a white veil

i arose yesterday at about 6:45 to catch a bus from jyegu to ganzi. as i walked out the front door of my new friends apartment something on the mountains caught my eye. a white crown atop each of them. it began raining the day before, after a week of dust storms and desert dry winds. so this morning when i woke to see snow i smiled wide and left for the bus with expectations of a beautiful ride.

at 8am the doors to the bus were open and everyone fought to get on, and find their preassigned seats. i dried my seat of the rain and sat down, monks beside and behind me. not until an hour later did we pull out of town. we made a least a dozen stops in a town that maybe measures two miles long. it seems that the tickets sold before had go to the company, but anyone who the driver picks up he can negotiate with and make a profit for himself. so, out of the gate we were an hour behind.

boom! every head in the bus jumps and looked around. we had blown a tire not thirty minutes down the road. everyone piled out to make use of the time for bathroom breaks, including me. if you have never had to do the deuce in a public place, such as thirty people standing around a bus, then consider yourself blessed. i found a bush, about waist high, and did my business.

thirty minuted later we drove off again. for about an hour the roads were good and the speed was acceptable. then, for no apparent reason--the drivers, there are three of them--pulled over and began working. it seems we weer overheating. another thirty minutes and the bus was back on the road. but the roads quickly grew worse. a

s we climbed a pass the snow fell hard, blowing sideways. the temperature in the bus fell and people grew quite. at the very peak of the pass the road went from paved to washboard dirt. it would stay that way for the ensueing 10 hours. at the end of the day i felt like i had been holding a jackhammer for the entire day. my back, head, ears, and legs were aching.

the majority of the drive was uneventful, except for a few moments of chaos and fun. about 3 in the afternoon we finally stopped for lunch. i was absolutely starving. in china we say 'wo e si le.' it means i am dying of hunger. i ate little more than snake foods, as you never know when or how quick the bus will leave. peanuts, crackers and a bottle of red tea. the real fun was being the only white person in town. this was a small village, with no tourism. so i was truly an oddity. children stopped in their tracks with ear to ear smiles. old men stared as if i were an alien, slack jawed and blank faced. motorcycle after motorcycle skidded to a halt to shout 'hellow,' 'okay,' 'goodbye,' 'thankyou.' then, with the sounding of the airhorn, the show was over. i sat down and on we went.

about the 10th hour relief appeared. you see, the bus ride was only supposed to last 11 hours, but it would take 13 1/2. so when we rounded the bend and the first of the majestic mountains appeared it was a relief to my weary soul. it stood out above the rest, unclothed of the green grasses. it was shear rock, elegant and dangerous. but it was only the first, and the least, in the end. around a few more bends the first real range of the montrous himalayas appeared. you see, i have been in the himalayas several times, but always in the foot hills, 13,000-15,000 ft peaks. this was different. it is quite amazing for mountains to rise above other mountains as if they are a plataeu. a wall of rock rose upwards of 18,000 or 19,000 ft, with glacial ice and snow pouring from high valleys. it was breath-taking. i was, for the first time, truly in the himalayan range. it may seem silly, but their appearance lifted my soul. only 3 or 4 hours to go.

finally, at 9:30 we pulled into ganzi, a sleepy mountain town. it seemed very light was turned off, telling us no vacancy. that was nearly true. but first, the story of my luggage. being a westerner i always try to keep an eye on my luggage, where it's stowed and who gets in and out of that area. but last night in ganzi my luggage was not where i put it. the driver waved me to another bin where he said it was. it was not. at this poing i was worried. everything but some money and my passport was in there. what would i do. the driver laughed at my problem and said he would ask another driver. the other driver did indeed know where my bag was, but when he point to it i was furious. it had been put at the feet of some passengers, and was covered with water and mud. while relieved to have my stuff, i was mad enough that i had to restrain myself from hitting the driver who was laughing at me. instead i pulled him close and chewed him out, in chinese. so, in such a state of mind my pursuit of lodging began. i knew of a few places to go. hotel number 1, no longer there. option 2, no room at the inn. number 3, couldn't be found. then a little boy told me where to go. option 4, a way overpriced, piece of crap room. but i finally had a room. i was hungry and still very mad. i simply undressed and lay down, not wanting to deal with china anymore that day.

