Saturday, July 25, 2009

Potala Palace

The Potala Palace is the home of the Dalai Lama and seat of the Tibetan government, at least before the Chinese took over and the Dalai Lama went into exile(1959). The white portion was built in 1649 and the red in 1694. There have been many additions/changes in the intervening years, with each new Dalai Lama making embellishments. Prior to the Chinese takeover there were about 1000 monks living there; now there are about 400. It sits on a hill in Lhasa and is one of the architectural wonders of the world.

During the cultural revolution propagated by Mao Tse Tung many Tibetan cultural monuments were damaged or destroyed by the Red Guards. Our guide and some of the guide books say that the Potala Palace was not damaged because Chou En Lai sent his personal army to surround it and protect it from the Red Guards.

The Potala Palace was its own little world with kitchen, numerous rooms, an apartment for the Dalai Lama, a jail, many chapels and accommodations for the government.

There are strict quotas for the number of visitors allowed per day as well as for the amount of time allowed to be inside. We were required to make an appointment, deliver our passports and were allowed one hour inside the Palace. No photography is permitted inside. One must walk up 354 steps to get to the entrance. Fortunately the steps are not steep and are broken up by ramps. The altitude as you begin this climb is about 12,500 feet.

The inside was confusing and seemed like a giant maze to me as we moved from room to room and floor to floor. We were taken to the Dalai Lama's apartment where the guide proclaimed on the simplicity of it. I suppose one could look at it that way; it was heavily endowed with fabrics on walls, bed, etc. I did wonder a bit at the simplicity theme as the table settings(dinner service) were solid gold. As I remember it was rectangular and perhaps 15 by 30 feet.

When you come out of the Palace you travel a different path and are able to see some of the architectural details closeup. To see more photos go to my website.


David and I were first cousins and as thick as thieves when we had the opportunity. We lived in the same town only briefly, but whenever we got together we picked up where we left off as if we'd never been apart. There was only six months difference in our ages. His mother and my mother were sisters, and our families got together quite regularly, even if we were states apart.

During WWII while my father was overseas my mother and I lived with her parents in a small town in Utah, Brigham City. David and his mother came to visit once that I remember. We would have been about four years old. I don't remember much about the visit except that it was great. We visited them in Phoenix six months to a year later; that I do remember. We went to a drive in theater to see Snow White. I remember when the witch appeared in the mirror I was scared to death. This was the same kid who ran from the theater screaming in fear when King Kong filled the screen. This time I did not run. With David present I couldn't lose face, even if that witch eliminated both of us. At least we'd croak together.

For several years following the war my family lived in southern Idaho; David and his family always lived in Phoenix. Both of our families usually went to Brigham City for one or two weeks at the same time every summer. This continued until we were out of high school. We would go hiking, fishing, shooting, hunting, play foot ball(scrounging up various uncles and cousins to make up teams) and other activities like family picnics in the mountains. One year we went to Yellowstone with our mothers' other sister's family, complete with cousins of our age. We stayed in cabins at Fishing Bridge, which we decided was very poorly named. We discovered a number of large trout right near the bank, in water too deep for us to get into. We tried everything we had in our tackle box as well as Uncle Dave's tackle box to no avail. We even tried snagging them with a large treble hook without result. Then to add insult to injury on the last morning we were there Uncle Leon took his boys (two, our age) fishing in a rented boat on Yellowstone Lake. Probably complete with guide. They got up early in the morning and snuck off like thieves in the night; at least that's how David and I looked at it. Result: Leon and boys many fish, Mike and David, zero.

