All Posts / China 2013

Alliance group study tour to Qinghai, China (part TWO)

The last time I left all of you, I was just finishing with our forth day of our trip to Qinghai (part one of our Qinghai trip HERE), but I hadn’t yet been able to tell you about our homestay in a small Tibetan village.  So here we are, at the end of day four of our Qinghai trip.

When we got to where our homestay would be, I was very confused because our bus stopped in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere.  It wasn’t until after I got off the bus that I saw a small road leading uphill to small homes tucked into the side of a mountain.  At the base of the hill was a flowing river and trees turning autumn colors all around.  For a girl who’s very homesick for fall colors, it was both beautiful and picturesque to say the least.  I only wish I had taken more  photos when I first arrived to fully illustrate the beauty of the area.

We headed up the hill with our things and met in a communal area and waited for our prospective host families to come pick us up and bring us to their homes.  My host dad came to fetch myself and three other girls, and immediately insisted on helping us with our bags.

This is our host dad; he insisted on carrying our bags for us!  What a sweet guy!

This is our host dad; he insisted on carrying our bags for us! What a sweet guy!

We arrived at our home, put our things in our room, and were immediately invited to sit down for dinner.

I wish I had a better photo of this, but this was basically our bed for the night - we each had a set of blankets and a pillow, and we slept on the rug (the brown thing is a table that we ate our supper on.  Compared to most hard Chinese beds, this really wasn't too awful :)  And the best part was, we seemed to be sleeping on some sort of oven-like thing, it's designed to have coal in it and heat up the surface so that you're nice and toasty while you sleep.

I wish I had a better photo of this, but this was basically our bed for the night – we each had a set of blankets and a pillow, and we slept on the rug (the brown thing is a table that we ate our supper on. Compared to most hard Chinese beds, this really wasn’t too awful 🙂 And the best part was, we seemed to be sleeping on some sort of oven-like thing, it’s designed to have coal in it and heat up the surface so that you’re nice and toasty while you sleep.

Dinner was a delicious potato stir fry and Yak noodle soup with green tea.

A stir-fried potato and red and green pepper dish.  Very delicous

A stir-fried potato and red and green pepper dish. Very delicous

This tea was lovely!

This tea was lovely!

Yak noodle soup; with added chili sauce, it was warm and perfect for a chilly day.

Yak noodle soup; with added chili sauce, it was warm and perfect for a chilly day.

While we were eating we ruefully tried to communicate with our Tibetan host father, but as he didn’t speak a word of Mandarin, and we didn’t speak a word of Tibetan (other than “hello!” “this is delicious” and “thank you!”), it was pretty limited.  I wish we had been able to communicate; the family was so sweet and welcoming that I’m sure it would have been wonderful getting to know them.  Even though it was pretty limited, we still managed to say “thank you” in so many different ways that I think they were able to understand how grateful we were that they put us up for the night.

Here are a few other photos of the house so you get the idea of what it looks like…

The door to our host family's home.

The door to our host family’s home.

The inner courtyard of our host family's home; Amy is in the photo headed towards the door of the room we stayed in.

The inner courtyard of our host family’s home; Amy is in the photo headed towards the door of the room we stayed in.

Renzitoma, our little host brother!

Renzitoma, our little host brother!

Cows at my host family's home.

Cows at my host family’s home, right outside the front door.

One of the most interesting things about the homestay was the toilet.  It wasn’t really what you might think… the house looks pretty basic, yes, but you might be thinking they would of course have an outhouse of some kind?  Maybe a hole in the ground or a dirty porcelain squat toilet of some sort?  Well, not exactly….

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The garden: AKA our toilet.

Many of you might be a little peeved at the fact that the garden was also our toilet.  I think all of us who were on the trip, myself included, now believe that given a hole in the ground, a few slits over dirty porcelain, or the great outdoors, we would 10/10 choose the great outdoors.  Quite frankly, having this as a toilet was not only freeing, but BEAUTIFUL!!!!!

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The view from our “toilet” makes this one of the best bathrooms on earth.

After futilely trying to communicate with our wonderful hosts, and somehow portraying that we needed to use the restroom, we came back to the inner courtyard and (perhaps to my host family’s dismay), started playing with our little host brother, Renzitoma.  He was SO CUTE and had perhaps one of the sweetest laughs I had ever heard.  He had a mostly deflated basketball that he would throw or kick to us, and every once in a while he would decide to wear it as a hat.  Seriously the cutest thing ever.  It was dark while we were playing, so I don’t really have any pictures of that.  But while we were playing, as it was getting dark, we got to see the stars.  10/10 positive that I probably haven’t seen so many stars in my life.  Maybe in some REALLY rural places in Illinois, but it’s hard to go anywhere that’s 100% dark in the states.  Here, there were no street lights.  There were only a few house light bulbs, and there was NO pollution.  Looking up at the stars and seeing the entire milky way, clearer than I have probably ever seen it before, was truly an experience.

