the worst new years eve ever.

i am not sure when i last had a day like this. maybe when my grandfather died. or when i heard for the 5th time i'd been rejected for a research grant. days like this suck. the kind you really wish you could could rewind and start over, or just erase from your memory.

7:30 this morning i left for dfw airport, to catch a flight to las vegas, where i was supposed to connect to orange county, ca and then on to honolulu. i was supposed to spend new years eve in waikiki with my brother sipping drinks on the beach while fireworks went off over the water.

instead i walked up to my gate in dfw to make sure my bags were ticketed all the way to orange county, ca. they weren't, and they had no record of my reservation past las vegas. after 10 minutes on the phone all was well.

well, no it was not. we took off nearly an hour late from dfw--the reason we were late? fuel spillage while filling the plane up--putting me in las vegas 30 minutes before the departure of my connections. that's plenty of time to collect bags, change terminals, and check in again, right? nope. almost, at least for the guy who runs through the airport. i arrived at the counter only to find out that i'd missed the connection by minutes. the real kicker, i would have made the flight even with the massive delay if american airlines had not lied to me and told me that my bags were checked all the way to the oc when they weren't. so now i had to work the american counter to get me a replacement flight to the oc so that i could connect with my next flight and still chill in waikiki. instead i ran in to two females of the doggish persuasion. they were totally unwilling to help and instead started treating me like i was irrational and belligerent. so they sent me away with a 'reservation' on an u.s. airways flight. when i arrived at the u.s. airways desk they looked for this reservation, only it was never to be found. the piece of paper they gave me was useless. so, to clean up the mess american airlines made, u.s. airways worked hard to get me to waikiki on the own dime. but they couldn't. but they did all the could, calling other airlines, working standby lists, and agreeing with me that american airlines sucks. as you can probably guess by now, i am not a fan. and i will not fly them ever again. not because we were late, because they didn't care that it was going to result in me staying new year's eve in an airport. they go on the list of boycotted airlines with ryan air in europe.

after everything was finally selttled and every possibility explored i was set up to depart las vegas at 7pm, arriving in the oc at 8pm, and then the next morning finally departing to hawaii at 9am. that's twelve hours in the oc airport for those counting. on top of this, when i tried to go down on the strip i was informed that the inexpensive shuttles were only running for another hour or so, leaving me with a hefty taxi fare to get back to the airport. not really worth it when you never wanted to spend time in vegas to start with.

so, here i sit. using the free wifi in las vegas airport--the one positive so far--and writing a long overdue blog. feel sorry for me people. it's been a frustrating day, but i guess in the end i'll be better for it, if i'll turn my face towards Him. in other news, you can expect a late best of 2007 post some time in the next 18 hours, since i have an abundance of time right now.



ponderosa pines in flagstaff

view of the valley below snow bowl ski resort

snow bowl ski resort from below

i recently returned to the states for a few weeks of holiday joy and mystief. my first stop, flagstaff, arizona. the home of my mother, and a sort of surrogate home for myself. it is so much like austin that i feel at home there.

my mother had been telling me for a few weeks that the weather was mild, and sunny. so, what happens the day i arrive? a series of snow storms that cover the town in snow with feet of new powder. it was quite nice actually. i live in a very cold place, but it's a very dry place. we might get a few inches every month or so, but never an accumulation. the only place the snow stays is up on the himalayan peaks, where it never disappears. for me, snow is the reward for cold weather. that is other than being able to wear 'cooler' clothes; you know, layering and sweaters and scarfs and beanies.

it was a winter wonderland for sure. like i have said before, there something so tranquil and beautiful about cold weather. and snow adds an extra element to it.


irish eyes

hmm, dublin. what a place. as you might expect, i loved it there. it's hard to articulate, but it has that feel, like austin, like flagstaff, like seattle. there are few places that seem to reach out their arms and welcome so unequivocally like these places. cities with personality, with panache, with heart and soul. though it is a city, and large to boot, it feels like a small town. people walk everywhere, there is nearly as much bike traffic as automobile, and the fact that pubs are on every corner. community seems real there.

but what struck me the most was the style of the place. there was a beauty beyond explanation. imagine the european grunge-chic toned down and given a distinctive rural aura and you've got it. i fit right in with my flat cap and beard too. i found myself daily struck by the beauty of irish women too--i seem to talk about beautiful women a lot, but i am a guy, so they are the ones that stick out to me. i would walk along cobblestone streets among what seemed like an unending stream of striking women, but altogether different than i had seen in europe before. for a few days i wondered what made them so attractive to me. then it hit me. i caught myself staring into their eyes each time. that was it, their eyes were deep and bewitching. they seemed deep and moody, emotional and full. so, i thought up the term 'irish eyes' to describe this type of beauty. it's the kind of beauty that goes well beyond the physical, but shows up clearly in the physical.

on a side note, i could get used to the pub life. not the drinking alone--though what they say is true, a guinness tastes better, actually great, in dublin, the daily gathering and unloading of the day before heading home. i could imagine a 'home' pub and daily meetings with friends. it would be nice, although it seems to produce a population dependent on beer. it's quite sad seeing such dependency.

