Dianneaigaki's Blog

Travel with Dianne to Tibet and on her Motivational Speaking Tours

Breaking News on the 2010 Tours to Tibet–Ron Zak, Professional Photographer on Board

I have more Letters from Tibet to post from last summer’s tours, but wanted to break that series to let those of you who have asked about our plans for next summer in Tibet in on some great news.  We have decided to do two tours in summer, 2010 and here are the details.

Tour #1 (June 19-July 5) will focus on Botanical Illustration, but as usual, everyone who wants the true Tibet experience and isn’t so inclined to learn to sketch and paint is invited along, too.  Last summer we had a guest who was completing her 2 year Botanical Illustration Certificate Course and focusing on orchids and poppies of Tibet for her  final project and other guests who had never picked up a paint brush before.

Dianne Painting the Papaveraceae Meconopsis horridula, the Famous Tibetan Blue Poppy

I will teach a botanical illustration class in sketching and painting almost every day.  Ever wonder how in the world illustrators get leaves to look so realistic–you’ll be doing it in record time!  Can’t imagine how you’ll ever be able to ix the colors so that it is true to the plant in front of your eyes?  Never fear–that’s what you’ll be learning.  We’ll focus on field work, choosing plants we love to look at or those that are strange and mysterious, even dissecting to see the floral reproductive parts (we have microscopes for those who want to get down to a cellular level).  While some guests paint, others will be napping in the sun, hanging out with villagers, and who knows what else.  The big activities (horseback riding at the glacier lake, spending the night at the restored nunnery, visiting the monasteries, shopping for silver knives with turquoise and coral encrusted handles, soaking in hot springs, and herding yaks) will be part of the painter’s journey, too.

Tour #2 (July 9-July 26) will focus on Photography. People kept asking if we would do a tour with this focus. After all, who is more photogenic than the Tibetans and surely the fantastic landscape on the Tibetan Plateau competes with any locale in the world?  We went looking for someone who was not only a top-notch photographer in their own right, but someone who knew how to guide others in foreign lands.   We are thrilled because we have just heard from Ron Zak, photography instructor at Napa Valley College (Napa, California), who has led photography trips to such challenging and incredible places as India, Thailand, China, Cuba, Greece, and Vietnam.  Ron will give daily instruction and critiques while we visit villages, monastic centers, herd those yaks, go to festivals and meet nomads in the hills and streets of the local towns.


Ron Zak--Lead Photographer/Instructor on Tour to Tibet #2- July 9-July 26

Visit his website at http://www.zakworld.com to read more about him and see what he’s up to these days.  And better yet, imagine what it will be like to be traveling in Tibet under the guidance of an adventurer and pro like Ron.


The 2010 Dream of the Turquoise Bee link at www.dianneaigaki.com

The website for the 2010 tours isn’t finished yet, but the itinerary for both tours will be very close to the journey we followed in 2009, so take a look and see if you or someone you know will be joining us in Tibet in Summer, 2010.


November 25, 2009 Posted by | Dream of the Turquoise Bee Tours to Tibet | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Letters from Tibet #3- From the Other Side of the World

June 10, 2009

We’ve settled into village life, haven’t even been here a week and have already had a year’s worth of strange adventures.  Things are a bit different than when I was at the house here in 2007.  For one thing, the family now has a refrigerator.  I was a bit concerned about the electricity that the refrigerator uses; they’ve been using silver folding panels for years to heat water for tea. But now they also have a solar panel that is 12” X 24” and powers two rooms and the refrigerator.

The first day in town, Barb (Barb has now acquired the moniker Bob-boo) and I bought a bunch of vegetables for meals (cauliflower, shallots, tomatoes, bell peppers, chili peppers, mushrooms of various kinds, and carrots) and when we looked in the refrigerator later, the only thing in there were bananas in a bowl.

What about the vegetables, we asked—later we would get to the information that bananas don’t go in the refrigerator.  Oh, the shang-kee (the refrigerator) isn’t good for them, it’s too cold.  We keep them in the root cellar.  They’ll spoil in the shang-kee. They had a big chunk of meat in the freezer compartment, but thought this was probably too cold for it, too.  Lhamo Choedon rapped on it with a wooden spoon to show me the problem, and sure enough, it was frozen solid.

