After two days of rest, I headed off to China. I was going to the Tibetan Plateau. Now, I already wrote a whole story for this, and honestly, that took quite a while. I'm just going to copy and paste everything here. I'm still revising and editing the little details, but this is what I have right now!
It started off pretty simply. I was just a fifteen-year-old heading off to China, alone for the first time, for an environmental volunteer event. I love the environment and all, but typically I don’t do anything for it. I truly wanted to go on this trip to educate people about the environment, but on the inside, I was also calculating how many volunteer hours I would receive, which I thus far still do not know. So being a horrible procrastinator and all, I started packing a few days before. Day of, I was still running around the house searching for some last-minute items.
My dad drove me to the Newark International Airport on July 23, 2015. I went through all the security and I got to my gate. Yeah, I was nervous. I was a minor flying halfway across the world, and I’ve seen the news of airplanes crashing and disappearing. Wouldn’t you be?
Anyways, I said my goodbyes to my dad and left him at the gate. I was boarding the plane, and I hoped that the people I was going to be sitting next to were acceptable and I was just crossing my fingers and hoping that there was not going to be a baby near me. Babies are cool and everything, I mean, we all have been one, but I would rather not be near, much less sit next to one for the next fourteen or so hours. I was lucky. The next moment, I wasn’t.
The intercom came on and told everyone that we’d have to get off of the plane due to the fact that their computers weren’t updated. Groans and “Come on!”s were heard throughout the plane, along with the flight attendants’ “Sorry for the inconvenience”s. So everyone slowly got off and headed back to the gate. I followed everyone and was reunited with my dad. I remember that I jokingly said, “Hey dad, I’m back! Did you miss me yet?” He didn’t reply. I don’t know if he heard me or not.
We ended up waiting at the gate for a solid two hours, In which time I was able to eat a large amount of tuna salad and a few sandwiches. When everything was finally up and running again, everyone lumbered back onto the plane. After a few minutes of taxiing, we at long last took off.
With a mixture of stretching, binge watching movies, and doing theory, I survived the flight. Somehow, I kept the contents of my stomach inside of me, even though the airplane food was absolutely just inedible. When we landed, I did my mini ritual of holding my hands up parallel to each other and whispering, “Touchdown.” I’m such an American.
Wearily, I left the plane with an assistant (because I was a minor), and I went to the luggage belt to search for my luggage. It took so long that I thought that my luggage was accidentally dropped in the Pacific Ocean or something. When the familiar item came into view, I immediately tried to snatch it, but my attendant stopped me and helped me retrieve it. Again, I breezed through security, and before long, I was with the people who were supposed to pick me up. They were Mike Zhang, my dad’s friend and once-colleague, and Jingbo Zhang, Mike’s nephew. Jingbo drove us to where I would be staying temporarily. The drive was nothing compared to the plane ride, but even so, I was exhausted. I barely stayed awake throughout the ride. After dropping everything off at Mike’s apartment and meeting Mike’s daughters, Catherine and Aileen, we went out to eat. As a “welcome to China” thing, we ate a large dinner that included one of my favorite dishes, sweet and sour fish that resembled a squirrel the way that it was prepared. The moment that my head hit my pillow when we were back at the apartment, I crashed.
The next four days were spent getting rid of my jet lag, creating a presentation on water pollution and somewhat helping on another presentation on health so I could teach people about these topics, eating a lot of great Chinese cuisine, watching a Chinese movie which title roughly translated to Monster Hunt, complaining how there wasn’t Google or Facebook, becoming accustomed to WeChat, packing for the trip to the Tibetan Plateau, and getting to know Catherine and Aileen. Aileen was a seven-year-old who acted like her age at times but was like a teddy bear that you just wanted to hug to death. Catherine was the same age as me. In fact, I found out that her birthday was only fifteen days before mine. We shared the pain of being Americans coming to China and suddenly losing Facebook and Google. On July 28, we tested the water in Dushu Lake and normal bottled water in China with this device which tested the temperature, pH, salinity, TDS, and conductivity of a liquid. I had previously tested these parameters in New Jersey with bottled water, tap water, and filtered tap water. Some results had shocked me while others fit in neatly with what I expected. The same day, we, or at least I met Coco for the first time. I did not believe that she was twelve years old when I first saw her, but I guess age is just a number, right?
We drove to the Shanghai Pudong International Airport, went through the standard airport procedures, and in good time, were boarded on a flight to Chengdu. I made light conversation with the people sitting next to me, and I congratulate myself for such, because I came to realize a while back how much anxiety I had at times when I had to talk to strangers.
We landed at Chengdu. I thought that we were going to transfer flights right after or go to some hotel. I thought wrong. We were staying at the airport for the night! Due to the fact that I always have too much energy than is good for me, I stayed up the whole night. I actually accomplished quite a lot. In other words, I learned a lot of song lyrics, and I danced a lot. I also helped Aileen with her catching ability, at the cost of the eye of her dear Glamour. That was a small price to pay for such a valuable skill. Do not worry, though. She was fixed up in the end with “eye surgery (glue)”.
Finally, six o'clock rolled around. We, or everyone else aside from me, were slugging around to the gate. We got onto the flight without any major hiccups. Just a minor delay, but it was alright.
We arrived at the Yushu Batang Airport. I didn’t feel the headaches or nausea at first. In fact, I felt pretty normal. I wasn’t even cold, even though I was just wearing shorts. Then the complaints began.
“My head hurts!”
“Yeah, I’m having trouble breathing!”
“I can feel the effects of the altitude right now!”
My ears went first. It was as if I was on a plane and the pressure was building, so I yawned, and...
...The feeling did not go away. It felt like I was slowly forced to going deaf. I kept yawning, but no matter what I did, the feeling persisted. Eventually, everything sounded fuzzy.
As if my situation was not already horrible enough as is, a minor headache was pushing through my head. I’ve described this to at least three different people already, but it felt like there was a monster right between my eyes, and it was trying to make the bridge of my nose explode so it could see the light of day. That headachy feeling has partially returned as I even describe it. Though, I decided to “Superman it”, or just pretend that I was perfectly fine.
We collected all eight pieces of our luggage and headed out to meet our guides for the next few days. As each of us stepped up to say our “hello”s, they handed us these white silk scarves. Later, I found out that they were called hada. Not knowing the proper etiquette, I just stuck with logic and what I knew. I bent my head over to receive the hada, which was actually what was correct, and I shook the hands of the guides, who, in the end, were not just guides, but were also great friends. I didn’t quite catch their names in the beginning, but I learned that they were Dongzhou, Luosang, and Randing. I was in a car with the Zhang family, Luosang (who drove), and Dongzhou (who kept educating us about various things). The fuzzy feeling in my ears remained for a good portion of the car ride until it slowly started to fade, and after a while, disappeared altogether. I thought that I had learned enough with just that car ride to the hotel at the time, but I was greatly mistaken.
The rest of the day was spent for resting from the travel. However, rest did not come easy. Catherine and I settled in our room. We started unpacking our luggage.
Catherine had washed her hands and couldn’t figure out how to let the water go through because the sink was closed. I pushed the stopper, and all the water went through. I thought, okay, cool, I fixed it.
The next thing I know is that the water began to rapidly appear on the floor. I freaked out, and soon enough, there was a giant flood in our bathroom. Okay, not giant, but pretty formidable. Being tired from travel, Catherine and I just stood there and watched as the amount of water increased. When all of the water that was originally in the sink spilled onto the floor, we finally reacted. We called Catherine’s dad over, and he ended up calling the hotel to get someone over there.
Someone showed up an hour later, cigarette in mouth, and tried to fix the issue, to no avail. We ended up getting a different room.
We ate lunch at the hotel, and I what I recall of it was how long it took for our food to come, as well as how I drank about six bowls of soup... After lunch, we rested until dinner.
For dinner, we wanted for some random reason to eat Sichuan cuisine. There were only four survivors out of our original party of seven: Coco, her mom, Catherine, and me. Aileen and her dad did not feel too well and had to stay in the hotel, and Jingbo had pains in his hip. Catherine did not feel great once we arrived there either and returned to the hotel. Honestly, I didn’t feel like my normal bubbly self either, but I just dealt with it and kept strong through dinner. Dongzhou and Luosang were there as well, but they seemed absolutely fine. The food arrived. Once the scent of edibleness hit my nose, all of the headaches and nausea went away. I gorged myself until my stomach couldn’t fit any more. Afterward, we decided to buy noodles for those of whom were not able to enjoy the dinner that we were able to. When I smelled the noodles, the food that I ate previously did not sit well. Somehow, I did not throw up the whole trip back to the hotel. We handed the noodles to our fellow travelers as soon as we returned to the hotel.
