Monday, May 21, 2007

Silk Road Trip Day 7 - Xiahe

Up this morning at about 6 to catch a shower.  The hotel has hot water only at certain times, and morning apparently wasn't one of them.  Or, maybe hot water is just relative.  I washed a load of clothes while in there, and that allowed the water to heat up to a mildy hypothermic temp. 
We ate a small breakfast in the hotel restaurant before heading out to see the Labrang Monastery.  Along the way, we passed the prayer wheel boundary, where pilgrims and tourists alike were spinning the wheels, while walking in a clockwise manner.  Some of the people were crawling on their hands and knees in their devotion.  They would make a prayer sign above their head, at face level, at chest level, and would prostrate themselves on the ground, stand up and repeat.  In fact, while driving to Xiahe, we passed several pilgrims on the road in the middle of nowhere, working their way to Labrang.  Amazing.
As it turns out, our driver's mother's uncle is a Living Buddha, who lives at the monastery.  .  He was chosen at about age three, was raised in the monastery, and now considered to be a Living Buddha.  He wasn't home, having gone down to Lanzhou, but, we stopped by to see where he lives.  He has a sweet, but stinky dog, and a friendly cat, and lives a pretty normal life, from what we could tell. 
While there, we got a chance to try some hot yak butter tea.  This was an interesting experience.  The first time I ever heard of it was in high school, from a visiting missionary to Tibet.  He described it as "hot tea with rancid yak butter floating on top."  He was describing the first time he ever drank it, by saying that he just tried to get it down as quickly as possible without vomiting.  Ours wasn't bad at all.  Guess the butter wasn't rancid enough.  However, we also ate tsampa, which is yak butter and a coarse ground grain mixed into a sort of no-bake coffee cake.  This was what we call, "Varsity Food."  Definitely an acquired taste.  It was sort of like natto in its ability to be a "taste that keeps on nauseating" (to coin a phrase).  Fortunately, yak butter tea dissolves it pretty well.
A young monk also came in and gave a demonstration on how to make sheen (correct spelling unknown), which, though similar to tsampa in its ingredients, but with regular, fine ground flour, and tea added in.  The consistency was more like cookie dough, and the taste like a wheaty dough.  It was still warm from the tea (and the monks fingers). 
So far, in spite of some of the things that have gone in the mouth, no major gastrointestinal episodes.
We spent the bulk of the morning wandering the Monastery, viewing two temples with larges statues of the Buddha, and lots of yak butter candles.  We also watched some of the young acolytes practicing some dances that included bending over backwards in a bridge.  Just up the hill from those kids were other monks playing the long Tibetan "alpenhorns" and chanting.  When they finished, the horns telescoped down small enough to sling on their backs.  Interestingly, when they walked out of the area, a few of them shouted, "Free Tibet!" 
We followed a large group of them wearing their yellow hats to another temple where they all gathered for a lunch of hot buttered tea.  Irene and I went inside of the hall and watched for a while.  One of the head monks continued to chant while the lower ranking monks waited for their brass bowls to be filled with the tea.  They sat quietly, for the most part, drinking their tea.  A few of them were kind of goofing off, like teenagers tend to do all over the world. 
We stayed a while longer before heading down the hill.  I stopped briefly at a great restroom, three rows of cubes with a straddle groove, and water periodically rushing through the groove, taking the waste with it.  It really was an ingenious system.  Also, there were a couple of monklets (maybe 8 or 9 years old) who were raising a ruckus, and ended up getting rapped on the head with a stick by the bathroom attendant.  Quite funny...
We ended up eating lunch at the Overseas Tibetan Hotel, before heading out to visit the grasslands nearby.  James told us that it was 10 minutes walk away.  In actuality, it was about a 15 minute drive.  Glad we didn't try to walk out there.  We hung out taking some pictures for an hour or so, enjoying the expanse of grass leading up to the mountains on either side of the valley.  The only thing missing were a bunch of Mongol Hordes. 
We tried to ride some horses, but couldn't bargain the guys down to a price that was acceptable. 
Once we got back to town, Steve and I went to the Internet cafe to answer some emails and update the blog, before linking up with Deb and KY to go to supper.  We tried to find a place called the Monastery Islamic Restaurant which apparently had some excellent yak, and walked all the way to the far edge of town looking for it.  We never found it, but some drunk guy did come up and pinch Steve's arm hairs.  A few minutes later, we were watching some pigs rooting around in the street, and the guy came up again and asked KY for some cigarettes.  KY doesn't smoke, so the guy wandered over to Steve again.  As Steve was distracted by the pigs, the guy reached up and rubbed his beard.  Steve's reaction was almost to punch him.  He didn't then, but came even closer when the guy said, "Wo ai nee" or "I love you," while making kissing noises.  We erupted in laughter, and walked away.  We of course continue to make fun of Steve even now (3 days later). 


We finally ended up at the same place we ate lunch, because they had yak steak.  Unfortunately, it was more like yak-burger; still, it was pretty tasty.  After supper, Steve and I met James at the Internet cafe for another session of CS.  This time, we did somewhat better, until a couple of monklets came up and started taking over.  They were incredibly good...kind of like Luke Skywalker or had text messaged, the other hand shot bad guys.  Amazing. 


Got back to the hotel, and got a call from Melody letting me know how her day went.  It's I am in the middle of China (literally), and we can talk just like I am down the street.  Of course, we'll pay for it with a huge bill...but, that's OK.  That's why we got global roaming.  It's been a godsend, actually. 


More soon...Trying to catch up on the past days, as we're now in Jiayuguan.  Might be a day or two behind, but I'll do my best to get back on track.  Of course, the farther out we go into the wild, wild, west, who knows what we'll be able to find. 

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