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Two-Second Travelogue - Nepal & Tibet

Nepal - June 2001 (Nepal photos)

June 1 - Pokhara -
Tourist to Maggie: I'll bet you miss home. What do you miss?
[long pause]

Maggie: I miss Greece.

I bought a curved knife. People use it for gardening. It looks like a hook with a wooden handle. I asked a man if he had . . . I showed him the shape with my finger. He showed me all the sizes and I asked him how much for the small one. He said 35 rupees. I said we might come back. We looked around but didn't find any other ones. When we went back, a lady weighed the medium one, they sell them by weight, and she said 44 rupees. I said, "How about 40?" and she said "OK." -- Maggie

After 6 weeks of travelling around India with Indian tourists, it was a bit disconcerting to see so many foreign tourists in Varanasi. But if we thought that was touristy, Pokhara (and it's off-season here) is a foreign tourist haven. At least here in Lakeside. When Tote, Maggie, and I took the bus up to the bazaar area in the northern end of the city, we didn't see one foreigner the whole afternoon. I've noticed that although there are areas of cities where tourists converge, the tourists don't seem to want to interact. Either they wish to give others privacy and "space," or they simply ignore each other. It's kind of weird. Every once in awhile I meet someone who wants to chat. That can be entertaining and fun (and sometimes informative). Other times it's just plain goofy . . . listening to someone complain about food, people, accommodations. -- Monica

This area of Pokhara has that sort of odd, strained feeling of Benidorm - that weird British tourist and karaoke destination in southern Spain in which we inadvertently spent the night. The main streets are lined entirely with places catering to tourists, including bars advertising happy hours and listing the movie video showing tonight ("Dinner and a Movie".) The people are nice; the streets are clean; the shops are filled with cameras and video walkmen; there's an ATM machine; virtually no traffic; the signs are new; even the mud - unmixed with garbage - looks clean. As Duncan said, if there were a Disneyland India, it would look like this. -- Mark

Nepal is really different from India. It is cooler in temperature, and the people are more oriental. And the kids seem happier towards each other. In India we didn't really see the kids smile and laugh with each other. Pokhara is the most touristy place on the trip. Well, not all of Pokhara, just Lakeside (a part of Pokhara.) Pokhara has everything; anything you want is here. This is probably from all of the tourists. I found a kukri in a wooden sheath on one of the shelves of a bookstore. The shopowner took it out and put a deep scratch in some metal with it. He said, "This is not a tourist kukri. This is a real one." I believe him. -- Tote

June 2 - Pokhara - We just heard that nearly all the Nepal royal family was murdered last night. This could be interesting. -- Mark

Today, Tote and I kept trying to get him a kukuri. It's a cool kukuri with a wooden sheath. Duncan got a kukuri with a leather sheath and throwing knife. Hopefully we will go trekking in couple of days, even if there will be leeches. I think it will be fun to go. I tried cutting grass at the hotel with my sickle. -- Maggie

June 3 - Pokhara - Today I bought a kukuri. A kukuri is a traditional Nepalese knife used by the Nepalese Army and by Nepalis on the farm and in the kitchen. It looks like a thick, heavy, one-sided dagger but bent. Every day I went to the bookstore and tried to trade all our books for the kukuri. When the value of the books reached the value of the kukuri, they still didn't accept the trade, and they asked for more. I tried several times to convince them, but when they didn't agree, I took the books to other shops and sold them. I sold some of them for 450 rupees. But the other four books were only worth 250, and I couldn't get any other store to buy them. The shop with the kukuri took the four books and the 450 rupees for the kukuri. After I bought the kukuri, I told the people what I had done. They laughed, because they never thought I would go sell my other books to other stores. -- Tote

Tonight we ate at a restaurant along Pokhara's main street, at least the main street through the "Lakeside" area. As it was getting late, we decided to just bite the bullet and got to an overpriced place. The place was pretty full, which Mom thought was a good sign. After a half hour, Tote went downstairs and got some menus. After deciding on our orders, Mom wrote them out on a sheet of paper. After another half hour, the server came and copied the orders into his booklet and went away. About an hour later, Mom, Dad, and Dooz got their food. In the course of the next half hour they ate and complained about the food's tastelessness. After another half hour, we finally left to go home and eat biscuits. We never did get our food. This all seems very funny, and I'm convinced it will seem more so looking back. -- Duncan

Inspired by Tote's success selling our books, Maggie traipsed around town for several hours trying to sell her spare pair of pants. She finally accepted Rs 50 which she then spent on a hat. -- Mark

June 4 - Pokhara to Galeswor - We walked for an hour after being on the bus for five hours. The bus ride was scary and interesting. The scary part was being 4 or 5 feet away from a cliff with no room for a car to pass you. The interesting part was having a goat on the bus with its owner right in the doorway. We've walked across two suspension bridges. One of the suspension bridges was metal. I think that one was the scarier bridge. My dad thinks that the wood suspension bridge is scarier, but I think the wood one is more fun. The coolest part about it is the rock that covers up the hole in the bridge. These bridges move so much I don't like to stand in the middle. -- Maggie

Today, Reuters reported that the King's brother (make that the former King's brother) has declared that the shooting was an accident. Twelve people were killed accidently? No one here believes it. The Nepali constitution requires that the King's son succeed the King, though initial reports said the son had done the shooting and then shot himself. Reportedly only a respirator keeps the son alive. Perhaps the King's brother doesn't wish to speak ill of the almost dead. -- Mark

June 5 - Galeswor to Tatopani - We walked 5 or 6 hours down a rocky pathway. Me and Duncan played "obstacle trek challenge." We went through "Slippery Stone Stairway,""Cliff Creek Crossing," and "Wrath of Slippery Stones." After that we went through "Mud Bath,""One Wrong Move," "Mucky Mire,""Spike Rock Peak," and "Slideaway Ledge." We beat the other teams, but we don't know who will come in first. -- Maggie

The hike was beautiful. The birdsongs were varied, the pink and purple flowers were plentiful, many colorful butterflies, tiny red beetles, little quiet villages, lots of bright green cornfields and rice paddies, mule trains jangling and clanging as they plod along. We had heard and read to expect lots of leeches, but have encountered none. The trekking path is a genuine conduit, a passage for goods and people going from village to village. For lunch we ate dal bhat at a little tea house. It was delicious . . . so was the milky, sweet tea. -- Monica

Monica has now taken over 7000 photos. About half are on this website. If we were using film, instead of a digital camera, that would be nearly 200, 36 exposure, rolls. -- Mark June 6 - Tatopani - Everyone has "news" or a rumor to relate about the royal massacre. We hear there are riots in Kathmandu, a curfew, and some sort of fighting in Pokhara. A goofy American lady who has worked in Nepal for a few years says civil war is inevitable. She says the country is simply too divided ethnically and that, given the opportunity, some groups will seek revenge on others. Another fellow claims that 300 people were killed at the palace. -- Mark