We had a story-time/English class in Coco’s room. Again, the survivors had attended, and this time, Catherine felt healthy enough to come. When that ended, everyone went back to their rooms and turned in for the night.
The next morning, everyone woke up and showered. At least I assumed that everyone woke up and showered. I don’t really quite know about the second statement. Anyways, we all ate breakfast, whether we made it downstairs by 9:00 or not. The people who were not able to make it by nine were given their breakfasts in Ramen noodle bowls.
After breakfast, we all converged and decided that we were going to collect water samples. First, we went to the middle of the river, which was the closest to the hotel. We had prepared all of the jars that were going to hold the water samples, the instruments we were going use to test the water with, and most important of all, we prepared ourselves.
I had seen a fair share of bodies of water in my life before. I go sightseeing on vacation all the time, the beach is a must in the summer. I had readied myself for the best and the worst.
On first sight, it appeared fine. I got closer to the river and inspected it, I became horrified. What I saw could not be demonstrated by words, nor pictures; only the first-hand experience would cover it. I will attempt to make do with my words and pictures.
Strewn all over the sides and middle of the river was garbage, more garbage, and even more garbage. There were plastic bags, paper boxes, random containers, shoes, and various dirty objects that I do not even dare to begin to try to describe. I didn’t notice it at first, because I was busy scratching my nose because it was dry and itchy, but after a while, the smell hit me, and it was so strong, I could feel breakfast beginning to unsettle itself. To make matters more interesting, I was told that people drank, bathed, and washed their clothes in this water.
I remember that I had looked down into the murky filth. I was almost certain there was E. coli or some dangerous bacteria in there. Even though I had a glove on, I still felt disgusted to stick my hand in there with a jar to pull a water sample. Dongzhou decided that it was a great idea to pull some pieces of trash out of the water so we could take pictures. As quick and nimble as a goat, Dongzhou climbed over to the side of the river and immediately started collecting garbage.
The final compilation was a horrid, rancid pile of waste.
I winced as I had to step around this heap. Nonetheless, at the same time, it helped remind me what I was doing this for, and I hoped that by raising awareness, that there will be less waste the next time I visited.
We determined that our next destination was the source of the water. Though, that was following our fun and education at the river side. There were statues of people, horses, a dog, and yaks. This, we learned, was for recognizing this trading route in Qinghai, which was the people of the Tibetan Plateau’s own “Silk Road”. Dongzhou, Coco, and I all mounted one of the horses and took pictures. We definitely knew how to ride.
Once we figured out how to use the walkie-talkies that we had so we could communicate between the two cars that we were in, we headed off to the water source. The walkie-talkies were probably our favorite “toys” of the trip. Every time there was a car ride, we had these song-swap sessions, where their car would sing a song, and our car would follow with another song. Typically, it was only me, Coco, and Dongzhou who sang. Everyone else shied from the spotlight of the walkie-talkie. Actually, funnily enough, there was a flashlight on the walkie-talkies. Anyways...
The drive was unbearable. Well, it was alright in the beginning, but then the headaches and nausea kicked in. About halfway through, I thought that if there was another bump in the road, I was going to faint.
Wow, was that an experience.
It was a normal road at the start: smooth, paved, and made of asphalt. It turned into dust and rocks, and not even that later. We were carving our way up to the top just to get a jar full of water. My lack of motivation amazed me, and for once, I did not seem like a five-year-old on a sugar high. Instead, I looked like how people were after ingesting too much sugar and getting the thrill of it and crashing.
The car just carried its merry way on.
Somehow, we endured through all of the bouncing around without any injuries or major headaches. When I stepped out, I originally felt fine, but I did not trust that feeling. I was correct in doing so. I had taken a few steps and had gotten to the source of the river when my head began its pounding. It got so intense that I was forced to sit down. Jingbo sat with me, and we both stared off into the middle distance as our individual pains beat down upon each of us. It was a pity I wasn’t able to enjoy the high altitude, which we found out was a little higher than 4900 meters above sea level. Now that I think back and I catch glimpses of the area through my foggy memory, I could see that I really was missing out. There was not a single piece of garbage to be seen. Yes, there was yak manure and you had to be careful where you stepped, but the environment up there was clearly cleaner. All around us were rising green mountains dappled with wildflowers and a myriad of wildlife. The skies overhead were pure blue, and the clouds were so down low, or we were so high up, that their shadows brushed the mountaintops, and it seemed as if I just needed to reach just a little higher to be able to pluck them out of the sky and eat them like cotton candy. Pikas peaked their heads out of their holes and darted back in when we approached while butterflies danced their light, delicate waltzes. Off in the distance, herds of yaks could be seen; the young calves clung to their mothers’ sides or roamed off to explore the world on their own.
I felt envious of Coco and her mom. They didn’t feel any effects of the high altitude all throughout the trip, apparently. How I wished to be one of them at that time so I could just appreciate what was around me, and what I never saw before. For instance, there was a noteworthy pile of stones that seemed too purposeful to be created by nature. I was that these stones were placed to represent another traveler passing by this same place. Dongzhou had actually had helped me walk around this gathering of stones so I’d feel better while trying to take my mind off of my headache with wonderful stories and beliefs. I do not remember much of what he said because of my state at the time, and his attempts of curing my headaches didn’t quite work, but somewhere, I found one more shred of strength to resist letting my headache overwhelm me.
We headed back, but not before making one more stop. We went further in and higher on the mountain to see a black yak wool tent. Seeing as I was clearly not up to climbing out of the car and exploring, I guiltily sat and waited with Catherine for the others to come back. I really hoped that another opportunity to see the inside of one of those tents arose again because I had truly felt horrible for missing out on anything in this short trip.
We jounced back down the mountain. I had switched seats with Coco because I had felt a small need to throw up. With my hand ready to stab the button to open the window and my stomach in my throat, I sat through the hops the car made until I just was not able to handle it anymore. I threw up a small mouthful, and that was it. I felt much better for the remainder of the car ride.
We went to Randing’s home and stopped to rest and eat for a bit. Coco’s mom apparently had a fear of dogs, and when a large (what I thought to be adorable) Tibetan mastiff came bounding and yanking at his chain, Coco’s mom quickly ran and shied away. I just adored the majestic creature from a distance, due to the fact that I was warned that the dogs here were pretty vicious.
At this home, I saw the difficulties of living there in the Tibetan Plateau. I seemed a wonderful life, yes, for sure, but a difficult one, as I was from America. The major issue was that there was not a bathroom. There was a sink outside to wash our hands, though. That had to do.
Lunch was simple. Steamed rolls, butter, tea, and yogurt were presented at the table. Everything was made fresh by the people themselves, and the milk used was just milked from their yaks that morning. There was this food that looked like a moldable potato, which I later learned was called Tsamba, and a cake that I learned was made of mostly the same ingredients of the Tsamba. At first, I was hesitant to eat for fear of throwing up again, but I quickly grew to love the yogurt and Tsamba.
The yogurt you had to eat in a certain fashion, though, and at this, my inner five-year-old on a sugar high returned. You had to lick the yogurt off of the bowl.
The yogurt was really sour. I took a few licks, and I knew that if I needed to, I could eat the whole thing without any sugar, but I didn’t want to use the effort. We all added plenty of crystallized sugar.
Yogurt never tasted so good.
I looked around the house and I knew that the people here led minimal-tech lives. I’m not saying that it was easy, but just that it didn’t include excessive amounts of technology like in the US. People did what needed to be done here, and on their own too, unlike in America, where in every room you step in you see an Apple device, TV screens, and some machinery that allows for us to be lazy. I love how technologically advanced we are in America, but this benefit caused great health concerns, and as everyone knows, America is growing obese. These hardworking people do not have as many benefits as we do, lacking even a bathroom, especially after the recent earthquake. While there were still hardships all around, I still heard the delightful merriment of laughter.
Once we were full and happy, we left to drive to our last location to collect water. My headache disappeared
Down and down we went. We continued down to another section of the river, but not without a few hiccups down the road. Literally. Coco and I both had hiccups. The two cars also had difficulties keeping in touch. We actually waited ten minutes by the side of the road to wait for the other car to catch up, only to lose patience, begin driving again, and find them a few minutes later, ahead of us. That was interesting.
