Tag Archives: Xiehe

Xiehe, back to Lanzhou, to Xi’an, China

3/8 – Up early to catch the 8:30 bus back to Lanzhou.

Xiehe has been a magical place!  Unlike our ride up, this morning’s bus was totally packed with no empty seats.

The weather was warmer today, and the ridges that were covered with snow just a few days ago now look clear.  Spring is coming!  Some of the mountains reminded me of the Painted Desert out west.  The bus windows were foggy, so couldn’t get better pix.

Back in Lanzhou, we took a taxi across town to the train station, to purchase our next tickets, to Xi’an.  The Lanzhou station ticket hall was totally filled with people standing in lines with only Chinese writing, so we weren’t sure if there was a certain line we needed to be on.  We picked a random line, and, luckily, our ticket lady had some English.  We wanted to get on the early morning train, but it was sold out in all classes, so we ended up on the 12:31 in the second class seats.  The train will get to Xi’an at 20:35.  It will be a long day.

We are staying one night at the 60 Degrees Motel.  What’s wrong with this picture?  And yes, this is the third hotel we’ve been in with clear glass bathrooms – what’s that about?

Here’s the scenic view out our window – can’t wait to be out of this dirty city!

For supper tonight we used our method of pointing to something that someone else is eating, and asking for the same.  This time we got a soup containing tiny boiled eggs (pigeon? quail?), meatballs, tripe, mushrooms, sausage, tofu, leeks, daikon, rice noodles and assorted greens.  A real jackpot in a pot!  I missed having green vegetables when we were in Xiehe – due to the altitude, all they can grow is potatoes (and yaks!  We even had yak yogurt!)

3/9 – Had a leisurely morning, as we didn’t have to get to the train station until 11am. We’re now used to the security procedures – show passport, show ticket, baggage through scanner, pat-down – so it’s just a matter of how interested they are in our packs, and how many people we have to jostle through to get where we are going.

We sat in Waiting Room 4 along with all the other people who will be getting on train Z106. A young man sat down next to us and greeted us in English, and proceeded to tell us his dream of traveling to America one day. Jiang is a 24 year old university student who studies English and wants to work in the travel industry. When our train was called, he picked up my pack (Jim now carries both packs due to my injured arm), and escorted us onto the train. Although his ticket was for a different car, he found a seat near us, and proceeded to talk and talk in thickly accented English. Jim couldn’t understand a word, but I could make out enough to keep the conversation going.


We talked about his girlfriend, who he will marry next year, his parents, and his home town. He told us what he knew about the Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln – liberator of black persons – and Barack H. Obama. Florida, Hollywood, Yellowstone Park, Washington D.C. Oh my. He told us that there are no parents like us in China – old people are not encouraged to travel, as their children would worry about them. Parents save every penny to give to their children, and wouldn’t dream of squandering their money on travel. Hmmm, glad I’m not Chinese!

At some point during the 8 hour ride, another young man with much better English squeezed over (we were in 2nd class with every seat filled and people standing and sitting in the aisles) and started the whole process over again! I was exhausted from smiling, nodding and trying to look interested, by the time we got to Xi’an. As we head east in China, we will encounter more English speakers, which is definitely a mixed blessing!

Jiang hoisted my pack again, walked us off the train, hugged us and pointed us toward the street where we could find our hotel, before returning to catch his connecting train. What a nice young man!

We booked at the Vienna Hotel, which we figured would surely have its name written in English (or German) on the outside. No such luck! Once again, we walked right by it several times, then walked into each hotel inquiring until we found the right one. The desk clerks had no English, but we didn’t expect any. What we did expect was to be given a room that didn’t already have somebody in it! We tried the electronic key several times, until a man came out to shoo us away from his door. I went back down to the clerk, who giggled to say she didn’t really know the difference between a 4 and a 6 – she had written the wrong room number on the key. Sigh.

3/10 – We stayed in town today, buying our next train tickets to Chengdu (even five days in advance, all the first class tickets were sold out), replenishing our groceries, and resting my arm. Walking down our busy street on our way to dinner, I witnessed my first street crime. I watched a young girl walk up close behind another, unzip the girl’s backpack, and pull out her iPad or tablet. The second girl walked on, oblivious to the theft. I yelled, Hey, drop it! and looked the thief right in the eye, but a boy on a motorbike swooped right up beside, she hopped on, and they took off. I tried to show the girl that her backpack had been opened, but she didn’t understand. At that point I figured I’d better just walk on, or else the girl would think I had opened her backpack. The frustrations of not having the language! I witnessed a crime,and there was nothing I could do…


Xiehe – Labrang Monastery

3/5 – We bundled up – very cold here, and the altitude is over 9000 feet, so we both have mild altitude sickness – and walked over to the monastery.  A huge area, it was made up of a series of temples, stupas, monk colleges (like the college of astrology) and monk habitations.IMG_7870


Lots of people, chanting, turning prayer wheels, and touching their heads to images of the Buddha.  

