Where to start… From 48 hour train rides to bumpy bus rides to almost getting rejected from a hotel, a lot has happened since I arrived in China. Guess I’ll start from the beginning.
Day 1- August 11
Packed up and all ready to go, I make my way to the airport, ready to spend basically a whole day on a plane. From my 13 hrs to Tokyo to my 3 hrs to Beijing, it was smooth sailing. I can’t believe that a whole day went past me like that, but I’m excited to embark on this new adventure. I even got to fly first class on my way to Beijing and I gotta say those beds were awesome and the food was great. When my plane arrived in Beijing at around 10 PM, I rushed out, grabbed my luggage from baggage claim and went off searching for the IES teacher picking me up. I saw in the distance the teacher holding up the IES sign and off I went. But before we left we had to wait for one more student that was also on my plain from Tokyo to Beijing. his name was Alex and he was from Hawaii. Pretty cool right? We chatted for a bit and then we got into taxis and headed off to the IES center. I gotta say, those Chinese taxi drivers are crazy, driving over 100 kms in a 60 zone, and I couldn’t find the buckle to my seatbelt which made me feel even more unsafe. But I guess their driving was efficient as we got to our destination in half the time. After arriving at the center and meeting my RAs, I decided to try and get on Facebook through my VPN. Well that didn’t work unfortunately. So it looks like I need to find another VPN. After a few more searches, I decided to call it a night and probably 10 mins after I hit the sack, I was out.
Day 2- August 12
8 AM came early. Today was the day of orientation so I got myself dressed and headed off into the orientation room. There I met my fellow classmates joining me on the Tibet trip and we chatted for a bit. Then the head of the program, Jeremiah, came in and explained everything about the Tibet trip. Besides the dangers of vicious dogs, altitude sickness, diarrhea from the food, I was so stocked about this trip. After orientation we were all issued our phones and SIM cards. A technical savy Asian like myself, couldld’t settle for the phones they had, so I had brought my phone from home. Except I forgot to unlock it so it wasn’t until the next day till I got my phone all figured out. From there, we all decided to grab lunch somewhere, but because our group was so large we had to split up. I joined a group of 5 and we went to a dumpling restaurant. Mmmm those dumplings were amazing. Funny story, because our Chinese was a little rusty from the summer, we had a little trouble ordering. We almost ordered six plates of dumplings which comes up to be 90 dumplings!! Good thing I asked how many dumplings were on each plate and in the end we settled on 4 plates, two chickens and two porks. I definitely preferred the pork ones, but both were delicious. Later we went by subway to the French sports store Decathlon to purchase some gear for our trip to Tibet. The ride went pretty smoothly, but like most subways it was packed. But it was very clean, compared to the one sin New York. After shopping and heading back to the center, I got into bed and passed out for like four hours. When I got up, it was like close to midnight! I completely missed dinner, but I couldn’t go to bed on an empty stomach so I decided to head out and find me some food. I found a nice noodle place and filled myself up. After that, I went back and packed a little before heading to bed.
Day 3- August 13
Got up around 9 AM and packed the rest of my things. Afterwards, I went out to grab some breakfast from a place right next to the center.I got myself a Taiwanese pancake with egg and ham. Delicious! Also went by a bread store and grabbed me a another breakfast. I’m such a fatty. :-p Around noon time we all boarded the bus and headed to the train station. It was a pretty bumpy ride, but we got there safe and sound. After finding our boarding platform, we all wandered off for a bit. I went off and got me some snacks for our long awaited 13 hr train ride. I think it was about 2 when we all got into line to enter the train platform. It was so crowded, I could barely move and I almost lost my group in the sea of people. But eventually we all got onto the train and settled down in our cabins. So in my cabin was a girl from my group named Sadie and the Chinese instructor, 于老师（yu lao shi). There were also three random strangers in our cabin that we chatted with during the duration of the trip. A few hours in, they gave us a bunch of pumpkin seeds. Haha! Yeah so apparently, on these long train rides, you will become friends with random strangers on the train and they will give you snacks. It was great! So for the most part, we all chatted, ate snacks, and played cards for the majority of the train ride. 于老师 had so many snacks for us to try. Yum! Probably around 8 or so, I was getting tired so I decided to climb into my bunk. I put my headphones on and drifted to sleep.
Day 4- August 14
When I awoke, it was probably like 7 AM. I got up and took a walk around visiting the other members of my group. We still had about 3-4 hours left on the train ride so I decided to whip out my camera and take pictures of the beautiful landscape outside.