all day the clouds hung like a veil over the mountains and valleys. it was as if each valley was prevented from seeing to the next. only occasionally did the sun peak through, and when it did it seemed prophetic. i was glad to be out from under the heavy veil and in bed, though i was too tired to think of the beauties i had seem during the day. somedays are just not so much fun. and their happening make it hard to abide them with any sort of grace and peace. today was one. but perhaps the next will be better and perhaps i will peak my head above the veil to see regardless of the circumstances.


new pics from yushu horse festival

these pics should appease the masses that having telling me that i am a slacker of a blogger.

this is a kham tibetan dancer in front of a bonfire.

these are two new friends. i hope to see a lot of them in the future.

consider this beard update 2.0. this monk was tall, and not very happy about the picture.

this woman was one of the most beautiful people i've ever seen. she was really shy too.

this guy stood behind me for a while and smiled with his two gold teeth, so i took his pic. but he did not like the way it turned out. i did.

children are always some of the best picture takers. he smiled at me for an hour or so, as i watched tibetans dance.

this man's face shows the years of hard winters and work. i seemed to catch him at the only moment he was not smiling though.

another new friend. her dad makes traditional tibetan clothes, and you could tell. every time i saw her she was adorned in amazing jewelry.

this is what a majority of the men look like. snaggle toothed and long haired, but incredible nice and armed with great smiles.

this is what most of the women looked like. but they smiled less often, unless they were under 20 years old.

this is the monastery that sits atop the mountain, at about 14,000 feet. at the peak is an auditorium of sorts. this monastery was also a fortress against other tibetan budhist sects.

same new friend as in the balck and white earlier. she did not like to have her picture taken, but she agreed because she was one of the most beautifully dressed at the festival.

xining to yushu

last tuesday i boarded a bus bound for yushu prefecture in southern qinghai. when i arrived i realized that i had not bought the sleeper bus ticket, but a regular bus ticket. this meant that i would be sitting in a seat next to a tibetan nomad for at least 17 hours. so i took my seat and met the nice gentleman sitting next to me. he was an older nomad with quite the smell to him. he seemed friendly enough until it came time to sleep, when i became aware that you had to actively keep your space, otherwise you lose it. so about midnight i am startled by a hip thrust pushing me half into the aisle so that he could turn sideways and curl into a ball. this sort of jockeying happened all night, and i eventually learned to give as i was getting. but nonetheless, i did not sleep more than 2 hours the entire bus ride. it was a long and bumpy night.

but there was a redeeming factor. i met an incredible tibetan family. a grandmother, a mother, and two nieces traveling to their hometowns to see family and to attend the yushu horse festival. when we stopped for dinner they invited me to sit with them and even paid for my meal. they were so kind. the next morning we arrived at 6am and i had no where to go. i was meeting a friend who was coming from a different town at 9 that night, but was on my own for the bulk of the day. so, after trying to find me a place to spend the day, they decided to take me home with them. all i can really say is that hospitality really is a blessing that can touch the soul. this family fed me three meals, took me around town, and helped me find my friend. it was incredible to talk with them all day and to work out my chinese. they live in xining, so i will be able to talk with them more, and pay them back for treating me to 4 meals. later in the week i saw the same family out at the festival, they had their own compound of tents--it turns out they are fairly wealthy--and drank some corona's with the father and daughters. i tell you what, a corona never will taste as good as on the tibetan plateau after nearly a week without a shower.

the horse festival was incredible, but not for the expected reasons. the performances grew boring after a while, but the people were amazing. they wore some of the most elaborate and beautiful clothing i have ever seen. and kham tibetan dancing is out of this world. i want to learn how to dance from them. there is so much i could tell you, but i will keep it short. this place feels like home. the mountains surround a beautiful grassland that sits at 13,000 ft. that's right, i am at the lowest point in the valley and am at nearly the elevation of most mountains in america. two nights ago i attended a fire dancing performance, and wow. during one of the songs i began to cry. i was pressed by the compassion of J for them and by the fact that they were ignorant of Him. as the woman sang, i was stirred for the people, and felt a real call to the nomads of tibet. i was given a sense of ownership, or home-ness of the place and people. earlier that same day the entire festival was covered in a dust storm like i'd only seen in movies or read about. the horizon grew black and before you knew it there was a wall of ice cold rain and dust upon you. the winds were ripping down tents, signs and even the covering of the grandstand. it was amazing. but the nomads took it in stride, not budging from their places watching the dancing. i, on the other hand, had to join with others in holding our tent down, as the wind was ripping up everything and blowing across the valley. i even wore a white bandanna like an old west cowboy, it was quite cool. lastly, kham tibetans, the women, are beautiful. it's a strange thing. they wear pounds of jewelry, have rosy cheeks, and probably have'nt showered in weeks or months, but there were some of the most beautiful women i had ever seen at the festival. maybe i'll marry a tibetan after all, hah hah.