 I walked behind a Tibetan woman with a baby in a papoose, and she made sure to touch the baby’s head to the images also. Because Tibetans are a minority, they are exempt from the One Child rule, and we saw many families with two children.IMG_7862 

Several women were prostrating themselves, circling the temples on their hands and knees.  

Lots of monks in red and pink, both male and female.  We were the only westerners.IMG_7887

A bit of culture shock here – both men and women squat in the street whenever nature calls.  Just right in front of you.  You must watch where you step!
We found the main square, where preparations were underway for the presentation of this year’s yak butter sculptures.

image image

The sculptures would not be presented until several hours after dark, and I was just freezing cold with an aching arm, so we left before the sculptures were brought out.  Here are some examples from previous years.


There are also yak oil lamps and candles here.

3/6 – We returned to the monastery so that Jim could circumambulate – walk the perimeter, touching every prayer wheel.  This is a really big place, several kilometers!  Even though the festival is now over, the monastery was still crowded with people.


Walking around the back of the temples, we saw several memorials set into the mountainside.
The view of the monastery from the top of the hill.

Monastic cells on the hillside.
We saw  quite a number of animals roaming the premises, including a wild boar pushing her piglets through a hole in the wall.

We walked through the town, taking in the sights and watching the people.  I feel transported to another time, until the ring of a monk’s mobile phone reminds me that these people are living comfortably in the 21st century.

At supper, we spoke with Clarie about being a westerner here. The government cuts off the electricity and the Internet intermittently whenever there is a festival, to discourage native uprisings – we experienced this several times. Clarie returned to Amsterdam for the birth of her daughter, as Tibetans are not eligible for passports. Her pretty 9 year old daughter goes to Tibetan school from 7am until 6pm daily, in a class of 57, sitting at attention on a backless stool, where speaking or asking questions is never allowed. Children who cannot do the lessons are hit, and many drop out in primary school. In the equivalent of 4th grade, she is fluent in four languages, and is doing geometry and differential equations. Hmmmm…

Lanzhou to Xiehe, China

3/5 -Got up early for the 10km taxi ride across Lanzhou back to the South Bus Station.  We arrived at about 8:25, prepared to buy tickets for the 9:30 bus to Xiehe.  Surprise – there was an 8:30 bus that hadn’t left yet!  A little man took charge of us and hustled us through security and onto the bus.  There was nothing on the ticket that was not in Chinese, and no bus number, so we hoped we were getting on the right bus!  We took two random empty seats, and the little man came on and moved us forward so that all the front seats were filled.  Very orderly.

It soon became apparent that there were no Chinese on the bus – all the folks were speaking a different language that Jim said was Tibetan, and they looked more like Native Americans than Chinese with long braids and brown, leathery skin.
We soon left the city, passing terraced farmland.IMG_7844-13


And then we were up into the mountains – Himalayas?  Without Google, I have no way of checking.  Anyway, we were heading toward the part of China formerly known as Tibet, to visit the Labrang Tibetan Monastery.
We arrived in Xiehe by noon, and hailed a taxi to take us to the Nirvana Hotel.  Jim had copied the name and address out in Chinese characters, but, you guessed it, the taxi driver couldn’t read Chinese!  Tibetan is what’s spoken here.  There was another guy in the cab, and he showed us a pic on his phone of red robed monks – is that where we are going?  Yes!  we said, right near the monastery.  He asked if we had a phone number, but we did not.  So the taxi driver picked up a young woman who looked Chinese, and asked her to read the script.  That got us onto the right street, but he couldn’t find the hotel.  Twice around the block, and I spied the name on the building in English. Stop!  Here it is!

We walked into the downstairs restaurant, to the sound of The Band on the sound system, and a western woman greeted us in perfect English – are you the McClenons? We’ve been waiting for you!  To say I was overcome would be an understatement – I burst into tears at the realization that I’d be able to speak English here!  Jim thought I’d lost my mind.
We dropped our stuff off in our lovely, if chilly, room, and went back down to have lunch.  Now Bob Dylan was playing, followed by the Eagles, the Beatles, and Meatloaf!  I was in oldies heaven. We had lovely yak and vegetable soup with rice on the side, and the first cappuccinos we’ve had since Italy. Don’t wake me up, I’m loving this dream!image
Our host Clarie, originally from Amsterdam, used to be a tour guide until she met her husband here and decided to stay and open a business.  While we were eating lunch, we met an English-speaking photographer and his wife from Shanghai, and Madelyn, an American from Oregon!  The next table over had a group of German tourists drinking beer – the first foreign tourists we’ve seen.
Madelyn had lots of info about the monastery.  Seems we arrived just in time for their New Years celebration, and tonight there will be a parade and the monks will be displaying sculptures made of yak butter!  Are we lucky or what?