A Travellerspoint blog

November 2007

Hong Kong

This is China?

The last city on our China itinerary was Hong Kong. We were actually a little hesitant to put it on the itinerary, thinking it wouldn’t be different enough from Shanghai or Sydney to warrant a visit. I was wrong. Hong Kong is exceptionally unique and it doesn’t “feel” like the rest of China we visited. Of course it shouldn’t, having been under British rule only 10 years ago. Hong Kong looks and feels more like London or New York City while simultaneously reminding you that you’re in China through a barrage of Mandarin or Cantonese signage. Like New York or London, the neighborhoods differ noticeably from each other, but all are interconnected by a common and excellent public transportation system. Also like New York and London, just about everyone spoke English. We traversed Hong Kong neighborhoods using just about every form of Public Transportation available to us. We used buses, taxis, trains, subways, ferry’s, and old rail cars. We visited suburban communities where we were the only european faces and still had no problems communicating. Compared to Shanghai, getting around in this densely populated city was a piece of cake.

We stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kowloon, which is on the mainland across the bay from Hong Kong Island, but still considered Hong Kong. Kowloon tends to be more frenzied than Hong Kong Island, and seems a bit less orderly and messy, which we loved. Kowloon offers a great combination of back alley souvenir shops, custom tailors, jewelry stores, eateries of all kinds, high end boutiques, and picturesque strolls. Our hotel lobby and our room had awesome views of the HongKong Skyline and had a pool and a glass hot tub outside that shared the same view. Very cool. The most significant ting about the hotel for the kids however, was that we passed Dakota Fanning and her parents on the way into the hotel while they waited for their car, and Dad, not knowing that “THAT WAS DAKOTA FANNING!!!” was unaware enough to have engaged in a brief conversation with her and her folks about the gigantic pile of bags we were toting.

We started our visit with a trip to the Hong Kong Museum in Kowloon which chronicles the history of Hong Kong from early man, then details the social/political/economic situation that lead to British rule, then the Japanese Occupation, all the way through the return of Hong Kong to China. It was interesting and fun to see how the history of Beijing and HongKong were intertwined, (e.g. the burning of the summer palace) and it was fascinating to see a Chinese representation of the situation.

The next day we ventured over to Hong Kong Island on the Ferry and took a full day roaming the northern parts of the island, using a winding bus to scale Victoria Peak, and using the cable car to get back into the city. We spent some time shopping a bit on the Island, going to some “higher end” stores and some flea market alleyways. We did some skyscraper gazing as well. The Hong Kong skyline has to be the most beautiful skyline of any city – not just from across the bay, but from Downtown as you gaze upward. Parker gawked his way around the city – knowing so much about many of the buildings “that is the so and so tower, and it is the tallest residential tower in the world at blah blah feet”. He was in his element.

We finished our time on the Island with a quick bite at “El Agave” a Mexican restaurant with a fabulous tequila selection. Eric Duerr, a good friend from Seattle had given us a business card a year ago with the address of this place, and told me if I was ever there to look it up. We did. It was fantastic and we ran into some very friendly Australian’s at the restaurant who were related to Dustin Dollin, the kids favorite Aussie skater. We shared some laughs and emails, and hope to run into him while in Australia. We took the train back to Kowloon, crossing under the bay to go to the Mong Kok shopping area that featured a street lined with athletic shoe stores. Every store seemed to have the same stuff. This place was crazy, teaming with Chinese shoppers, and we were the only Blue eyed folks around.

