Monday, October 12, 2009

I'm Writing @ A Mandala of Amanda

I have moved. Read about my life and musings post-Inner Mongolia at:

much love,


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

at every end there is a beginning

I'm afraid to say that this American girl isn't in Inner Mongolia anymore. And this American girl doesn't plan on going back to Inner Mongolia anywhere on her calender.

Everything regarding getting Nina the Pug went smoothly. She got spayed, micro chipped and licensed yesterday, so she is officially an Albuquerque dog. Less than 4 hours after I picked her up after her surgery, she was caught nosing through the trash for a chicken bone. She is doing fine.

Prof. Ned and I are like a wide river that has diverged into two streams. We've chosen to separate, remain friends, but ultimately go our separate ways. I miss having him around, but feel honored to have had him accompany me half way around the world for a year.

Near future plans are to eat lunch, drink tea, watch movies and giggle with girlfriends. Spend time with my parents and two brothers. Finish my application for an MA program to begin in the spring, in the meantime substitute teach, or waitress. I'm enjoying riding my fast road bike around, and I've been savoring American foods like chips and dip, macaroni and cheese (thank you mom!) and mint chocolate chip ice cream. wow, all things with dairy that will make me fat.

The blogging experience has been wonderful for me, and I hope to continue it in the future.

This is the last post for American Girl inher Mongolia.

it makes me sad to write that, but at every end there is a beginning, and my writing will continue in another form, in another place.

If I begin a new blog I will post the forwarding url, on this blog.

Thank you all for reading.

Peace and blessings,


Saturday, July 18, 2009

first reactions back

I’m back in a familiar place, in the southeast neighborhoods of Albuquerque, close by the University of New Mexico, surrounded by old tiny homes and paved bicycle trails that weave through the hot mesa and highways. I’m in my favorite coffee shop hangout. The walls are crowded with colorful art for sale, ceiling fans whirl above, and the dreadlocked hippies, glasses-wearing intellectuals, and fixed-gear bike riding hipsters sit at tables around me drinking their black coffee and musing over their laptops. I feel comfortable in my skin, even though my legs are hairy and I keep reminding myself to buy a disposable razor. I’m typing on my trusty 6 year old laptop that’s been sitting in storage for a year. I’m thankful it works fine, even though it’s old granny slow, and is heavy to carry around. The keys are indented to my hands and it’s free and easy to type. It’s comforting to have all my documents and pictures through college on this laptop, and I look forward to adding more happy images and thoughts of my life to the hard drive.
My first reactions to being back in the States are:

1. Americans are a lot more considerate than the Chinese. The flight attendents were so nice to me about having Nina on the plane. Servers at restaurants are friendly and precise. I don’t mind tipping when I receive such friendliness and a comfortable ambiance when I eat.

2.The ease of communication. It’s nice to be able to speak my mother tongue and have everyone understand me. I don’t miss saying, "Wo bu dong" all the time. (I don’t understand).

3. The unfairness of prices at Target—meaning the prices seem too low. Target provides an air-conditioned store, carts and baskets to use, organized shelves, friendly employees and simply, attractive merchandise at a very low price. It seemed so unfair to me to pay one dollar for a pair of colorful socks, and five dollars for a good pillow considering the material and machines it took to make it, the transportation cost from China, the hands that put it on the shelf, and all the other services provided to me the shopper that I listed above. I realized that I never thought about this before, and I imagine most Americans don’t worry about fair trade on their shopping expeditions to chain stores.

4. The cleanliness of the streets and the loss of bicycles, vendors and noise from the streets.

All in all, I feel glad to be back, although a bit disoriented and jet-lagged. Such is life on the way "home", right?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Tibet Journal July 5th-12th

*this journal details Ned and my recent trip to Tibet day by day. I usually don't write in a diary entry form, but I didn't want to forget anything about this trip and I wanted to shine my own light on such a mysterious and unknown place in the world for many.

