Getting into Some Hot Water in Tibet

This post is slightly out of order, like always. After Thailand I spent a good chunk of time in Cambodia and Hanoi, Vietnam. I’d like to get around to posting entries on these places, but I figured I’d write on Tibet while I’m here and it’s fresh. So, while reportedly China has just banned time travel, not joking, I’ll do my subversive best to latter come back and try to touch upon these really interesting and enjoyable places.  [Also, due to protests China has blocked this blogging website.  Thus the long silence.]

One thing I missed upon leaving China for South-East Asia: The Look. It’s what I get when I use chopsticks. Before coming to China I prided myself in my versatility with the sticks. My stepsister and I had contests when we were little to see how quickly we could select single grains of rice. Suffice it to say, I’m not new to these Asian appendages, and used to pride myself in this fact. But here in China every time I pick up these ubiquitous instruments I get The Look a toddler receives in reaching for a glass on the edge of a table: it’s one of people observing impending disaster caused by child-like incompetence. It’s one of those things where now when eating I watch people around me to see what I am doing differently, and I can’t seem to figure it out. Nonetheless, I’ll notice entire tables stopping and staring waiting for the moment –could be for two whole minutes—when finally I drop a grain or two of rice as vindication of my incompetence. This then comes with a condescending spoon from the waitstaff, which regardless of how blocky and big the meal is, I’ll be given, like a sippy-cup, just to make things easier. That and the return of pollution-induced residue in my nose-filters were two-things I didn’t realize I had missed until they returned. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I also don’t reckon this is going to send me down in the annals of travel literature history as the 21st century Marco Polo, but in my entire time in China I haven’t seen a single plumber’s crack. Not sure if it’s because people are a little skinnier here than in America or pants are simply worn higher, but nope, no rear-ventilation here in China.

While I think these are all profoundly important cultural observations, my return to China is for the second prong into my sino-assault, and not just to muse on plumber’s cracks. My first few months here in China were to scope out the way bicycles are used in the cities. This time around I’ve come to check out how bikes are used in rural locales.

In many ways the question of ‘where?’ is more challenging to figure out for rural life than trying to check out bikes in the big cities. I mean, where in your country would you specifically go to see rural life? One of the core notions of ‘rural’ is the absence of a specific center, for instance like a city, so how can I look at a map and say “THAT’S IT!”? Well, I decided to play with averages, and sorta’ cheated. Yunnan: It’s the most geographically and culturally diverse region of China. I figured this would provide about the ideal setting for seeing how large swath of a country views the applicability and desirability of bicycles. And another aspect of Yunnan that appealed to me is that a portion of it is, in every way but how the People’s Republic of China drew the boundaries, Tibet.(1)  I opted to first go here, to Tibet, as I am pretty familiar with the country, politics, and economics from my under-grad dissertation. I also know enough of the language that I looked forward to being less of a linguistic fish out of water than I have been for many months.

Streets of Shangrila

Again, the folding bicycle has proved to be remarkable in opening up a place and its people to what my two feet alone cannot do. The gateway I chose to position myself out of for my jaunts into the rural countryside is the shamelessly renamed city of Shangrila, which in 2001 changed its name from the equally memorable Zhongdian solely to bring in tourists. While Shangrila / Zhongdian is full of giftshops catering to the Chinese tourists, it’s only a 10 minute bike ride from a non-commercialized Tibet, with grazing yaks and earthen houses.

Cycling through rural Tibet is pretty different from cruising around a major city, like Paris, Copenhagen, or Hangzhou in a lot of ways, but one crucial one that you wouldn’t immediately realize is that while in these aforementioned cities shelter from an unexpected downpour is the nearest building, in Tibet that nearest building might be almost an hour away. When I was studying abroad, my Tibetan home-stay father gave me the advice for living in a Himalayan climate that I should always have a short-sleeve t-shirt, a rain jacket, and a sweater with me at all times, because before the end of the day I’ll have needed all three.(2) It’s just as true here. So, suffice it to say it’s not uncommon while cycling here in a picturesque mountain valley in the sunshine you will simultaneously be drenched from a hard rain that’s a’fallin at the exact same time. I think the Japanese call this –when it’s raining and sunshine at the same time—when the foxes go on parade. I can’t remember if they consider it either really good luck or really bad luck, but anyways, to me it’s just really neutral, ambivalent luck I fittingly found my way to Nom’s.