Carol and I did something that isn’t typical for us. We went to a “custom” tailor and had some clothes made for us. Carol had a jacket made for her and I had a couple of sport jackets, pants and some shirts made. It was a pretty cool experience and the prices were super low. A whole lot of “stars” use these tailors in Hong Kong and their autographed pictures are proudly displayed on the walls. There is clearly no lack of money in Hong Kong with Ferrari, Bentley, Rolls Royce, Aston Martin’s all well represented, but everyone still seems to be shopping for a great deal. At a high end watch shop, where we were really just ogling the beautiful Franc Mueller watches, with no intention to buy, the salesman kept lowering the price every minute or so, and throwing in “special gifts”… it was pretty funny.
The last day in Hong Kong, I took the boys to Mei Foo Skate Park, out in a Hong Kong suburb by the same name while Carol strolled Kowloon. After hunting around the area for a fair bit, and getting directions from some locals, we found the park the kids skated for a few hours there. This was a big deal because the kids have numerous pictures of their favorite guys skating Mei Foo.
The Hong Kong Opera House was right next to our Hotel and as fate would have it, Lee Ritenour was in town and I was able to catch him with a great band our last night in town. So after the skate park, I walked to the opera house to catch the show. Carol and the kids aren’t huge fans, so I went solo. Lee had a great band with Melvin Davis on Bass, Barnaby Finch on Piano and JJ Williams on Drums. I have seen all of these folks in bands dating back to the early 80s and even sat in with Melvin in the 90s, so it was a real treat to get a dose of West coast jazz while we were in Hong Kong. Lee has quite a following in Hong Kong, and there were a bunch of locals who appeared to know his songs well, and appreciated Lee and his band.

Posted by Blakei 12:12 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged family_travel Comments (1)


the BIG city

68 °F

There’s almost no way to describe to someone how large Shanghai is and how it appears to be even larger than it is. Parker is a complete big city and tall building freak and I have often told him this every time I’ve returned from Shanghai. It is overwhelming. He has asks “Is it bigger than New York City?” I say, “Yes, much bigger”. He says “Emporus (the web site for everything that is tall buildings) says that New York is bigger”. Well, I’ll never have that conversation again. We stayed in the Hyatt, which is in the Jin Mao Tower, the 4th tallest building in the world. Parker looked out of the Window and just shook his head, gawking and said, “This is the most giant city I have ever seen” The view from our room on the 71st floor stretched across Shanghai and the bund, and as far as you can see it was skyscrapers. There were four reasons we came to Shanghai. First, was to Experience the size and pace of the city which I personally believe is unmatched in the world (even NYC). Second, was to experience the SMP skateboard park without injury which is the largest skateboard park in the world. The third reason was to visit Friedbert and Eleanore Wall, good friends who had been living in Shanghai for the past two and a half years.

Shanghai’s gigantic main attraction, day or night, was right outside our hotel windows, so it seemed like staying at the hotel was a fine thing to do. Even with that, we ventured out every day and night to get a real sense of the city. The boys’ entire goal was to skate SMP, and even Dad wanted to give it a shot. We all went the first day including Carol just to take it in. It was scary and huge – and deserted. We rolled into the park at about 10:30am and it was empty. There were no skaters. Zero. The biggest park in the world was empty. And it was free. The Park had drop in bowls that were 18 feet tall, vertical everywhere and over vertical pipes in many places. The kids were in heaven and they would be here three days in a row – of course with some studying and eating thrown-in in the mornings and evenings. Dad skated two of the three days, but bailed on the third to spend time with friends and nurse his aching bones from the first two days. Rune Glifburg, a very famous award winning professional skater from Denmark showed up at the park the third day and the kids got his autograph and enjoyed watching him shred, and just talking and hanging out with him. The emptiness of the park was one of those odd ironies we kept running into in China. There is a real sense in almost every city of “if you build it they will come……someday”. In some cities, it’s clearly a long way off and in others, it’s already here.

The third day in Shanghai, Carol and I met Friedbert and Eleanore at our hotel while the kids left for the skatepark with an interpreter for some adult supervision and emergency insurance. Carol and I went to the Yuyuan Garden featuring a collection of 800 year old buildings and courtyards, surrounded by af colorful and very active market with shops, peddlers and guhzillions of tourists. It was fun for me having never been in a touristy part of the city before and it was abuzz with activity. The strangest thing happened in the Yuyuan Garden before lunch though…. I noticed a guy that looked exactly like Brad Silverberg, an old friend of mine from Microsoft. I looked at him and thought “Geeze that guy looks like Brad Silverberg!” He turned and looked at me as well, in a sideways glance kind of way, and after he took his reciprocal double-take, a broad grin crossed his face, I’m sure mirroring my look of “what the f#%… ?” We were mutually flabbergasted and laughing ironically by the time we reached each other. I see Brad rarely in the states and I run into him in a courtyard in Shanghai was south of bizzare. I bet this happens again on the trip, but I’d wager it won’t be Brad next time  . We parted ways quickly to keep up with our respective groups, but had time to snap a photo. It was a great way to reemphasize our lesson to the kids about how large and small the world is simultaneously. It’s a giant and diverse place, but you’re still quite likely just a degree or two away from someone you know, probably within feet of you, regardless of where you are standing. This albeit, was an extreme case. We went to an excellent dumpling place in the Yuyuan garden for lunch that had a 100 yard lineup of local folks, just for the takeout window. That’s no exaggeration. I could tell if it was the dumplings that wer e so awesome or perhaps it was the message on the window that read “Dumpling stuffed with the ovary and digestive glands of a crad”. Yes, I am totally serious, and no I have no idea what it meant, nor if we actually ate one.