After a while, it was everyone’s bedtime, and we crawled into our coal-warmed beds around a very late 8:30pm.  Hahha.  The girls and I stayed up talking for a while, and eventually we all drifted off to sleep…

Day 5 – Thursday

We woke up the next morning, and of course made a quick visit to the loo before getting dressed and packing up our stuff.  Before meeting the rest of our classmates for breakfast, we decided to go exploring around the village a little bit…

Our view as we exited our house that morning.

Our view as we exited our house that morning.

We found this awesome cat just sleeping on this pole like that.  I wonder if it's comfortable....?

We found this awesome cat just sleeping on this pole like that. I wonder if it’s comfortable….?

The view on the pathway to our house (complete with cow pies :P)

The view on the pathway to our house (complete with cow pies :P)

The beautiful view of the valley from our host family's driveway.

The beautiful view of the valley from our host family’s driveway.

We ran into another host family's father as he herded sheep through the village.

We ran into another host family’s father as he herded sheep through the village.

My host (grand?)mom as she led her cows to fields of green they could graze in.

My host (grand?)mom as she led her cows to fields of green they could graze in.

"In a place like this, I wouldn't mind being a cow" - I submitted this photo in our "Qinghai Study Tour Photo Contest" and won! :)

“In a place like this, I wouldn’t mind being a cow” – I submitted this photo in our “Qinghai Study Tour Photo Contest” and won! 🙂

The view from my host family's rice terraces.

The view from my host family’s rice terraces.

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This vase of dried flowers was just sitting there, looking pretty.

Eventually, we came back home and collected our things, and headed to breakfast with the other students before leaving the village for more adventures.  We thanked our host family profusely!  And gave them a few gifts that we managed to come up with – an American flag pin, a pair of socks, and some American money as souvenirs.  And finally, we snapped a few photos with our host dad and brother before saying goodbye…

My host dad, brother, and myself, standing in front of our family's home

My host dad, brother, and myself, standing in front of our family’s home

Overall, the entire homestay experience was truly incredible.  I mean, how many other people can say that they stayed with a local Tibetan family in a rural Tibetan village?  Not just that, but experience just how beautiful everything was that day?  I don’t think I could have asked for better circumstances 🙂

After regrouping with the rest of the Alliance students and eating breakfast, we made a quick visit to the village’s local school, where about 60 students went to class to learn Tibetan, Mandarin, math, and a few other subjects.

This was the local school.

This was the local school.

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They were a little unsure of us at first 🙂

These kids' faces were filled with wonder as they watched my friend Abdullah perform a magic trick.

These kids’ faces were filled with wonder as they watched my friend Abdullah perform a magic trick.

These faces!

These faces!

They all have such honest eyes.

They all have such honest eyes.

:)

🙂

We gave each child a notebook and a pencil, and we taught them how to say "goodbye" in Mandarin (再见!)

We gave each child a notebook and a pencil, and we taught them how to say “goodbye” in Mandarin (再见!)

Amy holding up our little host brother and his new notebook and pencil :)

Amy holding up our little host brother and his new notebook and pencil 🙂

Even though the school was pretty small, the students seemed so enthusiastic and hard working.  Seeing this kind of school and comparing it with other schools in China that I’ve seen, these children are certainly more disadvantaged than students growing up in Shanghai or other big cities, as the education is held to much higher standards.  I can’t help but hope the best for these students.

It was a little sad to say goodbye, especially because we had enjoyed our stay so much in the village, but had so little time!

Regardless, it was time to move on… after driving on some winding, dusty, and at time BROKEN roads (we had to do some off-roading to get around a “pothole” that was actually just a hole in the road), we eventually stopped at a monastery hidden high up in the hills for a hike.  This one actually had a path!

It probably doesn't look nearly as impressive as it was, but combined with the high elevation and the steepness of the hill, it was quite a hike to get to the top (and this wasn't even halfway up).

It probably doesn’t look nearly as impressive as it was, but combined with the high elevation and the steepness of the hill, it was quite a hike to get to the top (and this wasn’t even halfway up).

The best view from the base of the monastery; the real monastery was another 30-minute hike up narrow paths and stairways...

The best view from the base of the monastery; the real monastery was another 30-minute hike up narrow paths and stairways…

Most of the paths were flanked with Tibetan prayer flags.  I'm not sure if I should have been scared because they were meant for safety, or if I should be glad... regardless, they were beautiful to look at.