Monday, July 6th

Last night, we left Tongliao with an entourage of students, friends and the ever faithful Tomstone who was to accompany us to Beijing and help us with our bags. It was a sad, tearful goodbye. At one point, we said our good-byes, we were on the train, but the group of students were still crying and waving on the platform. I was crying inside the train. Ned had to write a note and put it up to the window that read, "Go home. You are breaking our hearts." Finally, the train pulled away, and we looked out at the corn fields, grassland and roaming sheep one last time.
At 6:50am, Ned, Nina, Tomstone, and I arrived at the Beijing North train station from Tongliao. The train was on time, Nina was cooperative and we successfully navigated the busy platform with the help of a porter with a cart.

Phantom, an employee of World Care Pet Transport was waiting for us with a van. I was pleasantly surprised that she was on time and so helpful. We all loaded into the van with our suitcases and bags, (Nina sat on my lap) and we drove to a small animal hospital to pick up a Vetrinarian. After a brief walk with Nina and lots of holding Nina up to a window full of cats pacing and anxious for their morning meal, the Vet was ready, and we all loaded into the van again. We arrived at World Care Pet, and I was pleased to meet Kiki Chen, who I have been in contact with for the past several months about taking Nina to America. She instantly tried to sell me a $130 carrier for Nina, telling me that her present carrier would not be acceptable for the flight. I cringed at the price, but really had no choice but to be cooperative and fork over the money. It was a tearful goodbye as we left Nina, who stared confused and upset towards the window looking for us. With her three walks a day, Purina dog chow, a doggie swimming pool, and a pet play hour, I’m sure she’ll be fine.
After dropping off Nina we raced to the airport to check in for our flight to Chengdu. For the second time that morning we had to fork over $130 for overweight luggage. We were carrying all our possessions from Inner Mongolia, and we didn’t take into account that there would be a strict weight regulation for Air China, not to exceed 20 kilos a person.
We said goodbye to the trustworthy Tomstone, (I cried some more tears) and hurried along to catch our plane.
Our flight to Chengdu was uneventful except for some turbulence that put me on edge. We had a predictable plane lunch of chicken and rice, and after eating I feel into an exhausted sleep for the last hour of the flight.

From Chengdu, we gathering our luggage again, and we had to re-check in, and present our Tibet permits. Our flight to Tibet was only an hour and a half, and we were fed snacks and juice and tea. Descending into Lhasa was a beautiful sight of arid, brown mountains and tiny specks of villages in scant green valleys. When we landed in Lhasa, gathered our belongings, and exited, I was struck by the bright blue sky and the puffy white clouds. I felt a bit dizzy and tired most likely from the attitude. We quickly found our guide who was holding up a sign that read, "Wel-come to Tibet, Amanda Beth." I was happily surprised to see my name, and not Ned’s because he planned the trip, and in all the places we’ve been picked up it always says his name. We met our guide, Sa Nam, a small brown, emotionally guarded young man, who wore prayer beads around his neck. We stopped to get bottles of water, and a young woman joined us in the van. Sa Nam told us the girl was the driver’s sister. As experienced travelers, Ned and I knew that was a lie. We drove along a wide new road, passing two clean, shallow rivers abundant with tall trees rising out of the streams. We stopped on the side of the road for a modestly sized watermelon. We were shocked to find out the price of a watermelon in Tibet is about four times more than in Inner Mongolia. We all sat in little chairs at a dirty table with Sa Nam, the driver and the girl, and we each ate two slices of watermelon. An old Tibetan woman came over and stood at a distance watching us eat. We gave her a slice that she took and ate by the side of the van. After that, we peed in the trees, and we continued on for about a hour to Lhasa. I was surprised to see so many Chinese soldiers with guns, and Chinese tanks and trucks roaring by on the narrow winding roads. We got caught in a traffic jam, and I watched school children walk by in uniforms. Some carried backpacks, some popsicles. They were all small and sturdy, with dark faces and colorful layered clothing. Old women passed by too, with their long hair braided in with pieces of yarn. They carried babies on their backs, and I saw one older woman carrying a whole desk strapped to her back, and another woman followed behind with a wooden chair strapped to her back, and on the seat of the chair was another large bag loaded with something else. I developed a headache in the van from the lack of air coming through the windows, and a little nausea from the stopping and going of the van. The truck in front of us was carting three cows. We had three skinny cow butts to look at for most of our journey.