Following the river downstream, we found ourselves at Tongtian River’s Tangseng Drying Sutras Platform. We could not resist stopping here and climbing over the rocks. Like children on a playground, we, meaning Luosang, Randing, Dongzhou, Jingbo, me, and Coco, jumped and crawled over the rocks, taking pictures and being taken pictures of. Next, we wanted to read what was written on this large stone under a gazebo. Fortunately, there was a side that had English, so I did not have to struggle that much with comprehension. When we had enough, we went to where we needed to go in order to collect the last sample of water.
When we arrived, we had much more play in store for us. Down by the side of the river, where it was relatively clean, but still had residue trash floating around, we collected stones and skipped stones. Skipping stones was an impossible task because the current was strong, but I was still able to get a few solid skips in there. Not as great as Randing, Luosang, Dongzhou, or Jingbo of course, but good enough for me.
We returned to the hotel and rested, for the day’s adventure left us all well worn. For dinner, we ate hot pot, and the most prominent memory of that experience was how much the soup spazzed and splashed, even when our stoves were set on the minimum heat. When we went back to the hotel, we used the instrument testing five parameters and the water testing kit we had and set to testing the water samples. Everyone agreed to use the water testing kits on the upstream and downstream samples. We set our clocks and waited for results.
Almost all of the information about the water was obtained that night. We had two days to wait for the results of the bacteria test, and we were only able to sit and wait. In the meantime, we rested.
The same routines followed the next morning and became a ritual. That day was not going to be spent on water, but on health instead. We were going to the supermarket.
I wasn’t up for grocery shopping, and what I saw in the supermarket did not improve that mindset. When we entered the supermarket, we were greeted by sights of soda, candy, packaged meat, and countless other delightful items that just did not seem edible. There was no need for lights because the child-appealing brightly-colored packages on nearly every row and aisle could have lighted the way. There were even things made to be glow-in-the-dark. The items that were closest to their expiration dates, unhealthier, or most popular made their way to the front and foremost of the store. This was quickly followed by candy. Right beyond candy was a whole wall full of Ramen noodles (enough to last through at least three zombie apocalypses) and fruit. When I saw the fruit, I thought, “At last! Something healthy and edible! You can’t mess fruit up!” Ostensibly, you can. I was told that the fruit was often sprayed by pesticides and fertilizers, so it was greatly advised that you should not eat the fruit there without peeling the outer skin first. Then, I spotted the bananas. They were green. Many of the fruits were not even the color that they were supposed to be, and I was outright disgusted. This was what kids were putting into their systems. Adults didn’t know of the dangers that these foods present because they were not educated on these topics, which definitely was not their fault. We passed by many shopping carts filled to the brim with candy and various junk food and we knew that these things were bought because of their sweet tastes.
In America, we people understand what we are putting in our mouths when we eat a chocolate bar or a chip. In this area, people don’t understand the health risks, but they trust and understand their taste buds.
Everywhere that I turned, I saw sugar and preservatives. Crackers, candy, meat in plastic packages, soda. There were not any real nutrients in any of the products. Sadness overcame me as I saw a child run up to their mother with a giant package of candy that was half the size of them, and their mother, without a second thought, took it and put it in their already junk food filled shopping cart. The child went back through the store to search for more.
In the very back of the store were the household appliances, toys, and just items that one would actually need to buy. Keep in mind that this was in the very back of the store.
We ended up buying these small grape-like fruits that were apparently pears. I didn’t try them that day, but when I actually did, a delicious plum-like taste squirted into my mouth. Those were probably the items with the best quality and nutrition value.
Before we left the supermarket, we clarified to a worker that we were not people there for inspection, nor were we people from the other supermarket. Throughout our whole visit there, the manager and the workers were all eyeing us suspiciously and following us with questions. We mostly evaded them, and after a while, they stopped following us, but the stares continued. When we were on our way out, we just wanted to put the manager, who was busy at the time, at ease, so we told a worker that we were only people who wanted to promote health and safety in the Tibetan Plateau that just wanted to see what was typically sold in supermarkets. The worker had visibly relaxed, and we left in smiles and handshakes. I had felt a little guilty because they had declared that we weren’t allowed to take pictures and I had evidence in my camera, which was hidden away in my North Face.
Once we finished touring the supermarket, we began going to neighboring shops to see if it was just the big money-makers that had all this junk food. They were not alone.
All of the small shops around had smaller, dirtier areas which were not well-facilitated. The food sold there was either the same or even worse than the quality of food in the first supermarket we went to. There was not air-conditioning, and it was probably eighty or so degrees out, so I could only imagine the quantity of spoiled or in the process of spoiling food. In one of the shops, there was what I guess was a frozen meats section (the freezer was like a larger version of those ice cream freezers where you open it by sliding a panel, then reach in to get ice cream), and I thought it was an improvement from what we saw previously. When we opened the freezer to see what was inside, I was sorely disappointed. There was not a single hint of real meat inside. Instead, I was greeted by colorful fake crab meat and this strange, solid purple ball. We didn’t know whether it was meat or some other mysterious food item. When we asked the worker what the ball was, he said that he had no clue. Not wanting to look bad, he looked at the label on the bag that contained the ball to clarify its identity. It was a rice ball. I also want to note now that the items in the freezer seemed to have been untouched for quite some time, and as I think back, I can guarantee this, for when we first asked a worker if the store sold meat, we were led over to a freezer covered by cardboard boxes and various vegetables.
We finished up with our scouting in the stores and hunted around for a place to eat lunch. Somehow, after seeing the day-of-thus-far’s horrors, my appetite had stayed with me. We settled at a little noodle shop, and a giant bowl of noodles was set in front of me, as was a plate of lamb. I went for the lamb. After stuffing as much food as possible in my stomach, we waited for everyone to finish up and then we went back to the hotel. Catherine, Coco, and I stayed in our hotel room the whole time. Catherine was the only one working on her piece. Coco and I just sat there and were not too productive. When dinnertime came at long last, we felt ecstatic because we finally had something to do. Aileen and her dad were able to join us this time because they were not suffering from severe headaches from the altitude. This dinner was also to send them off; they were due to leave that day back to Suzhou because of Aileen’s pain in staying there.
We had rectangular noodles. As in, they were not string noodles. They were in rectangles, like little sheets of paper. They tasted the same to me, though. I thought they were pretty cute actually.
When dinner finished, we returned to the hotel and had a meeting. We presented our individual topics, and by the time we were finished, everyone was drained, so we ended the meeting and went back to our own rooms.
The first day of August went well. We had once again visited the mountain. This time, we made a lot of stops along the way, bathroom breaks included. The scenery was perfect for pictures; all we had to do was step in and smile. That, we did.
The headaches substantially faded for me. When we reached 4600 meters above sea level, I was still jumping around and smiling. No longer did it feel like a monster was trying to force its way out from in my head between my eyes. At that time, it was maybe a small worm, or in other words, it was so insignificant that I was able to ignore it for the most part.
We were on our way to see a village to see how clean it was. After seeing the river on the second day, I knew that I should not hope nor expect anything. It was a smart choice.
When we drove a little bit into the village, we saw a yak. Now, we’ve seen yaks before. In fact, they sprinkle the mountains in herds. However, I never saw a yak eating garbage before. Everyone stopped and got out of the car to snap pictures. We startled the yak a little, and it did not go back to eating garbage for a bit, but after deeming “the group” as non-threats, it calmly resumed picking through its garbage pile. Eventually, we took enough pictures and returned to touring the village.
I didn’t realize anything was wrong at first, not even after seeing the yak eat trash. I wasn’t paying close attention. When I did, I saw the village in a whole different contrast. Waste of all different colors, shapes, and sizes was piling up into small hills. Again, we saw shoes. A great mass of them. Along with plastic containers, bags, broken household items, bottles made of both glass and plastic, cans, and innumerable other things just hidden beneath the dust, but still wearing away the environment. There was discarded construction materials as well.
We were informed that the people here were given designated sections to throw their waste. Everyone there was willing to comply. Counterproductively, no one ever goes around to collect the trash. Therefore, it stays, piles up, and gets blown around by the wind. How long would it take for all of this trash to disintegrate? Would anyone ever come to pick it up? The answer to both questions is presumably close to never.
