Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Edelweiss Flowers, Pot Bellies, Mission Impossible Bus Heroes, & Smiling Monks

Greetings Friends!!
I’m back from my first Qigong &Wilderness trek in the Tibetan Plateau…and what an adventure of a lifetime it was!!! I am soo very grateful to these exquisite highlands. We were at 13,000- 15,000 ft  - my first time to ever be at such a high elevation…and to see edelweiss flowers!! Before I just knew the song from Sound of Music and didn’t even realize what they were singing about :)…until one of our participants, and now my good friend, Annie, pointed them out on our trek :). They are adorable and everywhere (along with some brilliant BLUE flowers) in the alpine meadows. The mountains are enormous, with Genyen Mt. towering above us at 20,000+ft; the rivers are a splendid blue/green/silver flowing with glacial waters; the waterfalls are numerous, spraying and tumbling down the gigantic jagged, rocky and mist-covered peaks….and the sweetness of spirituality, devotion and the sacred shine throughout both the land and the Tibetan people. Monks of all ages are plentiful, both in the cities and in the monasteries; elder women line the neighborhood sidewalks in the evenings, spinning their prayer wheels or chanting with their prayer beads; prayer flags are waving in the air in the towns, on random poles, up high canyons, on big boulders in the middle of alpine meadows; and even massively large Tibetan symbols for “Om Mani Padme Hum” are cemented into random hillsides of the 15,000 ft grasslands pass we journey over to get to our trekking area bordering Tibet (I was told that monks dug these trenches and filled them with cement to make these sacred symbols …I’ll talk more on this later)… There is a deep peace and richness, a sacred sweetness that prevails in the Land and its people when the sacred, the Spiritual and the values of compassion, kindness and joy are upheld and lived by among the people.  I have so much to share and will most likely do it over a 2-3 updates. This will also help me spread out the pics 

So our journey of course began way before the mountains….as everything here in China is an experience to remember.

Delights of Hot Pot
We began our grand adventure in the steamy, and HOT (spicy HOT) green city of Chengdu. What a cool (well “hot” really :)) city!! People are a bit more relaxed than Beijing and there is much more greenery than in Beijing (lots of trees, vines, bushes and a variety of wonderfully green, leafy plants growing on top of, above, on the side and below buildings, etc.) We started with a delicious hot pot (huoguo ) meal. If any of you haven’t tried this yet…now is the time!! :) It is super delicious and a grand way to eat all kinds of veggies, squashes, seaweeds, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, lotus roots, quail eggs, tripe, fish cakes, shrimp, tofu, kelp, etc….with a dipping sauce of your choice. If given the option, I always choose….tahini! And you can make a variety of sauces -- another simple one is with sesame oil, fresh cilantro and fresh garlic. :)

After our first day in the city with seeing super duper CUTE panda bears (black and white pandas and red pandas – I have some adorable videos of them too but have enclosed a couple photos), we started our 3+ day journey just to get to our first of 3 basecamps in the Tibetan Plateau. Now those of you who have traveled abroad, particularly in Asia, Africa or South America and have used their public transportation, trains or buses, will empathize with these accounts. Those of you who haven’t, can live vicariously through the experiences I’m about to share. Our first leg of the journey was from Chengdu, to the mountain town of Kangding (at ~ 9,000 ft elevation). What is normally a 6 hour bus ride, turned into an 11 hour ride….yet this was nothing compared to our 2nd bus ride from Kangding to the high alpine Tibetan town of Litang at 13, 000ft.
So first to introduce you to our first bus driver. I used to think bus drivers were rather loud, gruff and well frankly rude. :) (which they are loud and gruff…) …But, after my experiences the past couple weeks, I have much more compassion for the immense stress they are under with the driving conditions they have to work with, and much respect for their skill and perseverance/determination to get us to where we’re going… matter what!