the tibetan market

so, down near the train station is a place called the tibetan market. really its a few curio shops, a lot of tibetan restaurants, and a place where all the nomads from the plateau wait to catch their bus back out of town. many of them come for just a day or two, to buy supplies and items for their shops. its a strange mix of people, many of which only speak obscure dialects of tibetan. here are a few, actually, quite a few pictures:

a monk and his friend waiting to catch a bus.

kids playing pool. don't kids always love having their picture taken.

a man from golok with his daughter. they were in xining buying stuff for their shop back home.

a woman and her child.

maybe not ever child likes to have their picture taken. but she was already sad looking before the picture.

a tibetan band. they really wanted me in the picture.

this boy was mostly too cool to have his picture taken with the other boys. but i still got him.

a nomad child. she kept walking right up to me with sad face wanting to look at my camera.

on a completely separate note, i want to suggest the movie 'the painted veil.' it was not only shot in a beautiful part of china, but is also a heartwrenchingly power story of human vulnerability and the inner hope for love. i was really touched by the struggle to forgive and the power of love to overcome, not to mention the difficulties of actually walking forgiveness out.


what my eyes see

every day i walk down these same streets, and every day i feel such conflict within me. my eyes see what i wish they could not see, yet i am drawn to keep looking.

the amount of malformation in china is staggering. i do not know how best to describe it. everyday i see dozens of amputees, children with no hands, albino children, numerous men and women with one leg no more than that of a child's, children with scars stretching from temple to jaw, men with burned faces, and countless individuals pulling themselves around on carts, pads made of tires, and their own torsos. i cannot describe to you the feelings in my mind and my heart as i see this day after day. but i will try.

like nearly anything horrific, we turn to look. amazed. astounded. horrified. and curious. i ache when i see mothers begging to support a child with no legs. i am humbled when i see the man holding his 15 year old son over a patch of dirt to use the restroom because he has only grown to be the size of an 8 year old, but his head is twice the size of a grown man's. i am shocked at the number of amputees, and burdened for their families. but what to do?

like nearly anything horrific, we shelter our minds and emotions from the melee. unsure. fearful. embarrassed. and compelled. i want to turn and forget that i live in a world where someone has to beg because of an accident or their creation. i am ashamed that i do not do what it takes to really make a difference in each of their lives. i want to be able to wake up again in the morning and not have to give thanks that i am in one piece. i want to take it for granted. because when i don't the only option is acting. but what to do?

i have no idea what to do; you can see. i want to offer the kind hand, or the change of my pocket. but what good does it do? i suppose that it does a great bit, even J needed a drink of water on His way to calvary. but it hurts to think that i cannot do more. i am ashamed that i walk past so many. that i spend so much money and time on stuff, on travel, on research.

really, we each know what to do. i am not a savior, not for any man or woman or child. but i know the one who is. and i am not called to be, i am called to be an ambassador, a disciple. i don't know what i hope this might say to you. i just have felt these emotions welling in me and wished to express them. be thankful, but more so, know His kindness that you might administer it, and know His love that you might give it.


chinese TV is always good for a laugh

so last night i was watching a little chinese television. you know, flipping through again and again, until i saw this show that resembled american idol. so i stopped, imagining what a trainwreck of a show it might be. and boy was i right.

so, like all chinese shows, it began with some guy speaking in a very dramatic voice, then yelling, then pointing and letting the odd graphics and sound effects, like whistles, babies crying, etc, augment his words. finally, a girl was selected to start of the night of competition. she stepped up, took the microphone, and then the guy started talking for another five minutes. i swear. he seemed to ask her questions, but never let her talk. finally, she began singing. i laugh now even as i to write this. the beat began, and then she started singing gwen stefani's 'hollaback girl.' what was so funny though, is that she did not know the words. every once in a while she would get a word right, but then back into mumbled 'english.' just imagine, it was like she had maybe heard the song 2 or 3 times, and then was made to sing it. like we have all done in the car. but the really funny thing, no one knew she did not know the words. she received a rousing ovation by the crowd and the other performers. at the end the host asked her what song she sang. her response "hoolar bad gr." "so, what is a hoolar bad gr?" asked the host. she proceeded to tell him in chinese what a holler back girl is.

this may not be near as funny for you, but i promise, it was the highlight of my day. i laughed so hard. watching chinese TV is for entertainment, just not the kind they imagined when making the shows. quite good i do say.


some pics of kumbum monastery

the courtyard in front of one of the main temples at kumbum monastery.

a monk i met at kumbum monastery. he is hard at work explaining to me the intricacies of monkhood over a cup of tibetan tea.

a nice tibetan door at kumbum monastery.

my friend and his childhood friend, the monk, catch up on old times.

i've never seen anything quite like this before. it's a satalite dish that has been covered over with mirrors in order to heat water for tea. i guess it's the chinese version of sun tea.


