It may never again be the case that my weekly schedule includes two of the same day, a Groundhog Day-esque situation where déjà-vu is on the agenda. I can easily get lost in every activity and duty I have this week, but times like these need to be relished. We are crossing the International Date Line tomorrow night, and our previous time travel attempts will suddenly be trumped by massive proportions. We've started a trend of contemplating yesterday in order to make sense of today, and in the spirit of doing so, I need to take a minute and remember the massive country I visited just a few weeks ago.
The rain created an unpleasant ambiance outside but an "oh" so glorious one in the cabin as we pulled into Hong Kong. I snoozed until the large, loud buildings burst my dream bubble with their antennas, and I crawled up to breakfast for a priceless view of a very wet city. Unfortunately, this wonderful moment in time came with a bitter tragedy, as we congregated in the Union to learn about the Virginia Tech shootings. To be comforted by the Archbishop was a moving experience that sadly had to occur.
After a talk and a moment of silence, Hong Kong beckoned us to its more authentic locations where the Chinese influence resonates audibly. Garrett, Alexis, and I boarded the cleanest bus we had seen in months to explore the great Kowloon Walled City Park, set up the hill away from the city life. Garden pagodas littered the natural paradise, which provided an arena for many to practice Tai Chi. A leisurely walk down the road led us to a temple complex for Buddhists, Confucians, and Taoists worshippers, and the colors and sounds were invigorating to every sense.
After soaking in the exotic ambiance and hitting up the Ladies market, Alexis and I prepped our lovely selves for a night on the town of all towns. Two hip American ladies in colorful dresses strutted along the waterfront to view the city light up with flare, and then we hopped on a ferry, a bus, and a subway to the nightlife district.
The next morning started a non-stop travel fest where Alexis and I, equipped with massive backpacks, took every form of transportation imaginable, excluding horseback transport. When I awoke the next morning on a sleeper bus with the smell of feet and smoke engrained in my nose, I was in Lijang, China, a beautiful city adjacent to the most spectacular craggy, snow-covered mountain. After applying layers of clothing in the parking lot, we began to tackle a very sleepy city at 5 am.
The old town was at the least picturesque, with long stony streets lined with antique architecture and winding rivers reminiscent of old European cities. It might have been my imagination, but every little stray dog that scurried by looked oddly like a dragon. Taking a moment to enjoy the morning traffic, we stopped at a nearby Tibetan restaurant and ate a breakfast I continue to fantasize about. Vegetarian dumplings and steamed rice…as Dad would have described it as a culinary extravaganza.
The Black Dragon Pool park, on the outskirts of the town, showed us once again that nature reigns supreme over all, with calm ponds that reflected the omnipresent mountains in the distance. I bought an ink painting near the entrance by an artist who paints with his palms and is known throughout Asia for his skill. The depth and mood of the work that I picked was dreary and mysterious, completely opposite of the physical space I was viewing. Monkeys and peacocks ran amuck to thrill the tourists, but my favorite moments did not include the "wildlife" but the cool stones in the shade where I laid back for a nap.
The students painting the surrounding landscapes made me feel I was in the presence of true inspiration Another tasty Tibetan meal later, we were on a five hour bus ride towards the borders of Myanmar, Tibet, and mainland China. The streets of Dali at night were an incredible sight to behold: rooftops lined with Christmas lights, women dressed in mountain Sherpa cultural apparel, and brilliant pagodas lit from beneath. Our window shopping flew to a halt when a sudden rainstorm blew into town for sixty seconds and receded back into the mountains as fast as it had come.
We welcomed the night, anticipating the most pleasant sleep in days, which unfortunately only lasted about five hours because the mountains called our names in the early morning. We took an incredibly bumpy rickshaw ride to the cable cars that scaled up the steep and leafy mountain side, and once we reached the top, market vendors, restaurateurs, and policemen were waiting for us. The views from the mountain were hazy and grand, especially from where we scaled the ancient cliff side dwelling near the summit. The altitude made this five minute hike the most draining length to date, but the destination made all the wheezing worthwhile.
Luck missed us on our descent when they decided to oil the cable lines and cause us to miss our check out time at the hostel. Then came Beijing...