Our first stop this morning was to Drepung Monastery, which is about 10 miles outside of Lhasa and at one point was the largest Buddhist Monastery in the world. (There used to be around 10000 monks living there, but now there are only around 700.) The view from the monastery is incredible, since it's built on the side of a mountain, and if I lived there I'm sure I would be admiring the view like this:
Our next stop was at a Tibetan carpet shop. It was pretty cool to see how they made the carpets by hand, especially since I've got some back home. The interior of the shop reminded me of shopping for rugs back when I was decorating my apartment in New York, although with rugs only in Tibetan styles that I don't like all that much. Still, they were beautiful, and I admire the work and craftsmanship that goes into them.
Tibetan Buddhists believe that spinning the prayer wheels clockwise will send prayers up to heaven, and they walk along the wall spinning the wheels so they can send many prayers up.
Our next stop was at the Jokhang Temple. It's the first Buddhist temple built in Tibet, and has the most venerated Buddha statue in all of China. Unfortunately, pictures aren't allowed in the temple, so I can't share that image. The view from the roof is a nice view of Lhasa from the middle of town (although I don't like how my pictures turned out.)
I'm amazed that there are so many stalls selling so many of the same things and they all stay in business, but if you look closely you can occasionally find unique stalls. One stall outside of a dental shop displayed golden teeth; one member of our tour said that he had seen them performing dental work through the window yesterday.
After dinner, a group of us went out for a Tibetan foot massage. Only the first 45 minutes concentrated on the feet; the rest covered the rest of the body. We got split up into two rooms, the men in one room and the women next door. The women massaging us were adamant that we drink the green tea they had provided, and the one massaging me eventually got to just hitting my feet when she had decided I hadn't been drinking enough tea.
After the massage a group of us went out to a Tibetan folk music bar. I don't think a photograph would have done it justice even if I had my camera with me, but hanging out over a couple of beers, listening to Tibetan folk music while chatting with friends from the tour is one of those memories that's going to stick with me for a very long time.
This morning was a bit hectic: we had a very early flight, and had to deal with getting through a customs line where the customs agent had decided that our group was so large that our visas each had to be checked individually. I'm not entirely sure that makes sense: apparently, if the group had been a smaller group, the whole group would have been let through. Of course, the lists weren't in alphabetical order, so things took a while, and the last people were let on the plane as the doors were closing.
Everybody made it to Lhasa, though. It was refreshing to see blue sky and clear air for the first time since arriving in China. Even in the countryside it has been pretty hazy. I think Lhasa is the first Chinese city I've been in where it's possible to see the mountains outside the city limits:
Since I spent most of the day in the hotel acclimatizing myself to the altitude, today didn't have too many photos. So aside from the above picture from a hotel room window and this one of the hotel lobby I don't have much to offer:
For dinner I ended up going out with a couple of other ex-Mudders who weren't on the tour. We ended up at an Indian restaurant on Barker's Square which was quite good. As much as I'm enjoying the tour group, it was nice to get away for a little while.
This morning didn't have the sunrise I was hoping for: instead, it was pouring
rain when we woke up at 5:10 in the morning. Rather than suffer through a
breakfast of eggs, bread, and jam, a couple of friends and I decided to make
some noodles at our room. Even using only about a fifth of the spice packet,
it was still pretty spicy, but I didn't really want to overdo it at breakfast.
We then headed down the mountain. I'm amazed at the speed the bus drivers
take those turns, and especially amazed at how they do things like pass on
blind corners (they honk so people know they're coming.)
Our first stop of the day was at a silk brocade factory:
The embroidery here didn't impress me as much as one of our previous stops,
but the looms were still pretty impressive.
We later stopped at an old shrine, the only such to commemorate both an emperor
and a prime minister. Unfortunately, while I was busy admiring the grounds,
the tour guide was marching on ahead, so I didn't get too much of the story,
but I've just about reached my saturation point for Chinese history, so it was
definitely the right tradeoff for me to make. In one of the courtyards, there
were little statues scattered around of animals and fruits:
The next stop was at a tea factory. I didn't end up buying any tea, but we
tasted 4 different kinds. The demonstation was quite impressive:
One woman was lecturing to us in Chinese about tea as one of our guides
translated. The woman seated at the table was busily brewing tea the whole
time, while two additional women poured and distributed the tea. And of
course, after the presentation, everything we tasted was available for
Dinner tonight was advertised as "western" cuisine, which wasn't something
that appealed to me (or a few others) so we ended up going out to a hot pot
restaurant. This is one where they heat a pot of broth in the middle of the
table, and then bring various things (raw meats, vegetables, noodles) to
throw in to the pot to cook. We didn't really know what we were doing, but
the wait staff was intent on helping us out. The full meal, including drinks,
ended up costing less than six dollars a head, and was quite delicious.
It turned out that "western" in this case meant western Taiwanese, in spite of
the fact that this isn't what the guides advertised it to be, so the rest of
the group's meal ended up being somewhat interesting as well. Still, having a
little adventure where they didn't speak a lick of English was well worth it.
I got advice on how to set my camera to capture an image of Baily's Beads or
a diamond ring just before totality, and here's the result:
Not too much to see there, mainly because the fog never cleared. So while I
have yet to actually see a total eclipse, I've still experienced over four
and a half minutes of totality, which is a bit incredible itself. Because of
the fog, it likely didn't get quite as dark as it would have otherwise, but
it was still as dark as night during totality. I noticed it getting dimmer
about half an hour before totality, which some experienced eclipse watchers
tell me I would normally not have noticed due to spending time looking at
the partial eclipse phase.