The 'Art' of Wearing Your Shirt Over Your Belly 
One thing I first noticed about our bus driver, is something I also began to see among men all around me….an interesting phenomenon. Whenever we stopped for a rest break, or most likely a grid-lock construction area on the road, our driver and other men would get off and then promptly pull their shirts up over their bellies! While driving through the city and then smaller mountain towns, just looking out the window, I nudged my friend Annie to point out that men all over were pulling their shirts up over their bellies. Now, you may think it’s a way to show off some impressive abdominal muscles,…..but no. Most of these men had generous-sized pot bellies. Yet they all promptly got of the bus and pulled up their shirts! :) Annie and I joked whether we should do the same when we got of the bus!! (Note: unfortunately I didn’t get a good close-up pic of our bus driver, but I did include one rather blurry shot of him standing outside off the bus with his shirt up :)). Even at the end of our long, 11-hour ride, when we made one more stop 20 mins out of town to….can you guess…isn’t it obvious? wash the bus (what?! I totally didn’t get this at the time. We were 5 hours late to our destination and we were making one more stop to wash the bus….when it was dark and raining anyway? :)…this is before I learned of the rule that buses and cars must be clean when entering a city, otherwise they can be ticketed…) So even at this stop, at 9 p.m. at night in the rain and chilly weather, our bus driver pulled over, jumped off….and you guessed it! …promptly pulled his shirt over his belly! :)

So one thing to get used to on buses, is that nothing is done on your own time. The bus driver has complete say, dictatorship on when we can pee, when we can eat (a hot meal anyway), and well …when we can pee again. This isn’t that big of a deal for short rides, but for medium rides that turn into epic-long rides, this can be an issue. Especially when we’re traveling into higher elevations and we know it’s important to drink LOTS of water to help acclimate to the altitude.

World's Quickest Lunch
On this first ride to Kangding, I think we had one of the world’s quickest lunches….and I wasn’t so prepared. We stopped at one of the many roadside restaurants and Szu-ting quickly ordered a bunch of delicious dishes for us. (There are MANY of these restaurants with 1-3 women and men at each awaiting, big-eyed and hopeful as many buses pass by. They all have lots of fresh veggies ready for a busload of hungry people to come pouring out and hurriedly order several dishes for them and their fellow friends/passengers, and they all have huge almost barrel-sized containers of freshly cooked white rice – the Chinese are always prepared to eat well! :) – If you come to China, really no need to bring ANY American snacks; there are sooooooo many Yummy things to eat, most of which are healthy, fresh and fast). Dave, Szu-ting’s partner and our other trip leader and amazing photographer/videographer, had the right idea and went to use the bathroom first and then eat. I, on the other hand, took my time eating our delicious food and got up half way to use the bathroom. I was walking back and looking for my bowl of rice (which was no where to be found in just a few short minutes), when….HONK, HONK!!!! I almost jumped out of my pants it was so loud! What is that?!! Oh, I looked up and it was our bus driver honking at me to hurry up and get on the bus!!! Yikes! How did everyone finish eating and get on there so fast?!

A 'Tragic' Yet Hilarious Incident
So our hurried, yet impressively slow journey continued…and there was one incident that Annie and I keep laughing about. On these mountain roads, an immense amount of road construction is happening. This means that several sections of roads are being torn up, leaving only a small, one-lane passageway for ALL buses, cars, construction trucks, army trucks, gasoline trucks and little “mianbao” “loaf-of-bread” cars going in both directions to pass by! And sometimes, this one-lane passage way is closed all together for an indefinite amount of time while workers are fixing the road. These waits can be 1-2+ hours. Well, at one time we came up to such a place where the road passage was blocked off for construction. For a little background info, we had just been barreling up a twisty mountain road and our driver proudly and valiantly had just passed up about 7-9 large, very slow trucks. This is no small feet on these little, windy two-lane mountain roads!....So here we are, stopped at this road block. Figuring this could be a while, our driver sighed and opened the door, saying we could get off and pee and/or stretch…but to stay close by….Well, just as a few people had gotten off the bus, the construction workers opened up the gate for this one-lane road and were waving for us and the cars around us to come on through.  Oh to see the utter panic and horror on our driver’s face as all the big trucks and cars he had just worked so hard to pass, were now quickly passing him up!! He frantically tried to gather up our fellow passengers, shouting, “Kuai lai! Kuai lai! Oh hao duo chezi!!! Hao duo chezi!!!!!!” “Quickly, Quickly!!! Oh no, all these cars! All these cars!!!” Oh I certainly empathized with him….yet also keep laughing about this!! :)