In this hard rain that fell on my first day here, I invited myself into the nearest, meaning ‘only’, house within a good number of miles, and went to the packed-earth home with smoke coming out of the chimney, figuring that’s a good sign that someone’s there. In the house there was an old Tibetan woman, who welcomed me in, and invited me to a seat on their bench near her and the Franklin fireplace. My Tibetan language skills have digressed to being about equivalent to a loquacious three-year old, in that I can say “there is a tree!” “That is a dog. Big!” “I like radishes, I am American!” and other, simple declarative statements, but it’s hard to have a heart to heart talking about a big dog and radishes, despite my having become expert at getting the most mileage out of very few words while living in China. It’s hard to explain just how nice it was, going from stinging, cold rain into a warm Tibetan home, drinking yak butter tea and having a simple conversation with her while watching Chinese soap operas. While it doesn’t sound like much, being able to share simple pleasantries, my age, nationality, profession, and the fact that I eat meat was something really darn cool, and made me immediately glad I opted to come in out of the cold, cold rain.

Tibetan vulture.

For a good half-hour we talked and watched the love-triangle on tv (replete with a car-chase!), and I dried off.  I should by now be smarter than to be biking in jeans. Yet, despite our time spent inside together, the rain didn’t let up. Thankfully, like the rain, I wasn’t in a rush to leave either. So, in time, the rest of the family came in and sat around the stove with me to dry off and warm up. Eventually the eldest son arrived, named Nom (pronounced like the yard decoration, but I didn’t point this out to him. Asides, they don’t have lawn gnomes here, and I could see it would get into a weird conversation trying to explain what a lawn gnome is). Nom was a former monk, who received an exemplary education in Nepal in a monastery in Kathmandu.(3) It was good that he showed up too. My basic conversation skills had been milked dry after two hours, and no one else spoke English. Likewise, finding someone who could speak conversational English is rarer here than good music or bread, and that’s saying something. As the rain continued to fall, Nom and his family fed me about as Tibetan of a meal as you can get.

Don't talk back.

Yak butter tea I had learned –and it is definitely a learning process—to like while I was studying abroad. Imagine drinking a mug of butter, with a heaping spoonful of salt added, and a brief hint of black-tea (not enough to taste) and you got yak butter tea. If you look at it like a buttery soup, it’s a lot easier to digest, but after enough compulsory cups to be considered not rude, you can feel your veins clogging, and your stomach saying, “I Can’t Believe It’s NOT Better!” Following this was tsampa, which is simply ground millet flour mixed with yak butter tea. It’s essentially like eating whole-wheat flour mixed with water. We also warmed up slabs of yak cheese on the surface of the Franklin stove. Warm yak cheese is good in moderation, but it’s even harder than it is rich, which makes eating it in anything above small quantities something that hurts both your jaw and butter-tea abused gut. And while you can properly infer this meal wasn’t something I was putting away like it was a hotdog-eating contest, I don’t want to read like I disliked the meal. Like Johnny Cash sings about bread, “its not the barely or the wheat / it’s not the oven or the heat / but the sharing and the caring that makes the meal complete.”