One time we went hiking part way up the mountains east of Brigham City to an area called Flat Bottom. Flat Bottom was like a dry beach, which is what it is. It is the shoreline of prehistoric Lake Bonneville. Anyway, some friends of our grandparents had a farm part way to Flat Bottom and on that farm was an irrigation pond. We had permission to go up there and fool around, although I don't think they knew what we did. We discovered that this pond was full of lily pads, moss, dead trees and FROGS. David said his dad had frog gigs in the trunk of his car and we should borrow them and gig frogs. For those who have never done this, frog gigs are small(approximately four inches across) and with about four tines. They look like small pitch forks. You put them on the end of a stick, small limb, etc. and presto! Well, you can imagine the result. Uncle Dave had them to gig frogs along the canal banks in Phoenix for frog legs. Whether he ever did that or not I don't know.

David asked his dad if we could borrow his gigs. He said no. This was no problem. Uncle Dave took a nap in the basement every afternoon. After he was asleep David took his car keys, got the frog gigs out of the trunk and then replaced the keys. The next morning we were off to the pond. Like all 13-14 year old boys we had canteens, packs, etc. We got to the pond and got right with the program. The frogs were in big trouble. After awhile. I spotted a frog on a lily pad that I could reach only by going out on a dead tree that was hanging horizontally over the pond, bracing myself on a dead limb and stretching out as far as I could reach. There was a loud CRACK! as the branch broke and I went head first into the scummy mossy pond, of course fully dressed including canteen and pistol belt. I was fished out alright, but now we had a real problem. I had to get dry, descummed and demossed before we could go back to grandma's and replace the stolen frog gigs. We pulled it off; I told Uncle Dave this incident just a few years before he died. He knew nothing about it.

Our mothers' brother Dean lived in Brigham City and introduced us to shooting rats at the City landfill. That was great sport. The land fill was such that there was nothing around it but open space. The best shooting was to go below the landfill and shoot into the landfill so you had a good backstop. Best hunting was in the evening, beginning just as the sun was going down and lasting until dark. I continued this until I was in medical school. We were just doing our civic duty. The City, in some misguided ordnance, stopped it sometime in the 60's. PETA probably put them up to it.

On one of our hikes we discovered a covey of Scaled or Gambel's quail. We promptly went to Dean's office and asked him if there was a quail season in Utah. He said no, there was no season. Before this discussion David had borrowed a .22 from Uncle Dean. I had brought my own gun with me to Brigham City. The next day we gathered up guns, matches, canteens and cooking gear and took a hike up the mountain to Flat Bottom, where we had seen the quail. Sure enough we got into them, flattened several, cleaned them, cooked and ate them. We decorated our hats with quail feathers and continued our hike through the mountain to Mantua, a very small town, got on the highway and hiked back to Brigham City. We arrived at Uncle Dean's office in late afternoon. He took one look at us festooned with quail feathers and asked “Where did you get the quail feathers?” We said we shot quail and ate them. “Using my gun?” “Sure. You said there was no season, so we figured we could have a go at them.” “When I said there was no season, I meant they were totally protected. There is no season ever.” Oh, well. We apologized and Uncle Dean did not make David return the gun.

We moved to Arizona in 1951, landing in Phoenix in September. We rented a house just a few blocks from David, near 16th St and McDowell. The next nine months were really great. We went to the same school and same church. We went Halloweening, school and church dances and parties, scout outings, etc together. Occasionally on a Friday night I would stay at David's and we would get up early(like 0400 early) and ride our bikes to Encanto Park where we would spend all day or at least until we were tired and hungry, whichever came first. I think we sometimes took a lunch if we could con Aunt Mary into making one for us. At Encanto we would fish, ride paddle boats or other boats and generally do great boy things. When the State Fair came along in November we rode our bikes there and had a great time. They had horse races at the State Fair in those days, complete with betting. We thought the races might be fun to watch so we went to the grandstand and just walked in. No one was selling or taking tickets. We sat down in a box at the finish line and watched a couple races. It got boring because of the long time between races, which allowed the bettors time to place their bets and get back to watch the race. When we left there was a ticket taker at the entrance who fortunately was looking for incoming not outgoing traffic. We discovered then that our box seats were worth about $5.00 a pop.

