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The New World: Part I, Along the Way

January 3, 2013

[Readers Note: This post is part of  The New World—a thematic series of writings and reflections on travel & exploration. Travel light.]

經驗. jīngyàn. experience.

Wutaishan, Shanxi

Wutaishan, Shanxi

Variables in life’s basic formula have always possessed an essence of intrigue, beauty and madness. The “un’s” — unknown, uncertainty, unpredictable, and unexpected are simply part of this equation. The spectrum of these variables can be defining. In other words, how open one is to experience varies greatly from individual to individual. Ideological barriers and societal pressures often manufacture fear, comfort and conformity that limit life’s variables and define experience. Basic elements, such as the need for shelter, clothing, food have generated a world of currency, industry and commerce that is inseparable from our own daily lives–and these too can limit the range of “un’s”, and variables of experience.  I do not take the position that one who travels the world and the seven seas has an experience more full, valuable or greater than one who lives and dies by the plow. For one mans soil is another’s footpath.

The horse trekking guide from Langmusi was correct, they were not selling bus tickets to foreigners at Langzhou for travel into Langmusi. So I made my way towards the bus parking-lot, asked a few questions, and paid a Chinese bus driver some RMB. He indicated a small tour bus where I laid low in a seat towards the back for thirty minutes or so. The bus would soon be heading south ~240km, towards a small dusty transport-hub and village called Hezuo. From here I would connect to another bus towards Langmusi. As I mentioned, one of my interests on this trip was visit grasslands. Open space was beckoning.

When we arrived in Hezuo I learned that the ‘connecting’ bus towards Langmusi had already left. There was only one scheduled bus a day that departed around noon. I made my way towards what seemed to be the only restaurant in town, ordered a bowl of steaming noodles and sat down to eat. There were few people around, aside from a table full of young adults sitting nearby. I noticed that they were wearing a strange costume–what seemed to be an oversized and thick bathrobe of earthy tones. Later, I learned this to be a traditional Tibetan outfit worn by the males. They noticed the foreigner, and several minutes later one of these thick-long black haired and sun burnt individuals asked in decent English if I wanted to join them at their table. We exchanged basic greetings and I learned that most of them were students at a nearby school. After lunch we climbed up a small hill decorated in Tibetan prayer flags.  It was dry, and not much greenery, but we sat here anyway—-the primary colors of small flags attached along a string fluttered in the hot-breeze and we looked out towards the hills. It was the first time I had ever heard the Tibetan spoken language.

I was invited to the school, and watched as many of the younger students participated in a traditional dance–locking arms, circling and kicking their feet into the air. I enjoyed the music, filled with the rapid plucking of strings and high-pitched vocals. I was asked to join.  My new friends had taking a liking to the foreigner, and the ease of their welcoming was apparent. And as the afternoon continued, slowly, this place became more than a hot and dusty transport hub. The connecting bus was long gone, and momentarily so would any of the plans that I originally had.

“Do you want to go with my friend to his home,” asked the same student who approached me at the restaurant, “his family is nomadic. Nomadic family. He leaves tomorrow on a bus.”

This one I wouldn’t miss.


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