To celebrate my birthday, we got a chocolate cake. My presents were a bracelet, a tiny metal pot to mix potions in, a sweat cloth, and gum from Mommy, Daddy, Duncan, and Tote. Kris and Veerle, some friends that we met on the trek, got me chocolate, fruity candy, gum, and caramel for a snack bag refill. -- Maggie

We had a most fine couple of hours in the late afternoon down by the Kali Gandaki riverside. There's a hot spring, and people have built three pools, but the water was much too hot. The children were immediately busy: Tote collected and sorted rocks by color and arranged them neatly on a boulder while Duncan built a tower beside Tote's art. Meanwhile Maggie found treasures and created a fishing line with a handle and a float. -- Monica

June 7 - Tatopani to Ghasa - Today is Maggie's birthday. Just like Duncan's, which was in Venkateshwara, it was a good day. We walked through the Kali Gandaki gorge until we came to a waterfall. To cross the water coming off the waterfall we had to go on an old bridge. One side of the bridge had broken. Some friends told us that there was a place near the waterfall that you could swim in. Of course we went. Duncan and I built small dams. Later in the day we went through an area where a bridge had fallen out, and we had to take an older bridge. Later we met some Nepali students whose friend had fallen off the older bridge and drowned. So far the trek is Coooool!!! -- Tote

The landscape has changed. Pine trees and thin bamboo are replacing the subtropical plants, banana trees and thick bamboo. I brushed up against nettles at one rest break. I gasped and looked up, wondering what to do as the sting immediately began to burn. A Nepali fellow sitting up the path a bit mimed to take snot from my nose and rub it on the stinging area of my leg. Well, I did it, and the sting did quickly subside. It just tingled for the rest of the day. -- Monica

I don't think Maggie could have had a more spectacular birthday. The kids swim in a giant waterfall that, when we look back on it, plunges in a smooth, white arc to the middle of the deep, green gorge. We glimpse Nilgiri and Annapurna, white and black and sharp and clear as can be. We walk along a trail carved high on one side of the gorge. We can hear and sometimes -- careful not to lean too far out -- see, the river, tearing along the bottom, grey, frothy, and frightening. Across the gorge we can see parts of the old trail. The cliff sheared off again and again, taking the trail with it and defying all attempts to keep it open. Near where a new suspension bridge recently tumbled into the gorge, the victim of wind or a rockslide, our trail narrows to the width of my backpack. The path inches across places where the cliff face has sheered off on this side. The kids know to pay attention without me telling them, and I'm genuinely surprised at how certain I am that they know how to do this stuff. I cross first and when I look back, I can see how the "trail" is just a narrow crease in the face of the cliff. Below the crease I can see the sheer gray wall dropping away vertically and the river that from here seems so far away. As Monica and the kids cross, I cannot stop myself from mentally measuring the centimeters that separate the edges of their shoes from the brink. In the evening we share the guesthouse with a group of Nepali students searching for the body of a friend who fell into the gorge. -- Mark

June 8 - Ghasa to Kalopani - I find myself looking high up in the sky, where there couldn't possibly be a mountain, to look for mountains, and sometimes I see one. Here, there is an incredible peak outside every single window. Tonight, we drank yeasty, local rice "beer" with Kris and Veerle, two wonderful Belgians nearing the end of their yearlong cycling trip. (Veerle says they don't mind us, because we are "travellers" and not tourists.) We taught Kris and Veerle to play Hearts, and they immediately trounced us. At the next table, some Nepali teachers urged us to try the local distilled beverage which they were drinking hot. It wasn't bad stuff but not very good either. -- Mark

As we go north, up the river, the people are changing too. People here look more Tibetan than lower down. I sure wish I could speak Nepali. I would love to converse and learn. Instead, I smile and say "namaste." -- Monica

June 9 - Kalopani to Marpha - After asking a mule train guy which way to go, we went down a path into the riverbed, which looked like a lake bed at this point. We walked along the path but eventually had to wade across the stream. Later, in the center of the path, there were strings of prayer wheels. (You spin them clockwise.) Marpha is a town that looks like stone heaps taken right from the mountains. -- Tote

As our year winds down, I am realizing just how short a year is. -- Mark

We went to a monastery. The monastery was very colorful. I like all the pictures, but I like the prayer wheels better. I spun every single prayer wheel. It gets tiring for your hands. I like spinning the prayer wheels any way, because they are fun to do. I even spun the giant one that was red and gold. -- Maggie

Massive, snow-clad, sharply-jagged peaks ring Kalopani. We're in the guest house dining room drinking our morning "milk tea" and exclaiming over the peaks we're getting glimpses of as the layers of clouds shift. Every once in awhile we run outside to the flagstone path that winds through the village to get a better view. Local folks get a kick out of us, because they live amdst this spectacular beauty. Peaks jut up in every direction you look. Maggie is eating popcorn for breakfast. Tote has ordered Tibetan bread. I hear roosters crowing, and the young girl wiping down the planked, wooden floor, Sita, is humming a tune. -- Monica

June 10 - Marpha to Kagbeni - Marpha reminds me of a pueblo. Tons of stone buildings tossed onto each other. Roofs rimmed with wood for fires. Prayer flags along tall poles snap and crack in the wind that sweeps endlessly down this arid canyon pulling dust in its wake. In the monastery perched atop the town, prayer wheels are spun. Their rattling and sometimes squeaking scattered on the breeze along with the prayers sealed inside. Intricately painted and carved Buddha statues meditate behind images of the royal family. The cliffs and bluffs surrounding Marpha on three sides protect the town from the airborne dust. The river, steely gray, still rushes in its rocky bed beyond apple orchards and mule caravan paths. Bathed in dust and hulls from threshed grain, the path winds on past tablets in Tibetan calligraphy and low, bland-colored brush. -- Duncan

Can there be anything better than this? The big river rocks, sun, wind, and sand made hiking difficult in places. I tell Maggie stories to keep her interested, but when I hear her singing happily to herself I realize she is doing just fine without me. Without batting an eye, the kids ordered and ate yak momos and Tibetan bread for lunch. They hike, not only without complaining, but actually marveling at the landscape. They point out peaks and notice the visual drama of a slender bridge strung across a windy gorge and the contrast between the dark cliffs and the bright light reflected from the tangled channels of the braided river. -- Mark