After lunch, Carol, Friedbert, Eleanore and I visited the Shanghai planning museum which has a full layout of the city of Shanghai and the next 5 years’ development footprint. It is said that locals come to this museum to see if their neighborhood will still be standing in 5 years. It won’t be.

The next morning we awoke to take the Maglev train to the Pudong Airport. The Maglev stands for Magnetic Levitation and the train never touches the track. Magnets support and propel the train. We watched a Discovery Channel short on it the night before and it said that Maglevs can accelerate fast enough to kill you. Well, it didn’t do that obviously, but it did reach 430km per hour and travel the 30km to the airport in under 8 minutes. Even with that speed, this train isn’t as fast as this city.

Posted by Blakei 17:55 Archived in China Tagged family_travel Comments (2)


A Unseco World Heritage Site… and cute too

65 °F

We arrived in LiJiang, from Chengdu in the afternoon. It was evident as we landed that we had transitioned into a different part of China. While well over a mile in elevation, the hills were now full of lush vegetation, and there was a more tropical sense about the place. Even the people looked different. This is the Yunnan province and it borders Vietnam, and Myanmar, and of the 55 ethnic minorities in China, many live in this province as they did 1,000s of years ago. There is much pride of ethnic diversity in and around LiJiang in the form of music, dance, language, artwork, and food, celebrating unique ethnic heritage.

LiJiang is relatively small town of well under a million people surrounding the old town of LiJiang that sits in its center. Our hotel (the Hexi Hotel) was in the old town and while the services at the hotel were a little dubious and old school, the location was absolutely wonderful in its quaintness. The beauty and preservation of the old town and the Naxi minority culture that calls it home is what earned the “Unesco World Heritage Site” certification.

We wandered the cobble stone streets and streams of LiJiang lazily, roaming from store to store and street to street, and we could have done so for days. There were wonderful crafts made by different ethnic minorities, food for locals and tourists alike, and fabulous people watching. Watching Naxi villagers wash their clothes or scrub pots and pans in the ancient aqueducts bordering these cobbled paths made it seem that the cars and buses that bring tourists by the 1,000s were some weird contraption from the future. And there were a lot of those contraptions and tourists. Han Chinese tourists were everywhere as well as a few European, Australian, and Israeli tourists.

We took two day trips from LiJiang. Our first trip was to Jade Dragon mountain national park. This was a stunningly beautiful place that sits at about 9,000 feet at the base. The base entrance of the park featured a giant herbal medicine store. Kind of like a pharmacy, except no prescriptions are required and it is all natural. They have things for just about every ailment. It was teaming with Chinese who snapped up some of these herbs and fungus like it was candy. Regardless of what ails you, there is a plant or a fungus that is your cure. Who knows if these plants are grown in the province, or in the park, but man, is it selling. We bought some spirulina and most of that is supposed to come from the ocean – why it seems more natural at 9,000 feet, who knows, but even we were sucked in. It was kind of funny, (in an ironic sort of way), that we were in an apothecary that was all about natural health while being surrounded by health conscious Chinese that were smoking like locomotives (70% of Chinese men smoke). Well, I guess tobacco is a natural herb too (more on this later).