the fiffey river in dublin.

a brooding storm casts a beautiful light over these trees.

loch bray and beyond.

view from above a waterfall in the mountains.

self portrait while on a nice walk in the woods.

nightfall in the sugarloaf mountains.


macau, hk, london and dublin

sorry guys, i'm on the road again. a few days in macau, then hong kong, and then i hopped a flight to london, where i had been until yesterday. now i am in the motherland, ireland. dublin to be exact. but i have a few snippets for you all, with some more stories to follow later too.

i met up with a friend in macau to explore the neat little island, and it's casinos and beaches. upon arriving we decided to check out a few budget options for a place to stay. the guidebook mentioned one that had character in spades, but lacked a few other qualities. it was also the cheapest. so we decided to check it out. it turned out to be in the now defunct red light district. up two flights of stairs we found the check-in, thought unmanned, and waited. for 10 minutes. i guess we wanted to stay there. finally, after faking bell rings and hollering for an attendant a little old woman came waddling up the stairs. we asked her to see a room, which is when we first noticed that the walls were not walls, but partitions. imagine your office, cubicles, just painted green. inside the room it looked like everything was 100 years old. it made me think of old havana, though i've never been there. we decided to take the room, for the experience. but we prayed there would be no 'work' going on. there wasn't and we both said it was one our best nights sleep in a while. that morning we awoke to the steady growth of voices pouring over the partitions. but it seemed natural, or pleasing. as the voices grew we rose and began out day. it was kind of like an alarm clock, just not so abrupt.

once in hong kong we decided to see the less intense side of the city; without flashing lights, 10 million people, and designer clothes everywhere. so we took the subway and 2 buses out to a little peninsula called sai kung. diving and beaches drew us. so, we jumped on a trail to hike out to the beach and to discover a hidden hostel on the way. we missed the hostel, but found a secluded beach. as we broke through the jungle to sand we could hear the roar of the waves for the first time. it was empty. all to ourselves and the whole afternoon to enjoy it. on our suits went and out into the freezing cold water we swam. brr it was cold. it was hard to imagine we were so close to hong kong. it felt too remote. later in the afternoon we set off to find a second beach, one with food and a place to stay. the food we found and the place to stay turned out to be the tent we brought along. as the sun faded so did it's warmth. neither of us had prepared to sleep in what was shaping up to be a cold night; during the day it was warm. our bad. about 8:30 our feeble little fire faded away and we hunkered down in the tent. we would not sleep more than an hour the entire night. it dropped to at least 40 degrees and all i was wearing was a a t-shirt and a long sleeve shirt. not enough. we tried everything we could imagine to stay warm, but nothing worked. we shivered, we shook, and we laid there wide eyed. the dawn could not come quick enough. hour after hour passed, but it felt like days. at first light we hurriedly pack up camp and began hiking out. as cold as we were we turned to admire the rising sun, how beautiful it was. and within 15 minutes both of us had broken a sweat and were pealing off whatever we had found to wrap around our bodies (for me a towel as scarf/cape and board shorts over jeans).

and dublin will come tomorrow...


day before thanksgiving post

i've sat down several times over the last two weeks to concoct a post for you all to read. but each time it goes little further than a few trite lines. the reality is life here is life anywhere. i get up, i eat, i study tibetan and chinese, i conduct research, and i see friends. life. to me it seems unextraordinary. so i don't post. but the truth is that life is really worth telling about. but life is not real life unless it is lived, and life lived only exists when the catalyst is the revelation and following of the Savior.

thus, life is good! and those of you that really know me know how i like to live this life, on the move, perhaps afraid of settling for too long in one place. i like newness, change, adventure, fresh pictures for my mind's eye. that is what i am about to get too. this coming saturday--but not before celebrating what happens to be my favorite holiday, thanksgiving--i will leave moleville for a time and half, making my way through three continent going from and to, europe, north america and then back to asia. till today i had not really accepted that i was traveling again. but not because i did not want to. it just did not feel close, or real yet. perhaps tangible is the best way to say it. moleville is my tangible reality now, and leaving it even for two months took sometime to set back in. just like when you read of strikes in france or hear about a cyclone in bangladesh it seems surreal. today, however, something struck me. 'i'll be in london in 9 days,' i thought. then i realized hong kong and macau were before that. then i got excited and ready. the tangibility of my return stateside came to me, and gave me comfort. friends. family. pumpkin pies with whipped cream. my mom's king ranch chicken. grandma's house for christmas. texas bar-b-que. late night conversations with my brother. warmer weather. a game of pool with my dad over a drink. and a culture that understands me.

but back to my original point. this life is meant to be lived in communion with the divine. and so, i can not wait to tell you all of my stories of doing so. my feelings of loneliness wane in the face of being known by Him. He travels with me, He eats and dances with me (most of you already knew that i love to dance), and most of all He inhabits me, never leaving me to view a wonderful himalayan sunrise or beautiful tibetan face alone. so, that is the life i live. one with the eternal Spirit within me, making all things new.


