Preparations for travel have been an emotional rollercoaster.

We have been planning on a week or two of travel in China after finishing our teaching.  We had explored eastern China extensively when we were here before.  Since we are already fairly far west, our priority is to explore western China: Tibet, Yunan and the far reaches of the northwest bordering Mongolia, Central Asia and the end of the Great Wall.  It is very hot in Xian (90 to 100 F) and going to the Gobi desert is not attractive.  However, the cooler highlands of Tibet and Yunnan are a good choice.  We would like to get out to the Mt. Everest base camp.  The description in the guidebook sound like it would take 5 days to get there by jeep and may involve some trekking and staying in very basic accommodations.  We do not have our sleeping bags or backpacks with us and feel that we may be under-equipped to do this.  We could rent gear in Lhasa.

We had mentioned these ideas to Gao Yuan and she suggested meeting with her travel agent friend to make arrangements.  We were going to meet in late June, but there were scheduling conflicts and the meeting didn’t take place until July 14.  Tyler’s last class was July 21 and we wanted to start traveling as soon after that as possible.

We discussed several options with the travel agent.  There are flights from Zhongdian in northwest Yunan to Lhasa and this looked like a good itinerary.  However, we need to get permission before we can buy tickets to Tibet.  If we left from Zhongdian, it would have to go through the police there and that would be a slow process.  There are a few flights each week from Xian directly to Lhasa.  If we did that, we could do all the paperwork locally.  We talked about independent travel versus a guided tour.  It looks like we do not have enough time to get permission for independent travel.  After our discussion, the travel agent sent a fax in Chinese to Gao Yuan with descriptions of a six day tour and an 11 day tour.  The six day tour has the first and last days as travel days, with two days based in Lhasa.  There is an overnight in Shigatse (Tibet’s second city) and an overnight somewhere else.  We can’t figure out where, since the Chinese names do not match the Tibetian names in our guidebook.  The 11-day tour is an extension of the 6-day that takes us to Everest base camp.  There are two overnights at a good hotel in Tingze, then we get to the Everest base camp as a day trip from there.  After a little consideration, we decided on the 11-day option and on Friday instructed Gao Yuan to book it starting July 25.

Fran has been getting over a cold (Tyler had one the previous week) so we took it easy on Saturday.  On July 18 and 19 we planned to travel to Luoyang to see the Longmen caves.  We took a taxi to the train station, then stood in line to buy tickets.  We got the tickets and had about 45 minutes before departure, so we caught lunch near the station.  Then we went upstairs to wait until they opened the gates for the train.  We waited for half an hour, then the sign announced a delay of 20 minutes.  I realized that there was another train that we could have bought tickets for that left while we were waiting.  Then our train was delayed for another 10 minutes, and another 20 minutes.  We tried to switch tickets for a train departing sooner, but there was no time to do the paperwork and we were not allowed to board the train to let the conductor make adjustments.  After out train had been delayed for more than two hours, we gave up on it.  We went to the bus station and found that there was an express bus leaving soon and bought tickets on it.  But when we realized that the bus was leaving at 4:40, not 4:00 and that it took 5 hours, not 4, we realized that we would be arriving too late to see anything or have dinner.  We refunded the bus tickets and went back home to NWU.  We had traveled about 5 and a half hours without getting out of the city.

On Wednesday Tyler taught his last class.  Fran got together with some of the faculty from Environmental Sciences and got some good complements on her teaching.  We had a good morning.  Gao Yuan got on the phone to finalize arrangements for our trip.  There was a problem.  We would not be able to get permission to go to Tibet before July 30 or August 1.  And we can’t buy tickets until we have permission; there may not be tickets available after permission comes through. That would not allow time to do the 11-day trip.  There was another travel agent that she had checked with who had proposed a 4-day trip. That travel agent claimed to be able to get permission to travel by July 25.  We could go to Lhasa and arrange a trip to Everest on our own.

