Monday, January 5, 2009

Ascension from Golmud

My Regrets, dirt in China killed my camera. There are no pictures for you. That's why I keep showing you thangkas.

Golmud is dry and dusty like a ghost town in the southwestern US. What I remember most about Golmud was sharing a public shower with women who couldn't take their eyes off of us. We got over it. There was a lot of public bathing while I lived in Japan, it's just that people don't usually stare.
Another thing that I remember clearly was a mostly empty department store that had Procter and Gamble Shampoo with a Chinese name. I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio where Procter and Gamble is a big deal and it became much more esteemed in my mind when I found evidence of it in Golmud, China.

What seems to haunt me, though, is paying a family to sit on each others laps for about 700 miles so that we could use their seats on the bus. The money we paid them was the cost of the family's entire bus trip. They seemed very happy to have the money, perhaps $40 US, and they doubled up without complaint. We really did need the space with larger bodies and overstuffed back packs, because everything about the Chinese buses is a little more compact than you would find in the US. Still, this lingers in my mind as a kind of crass move on our part.
Dry, gravelly dirt, sand and shallow craters were the only decorations for hundreds of miles in the Tibetan plateau between the Kunlun mountains and the Great Himalayan Range. For the first couple of hours of our slow ascent from Golmud, starting at about 2,800 meters or 9,100 feet, I stared out of the window admiring the dark gravelly desert with the snow covered mountain peaks in the distance.
There were no fences because there were no animals to pen in or to keep out. And, there were no houses because there were no people. Yet there were telephone poles, pole after pole after hypnotic pole. Monotonous as it was there was a cold lonely beauty to the emptiness in striking contrast to the inner environment.
Inside, every seat was full and some overflowing. The back half of the bus was filled with smiling tonsured monks wearing dark red robes. When the bus would hit one of the large craters in the road, several of them would bounce out of their seats and bonk their noggins on the roof of the bus. Then they would all break into great peels of laughter.
The front half of the bus was filled with myself and 3 traveling companions, all of our luggage, several Chinese, a handful of young men and women from Hong Kong, and two Danish gentlemen. For the most part it was a loud and happy bunch.

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