my weekend away, day II

rising well after my alarm sounded i turned over, realizing the extent of my stiffness. sleeping on a kang--an elevated bed platform with a fire underneath--is wonderful for keeping warm, but it does a number on the back and legs. this kang was uneven too. i did stay nice and toasty, though. i should know since i woke up at least every hour. but i cannot complain, my friends aunt and uncle gave me this kang to sleep on so that i would not get cold.

breakfast consisted of tortilla-like flat breads and piping hot salt tea. it's better than is sounds. it was quite good, particularly for warming up. after a slow breakfast we set off for a full days activities. first, down to the bottom of the village to see the families old home, now turned into a walled orchard/garden. then we slowly made our way back up the hill to the temple. we had been told the festivities began around 10am. so, being fashionably late we arrived at 10:30 to a nearly empty temple yard.

in the temple's kitchen women busied themselves preparing for the afternoon's feast, while men ran to and fro about the kitchen's business. on the dying grass of the temple yard a small group of children played a game of tag. around and around they went, tiring, then reinvigorated they darted off again. i stood on the temple platform watching over the movements of the people below, letting the droning of the chants seep out over the scene. they rose and fell like a soundtrack to the liveliness below, but one that did not quite seem to capture the pace i saw, but that nonetheless fit and elevated my experience.

as i gazed, probably wide-eyed and slack-jawed, my friend saw old mates, picked up nieces and nephews, and was questioned by inquisitive relatives. he also interpreted for the 'curious george's,' explaining who i was and what i was doing there.

right about noon one of the holy men emerged from the temple and yelled out for the women to bring the food. it was time. the stream of people had arrived just in time for a free lunch. there were more that 100 people. just think of all those sunday night potluck dinners. it was much the same. my friend and i were ushered into the temple keepers home to eat. as we rounded the corner into the inner room i saw a table surrounded by aged men, all at least 60, one pushing 80. all but one was a holy man, likely retired since they were not in the temple with the others. the other was completely bald.

they scooted around and made room for the two of us. it was easy to tell that we were interrupting their old man talk, but they politely chatted with me a few minutes and then returned to the subjects that old men around the world continually ponder: the lack of rain for crops, the degeneration of the young generation, what to do about the village economy, and how to repair the dying culture of the village. they did not mind us listening in, every once in a while turning and smiling at me, and encouraging me to eat more. really i could have seen this exact same thing in florence, or beijing, or paris, tx. they laid hands on each others thighs, leaned in close to tell their stories, grabbed shoulders to pull attention back to their point, and ran fingers through (or over) their hair when unsure about a point. i sat there somewhat in awe of their accumulated experiences and knowledge. they were the elders of their communities.

after lunch the awaited festival began. benches were pulled outside for the musicians. people lined up and found good seats, pulling entire tree trunks if necessary. and inside the dancers donned their elaborate costumes, those same ones their fathers and grandfathers wore and danced in.

it began with a procession of all the holy men, and the three boys in training, marching down into the temple yard while playing instruments and chanting. they wound around in a circle towards the middle then back out again and back into the temple. then the dancing began. they emerged from the temple doorway, a raven and a bird of prey that looked more like a tiger. bouncing. undulating. spinning. down the steps, and out among the people. around and around they went, bouncing and bouncing and bouncing. one representing a bad omen and the other a good omen. to be honest, after a minute or two it all looked the same to me. but the dances tell stories, they tell of the past and how to navigate the future. i just was just illiterate to that aspect. for the villagers it's a time of renewal and indoctrination of the youth. this is where they learn their morals.

for the next 5 hours these holy men danced. some dances included skeletons, others dragons and fabled deer, others lords of the underworld and demons. the mythology of tibet spilled out into that temple yard for all the villagers to learn and take in. it was remarkable to see. it was also boring. to my untrained, and non-buddhist eyes, each dance looked more like the previous as the day wore on. the high altitude sun beat down on me and left me wearied. after my friend's uncle's final dance we departed from the scene.

at home we lay down and took a short rest. after all, there was still a round of visits for later that evening. another aunt and uncle, and more milk tea, then his brother's. thankfully, these visits were short, as they were really to busy to bother with us anyway. sitting back to another cup of milk tea the day wound to a close with a family dinner of carrot dumplings. delicious! i ate till i was stuffed. then we lay back on the warmth of the kang, ready to doze off.

a few more shots from the day:

young boys learning to play the famous tibetan horns

man from the village

village boys awaiting the festivities

a truck moving across the high tibetan plateau


my weekend away, day I

having been unsuccessful in our endeavors in town we set off to catch the bus out of town to a small tibetan village. we sat, and sat, and i finished a bag of less than stellar cookies. they tasted better the night before when i started eating them. half and hour, then an hour, and no bus. my friend had become quiet antsy during this hour. but i sat there kind of enjoying the moment. a little one street town, tibetans, chinese, and hui milling about, selling vegetables, buzzing by on motorcycles, and conducting business in the streets. it was like a painting or photo in motion. they moved, but the scene was always the same. finally we walk over and talk to a motorcycle repair man. he tells us that there is no bus today. so, we had a decision to make, motorcycle taxi or three wheeled minicab sort of thing. he wanted a motorcycle and i wanted the other. i am not sure why, i think i just liked the oddity of it. it was more like a child's toy that a vehicle. we negotiated a while and arrived at 15 kuai for the 30 minute ride...in the three wheeled thing.

