Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter - 'From a Foreign Land'

I woke up early and went top deck of my cruise ship on the Yangtze River – for my own sunrise service ‘in a foreign land’. I already knew it was cloudy and the ‘mist’ was a little heavy. But I went anyway. At first I was alone on deck – watching mountains come into view as sunlight came through the clouds. But what I enjoyed the most was listening to the birds chirping and the roosters crowing. Very peaceful way to start the day and reflect on God’s creation and new beginnings on Easter. As the world woke up, there were car horns and barking dogs. (and a few fog horns).
I them found myself in company of other travelers that had planned a short Easter Sunrise Service – even got to sing a little – but missed the impulse choir and the Brass R Us!

As day proceeded, we journeyed down the river to visit the Gorges. Spectacular scenery. Its hard to imagine how different things would have looked prior to the dam project. At this point, the water level has risen about 90 meters. We spoke with several residents who had to be relocated – a couple of local guides –and a local farmer. We are being told how much better the new cities are for people and that most folks were able to take the allowance for resettlement and add additional $’s to double their home size. From what I see, the new homes, wide streets, parks, and other infrastructure of the citites are an improvement. But I recognize the difficulties required to relocate and have cities / farms / businesses submerged beneath the water line. We asked about the submerged cities and in translation, were told they were bombed and good stuff removed. Sounds like even many bricks were moved for reuse.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

More views of Tibet - Lhasa

As I travel and see more parts of China, while there are some similarities, there are many differences. This is definitely true in Tibet. Have gotten opportunity to wander thru the markets and watch the people as they go about their daily lives. There is significant focus on Tibetan Buddhists religion.

Life in Tibet would be difficult. Lhasa seems very secluded from the rest of the world. There are instances where you see glimpses of change. Monks and Pilgrims talking on cell phones for example. In many places, I’ve seen high usage of cell phones and I imagine that this technology has done much to change communication. The infrastructure required for cell phone usage is much less than would be required for traditional phones or even water systems.

As you wander the streets of Tibet, you can’t miss the parade of locals, pilgrims, nomads and even monks make their “kora” or clockwise circuits of the city as the pray. You see many traditionally clad people walking with their prayer beads and prayer wheels. I tried to capture some of the character of the people – but needed to be careful for 2 reasons. One – some of these folks believe having their picture taken will shorten their lives. But often they are eager to have their picture taken. The other reason is that the streets are heavily guarded. We have been told not to take pictures of the military. If they believe you have taken their picture, you may have a close encounter with these armed guards as they view your pictures and may request that you delete a picture. So far, I have avoided this experience, but several in my group of 14 have learned. We are regularly reminded that we are very far from home.

Our local guide in Tibet spent 12 years as Monk at the Jokhang Temple. We visited the temple with him as our guide. The temple was very crowded with people waiting in long line to enter the temple to pay their respect to the Buddha. We were allowed to go in another entrance, but were shoulder to shoulder with the locals as we walked thru the temple. We got some insight to the hard life of a young monk – receiving yak butter offerings, cleaning the temple, and carry water from well to third floor, However, at the same time, our guide was able to get an education that he wouldn’t otherwise have been possible, It was obvious he still had friends at the temple as he was greeted throughout the temple. He was free to leave the order and pursue other opportunities, but if still very connected / devoted to his Buddhist faith. He is also now a husband and a very proud father of a 7month old son – something that wouldn’t have been possible as a monk.

We also visited the Sera Monastery. The Monastery was founded in 1419 and at one time had 6000 monks in residence. Today, following the ‘Lhasa incident’, there are less than xx monks here. The monastery’s main purpose is education and it houses 3 universities for study. Some buildings in the complex are crumbling and are being rebuilt. There was also visible activity to restore some parts of this historic structure.
The Sera Monastery is visited by many parents with young infants. They bring the children here to be blessed and received protection. This is done by getting a black streak down their nose. We saw many infants and young children with black noses. As we were going thru the chapel, we were also blessed with the black mark. From our guide we learned that adults often visit if they are having trouble sleeping as well. As we continued our visit, our group of big black noses were a source of amusement for the locals. It added to our memories of the visit as well. One of our party has ended up on crutches due to flare up of knee injury. He received an extra healing blessing and was bestowed with a white scarf for even further protection and healing. I think Dick would like this to be fruitful!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

On Top of the World

Wasn’t the first tour group into Tibet – but one of the early groups to enter after boarder was opened. It was snowing when we arrived – but then the bright sun came back out, From the bus, we saw Pilgrims walking along the road and got an introduction to sky burials & water burials.

The first day in Lhasa, we slowly ascended to the Potala Palace. The Palace was built in 1645 (White Palace) and 1693 (Red Palace). It was once the residency of the Dalai Lama, but he has not resided here since he fled to India in 1959. Tibet’s still hold onto to hope that he will be allowed to return some day – but this is not certain.
Much of the Palace was stark whitewashed concrete like. I liked the protectors guarding the doors and the Buddha’s. Many rooms open for viewing contained collections of Buddha statues from around the world. The chapels were decorated with gold and jewels and contained several stupas (burial chambers) of previous Dalai Lamas. It was also interesting to see the walls covered with compartments containing the ancient scriptures. Several were being studied by Monks in an assembly room.

As we explored, we were side by side with worshipers who had journeyed to this holy site. Got to witness them make their offerings of Yak Butter to the burning candles in the chapels, as well as observing several prostrating pilgrims as they bowed and prayed to pay their respects to the Buddha and ask for blessings.
The mountains around Lhasa are very impressive. Within old part of the city we wandered through narrow streets and markets. Yak meat/ yak butter were very evident, as were herb markets and market stalls with all kinds of products. I purchased a necklace at one vendor – after bargaining a bit, I paid for my purchase only to learn that we were her first purchase of the day. She waved our money across her goods asking for good luck and blessings of the Buddha. (It was almost 1pm).

Monday, April 6, 2009

Lots of Giant Pandas

I had a great day today visiting the Pandas.
Hope you enjoy the pictures!

It was fascinating to see so many Pandas at once. The Chengdu Research Center, built in the late 80’s was open to public in 1993. The center is billed as the Largest Giant Panda Eco Park in the World. We were able to see groups of pandas from 1yr old cubs to adults.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Chengdu - Changing Faces Opera Show

We saw Sichuan Opera Show – had much more humor and folklore than Beijing Opera – but some similarities as well. There was a solo on the Erhu (Two stringed – bowed instrument) that captured audience.
We also witnessed the changing faces opera performance. Even when performer came out into audience, it was difficult to comprehend how the changes were accomplished so quickly. There was even a stick puppet that the performer was able to demonstrate the face-changing performance.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Hu-Xian Farmer Village

We got to see past and present immages of farmer village. We arrived in town and visited an English langage school. The kids were anxious to ask the foreingers questions - and it was fun to get opportunity to interact. We were then taken to 'old village' - that govenment was mandating relocation to 'new village' - several blocks away. Had opportunity to stay with a local family and also interact at a dance held in our honor in the town park. may family had teen age kids who were doing pretty well with English. There mother was also enjoying the interaction. She had her Chinsese / English dictionary that we used to facilate our communication. We learned on Sunday morning that she was a Chistian - as were my fellow travel partners for the night. We sang a few songs - even if words were not the same - it was fun to find some common ground. (Jesus Loves Me / Amazing Grace worked pretty well!).

Friday, April 3, 2009

Terra-Cotta Army

Was a lot more here that I had even anticipated. We drove out to the farm area where the discovery was made. A new facility has been built around the ‘dig’ to allow visitors to witness and also protect the artifacts. The site is active – and evidence of the continued research was evident.