So before my flight from Seattle to Beijing was a half hour old there was an “incident”. I was switching out my contacts for my glasses and my contact lense case slippped between the space between my arm rest and the seat. I stuck my arm down the space to grab the contact case and my arm got stuck. As I was trying to free myself, I got a horrible cramp on my inner left thigh. I was in agony. I finally freed my arm, but not before I ended up with gashes on both hands and a huge bruise on my right hand. Once free I proceeded to hop up and down trying to stretch out my leg to get rid of the cramp. By the end of it, there were two flight attendants trying to help me. What a bloody disaster.
Fortunately, that was the low point of the flight. The remainder of the flight was lovely and we arrived ahead of schedule in Beijing. I breezed through immigration and customs and then proceeded to exit the arrivals hall and take the escalator upstairs to check in for my flight to Xining. Since I was flying a completely different airline (China Eastern), Hainan could not check me in all the way to Xining. No matter, it was pretty easy to check in and make my way through security.
Now the downside. My flight to Xining did not leave for 3 hours and it was all I could do to keep my eyes open. The 15 hour time difference is a bit of a killer. Once on the flight, we took off on time (8:55 p.m.) and arrived 3 hours later. I managed to sleep for most of the 3 hours, which was quite amazing given that there was some kind of celebrity sitting beside me. No idea who he was, but young girls kept coming up from behind us and asking to take a picture with him. (I should have asked the flight attendant, but was too tired to make the effort).
Now a little bit about why I was flying to Xining. Xining is at the base of the Tibetan plateau at an elevation of 7,200 feet. Because I am going to Lhasa with an elevation of 11,450 feet, the guidebooks recommend adjusting to the altititude by staying at Xining for a couple days and then taking the train to Lhasa over the Tibetan plateau. So I took the advice and found myself arriving in Xining after 15 hours in the air.
Anyway, I collected my luggage and went in search of a cab to take me to the Sofitel Hotel where I was staying for 2 nights. Before I left, I had one of our attorneys write out the name of the Sofitel Hotel in Mandarin so I could at least convey to the cabbies where I wanted to go.
So when I approached the line of cabs, I handed over my little printout and was immediately told 130 yuan. Now I immediately knew I was being scammed because the from what I had read, the price should have been no more than 100 yuan (about 15 USD). I shook my head, wrote down 100 and all of the cabbies laughed. I stood my ground and no one budged. So …. I turned around and began walking away towards the entrance to the airport where there was a bus heading into town. About a minute passed before I heard a commotion behind me. I turned and saw the cabbies waving me back. OK then. 100 yuan it would be.
Thirty minutes later, I was dropped off at the hotel. I checked in and literally crawled into bed and slept for 7 hours. Once up, I grabbed some breakfast and then made plans to take in two sites in Xining: Ta’er Temple aka Kumbum Monestary and Dongguan Grand Mosque. (Quite frankly these were the only two sites two see in the city apart from Qinghai Lake, which was a 3 hour drive away.)
The hotel ordered a driver for me and by 10:30 I was on my way to the temple, about 40 minutes drive south of Xining. The drive to the temple was actually really nice. It was a sunny day and it gave me a great opportunity to see some landscape outside the city.
Now another interesting part of the drive was my driver. A young twenty something who spoke zero English. But that was not a barrier. He had this cool app on his phone that allowed him to speak Chinese into the phone and it automatically translated it into English. I would then speak into the phone and it would automatically translate my English into Chinese. It was simply awesome. When I get home, I am going to be doing some research about this app to find out if it will translate into other languages. (And as the day went on, I ran into a number of people with the app so it made it really easy to communicate with folks.)
So a little bit about the temple. It was located Lushaer Town 25 km from Xining. The temple dates to 1357 when a memorial tower was constructed on the site. In 1560, the 3rd Dalai Lama stopped near the site of the tower and requested that a larger monastery be constructed. The monastery was completed in 1583 and named Kumbum Jampa Ling. “Kumbum” means “100,000 roaring lion Buddhas” (according to the sign at the site). There are apparently 30 temples and over 1,000 residences at the site.
There were 10 sites listed on the map and they were all up hill. Fortunately, each site had an English sign so it made it easy to wander around and understand what each building was about. There were various prayer halls and temples going by names such as the Defenders of Buddhism Hall, Longevity Temple, Grand Gold Tiled Hall and on and on.
As I wandered around, it became apparent that I was the only Westerner in the crowd so I became a bit of a novelty act. People wanted to take pictures with me, stare at me and just have a chat. One guy even pointed his video camera at me a followed me for a minute or so. THAT was creepy.
I ended up spending a couple hours at the site. It was very interesting site and lots of pilgrims doing a lot of bowing, laying on the ground and chanting. And of course, there were monks everywhere.
When I was done, I was supposed to call my driver to come pick me up, but when I went to turn on my phone, it was dead. Uh oh. I stood on the street for about 15 minutes not knowing what to do, but a nice young Tibetan kid came to my rescue. He, of course had the cool conversation app and once he found out my predicament, called my driver and saved the day. Ten minutes later I was back in the car and headed back to Xining.
We made quick stop at the Dongguan Mosque, which was an interesting combination of middle eastern architecture with a Chinese overlay. The mosque was originally built in 1380 and had two huge minarets as well the standard dome in the middle. We arrived shortly after Friday prayers so there were many, many worshippers still in and around the area. The majority of the worshippers are Hui, who have a distinctive look (almost Mongolian in appearance).
Anyway, I did a once around the mosque, grabbed a bottle of water and some cookies from a nearby bakery and called it good.
Once back at the hotel, I opted to go for a massage. I was hoping for something kind and gentle and ended up with a massage that only a masochist could love. “Deep tissue” was apparently code words for beat up the Westerner. My right arm is bruised from just short of my wrist to my elbow. Now, I will give the woman credit because she really loosened up my back muscles after that long 15 hours of air travel, but then she went to town on my poor arms. Brutal. All I kept thinking was “I’m paying for this??” And of course she spoke no English so despite my asking her to go softer, I got nowhere. Serves me right. I have yet to have a good massage in an Asian country. It seems that the cultural norm is do a once over on your muscles rather than give you a relaxing rub down. I should have known by now.
So with a battered and bruised body, I went for some dinner and called it a night. One more day in Xining and then I catch the 7:45 p.m. train for Lhasa on Saturday night.