we arrived in the village in early evening, just as magic hour was waking and thinking of rolling down into the valley. we motored slowly up a rock strewn dirt road and into a glad of aspens. there beneath the canopy was an array of mud walled homes, each standing at least 4 meters high. road and home blended together.

as we passed through the gate to the outer yard my friends aunt appeared, startled that she came upon us unexpectedly. quickly a smile broadened across her face and she welcomed us in. like so many times before, we all sat, everyone but me conversing, while i served as the topic for discussion. after a half an hour i was offered a tour of the village by the uncle, also the village head. he proudly said he had the keys to the water house, whatever that was. so up we went. between houses we ambled, all of us seemingly content in the company we were keeping. we were in no hurry, and this turned out to be good. the village was very small, maybe 30 homes. my tour would have been over before it began had we walked at city speed.

rounding a corner, a flock of goats mowed their way forward, chewing, stepping and swallowing in one motion. again and again. the sound of the cud being chewed was audible. as was the peaceful sound of dying leaves crunching beneath feet. we passed through the goats like the parting waters, as the filled in behind us, leaving no trail in sight. this same scene was reseated again just as we reached the village pond.

pointing across the pond the uncle began to tell the story of the water house, and the village. it seems that a very short man, with the voice of a dragon, founded the village after coming from a village to the north. the water house, however, was built just earlier this year. jumping a fence and scampering down a small path we stood before the water house. it looked more like a monastery, and this baffled me. i couldn't understand why a well house would be so elaborately decorated. then he unlocked the doors and revealed what was inside. that's why they call it a water house. flowing out of the mountains above them is a tiny little trickle of water, the only water for the whole village. it winds it way through concrete banks down to the water house, where it turns eight prayer wheels. 24 hours a day, 365 days a year everyone in the village can rest soundly knowing their prayers spin into the heavens. i had heard of this, and even seen wind power ones in other areas, but i was shocked by the creation. these beautifully painted wheel danced around, water gurgling beneath, revealing the standard tibetan prayers upon them.

leaving the water house behind we strode over a golden yellow lane of foliage. trees above creaked in the breeze, but the only other sound was our voices. then breaking the tree line the village temple stood before me.

words and pictures cannot describe it, but it stood like a lonely fort, lost and forgotten. as we neared a small voice yelled out 'lao wai lai le,' announcing my arrival. this little village was proving to offer much more than expected from my expectations and the unassuming approach.

pouring out of the temple gate was a troop of holy men. their movement was betrayed by flowing robes of saffron and burgundy, reaching far below their feet. seeing me they stopped and seemed to float like colorful ghosts. some wandered off to take care of business--it seems i happened upon them during a bathroom break--while others lingered to see what i was.

the men who greeted me seemed more like the wandering yogi's and swami's i'd seen in india. tibetan monks have tightly shaved heads, but these lay holy men sported varying styles of long hair. some braided and some dreaded, the each sported crowns upon their head. most, i would come to find out, had not cut their hair since they took the vows to be a holy man. the oldest ones looked remarkable, with dreads that would drag the ground when let down. my friend turned to me, seeing my fascination with their hair, and asked me it they looked like bob marley.

bathroom breaking being over, we all made our way into the temple. i had to duck down to avoid knocking my head on the beautifully weathered wooden doors. the years told their tales upon the veins and grains of the wood. some of the men's faces looked much the same. in such a harsh environment remaining aloof to the climate is an impossible task; it takes it's toll, shaping and reforming all things.

inside the temple the holy men were preparing for the following days conclusion of the prayer festival, which entailed a great amount of dancing. tonight, however, their focus was on completing the requisite prayers by a 2am deadline. they would have to push to make, leaving them little time to bother with me. we lingered for a while, snapping shots and listening to the droning of their voices. in a bass monotone they beat out the words, each one hanging heavily in the air like a fog, or texas humidity.

taking our queue from the setting sun we made our way toward home. no further than 100 yards from the temple i turned to take it in one more time in the fading light. the moon, just cracking the horizon, shone bright, like a gigantic disc in the sky. the prayer festival was marking the end of the month, meaning the moon was full. and large. i am not sure if i've ever seen it bigger. it loomed over the valley like a sentinel. we stood watching it rise, as i tried in vain to focus my camera in the already absent light. i wish i could have clearly captured the moment. it was beyond stunning. the starkness of the landscape being covered by the light of the moon, tucked in for the long night ahead. we turned and made our way to dinner, passing goats and donkeys on the same trajectory. one last time i turned to look, catching a woman loaded with a pole and two bucks going to fetch water just as she crossed into the glow of the moon.

a few more pictures from the day:

holy men milling about before restarting their prayers

holy men taking care of 'business'

a young boy on the temple grounds


on the road

i have been in xining the last 3 weeks, but it is once again time for me to hit the road for a little while. i'll only be gone 4 days. so you will have to get along without my wonderful insight and musical taste.