Like a war zone, we saw blue tents all over the place, and because we were told and because it was clearly written on top of the tent, we knew that these tents were there for shelter after the earthquake. I felt pity for these people, and glad for mine, The worst struggle I went through was the lack of electricity and running water for a week after Hurricane Sandy. It was great when that ended, but those hardships for me would have been a luxury for the people here when the earthquake hit.
We visited Randing’s house for lunch a second time. As the same as before, the meal was wonderful, and everything grew on me even more than before. Laughs quickly filled the room, and for the first time there, I didn’t feel like I was on vacation, like a tourist. I felt like I was a part of that family and that I belonged there.
Departing from the small house, we headed to a destination unknown to me. I didn’t even know what it was when we arrived there either. We had actually gone to their workplace. We saw pictures and were told all these stories by a woman whose name I never had a chance to learn, and I really regret that. They had a storage room to the left, and straight ahead was a room that contained mattresses. I thought this strange until we were informed that they lived there. In the end, we were given brochures and postcards to remember the trip and the people who guided us through the Tibetan Plateau. I looked over each one when I first received them, and examined them at later times as well. Each time I look over them, memories of the trip flood my brain, and at times, I feel so nostalgic that I’d just sit and stare at the wall in front of me. When they came into my possession, I didn’t know how much they’d mean to me (I had nonchalantly fanned myself with them because it was a little stuffy in the room), but now they are precious to me. We finished up in their workplace, then we were off to somewhere else I did not know.
After a short car ride, I stepped out of the car onto the dry green grass. I actually used my eyes this time. There were tents. A fenced off field in the distance with a horse inside, pacing back and forth. A small stream to the right. My other senses stepped in. The constant smell of the wilderness was there, but aside from it, there were not any new scents. I heard the stream, as well as the greetings of old friends. A soft breeze tickled my face. I willed my legs to walk inside the compound, still not sure where we were, nor what we were going to do. We were led inside an orange tent and were told that we could leave our belongings there. Then we headed towards the stream.
There weren’t any rocks eye-catching enough to collect on our side, but there were on the other. Sadly, we couldn’t have gotten onto the other side without getting wet, and I really didn’t want to get swept away by the current that day, and neither did anyone else, so we just stayed where we were. I took some daring risks as I stepped onto a rock in the stream a little less than a stride away from the grass, though. As soon as everyone finished taking pictures, I leaped back to solid land. Our sightseeing at the stream was finished, so we walked back towards the tent we dropped our stuff in earlier.
That must have been one of the most comfiest tents I had ever been in. To be fair, I hadn’t ever been in a lot of tents before then. Just the circus ones that are crowded with people watching some show. I sat in a couch in the far left corner, and everyone else took their spots.
Cups of tea went around. I took a sip to be polite but after that, I just left it because I just wasn’t able to get use to its taste. Small talk went around while the sound of native music played in the background. We all wished that Dongzhou would dance for us, and after waiting a while, he did. I remember whipping out my camera to capture the moment on video. When he stopped really suddenly, we all questioned why. He said, “It’s too hot, haha, I’m out of breath, it’s too hot.”
To be fair, it was quite hot.
In the midst of the fun, I had thought of internally questioning where he learned that dance from. I had seen Luosang and Randing doing motions that looked similar, or maybe even the same. I just shrugged it off and continued clapping.
Later, the sound of someone asking for a song arose.
Dongzhou went first because we nominated him to.
Again had I pulled out my camera for yet another recording. His voice boomed through the speakers, and the mountains nearby probably even heard him. When I went through my photos and videos once I got back to the US to see what I had captured throughout the trip, I was able to hear constant suppressed laughing in the background of the video. I knew that that was me.
About half of the people there had sung, with me and Coco at the top of the list for who sung the most. On our half of the room, because the tent was really strangely segregated by gender, Catherine, as usual, declined, saying that she can’t sing, which is an absolute lie because her voice was pretty marvelous. Coco’s mom just let us kids have our fun. The microphone stayed on our side for the majority of the stay, so the other side did not have to bother with declining it with some excuse. When it was time, we all rose and left.
The car was roasting by the time we got back to it. We were waiting for someone, but they weren’t coming, so we all decided that my car, whose passengers included Luosang, Catherine, Coco’s mom, Coco, and me, was to go ahead and drive back first, while the other car waited. When we had driven for a couple minutes, I looked back at the tent, but by then, it was just another splash of color in the middle of a grassy field. Later, the friendly crackle of walkie-talkie static confirmed that their car had caught up.
We went to and walked around the Jiani Mani Stone City. At first, I felt uncomfortable, because I didn’t know what to do, and I saw people around me performing prostrations while I awkwardly shuffled ahead with the crowd. I walked too fast, and lost my group a few times. No worries, though, they caught up all those times. Coco began walking with me, so we kept pace with each other, and slowed the other down when we thought that we were too far from the group. When we walked the whole loop, we went back to the cars. We drove to a nearby stream, rested for a few minutes, then we left.
For our evening meal, we went to a hotel with a restaurant on the second floor. Before we had gone to the restaurant, we bought kebabs from where we went to eat lunch the day before, and although the portions were small, they were absolutely savory.
We left our cars in a considerably shifty parking garage and headed up to what would become my stomach’s doom. We ordered much more than we were able to stomach. Not only that but when we had already been stuffed fuller than Thanksgiving turkeys, another one of our dishes that had taken a long time arrived. I had to help finish that. That meal, I also had the sweetest soup I had in my life. Other oddities of the meal included a chair-human (Dongzhou put his sunglasses and cap on the chair of honor, which everyone was too afraid to sit on), mismatching lengths of chopsticks, and language barriers.
With visibly larger stomachs, we decided that a walk back to the hotel would be wonderful. Gathering our possessions, we headed out into the comforting night.
The fresh air and bright lights greeted us. For a second, I thought that I was seeing New York City with all of the lights, but the fresh air quickly dismissed that thought. We passed by small shops and multiple vendors on the sidewalk. There were clothes, miscellaneous items, hats, and more. I brushed my fingers across some merchandise but didn’t pick anything up. Meanwhile, Dongzhou insisted on trying on every hat we passed.
Once we squeezed past the tables of goods, we crossed a driveway to reach a silent sidewalk ahead, but when I only crossed the driveway partly when I heard an explosion behind me. Alarmed, I turned around to catch the death of a glorious firework, and two more launching into the starless sky. Suddenly, I felt more free. I pointed out the illuminations in the night sky to my friends, and then I stood there dumbfounded as if I had never seen a firework in my life before. They had merely nodded and passed me. When I escaped my enraptured state, I looked to my friends to see that they were much further ahead. Jogging, I caught up.
Out of nowhere, an empty water bottle appeared, and of course, there was only one solution to dealing with litter like this, being an environmental conservation group who had just eaten as much as they possibly can and all. We played soccer with it!
Receive, dribble, a tap of the foot, then pass to someone else. Or shoot, depending on the situation. I kept shouting “ooh!”s and “aah!”s. That must have been queer to everyone else. A stomach cramp began to form, but the fun numbed it away. During this whole game, we kept an interesting conversation about our experiences in Qinghai thus far. In the middle of our soccer game, a man swooped down like an eagle to grab our water bottle, and once he did so, went to the nearest recycling bin to throw it out. I stood awkwardly for a moment with my eyebrows raised before I began to walk again.
Like an old buddy or something, the man and Dongzhou began to talk. The rest of us just followed like sheep, all the while sneaking looks at the man and his friends. We did this all the way back to the hotel, which was only a block or so, but it felt much longer. Finally, the man and his friends and the group parted and went our separate ways.
I had felt bad for having an irrational distrust of the man and his friends when I checked to make sure I did not have anything stolen off of me. I also respected him. While most people would have ignored our behaviour and would not have cared about whether the bottle was going to be thrown out or not in the end, he did care, and he took matters into his own hands to make sure that the bottle was thrown out.
A day or two later, when we asked, we learned that Dongzhou and the man were not friends. They didn’t even know each other at all. However, that man’s older brother was someone Dongzhou knew. I had thought back on when I went to a Rutgers summer business camp, and I learned that you only need to choose any six people you know to be able to contact anyone in the world. It is a very small world in some aspects after all.