At around 11 or so, we arrived at our first destination Lanzhou. From there, we got on a tour bus and toured around Lanzhou for a bit. For lunch, we got to try their famous beef noodle soup which was by far the best beef noodle soup I’ve tried so far in China. After that, we learned a bit about the history of the Yellow River and stopped by for some picture taking and exploring. Afterwards we got back on the bus and rode for another four hours to a very small town, where we checked into a hotel to shower and get changed before heading back to the train station for the 24 hour ride to Lhasa. Funny story here, apparently the hotel we were trying to check in at denied us at first. They don’t allow 外国人(wai gou ren meaning foreigners) to stay there. They thought we were spies from America or something. :O But after a few minutes of talking with them, we convinced them we were safe and they allowed us entry. Here’s a picture of the hotel so don’t go here if you are ever in town. So after showering and changing we all went out for some dinner and around 8 or so we headed out towards the train station. While our stay in this town started off a little rough, it all ended up being a good day. Day 5-August 15
Started the day still on train. I got up around probably 8 AM and boy was I hungry. The people sleeping in the cabin with me had the same idea and I was offered so many delicious snacks like quail eggs. If you haven’t tried this, you got to! It’s delicious. They even gave me a pack of spicy ramen. Yum! Too bad I didn’t have a bowl to eat it with so I decided to use my massive water bottle to store my noodles. After that, I decided to just go around and chat with the other passengers. i gotta say, I feel like my Chinese has already improved ten fold. So basically my day consisted of just lounging around, chatting it up, and taking tons of photos of the scenery outside. The beauty outside is so unexplainable and can’t be all captured in photos. You just have to be here to know what I mean. But that train ride was pretty brutal. 24 hrs is a long time to be on a train but I’m glad to have experienced it. The only thing that I won’t miss is those toilets. Every time I went into the bathroom, I just about died by the smell of it. Got it was terrible and plus it was a squat down which is just uncomfortable to use, especially for girls. Anyways, so around 10:50 we arrived in Tibet and from there we met our tour guide whose English was pretty decent. And as a welcoming gift we all received a khata, a white scarf for wishes of happiness. Awesome! A Tibetan gift already to start my souvenir collection. 😀 After we all got scarfed, we headed to our hotel, which by the way was pretty nice and had wifi. So after settling in and figuring how the shower worked, I got into bed and fell almost right asleep.
Day 6- August 16
I got up around 7:30 and got dressed, ready to start the day visiting our first monastery, Potala Palace. So after having a small breakfast of some boiled eggs and tea, we got on the bus and headed towards the palace. I could go on and on telling you about the beauty of this place and all about the history of it, but it’s best if you come and see for yourself. 😛 But here is a photo of the night view of the palace.
Our tour guide for the trip was very informative on everything related to Buddhism which was great. I wish I could tell you the things that he said but mostly they were related to what was inside the monasteries which unfortunately we couldn’t take pictures in so it’ll be too hard to explain. So after touring the palace, we headed back to the hotel and had the rest of the day free. I decided to just chill for a bit and explore the town a bit. Lhasa is a beautiful place with very fresh clean air unlike Beijing. 😛 I find it quite fascinating to see so many people prostrating in the streets. Daily life in Lhasa.
Day 7- August 17
Today we hiked a bit to a nunnery and also got to see a monk debate ritual which is linked below. Hmmm…. I don’t know what to say about it. You just have to watch it to see what’s going on. Back to the hiking. So…. hiking at about 13,000 feet above sea level is hard on the body. After about an hour of hiking I was completely out of breath. But the view was spectacular.
Day 8- August 18
Arrived in our camp site after about a four hour drive through the mountains passing through the Kamabala Pass. We stopped at a place to take some photos and also at Lake Yamdrok, which was absolutely gorgeous. At the campsite, the tents were all set for us so that was nice. The tents for the bathrooms had nice holes in the ground with toilet paper. 😛 So we all chilled for a couple hours until dinner was made and did some exploring around the camp grounds. Around seven, dinner was ready which consisted of the best camp food I’ve ever eaten. Like seriously, it was probably better than some of the sit down restaurants I’ve eaten since I’ve been here in China. I just want these cooks to follow me all over China and cook for me. 😀 But yeah, anyways…after stuffing our faces, the cards were brought out and we just played card games till the end of the night. A great end to our first night camping.