When we arrived in Lhasa, I was surprised to see so many Chinese billboards and advertisements. The ubiquitous chains: China Mobile, Bank of China, and Dicos Chicken were all present in the city. As we winded our way into town my eyes were greeted by the magnificent Potala Palace. My students have all been telling me about this old, mysterious palace and it was wonderful to see it with my own eyes.

Finally, we tired travelers arrived at our hotel, Dhood Gu Hotel at 7:30pm. The hotel lobby was adorned by colorful tapestries, and old wooden furniture draped in woven quilts. Our room was decorated in the same fashion, with old wooden furniture painted with geometric shapes, dragons, flowers, pigs, and fire. We were happy to see two quilted, warm twin beds waiting for us to rest our tired bodies on.
We quickly hurried to dinner (as the restaurant closes at 8pm) and ordered an Indian meal with curry chicken, spicy vegetables, Daal, rice, and Masala tea. I had happy memories of India, and there were lots of "mmmms" of delight that echoed in the empty restaurant as we savored our Indian meal. Ned had a bowl of rice pudding for dessert and I went upstairs and plopped in bed and turned on the TV and found an old movie with Robin Williams. I starred exhausted at the TV, Ned propped up with a book, and a bit later I took a bath—the first bath I’ve had all year!
At bedtime I felt worried about Nina, and sad that she wasn’t snuggled by my side, like usual. I cried a little bit, and felt sad about leaving Tongliao, but exhaustion overcame by sadness and I quickly fell into a deep sleep.