June 11 - Kagbeni - Typical trekkers, we've been staying at "guest houses" along the way. The rooms are simple but very cheap - last night, for a double and a triple room, we paid $1.60. Tonight we will pay about $2.10. Though the rooms are cheap, you are expected to eat in the guesthouse. The innkeeper really makes money on the meals. In general, all the guest houses in a town charge the same prices for lodging and for food. Often the menu is produced by some local tourist committee and is exactly the same in every guest house. The idea is that innkeepers will compete by increasing quality rather than decreasing prices, though I am not sure that all the innkeepers realize this. So, the game is to find the cleanest, nicest rooms, inspect the common toilets and bath, and then guess about whether the food will be good or not. Generally, a good innkeeper has both tidy rooms and good food. The innkeepers encourage us to order dinner and to choose a time we'd like to eat as soon as we set down our backpacks. It's rather elegant to begin dinner at the appointed time, though the different dishes arrive in fits and starts. The innkeeper keeps a list of everything ordered in a book, and at the end of the stay, the innkeeper and I sit down with the calculator and the list and add everything up. It's been extraordinarily convenient and hassle-free. -- Mark

Kagbeni's historic role was as an important city along the salt trade route. It was a walled village and some of its walls are still here. Inside are lots of dark paths and alleyways with various levels of living spaces for animals and people. Ancient-looking doorways and windows with shrines, chortens, carved stone tablets and prayer wheels add to the medieval quality. I really enjoyed exploring the pathways, smiling at people I met, trying to ask questions with hand gestures. The monastery is named Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling. It was founded in 1429. Duncan and Tote particularly enjoyed analyzing the wheel of life painting. The monk who showed us around blew the conch, sprinkled holy water, poured each of us a handful of holy water to drink (we didn't), and with which to annoint heads, ears, eyes, etc. (we did.) He tried to understand and answer our English questions, and he led us up to the roof to appreciate the awesome scenery.

Accomodation here is cheap, but food is expensive. A 650 ml bottle of beer costs half again as much as our rooms (of course the bottle of beer had to come by mule train!), so Mark and I (and Kris and Veerle) have now sampled cider (hard), chhyang from rice, chhyang from wheat, and roxie (distilled chhyang?) My favorite has been the apple cider which tastes like Liberian palm wine. -- Monica

June 12 - Kagbeni to Muktinath - Overlooking Muktinath, a heap of temples, chortens, creeks, and prayer flags, is a Scottish-style hill on which we found blue and yellow mini-prayer flags, as well as printed prayers on small pieces of paper and a long white prayer flag. From the hill, amongst the kelly green leaved trees and thick webs of all kinds of prayer flags can be seen the golden top of a pagoda-style temple ringed with all sizes of hanging bells and a semi-circle of metal bulls' heads spitting forth streams of holy water that cascade down beneath the prayer flags and join into a stream that once turned a water-propelled prayer wheel, no longer spinning since it lost its paddles. -- Duncan

Today we went on a hike to Muktinath. Muktinath has a couple monasteries and a long, long line of prayer wheels. The couple of last ones were made out of powdered milk cans. We found lots of prayer flags and spider web-types of things tied to trees. Most of the temples weren't that interesting but I liked to ding the bells, if I could reach them. The bells were very decorated. Some of the bells had little metal statues on the top, and some of them were plain. On the way back from Muktinath, I saw some people wearing scarves. I decided I want to get a loom when I get back home. I thought it was cool, and I could make blankets and a scarf. -- Maggie

As the sun sets, it's twilight, and we're upstairs in the dining hall looking out the windows at village life and the stunning snowcapped peaks in every direction. The clouds are continuously shifting and evolving; exposing, hiding, revealing, then masking again. I suspect that during trekking season maybe there are cloudless blue skies, with spectacular peaks clearly visible at all times. I'm sure it would be beautiful and awesome, but I cannot help but appreciate the continuously shifting quality of the the panorama we've been seeing. It's magical and mysterious. You never know what is about to loom out or when a stunning peak is obscured and a peak to its left or right is revealed. After visiting the temples today, I slowly ascended the hill and found a rock to sit upon near Maggie and Mark. A saddhu joins us; his companions go on . . . two of them running and laughing together. Our friend smiles . . . beaming . . . then he runs. . . Mark runs after him, comes back breathing hard. I'm drawn back to the temples and shrines. I want to ring bells and place flowers picked on the hillside beside images and statues. -- Monica

We have visited many poor and dirty places but, I cannot recall seeing dirtier people than those in Muktinath. In Bombay, women picking through trash heaps wore clean, brightly colored saris. The towns in the Kali Gandaki valley were neat and tidy. Here, middle-aged women running prosperous hotels wear soiled dresses and prepare our food with grimy hands. Faces and hands are filthy. Though there's plenty of clean, running water, the children look as though they have never been bathed, had their noses wiped, or changed clothes. There is enough dung in the kitchen to make it look and smell like a corral, and the adults watch kids poop on the doorstep. It doesn't help that an open sewer runs through a ditch down the middle of the main path through town or that a drizzle has turned the place into a mud slick. -- Mark

June 13 - Muktinath to Jomsom - The kids amaze me almost every day. Today, Maggie didn't just accompany me on my search for a place to stay. While I checked one place, she insisted on checking out other places on her own. She just walked in by herself and asked to look at the rooms. Then she examined the toilets and bathrooms, priced dal bhat on the menu, and gave me a full report. I cannot imagine what the innkeepers thought, but they showed her everything she wanted to see. (Among the things she noticed was that one room had a "reading light that Mom would like.") -- Mark

June 14 - Jomsom to Pokhara - Our plane flight from Jomson to Pokhara was my favorite flight ever. To take off, we drove along the runway really fast; the runway is elevated, so when it ends you are airborne. The flight seemed to be level once we took off. Sometimes things were far below us; sometimes we came really close to mountains and ridges. I thought I had a great view because the wing was right above me, and I could just see the wheel at the edge of my vision. The wing and the wheel gave me great perspective. They stayed in one place while everything else was moving. -- Duncan

Our plane was the smallest plane I've ever flown in. I liked that I could see the pilot. I like how he flew right down the canyon. At one point the sides were really close. It was really cool. When we took off, the plane went really fast right away - not like a jet. -- Tote

The streets of Pokhara are empty tonight. Over the squish (and occasionally the splash) of my sandals as I thread my way up the wet street, I can hear the telecast which has just announced the official version of who killed the royal family - first in Nepali and then, curiously, in English. (I suppose English really is the latest lingua franca.) We listened to most of the telecast in a restaurant. The report describes, minute by minute, how the crown prince drank whiskey, smoked hashish, telephoned a young woman, dressed himself in combat fatigues, and strolled through the palace shooting his family with an automatic weapon. As an American, though the setting is a palace and not a post office or a playground, the story is familiar. Nonetheless, not one of the Nepalis I talked to believes the crown prince killed his family. To demonstrate how impossible the official version is, one fellow spread out a wrinkled newspaper photo of a happy prince holding a child - a child he eventually shot.