Two massive mountain peaks of over 18,000 feet are in the park and they loom over the town of LiJiang like Mt Rainier looms over Seattle – except about 50 miles closer. We took a chair lift to a little over 12,000 feet and did a little hiking there before returning down the mountain back to town. That evening, we attended a Naxi music and dance show featuring Naxi people and a Naxi Elder. The musical harmonies and counterpoint were intoxicating not unlike a chant. The dancing was a bit goofy as was the elder :-)

Our second day trip was to the first bend of the Yangtze river and the Tiger Leaping Gorge. We drove about two hours through some of the most beautiful countryside we’ve seen on the trip. Much different than the Himalayan countryside, idyllic and lush farms with fruit trees, Leeks, Rice, Peppers, Corn and Marijuana border the road to the edges of the valley. What, Marijuana? Yep, there was marijuana being grown commercially and wild. I asked our guide about it and he told us that the seeds are used in cooking. Hmmmm…. We noted as we walked through the quaint old town of LiJiang that there were numerous pipes and giant bongs for sale as well. Hmmmm… maybe this is the secret to ensuring a long and prosperous life in the little village. Seeds for cooking…

Anyway, we saw the Yangtze and cruised our van along its banks for miles. It was gorgeous and meandering as we made our way down to Tiger leaping gorge where the Yangtze gets squeezed into a canyon that is over a mile deep. We hiked about two miles over groomed rock trails and through tunnels whose walls were pure quartz. The river was low, so the water volume was down, but even with that, the river was ferocious as it passed through the throat of the gorge and past the rock that the folkloric tiger jumped upon. You can tell this is a very dangerous place by the countless Chinglish warning signs accompanying you and warning of great disaster. “Cautio Suipery” or “Within 200 meters, notice the rock slide, is please run about by cliff”. As funny as it reads, it gets pretty real when you see a hand rail and path that has recently been crushed by a boulder, and an entire bridge section that has been taken out by a slide (all within the last 6 months). Apparently 5 or 6 folks die out here every year.

The last day was a goof around day where we went to a gorgeous park where a natural spring emerges and provides crystal clear water for the village waterways of LiJiang. They had a few kitschy tourist photos that I chose to partake in as well (note the golden monkey with Parker). We also did a little skating and cycling this day. The cycling proved to be much harder and less natural than Beijing with a few good hills and a few broken derailers. We found an excellent skate spot that had some great skating terrain and good viewing areas for those curious about those “sky board things”. Carol and Rebecca went to a fortune teller letting Rebecca know that she would be getting married in 2009, and travelling outside of the country. USA? We hope so! I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that Griffin considered LiJiang to be “puppyland” and there were cute little puppies everywhere. Griffin was making friends with puppies all over old town and the little dogs started to seek him out (seriously).

Posted by Blakei 16:02 Archived in China Tagged family_travel Comments (2)


“Awwwww, look at the baby pandaaaaa”

overcast 63 °F

Tim Chen, an old friend of mine from Microsoft, told me that if we were going to visit China, we absolutely must visit the city of Chengdu. “You see,” Tim explained, “There is an incredible Panda Research center in Chengdu, and Microsoft sponsors one of the baby panda’s so, I will make sure you have your pictures taken with a baby”. It was a done deal. How could we miss out on that? Griffin is in love with all animals, and Pandas, well, they’re simply the cutest and cuddliest.

So, we flew to Chengdu from Lhasa for a two night stay to go the Panda Research Center. Julie, Tim’s assistant, also arranged for us to visit the San Xin Dui museum where we would see the relics of a 5,000 year old civilization that lived there, right on the site. The museum was pretty amazing, proving this civilization was the first to cast bronze in China 1,000s of years before it was thought to have been done. And we’re not talking about small things being cast, some objects were over 10 feet tall – and they were ornate and beautiful. This ancient culture designed and crafted statues, pots & pans, wine vessels, wine glasses, heated tea pots, etc.. with jade and metal that were hard to fathom for the period. Our museum guide was super hard to understand, even though his English was very good, and the kids grew tired of it rather quickly, in spite of the historical significance. So, after an hour or so of touring, off to the Panda Research Center we went.
I was a little freaked out about whether the Panda Research Center visit was actually going to happen. You see, I had raised expectations for weeks about this visit, especially with Griffin, and when we arrived in Beijing I found out that Tim had left his post as President of Microsoft China to take the role of CEO of the NBA Greater China, (yes, the basketball NBA) that very week. I thought – uh oh…. I hope they didn’t forget about us! Well, Tim and Julie came through big time, even while he was digging into his new role. We showed up at the entrance and were immediately provided a great English speaking guide who showed us the Research Center and exhibits and the big payola… pictures sitting right next to and petting a 14 month old Panda (60 lbs). The panda reached for Griffin’s face, just like a human baby would, but a helper came and stuffed some bamboo into it’s mouth and hands just before contact was made, and ya’ know, that’s probably good news, cause the pandas paws would have scratched his eye out or something….. it’s easy to forget it’s a REAL BEAR with big claws and not some cuddly stuffed animal. We saw just how REAL BEAR they are about 20 minutes later when the Pandas were fighting. They’re not to be played with.