Tuesday July 7th
This morning I woke up at 7am, to find that Ned had already been awake for hours, but had been so polite as to not get up and make any noise. He made coffee for him, and tea for me. We quickly washed faces, brushed teeth, and got dressed. We were out the door before 8am for a morning stroll.
The difference between Tibetans and Chinese is so distinct. Chinese tend to wear modern clothing, to always be chattering on their cell phones, to talk loudly and stare, and smile and frown openly at others. Tibetans tend to wear traditional clothing made out of natural fibers, and in layers. The women and men have long hair. Some had pale blue eyes. They wear lots of jewelry and are smaller and darker than Han Chinese. They come off as quieter, and emotionally mysterious. Ned guided me through a small cobble stone road where we saw vendors setting up to sell fresh yak milk and butter and meat. We made our way into a very smoky street where we watched Tibetans walk in a crowded procession chanting prayers and carrying flowers. Some were fully prostrating themselves in front of the temples again and again. Some people had a casual air about them, and talked to their neighbors and guided their pet dogs on a leash. Others were clearly involved in a religious ceremony and were twirling prayer wheels, chanting "Om Mane Padme Hum" and were in deep religious concentration. I had a hard time breathing in the smoky air from the abundance of incense and pine branches being burned for prayers. Ned and I circumambulated with the crowd for awhile. I took some photos, and we went back to our hotel to eat breakfast before our guide arrived.
We enjoyed the free breakfast buffet. I swear I’m Chinese now because I like to eat vegetables, beans and rice for breakfast. I supplemented the veggies and rice with a piece of toast with butter, and some more wonderful Masala tea. Ned had lots of bread and muffins, and two fried eggs. Afterwards, we rested for a half and hour, and then went downstairs to meet Sa Nam.
From our hotel we walked to Jokhang temple. Sa Nam bought the tickets and we went inside the enormous Tibetan Buddhist Temple that was built in the 7th century. The temple was very crowded with tight lines of Tibetans waiting to say their prayers in the little dark rooms with Buddha statues. Inside the temple, it was enormous, and as Sa Nam started to explain the difference between the kings, lama, buddhas and boddhisatvas, I thought to myself that Tibetan Buddhist is very complicated. The walls of the temple were painted with intricate landscapes and people and stories. The Tibetans purchased Yak butter at the entrance and were putting a dab into large candle holders as their made their way from room to room. The temple was very dark and smoky and the floor was slippery with yak butter. We went through two floors of temple rooms, and finally ascended the stairs to the roof of the temple to have a view at the brown, bountiful mountains, the bright blue sky, bright white clouds and the Potala Palace resting majestically in the distance. I felt fatigued from climbing the stairs and reminded myself that I need to take it easy in this altitude (more than 12,000 feet). We sat down in the shade and drank cans of coke and took in the beautiful view.
At about 11:30am, we went with our guide to buy tickets for Potala palace tomorrow. He dropped us off at our hotel and we bought chocolate bars and biscuits to compliment with tea for an easy lunch. Ned read and napped, and I wrote.
Again we met Sa Nam at 2:00pm to go to a monastery. The sun beat down strongly on us as we got out the van at the monastery. Instantly, a vendor woman cajoled me into looking at her booth of jewelry. Some of her earrings were appealing, but I wasn’t carrying a lot of money, and thought that the prices here would be higher than in the bazaar district in town. I gave her false hope, unintentionally as I looked at the earrings and she followed me up the hill with the earrings and a calculator saying, "How much, how much, tell me how much?" I politely shooed her away.
All of Sa Nam’s explanations about places we visit begin with, "Before the cultural revolution…." followed by a description, and then, "After the cultural revolution," followed by another description. I am aware that people who have gone through life-changing, traumatic incidents often speak in the before/after mode. The monastery had 700 monks before the Cultural Revolution, and now only about 200. As we meandered through large monastery complex, we couldn’t help but notice Chinese guards sitting on corners or on rooftops and the surveillance cameras that popped up at the crossroads. As obvious as this may seem, Tibetans are not allowed to keep a picture of the Dalai Lama in any temple, and if anyone is found with a picture of him, they probably will be sent to jail, or get into big trouble. Ned told me that some monks are actually Chinese spies, and in this way they are able to invoke fear in the other monks and report what goes on to their superiors.
I arrived in Tibet with an open mind about the Chinese occupation of Tibet. After all, Tibet has been a part of China since the 1940s. All I knew about Tibet was what I heard from the Dalai Lama, and the Dalai Lama has been exiled from Tibet for decades, so maybe his version of the truth isn’t accurate with how Tibetans feel today. On the flight to Chengdu I read an article in the China Daily written by a Tibetan monk living in Tibet. He claimed that he knows what the Tibetan people want, that the status quo is all right for everyone, and that what everyone wants is a stable, growing economy. He said Tibetans want peace, not conflict as the Dalai Lama wants. After I read it, I wondered if this monk wrote this article freely and honestly, or if the Chinese paid him off to write something pro-China and anti-Dalai Lama. The China Daily is a governmental newspaper, (no independent press in China) so who knows, everything could be fabricated.
Constantly passing by Chinese soldiers carrying large guns is frightening. The oppression of the Tibetans is so fierce and hopeless that is carries a heavy weight. I can read it on the faces of the people, I can hear it in the voice of our guide, and I can imagine how it carves veins of fear into the hearts of the people, when they think about their complete lack of power, freedom and independence.
Sa Nam told us that he escaped illegally out of Tibet and into Nepal, and stayed in Nepal for two years learning English. Then he came back to Tibet, and the Chinese never discovered him. We told him he is a very lucky man. If he was discovered he would be in prison.
After our walking, talking, and seeing lots of beautiful Buddhas, we went back to our hotel to rest. The high elevation causes me to feel more fatigued and hungry than usual. I bathed and read and used the computer downstairs. Ned and I shared a pot of Masala tea in the lobby. We went out after 7pm, to a Western restaurant called Dunya and we shared a cheese pizza and a yak enchilada with coleslaw on the side. Both dishes were delicious. The portions weren’t oversized and we enjoyed a so-so piece of apple pie for dessert. Afterwards we walked to the Potala Palace and took pictures and strolled in the park across the street people-watching, and talking. We waited for a light-show that an Indian couple told us happens at sunset across the street for the Potala, but nothing happened. We got back to our hotel at 10pm, and found that a good movie, "The Kite Runner" was on TV. It was depressing and well done, and afterwards Ned said "This world is unfair, unjust and uncompassionate." I felt exactly the same, and sighed and thought to myself that whatever I do in life, I need to contribute to making this world a better place.