Everyone predicts trouble in Kathmandu. As if on cue, shortly after the telecast ends, the power goes out in Pokhara. Delayed paying the bill, I stumble up the rocky street to our hotel alone. The hotel is absolutely silent. There's not a single member of the staff around. I feel my way to the kids' room where Monica has found a flashlight and is putting the children to bed by its weak light. I wonder whether it wouldn't be wiser to all sleep in the same room tonight. I go out to buy candles, and the shopkeeper talks in murmers. After I light two candles for the kids, the power comes back on. Maggie is already asleep, but the rest of us are relieved. -- Mark

June 15 - Pokhara - Yesterday, Maggie walked around town by herself shopping for a Nepali jacket. Many places started at Rs 650; she bargained them down to Rs 400. Last evening she found a used one for Rs 300, but when she took her brothers to look at it, they discovered several holes and torn seams. Today, she finally talked one shop down to Rs 300 for a new one. She stopped at the shop about every hour all day long to check on the progress. Finally, tonight she turned up wearing it. She is, needless to say, very happy. -- Monica

The owner of our hotel has just returned from Kathmandu. He says no one believes that the crown prince did the shooting. Everyone believes it is a conspiracy. He showed us a picture he just purchased of the royal family. In Pokhara, the police driving around town packed 7 or 8 in an SUV, apparently a show of force. Passing knots of men chatting, one can hear the names of the deceased king and of the new king. There's no trouble, and no one seems particularly concerned about violence. -- Mark

June 16 - Pokhara - I finally found a place to connect our computer to the internet, and at a comparatively reasonable rate. Unfortunately the connection was so slow, Duncan and I calculated it would take nearly 16 hours to post all the new photos. -- Mark

Here's my idea of how the king was killed. First, the prime minister tells his bodyguard to open fire. Two, the royal family is (mostly) killed. Three, the prime minister tells the current king (the king's brother) to burn the bodies without an autopsy. Four, the king complies, and the top snobs think up some cock and bull story to tell the population. Here are my reasons. First, one or two days before the "massacre" the prime minister was being protested. This crisis took people's minds off that. Second, certainly mysteriously, the new king and the prime minister are of the same political party. Hmmm . . . suspicious?

Nobody believes what the top snobs said: the crown prince, drunk, got into combat fatigues (that happened to be in his closet) and picked up a rifle that shoots 15 rounds per second (that's from his closet, too) and went down to the billiard hall and started shooting people and then himself. -- Duncan

June 17 - Pokhara to Kathmandu - We left Pokhara early. We arrived in Kathmandu after only a couple delays and a couple scheduled stops: breakfast and a flat tire and then the stop where we were all lined up on both sides of the giant crane which had arrived an hour or so before we did to hoist a truck out of the river. The truck had plunged off the cliff two days before, killing two people and two are missing. After an hour of milling around trading rumors, the crane withdrew. The truck remained embedded in the riverbank. Our final stop was for lunch: 5 dal bhat. -- Monica

We've grown so accustomed to having people strike up conversations with us, that the "tourist bus" is a bit of a shock. We invariably meet someone interesting on our bus rides. On this bus very few people talked with one another. Nearly everyone was a "westerner," and westerners don't typically talk to strangers -- or maybe they just don't find one another very interesting. Of course, they didn't talk to the Nepalese, either. -- Mark

June 18 - Kathmandu - Kathmandu is terribly touristy. The streets are lined with ugly gold-decorated kukuris and superexpensive prayer wheels. The stench of incense fills the air, along with the incessant honking, chatter, and the "Yes . . . ?", "Look sir?", "You like this?", "Your shoes are broken. I fix?", and, as always, "rickshaw?" We're back in a city and, like math, even if you don't do it for a while, you get sick of it just as fast. -- Duncan

Construction methods in Nepal are different than those in the States. Gravel is often created on the spot from large rocks. Men and women use hammers to break big rocks into small ones. It actually goes pretty fast. Along the Kali Gandaki most buildings were made of stone blocks, also created on the spot by fellows with hammers. Today, across the street, a large crew is filling forms with cement. It takes lots of people. A group hauls gravel and sand from offsite in baskets to a spot near a cement mixer. At the cement mixer, a fellow with a shovel fills shallow baskets with cement. A line of men, like a bucket brigade, passes the baskets along, and the final guy dumps the cement in the form. -- Mark

I have just been reading comic books about the Hindu gods. They are really cool. They have lots of wars. It's like the real world except the gods intervene a lot. When people ask the gods to give them boons, the gods always give them to them. I really like the clothes. -- Tote

June 19 - Kathmandu - Maggie discovered that the woman selling tea across the street will fill the glasses from our room for Rs 7, so this morning, I went over to get a couple glasses. While I was waiting, I chatted with a taxi driver and played with a little boy and his dog. Just when I I was thinking how wonderful the world was, the little boy began trying to jam a key into the dog's eye. -- Mark

So far Kathmandu has always been rainy. It gives Kathmandu a good feeling. I am surprised at how modern Kathmandu is. -- Tote

June 20 - Kathmandu - Monica: "Nobody can appreciate that the mother, who was trying to circumambulate, was rammed by a big black ram!"

Today, for 10 rupees and for 10 minutes, Dad hijacked some guy's "Nepalese helicopter" (rickshaw). Tote and I hopped in, and he started pedaling. The owner was banging on the back trying to slow us down, thinking we would run off with it. Meanwhile, Dad was driving at children and swerving off at the last minute. He periodically let loose a bout of rattly bell ringing. The owner hopped on the back, stuck his head in, and let loose a demonic laugh. This was quite startling. Dad turned a corner. Then (since he couldn't turn) he drove onto a dirt alley, almost crashed, hopped off, stopped the machine, and turned it around. We started offering people rickshaw rides, mimicking and poking fun at the rickshaw drivers' endless "rickshaw?" -- Duncan

Today we went to a plaza with a lot of temples in it. They were all closed, so we just walked around. Dad rented a bicycle rickshaw for 10 rs. Dad drove the rickshaw faster than any other rickshaw and probably faster than the cars. The rickshaw was highly unmaneuverable and with the worst driver in the world at the handlebars, you can imagine how many instances we were inches from hitting people. One time we got stuck in a dirt alley, and we had to push it back into the plaza. My favorite part of the plaza was a little courtyard with vines growing over a beautiful statue. It was so peaceful. -- Tote

Mark [After driving the boys around the Durbar Square area in a rickshaw]: "People here try not to stare, but sometimes they just can't help it."

It's not just in the U.S. SUVs seem to have the same negative impact on a driver's brain power in Nepal as they do in Denver. The streets around here are narrow and crowded. The streets don't have sidewalks, but they do have rickshaws, people, children, vendors, and - despite the city's cow-free streets campaign - cows. Most drivers thread their way slowly through this mixture. SUVs roar through as if they have just dropped off the kid at daycare and are on the way to a double latté at Starbucks.