We moved to Tucson when that school year was over. From then on our contact was limited to Brigham City, and times when our families would get together. We did manage to get in some hunting and fishing, ball games and golf. We both took up golf about the 8th or 9th grade. One time David left a putt about 6 inches short and asked if I would give him three blows(blowing with air from his mouth.) Sure, I said, no way could he get the ball in the hole that way. Two puffs and it was in.

We did not see each other as much once we became adults, which is a pity. David was always my David. I love and miss him. I am sure he is waiting for me to join him on an expedition to the Heavenly landfill, frog pond or golf course. And no, I won't give you three blows.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Dude Magoo

Dude Magoo was a registered quarterhorse that I bought from a good friend of mine in Utah. He was a four year old gelding, brown, as you can see in the second picture. In this picture, taken in Utah with the young Old Cowboy on him, his mane was growing from having been roached. Dude's sire was a Utah running quarterhorse named Mr Magoo, and his damn was an own daughter of a Texas horse named Royal King, from the 6666 ranch. Royal King was the leading sire of cutting horse dams. I owned two good cutting horses by this mother, Dude Magoo and one other, a mare. When I bought him Dude was well trained for general use as well as cutting.

For the uninitiated cutting is removing one critter, usually a cow, from a herd. Cows are herd animals and do not take kindly to being removed, or “cut”, from their buddies. They try to get back to their friends and that's when the fun starts. The cutting horse's job is to keep the cow from rejoining the herd. The cow can be quick and determined and the horse has to stay between him and the herd. The horse has to be quick, agile, have explosive speed and have a sixth sense about what the cow may do next, This is called “cow sense”, and is something that can't be taught. A good cutting horse has one additional thing: he likes what he does.

Riding a cutting horse while he is cutting a cow is one of the most exciting athletic things I have ever done. You have to hold on to the saddle horn with both hands and don't anticipate what the cow's going to do next. The first time I got on a really good cutting horse I anticipated and soon was plowing up the arena with my shoulder. Not a good idea, even if the spectators enjoyed it.

As you might expect, cowboys started holding contests to see whose cutting horse was the best. Rules evolved so that in a contest the reins must be slack from the point the chosen cow clears the herd and there is no spurring in front of the cinch. Of course as time has passed the prizes for winning have increased dramatically, in both professional and amateur non-pro contests. A champion cutting horse is now worth 6 or 7 figures.

Dude was not an expensive horse. I think I paid $1500 dollars for him. However we won more than our fair share of cuttings, even being Southern Arizona Cutting Horse Association Reserve champion in some category or another, probably novice non-pro. Like in every athletic contest, there is always some guy who tries to buy a championship(see New York Yankees and George Steinbrenner). I loved it when Dude and I whipped guys on their 5 figure horses, including one who had been in the top ten nationally.

Dude liked what he did. I put him in a pasture once with a yearling colt, and Dude proceeded to cut that colt. No rider, no saddle, no bridle, just a horse having fun. We used to practice on goats and kids(human children, not the goat kind). If it moved and tried to get by him, he would cut it.

I used Dude to round up cattle, ride fence, go hunting and for pleasure riding. I even roped off him once in an emergency. He would take care of me. Not all horses will do that. Some look for excuses to shy or buck or look for a low hung branch to scrape you off. Dude was always calm and careful with me. One day we were looking for cattle in some very rough country—so rough I got off and was leading him. I slipped and fell right in front of him. He put one front foot down on my leg and immediately picked it up without putting any weight on that leg. Some horses would have not only put full weight on my leg but kept right on going over me with all four.

Dude Magoo wasn't worth much money, but he was worth an awful lot to me. He was every cowboy's desire—He was a good horse.