i am headed to a small tibetan area known as gui'de. i am traveling with a friend to meet some people that might help facilitate my research in the future. i am glad to be getting out of the city for a few days. city life wears on me after a little while. mountains, snow, lakes, and ruddy-cheeked tibetans. it's a recipe for enjoyment every time.

so, i'll see you in a few, with stories and pictures, to boot.


travel as artistry

this morning as i sat conversing with my Father and thinking, something struck me. that travelers are most like artists in their pursuits.

what is an artist but one who takes from a pallet of choices and applies them to a canvas in order to represent a subject. we'll leave the argument of of good vs. bad artistry for another time. although you can check out my opinion on one particular piece of art in my june 3rd post.

as one travels choices of application are invariably made. the world--in every small village and huge metropolis, every child and adult, cultural practice and fashion style--is a pallet of colors. as i walk the streets of china, and as you walk the streets of prague or cairo, we reach out and take swabs of these colors and dab them here and their upon ourselves. think of it like making a collage. a dash of tibetan crimson, hawaiian blue, kenyan green, and moroccan yellow. applications of these experiences, these new realizations, like pidgin is tasty or perhaps that it is better to take a siesta than make more money, accumulate to produce identities. evolving identities.

this is true of all people. walking the streets of your home town you do the same thing. but i think traveling is a more active process of artistry. the spectrum is broadened, inhibitions are challenged more acutely, fears are more pronounced and thus more easily confronted.

as humans we are a pieces of craftsmanship. think of it like this, you are the white marble david, but you have been handed a brush to adorn yourself as you see fit. some do well, some others end up producing distraction from the underlying beauty and form of the sculpture. but you are allowed to produce whatever you like. for me i've followed in bob ross' footsteps, taking a fan brush, dabbed with a little yellow ocre and blood red, i have lightly painting a fluffy red beard. i am not sure where the colors came from, or why i took them from where ever they came, but i did. it's part of the way i have fashioned myself. it's the way i, as the artist, saw myself, as the subject. the real beauty of this process is that we can be reinvented again and again, though not of our own abilities. can an artist paint over black with yellow and not see that black lay beneath? even a white washing leaves the patterns of previous strokes evident. nonetheless, the slate can be cleaned, allowing for the painting of a new creation.


ramadan comes to an end

an impromptu holy place complete with streets carpeted with silk and polyester prints.

overflow seating down one of the alleyways off the main road.

so, ramadan officially ended today about 10am. as you can imagine i rushed over and pigged out as soon as possible. right.

this morning i wandered over to the grand mosque in the center of town to catch the scene. we had been told that at least 100k men would be there, so i was prepared for the throngs of white hats, but it still was remarkable to see. when i arrived at 8am the entire block was cordoned off--in china a block is at least a kilometer long--so needless to say there were lots of people. by 9am the entire street was full; it was a though the men had decided to carpet the entire street. prayer mats covered nearly every square foot of the road. about the time the call went out over the loud speakers we decided to find an areal view. around one corner, and then another, and then up and down several flights of stairs, but to no avail. finally, as we were giving up, a young man stuck his head out of the door and invited us in to view from his 5th floor window. what a nice gesture, as 10 minutes later he scrambled off to join the prayers, leaving us with his mother and wife. while we watched, the two women rushed to complete the after ramadan feast. as i hung my head out of the window the aroma of mutton began to rise like a fog. you see, anyone with the means breaks ramadan with a proper mutton extravaganza.

the scene down below resembled that in any number of temples, etc. around the world. men conducting work while awaiting the next time to bow, cell phones erupting with hindi pop tunes and the backstreet boys greatest hits, kids playing and then being rebuked for not paying attention, only for the father to go immediately back to a hushed conversation. it's seems everyone is bored if the heart is not engaged. i remember many an episode playing out the same in my childhood. i am not sure why this scene struck me as so familiar despite its literal remoteness. i suppose it is that i see the same thing in the states every easter and christmas. we are not so dissimilar in the end, are we?


a fun pic from xinjiang

i thought i would give you guys a good laugh. this is in the kashgar bazaar, on the hat aisle, where i bought two hats, including this one. it looks great doesn't it?

with the rains come change

you all know that i only just returned to xining. and what a tumultuous 2 weeks it's been, up and down health, erratic weather, and moving apartments. well, at the moment i sit inside my new apartment wondering just how cold this much anticipated winter will be. i've always loved cold weather, and have often said so publicly. some voices have responded by saying that i only think i do because i grew up in texas. i always dismissed them as not really knowing what they were talking about. but today their words come to mind as we have just hit october (my mother's birth month) and we are nearly at the freezing point. with each rainstorm, which is strangely out of season, it gets colder. i checked the weather this morning and we rung in at 6 degrees celsius. winter highs will not even come close this balmy temperature. i found my reserve tested for wanting a bitter cold winter.

but then i went for a walk and i remembered why i love winter temperatures. wrapped in scarf and hands shoved into the abyss of my pockets i wandered around block after block, watching my breathe rise from nothing. i felt alone--alone with my thoughts--like the cold throws up a curtain around me and i can wander abandoned streets. the winter is a time for reflection and wondering. the crispness of the air dampens the chaos, of streets and city, as well as in the mind. things are thrown into sharper clarity in contrast the white of winter. thoughts rise like your breathe, forgotten or invisible till that moment. winter is like the desert for releasing the inner man.