In addition to the incredible gift of their hospitality, Nom gave me two invaluable and transformative bits of advice.  The first was that upon my leaving, I must, must, MUST check out the nearby lake, which he described a being stunningly beautiful, a heaven on earth, and I’d be horribly amiss to not see. When the rain finally let up, I followed this advice, and biked for a few hours from one village to the next, and to the next, etcetera, along the only road there was, looking for the lake, and only spying an endless field of grass with Tibetan horses and yaks, with no water in sight. While I didn’t find any actual water, it was fun veering off the gravel road and rolling on the smoother grass plains, biking with running yaks and beautiful Tibetan horses. Villagers were all ecstatic to see me, as anyone not living there seemed a rarity, and especially a foreigner. Simply just visiting with these people alone in search of Nom’s lake made the long-search well worth it. And even without these people, spying wild yaks running like pickup truck-sized mountain goats across a mountain slope above me, and spying two young male yaks fighting was such cool ‘Wild Discovery’ (“Wiiiiiild”) moment, that it was well worth a few hours biking. As the time drew near where I knew I’d have to be turning back or be caught in unenviable position of biking in the dark Tibetan countryside, I headed back, and stopped by Nom’s home. He asked “did you enjoy seeing the lake?” I told him honestly, that I loved seeing the villages, and the mountains with the wild yaks running across them, and the mountain valley with the grass and horses and domestic yaks were stunning, but I couldn’t find any water. “Yeah”, he said, “there’s no water in the lake.”  Thanks, Nom.

In parting, Nom gave me one last piece of advice that has proven to define my time here. He strongly advised that I must seek out a little-known therapeutic natural hot springs I could swim in, that would be very good for my health to bathe in because the waters have magic properties. It’s also located on the side of a mountain, beside a cave entrance, and overlooking a grand valley and …“Did you say MAGIC PROPERTIES!?! All-right!!!” He gave me the name written on a piece of paper, and the only advice was “it’s to the East of Shangrila.” I figured searching for Nom’s magic waters were as good of a reason as any to model the rest of my time in the area around, trying to find these secret, healing hot springs, as I’m planning on touring the countryside anyways, so why not have some purpose to my aimless wanderings? And, my body apparently was in full agreement. Now with a task –searching with waters that bestowed health– my body elected to give purpose to this task, and promptly got very sick in full solidarity.

Without going into too many details, while my stomach learned why the caged bird sings, other parts of my body would be more aptly described as the movie The River Wild.  Or maybe Easy Rider.  Or The Great Escape.  Or The China Syndrome. Ha-ha! Gone With The Wind.  But yeah, for too long I was waking up about every hour to get rid of The Right Stuff, which left me Sleepless in Seattle for a few too many days straight.  When the good, the bad, and the ugly finally Departed, I set off with zeal in search of these healing waters, to ensure my health, as my body kindly reminded me, is something really nice to have.

As a professor I loved having breakfast with each day at Hendrix College (the Harvard of America) would love to say, “’assume’ makes an ‘ass’ of ‘u’ and ‘me.’). When Nom told me it was to the east of the city, I figured, heck, Shangrila wouldn’t have more than one road heading out east, right? It’s a small, remote town.  So I’ll just bike to the east and keep showing my piece of paper that Nom wrote the name of the hot springs on. And, heck! It’s about the journey and not the destination. And asides, this is a great way to arbitrarily choose which surrounding villages I travel through, and in the process see how bikes are used in rural Tibet, the true purpose of my visit. Yet, while this idea of randomly wandering Tibet in search of a pool that only a few people know about and is hidden on a mountain sounds easy, take it from me, it’s not.

Before talking about distance, I should address the elevation. When I arrived in Shangrila I went to open a bottle of liquid soap I had brought with me, and the pressure difference between here and where it was last opened (in Hanoi, the same elevation as Chicago) was enough to shoot the contents on my face, the mirror, and mostly, on the ceiling. Shangrila lays in a valley, yet at 3,000 meters this elevation would make it one of the higher points in all of the lower 48. On some of the country roads that go over mountain passes here, I’d reach elevations of 4,000 meters (about 2.5 miles, or 30 times the elevation of most of America). Exercising at this elevation is akin to the conditional nature of a wind-chill. While the wind-chill is essentially saying, “yeah, it says it’s this cold, but really it’s this freakin’ cold”, biking a mile at this elevation is reallylike biking I’d say two, in how much mojo it takes to operate in the thin air. Anyways, biking from town to town was stunning and immensely rewarding, but also had the phenomenal feeling like my heart and lungs were working four times more than the rest of my body. I really liked this, because my back surgery has made my body feel older than it is, but I still love the reward exercise gives in making your heart and lungs feel all cleaned out and happy. So, I got this great endorphin-induced high while my legs and knees didn’t have to go through the rigmarole of getting worn out into spaghetti noodles to do so.(6)

Wiiiiiild yaks fighting.