A note on the photos
The photo of me sitting on Dude in Utah is a print I found going through old photos. I have no idea who took it or how I got this print, but I am grateful for it. The old photos have very few of me in action riding, branding, cutting, etc. It's one of the hazards of being a photographer. You end up with few photos of yourself.
The photo of me cutting on Dude Magoo was taken in North Phoenix at a trainer's. It was early morning with poor light, at least early, so I chose a special film, Ektachrome 160 with ESP-1 special processing to increase film speed. It did that but at a big cost in stability. The original slide has deteriorated badly. I scanned it and restored it as best I could in Photoshop. Unfortunately this is the best and almost only photo of me and Dude cutting.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Train to Tibet or The Chinese Communists are Alive and Well

The Chinese built a railroad line that runs from Beijing in the east to Lhasa in Tibet. If one were to take the train from Beijing to Lhasa it would take over 48 hours. We elected to fly to Xining in the northwest corner of Qinghai province and there picked up the train to Lhasa. This reduced the trip to about 27 hours. This also helped with our high altitude acclimatization, as we spent a couple of days at 7000 to 16,500 feet before getting to Lhasa(12,500 feet).

The rail bed and track from Golmud to Lhasa is new, having been completed in 2006. This is high elevation, 80% of the line is greater than 13,000 feet high. While much of it is permafrost, the permafrost in some areas does thaw enough to cause slippage if the rails were laid directly on the ground. Consequently much of the line is elevated with large concrete pipes sunk into the ground with ammonia heat exchangers inside the pipes keeping the ground frozen. The cars are not pressurized, but extra oxygen is pumped into them. There is individual oxygen available, at least in some areas.

We left Xining about 8 PM. There were three different types of cars on the train. Soft sleepers which had compartments with doors and soft seats that made up into four pleasant appearing soft beds and, as we discovered later, a genuine none finer at any price western style sit down if you desired porcelain throne in a compartment at the end of the car. The second sleeping car was called a hard sleeper. The seats in these compartments were not that comfortable and made up into six bunks, stacked three on a side. The bunks were in fact hard upon which one laid a very thin pad. There was no door. The toilet compartment at the end of this car contained an Asian style “squatty”, which for the uninitiated is basically a hole in the floor. Great fun to try and hit while the train is moving. The third type of car was a chair car, no bunks at all. There was also a dining car.

We were supposed to be in a soft sleeper, which we had bought and paid for. However, when we boarded the train we were informed that a party of Chinese officials had commandeered our group's soft sleepers and we were relegated to a hard sleeper car. No recourse, no “please” or “thank you”, no reduction in fare. Every Yank or European we talked to on the train had the same thing happen to them.

It was rumored that one couple had paid a bribe and managed to keep their soft sleeper.

There were two Anglo men who were part of our group traveling without their wives, one of whom, Joe, I had known for a long time. These two shared our compartment with us. Joe volunteered to take a top bunk, which we allowed was very kind of him. He replied that it was not so kind, that's where the oxygen was pumped into the car. We had extra bedding, being as how we were only using four of the six bunks, so we hung a sheet across the door. This did not make the Chinese attendant very happy, but we glared her off and she left us alone. We attempted sleep but, true to the name of the car, sleep was hard.

We stopped in Golmud briefly. There was a brief welcoming of the Chinese officials from some Tibetans in native dress and then we went on. As some wag in a Lonely Planet Tibet guidebook put it, the best view of Golmud is in the rear view mirror. It is primarily a Chinese military post. There are a number of “sightseeing stations” between Golmud and Lhasa. I guess sightseeing for the nomads to watch the trains going by because we stopped at none of them. We did see some beautiful mountains, glaciers, a lake and a herd of Tibetan antelope. We also saw a few nomad tents.

We arrived in Lhasa about 10 or 11 PM, after three indifferent meals in the dining car. They carted one of the Chinese officials off and put him in an ambulance. We had seen them sucking extra oxygen from small oxygen tanks in their soft sleeper compartments; perhaps there is some justice in the world after all.

More photos are available on my website.