It turns out that this man was a native person to Qinghai. He must have heard a comment that we made during our conversation that concerned garbage and saw we were kicking a bottle around, so he must have thought we were insulting Qinghai and saying that it was full of garbage. Of course, we did not mean any harm nor insult, and were just playing with the bottle. I don’t know the man’s name, but wherever he is, respect to him for staying loyal to his native land and for helping his environment by putting the water bottle in the recycling can.
We returned to our respective rooms. That night, we checked the bacteria results.
They were positive. Catherine, being the responsible one of the two of us, took a picture and sent it to a group chat on WeChat that we had going on. Honestly, before going to China, I had condemned WeChat, and always thought, “Why not Facebook or Twitter or something of that sort?” WeChat was one of my few methods of communication aside from calling/texting (I wasn’t able to call to the US, and I only called to my grandpa) and face to face confrontations. Few of my friends in the US had and much less used WeChat, and in China, I was not able to find them, therefore, unable to add and talk to them. That is alright now, but in China for the first few days, this irked me to no end. If I had, though, I wouldn’t have felt as much of a connection to the Tibetan Plateau as I did and still do.
Anywho, back to the present. Both vials held a translucent yellow liquid. The water had seemed harmless enough, but the substance, which looked like lemonade, in the vials proved the possible danger that the water held. I say, “possible danger,” because, in the directions, it was stated that for a positive result, “It is highly likely that potentially harmful bacteria were detected.”
That didn’t mean that everyone who drank the river water was going to get sick or even die. It just meant that the water created a liability for sickness and death. Who knows? Maybe the samples were contaminated by the jars that held them in the first place. Maybe we performed some procedure wrong. Maybe the test detected bacteria that wasn’t harmful. People did bathe, drink, and wash their clothes in that water, and as far as I was concerned, I hadn’t heard of mass numbers of people falling ill in that area. In fact, a few of the adults in the group had drank from the water source and were, for the most part, fine. There were minor stomach issues, but they only appeared in one person. Therefore, these little vials of water and all the other tests we ran, I decided, were not enough to dictate the safeness of the water. Our minds were not uneasy that night.
The penultimate full day of the trip, we visited a local hospital, where we were free to ask any question. Even with the last part, our questions were relatively few. When we, or Coco’s mom asked about what the particular doctor we were talking to was typically seen about, we were informed that there was tuberculosis, arthritis, and cholecystitis. The tuberculosis came from people dismissing coughs and sneezes. Arthritis was from not exercising enough. This last one, which I tried a million times and still cannot pronounce, I had never heard of before then. I’m not going into medical, so at least I don’t have to worry about failing a test with that illness on it. Catherine did a little research while the doctor we were talking to was aiding a patient and found that it was an inflammation of the gall bladder. We did not really cover why this was a common issue in the area, or at least I do not think so. More than half the time, I did not understand what anyone was saying, because a) my Chinese was not good enough; b) accents, and; c) I do not understand Tibetan. I had just sat there and kept nodding, and when I got really confused, I looked towards Catherine and asked her if she had a clue of what was going on. She didn’t either.
I caught the most important parts, though, so I think that was a great enough accomplishment for myself. Towards the end of our visit, Coco’s mom wanted the doctor to take our pulses. I had “volunteered myself as tribute” to go first, and aside from having a fast heartbeat, which was normal because it was Qinghai, I was perfectly healthy. In fact, I was the healthiest of those of us who got our pulses taken. Yay for me!
We thanked the doctor for his help and time that day. We did take quite a long time. For lunch, we went to the noodle place again. Of course, after the day before’s experience with the kebabs, we had to buy more. I felt a little unsettled because all around, we saw kids with kebab sticks who were running around and playing with them. I was not able to watch, in truth I was staring, and I knew that was impolite, as a small and young child walked around with a kebab stick in her mouth, pointy side in. I breathed a sigh of relief when she found something less dangerous to entertain herself with.
Shopping for gifts to give to friends when we got back was the next on our agenda. Or, in other words, browsing for things that we may like. We were mainly swaying around the shopping center and just “oohing” and “aahing” at everything. We split into two groups. There was the girls and Dongzhou group and the “Jingbo and Luosang group”. Randing was just all over the place.
My eyes are still blinded by all of the jewelry on the counters that shined as the sun touched them with its rays. Stones of every color beamed at us, from vivid turquoises to blood red, brilliant orange to jet black. When we had our fill for the moment of the downstairs, we went to check out the upstairs. Clothes, hats (which Dongzhou, of course, tried on), boots, and other shoes filled each store to the brim. Broken mannequins stood guard at various stations. Those I found a little creepy. We saw stores in construction and stores that were, for the most part, empty.
The clothes mainly consisted of traditional clothing. I guess because I lived in the twenty-first century America for most of my life, I felt queer at seeing this, even after seeing people wear this garb on the street. In America, it feels as if people are always trying to be thinner and squeeze into those ridiculously skinny jeans that you know you can barely move in, but the clothing here was just so decent. The colors and the patterns were so beautiful and elegant. Even the simplest clothing impressed me. We went through store after store. We finished sweeping the upstairs and went back downstairs to hit a few shops. On our way out, we visited a final shop. This shop, like the ones we visited early, was full of intriguing items. Again, like the other shops we did not buy anything.
In spite of the fact that we were done “shopping” at the mall, we were still not done browsing for the day. We crossed the street and walked a little to enter a jewelry shop. At least, it mostly sold jewelry. Daggers and pots were for sale, I think, but they were not the main attractions. What lay on the counters were. Coco’s mom and Jingbo’s inner crazy shopper came out then. We stayed in that store for quite awhile. I didn’t have an understanding for jewelry as such, so I just wandered around the store.
After the jewelry store, we went outside, to where there were tables with goods set up. It was as if someone took a few of the shops we went to in the mall and converted them to tables ran by people hiding from the blistering sun with umbrellas. Okay, it wasn’t hot to the point where it was blistering, but I felt the familiar trickle of sweat on my brow after standing around for a while. We saw that a multitude of these tables sold Buddhist prayer bead necklaces and bracelets. Jingbo and Dongzhou were the avid shoppers this time. Luosang and Randing took a close third and fourth for most enthusiastic shoppers there. We were done browsing, so we walked back to the mall, where our cars were parked. Rather than everyone arriving there, only us girls and Dongzhou made it back. Everyone else just disappeared somewhere. We waited for around ten minutes before they came. We weren’t able to go anywhere before then; Luosang was our driver, after all. The car must have been a good baking temperature when we finally opened up its doors and released the hot air. When it was a reasonable temperature we were able to deal with, my half of the group climbed in, and we drove back to the hotel. Us children were told to work on our summarization of our experiences again, but as usual, Coco and I just lazed away while Catherine worked, then watched one of her favorite shows.
Later, Coco’s mom and Jingbo wanted to go out to go shopping, this time actually buying, again. Shrugging, we let the adults have their fun. Everyone needs to loosen up once in a while. I spent this time learning more song lyrics. It was sad how many songs I learned during this trip as I look back. Of course, it feels nice to know the words when a few of my favorites played, but I could have spent this time looking outside and observing the landscape before they only faded into memories. I could have researched what I had seen that day too, so when I wrote this, I wouldn’t have to spend as much time and effort to work out certain details. Even as I wish this so, I know that what has been done is done, and unless if time travel is possible, which is a whole other discussion for later, I could not change a thing. I just wished that I am able to whisper to my past self to enjoy it while it lasts. I think that I actually told myself during the trip that it would all be memory eventually, when the trip came to an end. At the time, I just dismissed it and thought that I needed my lazy time too, but I regret that now.
That night, we ate in the hotel. Funny story: we waited a whole hour, and only one of our dishes showed up. The tables were generally empty. In the end, we just gave up and ordered another one of the faster dishes. At least I liked that dish!
The night before, we decided that we were promised to milk and clean up after yaks, and although we were not able to live with the people in the mountains of the Tibetan Plateau because of hygienic reasons, we wanted to do what we were promised.
We woke up early at somewhere between five o’clock to five twenty. It depends on the perspective, really. It was early for us, who only had to wake up before nine o’clock to catch breakfast, and some of us not even by then, but the people living in the mountains must have considered the time that we woke up at relatively late. If they didn’t complete the tasks that they had early, they wouldn’t have certain foods and maybe not even a fire to burn.
