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.