Do You Want Yak Dung With Your Noodles?
A Portlander in Tibet
By Jeff Tryens
October 31, 2012Actually we had no choice. A Tibetan nomad’s life is all about Yak including dung, lots of dung. The women collect the dung, dry the dung, chop the dung, feed the dung into the stove and, of course, prepare all the meals with the same bare hands.
Luckily nomad families also apparently boil everything before eating or drinking so dung just becomes another flavor enhancer. Way less harmful than MSG, I’m sure.
Experiencing the life of Tibetan nomads was certainly the high point of our China adventure. After my performance management conference in Lanzhou, Pat and I headed out to explore the Tibetan area of Gansu Province. Six hours by bus got us to Langmusi (Lamusee) where we had signed up for a three-day horse trek including “home stays” with a nomad family.
Off we went down main street, riding our Tibetan horses in our Tibetan coats with a guide who spoke no English. The landscape was vintage eastern Oregon with golden meadows and rocky mountains - topped by makeshift Buddhist shrines. Our first view of the “Ocean of Flowers” was stunning; thousands of rolling acres of gold dotted with too many Yak and sheep to count. Riding through the Yak herds on the way to our family’s tent was just sublime. To top it off, Pat had informed the tour operator that I was an experienced rider so I got to ride a guide’s horse rather than the run-of-the-mill docile variety.
We then proceeded to Xiahe (Shahe), again by bus, to check out the most authentic Tibetan monastery town outside Tibet proper. (So authentic, in fact, that the Chinese have probably closed it to visitors by now after four incidents of self-immolation by Tibetan protesters in the past two weeks.) Surprisingly, we felt free to go anywhere and “talk” to anyone during our entire trip.
After spinning the prayer wheels and listening to the chanting and soaking in the pageantry and contemplating more statues of Buddha than I care to think about, I can safely reaffirm that I don’t have a spiritual bone in my body. Cool stuff but it just doesn’t move me.
Our trip ended in Beijing. Pat found a cozy hostel called the Red Lantern in a neighborhood rich in hutongs (old-timey narrow streets filled with activity). We got the world’s greatest dumplings from the lady on the corner for 20 cents apiece. We were lucky to have beautiful clear skies (no pollution) which meant our visit to the Great Wall was simply spectacular.
The biggest surprise for me was how nice everyone was to us. At the conference, we were treated royally, but, really, everywhere we travelled people went out their way to help us.
I’ll post a China photo album later this week or next; just as soon as we’ve dealt with this little weather event – Hurricane Sandy. What a mess!!!!