Speaking of extravagant luxury, if you want to spend your money making yourself feel superior, I have an idea. I had a shave at a Nepalese barbershop today. I am convinced that if all world leaders had a shave by a Nepalese barber, war (or even raised voices) would be impossible. First you get the hot towel, then water, shaving cream, the razor, more water, another hot towel, more shaving cream, the razor again, a cold thing that felt like a stone but I think was some sort of astringent thing, a couple kinds of bracing liquid, a face massage, a scalp massage, a neck massage, a chiropractic adjustment, and then (to repair the damage caused by the scalp massage), the barber combed my hair and charged me about 30 cents. All day long I smiled at my reflection in store windows. (Just describing it relaxes me.) -- Mark

June 21 - Kathmandu - We walked a few kilometers through Kathmandu neighborhoods to see the great white dome at Swayambhunath, watch for monkeys that supposedly slide down bannisters, ring bells, spin prayer wheels, look out at Kathmandu, and gaze on big gold statues. We also heard garnet-robed monks chanting, playing cards and throwing garbage out the monastery's windows. Despite a wrong turn that landed us on muddy paths and roads threaded between rice paddies, we made it back in time to go to the orientation meeting for our Tibet tour. (The only way to go to Tibet is with an overpriced, government-sponsored tour. We have never been on a tour, so everything about it is a bit disorienting.)

That all made for a great day, but what was even better was my purchase of a tape containing Bob Seger singing "K, K, K, K, Kathmandu!" For the last few days, I have done my best to embarrass the children by singing this song on crowded K, K, K, K, K, Kathmandu streets. It is amazing how the dulcet sound of my singing infallibly draws an admiring crowd. The children and Monica (who was perhaps misled by my unique interpretation of the song) thought I had made it up. So, everywhere we went last night, I put on the tape for their edification. (It also contains a rendition of "Cotton Eye Joe." The music store fellow believes the line "Where did you come from, Cotton Eye Joe?" is "Where did you come from? Kathmandu!") -- Mark

June 22 - Kathmandu - I am behind on the photo captions but ahead on selecting my new career - rickshaw driver, singer, or monk - hmmm. While the crew went off to Bhaktipur, I spent the day working on a brief and doing errands to get ready for our Tibet trip. While I'm working in the hotel room, I hear newsboys hawking papers. I find it amusing that Kathmandu has many more newspapers than any U.S. city. -- Mark

June 23 - Kathmandu to Nyalam, Tibet - We drove through part of Nepal to the border. After doing Nepal immigrations we crossed a bridge. On the exact middle of the bridge there was a red line. On one side it said China; on the other side was written Nepal. We could not get through, because the original permit was supposed to be brought by the Tibetan tour guide, but he was late. So, we waited for hours. When we finally got past, we rode a truck to the Chinese customs where we filled out a couple little sheets and some police checked our bags. I must tell you (Marco Polo-style) about the truck ride. First we got in and put our bags in the center, but to add to the confusion of getting situated and making sure everything is on (including people), Chinese and Tibetan moneychangers got on. Then someone said that three people had to get off. As soon as three got off, Tibetans started to get on. When we arrived at customs, we found out that a person from out group had gotten out of the truck, was left behind, and had to take a taxi to customs. -- Tote

After crossing the border into Tibet and waiting for our guide to come, we hopped in the back of truck and found ourselves in a scene that resembled something from a refugee movie. The truck lurched up perilous switchbacks on a "road" covered in wet rocks, mud, and small creeks, thanks to the pounding rain. If we had had seats, we would have been on the edge of them (we were on the edge of our packs) all the way to the Chinese customs post. After going through a contraband check, which consisted of a search for books, we hopped back on board some more trucks to ride to our busses at the top of the mountain. That ride was worse. Our group was in hysterics. One guy was taking pulls of whiskey and avoiding looking outside. People whoaaaaed when we hit bumps and curled up among the luggage. We squeaked past abysmal drops and actually drove beneath two good-sized waterfalls. -- Duncan

The Chinese customs official massaged my bag and then asked only one question in his search for contraband: "Do you have books?" When I admitted I had some, I had to open my bag. I hauled one out and waited while the young fellow, eyes inches from the page, examined the print on twenty pages of my Trollope. I confess I did not reveal that I was also carrying Wuthering Heights.

We spent the first day of the tour trying to get accustomed to being part of a tour. Other than surrendering all planning and nearly all decision-making to our guides, the biggest adjustment is to the other members of our group -- a Belgian who endures our cliffside trip in the bed of a wildly pitching truck with the aid of sips of whiskey from a hip flask and innumerable cigarettes; a Dutch girl whose high-pitched squeaks and squeals seem designed to emphasize her helplessness; and the Australian woman who shouts at the Tibetan guide, because she doesn't have a room with an attached bath and shower, though it's nearly midnight and nothing of the sort exists within 100 kilometers. The kids have no problem washing up in a metal basin using hot water from a thermos. At this stage, most of us are known by nationalities. This started, because neither the guides nor the border guards can cope with all the Western names, so they look for people by saying their nationality. (Image an unsmiling, uniformed Chinese border guard who has just kept 45 people waiting in the rain and sun and briefly in the middle of a small stream trying to say "Venezuela.") We are an exception; we're known as "the family." -- Mark

Tibet - June & July 2001 (Tibet photos) (back to top)

June 24 - Nyalam to Latse - Today we stopped for lunch in a tiny town. All the restaurants were very expensive, so we decided to stop in a small place and order some local food which we thought would be less expensive. We ordered momos, and Maggie remembered that in Tibet people ate something called tsampa, so we ordered some. The lady didn't understand English that well so it took a little time to communicate. When we were done ordering, we heard the squelch of a Tibetan tea maker. After about five minutes she brought in the Tibetan tea, and Mom instantly poured some into her glass. Tibetan tea is a buttery, salty broth that for some reason is called tea. I first thought that a salty, buttery tea was the worst drink in the world, but it was actually pretty good - until it gets cold. Then the lady came in with a hide bag. She reached over to our table and took the thermos of Tibetan tea. I had no idea what she was going to do, and when she poured it into the leather bag, I was ready to see it run out onto the floor. I was even more surprised when she started squeezing the bag like she was mixing something. Soon she reached into the bag and grabbed a handful of greyish dough. This was the tsampa. Dad was the first to taste it. He picked at it, but the lady instantly pulled another clump from the bag and showed Dad how to eat it by taking a big bite out of the clump. Tsampa is very good when it's warm, and surprisingly, does not taste like the buttered tea. After eating a lot of the tsampa, you couldn't eat another bit of it for at least two days afterwards. -- Tote

The Tibetans have evolved for life here. Their eyes are sunken; their mask-like faces closing over and under their sharp eyes. This is to keep out the harsh sunlight. It could also be to keep out as much of the gritty dust as possible. -- Duncan