I looked out over the wall, and sure enough, Ani-La (the sister who is a nun) was climbing into the root cellar like a mouse, and then re-emerged, backing out with the vegetables in her arms.


Ani-La Goes into the Root Cellar (Where Vegetables Are Better Stored)

Ani-La Emerges (Mouse-Like) From the Root Cellar

They also have a new washing machine, which was one of the first things they showed me after we arrived. Despite clothes washing happening in big tubs everyday since we’ve been here (we haul water up from the well in the yard and heat it on the stove with a yak dung fire), we haven’t seen the machine put into action.  It sits in the large space below the living quarters, covered with a fitted tarp, making its home mid-way between the yak stalls and the 20’ high neatly-stacked piles of dried yak dung which serve as fuel all year long.  These new additions to life in the village have come about because of the generosity of Norbu, their relative who has immigrated to Australia.

But back to yaks.  Barb and I have jumped right in with our city slicker ignorance.  Years ago when I first came to Tibet I ate the best yogurt in the world that comes from the dri, the female yak.  Every time I tasted it, it was slightly different, with faint flavors of meadow or flowers—you could rhapsodize over the thick yogurt just like vintners do over fine wines from the Napa Valley, making up endless descriptions for the subtle flavors and aromas.  Recently, after dinner one night, we asked about sho (yogurt)—where was it?  I was used to a two litre bowl of it available at all times. It often sat right next to the five pound mound of dri butter that was gobbled up in a few days. Meh song was the word on the sho.  It’s gone—there isn’t any.   But why?  Thus ensued a lengthy discussion about how sho is best in the morning, after the dri is milked at night, and the sho sits and thickens.  Sho at  night is not so good.  Okay, so where’s our morning sho?  There isn’t any?  But why, there’s two yaks down there.  Answer: One yak is too young to produce milk.  Okay we get that, but what about the other one?  They look at us, puzzled–perhaps we  have a communication breakdown. With a stroke of pure genius Barb suggested I ask if the yak was a male and that was why there wasn’t any.  Indeed. They looked at us incredulously.  It hadn’t even occurred to them as we worked the yogurt conversation from several different directions that we were missing the basic fact that the yak (which by the way is the biggest, stud-liest yak in the village) was a male and wouldn’t be giving milk anytime soon in this lifetime. We told them we were just “de-tsi, de-tsi, khuk-pa”—a little stupid in the head, and they got a laugh out of that.


Our Incredibly Manly Yak

The fourth day we were here, Uncle Soega came to say that while all the villagers were circumambulating the main prayer wheel, the police came and asked about foreigners in the village.  Uncle Soega (who is my plant guide when I am in Tibet during the summers) told them he didn’t know too much about us, but we were Americans and just here looking at wild flowers and would leave soon.  They said they would be back at night to check our papers.  Photos of the Dalai Lama were taken down and hidden in the temple room (which doesn’t seem like too much of a hiding place to me, but I assume they know what they’re doing).  The family also removed several photos of me and their brother/nephew/uncle Rinchen.  As a monk who raised a sign for Free Tibet, Rinchen was arrested and put in prison.  After three years of being half-starved and tortured, he was released and escaped to Dharamsala where I met him on the street.  We became fast friends and I now serve as the living link to his family, who never expect to see him again.

As the world turns, Rinchen was given a visa by the Australian Government in 2007 (something they did for 50 Tibetan high profile ex-political prisoners), so almost every day he calls us from Sydney and checks in.   While we eat yak meat momos and sit in our mud house, with a dome of trillions of stars glittering above us in the Milky Way, Rinchen is often on break from his job as an aide at a nursing home, or sitting on Bondi Beach in Sydney with Tibetan friends.

Rinchen has described his low-pay/hard work job to me as, “As the very best job I could ever have.  It makes me very happy. I love taking care of these old people.  They are often angry at the world and I like to talk to them and make them happy and help them change their dirty clothes.”

