Letters from Tibet #1: Good God What Hath We Wrought?
The Dream of the Turquoise Bee Tour to Tibet
Greetings from the other side of the world. I really miss you-please come and save me from myself. For those of you who don’t know what is happening, I am in China and Tibet completing the final legwork and heavy-lifting for the Dream of the Turquoise Bee Tours to Tibet this summer. Please join me, vicariously, on this rather wild journey, which is an eco-tourism partnership with Tibetan villagers.
Let me start by saying you would not believe how close to the edge of insanity I am. It took days to get the 12 Tibetan tents in our own hands–because the tent guy who made them didn’t think Barbara and I were strong enough to put them up and he didn’t have enough people to help (how many damn people could it take? and he said they were too heavy for us –being girls and all–to lift, etc., etc.) Turns out the tents weigh about 40 lbs or less–a one-handed lift from my world. Anyway, that was exasperating, threw off the whole schedule by days and now we can’t find a truck to take everything to Gansi (last offer was a bus for $1,200 for the 18 hour trip, which as I watch the money drain out of my pocket seems like a bad move). Also had a 3 day holiday thrown in for good measure, which was explained to me as an idea the Chinese Government came up with to help people relax because everyone is so nervous about the economy. Before that we had two vehicles lined up that both cancelled (hours of torturous conversations went into lining them up).
I was awake at midnight last night mulling over my life while doing Sudoku, so went to town to a bar along the river. When I’d passed this bar earlier, I ‘d seen there were some English speaking people hanging out. Dave, the Chinese owner (I assume Dave is his own recent nom de plume) was there when I arrived and after hearing about our dilemma, he said he would drive us and the stuff in his own 4 wheel drive for $450 and we would leave this morning at 6:00am. I came back to the hotel, reshuffled all of the piles (food of every culinary origin, camping chairs, pots and pans, pillows, blankets, clothes, books, etc–you can imagine how much stuff we have packed in the hotel room-the hotel staff think we’re nuts as we have unloaded taxi after taxi of boxes to be carried up to the room), repacked the tents and went to sleep. By 3:00am Dave was calling to say that he had telephones his friend who is a policeman in Gansi (where we are going) and the friend said the area is still closed to foreigners and we would not be able to get in. He could go, but not us. That took care of that solution, as us getting there is at least as important as our belongings arriving.
An alternative is Choegyal who speaks perfect English and could be very helpful, but has a few character/family lineage defects, one being he is the nephew of a lama who is a spy. I wrote to my friend Rinchen to see if I could rely on him–get “permission” so to speak to have him negotiate for trucks. Haven’t heard from Rinchen. Then I had Choegyal call Rinchen’s uncle to see if Rinchen’s family can help with the truck, and got a call back (imagine this all coming down in Tibetan over the phone) with great concern about me talking to the Chinese spy family.
Today I opened an account at Bank of China, so at some point will be able to just start using that. I imagined it would be a nightmare to open an account in China without a permanent address, etc. It took all of five minutes to get a credit card linked to the account, an ATM card and a passbook. That was a bright idea, as we were carrying around tens of thousands of dollars in cash which we will need in Tibet–if we ever get there, of course.
The strain of it all has been broken periodically by foot massages, head massages and 100 wild Tibetans arriving at the hotel to stay while they participate in the Chengdu Intangible Cultural Arts Festival. They practiced dancing–leaping and twirling in the parking lot while the drum beat on. They were suitably attired in lion, tiger, and bull costumes head gear.
This is a good look with jeans, t-shirts and monks’ robes, since it was just a rehearsal–and that was a lift.
Later I had spaghetti with meat balls at Peter’s Tex-Mex Resturant that also had great carrot cake, so that was a boost. You can tell we are grasping at straws to lift our roller-coaster moods. When I look in the mirror my face has taken on a look of apparently permanent dismay
Anyway, now we are off to talk to travel agencies again to see if someone can confirm that Gansi is open–which everyone has said it is–but we need another round of confirmation before we hit the road–not that we know what vehicle we would be using to hit the road. The Tibetans in Kham have told us they have seen foreigners in the streets, but we don’t know if this is true or who those foreigners might be. As Dave the bar guy says, “It doesn’t really matter what the tour agencies say, my friend the policeman knows what the policy is and foreigners are not allowed in.”
At 2:00pm, we go back to the hotel to meet with another trucking company–with a translator, of course, since the potential tuck driver only speaks Chinese. This brilliant connection to the new trucking company happened because I decided we should buy tickets to the Intangible Cultural Festival (everything else being rather intangible, we would fit right in with the Intangible Culture events) and the first thing out of my mouth when we started to discuss the tickets was to ask the hotel manager/ticket guy if he knew of anyone with a truck that would drive to Gansi. Turned out to be a good question, as maybe he does. Hence our meeting in a few minutes.
More later–I hope. We may go to nap in the WenShu Park which is 4,000 years old, but is mostly known in my book for the place where I once paid someone to stick long, thin metal feathery things into my ears and twirl them for a scary ear cleaning, while I drank green tea.
PS-As we travel along on our journeys into Tibet, we are mindful of the privacy of our hosts. Living in Chinese-Occupied Tibet, their security is complicated and fragile, and naturally we will do nothing to compromise that. For that reason, we won’t be using their actual names–you will come to know and love the nomads, villagers, and the regions they inhabit through their pseudonyms.
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