June 25 - Latse to Xigatse - We went to a monastery called Tashilhunpo. I liked seeing the first chapel because it had a giant staute of Buddha, and it was full of prayer flags. There are also pillars with nails hammered into them, where people left necklaces, rings, bracelets, and watches. I don't know why they left that stuff. I also liked seeing the monks chant, and I thought I would like to make robes like theirs, so I could wear it for Halloween and for fun. When they were chanting, more monks came in with huge pitchers of yak butter tea. They poured them into clay bowls for the monks, when they were chanting. There was one monk that held some giant sticks of incense all together. They burned the whole time the monks were chanting. It smelled like tsampa. Tsampa is barley flour, sugar, and hot water mixed together in a leather bag made out of yak. Tibetan people eat it every day. I've tried tsampa but did not like it at all. The monks were wearing dark, red, long skirts and dark red vests. They also had a dark red cloth hanging over one shoulder. When they were chanting, they wore yellow-brown poncho-robes. When they walked in, they had on their hats. They were yellowish-brown and looked like the Tibetan hats that the yellow hat sect wears. The monks were any age boys and men. They sat while they chanted. Sometimes they rocked back and forth, and sometimes they looked behind them and saw us. -- Maggie

Our tour of Tahsilhunpo Monastery was wonderful. It was founded in 1447 and is the seat of the Panchen Lamas. Like the Dalai Lamas, the Panchen Lamas are a line of reincarnated spirtual leaders. We toured only a fraction of this well-preserved, walled monastery housing 820 monks. My favorite part was observing the evening chanting of about 50 monks in the dimly lit assembly hall. A big guy who sternly walked the aisle waving a thick, smoking incense stick, carrying himself like a sergeant at arms, smiled everytime he passed Maggie. -- Monica

This is day three of our barren bus ride to Lhasa. We travel by dune-like hills/mountains and on cliffside roads. As we hit bumps, everyone is catapulted into the air. Small rivers have carved collapsing, weathered cliff faces. Dry pink mud and some wisps of clinging, greenish grass spot splotches of tannish, grey gravel. Most vegetation is in the form of compact, velvety clumps of scrub close to the ground. At passes, prayer flags hang and cling in a wild nest of weather-bleached color. -- Duncan

We are on a tour to Tibet. The tour is a bad way, but it is the only way. -- Tote

I confess that by noon I had just about reached the end of my rope with this tour and with the Chinese. I feel like a prisoner. Only two restaurants in this town are approved for tourists; the others are supposedly off limits. Though the guides are willing to stop the bus when asked, we must cover a set distance every day, so there's no room for improvising. Very few people complain, though I think most everyone is frustrated. Many have motion or altitude sickness or both. Shortly after we arrived in Shigatse, Tote and I set off to change some money. Shigatse has a Tibetan and a Chinese part of town. The bank is in the Chinese part. The streets are wide, dusty, and lined with buildings covered with white tile. Though I tried to shake the thought, the white tile and dust remind me of a dirty restroom in an old service station.

Fortunately, we get to spend the afternoon in the Tashilumpo Monastery. It's my first exposure to Tibetan Buddhism, and I love it. I am also fascinated by the juxtaposition at Tashilumpo of Tibetan Buddhism and Chinese efforts to pervert it. The giant and unmistakably serene statue of "the present Buddha" makes me want to just sit quietly for six or seven years. (Our guide explains, softly, that what distinguishes Tibetan Buddhism from other strains is Tibetan Buddhism's emphasis on "the compassionate Buddha.") The enormous and unmistakably arrogant efforts of the Chinese to subvert the whole thing make me want to strangle someone.

I can understand, in principle, that the Dalai Lama is a reincarnation of the compassionate Buddha and that the Panchen Lama - the head of this monastery - is a reincarnation of "the Buddha of Divine Light." What I cannot understand is how the Chinese can be so arrogant as to screw around with the whole thing. Up until the 1950's, when the Chinese invaded, the Dalai Lama was the religious and political leader of Tibet, and the Panchen Lama was, more or less, second in spiritual command. In 1952 under communist military escort, the Chinese brought their own Panchen Lama to Tibet and enthroned him as head abbot of Tashilunpo. (In 1949, this 11 year-old Panchen Lama had supposedly written to Mao, asking him to "liberate" Tibet.) Though initially a Chinese puppet, this Panchen Lama ultimately presented Mao with a list of atrocities that China had commited on Tibet and a plea for increased freedoms. This landed the Panchen Lama in jail for 14 years and led to a campaign to "Smash the Panchen Reactionary Clique." In 1995, after the Panchne Lama died, the Dalai Lama identified Gedhun Choekyl Nyima as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. (The Dalai Lama had fled to India in 1959 after receiving a summons to attend a "cultural event" at a Chinese military base and being told to come without bodyguards and without telling anyone.) Within a month, the Chinese had moved six-year-old Gedhun to a government compound in Beijing (he has been dubbed "the youngest political prisoner") and ordered the senior lamas of Tashilumpo to come up with a Chinese-approved choice. (The abbot of Tashilumpo was tossed in the slammer for consulting with the Dalai Lama about the original choice.) The lamas eventually came up with Gyancain Norbu, the son of Communist Party members. The monks at Tashilumpo, apparently having learned their lesson, display Gyancain's picture.

Whenever anyone in our group starts to explain that there are two Panchen Lamas, our guides tell us to be quiet. I read about an American couple who handed a Dalai Lama tape to a monk at Tashilumpo found themselves being tailed by Chinese police. When they were stopped at a checkpoint, a fellow they recognized as a "monk" at Tashilumpo fingered them, and after a few days detention, they ended up being deported. According to a travel agent in Kathmandu, all of the Indian-educated guides had their guide permits pulled, after a Tashilumpo "monk" reported that a guide had mentioned "the true Panchen Lama." -- Mark

June 27 - Gyantse to Lhasa - My children just amaze me. Today was Maggie's turn. She shamed me into going swimming in a frigid lake in the Himalayas. When she heard me joking about taking a dip, she ran back to the bus, pulled her suit out of her backpack, and headed down to the lake. Once I realized she was going to call my bluff, I had to go too. Talk about cold. . . -- Mark

June 26 - Xigatse to Gyantse - Since we arrived at midday, we had time to eat lunch, then spend the long afternoon and early evening touring, painting, drawing, and learning some Tibetan. From the giant chorten known as the Gyantse Kumbum we could see the old, walled fort atop a neighboring hill. -- Monica

Today we painted on top of a big stupa, a huge stupa, with more chapels than I wanted to visit. I painted two pictures of a fortress perched atop a colossal rock hill. Some people from our group painted, too. After it started raining, we packed up the art stuff, and discovered, in the pitch darkness inside the stupa, a whole bunch of wall murals that were in perfect condition, because people didn't go back there and no light gets in. -- Duncan