My favorite stretch of roadway I called ‘The Valley of The Hats.’ I couldn’t come up with a non-Stephen King explanation for why everybody lost their hat here, other than the obvious, it’s often really, really, really windy in Tibet. From when I did my senior dissertation in another part of Tibet, each day would have 80 mph winds rip through the valley, as the sun heated up one portion of the Tibetan plateau while it cooled on another, and there aren’t any trees to act as a wind block. While there I lost my favorite hat, and my friend Katie-la lost her favorite hat (from Yak-Donalds) minutes after buying it. So, anyways, guess how many hats I saw on this 5 mile stretch through the valley? Seriously, GUESS.

34 hats. That’s an insane number of hats. There is a part of the ocean where the currents collect all the world’s garbage into a giant swirling mass of litter larger than Texas. My mind briefly toyed with the notion that perhaps like this Texan heap of ocean-litter, maybe all the lost hats of Tibet blow here. I’d like to think so, and I’d even more like to return Katie-la’s Yak-Donalds hat to her a few thousand miles from where she lost it, but alas. Also, alas, after a couple of hours of easterly biking, my piece of paper and me saying “hot water” in were getting looks showing increasing concern about my sanity the further I traveled down this road.

Cyclists on the outskirts of Shangrila.

By the end of the first day I realized this certainly, absolutely, positively was the wrong road, and this hunt for Nom’s magic water wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. Rather than being like a heat-seeking missile for hot springs as I imagined I would be, I had found myself playing, ironically, the game ‘hot and cold’, navigating the endless Tibetan plateau solely by judging from people’s reactions to how nuts they thought I was to infer just how close, or more often, how far I was from my desired destination. While a mountainous task, it’s not everyday one has the shot at magically induced super-health, so, game on, Nom, game on.

After a rewarding and weary Day One for the hunt for the magic water, I returned to Shangrila, worn out. It was here I made a major cultural discovery. On my way past a school I spied an ice-cream cart. One fun Watson introspective game to play, is, judging by my actions, interests, and allocation of time and money, what is the second topic I seem most passionate about? Unequivocally, it would be good street food. It’s cheap, reflects local preferences in cuisine, is often locally grown, and employs the working poor, and often utilizes bicycles. These were all good enough reasons for me to justify buying an ice-cream cone after a long, hot day in the dry, dry Tibetan plateau. I asked the woman how much it was, but the price she quoted was so insanely low, that I instinctively doubted my broken Chinese language skills, and intentionally gave her a large bill, just so she could make the appropriate change for me. Turned out I heard here right. A double-scoop cone of pineapple and raspberry ice-cream costs 12 cents. The first cone had the traditional customer-owner relationship dynamic, but I’d like to think after that we viewed each other as teammates. The first cone went down like a warm-up round to a hotdog eating contest, so, why not another, right? The second one was satisfying, but not satiating. And heck, I really did bike far, it really is dry and hot, and I really do need all those extra calories after working that hard and having been sick. Really. That struck me as sound enough reasoning to justify both the third and fourth, but after nearly 50 cents in ice-cream I would have just felt like too much of a pig going up for a fifth. Moderation is key. Although so is having a daily routine. And while typically a grown, strange looking foreigner lurking around daily around an ice-cream cart outside of a school would probably elicit a different response in America, here it is like I am a local b-list celebratory, like the local news anchor, hanging around the ice-cream cart. Having high school girls, naturally in a swarm, come up to you and giggly tell you “YOU! LOOK! COOL!” while hearing this and eating 12 cent ice-cream cones would have probably been the coolest thing in the world to me ten years earlier, really now it just caught me off guard. I mean, what would you do? Figuring it was the safest answer I could think of, I said “YOU! DO! TO!” Fortunately, this was undeniably the perfect answer, as they all ran off, laughing, giggling, and hitting each other on the back for the compliment from the foreigner eating his third ice cream cone.