Day 9- August 19
Got up at 7 and boy was it freezing outside. I had to add on two more layers of clothing before I was content. At around 8, breakfast was served, eggs, pancakes, and some sort of porridge. All was delicious. Afterwards, we broke camp and headed out towards another monastery a couple of hours away. The ride there was so bumpy that my butt flew out of my seat a couple times, but overall it wasn’t too bad. We made a few stops at some places to take some photos and take a bathroom break. Now the bathrooms here, out in the middle of nowhere, were completely horrendously disgusting and what’s more outrageous is that I had to pay 2 yuan to use them. I still have nightmares thinking about them. Bleh! At around noon, we stopped for some lunch, consisting of pasta and some type of spam like meat. And to finish it off, an apple and some Dove chocolate. Delicious! After lunch we headed off towards the monastery and reached it around 2 or so. As we entered the monastery, we heard monks chanting from their books. We toured the monastery for a bit and then we walked through the village near there. At around 5 or so, we got back on the bus and drove for another 2 hrs to our next camp site. At one point during the ride, we all had to get off to prevent the bus from getting stuck in a sand dune lol. It took a little bit, but in the end our driver maneuvered the bus flawlessly around it. we finally reached our campsite and after we all settled down, we played some games to pass the time while we waited for dinner.
Day 10-August 20
I had set my alarm at 7:45 but I was awaken about 15 minutes earlier by the soft pattering of rain drops on my tent. I put on my clothes and headed out to eat breakfast in the mess tent. At around 8:30, we boarded the bus and headed off to the place where we would start our four hour trek through the mountains. Because it had rained earlier that morning, the hiking trail would be a little slippery. I’ve almost slipped quite a few times hiking earlier that week so I decided to sit this hike out along with 3 other people in my group. So after dropping the rest of the group down, we headed back to camp and helped with breaking camp. After breaking camp, we had set off on our own two hour adventure through the plateau to meet the group at the place after they descended the mountain. I took more pictures of the beautiful scenery and even got a photo of a flock of sheep passing by. Along the way, we picked up a few hitchhikers since our bus was basically empty. So after our two hour bus ride, we reached the area just a few hundred feet away from the monastery and set up a little picnic. While waiting for the others, our cooks started picking these berries from the trees and eating them. Intrigued by this, I asked if I could try some. They picked some for me and gave some to me and the others in the groups. The berries were really sweet and quite delicious. From what our cooks told me, these berries helped with cleaning out our digestive tract which is good to know also. After about 20 minutes or so, we saw our group arriving in the distance. We all settled down in our picnic area and enjoyed our last delicious meal with our Tibetan camping buddies. Afterwards, we headed out on a couple hour drive to Shigatse. We arrived at around 4 or so at this really nice hotel. In fact, it was a four star hotel so that’s a plus. It even had its own little nightclub and KTV area, but unfortunately I didn’t go. 🙁 The only thing about Shigatase is that everything else around the hotel is still in development. This town has potential to be something but right now, it’s pretty much a ghost town. So after settling down in the hotel, my friends and I decided to explore Shigatse, the town of basically nothing lol. I was seeing if I could get any souvenirs from here, but couldn’t really find any stores at all on the street. Oh well….. We headed back to the hotel disappointed in Shigatse and just chilled for a bit till dinner time.
Day 11-August 21
Got up around 8 and headed downstairs for the breakfast, which wasn’t worth 50 yuan as stated by the meal ticket we got. Afterwards we headed to the bus towards one more monastery where some people of our group got their things blessed. I regret not getting anything blessed. I missed out on the experience but oh well. About an hour and a half in, we finished our tour of the last monastery and got on the bus and headed back towards Lhasa. The trip took about 6 hours and we stopped for lunch at noon on the way, noodles as usually. The noodles were ehhhhh okay, but whatever food is food. After our lunch, I went to the bathroom and for one yuan, this was the worst bathroom I’ve ever gone to. It was so bad, I could smell it like 30 ft away. I heard from my friends that the ladies restroom had period blood all over it which is just horrendous. That bathroom, just no. After getting on the bus, we drove and got to Lhasa around 5.
Day 12- August 22
The day we head back to Beijing! On a plane! I definitely couldn’t handle another train ride for a while but all in all it’s been great. Whewwww a lot has happened these past few days, but I’m glad to be heading back. Tibet was quite an experience for me and I will definitely miss all the moments experienced here. The Tibetan people were friendly and very welcoming. Through my adventures here, I’ve learned a lot about their way of life and about Buddhism. Maybe one day I’ll go back to this beautiful place.