Saturday, August 29, 2009


Qinghai province of China is a large province in western china between the rest of China and Tibet. It has been fought over between the Tibetans and Chinese for centuries. Although it is culturally Tibetan and over 50% of the people are Tibetan it is currently ruled by China. The provincial capital is Xining.

Qinghai lake is a large lake outside of Xining at an altitude of 11,000+ feet. There is a Tibetan cultural center there, which is a good introduction to Tibet, and a good way to get some acclimatization to the high altitude. This lake reminds me of Bear Lake along the Utah-Idaho border.

The above picture is the entrance to the Tibetan Cultural Center. The monument is a chorten, which are quite common in Tibet and started in India as stupas. They are sort of a reliquary, or at least that's how they started. This is different from most, with a different top. It is home to a snow lion on the base, like many chortens.

The above photo is of a Tibetan nomad tent. We saw some of these from the train in the distance, but not close enough to photograph. We thought about getting one for Matt and Sarah(daughter and son-in-law), but couldn't figure out how to get it in our suitcase(limited to 40 pounds}. Matt would dominate medieval war games with this tent.

This tent is also a nomad tent, much more common than the blue and white ones. I believe it is made from yak hair.

This is a shrine of some sort, with prayer flags hanging from a pole behind the icon.
Prayer flags are very common, of different sorts, hanging from sticks around the country side, from houses and associated with shrines and chortens.

Red cheeked Tibetan baby. The red cheeks are very common, in adults as well. This is due to dryness and increased exposure to ultra-violet light at high altitude.

This is a Tibetan iris, the only native flower we saw. The altitude precludes much in the way of flowers.

This is a classic Tibetan chorten. Note the snow lions. This top is typical, with the globe and crescent.

This is another classic--prayer flags on a tall pole. This is actually next to the chorten shown above. Qinghai Lake, in the background,is a salt water lake that has fish in it. It is sacred to the Tibetan Buddhists.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Last Great Act of Defiance

Some 12 years ago, as has been stated here, I underwent a double coronary bypass or CABG, to use the medical shorthand. There is no doubt as to the necessity of the procedure and I am very grateful to the internist who insisted I get the pain checked out, the cardiologist, the surgeon and all the technicians and nurses who took care of me. Except one.

As I recall the surgery was mid-morning. Afterwards I was placed in the cardiac surgery ICU, IVs and various other tubes in various orifices. That night they had me in the ICU in a semi-upright position, still with all the tubes in place. Although breathing on my own the endotracheal tube was in my trachea so I couldn't talk.

ICUs are very busy places with many nurses, techs of various persuasions, clerks, etc on hand. Sometime during the night an x-ray tech appeared at the foot of my bed with a clipboard in hand. He looked at the clipboard, then at me, then at the clipboard again and said "Brown. Chest x-ray.....and enema." Not being Brown and definitely not needing an enema I communicated the only way I could. I shook my head and gave him the middle finger salute. The ICU exploded with laughter. I guess this particular tech was a well known smart ass, and people were happy to see him get a bit of his own back.

I remember this particular incident very well. The next night I was still in the ICU but the endotracheal tube had been removed so I could talk. When the shift changed a nurse came up to me and introduced herself as the nurse who would be my nurse for the next shift. I asked her if she had been on duty the night before. She got a big grin on her face and said "No, but I heard!"

More than a year later I went back to that same ICU to do a photoshoot for a book. I asked the head nurse if she remembered me and the incident. She smiled and said "You bet I do." So for a while anyway I was fabled in song and story around the ICU.

My last great act of defiance. So far.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Yarlung Tsampo River

The Yarlung Tsampo River is the highest major river in the world. It begins in western Tibet and runs east through the South Tibet Valley which is on the north edge of the Himalayas. The river begins at the western end of this valley at an altitude of 14,764 feet. The valley is 746 miles long. At the eastern end it is at an altitude of 9842 feet. At the eastern end the river makes a sharp bend to the south and flows through the Himalayas in the deepest canyon in the world. Emerging from the Himalayas in India, where it is known as the Brahmaputra, it flows into the sea near the outlet to the Ganges. This canyon is little known and little explored. It is one of the wildest places on earth. A few years ago an expert kayaker from the University of Utah was killed in this canyon. He was part of a National Geographic expedition which did not complete their exploration. I believe that there has been only one party complete an exploration of the gorge.

This valley with the Yarlung Tsampo River is the cradle of Tibetan civilization. This is where the first people who came to Tibet settled; it is where the first monastery was established and where the first king built the first castle. It is also the area where Buddhism first took hold.

Virtually all the arable land in Tibet is in this valley. As you can see the valley is narrow and does not provide much space for crops. As a result the diet is quite different from many third world countries. Meat is plentiful while fruit and veggies are expensive as most must be imported.

The river and valley are quite beautiful. When we were there the weather was beautiful and the river generally very blue. We were told by our Tibetan guide that the preferred method of burial was to have your body placed in the river.This could only be done for the "worthy", however, whatever that means.

We crossed the river by ferry to get to the Samye monastery, the oldest and first monastery in Tibet. There is an alleged road from Lhasa to Samye which few people use as it is rough and takes most of a day to traverse 70 miles or less. Tibetans and tourists alike use the ferry.

The ferry boats are flat bottomed wooden boats propelled by a 2 cycle engine driving a fan belt to a propeller mechanism. The river at this point is wide with numerous sand bars which have to be gone around. As a result the ferry ride takes about a 1 and 1/2 hours.

Coming back the ferry was chock a block with Tibetans packing kids, boxes and baskets.

We gave a little boy an apple which he was delighted with. We never felt unsafe; it was kind of cool to be using the same transportation as the locals.

To see more photos visit my website here