Apparently much of the path of totality was engulfed in clouds, so at least
I got to experience a clouded over eclipse on a beautiful mountaintop. This
trip was more about seeing China and Tibet to me anyway, but there are some
people on the tour who are depressed that they didn't get to see it.
I spent most of the rest of the day wandering around the mountaintop, which
has a few Buddhist temples on it (the mountaintop is a holy place for
Buddhists). In front of each of the temples is a stand for worshippers to
and between the candles and the temple, burning incense:
I definitely want to come back on a less rainy occasion; this place is
Today we headed up to Emei Shan, the mountain where we are planning on seeing
the eclipse tomorrow. On the way, we stopped at the Leshan Buddha, a big
Buddha carved into the side of the cliffs on the river:
It's quite spectacular, and if I hadn't felt like I was melting from a half
hour boat ride, I would have been disappointed that we didn't get a chance to
climb the Buddha ourselves. Or see the Sleeping Buddha that is carved into
a nearby hillside (he's lying down instead of sitting like the one above.)
It was a splash of color on a pretty hazy day, but the spicy heat I imagine
when seeing these peppers is quite different than the draining humid heat I
felt when taking the picture.
This evening was one of the few times on this trip that I didn't have my
camera. This was unfortunate because after dinner, we saw spectacular light
in the clouds over the temple on the top of the mountain. Hopefully
tomorrow's sunset will be similarly spectacular.
We got back in Chengdu tonight. I have three days of blog posts to post, but unfortunately, the hotel internet connection doesn't seem to be letting me post pictures. Since I have to wake up early tomorrow in order to catch the flight to Lhasa, Tibet, I'm going to worry about posting everything later.
The trip is going well, and I'm really looking forward to spending some time in Tibet.
My stomach settled down enough that I made it out to dinner and the Sichuan Opera this evening. I still have yet to eat at a Sichuan restaurant: for some reason they took us to a Cantonese restaurant today. That was probably a good thing for my stomach, though, so I guess I won't complain that I haven't had real Sichuan food yet.
After dinner we went to the Sichuan Opera. It's not like a western opera in that it's a bunch of smaller performances instead of one long work. We saw hand shadows, stick puppets, and some mini-plays accompanied by music, in addition to the specialties of Sichuan opera, face-changing and fire-breathing:
The fire breathing is pretty self-evident (and photogenic). The face changing involved changing masks (I think as many as 10 over the course of a minute, and it was difficult to tell quite how they accomplished it in most cases. It was an entertaining evening.
Tomorrow we leave for Emei Shan, where I won't have internet access, but where I will hopefully get some pictures of an eclipse. My next blog post will likely be three days from now, but hopefully I'll have a lot of pictures to accompany it...
As predicted, I took no pictures yesterday. The flight from Xian to Chengdu ended up getting delayed quite a bit, so we didn't get in until around 8.
I likely won't be taking any pictures today either: instead I'll be hanging out at the hotel with my friend Immodium AD. This means that I'll miss seeing the giant pandas and a local museum, neither of which I was particularly thrilled about, and a couple of Sichan meals, which I was really looking forward to. Oh well, I'll just hope that the day we come back after going up the mountain my stomach has recovered enough. (I also suspect that I'll need to come back as part of a smaller group; I think they're toning down the food quite a bit for the American tourists...)
I'm hoping that my roommate on the trip will help me keep my promise to post panda pictures this evening. I'm sure she'll take some pictures of them.
First, a note on internet connectivity. Every night that I have internet, I plan on updating this blog. Tomorrow, I fly to Chengdu, where I don't know if I'll have internet access. After two nights in Chengdu, I'll be up at Emei Shan for two nights, and there's definitely no internet access there. After that another night in Chengdu (possible internet, we'll know tomorrow), before flying of to Tibet until the 29th when I'll get back to Beijing. According to the hotel website, I'll have internet access there, so the radio silence should only be a few days long. Now that we've got that out of the way...
I would have liked to have spent more time there rather than going to our next stop, the Shaanxi Provincial Museum. Sometimes I'm in the mood to look at cultural relics in glass display cases, but today wasn't one of those times (it didn't help that the interpretive placards often didn't have English, unlike just about every other place we've gone). I relaxed on a bench on the museum grounds, enjoying a nice view of the museum's architecture and the Chinese national bird, the construction crane:
After lunch, we went to the Bell Tower in the middle of town, followed by a trip to the city wall (the last such complete wall remaining in China.) A couple of hours' rest in the hotel was followed by an amazing dumpling dinner (16 kinds of dumplings, most of them shaped to look similar to their stuffings, and the fish dumpling looked just like a koi.)
This did involve basically walking through a park in the dark at night, which I suppose is something that we might have reasonably been worried about, but the people we encountered were either friendly, curious, or mystified at our behavior (especially when experimenting with the exercise equipment or when setting my camera up with both a timer and a long exposure time.)
All that said, it was a really fun excursion out on the town, and we managed it without even getting close to getting lost. (Which admittedly might make a better story.) One last night on the firmest bed I've ever slept on (it's almost, but not quite, like sleeping on a wooden platform with sheets)...