With the news of a possible police arrival, I laid out the painting supplies and gave Barb a quick lesson in painting leaves, so we could look like authentic flower painters, but the police never showed up, and we’ve almost forgotten the whole scare even happened.


A Quick Sketch of a Leaf (the Asteraceae Ligularia) to Show to the Police

Yesterday afternoon, unexpectedly a man showed up at the house who looked almost exactly like Uncle Tsering Ngodhup, same nose, mouth and eyes.  Yee-Doh is, in fact, a stepbrother—they have the same father and are one year apart in age.  He came to thank me for my financial assistance when his brother, a Lama from Gansi Monastery, fell ill.  This was several months ago.  Rinchen had told me the Lama was ill and in great pain and no one had money for him to go to Chengdu to get proper assessment or medical care.  I sent the money so he could go and be taken care of, but he died a month ago, at the age of 55 years.  This Lama was the main teacher at the nunnery up the mountain where Rinchen’s sister is a nun. I first met him 4 years ago. Yee-Doh held my hand and wept as he talked about how this was his younger brother, a very kind Lama, always willing to do anything to help the nuns learn.  His road had been hard and he should not have been the one to die first.  He showed us all photos of the funeral pyre burning on the mountain with monks from Gansi Monastery and nuns from Gedun Choeling Nunnery in attendance, praying for his positive rebirth.


Yi-Doh Shows Us Photos of the Funeral Pyre--the Death Ritual of His Brother Who Was Lama of Geden Choeling Nunnery

Late in the morning, we went to a hot springs about 45 minutes away.  It is owned by a monastery, where (wouldn’t you know it?) the very large natural pool is mostly for men and monks and it is bad form for women to get in there, too.  There is another much, much smaller area for the girls.   It is a warm pool behind some rocks and the nearby ground is strewn with empty laundry soap packages and shampoo bottles, with the occasional flip flop scattered in among the litter.  We scrubbed down and were on our way, stopping briefly on the main road (a two-laner with a car or truck going by every 15 minutes) to buy snacks from a Chinese vendor.  He was pushing his cart like a popsicle wagon from village to village, and sliced off some translucent noodles –maybe soy- dowsed them with chili, leaving off the MSG for us foreign types, and we chowed down on the roadside.  As we continued to drive toward Oh Szang Village, he was already pushing his cart along the empty road, the next village not even in sight,

As I write this now, Bob-boo is hoeing the potato fields with Lhamo Choedon, the snow of Khowalangri Mountain shining in the distance.  Lhamo Choedon takes care of the daily family needs, herds yaks several days a month and is the sole person responsible for bringing in the crops-barley, potatoes and peas.  She has several acres to work, no irrigation system–and, as you might guess, is a few years behind on the job. Almost every day she has a major migraine headache (what other kind of migraine is there, after all?)–which we can’t figure out if it is from the sun, from being dehydrated, or just the long view of her life of toil.


Barb and Lhamo Choedon Hoeing Potatoes--Migraine Headaches on the Horizon

I shall take a turn at the potatoes after I haul up buckets of water from the well, and as the sun goes down, we’ll be set for a dinner of thukpa (noodles and vegetables) and another round of mysteries.

Stay tuned.

November 23, 2009 Posted by | Letters from Tibet | , , , | 1 Comment

Letters from Tibet #2- I Take Some of It Back

May 25-June 1, 2009

Okay, I take a lot of it back.  After that last letter, we arranged for the expensive truck, went out for spaghetti and meat balls again to get ourselves ready, came back to the hotel at 10:00pm to find Uncle Wangyal sitting in the lobby waiting for us.  He had come in from 1.5 hours away out in the country for the second time that day, and said he had a truck.  A young woman with a very beautiful face and abrasive voice got on her cell phone and starting yelling at God knows who, Jason (English nom de plume of our handsome hotel manager who I have a crush on) translated between Chinese and English, and after only 2 hours of yelling and the Tibetans’ phone ringing every two minutes (Jason: “My God, they’re busier than I am and I run a 145 room hotel!”  Me:  “They must be drug dealers–that’s the only explanation.”), it was decided that we would leave at 6:30 am with the new/old truck with a Chinese driver who was a friend of some one or other and spoke no English. During all of this fol-de-rol, the Tibetan dance troupe arrived back in full costume from a successful performance at the Intangible Culture Festival and ran exuberantly around the lobby leaping and singing Tibetan opera and punching each other in the arms.