Standing atop the Gyantse Kumbum the view of the Old Fort is unbelievable. I kept saying to myself, "This is real. You are really standing here. That building is really over there on that mountain. This is not a movie set." I still can barely believe that I have seen such a place. -- Mark

June 28 - Lhasa - Me and Tote got a monk robe that I'm going to wear for Halloween. My brothers are looking for a ghost dagger. A ghost dagger is to pin down bad spirits and to pin down bad weather. In Tibetan a ghost dagger is called a pudaba. -- Maggie

Being part of tour group is a real adjustment for us, but it did include a few advantages. For one thing, it is the only way to get to Tibet from Nepal. Advantages: not having to look around for a hotel; breakfasts included; knowledgeable guide; meeting some interesting, fun people - the other people, all foreigners, on the trip. Disadvantages: No free time . . . no "down" time . . . a different pace than we're used to; touring sites as a group; being around so many foreigners all the time inhibits contact with locals; each day cost more than we would have spent traveling independently - nearly as much as we spent in Paris. -- Monica

We are now about halfway around the world from DeKalb. -- Mark

June 29 - Lhasa - Today was the last day of our organized tour. We went to a big monastery, Drepung, in the morning, and the Summer Palace (of the Dalai Lama) in the afternoon. Yesterday we went to the Potala (Winter palace) and the Jokhang Temple, a pilgrimage site that Tote and I circumambulated while waiting for our dinner tonight. The Potala was run-down. It seemed like any old monastery with more burial stupas. The Summer Palace was a palace, not just a religious center. It was open, airy, and light. The Potala was dim, cramped, and blackened. I liked the Potala's exterior architecture best but not inside. I like how the Summer Palace was made up of smaller buildings inside of a big park. I really liked two pavilions built on a rectangular pond. -- Duncan

Mark: Do you think that this Dalai Lama will be the last? He says he won't be reincarnated in Tibet . . .
Tibetan Student: I think so. And then the book will be closed.
Mark: The book?
Tibetan Student: The book of Tibet. And once the book is closed, who will want to read it?
Mark: I think maybe lots of people.
Tibetan Student: No. Even in Tibet young people aren't that interested. Once it is closed it is over.

I was startled hearing "La Macarena" in Nepali coming from a Kathmandu bar. Today, I was even more startled to hear it in Chinese coming from a kitchen at Drepung Monastery. I didn't peek. I prefer to imagine there were four or five garnet-robed monks back there doing La Marcarena in unison. It's entirely possible. I was lost briefly and came on two monks in the midst of a water fight. They offered me a hose so I could join in. -- Mark

My favorite place at Drepung is the Main Assembly Hall. The large, dark hall is filled with long low benches. Hundreds of monks, clad in their garnet and gold robes were studying, chanting, and praying. The hum and buzz of their chants were discordant yet compelling. At first glance one might expect this immense hall of chanting monks to be a very solemn, reverent place, but I noticed the monks chatting, smiling, eating, reading, and chanting in a comfortable, informal manner. Several monks smiled and greeted me. I responded with the Tibetan greeting. At lunchtime, several monks appeared with large steaming pots, ladling out vegetables and broth into each monk's wooden bowl. The servers walked up and down the aisles, taking care not to spill on the scriptures situated on the laps of many monks. (I wished I could have found a secluded spot to sit, watch, and mainly listen, but unfortunately I had to run to catch up with our tour group.) -- Monica

History of Buddhism and Tibet: In the area of present-day Tibet, there was a cave. In this cave, there was a monkey. The monkey married an ogress in the shape of a beautiful lady. They had six children. The money taught them what a monkey eats, so the ancient Tibetans ate that. Soon they found that it was not enough, so the monkey taught them that the seeds of plants, when you planted them, would create another plant. So, the Tibetans planted barley in fields. Now they could make tsampa. (Tsampa is roasted barley that has been ground into powder. When water is added it makes a food. When you have yak butter tea and add it, the tsampa tastes much better.) After the Tibetans had gotten the hang of the food and clothes, they started to scout. One day a group of Tibetans found someone on a hill. They asked him where he had come from. The person did not know the Tibetan language, so he pointed south toward India. But the Tibetans thought the man had pointed to the sky, so they thought he was a god, so they made him a throne, and made him the first king of Tibet.

The king taught them about religion, and the Tibetans made a religion about nature and elements. Tibet went on until the 28th king's time when a group of Indians came and tried to convert them to be Buddhist. The Indians gave them lots of holy books and after a while they left unsuccessfully. When the 38th king, Susungampo, discovered the books, he sent 21 men to India to learn Sanskrit - the books were written in Sanskrit. Twenty of the 21 died on the way. After a while one came back with all the Indian masters and translated the holy books into the newly invented Tibetan script. Then the masters used magic to prove that Buddhism is great and converted them all. -- Tote

June 30 - Lhasa - It's fun when you go to a pilgrim site to do what the pilgrims do. Tonight, we went the Jokhang Temple to see the evening festivities. When we went inside, we went pretty directly to the Shakyamuni statue brought from Nepal by the Nepalese princess that married King Songtsen Gampo. Just when we started to circumambulate it, a guy gave Tote a whole handful of money and me a small handful of money. I gave Doozer some of it. We threw the money on the altar, bowed, and touched our heads to the dais. Then we walked around to behind the statue, and following some monks' leads, Tote and I touched our heads to the feet of a big statue behind the Shakyamuni. When we came around the right side of the statue, the same guy gave Maggie a white scarf to throw on the altar. Then we walked around to the front, bowed again, and walked out of the little chapel.

We also watched some monks chanting. The monks were not serious. They had bags of candy, nuts, and tsampa. One monk walked up, prayed, walked out. A monk walked up, prayed, and walked out. Another monk walked up, prayed, but prayed too long, so another monk rolled up a ball of tsampa and threw it at him. Some monk finishes eating. He crumples up his bag, looks around, pulls up his cushion and puts it under. Maggie saw a monk put a nut on the back of his hand. He smacked the back of his hand and caught the nut in his mouth. -- Duncan

Tibet is stunningly beautiful; learning about Tibetan Buddism is fascinating; trying to speak Tibetan is challenging and rewarding; the weather has been lovely - mostly sunny with that "dry, high mountains, summertime" cool; and Tibetans have been friendly. -- Monica

Is it really possible for the Tibetan version of "How much does it cost?" to baffle someone who runs a market stall in Tibet, even someone whose first language is Chinese? -- Mark

July 1 - Lhasa - Today we walked around, circumambulated, on a traditional pilgrimage route, old Lhasa. That means going through, all the way, the Chinese area of town. Ugly, wide streets lined with white-tiled buildings, green, yellow, and red-tiled sidewalks. The streets are lined with stores selling food, clothes, and unexpected things like bootlegged computer games. (Games cost about $1; Windows NT or 2000 costs about $6.50.) I love the old buildings, the Potala etc., but every view of them is marred by the ugly Chinese buildings.