Bundled up in our jackets, we left. I personally felt fine, but a great portion of the group felt the cold. We drove the bumpy road up to Randing’s house. When we entered, we were greeted by four new faces. The were no taller, shorter if anything than Aileen and they were all adorable. Dressed for school, they, two boys and two girls, sat on the couch opposite us and were devouring their breakfast when it came. With wide eyes, they regarded us tall strangers. Coco’s mom asked if we were allowed to take pictures, and permission was granted. Shy smiles painted the children’s faces. We learned that the two boys were going to second grade, and the two girls were going to first. My heart just melted.
When the time came, we exited the warm room to the chilly air outside so we could try a hand at milking yaks. After watching Randing’s talented wife milk a few cows, I was urged on to try it. I thought it’d be easy. Just pull, right? No. I had pulled up my sleeves, reached in, gently tugged and nothing. A little harder, and still nothing. I didn’t get any milk to come out. For a couple of unsuccessful minutes, I squatted there and hoped that I could get even a drop to come out. Someone else had to have a turn, and Catherine was next. She got a stray squirt, but that was it. Still better than my nothing.
Then it was Coco’s turn.
Kneeling, she started to reach for the udder, then pulled away and freaked out. Randing’s wife stepped in instead and showed us all up. I stood there dumbfounded. When she deemed that she could get no more milk out of that yak for the moment, her husband freed a calf to feed on the mother, so the flow of the milk would be returned. When the calf was pulled away again, and Randing’s wife had squirted a bit of milk out of the mother, I tried again. Still no luck. I was cracking up the whole time. My own failure was never so hilarious to me. I stopped, and Dongzhou wanted to show us how it’s done.
He didn’t get anything out either.
We were then told that maybe we’d be better at collecting manure. This time, Catherine started it off. Taking a pitchfork she was given, she successfully scooped up some manure and put it into a basket specifically for collecting manure. I was up. I did the same as Catherine, and when I was done, it was Coco’s turn. She wasn’t afraid this time, but she was pretty stiff when she was doing this. Whether that was from the cold or from something else, who knew. I had felt a little cold, but not as severely as everyone else was feeling it. People had begun drawing up hoods and hugging themselves to keep warmth. Everyone was watching the horizon and wishing that the sun would come up faster.
When we collected enough manure, the basket was brought over to a section of grass away from the yaks. We flipped over the basket and everything fell out in a giant pile of messiness. Now how to deal with this mountain of surprisingly-not-stinky dung?
Someone brought a hoe over, and Luosang showed us how to chop the manure up so it could be sun-dried. It seemed easy enough. Chop off a larger chunk, then break that into smaller strips, which is then divided into even smaller pieces. It didn’t require a rocket scientist to figure out how to do this, but when I tried it, I just wasn’t able to complete the task. Every time I hoed away some manure I always pushed it into another piece, so they would stick together. When I thought I finished cutting the manure up, I saw that I only made another pile, ultimately meaning that I accomplished nothing. Once more, defeat never felt so good.
Out of the group, only Coco’s mom and Coco were able to pass with chunks that partially resembled Luosang’s perfect piles.
We continued to collect manure. The sun had finally peeked its head over the mountaintops, and we all soaked into its welcome warmth.
We were told that people here could have the basket on their shoulder and pick up manure, fling it over their shoulders, and have it land in the basket. Luosang wanted to try that. Bad move.
Backing away in case if anything went wrong, everyone stood and watched his grand performance. Cameras were ready to catch his glorified moments. Trying small pieces at first, we could easily tell that he was not a pro at this. He always flung the dung too far and missed the basket. Even with these failures, he moved onto larger pieces. Then he had tried to pick up a piece much too large. “Uh oh”s were heard going around. Along with my hysterical laughter.
“Uh oh” was the correct thing to say and my laughter was absolutely appropriate because although it did not land on his head, it had plopped behind him magnificently. Well, not all of it. Some had come into contact with his jacket and pants. Oh, was that a sight to see. Randing, unable to bear watching Luosang struggle any longer, took the basket and showed us all how to do it. To all of our surprises, not really, you were not actually supposed to catapult the manure over your shoulder into your shoulder, but you were supposed to lean over with the shoulder holding the basket and place the manure inside. Simple as that. No one else wanted to try in case if we accidentally aimed poorly. That was alright because it was breakfast time!
We played around with shadows before heading in the house. By then, the kids had left. We had seen them trekking off to school while we were having our fun. We were surprised to learn that they had to walk about half an hour every day just to get to school. Respect and power to them, we had all thought.
Tea and yogurt were served with steamed rolls and Tsamba. When we were done, we went outside to get a taste of sweet fresh air. Or scentless fresh air. Either way it felt and, I guess, smelled good too. Dongzhou asked if we wanted to walk to the school, and seeing as we didn’t have anything else to do, I had excitedly agreed, gave a thumbs up that I became famous for in the group, and everyone else joined in with a chorus of “sure”s. I started off by skipping ahead like we were off to see the wizard, then stopped and walked. I didn’t want to seem too crazy.
Soon, we (Coco, her mother, Catherine, Dongzhou, and me - the ) were marching towards the school. My stride must have been really fast or long or something, but I had quickly pulled far ahead. Everyone else was taking their time. They had told me to stop for a bit so they could catch up. We ended up resting a minute or two where I had stopped before heading off again. After scaling down a side of a large hill and crossing (I leaped) over a small stream, we were at the school.
They were in a recess session when we came. We were told that these children were first and second graders later in the visit. The majority of the girls were dancing, and a group of guys were playing some form of soccer. A few kids were playing tag, and some children played by themselves. The teachers stood by and watched with a careful eye to make sure that nothing got too out of hand, and that no one got hurt.
The students were called back to class. All of the kids rushed back to the classrooms. “Hurry up, don’t want to be late for class!” some members of the group joked.
Not wanting to bother the students too much, we walked into a classroom quietly. The teacher greeted us, and started the lesson. We had a conversation about the students. We learned who the best students were and which students sometimes got distracted. Their rank in the class could be easily seen. Aside from the fact that the top of the class sat in the front and the students who did not do so well sat in the back, when the teacher gave the assignment, the best students immediately took out their books and began, while the distracted students took their time. Some of them did not even bother to take their books out until the teacher caught them.
During the conversation, an important point came up. Coco’s mom had asked about the students’ eyesights because when the students began to work, we saw that their eyes were very close to their papers. The teacher, who we learned was a substitute, stated that her students would not be needing glasses anytime soon. They reminded us that this was the Tibetan Plateau, where people look off into the mountains daily and there was not that much technology to make you go blind. I had looked down then, because I knew that I had an abundant interaction with technology daily and honestly, my eyesight was not the greatest.
Our visit to this section of the school was nearly finished, but before we left, we looked at the grades of the students. The top students had 80’s to 100’s speckled across their record. The students who did not do that well in school received anywhere between 0 to 60. I wish I was able to encourage everyone to do better in school, but they were so focused in studying and there was a language barrier, so I decided to keep quiet. We left the classroom and went to another part of the school. This area was like a large play area, where children were screeching happily. We wanted to give these students the gifts that Catherine, Coco, and her mother bought, so while Dongzhou entertained the students with a game that may have been tag, the others fetched the gifts. I just watched as the children tried to run away from Dongzhou, and every time anyone in the group looked at me, I just gave a shrug and a smile.
We presented the gifts to the teacher there, and he thanked us. That was the last I saw of the school. We departed. Next stop, the village doctor.
We were allowed to ask any question again. However, our questions had evaded us when we entered this building which I guess could be called a mini hospital. It held a doctor’s office, a medicine room, and a storage room. The medicine room contained common remedies and prescriptions you would find in any drug store, along with powders and herbs and other things that I didn’t know the use of.
We walked to the doctor’s house. There was a large mortar and pestle that hadn’t been used in a long time, and just for the sake of us tourists, it was dragged out. Catherine, Coco, and I had been instructed to try to pretend that we were grinding medicine up. The pestle, a large oblong stone, was heavier than I had anticipated, and it kept getting caught in the mortar, which was also made of stone. Pictures of us were obviously taken. The surprise that most of the group received then made us stare in wonder. The doctor was Randing’s father! It was strange to think about as we made our way to this open area beyond the doctor’s house. This is where I was confused about my feelings.
