Friday, 31 July 2009

China & Tibet, Part II: On The Roof Of The World

The retrospective travelogue continues. After having experienced China's refined traditions, with its silk dresses and jasmin tea, now was the time to visit Tibet, a much more hardbitten culture, 3700 meters above sea level, consisting of proud mountain people in garments made of yak wool.

18.07: Plane from Chengdu to Lhasa


The first day in Lhasa we visited Norbulingka, the summer residence of the Dalai Lamas. In the evening we had dinner in downtown Lhasa and walked in the old city, Barkhor, watching pilgrims waving their characteristic prayer wheels. Finally, we admired the magnificent Potalá Palace at dusk (one of Tibet's very few traditional buildings that weren't destroyed by rabid red guards during the cultural revolution).

Potala by night

19.07: The Jokhang Temple

View towards the Drepung Monastery

In the morning we made a little pilgrimage (Kora) around the monastery Drepung, situated in the mountainside outside Lhasa. After lunch we visited Jokhang, Lhasa's and Tibet's holiest temple, followed by a short Kora around the temple, in the old town Barkhor.

On the roof of the Jokhang temple

20.07: Bus from Lhasa to Shigatse

Riding a yak bull by the Yamdrok Lake

This day we had a looong bus ride through glorious sceneries from Lhasa to Tibet's second largest city, Shigatse, passing the Kambala pass and the holy Yamdrok lake about 4000 meters above sea level. Afterwards we crossed the Karola pass (5045 meters above sea level - and with a view to snowclad mountains at more than 7000 meters!). We made a stop in the little, dusty town of Gyantse, with a pagoda and a market, before we checked in at our hotel in Shigatse.

Wading at 4000 meters above sea level

Shigatse is the traditional place of residence of Tibet's second highest ranking cleric after the Dalai Lama: the Panchen Lama. When the previous Panchen Lama died from a "heart attack" in 1989, Dalai Lama appointed his reincarnation and successor, but of course the Chinese occupation authorities couldn't have that. They kidnapped the 6-year-old boy (making him the world's youngest political prisoner...), and picked out another Panchen Lama instead.

When we got to Shigatse, we disovered that the governmentally approved (and fake) Panchen Lama was visiting the city just then. He was even having dinner at our hotel the same evening, and we could virtually sense his (fake) presence...

21.07: The Tashilhunpo Monastery

The Tashilhunpo complex in Shigatse

In the morning we visited the Tashilhunpo Monastery, the headquarters of the Panchen Lamas. Then we went by bus back to Lhasa. Along the way we visited a Tibetan family, serving yak butter tea (yuk!) and the Tibetan daily fare tsampa (not that bad...).

22.07: The Potala Palace

Back in Lhasa we visited the Potalá Palace, the traditional residence of the Dalai Lamas, which the Chinese now have turned into a museum.

In the afternoon we visited the Sera Monastery, watchingh monks debating lively and chanting their mantras. After having visited so many temples and monasteries during our stay in Tibet, it was interesting finally to gain insight into the practical life of the monks as well.

23.07: Plane from Lhasa back to Beijing

Then it was time to leave Tibet and go back to the real China. I had a long flight and an early night

During great parts of my stay in Tibet I'd had some trouble with altitude sickness (headache, nausea and fever). Suddenly reaching 4000 meters above sea level obviously takes its toll! It was all rounded off with a delicious dose of diarrhoea the last couple of days...

24.07: Last day in Beijing

The flight from Lhasa to Beijing had been rather exhausting, so I took it easy during most of the day (but treated myself to a McDonald burger - after two weeks I felt an urge for "normal" food again). In the evening we had a common dinner - with Peking duck! - and a nice goodbye party with the other travellers.

All in all it was a great travel. All travellers got well along (although I did feel that one shouldn't get too involved in political discussions with all of them...). And I had more exciting experiences in these two weeks than I usually have in two months (or two years...). Although it was nice coming back home again, I already miss all the experiences and impressions of this amazing travel
. China - and particularly Tibet - 4Ever!

Sunday, 26 July 2009

China & Tibet, Part I: In The Middle Kingdom

As I now have returned from two amazing weeks in China and Tibet, here's a retrospective travelogue. I was originally hoping to publish updates along the way, but it turned out to be impossible. The rumours are true: The Chinese authorities efficiently block access to websites like Facebook, YouTube and Blogger. I guess it's only natural to prevent everything that might be a "threat to the nation". Such as freedom of speech...

11.07: The Summer Palace

The summer palace Yiheyuan: The Empress' residence

Anyway. In the morning of 11 July I landed at Beijing International Airport ( with its 1 million square meters, one of the world's largest buildings). After a long flight I felt most like getting to a hotel room and brushing up, but the tour operator had prepared a crammed program from Day One: After being introduced to our courier and the other 20 Scandinavians I was going to travel with for the next two weeks, we were immediately transported to our first adventure: A visit to the Emperor's summer palace. After crossing the Kunming Lake in a "dragon boat", we were able to admire Empress Cixi's residence and have a 700 meter long "romantic promenade" along the lake. Afterwards we had a common dinner with many small dishes on a rotating table. There'd be quite a few of those during our stay...