Map of Eastern Tibet, Kham, Where We Are Headed--Check Out Ganzi, Our Final Destination

We left Chengdu at 6:30am on schedule and drove for 40 hours (usually takes 18 hours).  We had to buck road construction for hours, a blinding snowstorm coming over a 16,000 foot pass, and a driving rainstorm with rain coming at us like crystal swizzle sticks.


Bone Jarring Ride Past and Through Inexplicably Inefficient Road Construction

The driver kept talking to us in Chinese and looking at road signs, asking me where to go.  I had no idea, as I don’t read Chinese and couldn’t remember the way to Gansi–all yak herds were looking the same.


Driving Past Yak Herds in a White Out Snowstorm

The fun nature of the trip was added to by a leak of freezing water coming in through the roof  of the cab-right over Barb’s head.  Being Barb, she gamely just wadded up a plastic bag and balanced it on her hair to ward off a potentially severe head cold.


Barb Wearing State of the Art Rain Gear (Note Look of Amazement on the Driver's Face)

Finally we crossed the last high pass (Gye La Pass–4,290 m/14,075 ft) and descended into the fabulous Tagong grasslands (a bit snow-covered for our arrival, but grasslands none the same).  We pulled into our hotel about 10:00pm, falling out of the cab and into the hugs of the hotel’s owner.  I’ve been through here before and they are always a warm, inviting group, chattering away.  They showed us our rooms, and ran to the kitchen to start preparing a meal of thukpa (vegetable soup), rice, yak meat, potatoes–enough for a hungry party of forty, although we were the only guests.


1,000 Year Old Stupa Next to Our Hotel

Early morning, we were on the road again, the potholes and mud slides hardly fazing us.  In the fields were decorated ponies and people with red yard woven in their hair, topped off with big amber and ivory headdresses and huge chunks of turquoise hanging from their ears.  Snow covered the fields and the yaks in the meadows who also sported red yarn in their tails.   We passed the beautiful homes made of native stone–they have a crisp rich feel–and indeed the Tagong grasslands are known for their fertile fields and fine architecture.


Typical Stone Home in the Tagong Grasslands

The Tibetan Plateau is known for its highly decorated windows and doors on stores, hotels, homes and monastic centers–designs include mountains, animals like the snow lion, flowers, leaves and the Eight Auspicious Symbols of Tibetan Buddhism.


Window Decoration on Home

Typical Window Decoration

Stone Home with Painted Window

The snow gradually disappeared and the roads improved a slight bit, cheering us up immensely.  There is nothing that makes your heart skip and speaks more to being in Tibet than rounding a bend in the road and seeing Om Mani Padme Hung (often spelled and pronounced by Westerners as Hum)–the Tibetan prayer to end suffering for all sentient beings painted on the hillside high above a village.


Om Mane Padme Hum on the Hillside Above a Village

. . . or driving by a village and seeing prayer flags stretching up the mountainsides, fluttering in the wind, sending  out these same prayers of compassion out into the universe.


Prayer Flags on the Mountainside in the Tagong Grasslands

The weather began to clear before Tagong, where we stopped briefly at Lha-Khang Monastery, one of those shining examples that the Chinese Government has on display to show that all is well in the land of Tibetan Buddhism.  I could be wrong about the public relations motivation on this one, but I have been there many times and have never seen more than a few monks on the grounds, and never heard or seen a ritual in progress.


Lha-Khang Monastery at Tagong

Hours later (9:00pm), after more hours of insanely inefficient 10km/hour road construction, we crossed the final pass that signaled we were almost in Gansi.  It was just in time–we were all ready to crack.