As real bear as they are, it turns out that the tone and approximate pronunciation for “Awwwww, look at the baby pandaaaaa” are universal, and you can tell people are saying it no matter what the language. People from all over the world were there, and we heard “Awwwww look at the baby pandaaaaa” in German, Chinese, English, Japanese, Dutch, Spanish and Thai to name a few…. It all sounds alike. There was a viewing area of newly born Pandas and there were four or so sleeping in a crib just like little babies. We weren’t allowed to take pictures. And you know, they looked and acted just like little human babies. One baby was picked up and bottle fed by an assistant and the panda held the bottle, touched the face of the woman feeding him, and it looked just like Parker when he was a baby.

Griffin was ecstatic – and we were all genuinely thrilled. Chengdu was a home run and we could now get on to our next city. We arrived at the airport the next day and were ready to head to the Jiu Zhai Gou national park when we found that all flights were being cancelled because the weather had turned foul and icy in the park. Of course we had to stay at the airport for 4 hours to confirm OUR flight had been canceled.

Carol and I consulted with each other and decided that we’d rather stay a few more days in Chengdu than try to jam in the park, leaving a day late or trying to take the 10 hour bus ride to the Park. We had no snow clothes and trekking around in sub zero weather wasn’t appealing without warm gear. We had met a great local guide named Kevin that was showing us around Chengdu and we decided that we would all be just as happy hanging out in the city. The hotel was awesome, the people were super nice, and the kids would just as soon skate some city sites than tour a national park. So, Chengdu became our home for a few more days – and Jiu Zhai Gou fell off the itinerary. Chengdu boasts about 10 million people, contains a big university, has a produce section in the airport, has great “hot pot” and features gorgeous people who are relatively short, so I am finally tall, though still not good looking. Damn! The city also has great Sichuan food everywhere, as it is in the heart of the Sichuan province.

Chengdu had some fun places to stroll and visit, and it really doesn’t have a big tourist business in the city, so we were pretty happy to just hang out with the locals without sticking to an agenda. Growing tired of Sichuan food, we even went to a Tex Mex restaurant in Chengdu which was pretty damn funny, and pretty darn good. As an aside, it was really fun and empowering to just blow off an entire city on our schedule. We had no pressure to go to Jiu Zhai Gou, just because it was on the schedule, and blowing it off made us all feel better. Think we’ll do that again.

Posted by Blakei 17:45 Archived in China Tagged family_travel Comments (4)


The Pilgrimage Ends here

sunny 64 °F

It is around 10:00pm. We are met at the train station by our Tibetan guide, Yangdron, the driver, Jor, and the GM of the travel agency. We are welcomed with ceremonial white silk scarves that signal the first day in Lhasa, the holy city to Tibetan Buddhists. The road that leads from the new train station to downtown seems too perfect, too quiet, almost sterile. We experience none of the quaint shanty-town feeling we’ve enjoyed the past days. Neither is there a sense of an “old neighborhood” like the hutong we enjoyed so much in Beijing. It all seems new and squeaky clean. You can almost imagine that even the crickets have been removed from this part of town. It feels odd. We can see the Potala Palace off in the distance, but where is the rest of the town. We begin to encounter the sounds and sites of rural China, as a more familiar town begins to grow in front of us – it feels a bit familiar in a Xining sort of way. But this short drive has given us an impression that there are really two Lhasa’s here – with different visions of what this city has been and is to become.