Wednesday, July 8th
This morning I woke up late to Ned coming in from a morning walk. We had the morning off, and spend it resting at the hotel. We breakfasted: Masala tea and toast, mostly. I studied Chinese for about an hour, and then wrote for another hour. Ned went downstairs to use the computer. I ate half a snickers bar for lunch, and at 11:30am we went downstairs to meet Sa Nam to go to Potala Palace.
Potala Palace: wow! I am not clear about the complete history of the palace because it is so old, and our guide’s English is not that easy to understand. My Chinese students told me that a Tang dynasty princess lived there with a Tibetan king. It is a majestic white Tibetan castle that we entered after mountain goating it up 360 stairs, and these are not easy stairs, they are narrow and uneven and wide and old stone steps at over 12,000 feet. We took it slow, but the strength of the sun, and the elevation almost made me want to cry out.
Inside the palace are numerous Buddhas and beautiful paintings on the wall, just like in every other Buddhist temple or monastery we’ve visited. The Chinese are not good at maintaining and cleaning things. I got the feeling that the Potala Palace is treating more like a museum than a living, religious, historical relic. Everything was dirty and dusty. The glass shelves were smudged and the plaster walls were cracked. Some of the dust on the tall tapestries looked like it had been there since the 7th century. There were numerous rooms for the Dalai lama, thrones, carvings, paintings. My goblet was quickly filled by the plethora of visual images all cluttered together with intricate details and explanations in Tibetan, Chinese and English. I took lots of pictures to send to my students in Inner Mongolia.
Afterward, I rehydrated with grapefruit juice, and we went back to the hotel. I napped and Ned read.
We were picked up again at 3pm to go to another monastery. I bought a couple green apples from the Chinese fruit vendor across the street and we drove across town to a monastery where 200 monks live. Sa Nam told us that before the Cultural Revolution there were 5,000 monks there. Thankfully, this monastery didn’t have any steps to climb. We got to see monks in a courtyard arguing about scriptures. They do this kind of questioning every afternoon to strengthen their critical thinking skills about the Buddhist texts. It was fun to watch monks get angry and yell, but stay cross-legged and composed at the same time. We also walked through another beautiful temple and a prayer flag making room where these three poor little men were hunched over hand-printing pieces of cloth with ink painted on a metal stamp. They stamped and rolled ink onto the flags so fast. I asked Sa Nam if they get paid, and he said yes, but who knows.
Afterwards, I ate a watermelon popsicle, and Ned took some pictures of local people. We stopped at a dirty barber shop and Ned got a hair cut while I played photographer for his special photo collection called, "Hair Cuts of the World." We went back and read for a while and shared a king sized Twix bar, and drank some tea in the room.
Tonight we were invited out to dinner by our tour company. We went to a large hotel, where we were served yak butter tea and barley beer. The tea tasted sort of like buttery mashed potatoes in liquid form, and the barley beer tasted like Chinese Kumbucha. It was fermented and a little sour. I liked both, but Ned liked them more and drank 6 or 7 glasses of barley beer and a few cups of tea. I gorged on the Chinese/Tibetan buffet. I had rice, vegetables, yak meat, more veggies, spicy soup and yak yogurt and cauliflower and potatoes. The meal was so delicious that I was horrified to see that another American couple only had a large spoon of rice, some plain noodles and a small amount of spinach on their plates. What a shame. I wasn’t brave enough to try sheep’s lung or intestines, but I liked the yak yogurt.
We enjoyed a show of Tibetan dances, and at the end they invited people in the crowd to join them. Of course Ned and I acquiesced. After, we got a ride back to the hotel and went on a stroll around our vibrant neighborhood of vendors and prayers and beggars. Another good, full day.