Climbing the Last Pass Before We Drop Down into the Dri-Chu River Valley

In the village of Oh Szang, a short drive beyond Gansi, we were greeted with tears and hugs by the villagers, and within minutes a fight with the driver had ensued because I had agreed to pay him more for the trials and tribulations of the trip and they thought I shouldn’t and insisted I not, hustling me into the house (We’ll take care of this!!”).

Jason had been calling all day from Chengdu to track our progress (world’s most nurturing hotel manager) and got on the phone and talked to everyone while the driver and the villagers yelled.  Finally, I had Jason tell the driver I would give him the agreed upon fare in front of everyone, he should accept it graciously, and I would slip the remaining $130 “tip” under his seat in the truck.  This came down with no further problems–we all went in the mud house to eat momos (including the driver), and be force fed with cookies and tea, and slept a sound sleep after being tucked in by Lhamo Choedon, my friend Ricnhen’s sister, and a woman who has become a friend like family over the last years.

Today we put one of the fab tents up and Uncle Soega went off to town to negotiate for tent poles, spikes and other accessories.


November 23, 2009 Posted by | Letters from Tibet | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Dream of the Turquoise Bee–Tours to Tibet

The Vision of the Dream of the Turquoise Bee Tours to Tibet

The Dream of the Turquoise Bee Tours is an eco-tourism partnership with Tibetan villagers living in Eastern Tibet (Kham).  It began as a conversation with villager from Oh Szang during one summer when I was in Kham working on my botanical illustration project of 108 wildflowers growing at 11,000-18,000 feet on the Tibetan Plateau.


Solanaceae Hyoscyamus niger

Bignoniaceae Incarvillea grandiflora

Papaveraceae Meconopsis quintuplinervia (The Harebell Poppy)

Since 2004,  I have been coming to this area, traveling into the mountains with guides, searching for medicinal plants, the strange and the beautiful in flowers–dedicated to completing a documentation that could be a new way of telling the “Tibetan” story–a way of telling that goes beyond the political and human rights issues.  Not a Disneyland perspective on “happy Tibetans”, but the real story of a peoples’ hopes, dreams and struggle for cultural survival. A way of telling that may draw in a new audience who may have never heard of the Tibetan Plateau or the issues that confront the people who live there in the 21st century.

Papaveraceae Meconopsis integrifolia


Orchidaceae Spiranthes sinensis (Lady Tresses Orchid)

Orchidaceae Cypripedium tibeticum (Lady Slipper Orchid)

My goal is to exhibit these paintings (there are now 47 painted over a five year span) and show that Tibet is alive and well–a culture and environment worth caring about and fighting for. The project brings new information and focus to how global warming is affecting the Tibetan Plateau and how Tibetan nomads and villagers are faring fifty years after the Chinese occupation of their homeland.

Despite the environmental destruction of the Chinese occupation on the Tibetan Plateau (thousands of acres of forest logged out and rivers polluted with factory waste are only two of the problems), it still enjoys one of the most diverse and richest expanses of flora in the world.  From late May until September, wildflowers carpet the hills, meadows and mountainsides, a river of purple, white, blue, orange, magenta and every color in between. Many of these plants are rare and endangered or have been used for centuries in traditional medicines to treat illnesses such as asthma, arthritis, cancer, blood pressure, parasites and a plethora of other diseases and illnesses.

The conversation that evolved into the tours centered around the fact that this particular year, in 2007, the villagers were watching their crops wither and die in the fields.  There was no rain–a situation no one could remember having experienced before.


Lush Pea Fields at Oh Szang Village on June 27, 2006

Same Pea Field Exactly One Year Later on june 27, 2007--Now Drought-Ravaged

Lush Barley Field at Oh Szang on June 27, 2006

Same Barley Field Exactly One Year Later on June 27, 2007-Now Drought-Ravaged

We talked about global warming (they, naturally, had never heard of the concept) and I told them how people all over the world were concerned about this phenomenon and how it would impact people like themselves–subsistence level farmers who grow crops that feed their animals and their families and are used to barter for other goods.  No rain-no crops-no food-no medicine-no school.