So, cheap baby scopes of ice-cream provided the capstone-finish to each of my days in search of Nom’s magic hot springs. It was a good thing the ice-cream was there too for emotional support, as after my first day in failing to find Nom’s hot springs, I scoped out a map, and like spaghetti noodles hanging out of the strainer of Shangrila, far too many roads were laced across the undulating mountainous topography on the map to make this a simple task. But really, if it was ‘The Sword in the Mud’ the story would be lacking, right? Figuring the challenge would make the reward all the sweeter, I heroically swallowed my ice-cream of daily defeat, and resigned myself to more days of incredibly rewarding cultural exploration by bike in rural Tibet. Dark days that try man’s souls.

In my wanderings on these small, obscure rural roads, slowly chipping away at the places the hot springs might be hidden, natural mini-adventures occurred each day, as I expected, but nonetheless delighted me in what peculiar shape they took. They’re all small, inconsequential tidbits, but like clips in a really good montage, in aggregate they made a really moving experience. For instance, biking by a farm, I shouted simple greetings to the family picnicking out in the field in Tibetan, and biked on. I saw a young teenager sprint to the house, and didn’t think much of it, until a few minutes latter I looked back after hearing a mousey-squeak of rusted gears to see him sprinting to hell-n’-high water to catch up with me in his beat-up mountain bike. I slowed to let him catch me, and all he said was “hello”, and evidently just wanted the experience of biking with me. Like a shadow, he rode next to me for most of the next hour, and then, just as suddenly, said goodbye, and turned to go back to his family. Sweet and simple. Also a very different experience from when the elderly Tibetan man put on his wife’s traditional head wrap and jokingly proposed we kiss, batting his eyes and pretending he was a pretty young girl.  He wasn’t.

Or the time I was biking by a construction site where about 20 Tibetan men and women (there is no glass-scaffolding here, with women working in equal numbers in construction) were compacting the dirt to make a house. They shouted “HELLO!” to me, and from my bike I shouted the same back, only in Tibetan. They were pretty tickled by this from a foreigner, so they all gathered quickly around on the roof they were working on, and I could hear them talking, but because I was a distance away I couldn’t make it out. They then all turned and shouted “I! LOVE YOU! VERY! MUCH!” It was my turn to be pretty tickled, and I, laughing, told them “LOVE! YOU! TOO!”

Chocolate Friends.

Or, the time when I sat in a meadow to eat a snack I had brought with me and drink some water, when a nak (female yak) walked on over to inspect, and presumably finding me up to snuff, decided now was a good time to rest from her yak-duties, and sat facing me, three feet away, like we were about to have a coffee-date. Conversation was stilted, but it was good company, nonetheless.

Also, when I was recovering from being sick I was really jonesing for some dark chocolate, and the nearest I could find was milk-chocolate “coins”, which like pistachios, I think are more work than they are worth, and after nibbling a few I just tossed the bag of chocolate coins into my bag, figuring there hasn’t yet been a point in my life where I’ve regretted having chocolate readily accessible. The logic still stands, here in Tibet. Kids, being kids, are either fascinated or utterly terrified of this tall, weird-looking westerner, so going through these really poor Tibetan farming villages I’ve found it pretty easy to buy their friendship initially with my coins, then letting them fart around with my bell and lights on my bike. It’s pretty clear from the kid’s instant adoration that chocolate isn’t something that’s handed out like candy.  IT WAS A BIG DEAL getting these treats. In my year of traveling I have so often had no clue what to do, and so, so, so many times an absolute stranger would be my saving grace, for no explicable reason other than to just be nice. I feel like I’ve accrued an epic karmatic debt, and it feels really good to be able to do even something small, like bribing children’s love with chocolate, just to be doing something nice for others in return.