Thursday, July 9th
I woke up with a slight stomach ache from my meal last night. I took it easy on breakfast and ate two whole-wheat pieces of toast and a cup of tea. We left Lhasa at 9am and spent the whole day driving on winding mountain roads to Gyantse. Every hour or so, we would stop at a scenic place to take pictures of the towering mountains, aqua-silver high altitude lakes, bright-blue sky, and the sprawling yellow fields of Canola flowers.
The driver drove fast but expertly along the mountain roads. Most times on one side of the road, there was a steep cliff that dropped off a thousand feet or more. There were concrete blocks and guard rails to guard vehicles from driving off, but not consistently. Ned asked Sa Nam, "Do people ever drive off the cliff?" Our guide responded, "Oh yeah. All the time." None of us were wearing seatbelts. Later at our hotel, I heard a British woman complaining to her guide that their driver was driving too fast and that there weren’t any seatbelts. She sounded so upset, that I wondered if I should be upset too. I guess I’ve been in China too long—I’ve been in too many crazy taxis and have never wore a seatbelt. Today driving safety never crossed my mind.
The scenery is beyond my scope of vocabulary and creative expression to describe. I will supplement with pictures. In many of the scenic places where we stopped to "ou and ah" and take photos, there were local Tibetans begging for money, or trying to get us to pay them to take a picture with their yak or baby lamb or fury mountain dog. At one stop, I ran to use the public toilet and found it to be the most disgusting toilet on earth. I had to watch where I stepped and how I squatted to make sure I didn’t get someone else’s number two on me. The smell was gagable. As I ran out of the door, an old Tibetan woman wanted me to pay her one yuan for using the toilet. No way! I thought. Maybe if she cleaned the place. All these vendors here are gangsters, I said to Ned. I don’t blame them really. They probably make more money hawking pictures with a yak then farming, or weaving, or making flutes or any other cottage industry that would sustain their families. I don’t like that tourism tends to strip poor communities of their livelihoods. Tourism creates generations of waiters, vendors, beggars, prostitutes, drivers and door men. I wanted to yell to them, "Go back to your fields and farm. Teach your children folk songs. Make drums out of yak hide—anything, but waste your days tugging at fat American’s t-shirts begging for ten cents.
Later, we stopped to take pictures of a glacier. There were one-room stone houses that flanked the glacier. They didn’t have electricity or running water. They all used solar power for their hot water. I stepped out of the van to see two American girls bombarded by a herd of rambunctious, dirty Tibetan children. I realized that one of the Americans brought lollipops to give to the children. She was trying to give each child one lollipop, but the children were jumping and tugging on her clothes and several grown woman also bombarded her demanding lollipops. This was too much for her to handle and she backed away saying, "Stop! Stop!" The grown Tibetan women angrily demanded lollipops for their babies. "They’re too young!" she replied incredulously. In the end the children tore the bag of lollipops from her hand, and a little boy proudly held it up in triumph. The children spotted me and were curious about my clothing. I was wearing a baggy skirt on top of baggy pants. They pulled on my skirt and reached up to touch my curly hair. I pulled on their dirty pigtails in return. They got bored with me quickly and ran off to hassle someone else. Wherever we are, beggars always ask Ned for money, not me. I have more of a tough attitude, and Ned’s more of a softy. It’s funny that children and complete strangers can read that about us in just an instant. One woman pointed at one of my bracelets and wanted to trade. It definitely wasn’t a fair trade. She had a couple plastic beads on a string, and I had a bronze bangle. "Bu. Wo bu xi huan," (No. I don’t like.) I replied pointing to her bracelet. She chuckled, surprised that I spoke Chinese.
We had a yummy, easy lunch of rice and vegetables at a Chinese touristy buffet, and afterwards I managed to take a cat nap resting my head on Ned’s lap with my body stretched out on the seat.
When we arrived in Gyantse at 4:30, we went a monastery and saw more incredible and fearful Buddhist relics. I bought some banana and watermelon bubble gum, we took lots of pictures and we pondered the Buddhist six stages of reincarnation—hell, purgatory, the animal consciousness, human life, bodhisattvas, Buddhas, heaven. I learned that the three Buddhist "sins" are represented as a snake—jealousy, a pig—ignorance, and a rooster—anger. Tibetan Buddhist is so complex and interesting to me.
Tonight’s dinner was a yak burger with fries, and roasted chicken with rice. Ned had a beer and I had a pot of jasmine tea. We strolled main street and found a net bar. We surfed the web for an hour, finding most pages to be fire-walled. Figures. Tomorrow we leave at 9am for another long, beautifully scenic drive to Shigatse.

