Wednesday, August 3, 2011


When we got off the plane yesterday Rebecca said “Johnathan we are IN the Himalayas. I mean REALLY we are IN the Himalayas. That’s so weird and so cool” I’m not sure why after a summer of seeing the Great Wall, living in a rainforest and going to Saigon this finally struck her as remarkable but… Jonathan said later “you know we’ve been traveling around so much that we just adjust immediately” And it’s true they have become shockingly flexible and worldly in their own weird way. I did have serious fantasies of throwing all three of them out the taxi cab window while we were driving over a narrow mountain pass and they were playing some game that involved head bonking, leaning, and lots of noise and me as a kind of home base.

Thus far the trip has been our smoothest yet. Getting out of the garden had the usual complications. We were supposed to leave at noon but at 12:45 someone called and said we had to leave at 11:00. And then it turned out that on the way to the airport we had to drop off our neighbor at the hospital. Her sister is visiting from Indonesia and they think it might be cheaper to get a surgery here. Our plane was parked in the absolute last spot on in the plane parking lot and as we walked for a good half-mile on the hot tarmac the whole thing started to worry me. Needless to say the bullet train thing has me panicked about transit.

We arrived in Lijiang yesterday afternoon. It’s at 8000 feet, which is about the same as Aspen Colorado. Manuel and I both have killer headaches but the kids seem to be fine. The weather forecast, including the pilot on the plane, said it would either be 76 or 96 degrees, and luckily it was 76, which actually left us all kind of freezing—in a good way. It’s amazing to me how massively different this place is given that it’s only an hour flight away from where we live. We can see the mountains in every direction. The colors are darker than where we are and the whole place just feels different. My sister spent a semester in college studying Tibetan Budishm and spent time in Nepal, Dharmsala, and Bhutan. It looks a lot like her pictures, from the scenery to the architecture. The cultural and architectural differences make Vermont and Santa Fe seem almost identical. I assume some of this is because we wiped out the vastly different cultures, and the Chinese in their own way, have preserved them. But also there’s a kind of enforced stability here. To move cities here still requires permission. In other words you can get a job in another city but you need permission to move there. And there are places like where we live that are shockingly isolated; no one leaves and no one travels.

Our hotel sits at the edge of the old town. The new town was built during the China/Soviet love affair and is positively Stalinist. Parts of it look like the housing project I lived in in Bratislava. The old town on the other hand is jumbled cobblestone streets with wooden buildings. Apparently during a giant earthquake in 1996 the new town basically crumbled and the old town did fine. The wooden houses sway when the earth moves. So the government sunk a lot of money reverting to old styles.

For dinner we wandered to the old town in search of a Tibetan restaurant touted by Lonely Planet. Like Charlottesville it’s full of Tibetan refugees selling pashminas, which Rebecca and I immediately bought because we were cold and NEEDED them. Jonathan wants a poncho today but is a little concerned that men don’t wear them. He then explained that they do in Peru and he has some Peruvian blood so it should work out. We located the Tibetan restaurant despite having no real map. The first clue was all the white people and the Tonka paintings familiar to me from my sister’s Tibetan Buddhist phase. (she didn’t take refuge but she was into it). As promised the place was gorgeous and, sitting in couches, on the second floor we had a great seat for people watching. Jonathan, our pathologically finicky eater who spent years in feeding therapy, shocked us by saying “Hmmm there are lots of interesting things to try here. I’d like to sample the local goat cheese…” So we ordered a Tibetan feast of soup with yak meat, yak dumplings, goat cheese on Tibetan flat bread, and fried yak cheese. The kids had real unpasteurized milk.

Today we’re off to tour some ancient Chinese villages with a guide from inner Mongolia. I think we might be riding some horses up to a really old one. I refused to go near a Chinese cable car but Chinese horses seem ok. I’m hoping evolution trumps culture in their case.

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