After a few kilometers of driving through Lhasa, we encounter the Potala Palace, once home to the Dali Lama. It rises from the floor of the city and seems to reach up to the sky. It is illuminated under 1,000s of bright lights, and the fresh whitewashing, recently done to celebrate a holy day, makes it glow. Under these bright lights, it is surreal and looks like it could be a Disneyland or Vegas re-creation of something that existed 1,000 years ago. So spectacular is the Palace, that we were left kind of speechless and gawking as we drove by. We drove a few kilometers more through town, which seemed tattered, though happily so, and we checked into our hotel, the Brahmaputra. It was anything but tattered. It was a virtual antique store with every hallway displaying cases of beautiful Tibetan antiques between room doors. We were taken to our room, and it was absolutely gorgeous, and over the top in its decoration and finishes. It too had beautiful Tibetan antiques sitting on tables that were all for sale. We didn’t look at all of the prices, but one of them would have bought a nice car back home. We threatened dismemberment and a sky burial if anyone broke that thing through horseplay. The hotel wasn’t the Lhasa we had expected. We expected austerity, and this certainly wasn’t austere. We had been told about difficulty sleeping above 12,000 feet, but we all slept well, wondering what we’d find in the day light.
The real Lhasa visit started the next day. A traveler’s first day in Lhasa is supposed to be slow, so you can acclimate to the altitude. We had no problem, thanks to the train and a few days in and around Xining. After some studying with the boys, we drove with Yangdron and Rebecca to lunch through downtown Lhasa. It was indeed austere, and simultaneously impressive. There were old buildings of handmade brick, next to a brand new hotel or government building with modern materials. We would pass a dirt alley with broken cars under repair, locals standing around kibitzing, while the very next street was fronted with wonderful shops and strolling shoppers. The same contrast that met us in Xining and other cities existed here too. But there was a difference. This city was packed with pilgrims. Pilgrims flow into Lhasa from all over Tibet and China and other parts of the world to worship Buddha. The streets are full of pilgrims, some brightly dressed, some wearing clothes that are filthy and tattered, lending the appearance that they may have traveled 1,000 kilometers by foot to reach Lhasa. They have. The sites of Lhasa are incredible. The Potala Palace, the Barkhor, the JoKahng temple, the Sera Monastery, the Himalayas are all worthy of a visit to Lhasa. However, the real reason to visit Lhasa is to experience the pilgrims, their deep faith and the fantastic rituals that they engage in. I’ll highlight a couple of experiences we had at different sites.

The Barkhor:
The Barkhor is a series of streets and what seem to be 10,000 shops that surround the ancient JoKhang temple in the center of Lhasa. Upon arrival in Lhasa, pilgrims gather in front of the temple, and then walk in a clockwise circle around the Barkhor area 3 times. This is an important ritual for pilgrims and it seems to form a river of people, meandering at a leisurely pace around the Barkhor. We found ourselves caught up in this river and it was amazing to be among the many pilgrims, and few tourists caught in the flow. The pilgrims’ joy of being in this river, seems to be held just under their very deliberate gaze, at the ready to burst through in the form of a broad smile or laugh. Many have lived their entire lives for this moment – and the joy of being there occasionally bursts through. Many pilgrims sit along the route begging for assistance, because many are flat broke by the time they reach Lhasa. We stocked up on candy and handed out pieces to pilgrims and their tiny children as we passed. We also handed out a few Yuan, but only on rare occasions.

One other thing we witnessed was a ritual called prostrating – perhaps the ultimate way for a pilgrim to show their devotion to Buddha. Try to imagine this: With your feet pressed together, raise your hands high above your head, fingers and palms pressed together, and pause. Then, pull your hands in the same position to your face, and pause for a brief moment. Next, bring your hands to your chest in the same position while dropping to your knees. Now, place your hands on the ground next to your knees, and slide them forward as you gradually lay prostrate on your belly with your face flat against the ground. Now it’s time to get up. Slide your hands back to your knees, while avoiding dragging your face on the ground, and stand up from your knee squat. Oh, and don’t separate your knees because that is quite disrespectful to Buddha. Now, do this 200 times a day. Not exactly lather, rinse, repeat, is it? This ritual can be seen in many places on the way to Lhasa, and some pilgrims do it every 10 feet or so, the entire way. There is some majorly hidden upper body strength going on in some of these pilgrims. It is hard to imagine a display of this much devotion to any god today. We saw children, mothers, grandmothers, men, and monks prostrating – and some do this every 5 steps or even fewer. Many, had plastic shields made from two liter soda bottles attached to their knees and hands – so they could slide better without damage, looking a bit like Tony hawk getting ready to drop into a super pipe without the helmet.

