I have ever seen. The metal work especially was jaw-dropping in its intricacy.
We communicated via our translator apps with the standard fare of where are you from/what do you do type of conversation. His wife (I presume) sat near the counter, moving her prayer beads through her fingers and gazing at a computer screen. The man, near my age, with a pleasantly handsome and open face, translated our conversation to his wife as it went on. We chatted a little while and he told me about his visits to Tibet to get the items he sold in the store. He also explained my cups are those used by the wealthy “prince” of some area of Tibet.
I departed, feeling both giddy with my purchase in my backpack and disbelief at the amount I had just spent to drink tea. Well, considering the amount I spent on Rock Cliff Oolong last month at the tea expo, I do need a very good cup from which to drink my very expensive tea. Aftter walking past a few stores, I stopped to reorganize my backpack and place my tea cups at the bottom and my purse on top. My purse containing 700yuan and my passport had instantly dropped in value next to these cups. You’ll just have to guess what I spent!
It’s easy to find the two places in Kangding where I visited: they are both located in the southern-pointing dips of the main highway through Garze, the G318, which takes you to the current “border” of Tibet. Come to find out, the first place in which I stayed isn’t even a town, it’s more a stopping point with a “scenic area” that includes the Jiamuzun Hotel, another hotel in the process of being built, and just about nothing else except a collection of houses. I’d call it a hamlet or village, because, well, there are TWO whole convenient stores that mainly offer booze and cup ramen; the entire contents of these “stores” could fit in my wardrobe, to give you an idea. This also gives you an idea of why I only stayed one night in the hotel next to the Muya Shengdi Scenic Area, before heading back to the main Kangding city, which I believe is called Lucheng, and 46 km away. Through the mountains that’s just under an hour-and-a-half drive. Muya village area is due south of the Kangding airport (second highest elevation airport in the world!), but still, through the mountains it is not a straight trek, but a winding hour-long route of 18km; duration dependent upon snows of course, as I was to find out!
Kangding is both a county and a city, and understanding the territory and boundaries of each is confusing at first—especially with web info full of contradictions or holes.
Drive from "Nowhereville" to main town center of Kangding.
Arrival at my hotel and wandering around town.