i feel glad for the approaching winter. it came quicker than i expected, but perhaps i am in need of a longer time of release.


the karakorum highway

again i sit in my own room, having (seemingly) overcome my sicknesses. last night i returned from a neighboring city, an actual city, to encounter what we in texas would consider winter weather. temperatures have plummeted to the low 40s. it quite nice. but i am discovering that i might not have enough winter clothes to avoid wearing the same 2-3 outfits again and again. so, i sit inside, avoiding the unseasonable rains and crisp wind trying to remember the intricacies of my drive down the karakorum highway.

i'll start you all with some nice lonely planet facts: the highway took more than 20 years and 400 lives to complete; it officially connects china to pakistan, but really to many -stans as well; and it might be one of china's finest roads.

the drive begins at about 3000 meters above sea level, peaking at about 4200 meter and then dropping back down to about 3500 meters. it is an exceptional drive, wandering past glacier fed lakes, nomad villages, red sandstone canyons, towering peaks, and flowing glaciers. in such a place you truly feel insignificant in light of creation. it's staggering to imagine the size of the mountains (all over 5800 meters), the power of the glaciers, the resilience of the nomads, and the stark beauty of the grasslands. this place, these people humble me. what am i in their midst. men and women live life among giants and winters most severe. i come for just a quick peak into their lives, but keep on long after i have returned home. in these times i cannot help but ponder the immenseness of our Father, and his broad reaching arms. His hands fall here and everywhere, shaping, molding and breathing life.

as magical as the drive was to tashkorgan, i am left wondering what i really experienced, what i really felt and touched. in so many ways it was altogether different than anywhere else i'd been. i could only recall smells, emotions, and scenes from the past to approximate the new ones. but i guess that is at least part of the point of travel.


i'd trade our food here for their's

tibetans have never been know for their culinary prowess. to be honest tibetan fare is far too fair. boiled mutton, tsampa (barley dough), butter, milk and butter tea, yogurt, dumplings, tintu (noodle soup) and some yak of course. that is really the extent of it. needless to say, these items get a little boring after a while. although i must say the tibetan dumplings are the best i've ever eaten.

now, it's a different story out in kashgar. rice pilaf, roasted pidgin, roasted chicken, kebabs of every kind, fresh melons by the slice, figs, dates, dried fruit by the ton, quality wine produced locally, local dark beer, high altitude fish (from glacial lakes above 20,000 ft), nan bread, laghman noodles, and the most surprising of all, tortellini. that is just the uyghur food. there was also pakistani food--think indian--to sate the pallet. for me it was a gastronomic extravaganza.

i guess the desert is the place to be for foods. i truly had some of the most enjoyable meals i've ever eaten in xinjiang, especially the roasted pidgin. i mean, come on, how can a place that claims to have taught the italians how to make pasta, tortellini, and pizza not have good food. like i said, i would trade qinghai food for xinjiang food in a second.


dance the night away

so, i guess i must apologize for failing to fulfill my promise to post a new update everyday. as many of you know i have been ill the last 3 days. it seems i have giardia for the third time.

anyway, on to better things. the night of sept. 19th will stand as one of the highlights of all my travels, along with diving pulah weh in sumatra, hiking the west coast trail on vancouver island, and the people and beauty of all tibetan areas.

there was such an energy in that little house. i was joined by more than 20 tajiks to eat and dance. the food was more or less unextrodinary, but after eating the dancing began. before i started dancing with the men the mood in the house remained indifferent. but after, my goodness, after was a different story. up i jumped to dance, with an incredible amount of expectation that i would look ridiculous. i first danced with one of the brothers, who all looked like adrian brodie. around and around we danced in circles. i must have looked like a a fool to the onlookers, but i must have been an endearing fool, as the crowd cheered and clapped. later i danced with another brother, but this time i began to understand the dance moves. i began to anticipate his moves and keep up with them. hoots and hollers began to drift into my ears. as my focus moved from intense concentration on copying the dance moves to the experience and people i was among, i was overcome with pleasure. my like for dancing had paid off with admirable tajik dancing abilities, though it was much harder and more intricate than it first appeared.

as i sat down to catch my breath the patriarch of the family came and sat down next to me. an 80 year-old grandfather, with the most prominent of his family's nose, who was loved by all his grandchildren. he sat beside me and leaned over, putting his hand upon my thigh and resting his weight upon my shoulder. i was in awe of this. here is a man of stature and maturity, who i'd only just met, and elder of regard, and he bestowed upon me honor and respect through this action. all boundaries of culture, stature, age and belief were torn asunder by this mans gentle display. it honored and humbled me greatly. after that i decided that i absolutely must have my picture taken with him and dance with him. i did both. dancing with him was more difficult than with his sons because he danced differently. but what an honor it was. after half or so of the song he turned to me with folded arms and bowed. each of the brother had done the same, but what a blessing to dance and bow to the patriarch of the family.

