Lijiang - The Real Shangri-la

Nuar lala (hello in the Naxi language),
Our next stop after Tibet was Lijiang for a total of 4 nights and 3 full days. We entered the picturesque town by walking on the cobblestone streets surrounded by rickety old buildings, lots of street venders, and streaming canals. I believe the overall consensus was that we all fell in love with this city the moment we entered the old town.
On the first day we had a walking tour of the old town and a visit to the Black Dragon Pool and the Naxi Museum. Lijiang is separated into two areas, an “old” and “new town”. Luckily our hotel and the main shopping/walking area are centered in the old town, which has an authentic and homey feel. The walking tour was a great way to meet our new tour guide, learn about the old town and its history, and to also find our way around the maze of narrow streets.
After our walking tour we hopped on the bus and drove to the Black Dragon Pool Park. “Apart from strolling around the pool – its view of Yulong Xueshan (Jade Dragon Snow Mountain) is the most obligatory photo shoot in southwestern China.” Since Lijiang has a mild summer and a mild winter it provides ample sunlight and heat which we were pleased to finally see. We also thoroughly enjoyed the scenic view of the green grass, colorful flowers, and blossoming trees – they were a great backdrop for picture taking! In addition to the natural sights, we appreciated seeing the local’s playing cards, taking walks, playing jump rope, and enjoying the warm afternoon.
Our last stop was the Naxi Museum. This museum represented the 286,000 people who call themselves the Naxi and who have been a minority to China for almost 1,400 years. “The Naxi descend from ethnically Tibetan Qiang tribes and lived until recently in matrilineal families. Since local rulers were always male it wasn’t truly matriarchal, but women still seem to run the show, certainly in the old part of Lijiang.” At this museum we learned of the Naxi’s different language (both written and spoken), the traditional clothing that the men and women wear, the animals they do not eat and hold with high respect (frogs, dogs, horses), and many facts about their matriarchal society. We also had the opportunity to partake in having personalized scrolls made by the Dongba , “the Naxi shamans who were caretakers of the written language and mediators between the Naxi and the spirit world”.
The second day brought a full-day tour to the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (the mountain we took photographs of at the Dragon Pool Park) with a grand uplift to the Glacier Park. Some of the students were nervous to ride the cable car to the top of the mountain, but we all decided to get over our fear and go to the top! The view going up the mountain was breathtaking; however, even the bold students felt a rush while riding in the small cable cars. Once at the top, some of the students took yet another challenge of hiking the many stairs to the tippy top of the mountain in order to see a bird’s eye view of the Glacier Park. Those students were very excited when making it to the top, an astounding 15,000 feet above sea level (without the use of Oxygen might I add)!
After the exhausting ride and hike, we loaded the bus to eat lunch and visit the Black Water River and the Baisha village. At the river some students decided to dress up in traditional Naxi attire and ride a yak! This experience was not only hilarious, but a once in a lifetime chance to ride a yak along with the bonus of the clothes and the mountains in the background. Once our laughs were complete, many pictures were taken, and our dreams of wearing costumes were accomplished, we made our trip to the Baisha village. Baisha, a very small village, is the capital of the Naxi kingdom. Here we studied the Naxi culture, viewed murals that were over 500 years old (encrusted with diamonds and gold), and had a walking tour of the traditional, yet dusty, village.
It’s apparent that we are very busy in this extraordinary city and are happy to spend many days here in order to absorb the wonders that this place has to offer. Until the next entry of the remainder adventures in Lijiang, we wish you warm wishes!



Tashi dele (hello in Tibetan),

Our plane ride to Tibet from Chengdu was unlike any of us had ever experienced. Never before had we felt that the mountains were following us while flying high in the air. It was a breathtaking site to see the Himalayan Mountains at such a close range and witness the sun reflecting off of the ice caps as the sun rose in the sky.

Tibet, “the Rooftop of the World”, offers the bluest of skies, flapping prayer flags, an abundance of historical monuments, and a fascinating culture. We have discovered the locals to be polite, religious, curious, superstitious, and extremely kind. Since we seem to be the only foreigners in Tibet (it currently is the off season) we tend to draw a lot of attention from the locals; however, the locals don’t seem to mind to be up close and personal with us in order to figure out who we are and where we are from.