A Tall Monk's Blessing
So I could say more about this first bus trip to Kangding,….but it really pales in comparison to our next bus ride from Kangding to the remote Tibetan city of Litang. I can reflect on and write about it now….yet at the time, I feared whether I’d have the privilege to be sitting here now in the quaint, ancient town of Shuhe in Yunnan to write about it! What was to be a 7-hour trip, turned into a grueling 14 hours. Our day started with waking up at 4:30 a.m. hearing the pouring rain coming down on our rooftop. Not knowing what kind of roads we’d be traveling on, I had no idea what rain could mean for our trip, besides getting a little wet on walk to the bus station at 6 a.m. One thing I did notice right away, though, is that the very tall monk I had seen in town the day before was also at the bus station and riding on our bus. I took that as a good omen and reminded myself of it many times that day.

So we quickly started ascending up the mountain roads in the early morning darkness, and it quickly got very cold. It started snowing and the snow came down hard and fast. Hmmm…was this normal for September, I wondered? Were we really just sweating in Chengdu two days ago?  I’m glad I really had no idea what we were in for on that day…We climbed higher and as the morning light got brighter, I saw we were way up in the mountains, with shear drops of 1,000s of feet off the side of the road. Snow flew into the windshield, was covering the ground and trees…and all I could see was a white abyss below – with the combination of snow and fog. Yet our driver (bless him) at this point seemed more interested in and occupied with passing up the huge, slow military and construction trucks on the road. “What?! You’ve got to be kidding,” I exclaimed in my head and out loud to Annie (who was sitting next to me by the window). This is a muddy, windy road with huge potholes and a shear, vast drop. This was no time to be passing cars, let alone huge truck when we ourselves weren’t too slim being a big, bumbling bus!! As our driver pulled out to pass one of these trucks, Annie let out a squeal and buried her head in my shoulder saying there was absolutely no shoulder; she couldn’t look; it was too scary! I looked around me, though, and the amazing thing is ….some people were sleeping!!! Again, what?! Amazing! :) Also some people seemed perfectly calm. I leaned over to one young man and tentatively asked….”Ah…zhege zhengchang ma?” – “ this normal?” (the weather and road conditions)? And he said, “oh yes, sometimes it’s much worse.” What?! Again, one of my main solaces on this journey was our wonderful tall monk. He was sitting in the back (see pic below), and every now and then when things got particularly worrisome on our journey, he and his fellow Tibetan travelers would break out into prayer chants and smile :). Yay for Monks!! And I have to say, I decreed practicely non-stop this whole day!!

At one point early on in our journey (though at the time I was hoping maybe we were about half way there – silly me! :-)), we passed the first set of mountain drops and were driving through a high Tibetan farming village. The roads were still all mud. Actually pretty much the WHOLE way from Kangding to Litang was mud. This “highway” is under construction. And instead of doing one piece at a time, the method used here is to tear everything up and then slowly start flattening and paving random sections at a time (well it seemed random to me – probably is an order here I don’t see! :)). Yet the flattening of the mud roads seems almost in vain as soooo many big trucks and buses and cars are adamant about getting through on this route….and with the rain and mud, we are all contributing in inevitably making HUGE mud divots, potholes and massive quick-sand-like, sticky muddy deep puddles! Yikes! Well, we got to one spot where only half the road was open for passage…yet a big truck with conveniently no driver was parked right in the middle of this passage way! So, I thought, well I guess the bus driver will get off and find this driver….BUT before I could finish my thought, I felt our bus tipped way over to the right!!! Oh no…what’s going on?! Our driver saw the obvious solution was to just drive around this truck….BUT there was about an 7-8 inch drop from the semi-constructed road we were driving on….to the muddy, non-worked on, off-limits side of the road that our driver was now attempting to cross onto! For a moment it seemed as if everyone held their breath…as our bus leaned waaayyyy over to the right…when then our driver stepped on the gas and the other front tire groaned and then went over the large curb….then followed by our back tires. Phew!!!