12.07: The Great Wall

The Great Wall by Badaling

In the morning we visited a pearl factory/shop. Then we went to Sisanling ("The Thirteen Tombs"), where thirteen of the sixteen emperors from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) are buried. In the afternoon it was time for one of the travel's many highlights: An excursion to The Great Wall! We walked up a strikingly steep stretch for about an hour before turning around. It's said that walking on the Wall makes you a whole person. Don't know about that. Me, I just felt like a worn person. On the way home we visited a cloisonné shop (vases decorated with copper threads filled with mineral colours) before being brought back to our hotel.

13.07: The Forbidden City

Tiananmen Square

Early in the morning we went to the Heaven's Temple, surrounded by a park that was popular for activities like couple dances, taiqi, qigong, ball games etc.

Then we visited the monumental and almost agoraphobic Tiananmen Square, filled with uniformed and plain clothes police everywhere. We also entered The Forbidden City, with lots of impressive imperial buildings.

14.07: Flight Beijing - Xi'an

The Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi'an

This day was mainly a transport lap, going by plane from Beijing to the old capital Xi'an a bit further west. Personally I didn't find Beijing a particularly charming city per se. Due to his discontent for anything old, Mao, that sod, decided that the old city wall should be torn down. Instead the city was to be modernized with Los Angeles, of all ugly places in the world, as a model. The result is several separate districts, connected by diffuse traffic machines. - Fortunately, Xi'an, on the other hand, has kept its old city wall and a lot of its distinctive features.

15.07: The Terracotta Army

The terracotta army in Xi'an

After visiting a jade factory it was time for yet another of the highlights of the travel: Visiting the excavation area of the many thousands of life size terracotta soldiers from Emperor Qin's era (210 BC).

In the evening we had a common dinner and enjoyed a spectacular show with singing, music and dancing from the days of the Tang dynasty (618 - 907).

16.07: Flight Xi'an - Chengdu

Xi'ans city wall

After a walk on Xi'an's city wall, we had a flight further westwards to Chengdu in the Sichuan province.

The Sichuan population seemed much more friendly and extrovert than their compatriots in the east. The food was rather different, too. At that time I was getting a bit fed up with the tasty, but slightly colourless dishes we'd been served in Beijing and Xi'an (but I was really getting the hang of using chopsticks!). The Sichuan food was much hotter, but that suited me just fine right now. It was about time for some slightly more explosive culinary experiences.

17.07: The Panda Reservation in Chengdu

This day we visited a panda reservation, where we met many cute and cool giant pandas. Afterwards we paid a visit to the house of the famous poet Du Fu. We also dropped by at a factory/shop with silk embroidery/brocade. Dinner consisted of a Sichuan "hot pot", at which we made our own sauce and boiled the ingredients ourselves in a pot on the table. A hot experience!

In the evening we went to a Sichuan opera, with singing, dancing and playing, plus a "finger shadow show", a puppet show, and a fascinating "mask theatre". I still don't understand how they manage to change their masks so quickly!

18.07: Flight Chengdu - Lhasa
After a week in the "real" China it was now time to visit Tibet. In many ways these two weeks were two travels in one. Tibet turned out to belong to an entirely different world, when culture, nature, history and religion were concerned. A travelogue from this amazing country follows soon...

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Sun, Sea and Skerries

The first sixteen years of my life, summer was synonymous with our holidays at the cottage. A carefree time. And I still associate this season with ice cream, Disney magazines, the fragrance of wet flagstones after a nocturnal shower, cinnamon buns in the sun wall, excursions to Storesand (the world's best beach), fishing trips in the boat, and card fames in the evening, while we were watching the flashing lighthouses in the skrerries.

These memories instantly return during my excursions to the islands of the Oslo fjord. The other day I was told about the renovated "sea spa" at Bygdøy, and I decided to go there. I went off the 60 bus at the Royal Estate, and discovered a footpath trough the woods. After a while I got to a road totally without any pavement or shoulder, and consequently mortally dangerous for us pedestrians. (This too brought back memories from my childhood's summers...) Soon I was surrounded by tall, slender pine trees - a clear indication that I was approching the sea.

It turned out that Bygdøy sea spa had become quite inviting, with a nice sandy beach that reminded me of the legendary Storesand. And the water was salty and refreshing, with a pleasant temperature for these latitudes. Lovely days like these, with swimming and sun bathing, make you as carefree as the summers of your childhood.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Happy Summer, Skullerud!

Better late than never: Almost three weeks have passed since my class had their end-of-term celebration. As always, the students brought with them lots of tasty food (an Indian woman had been cooking for 5 hours!), and we had a great time together the last day before the summer holiday. It's always a bit sad, but hopefully I'll get a chance to teach at least some of my students in the autumn as well.

Afterwards there was a joint ceremony for all the classes. The program included a video documentary from our hike around the Østensjø lake, a touching Burmese birthday song for Aung San Suu, and a cool rap and dance performance from one of the classes. Creative teachers. Clever students.

Right now I'm happy to have my holiday, but soon I'll probably start missing my students. I haven't been as happy at a working place for many years. And now that I've got a permanent position, I have an even stronger feeling of belonging. In the difficult question concerning what's best: a despotic tyranny or an administration with human features, my conclusion is that the latter is preferable. Have a great summer, Skullerud! I'll see you in the autumn!