On the first day we had to get acquainted with the high altitude which meant a short walk in the market and a long rest in the hotel. The next morning we had a full day tour which included climbing 380 stairs to the top of the Portala Palace (the winter get—a-away for the Dalai Lama). This astounding structure has over a 1,000 rooms and is divided into three sections: the yellow (library), the white (living quarters), and the red (the religious halls). “Pilgrims murmuring prayers shuffle through the rooms to make offerings of khatak (ceremonial scarves) and liquid yak butter.” In addition to the pilgrims (locals), are over 500 monks worshipping or cleaning the palace. They are easy to distinguish from the other pilgrims since they all wear reddish robes with yellow belts. If they are not studying or worshipping, they don’t seem to mind to say hello and give a friendly smile (and if we are lucky, they will let us take a picture with them).

For the next day and a half we visited the Summer Palace, the Tibet Hospital, the Sera Monastery, and the Jokhang Temple. Inside the Summer Palace courtyard were the two separate palaces for the 7th and the 14th Dalai Lama. Here we saw where the 14th Dalai Lama slept, studied, worshipped, entertained, and gave speeches. The Tibet Hospital was an educational surprise since one of the Doctors taught us about the traditional styles of Tibetan medicine, Medicine Astrological Study/Research. Even though he spoke quickly, we learned that Tibetan medicine focuses on mind and body equilibrium. The Sera Monastery is the place where the monks attend college and begin their journey of their pursuit of knowledge and spiritual devotion. Not only was the monastery gorgeous, but the surrounding town was a site to behold. The white-washed buildings, the ornate doorways, the gold-plated prayer wheels, and the mountainous rocks painted with the Buddha and other protectors were only a few of the sites to see at the Sera Monastery. The Jokhang Temple was flowing with the local people (pilgrims) showing their respect and loyalty while praying to Buddha. We really enjoyed interacting with the locals since their outfits were so different from ours and their smiles were larger than life.

The time in Tibet opened our eyes to the extensive history, trials, and the everlasting strength of the Tibetan Buddhist faith. We witnessed the pilgrims giving their offerings of butter, money, or incents, we tried our bargaining skills in the Bhakor Street/market, and ate lots of Tibetan food (which was a wonderful change of pace after 10 days of Chinese food). And to complete our visit, we experienced a cultural show with traditional Tibetan dancing. All in all, we all agreed that Tibet is a respectful and delightful region and we all wish to return at some point or another.

Kale Shoo (goodbye)

*quoted from Lonely Planet, China Guide 2007

Ni Hao friends and family,

Our short visit to Chengdu began with a jolt, literally! Our bus at the aiport had a minor bump in with a car on the tarmac, but do not worry - we only took away the rare experience and a few laughs, no major injuries.

We were excited to change the pace of our trip and adopt the laid-back attitude in Chengdu and breathe the fresh air. Chengdu, China’s fifth-most populous city and the nation’s second-most liveable city, is known for its agriculture, spicey Sichuan food, tea houses, brocade (a type of silk fabric), changing faces (a local mask-changing show), and of course, the giant pandas! Our first stop was the Giant Panda Breeding Center. Here we saw adult and baby pandas and even the rare red panda, which closely resembles a raccoon. Some of the students even had the unbelieveable opportunity to hold a baby panda and take a picture with it. The panda calmly rested on their laps while being fed honey - what a great memory!

For lunch and dinner on both days we ate the Sicuan food. This area is known for using the most salient pepper flavour, huajiao, a wild pepper. Don’t stress parents, all of your children really enjoyed this style of food and our tummies adjusted just fine!

On the second day we made our way two hours outside of Chengdu to visit the world’s largest Buddha (approximately 71 meters tall). Here we took a cruise on the Ming River which lays at the bottom of the Buddha’s feet. The boat took us infront of the Buddha and paused to allow us to take wonderful pictures with the big buddha in the background. After the cruise we climbed the 300+ stairs to see the Buddha up close and personal. Once our prayers were said, our pictures were taken, and our knees hurting from the stairs, we decided to return back to the bus to return to the hotel.

The last night in Chengdu we had the chance to rest and have independent study. Some students decided to go to a local teahouse and experience the opera theatre and cinema. During the show there was hand-shadowing (where he made animals by simply using a light, a screen, and his two hands), changing faces, fire breathing, dancing, singing, and instrument playing (especially the China’s famous ehru). It was a great show and a wonderful cultural opportunity. Other students decided to watch movies, go swimming in the hotel pool, and/or take a rest and go to bed early.

You will have another update from Tibet within the next few days. Once again, we wish you warm thoughts and miss you all dearly.

Zaijian (goodbye)