The view was stunning. Mountains in the background, sky as blue can possibly get and then some, flowers blooming left and right, and grass greener than the green grass on the other side. On the other hand, we saw the effects of the earthquake. In sections, the ground rose higher than the ground around it, and one misstep could lead to a broken ankle. You could see the roots of plants in these cases. There were miniature mountains and valleys within a mountain itself. It could have been a grassier replica of the Grand Canyon, even. We explored the area. As I was following a butterfly like any other normal human being, I came upon a giant hole. No, I did not discover it by falling in, though that would have been hilarious and painful at the same time, but I saw it because I just had these things called eyes. It was large enough so that a child could squeeze through. It was actually quite large, and we believed that it was dug by some animal instead of just a collapse of earth after the earthquake. After snapping a few dramatic pictures including some singulars, some with a few of us just jumping (and hoping that we wouldn’t land on manure or on where the level of earth differed), some posing, and some just for the sake of taking a picture. Dongzhou, Randing, and Jingbo were all very talented and all, but jumping in unison was just not their thing. They were told, “On a count of three,” and they just did their own thing in their own time. It took many tries (much more than it did with us girls), but we still got the perfect pictures. had In the midst of all of this, Jingbo spotted a cat. We all came around to see it, and I must have taken a step too close to it, but it bounded away as soon as it knew that it was spotted.
We were told a story about the earthquake. Apparently, there was an elder man who was working late into the night, and he felt the beginnings of the earthquake. He warned everyone to go to someplace out in the open so the buildings wouldn’t collapse and crush them. Some people heeded his warning, but just as many dismissed him and went on, sleeping. By the time the second quake came, it was too late. Numerous casualties were counted, and each death was one too many. Morale of the story was to listen to your elders, and if there ever is a plausible warning, take heed of it. Lastly, if there was an earthquake, stay away from buildings. Find a field or some open space. Unless if the earth splitted right where you stood, you were safe.
When our desires for paparazzi and stories had been fulfilled, we had left the area, said our farewells to the doctor, and begun going back to Randing’s wife’s house. Someone joked around and asked if anyone wanted to walk back. Excitedly, I said, “Yes,” and gave an enthusiastic thumbs up. Everyone stared at me, and I just said, “What? I just want to walk back.” Dongzhou volunteered, or in other words, was nominated by everyone. I was amazed when he actually came, but he didn’t want to carry the camera, so I took it instead. As we were starting to walk and everyone else was starting to climb into their respective cars and onto their motorcycles, Luosang said that they would keep the benches warm for when we got back, and that they weren’t going to wait for us when lunch arrived. Throwing a casual and friendly sarcastic, “Okay,” over my shoulder, I kept walking.
It was a beautiful day. Well, every day was beautiful in the Tibetan Plateau, but I just felt better feeling the sun and the breeze, and hearing the stream and our footsteps. We chased a few pikas around, but never caught any. We even came across two shimmering blue butterflies. I handed the camera to Dongzhou and told him to take some pictures, because I didn’t know how to use the camera. In truth, I was just a lazy butt. It was quite amusing when he was chasing the butterflies just for a picture though.
Later, we encountered some people herding up the yaks. Taking a rock, Dongzhou threw it to frighten a yak. I guess he just wanted to hurry it along, but I didn’t want the risk of angering or worse, injuring a yak, so I told him to stop. Surprisingly, he did. Boys will be boys, right?
I had an impulse to steal his cap and run as fast as possible around. I do that kind of thing a lot. I know I shouldn’t, but I love these little jokes. In the end, I decided against it. It wasn’t America, and I didn’t know how he would take it. Some people really like their caps, you know? Pretending to be innocent of all of the thoughts of a prank, I just continued walking.
We made it back to the house faster than everyone thought. It took approximately a little over half an hour to make it to the school with the five of us. Coming back, the two of us only took about twenty minutes. Not too shabby.
I washed the sweat off of my face from the walk back. I ate as much as possible, knowing that this was most likely my last chance to ever eat the yogurt or Tsamba there. The thought saddened me. I helped myself to a generous amount of yogurt and put sufficient sugar on top. I shaped my Tsamba into some shape, then ate it. For an extra farewell to the food there, I ate raw yak. Yes, raw. As in, not cooked. It didn’t taste like anything. After my first piece, I was urged to eat another for a picture.
During the meal, Dongzhou had left, saying that he had to take a shower. A little while later, he came back to ask Luosang, the bearer of all keys, to come because the workplace was locked. Luosang agreed, and I guess that he went, unlocked the workplace, then waited around for a bit before returning. He still had his manure-stained jacket and pants on. Dongzhou took his time coming back, though. When he did, he had a mostly white shirt displaying the Nike sign and some motto on, along with a white jacket. He had his white cap on from before. Everyone joked that there was some meaning behind this. He had just quietly denied all of the teasing. His mood dampened when he realized that he lost his sunglasses. I feeled bad for him. They were a nice pair of sunglasses. I had joked that if the other car ever stopped along the road again, we knew that Dongzhou was buying another pair of sunglasses.
Our next adventure did not want to be kept waiting. It lay at the Sanjiangyuan National Park Monument. We were careful to apply sunscreen. The sun was threatening sunburn and even making us melt then. I, being forgetful, had applied sunscreen when I was on the steps of the monument. There was a glare, so when the clouds passed over the sun, I was told to hurry it up to get a picture taken. I had a giant blob of sunscreen in my hand. Who could blame me for haphazardly slapping it onto myself and jogging over to where they wanted a picture, only to have the peek around the cloud again? We took nice pictures anyways. Did I mention that it was hot?
We looked around the area, then hurried back to the burning cars. No, they were not actually on fire, but the seats felt like they were. When the car was deemed to be acceptable to ride, or drive in Luosang’s case, we jumped in and drove away. We headed to a river where we could collect stones at. The scariest moments in a car for me had occurred when we were nearly at the river. I wasn’t frightened because I trusted the car and Luosang’s driving skills, but it was a little unnerving to know that one slip of the wheel would cause the car to flip. We were driving down to the river on this risky path. I can’t even call it a road because it was unpaved, unsafe, and it didn’t look like anyone really went on it. We made it out alive. The second fright of the day had arisen when we parked. One of the tires had been punctured by a rock. The perpetrator was still there when we checked the tire. In my head, I just kept thinking, “Oh shoot!” over and over. There was no need for worry, however, because luckily, Luosang had an extra tire. We were told not to panic, and to just go and play with rocks. We gladly did.
For about two hours, we scoured the riverside for unique stones that had interesting patterns, dazzling colors, or something about it that just drawed us to it. I went off on my own with my small bag. When I had collected enough, I checked on everyone else. No one else was ready to go, so I just spent my time singing and skipping stones. I reached a record of seven skips that day. I remembered how the stone had spun, and how it went skipping in the pattern of a “C”, and how fast it had gone. When my arm tired of skipping stones, I had just taken the largest rocks that I could pick up and throw, and tried to make the largest splashes with them. I felt a little insane the way I giggled at the splash, but no one payed any mind. The person closest to me was a long way off.
A crack of thunder split the air in the mountains. I decided that I had had enough of the river, and that we should leave before it began to rain and the paths we took became too slippery. The people still collecting stones wanted to stay just a little longer, Dongzhou was posing in the sand for pictures, and I just stood in despair. I lingered for a while, then started heading for the cars. If it started raining suddenly, I didn’t want to get caught in it. When I was halfway to the cars, the wind picked up. I was in a particularly sandy area, and like little knives, the sand jabbed at my face. My eyes burned, and I didn’t quite favor the taste of sand. Half stumbling, half running, I made it to the safety of the car. I shook myself to get some sand off, and I watched as everyone else struggled to the car. The only thing I had to say was, “I told you so!”
It started raining a few minutes later. Though, by then, the group had made it to the main road. We were safe underway.
We decided that it was dinnertime. We went to the restaurant in the other hotel where we had way too much to eat again. Parking in the shifty garage once more, we headed up. We ordered a few different dishes and much less than last time, because we thought that we learned our lesson. In the middle of the meal, a dish with garlic came. Jingbo was the first to try this, and his reaction to it was near comical. His face turned bright pink, his eyes were tearing up, and he needed a drink really badly. It was so garlicky that it was spicy!
I am a masochist, so of course, I had to try it. My “chopstick game” was not too strong, so I had taken much more of the dish than I wanted. I didn’t want to seem disgusting, so I just took all that I touched. Counting to three and controlling my breathing, I had put the whole chopstickful in my mouth and chewed. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would have been. I swallowed.
Some people stared at me for a little, then continued eating. Accomplished, I casually continued to eat, dropping a comment that it “wasn’t that bad”. Coco’s mom told me that since I thought so, I’d have to eat more of the dish. I politely and hurriedly declined.