A new line to my favorite food list: I got two hot dogs from two different street meat vendors. They were stuck on sticks, cut up the sides, boiled in hot oil, and spiced totally. -- Duncan
We walked the Lingkhor Kora. It was once one of the three sacred circumambulations, or paths around a sacred site, in Lhasa. Unfortunately this one now leads one down wide, sterile streets lined with white-tiled buildings - apparently the hallmark of Chinese Tibetan culture - and patrolled by mini-skirted Chinese girls wearing fat-soled high heels. There were a few interesting stretches, but in the main, our walk was an exploration of ugly, modern Chinese buildings and unconsciously hysterically funny Chinese "art." The main intersections in Lhasa feature goofy Soviet-style monuments. There's a charming one near our hotel. Its centerpiece is a couple squat figures wearing goofy hats with earmuffs - I believe the goofy hats signify the misshapen creatures are members of the Chinese military -- holding aloft a Chinese flag. One instant, I found it knee-slappingly funny; the next I wanted to attack it with a hammer. (There's a billboard on one of the main Lhasa streets showing an old woman hugging an earmuffed guy. It's funny, but since it isn't carved from stone and plopped in the middle of an intersection, it is simply stupid. This stone thing is genuinely offensive.) There's also "The Jewels of the Plateau," a pair of golden yaks plopped down in Lhasa's main intersection. The yaks were created to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Tibet's "liberation." (The Chinese also celebrated the 40th anniversary by confining all foreign tourists to their rooms, banning journalists, and declaring martial law. Even today, the yaks have their own guard.) Am I the only one who thinks that the yaks look Chinese? Check out the photo. -- Mark

July 2 - Lhasa - First, I will tell you about burial. When a kid dies they cremate them. (In Hinduism kids are buried, so it is exactly the opposite.) When a regular person dies a lama comes and makes a hole in the person's head. This allows the spirit to escape. After the spirit is free, a special person comes and crushes all the bones. The person then rolls the body up and puts it in a bag. The son of the person who crushes the bones then carries the bag on his back and circumambulates a temple and brings the body to a sky burial on a special area of a mountain. When they arrive, they put the body in a special spot where birds can eat it as an offering. This burial is called sky burial. If a lama dies, he is cremated. The lama's ashes are placed in a pot inside a stupa. The most interesting is for a Dalai Lama, Penchan Lama, and really special lamas or monks. The great person is covered in clay after a large ceremony. Then the body is moved into a position (like all the statues.) After the clay has hardened, they paint it and put the special person in a richly decorated stupa. The Penchan Lama is in the top of their stupa, and everyone else (the Dalai Lama and so on) is put next to their stupa. If someone is put to death by a machine (a gun, knife, etc.), their body is thrown into a river. When someone dies of disease, they are buried far underground. When a person commits suicide, they are cremated, but during the ceremony they read different books. -- Tote

Monica really put her finger on the problem of being a tourist in Chinese-occupied Tibet - it's the contrast between the two cultures. On our other stops, we haven't really been faced with two different and largely separate cultures and peoples living in one place. In Lhasa we are. Until now our "cultural clashes" have occured only when we crossed borders. The French trains were primitive; the Spanish ones delightful. When we left India, we were stunned by how clean Nepal was. When we visited Muktinath, a Tibetan village in Nepal, we were appalled at the how dirty the children were. Almost every time we crossed a border, we needed to adjust to different customs, prices, and personalities. Here in Lhasa, we are bounced back and forth between China and Tibet with no time to adjust whatsoever.
In the economic game, the Chinese are clearly the winners. In this cultural ping pong game, the Chinese are undoubtedly the losers. Tibetans say "Hello." They smile and ask questions, though they know we can't really understand. Tibetans say "please, have a seat." They offer some of whatever they are drinking or eating. If they are not eating or drinking, they run off to make tea. They don't quibble if all you have is a large denomination bill and you are a yuan short; they simply ignore the difference in your favor. Though we don't speak Tibetan, Tibetans generally make an effort to understand our amalgam of sign language, Tibetan, and English. Tibetans even respond to my rudimentary Chinese. We have never had a misunderstanding about price. -- Mark

July 3 - Lhasa - Monica: Tote! Don't worry. People are used to having moms do stupid things.

In Spain, when you order something to drink, they give you something to eat. Here it's the opposite. When you order something to eat, they give you tea to drink. -- Maggie

We have visited a bazillion monasteries, but I always come away from them feeling happy. I love talking to the monks, because they love talking to us. They are also so irrepressibly cheerful. Today we attended a debating session at Sera Monastery. We followed a young monk into the debating courtyard and found ourselves literally surrounded by hundreds of monks. Monks debate in pairs. One stands up, leans backward on one foot, lifts the other foot in the air, reaches one hand back above and behind his head and stretches the other forward - they look just like pitchers in a windup - and uncorks a question. If the seated monk answers correctly, the standing monk claps his raised hand, palm downward, onto the palm of his other hand. Palm upward means the answer was wrong. It was like being seated in the center of a bunch of crazed martial artists. Yet, like most of the monk activities we've seen, not everyone was exactly on task. The monks nearest us spent most of their time chatting, laughing at our sketches, posing for photos, and exchanging addresses. Every now and then, they would get serious and point out their grey-haired teacher approaching. -- Mark

July 4 - Lhasa to Chengdu -
Early in the morning we took a taxi to the airport. He insisted on getting the money first, so we gave it to him. As we were driving along through the dark blue streets of the early day, some people hailed our taxi. Our driver got out, and exchanged long words with the people. Then we got out and changed taxis. Meanwhile, we watched another taxi pull up, and the men hauled a lady from it and put her in a different one. Our driver drove so fast, and when we told him to slow down he just ignored us. Finally, Dad pounded on the window and told him to slow down and he drove really slowly all the rest of the way. After a short plane ride, we arrived in Chengdu. We walked to a restaurant. We had hot pot. Our hot pot was a pot with a fire under it. When it boiled, we put in eels, fish, noodles, bamboo, etc., and it tasted sooo good. It was the cheapest meal. The whole hot pot cost about 30 yuan, about four dollars. -- Tote

Mark: Tote has really come full circle.
Monica: What do you mean?
Mark: He just ate a fish eye. When we were in France he ate blue cheese and started crying.
Tote: Is there another one? I just swallowed the first one. I didn't get a chance to bite it.

We have discovered, reading the hotel information pamphlet, that if we were to take the wallpaper, the hotel would charge us 50 Yuan; a sofa would run us 250; and the toilet seat goes for 500. But, after thinking about it, we are considering swiping the bathtub. It's only 500 and pound for pound a better deal than the toilet seat. The Notice to Guests tells us that illicit sex and smuggling are strictly forbidden. We should be able to abide by that one, but the "Do not move randomly" rule is going to be tough. -- Mark

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