Friday, July 10th
Last night was a rough one. I had trouble sleeping and woke up at 6am to a pounding headache and nausea, most likely do to altitude sickness. I slept all morning on the way to Shigatse. When we arrived, I fell onto one of the beds and watched a couple movies on the laptop that our friend Tomstone burned for us, and practiced Chinese.
I knew that all I needed was to rest and to hydrate and I would feel better. I tend to push myself to the limits until my body forces me to rest. At 2:30pm I was feeling significantly better and Sa Nam took us to a restaurant where Ned and I ordered meat momo soup, potato momos, a bowl of green dal, and two orders of garlic naan. We had a pot of tea and I had a banana lassi. All this may sound like a lot of food, but the portions are small, and require rice, bread or noodles to make it a "real" meal. Regardless, we couldn’t finish everything, and hiked up to see a monastery after lunch with bloated bellies.
At the monastery we got to listen and watch the monks of the ashram chant and pray. Many of the monks are just boys, around the age of ten or eleven. They were laughing and pulling on each others robes and playing games. There were piles of red, felt shoes that the monks wear outside the prayer robe. I wondered how they would reclaim them because they all look exactly alike. They all have an assigned space to sit and pray and they keep their thick, yellow blankets on their spot. The young monks ran in acting like school boys, with their giggling and fighting, but after five minutes of solemn chanting, they were relaxed and attentive. We saw a lot of Tibetan pilgrims sitting in the shade and eating their zamba (barley bread) and dried yak cheese and drinking homemade bottles of fermented barley beer. Men and women both wore turquoise earrings and colored yarn in their hair. Babies were expertly tied to grandmother’s backs using a simple long piece of cloth. I tried to memorize how their wrapped the cloth around themselves and the baby so that I can use the same method one day when I have a baby.
After the monastery we went back to rest in our dirty, noisy hotel. We went out around 8pm to hunt for a small dinner. We found a local noodle shop that had pitchers of green tea and long, plastic tables. When we entered the young waitresses all starting giggling and pointing and shouting, "hello!" They were surprised to find to spoke Chinese, and I ordered us a small bowl of noodles and a small bowl of jiaozi. Both dishes were simple, but after we added vinegar and red peppers, they were very tasty. When we left it was raining, so I hailed a taxi cab. The driver scammed Ned as expected and we paid double of what we should have paid. We watched a movie together on the laptop and afterwards I wasn’t tired yet, so I read until 2am. I’m a night owl and now that I don’t have to get up early by body clock is resetting itself. Three more nights without Nina, I told myself. I miss my little dog!