The question was—what will happen if you can no longer rely on your crops for your survival?  We talked about the possibility of bringing Westerners to Tibet to be part of their lives–to witness their lives.  We made lists of activities the tour guests could participate in–including botanical illustration sketching and painting classes, visits to monasteries, nunneries, and festivals, and yak herding. The villagers laughed at the idea that anyone would want to come along and herd yaks all day or churn butter, but I knew I loved it and others would, too. We talked about how the Tibetans could be guides, teach about medicinal plants (Aku Soega, one uncle, is from a long line of traditional doctors/medicinal plant experts) help with the tent camps, and cook. The children would have the chance to be around foreigners, learn new languages, and expand their world.  After a long night of discussion, questions, laughter, we made commitments on all sides.  It was a go.

The Dream of the Turquoise Bee eco-tourism project had begun.  I would go back to the West and make it happen.  The Tibetans would be ready to do whatever was needed on their end.  The eco-tours started out as botanical illustration journeys and quickly evolved into journeys for photographers, landscape artists, botanists, and outdoor enthusiasts.

Why the Dream of the Turquoise Bee?

We named the tours after the VIth Dalai Lama who lived in the late 1600’s.  He was the only Dalai Lama who refused to be ordained as a monk, and instead spent his time leading his people, becoming an expert archer and writing love songs and poetry—wherein he referred to himself as the Turquoise Bee.  He had a deep connection to nature, and made many references in his poems to the wildflowers of Tibet.

About the flowers that fade in the fall
The Turquoise Bee does not grieve
It is the fate of  lovers to part
And I, too, shall not lament

His story is one that every Tibetan knows (even those who have never been to school can recite his poems and love songs from memory) and his final poem (he was assassinated by Mongol invaders at the age of 23), symbolizes the hope for a return to a homeland—one that refugees around the world share.

White crane,

Lend me your wings

From Litang

I shall return

For me, the tours connect to the hope of Tibetans everywhere that they will one day be able to return to their homeland.  Recent articles in international press indicate that the Chinese intend to move 100,000 Tibetan nomads and villagers off of the Plateau into Chinese cities.  If this takes place, it will be one more affront to Tibetan culture and the traditional ways of life which have been sustained for hundreds of years. The eco-tours take this threat seriously, giving guests the opportunity to be in the pure, clear air of Tibet while spending time with the people who make their homes there.

For me, the tours connect to the hope of Tibetans everywhere that they will one day be able to return to their homeland.  Recent articles in international press indicate that the Chinese intend to move 100,000 Tibetan nomads and villagers off of the Plateau into Chinese cities.  If this takes place, it will be one more affront to Tibetan culture and the traditional ways of life which have been sustained for hundreds of years. The eco-tours take this threat seriously, giving guests the opportunity to be in the pure, clear air of Tibet while spending time with the people who make their homes there.

May 24, 2009–Leaving for the PlateauA Few Steps Ahead of the Guests

After months of ordering microscopes, GPS systems, solar chargers, books on Tibet, Tibetan language dictionaries, solar showers, herbal altitude sickness remedies and corresponding with guests summer, I am actually leaving this morning to do the final stages of recon to make sure all is happening with our Tibetan partners in this venture. I am accompanied by my long-time friend, Barbara Morse.  She and I have traveled to many countries in the world over thirty years and she is game to take this on and be the “in camp” support for the tours—despite knowing no Tibetan language and never having been to Tibet before.

We’ll fly into Chengdu, spend a day checking out the traditional Tibetan tents we have had made for the tours, and then travel west to the Tibetan Plateau. The goal is a simple one—go through all of the predicted up-front logistics on our own, so that by the time the guests arrive on June 19 in Chengdu, the tour is running seamlessly—and no one will be the wiser for what we have gone through to make it happen.  HA!

May 24, 2009 Posted by | Dream of the Turquoise Bee Tours to Tibet | , , | 1 Comment

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.

Animal and Ritual Masks of the Dance Troupe

This is a good look with jeans, t-shirts and monks’ robes, since it was just a rehearsal–and that was a lift.

Tibetan Dance Troupe Practices for the Intangible Culture Festival

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.

Love,  Di


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.

May 24, 2009 Posted by | Letters from Tibet | , , , , | 4 Comments