other than a few more pictures this was the end of the night. what a night! one to remember and cherish forever. a gift from above. you cannot make these things happen. we went from being strangers, even more than strangers we were a part of a business transaction, buying and selling a cultural experience. but by the end of the night we had hurdled many boundaries to become friends. i will never see those men again, but i will always remember them. even more so, i will always remember their actions and how they drew me into their inner circle with gentle and honest touches and glances.


pic's from my trip into xinjiang

the muztagh ata mountain, at well over 23,000ft, as seen from the karakorum highway.
thisd mountain stood like a giant above the valley. nearby stands a taller kongur mountain, at 24,000 ft, but it was shrouded in clouds.

muztagh ata again, with yurts in forground.

a kyrgyz man selling jewelry along the karakorum highway.

spices, etc. at the kashgar market.
among the bags are dried hedgehog skins and whole frogs.

a uyghur man viewing livestock at the sunday livestock market.

a girl playing among the sheep at the market. i just loved her expression.

a woodworker in kashgar. like his products, to me
his face looks like it was carved out with awls and knives.

a boy at play in the streets of the old city in kashgar.

a young boy in the his family courtyard.

the tomb of aba hoja. it was beautiful with all of the colors
beginning to glow in the morning's first rays of light.

a closer view of the aba hoja tomb.


it's alive

that's right, i'm still alive and kickin, and my will be blog now that i have traded the backpack and weary eyes of train travel for a permanent home. i appologize to all you faithful readers--no scoffing, there might a handful--but now i am back and promise a new update everyday for the next 5 days. tales, woes and pictures galore await you, just not today. after all, i only arrived yesterday from a 2000km train ride and moved into a new apartment today. patience grasshopper.


i know what i want for christmas

well, apple unveiled the long rumored touch screen ipod this week. and i want one. i think i first heard the rumors of such two or three years ago. i know they came out with that iphone, but who can afford it, and who wants an ipod with only 8gigs of memory. so, all you who want to buy me something for christmas, this is it, an ipod touch, with as much memory as possible. and as a bonus, who ever buys it for me can have my three year-old ipod in return. ha, that's a fair exchange.

on second thought. well, my dear brother has alerted me to my mistake, the iopd touch also only comes with 8 or 16 gigs. too small for me. i guess my mind added a zero behind that eight. too bad. i'll just wait till they get their act together and produce one with a nice size drive.


an ode to my family

i was just sitting and thinking this morning, and i started to think about my family. i didn't have to realize how great they are or anything like that, but i wanted to remind myself, and them, how much i love them and how i appreciate them.

i come from a family where my brother and i were taught to be fairly independent, thinking and acting for ourselves, and reaping the consequences for ourselves. so when i travel i travel i don't call home very often. in fact, i don't when i am in the states either. i feel fine leaving things for a while without worrying about the relationship. but that does not mean that i don't miss them, or that the connections are weak. i think the opposite, in fact. i love my mother, i love my father, and i love my brother deeply. just not always through a phone call.

i realize this is beginning to sound cheesy, but you can stop reading any time you like.

the more time i spend away from my family, the more important they become in my life, and the more i realize their influences. like has been said a million times before, i am who i am because of them. i like to think of myself, in a prideful way, as being self made. but that is not true. i don't know exactly what or how i learned from them, but i am my father's and my mother's son. you see me, you see them. good or bad. however, i have realized some things that i've learned from them. from my father i learned a perseverance to keep trying and to believe in the ability within you, even if it takes more tries than you would like. it's a stubbornness not to be defeated by an outcome. from my mother i learned a heart of compassion, to see deep but not to judge, and to value the weak things. and from my brother i have learned what it means to be forgiven by someone and then for that person to be a friend closer than a brother, regardless of how poorly i treated him when we were kids.

to the majority of you this may have little meaning. but i felt it important to honor those who acted as chisels and hammers, not to mention fine grain sandpaper, in making me the ryan you all know.

the end of an era

well, i have both great and sad news for you all. today i sold my long time car. that's right, you will no longer see the white yukon when you see me. thanks to my dad and my Dad for working out all the details while i am tramping the far east. it's sad because that was the only car i wanted when i got it back in 1998, and i loved driving it. it really was a beast of a vehicle. but it is great because just this morning i asked for His provision for the next few months, and here it is. i even got full asking price. also, now i can get that vespa when i return home. casey and i can start that scooter gang i've always talked about.


the deluge cometh

i awoke this morning, looked out my window and thought i was on the s.s. ark. my knee told me last night that it would be coming, but i was not expecting so much.

i live on the tibetan plateau, behind the himalayas for you geographically challenged; we're not supposed to get very much rain here. the surrounding mountains are evidence--brown nearly all the time. so when there is a foot of standing water in the streets its a big deal. big enough to require men in business suits to walk up to the edge, measure the distance, retreat for a running start, and then leap--always landing smack in the middle. must be nice to walk the rest of the way to work in one wet dress shoe.