Not being able to do the longer trip to Tibet was a disappointment.  We didn’t trust that the other travel agent could really get things together.  After a bit of consideration, we decided to do a trip to Yunnan, then go directly to Tibet and fly home the next day.  We would go to Luoyang Thursday and Friday, pack on Saturday, then start traveling on Saturday.  Dr. Zhou had invited us to dinner Wednesday evening.  But that was postponed to a lunch on Thursday, leaving us feeling a bit bummed out on Wednesday.  Plus the laptop computer quit working on Tuesday,  It has received very heavy use, mainly for lecture preparation.  It is also our CD and DVD player and one of our ways to get to e-mail and the web (when the connection works in the apartment).  In the evening, Tyler went over to the Computer Science building and checked out the Bike China web site.  There was a description of a Yunnan tour from Zhongdian (which has Tibetans, high elevation, and yaks) to Tiger Leaping Gorge to Lijang.  This sounded like something we could pull off rather easily with our folding bikes and could be a good  substitute for Tibet.

Thursday we had a farewell banquet at lunch.  Gao Yuan met us and led us to the cafeteria where we have had most of our meals.  We were wondering what was going on, but then we went through another door to a private dining room.  The president of the University, Dr. Zhou and six other people from Environmental and Computer Science ate with us and offered toasts.  We were drinking a good Chinese red grape wine, a new experience.  The Chinese use “wine” to mean anything alcoholic and most of it is quite strong.  The banquet featured lots of seafood dishes and was very good.  We had a warm send-off and got some appreciative comments about our teaching, with the hope that we will return next year.  We came away feeling good.

Gao Yuan was more encouraging about being able to do the six-day Tibet trip.  Thursday afternoon, she came to our room and spent most of the afternoon on the phone.  We book flights from Xian to Kunming and Kunming to Lijang.  Then we found that there were no flights back from Lijang.  We paid a small cancellation fee and went from Xian to Lijang on the same day, then were able to make connecting flights.  Assuming that the August 1 to August 6 dates will work for Tibet, we wanted a flight back home on August 7.  There were no seats available on August 7 or 8.  And we can’t reroute via Shanghai or Vancouver since that would put us on a different airline.  The only option for coming back on August 8 was to upgrade to first class.  We decided that an extra $200 was not bad for a 12 hour flight.  By late afternoon, we had everything worked out.  Tyler went to the bank and withdrew a large pile of cash.  The biggest banknote is 100 Yuan, so this was a stack of 200 bills.  Gao Yuan took the money and came back with our tickets before dinner.

However, we have mixed emotions.  We both feel that we have spent plenty of time in China and are looking forward to coming home to the States.  Fran goes back to work August 16 and wanted to have a couple weeks to play in the mountains before returning.  August 8 seemed like too late to leave China.  When Gao Yuan returned with the tickets, we asked her to try to find seats home on August 3, 2 or 4 and cancel the Tibet trip.  She will look at that the next morning.

We went out for dinner Thursday evening and talked over our options, including the impacts of returning on August 3 or 8.  When we woke up Friday morning, we both independently decided that we preferred to stick with the Tibet trip.  We told Gao Yuan to stick with the current plans.

Friday morning we took the bus to Luoyang.  We looked around town in the late afternoon and evening, including hearing some Chinese opera at an informal outdoor performance.  The next morning we visited the Longmen caves.  They are more of a carved cliffside than caves, with thousands of Buddhas from 500 to 700 AD.  The sculptures were impressive, though the weather was very hot.

Our itinerary:

July 25: fly to Kunming and Lijang

July 29: Fly LijangKunming, leaving at 10:20 PM

July 31: Fly KunmingChengdu

Aug 1: Fly ChengduLhasa

Aug 6: Fly Lhasa – Xian, maybe via Chengdu

Aug 8: 7:50 Xian to Beijing; 12:50 BeijingSan Francisco; 14:50 San FranciscoSeattle.

 

We will plan to use Internet cafes to send updates.  Looking forward to being home soon!

- Tyler and Fran.