Power of Dreams 
So I’ve mentioned in past blogs, that I’ve started doing more dream work. I ask questions before I sleep at night as a way to tap into more information on the invisible side during my dreamtime. Two days before our bus ride to Litang I asked, “What is it I need to know to prepare for our trip to Litang?” That night I had some terrifying dreams. Several women were brutally raped, and one in particular was raped repeatedly. I woke up horrified. What is this about? I immediately thought of Mother Earth. I knew then that on this journey I might see some disturbing sights. B/c I dreamt this two nights before our trip, the next night I asked, “How can I best be of service to these Lands we will be passing through?” That night one of my teachers and a former lover came to me and kept interchanging their beings. They were both asking me to make love. When I awoke I knew my service was to Love, Love, Love the Land, and to ask for forgiveness, regardless of what I saw. As we continued on our slow, muddy, precarious journey we did indeed pass many, many mining sites, places where whole mountain sides were torn up, the once clear running mountain river waters were brown, angry and raging. Cement factories were carving out whole areas of terrain; trees, stones, soil all displaced, muddy and a mess. I cried. And I remembered both of my dreams. I know in the States, we also have massive destruction happening in our own Lands, with mountain top blasting/mining in the Appalachia, clear cutting on our own Olympic peninsula, and so much more… I immediately started doing an ancient Hawaiian practice I learned from an wonderfully wise man, Dr. Hew Len, called Ho’o’ponopono. This practice is simple yet powerful. It is basically chants or decrees that apologize, ask forgiveness and also give mass amounts of Love and Gratitude. I did much of this on our journey….

Loose Lug Nuts....Not a Problem! 
So our journey continued and we continued to bumble, bounce, squish, sway and slither our way across this muddy mountain terrain. At one point we stopped on the side of the road, the driver got off and it looked like he was checking out something mechanically about the bus. Well…then most of the men proceeded to get off to assess the scene too (though Annie and I joked that this was just a good excuse for them to pee! We wanted to get off and pee too! :)) So Rinchen, our wonderful, dear friend and Tibetan guide, also got off….He stuck his head back in the bus and said not to worry. “wenti bu da” – “not a big problem;” the lug nuts were just a bit loose. Well our dear Reidun, another one of our participants and an amazing woman, happened to be sitting by the window right where the driver and others were assessing the wheel. She chuckled and exclaimed that stating the lug nuts were “a bit” loose was a major understatement. These guys were out there turning them with their hands!! Yikes! As they were tightening them, Reidun stuck her head out the window and kindly suggested they check them all while they were at it. ….yet unfortunately they didn’t speak English soo we were soon on our bumbling, slithering way across the mud again. :)

A Culture of Determination 
I must say that these bus drivers, and most Chinese in general have more persistence and determination than I have ever, ever come across in the States. These roads we were driving on, first of all, wouldn’t even be open for any type of vehicle, let alone a bus. And even the most adventuresome U.S. drivers would only dare use a hefty 4-wheel drive SUV to attempt such terrain. Yet we saw all kinds of vehicles! And we had 14 hours of continuous challenges, obstacles, cars and trucks getting stuck, repairs to be made, roads blocked, etc….yet, our driver continued and prevailed….for 14 hrs! :) (while our wonderful monk chanted :))