'McDonald's who?' and 'yes means no'

this post is going to be two short ones in one.

first, would you ever imagine that you would meet someone who had never heard of McDonald's? well, yesterday i did. i am sitting outside my hostel and these tibetan students walk by and we start chatting. they mention KFC and how their english teaching told them it is different here than in america, so said, yeah, it's the same with McDonald's. they looked at each other. paused. and then one of them pulled out the chinese to english dictionary and asked me to spell the word. they had never heard of McDonald's. the most global of brands. it made me quite happy. there is still a place where the greasy fries and soy patties have not overtaken. but alas, there are three KFC's in town. and their all very busy.

second, it seems that every time someone here tells me 'yes, that can be done', or 'it's already taken care of,' that really means when i come back to pick it up i will have to start all over and work even harder to get stuff done. this happened with my visa, my translator, my school registration, the health check for my visa, and with many smaller things as well. i have been here for more than three weeks and i am still having to work at getting some of the basic stuff finalized. i just want to get to my research. but i guess i better get used to it.


giardia anyone?

yesterday was not a good day at all. first my beloved u.s. soccer team loses to a not so good paraguay in the copa america. then i am denied the visa i had applied for it (apparently all it takes is a lot more money to get what you want). then i get home and begin to feel a little sick. i thought i might have been just an upset stomach, but then the vomiting began.

so after three hours of vomiting off and on i call my friend here who is a doctor. i tell him my symptoms and he says it's probably giardia. the great news he said is that giardia can be cured in about 2 hours with the right pills. so, he brings the pills over, along with some water--i was quite dehydrated--and some gastrolyte. i take the pills, drink some water, say a little p. and lay back down. but i didn't feel better at all. in fact, i vomited again about 30 min. after taking the medicine. at that point i thought to myself, get ready for a long night.

nearly 3 hours later i woke up with no stomach pains and no urge to rush to the bathroom. i guess enough medicine stayed in me to cure me. so, it was giardia. i think this is the second time i've had it. two years ago in india all my symptoms were the same, but that one lasted nearly 4 days.

so, i feel much better this morning. but i am still very weak feeling and sore. but i am not sick anymore. oh, the life of ryan. it's so good.


a good man is hard to find...

recently i have been reading some of flannery o'conners short stories, on the suggestion of the markman. one in particular has stood out to me, her very short piece a good man is hard to find. this is the story of the inner intrigues of a family as they prepare for and then embark on a family trip florida, during which they run into a escaped murder and his crew.

i guess the reason i write about this short story is that it makes the point very clear that it is not so much the outward search for a good man that is hard, but the inner one. the father of the family is constantly harried and harassed and thus reacts harshly situations, when all along you get the feeling he doesn't want to act out like he does. the real revelation of this comes at the end with the conversation between the grandmother and the misfit, the killer, as his two cronies take the entire family out in the woods to kill them. she continues to tell him he is really a good man and that he doesn't have to do this. he acknowledges this but cannot find it within himself to turn away from evil. it is his inner struggle to find the good man that the story is really about. or maybe more accurately his resigned failure to not ever having found this man.

this is the same struggle you and i face. to fall prey to past decisions. to be defined by the world as a lawless person. but for us it is not an unaided search, or it need not be. the unaided search will end in failure, as this story shows. our sins reign in us only if they are not washed away. maybe you all don't sit and think yourself to death like i do, but regardless it is refreshing to know that we need not redeem ourselves. and that we are not just looking for a good man, we can be a righteous man, or woman.

i really liked reading this story. as you can tell. some fiction just really gets my mind turning and makes me appreciate the graces we have. without them we are lost to the struggle--which can only end in failure--never realizing the so called goodness within us. after all, it is the 'goodness' of man that corrupts the world with it's moral ambiguities. a good man is hard to find because it requires the process of deliverance and redemption. and this comes from only one place.