We had to finish the plate, though, because wasting food was not an option. We played “Spin the Table”. We spun the rotating glass tray in the center of the table around, and the person that the dish landed on had to eat a part of it. If anyone touched the tray to change results, the person who touched it had to eat the dish. Some people got away with the crime, and others didn’t. Coco wanted to eat some of the garlicky dish, so she had kept touching the tray. We had no choice but to allow her to eat it. Jingbo had the worst luck because the dish always landed on him. Luosang and Randing seemed a little eager when the dish was near them, and we suspected that they actually really liked the dish. The dish also landed between Coco’s mom and the woman from the workplace a lot, and they had great sportsmanship, so they shared. I had been landed on twice. Catherine was allowed to just take a bit from the dish next to the unwanted dish, because she really didn’t want to outdo herself that day. Dongzhou was lucky. It was only on the very last spin that it landed between me and him, and we finished the dish.
The excitement did not end there. When we were on the car ride back, Dongzhou had sent eight pictures on WeChat, then recalled all of them. This suspicious behavior did not slip by our notice. We questioned him about it, asking him who he actually meant to send those pictures to, and seemingly a little too quickly did he respond and say that he was trying to send them to his sister. We teased him about it for the rest of dinner.
We wanted to walk back to our hotel as we did the first time we went to that restaurant. We were ready to go when we saw that it was raining. Rushing down to the parking garage via the stairs, our car was no longer there because Luosang and Randing had already driven away. Frantically calling them, they picked us up and we went back to the hotel to rest for the night. I was not done teasing Dongzhou, though. Over WeChat, I harried him with questions. I learned that no, he did not try to dress fancifully, and he actually did mean to send the pictures to his sister, who would have shown them to his ill mother. Thinking that he wouldn’t joke about this, I just left the topic alone and apologized. We chatted for about an hour before we dropped off to sleep. The final full day in the Tibetan Plateau had ended.
On the morning of August 4, I quickly packed all of my belongings, and headed down to eat breakfast. When I returned to my room, I did a final sweep of the room, and decided that I had not forgotten anything. We held a meeting, and determined that we would meet up at a certain time so we could head towards the airport, and stop at a few places of interest along the way.
Everyone left, and Coco stayed. Once more, Catherine, Coco, and I were left to be bored. We were entertained as students in the elementary school in front of the hotel happily ran around a track and did exercises. We were further amused as we saw that part of their exercises included dancing. They danced pretty well too. This reminded me of the time we were in the tent, and Dongzhou danced for us. The arm movements looked similar, and they had the same energy. Did they do the same dance, or are they completely different? I did not know, but it was a possibility that he learned the dance he did at the tent at school.
Too soon did we head out. We ate fast food for lunch. We were reminded that fast food did not exist in the Tibetan Plateau before the earthquake, and only after the earthquake did businesses, like the fast food restaurant we went to, begin to pop up. The culture was slipping away with these types of businesses, and along with the culture, the safety of the environment there went as well. People once took things from the Earth, and returned them to the Earth in the Tibetan Plateau. Now, they take man-made items and feed it to the Earth like a poison. The worst part was that people were not educated about this pollution. The thought of another New York City, or worse, Beijing, frightened me. I did not want to see this magnificent location breathing fresh air and teeming with lively animals become a place where everything was choking on a thick smog, and animals only lived in zoos. If a yak there even so much as knew what a zoo was, I promise that I will find a way to return it to its natural habitat, or at least in the care of the people in the Tibetan Plateau who still lived a healthy lifestyle rich with culture.
Our last hours in Yushu were spent sightseeing. We had all of our luggage in the trunk of the car. The target location was the Wencheng Princess Temples, but we passed an earthquake-wrecked building on the way, and we were not able to resist taking a few pictures. This building was all angles, and it was strange to think that this was once full of people and colorful. Some color remained, but parts of it were completely covered in dust. We wanted to stay on schedule and have a chance to see more later, so we left for the Wencheng Princess Temples.
We had stayed just outside a temple because we did not know what to do if we went inside. We waited for Dongzhou, Luosang, and Randing to finish paying their respects, and then we had went back to the cars. Due to the fact that we did not have enough time, we didn’t climb to the top of a nearby mountain, but I had looked up, and I said, “One day.”
After a short conversation between the two cars, it was agreed that we would see the world’s largest black yak wool tent to spend the rest of our free time. This was my chance to finally see the inside of one of these tents after the lost opportunity in the mountains the day we collected and tested the water samples. My first inside glimpse of one of these tents, and I was presented with the honor of seeing the largest one in the world! The name was only a mirage because these tents only existed in the Tibetan Plateau, but this tent seemed like it had time lord science, because it seemed much larger on the inside. Its grandeur left me utterly speechless, and for a while, I just walked around the inside and looked at everything it contained. Around the edges of the tent, there were couches and tables. The tables all contained a fancy setup, and I believe that I even saw a bowl or two of fake fruit. Or perhaps it was real. I never knew. In the center, there were tall stoves that were fueled by yak manure. These were just for show, though. There was also what I guess could be called a fancy version of a mortar and pestle that made the powder for Tsamba. We were shown how to work it (you just grabbed the handle, then spin the top around in circles to create the powder), and after the demonstration, we played with this contraption and took pictures. There was also a bucket for butter churning. We went through the motions of churning butter, and more pictures were taken.
The plane was going to leave in about an hour. We departed the tent, rushed back to the car, and drove to the airport. I had a fluttery feeling in my heart. This trip was coming to an end. I knew I should have been happy that I was returning to comfort and more technology in Suzhou, but I felt devastated that I had to leave friends that I might not ever see again, who were not allowed to travel outside of China because of their ethnicity and beliefs. I put on a sad smile, hugged Luosang, Randing, and Dongzhou as a farewell, and waved a final time as I passed through security. There was a minor glitch here, but it was nothing that was not easily taken care of. Before boarding the plane, we took pictures outside of the airport.
I took a last good look. It may not have necessarily been my last look there, but it was definitely going to be a long time before I returned. Even if or when I return, not everything will be the same, as I was sure that more development was going to take place. So I just glanced into the mountains, wondered at the blue sky, and saw animals in the clouds as if I was never going to return again in case if that were true. When I committed these images to memory, I submitted myself onto the plane. Takeoff was soon after. I whispered a final farewell that no one heard, then we were in the clouds, heading for Xining. Then Xi’an. And finally, Shanghai. I allowed myself one tear throughout the whole of the way back. “The more I fly, the further away I get,” I remember thinking.
Following the flight to Shanghai, we drove a long way back to Suzhou. By the time we arrived at the apartment, I was ready to just crash. Somehow, I held myself together for half an hour before I surrendered to sleep.
The next two days were spent resting and packing. As a final meeting summarizing the trip and a goodbye to me, the people who went on the environmental trip in Suzhou at the time went to a nice and special restaurant for dinner. We shared what we learned, our thoughts, our feelings, and anything else that we wanted to say. I said more goodbyes when we were going to leave, this time to Coco and her family.
On the last day, I went with Catherine’s family and Jingbo to eat noodles for lunch. Afterward, we dropped Catherine and Aileen off at the apartment, then we drove to the Shanghai Pudong Airport, where I said my last farewells of the trip.
The flight back to America was just as painful as the one leaving America on the emotional and physical level. Aside from the fact that I had to wait an hour and a half in the plane before we took off because of air traffic, I just kept flying further and further away.
I breezed through security with another worker at the airport. Speaking in all English felt strange on my tongue. I felt intense Chinglishing in my near future.
I was reunited with my dad at last. “Hey dad,” I said. He had replied with a smile and a nod the way that he does.
When I got onto my car, I felt the trip end there.
I emailed my friends in the Tibetan Plateau as soon as I was able to. We have kept touch since then.
Catherine, Aileen, and their father had returned to America on August 11. Four days after their return, they held a pool party. There, we had fun, because fun at parties is always a must, but we had also discussed the trip. I was told then that we had made it onto a few Chinese news sites. Accomplished, I asked my dad to show me the articles that night. Memories flooded back as I heard my dad read the news out for me.
Here is the story of my trip to China. It is yet to be completed, for I will still be working towards improving environmental awareness in the Tibetan Plateau with my fellow teammates. One day, I will fly closer and closer again to see Yushu, and I hope that I will still see the green mountains and a strong infusion of their fascinating culture.