Saturday, July 11th
I was rearing to get out of the noisy, dirty hotel this morning. If I wasn’t so hungry I would have eaten the greasy egg and untoasted, white bread they gave us for breakfast.
We left Shigatse at 9am and began our long six hour drive back to Lhasa. I put my head on Ned’s lap and lied down on the seat. I slept through the morning, only waking up to gaze up at the extraordinary scenery around me. We saw two car crashes, one that must have happened right before us—a big blue cab lied on its size blocking most of the narrow road. People had gathered and were carrying baskets of vegetables from the truck to the village. There were a lot of giant tour buses on the road with us. We’re lucky we didn’t end up stuck behind one, not able to get through because of the wreck.
We lunched at a small, Tibetan restaurant where we met a nice, Swedish family and conversed about travel, teaching and world languages. We ordered spinach and yak, and a bowl of noodles and a bowl of rice. Noodles for Ned, rice for me of course. The afternoon was more driving, more napping, and a stop at a Tibetan Buddhist nunnery. We walked in the Stupa to find about ten nuns eating man tou (steamed bread). The smiled serenely and offered us some bread. Ned said, "Bao le" (I’m full) which made them all laugh. The energy was very peaceful, and there were friendly, flea-infested dogs and cats that napped in the shade and numerous pots of colorful flowers.
On our way into Lhasa we stopped for watermelon on the side of the road. We shared it with our guide and driver and an ancient old man who was collecting watermelon rinds in a plastic bag (maybe for a pig?). I was happy to return to our wonderful, Dhood Gu hotel. We ordered a big pot of Masala tea instantly. We were dismayed to find that our room was on the fourth floor since walking up stairs in this elevation feels suicidal, but the hotel manager told us he saved this great room for us. I understood what he meant when I pushed back the curtains to find a terrific view of the Potala palace from our window.
We enjoyed our tea in the lobby. A bit later, Ned read and I did practiced Chinese for an hour.
We went out later and had a great dinner at a hotel called "Snowland Hotel." We both had salads, and naan—a delicious type of Indian tortilla with hot butter. I had tandoori chicken with dal, and Ned had steamed yak momos, and a butter dal with butter tea. Yes, Ned is a man who enjoys his butter. We haven’t eaten salads and Indian food for over a year, so we were so excited and ate until we were about to burst.
After we went into a net bar and used the frustratingly slow internet. Kiki and her Pet Company had sent me pictures of Nina at the kennel, and I received an email from my friend Charlie. The email world pulled me out of Tibet and for hours afterwards I had a lot on my mind, feeling as if I had time- traveled somewhere else.

Sunday, July 12
This morning was our last in Tibet. Ned felt a bit sad about leaving, and he expressed plans to bring a student tour group back with UNM Taos perhaps. I simply felt exhausted and looked forward to finishing the four more flights I needed to take to be able to rest and process my journey not only through Tibet, but through Inner Mongolia, through teaching, through Dalian, Harbin, Beijing, and Thailand, too.
We spent the morning at Norbilingka, the summer palace of the Dalai Lama. It was vast with gardens and beautiful alters to Buddhas and elaborate rooms for the Dalai Lama to spend his time. He hasn’t been back in 60 years, but his rooms and thrones are still maintained with the hope that he may return any minute.
We ate lunch at the Snowland hotel again. It was so delicious, we just had to go back! We ! shared a Thali plate with Yak, of course more butter naan and butter tea for Ned, an organic salad and a soda for me. We ate until we could have been rolled out the door, strolled back to our lovely hotel, gathered our bags, checked out, Sa Nam met us and we took our last scenic drive to the airport about an hour away. The most spectacular part of the driving experience is a long tunnel that the Chinese created by blowing dynamite through a mountain. The tunnel literally goes through a mountain. Talk about efficient without any respect to nature, very Chinese.
Our flights from Lhasa to Cheng Du, from Cheng Du to Beijing were uneventful, long and boring. I didn’t have anything to read, and I was sick of listening to the same songs on my Ipod. I spent the time spacing off and writing some in my journal.

Onto Beijing we go!