Time to Pee? Mission Unaccomplished 
At one point, the mud was getting thicker and the rivets deeper…and right in front of us, an SUV got stuck that was blocking the growing numbers of now backed up trucks, buses, cars, loaf-of-bread vans, etc. Well this was a perfect opportunity to pee, right? Oh gosh…but where? Annie and I both hopped off the bus into the…mud :(…to assess the scene. There was a cement barrier that some men were standing on, and they would turn away and pee. Hmmmm…easy for them....  Annie then proceeded to climb up the wall and wait for the men up there to finish and hop down so she could then duck behind the wall, squat and do her business. They only thing is the man who had just peed, now seemed intrigued and content to just look at Annie…Oh dear! Well…he finally stepped down, and Annie took her chance. Well, seeing her courage, I decided to hop on the wall too – since I had no idea when we would again have the opportunity to pee. Carpe diem, right?! :) So I hop up and right then more buses pull up beside this wall barrier, giving all the riders a perfect view of me and where I would like to go pee unnoticed. Oh phooey! Well Annie was encouraging me to just do it. I saw another Chinese woman climb up and quickly pee and climb down. It didn’t seem like such a big deal….so I took a breath and decided to go for it…..The only thing was I got stage freight! I couldn’t pee! And then on top of that I heard our bus driver start honking his horn and new we were about to start moving again….so, sigh….mission unaccomplished, I zipped up my pants, hopped back into the mud and squished my way quickly back to the bus. It seems the only thing I accomplished was getting my feet and pants muddy!

Our Bus Driver ~ A Hero
Okay so at about 6 pm, when we’ve been driving 12 hours…I’m thinking maybe the worst is behind us, maybe we’re almost there, and the roads will start getting better? Just then, we hit the worst mud yet. The mud rivets are 1.5-2 feet deep and several cars, SUVs, jeeps are getting stuck in front of us. We’ve just come to another pass and are at 15,000 ft elevation now in these high Tibetan rolling grass lands. I look out my window and to my complete surprise, I see a bus (just like ours) driving off road (well it’s not much of a road that we’re on at this point anyway) over the muddy grassy hillside!! It’s such a strange sight!!. It seems so…well unnatural, and the bus starts tipping to the side and swaying a bit too much. It bumbles along some…and then doesn’t look like it will make it….And ahead we see a bus that has almost tipped over. All the passengers are standing in the mud outside of the bus while the driver and several men are contemplating what to do next…and this is with one more hour of daylight left!  Somehow our awesome bus driver keeps our bus going through this mud swamp….and then up ahead we see a bus like ours get stuck. It’s blocking our way. I hear our bus driver shout something to the other driver and he’s able to move enough out of our way so we can pass. Yet after we pass and miraculously get through the worst of the mud, our wonderful driver stops. He talks in Tibetan with another fellow on our bus, and gets off. By this time all of us love our driver as he’s gotten us through the impossible so many times in one day. He’s a big tall Tibetan man, and we’re all wondering where he is going. Rinchen explains that he’s going to help the other bus drivers and passengers who are stuck and has asked this other fellow to take us the rest of the way safely to Litang. Wow. I was so moved by this man’s generosity. With less than an hour of daylight now up in the chilly grasslands at 15,000ft, he’s voluntarily going to help who he can with no guarantee of safely getting to a warm bed in Litang that night. An amazing man. We all then blessed and empowered our new driver to safely get us the rest of the way home to Litang….

And….after 14 hours, way after the sun had both risen and set, we finally safely arrived in the Tibetan city of Litang! YAYYYYY!!!!!! And we had heated blanket there too! Wow! What a treat :)!

So I will save more on our trekking trip for my next updates. :)

Thank you so much to all of you who made it through my whole share. I love sharing with you! :) And I have much to share about where I am now too...a beautiful little town, "gucheng", old city of Shuhe in Yunnan Province. I'm staying at a beautiful quaint inn with a friend of a friend and she's treating me just like family - 3 home cooked meals a day! Yanzi (my friend's friend's name) is the owner, about my age and is a hoot! :) And Shuhe is a cute little city with cobble-stone streets, fresh, clear, clean mountain water running through town and many open-aired cafes, restaurants, and shops. Yay!

Much great, great Love to you all!!!!
So much Love,

p.p.s. There's still room on our Yunnan Qigong & Wilderness trip if any of you would like to join me and Szu-ting in CHINA! :) Oct 28-Nov10...See for all the details :

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