01 June 2005

Chapter 3: China is Everywhere

Dearest All-

Well, it's been awhile. I have been trying out new China Tourism
slogans in my head the last few weeks, including my favorite 'CHINA:
You've gotta be kidding' and 'CHINA: All the bureaucracy you never knew
you didn't have in your life'. Last time I wrote we were leaving the
(now I realize) haven of Hong Kong, and crossing back into the
People's Republic, which in fact could be called the people's republic
of idiot rules. From there Josh and I went to Yangshuo, where we
spent several awesome days mountain biking between strange limestone
karst mountains and swimming in the river with water buffalo. We took
the train to Kunming (a train we named 'Old Creaky'- it appeared to be
the first train China ever had- wooden carriage, no aircon, everyone
smoking and spitting everywhere). In Kunming we met our friend Amber
who had been waiting for us. I set a new record here in China- we
were five days late to meet Amber. One could blame it on the
emergency root canal I had in HK, but really- five days? I even
impressed myself.

From Kunming we went to Lijiang, a small town on the edge of the
Tibetan plateau, and hiked the Tiger Leaping Gorge. It was amazing-
at one point you could see 3500 meters of mountain from the top of the
peaks to the bottom of the gorge (about 10000 feet). We stayed at
some guesthouses along the way and at night the stars spread across
the sky like spilt sugar on a black tablecloth.

We moved from Lijiang to Chengdu via bus and train, and set out from
Chengdu to Songpan. Songpan is a little backwater in the north of
Schezuan province. Josh and Amber and I went horse trekking for three
days, climbing around 1500 meters on the most flatulent horses I have
ever been around. Possibly they had so much gas because our guides
fed them nothing but hay and a half a basketball of beans each night
(seriously- a basketball was used as a feedbag...awesome). Our
horses' gas powered exertions brought us above the tree line for some
truly beautiful views across our own valley and into the next. I
never realized that so much of China looked like Switzerland.

From Songpan (get out the map here) we traveled on what might be
called a bus to Zoige- a town built out of dust in the middle of no
where. On this so called bus we stopped every five seconds to pick up
passengers and sticks. That's right, our bus was transporting sticks.
When we got to Zoige aka Dust Town (which I will admit was in the
middle of a grassland plateau that I cannot describe well, I leave you
with these words: sky stretching to infinity, endless grassland
punctuated by low mountains raising up as if to guard the next valley
from the intrusion of the current one), we got on a bus that had no
seats for us, so the next 10 hours were spent crouching in the aisle
as the bus lumbered over a dirt road, occasionally stopping to deliver
pastries to Tibetan pilgrims, occasionally stopping for a piss break,
and occasionally stopping for no reason at all. After 48 hours in
transit, we arrived in Xiahe, a town on the border of Tibet.

I have seen lots of great things in China and meet lots of great
people. However, I am ready to leave. China is a country of poor
people, rich people, and the people in between who enforce the rules.
I am tired of the Chinese Rules. Tomorrow we begin our transit to
Tibet, and eventually to Nepal and India. I can't wait to get
somewhere that people have a sense of humor...

China weary and Tibet bound,