On the similar vein of kindness beget without reason, I was really happy to be able to help out a Tibetan woman of grandmotherly-age. On my way back to Shangrila after another long day of exploring rural Tibetan life and not finding Nom’s magic water I saw her walking, and I knew from coming that way earlier in the day she had a long way to walk to the nearest settlement. With a quick hello, some small talk, and a pat on my bike rack, she hoped on without saying a thing, sitting sidesaddle, hands across my engines. Really, conditions couldn’t have been more perfect. It was sunny, and all slightly downhill for the next 5 miles at a gentle enough slope I didn’t even have to pedal. When we reached the right group of earthen houses, with a squeeze she let me know “here’s good” and hoped off.

It took my five days, replete with these mini-adventures, but finally I found it. After feeling up to tackling the most particularly hilly road on the map, I found myself for the first time getting more comprehending looks than ones telling me I was utterly mad. Always a nice thing. The hills were incredible, massive and picturesque, and on one descent where I could see from here to America I was able to get my little foldie’ up to 40 mphs (I elected to not push it further). After doing charades and a lot of hand-arrows I finally found the community in which the hot springs were located. Nom had told me the hot spring pool was located halfway up a mountain, next to a cave, and overlooking a grand valley. The problem was the community was nestled in the nook of a mountain, where every direction was next to a mountain, and consequently every path led up a mountain. I wasn’t too worried in that I figured finallypeople here would know where the springs are. I walked up to some elderly Tibetans, and, as respectfully as I could, greeted them, introduced myself, where I was from, asked how they were, and then asked if they knew where this was, pointing to Nom’s paper (I have no clue how to say the name. Chinese is Greek to me). They couldn’t read Chinese, and no one else was in sight. Feeling like I had come all this way to be struck down by illiteracy by all parties involved was too much to handle. Realizing there wasn’t any other alternative, I pulled out my limited Tibetan and said “Hot Water” –“sapo choo” and did what I think was a remarkably accurate impersonation of geothermal activity. “Sapo Choo” and my giggle-eliciting charades hit pay dirt, and I was pointed in the right path. After pushing my bike to the top, a process that took about an hour of heavy breathing, I finally beheld my long sought destination.

12 Cents.


It was just a bunch of mud with a few trickling rivulets of boiling water issuing up from the ground. That’s all. Figuring, I had worked for five days to find this, the least I should do is actually touch the water, and maybe, just maybe, some of the good health will be absorbed. Debating whether it was worth it to climb down into the muddy pit that had been dug to hold the water, a Tibetan grandmother who had been tending some nearby yaks walked over to me to visit. She seemed to read my mind and pantomimed the front stroke, and made clear that she was advising me to go for a swim in water not deep enough to fully submerge my foot in. Having already been toying with the idea of getting close to the water, this woman’s suggestion was the “all right! I’m doing it!” push I needed. I jumped down and promptly submerged in over a foot of the vilest mud imaginable. Mud made of organic material that had been rotting and festering for probably more years than I’ve been living. It was rich and aromatic in the worst of ways. I didn’t really know what I was thinking –it was plainly mud down there, but the old woman looked absolutely shocked, like some Himalaya magic had just occurred, perhaps from the foxes on parade, and the brimming, tranquil mountain pool had suddenly gone to this muddy mess, rather than being the same cesspool of goop moments earlier she had told me to do the front-stroke in. Figuring I now had no reason to worry about getting muddy and all the more reason to get to the water to wash off, I worked like Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen to get to the trickle of hot water. In probably not my wisest move, without testing it first, I plunged my muddy foot into the boiling water, and was shocked! to find, gee, go figure, the boiling geothermal water was really freakin’ hot. In a long, belabored process I’d splash and wash the mud off me in a manner that was quick enough to not burn myself too much, and in the process overcame one of my minor phobias, started by the movie Dante’s Peak, in that I wasn’t boiled alive by rouge volcanic geothermal activity. –That’s always a nice box to check off at the end of the day on whether you had a good day or not.

My swimming buddy made up for her Nom-like advice with this stunning photo by the "pool."


