Wednesday, December 5, 2007

China Odyssey, Day 21 - Lhasa, Tibet

Day 21 - Lhasa, Tibet
Wednesday December 5
Home Visit, Orphanage, and Crazy Yak Show

K&K both slept in - up at 7, breakfast at 8. Worst breakfast of the entire trip, so far.

Our morning tour included a home visit and a tour of an OAT-sponsored orphanage. Keith crawled out of bed to go, but stayed on the bus. It was cold waiting! Keith was glad to have his scarf, gloves, and down jacket. There is more snow on the mountaintops than was visible a couple of days ago; winter is approaching! The scenery around Lhasa is breathtaking. Stark brown mountains and hills surrounding broad alluvial valleys with braided rivers flowing through them. The air is crystal clear and the sunshine is brilliant at the 12,000 foot altitude.

Tibetan Mountain Scenery
Kathy's first stop was a home tour of a middle class Tibetan family. The middle class are said to comprise about 30% of the population. The family consists of 3 generations, grandmother, mother, and daughter. No men in this household. Income is from sewing wallets & aprons, silk embroidery of the Buddhas, and painted masks. The group was first led into a large room lined with comfortable couches and draped with yak rugs. On the table were a dozen different Tibetan snacks. Most had a cereal base (barley or bean or corn or rice). Some tasted like sugar smacks without sugar, puffed rice, or plain popcorn. Kathy's favorite was fried Barley sticks.

The home was quite spacious and consisted of a living room, kitchen, sewing room, and bedroom located with a private courtyard where they had a solar paneled wok. Yak tea and barley beer were served. Kathy thought both very good. Kathy was guilted into purchasing a home made apron (dos anyone use aprons these days?).

Modern Tibetan Home

Welcoming Hostess

In the meantime Keith sat on the bus, shivered, and watched the street scene. A guy on the corner of the alleyway leading to the orphanage was polishing shoes. For locals, not tourists. Another guy up the alleyway operated a very small bicycle shop. He was out front, crouching over to mend a bicycle. Across from the bicycle shop a huge pile of trash, just behind the bus. Most interesting was an enterprising sewing lady, with a treadle-powered sewing machine on the sidewalk, hemming pants. While Keith watched, a modish, young Chinese Barbie brought a pair of pants to be hemmed. The sewing lady gave the Barbie lady her seat and provided her with a piece of cardboard so she could take off her stylish boots and try on the new pants, on top of the leather pants she rode in on. She stood up, zipped up the pants, put the boots back on, and pulled the new pants down over the boots. The sewing lady marked the hem, then took the pants for sewing, while the fancy lady sashayed on down the avenue. Can you spell micro-business?

Lhasa Street Side Entrepreneur

Our second stop was an orphanage run by Grand Circle (parent company of OAT). K&K both stayed on the bus for this one. Keith can stand only so much cultural immersion. Kathy becomes despondent over the hoards of poor, needy kids. It makes her feel inadequate and helpless because she can't fix the world. Also, the kids remind her how much she misses her own grandchildren.

Last stop was lunch at the snowbird hotel. We ordered from the menu, which included continental, Tibetan, Indian, and Chinese entrees. The good news was Keith was able to eat some. Keith ordered chicken tiki, while Kathy ordered yak curry. The chicken was ok, the curry pretty good. The quality of the meat throughout China is not what one expects in the US. Much of the meat is tough and gristly.

K&K both opted out of the optional (read extra cost) afternoon tour to the Sera Monastery. Keith slept while Kathy went shopping, of all things. She bought 7 little hats to be worn by the grandchildren, in the back yard out of sight of other children.

Tonight is the Festival of the Creator with the Yellow Hat, a major annual Tibetan event. We keep hearing stories about a lot of drinking and rowdiness, so we plan to sleep through it.

An interesting little tidbit; we have 1 English speaking TV channel in Lhasa. This morning, we heard Leominster, MA mentioned in the context of an ice and snow storm. I guess we will have to shovel out the Condo when we get home.

Supper tonight includes a musical revue called the Great Yak Show. Food was poor . Keith hated the show and waited in the lobby. Kathy enjoyed the show very much. It lasted about 30 minutes. Each musical act was dressed in a traditional native costume from a different part of Tibet.

Traditional Tibetan Entertainment

Crazy Yak

Tomorrow we leave Tibet for our return flight to Chengdu, then Hong Kong. We are looking forward to the warmer climate. We are both chilled to the bone, and wonder if we will ever be warm again.

Reflections on the Shangbala Hotel. It was located in a perfect place. Great shopping was within walking distance. The hotel, however was dirty, had no heat, no hot water, worst breakfast yet, and Keith's special little pique - there were 4 cats that wandered about at will throughout the hotel. But, we are glad we stayed there, because of the location, in the thick of things.

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