on a positive note, if the above could be taken as negative--probably not since i chuckled to myself seeing the described--i was less of spectacle with umbrella in hand. we all looked roughly the same, depending on our choice from the color wheel. but alas, my beard always gives me away. from beneath a picachu umbrella a girl calls out hello, how are you? but they never let me answer, turning before i can find the face for the voice. don't they know it's polite to wait for a response?

so, it's now come to be evening and the rain is still falling, albeit at a lighter rate. this day gives me three of my favorite things on earth, waking up to the sound of rain and laying in bed for while longer, reading a book with a cup of coffee while it rains outside (i finished the hobbit today, by the way--just for you little bro), and slipping into a cold bed to fall asleep to the sound of rain. i guess i like the rain. though today it cancelled almost all my plans, except phone calls.



i should have posted this months ago, when i bought the album. now introducing, balmorhea, a band my college buddy plays in. they are what i call ambient alternative. formed less than a year ago, they, in my opinion, show considerable maturity in their music. for all of you mono, EIS and godspeed fans, you should like this. it's similar to said bands, but with a lo-fi folksy twist. if you wonder where the name came from, that is where they are from, balmorhea, tx. i would post the album for you all to dload, but, alas, these are friends of mine.

their next show in texas is not till nov. 16 in austin, plenty of time to get you familiar with the band.

a few links:
here is a link to their website, where you can listen to all the tracks from their full length album,
their myspace page, and a review of their music


to be honest, there are times i can almost forget where i am. we like to think that every place is so different, or that we don't carry internal imaginings of a place, but that is not true. i find myself relying on a catalogue of images, words and stories to makes sense of what i see.

i had only just arrived in mai wa, a small tibetan village in northern sichuan, when my mind thought my eyes were playing tricks. wait i thought i was in tibet, not afghanistan or the middle east. up strode this boy, head wrapped in a scarf leaving only the blacks of his eyes to reveal life beneath. he pierced through the narrow slit as though it was a highway to revelation. eyes darting back and forth, unsure what to make of the white man in his midst. for several silent minutes he stood, and i too, neither ready to break the ignorant silence. then he suddenly turned and disappeared. as he strode away i was struck by the fact that i could have experienced the same turbaned non-verbal interrogation in central asia or the middle east, but with much different implications.

as i stayed among the nomads longer i saw more and more turbaned men. every time i could not help but recall the fanatics from newscasts. these appearances become markers for us, even the non-racist. we profile in a way. images arise in our minds, and the associated rhetoric follows, giving us a beginning point from which to make assumptions. albeit assumptions that are more concoction than experience. with too many parts unfiltered political rhetoric we look upon the world with a recipe of discrimination.

i am not sure what i am trying to say with this story--but we need to evaluate the images in our minds, and especially the rhetoric related to them. i would never intend to judge a people by something other than how i've experienced them, but my first reaction to what i saw full of sterotypes. now this is a bit of an exaggeration, as i did not really think the boy to be a radical, but i was stunned by my immediate response to his garb.


the ape returns to his own jungle

it seems that even a place that is not your home can satisfy that desire for rootedness. i'd been on the road for nearly 4 weeks till yesterday. arriving in xining i felt the satisfaction of returning home. though i live in the guest bedroom of a friends apartment, when i stepped through the door i was relieved. back packs were flung on the floor and i was flung on the coach. home at last! now a few days to settle and back to business.

you all will be relieved to know that the updates will come more regularly now that i am not spending weeks at a time in a nomad tent. here are some pictures to peruse. a few short stories will follow in the coming days.

a small chapel in yushu. pilgrims light butter candles for the bodhisattva's. the light of the sun only shone through like this for about two minutes; i was lucky to catch it on film.

this foot bridge was used more by monks on motorcycles than pedestrians. at one point when i was walking across i had to avoid a gang of monks. monks would remind you of a gang more than you would realize.

this girl came running out to greet me and my two 11 year old, self appointed tour guides as we left the mountaintop monastery. i just love the way children photograph. their expressions are so real, and revealing of their naivete.

when classes let out the monks mill about like any college student would. they rib each other and harass the younger monks.

in terms of being photogenic, old women are only second to children. these women laughed at me as it took me 10 minutes to take this picture. chinese batteries have a life of maybe 20 pictures, but sometimes as few as only 1.

this was the first time i came across tibetan woodworkers. there were at least a dozen shops in a row where furniture was constructed from local trees. i was glad to see some tibetan skills still in the hands of the average joe. too many times these skills are lost in tibet because of the degradation of society and the environment.

weary from a week of nomad life i made the perfect subject for beard update 3.0. the setting for this picture is a dilapidated yak slaughter yard.

like i said, second only to young children. this woman asked to be photographed with stove. she had a nicer than average home.

this kettle comes with a story. my friends grandmother was boiling water to make milk tea for us, but her milk had gone bad. so she picked up the kettle bare handed and walked outside to pour the water/milk out. with only the slightest indication of discomfort she held the pot. my friend and i looked at each other and laughed, she laughed too.

this man was an unabashed starer, so i decided to snap a picture to turn the tables. it did not. he laughed, and my friend told him to stop acting rude. he reminded me of native americans that wore the coats of soldiers. in fact, the similarities between tibetans and native americans are many.