Concerning Nom’s therapeutic, secret mountaintop, cave-side hot spring bathing pool, there wasn’t, not even for a moment, a sense of being let down. Rather, it was a fitting cosmic reminder that beyond any doubt the search for this mud was the real reward, and never, no matter how nice the pool would have been, it wouldn’t have been anything more than me swimming in some hot water. It’s also I think perfectly fitting that both times I followed Nom’s advice to go seek out some amazing water, there wasn’t any water to behold. I mean, really, that’s something. Yet, in one manner I think he was right. I can only assume through some extreme-condensation that the water in this formerly brimming pool must have had some residual super-magic in it. While the extended exercise in the crisp mountain air I think has done my body good, and while this is just anecdotal, my new ability to read minds I think is worth noting, and cannot be solely attributed to cycling in the Himalaya. Though, to risk sounding less than humble, being a mind reader now isn’t really all that much of a change, as it seems China only has one thought on its mind: “You can’t use chopsticks.”



Ahhh! Thought I wasn't going to post a picture of the magic hot springs, didn't you? Here it is!

Note:  In the weeks since I first wrote this (China banning this website has delayed my prompt replies) I’ve asked some Chinese friends why I look funny eating.  It actually isn’t my chopstick-use, as I’m the same as everybody else, but my rigid, uptight n’ “proper” manners.  Trying to fit by my western conditioning to not slurp, hunch over, and spit bones on the floor just wasn’t fitting for the greasy places I was eating in.  I was kind of like watching the Queen of England trying to eat a sloppy joe.  Somethings just shouldn’t be done elegantly.

(1) Tibet has been gerrymandered by the government of China to redefine in the debate for Tibetan independence what is actually Tibet. Just like how the region of Tibet in China is referred to as “The Tibetan Autonomous Region” –so, why are you asking for autonomy if it’s in the name?—cutting out about 1 / 3rd of the country of Tibet likewise shifts the debate in their favor. Interesting tidbit, but the Dalai Lama likes to point out that according to the Chinese he’s not Tibetan, as his birthplace according to China isn’t in Tibet. Hard to find a fella’ more widely recognized as being Tibetan, but that’s just the author’s opinion.

(2) He also told me ALL Tibetan women look like bullfrogs. “Their eyes are too far apart.” This was incidentally while he was watching a “report” on Indian supermodels, and swimwear modeling. It should also be noted my home-stay mother didn’t speak a word of English.

(5) The Tibetan Buddhist monastic system is a terrific education system, certainly more like a boarding school than a navel-gazing place with bald men going “om” without end. It is even more remarkable when you consider that it’s better than a good number of American basic schools as far as teaching fundementals, and this is in countries where the education is normally far, far worse.

(6)And for a brief tangent, honestly, if they want, I could see China in the future absolutely dominating professional cycling. With such high quality, high elevation roads to train on, in my inexpert opinion it sure beats out the conditions the world’s current top athletes train in Europe.


About benlownik

I'm a Watson Fellow who will be essentially studying how bicycles help people around the world. This is about what I am learning, my journey, and discoveries. Read on!
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5 Responses to Getting into Some Hot Water in Tibet

  1. Mom says:

    I’m so torn over choosing a favorite story here so I have to award a tie to your Yak “date” and the bike ride you gave to the grandmotherly woman. Her hands were strapped on your engines, huh?

  2. benlownik says:

    It’s always nice to toss in a Springsteen reference whenever possible.

  3. Dad says:

    Ben, as much as I’ve enjoyed all of your posts, this one has to be my favorite. To me, this one really encapsulates what your trip was all about – learning about your world, learning about other people, and learning about yourself. None of these stories take place in major cities, and you didn’t describe famous locations or attractions, but these and thousands of other interactions and “wrong turns” are going to be what you remember 20 years from now. Congratulations on opening yourself to more experiences in one year than most people get in a lifetime. I grow more proud of you every day.

  4. Dr. S. says:

    Great yak fight! I’ll let you know that cyclers abound on the summertime roads of Alberta! Glad to hear of your safe return!

  5. Carlyn says:

    Ben, I had to laugh out loud when I pictured you flopping about in the “magical” cesspool–and then attempt to wash off the gunk in the boiling trickle of water!! So glad you were able to find the cosmic resonance of your humble quest!

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