JoKahng Temple, the Sera Monastery and the Potala:
All of these places were incredible and spiritual, even if you have no concept of Buddhism. All were packed with pilgrims worshiping Buddha, and we were just along for the ride. We were getting an education, with Yangdron explaining the different types of Buddha, the rituals, history and the process we were witnessing. We learned a bunch about Buddhism and were told that we likely had more historic foundation and knowledge now than most of the pilgrims. Foundation however, isn’t important. Faith is.

Griffin and Parker were both blessed by a monk at the Sera Monastery by having charcoal from sacred yak butter candle wicks smeared on the tip of their nose before entering the Barkhor. The blessing is only available to children. Pilgrims lit-up to the kids as if they too were pilgrims. They smiled and laughed and pointed, loving the fact the kids had partaken of a blessing.

All of the places we visited feature this very odd circumambulation, where pilgrims walk around the temple or monestary 3 times before entering – the Barkhor being the best example, but we saw it everywhere. The Potala Palace has to be five kilometers all the way around, so it’s quite a walk. Prayer wheels, which are spun in a clockwise fashion surround much of the Potala palace and are spun by pilgrims as they walk. Many Pilgrims carry their own Prayer wheels for their entire pilgrimage, chanting, (more like humming under their breath) and spinning as they go.

The Himalayas:
We took a trip to a day trip to Lamdrok lake which is one of only four sacred Tibetan lakes. We drove for two hours through an amazing valley dotted with tiny villages, and climbed by car to around 16,500 feet to take in the lake view. There were tour buses packed with Chinese tourists racing up the mountain to this elevation if you can believe it. After arriving at the overlook we decided we are vastly more healthy than the older Chinese tourists to climb a tall hill that took us up another few hundred feet to approximately Everest Base Camp elevation (no joke). The view was stunning. Also stunning was how quickly you felt winded climbing this few hundred feet. The lake is beautiful, but it is also a rather sad site. You can easily see the declining lake level. The Chinese Government has built a hydro electric plant there and is now slowly draining the lake to provide power to Lhasa. There isn’t a river that replenishes the lake, and it appears no one has thought through how to fill the lake after it has been drained.

The Orphanage:
Our tour guide Yangdron, was a wonderful woman and someone that was such a pleasure to hang out with. After spending time with us, and talking with Rebecca, she asked if we would like to visit an orphanage that she is associated with. The name of the orphanage is the Chushul Country Nam Children’s Home. Orphanages in Tibet are very rare, because extended family usually takes care of children without parents, but this isn’t possible all the time and there is a growing trend as economic realities change extended families ability to care for an extra child. The orphanage houses up to 18 children and we met 13. The orphanage gets some money from the government, about 200 yuan (or $26 USD) per child per month, less than $2 per day – which is well below what it takes to live even at a meager level in Tibet. The rest of the money, if it comes at all, comes from private individuals like us or you. The beds are scant, heat is scarce, meat is very rare, and they just got a refrigerator (Yangdron bought it for them) to keep food longer than a day or so. We visited one day and brought school supplies and candies and returned the next day to bring some other things and take some pictures so we can share with you on this blog. We asked Yangdron how much money it would take to bring these kids to the standard of living that the little town surrounding it “enjoys”. She said that she’d recommend less money and more bedding, clothes and essentials – which you know definitely make it to the kids. She said we could mail clothing or other items to her and she would take it to the orphanage. We’re all in – and will be providing clothes and other essentials for these children. It’s not much, but it is a tangible way we can back some of the luck we’ve had over the years, giving these kids a much needed boost in life. If you would like to help these kids as well, please send Yangdron an email at Dronyang@hotmail.com or call her on her mobile at + 0086 13638980596. It’s so true when it's said that little things make a HUGE difference.

Posted by Blakei 19:27 Archived in China Tagged family_travel Comments (3)

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