Most of the paths were flanked with Tibetan prayer flags. I’m not sure if I should have been scared because they were meant for safety, or if I should be glad… regardless, they were beautiful to look at.

Some gorgeous mountain views from the top.

Some gorgeous mountain views from the top.

More Tibetan prayer flags

More Tibetan prayer flags

The temple at the top of the mountain.  It was honestly not as cool as I thought it would be, considering we had to virtually climb a mountain to get up there, but it was still beautiful.

The temple at the top of the mountain. It was honestly not as cool as I thought it would be, considering we had to virtually climb a mountain to get up there, but it was still beautiful.

After this hefty hike, we boarded up the bus and headed back to Xining – the several hour bus ride was a welcome reprieve from the amount of physical activity we had done in the past 24 hours.

When we arrived back in Xining, we gratefully ran into our hotel rooms and used our hot, clean showers (as most of our host families did not have one), went down the street to some local cafes (that served Western style food and DR PEPPER!), and turned in early in our soft, warm beds.

Day Six – Friday

Day six was a very relaxing day.  At this point, a lot of people had been traveled-out.  With a few people under the weather, Friday became a mostly optional day.  I felt fine, so I still participated in the day’s activities.  First, we went to visit a local mosque, as Xining actually has a very high population of Muslim people.  We didn’t really do much there, but it was super interesting to see a mosque as I’ve never been to one before.

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The Great Mosque in Xining

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A view from the outside looking in of the Great Mosque

After the mosque, we split up into two groups:  people who wanted to visit another monastery, and people who wanted to visit with Tenzin, the amazing Canadian-turned-Tibetan-Thangka-Art-Teacher at her art studio with her students.  I decided to visit with them, because the Thangka art really interested me and I wanted to see up close how it was done.  And because I also think she’s a super cool human being.

I don’t have any photos from our visit, but it was a very unique place to go.  Each of the students were interested in modern, Western art in addition to the traditional Thangka art, and they were all very diligent and extremely talented.  We enjoyed talking with them via Tenzin, whose translations helped us cross a serious cultural border.  It was really interesting and fun to hear their motivations behind wanting to study the art, and what they thought of Western culture.

Aside from that, day five was pretty boring.  Some classmates and I spent another night in a coffee shop chatting and getting to know each other more, but we all agreed that the entire trip had been awesome, and that we were (almost) ready to go back to Shanghai.

Day Seven – Saturday

Saturday was another pretty lazy day.  We had the option to go on one final hike, and me, not wanting to miss out on the last hike of the trip, of course decided that I wanted to go.

Little did me and the 7 other students who decided to go realize what kind of hike this would be…..

We thought we were going to be driving outside of Xining, but wherever we pulled off to was definitely STILL in Xining.  We were driving up a winding road that was paved and had people walking up and down it all around.  It looked like a park of some sort.  We finally arrived at the top in our bus and got out, and Lo and Behold, it’s literally Xining’s version of the Pearl Tower.

IMG_5618

Xining’s version of the Pearl Tower

We were then directed to a spot behind the tower where people had taken the liberty to make some rudimentary paths, some of which seemed to lead to nowhere, others which seemed to lead to some random places, including a supta and more Tibetan prayer flags.  A small group of girls – me, Kim, Nicola, and Sarah – decided to take the road less traveled (and easier to hike on) and picked a path that didn’t climb up the mountain, but rather stayed the same gradient over the mountain (because who really needs to walk any more uphill than you HAVE to).  We were aiming for a cool-looking pagoda we could see in the distance.

Once we arrived at said pagoda, we couldn’t really take the hike any more seriously.  Crazy photo shoots occurred.  I’m not really sure what any of us thought we were doing, but I can assure you, we probably weren’t thinking.

IMG_5650

Kim can surf.

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We were being lions.

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“It’d look really cool if we jumped from all directions!”

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More jumping pictures.

And of course the prized photo from the journey…..

Planking on the Zodiac Garden.

Planking on the Zodiac Garden.

And with that, that just about sums up our trip to Qinghai.  We left at about 4:00am on Sunday morning, and arrived back home in Shanghai by noon.  I honestly couldn’t’ve asked for a better trip!

We learned… a LOT.

We traveled…. a LOT.

We ate…. a LOT of yak.

and we had a LOT of fun.

I can’t wait for my next trip with Alliance students, because this group was seriously so much fun to travel with 😀

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2 thoughts on “Alliance group study tour to Qinghai, China (part TWO)

  1. Pingback: [BEAT] Thankas; the Ultimate Tibetan Art | open door

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