Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Adeel's proxy has been blocked by the Chinese government, so he delegated the task of posting this to me. However, the punctation in the e-mail he sent me instead appeared as odd characters. I took the liberty of beginning to correct it, but that tapered off as I became more lazy. Enjoy reading. - Sasha

China is good at what they do, which is keeping this country in one piece, exactly the way the government wants it. I arrived here in Ganzi £¨not to be confused£¬ as I did£¬ with Tokyo¡®s high-end shopping district of Ginza£© last night to a herd of yak and People¡¯s Liberation Army soldiers standing at attention at every intersection¡£ This was after a 9-hour bus ride became a 15-hour bus ride£¬ most of it over dirt roads along the sides of towering mountains¡£ Not only is it common to pass on the left while going around blind corners£¬ it¡®s really how you drive in this area¡£ The first few times I thought I wasn¡¯t going to make it here alive£¬ but after two days of it£¬ it¡¯s normal now¡£So too is cows sitting in the middle of the road£¬ unmoved by the ten-ton truck heading for it¡£ Cars£¬trucks and buses go around the animals£¬ they don¡¯t move for anybody¡£

This is a mostly Tibetan area£¬ and the architecture£¬ clothing and facial features give it away¡£Sichuan province has a population equal to about France£¬ but the western mountains are very lonely¡£ You drive for kilometres and see maybe a lonely brick house in the distance£¬ or a cluster of houses every hour¡£ Sometimes you see a person or someone¡®s goat in the middle of nowhere along the side of the road£¬ far from the nearest house£¬ with no obvious means of transportation¡£

As for running at altitude, I'm up to 11,000 feet by now. I ran about 25 minutes this morning that I thought was about 4 kilometres, at a very low effort. Whenever I tried to pick up the pace, I felt my head go fuzzy. I had a bit of a headache after, but it passed quickly after drinking lots of fluids.

This town of Ganzi is not as stunningly beautiful as Kangding, which is situated between two towering mountain ranges, with a furious river bisecting the middle of the town, but it's definitely worth a stay. There is a big market, a temple in the north end of town, and some stunning scenery everywhere you look. The Tibetan way of life is very colourful. Even people who are obviously poor and live in the middle of nowhere have bright-coloured houses and clothing. I think Tibetans are probably the best-dressed people in China, but that's not saying much. The men all look like hardened cowboys, and the women look wonderfully exotic£¬with braided hair£¬red spots on their cheeks and babies in baskets¡£

I've seen more animals in the last two days than I have in the last year in East Asia's urban centres, where the only animals you see (this is no exaggeration) are pocket-sized dogs. I've seen yaks, cows, black pigs, dogs, stray cats, ducks, lambs and goats.

People stare a lot. Some try to rob me with their eyes, others take the annual chance to speak English, others ask where I'm going. That's a very popular question, in English and in Chinese. I'm far off the beaten track here, the nearest city of any significance going north is probably 1,000 km away. I always reply with Xinjiang province, then Europe. People always get the first part.

They're friendly, though. Very friendly. At lunch yesterday, someone asked why I wasn't eating more. I explained that the $1.10 buffet at the truck stop was out of rice. About a dozen people simultaneously yelled "yo!" (have). Then they asked one more time where I was going.

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