CHINA TIBETAN PLATEAU, AUGUST 2006

Date: 
21/08/2006
Country: 
CHINA

21 August 2006
Lanzhou, China. This is going to be quite a surprise visit for me because the Chinese decided that they wanted to pay for my ticket to come to the Tibetan Plateau with my friend Long from Lanzhou and also with Simon Thirgood who came with us too. I should perhaps also say that at the moment there is war in Lebanon and our stupid Blair, of course, gangs up with the Israelis and Bush again. I just feel ashamed of what this guy is doing. Anyway, I left on Sunday for China. I am not quite sure what I can do on this trip, but I can certainly see a lot myself. I went first to Chengdu and spent yesterday afternoon there with a friend of Long,and some of his students . We had some good Chinese food and then went to a lovely old temple, very much from the third kingdom from 200-400 AD. I am not quite sure what the programme is going to be today but will report later. I will also have to buy a pen.

24 August 2006
We are now in Hangzhou Hotel, Chan Yi. The last two days have gone so fast, so much has happened. We stayed in the official University residence in Lanzhou and in the morning saw a lot of Lanzhou University and their work on soil and fungal sciences. Eventually we had to go for a long drive, passing a large yak herd, then after seeing a lot of the pasture and grassland problems on the way we arrived at a city called Sichuan to stay the night. It was not very good I’m afraid, no bath, no warm water. In fact we are a group of eight and one of the girls asked me if she could use the mirror in my bathroom as there was no mirror in hers. I let her do that. We left in the morning for a long drive. It was quite cold and we saw all the problems of the pastures. Here we are about 4000 meters up. We stopped at a place where we had dinner with the institution. Then we had a native singing etc, it was most amusing. Thirgood who is with me has never seen such a thing before. We travelled along a long bad road and came to a reasonable hotel but it has no internet. I had to go far away to a street internet café but they wanted to see my passport and I do not have my old one with me, so I had to go back to the hotel and this morning went back to the internet shop. This morning after an inspection of so-called old pasture we went to visit a farm family and had lunch with them, traditional Tibetan food, milky tea with yak butter and with ground barley mixed with it. I left half of the children’s clothes there. After that we drove along the old Great Wall of China to Changdi and then we went again to the internet and was given the information that Aberdeen council has given us £2000 to do the formal opening of the Ørskov Foundation on the 21st – good news. The eight of us went out for a lovely dinner and I am now here to sleep. I have to get up early tomorrow morning because we have to drive again for 8-9 hours; it will be the same every day, too much driving but I have not seen so much of the Tibetan Plateau before, it is quite something with so many Tibetan families around, Tibetan houses or tents built mainly from yak fibre and hair made into clothes.

25 August 2006
It was a long drive today but we saw some fantastic temples on the way, both Chinese and Tibetan Buddhist temples on a wonderful mountain. We then crossed the border to the autonomous region of Qinghai. We went first to a research institute and then across a large mountain of up to 4000 meters with the most fantastic view with Tibetan sheep and yak grazing on their summer pasture in the highest mountains. It is really quite difficult to describe how beautiful it is with snow on the highest peaks. I have now arrived at the capital of Qinghai, Xining. I will lecture tomorrow; I hope all goes well with that. We are a group of seven people now. We are still doing too much driving, but the distances are long and many of the roads are not very good, we can only drive at about 20-40 km per hour on some of them.

27 August 2006
We were in Gourlo village, the centre of the Prefecture. Yesterday. was all spent in Xining. I think the lecture went well. It was enjoyable at least both for Simon and I. We had a good dinner and then discussions in the afternoon which were very good. I found out that the leader of the Institute did his PhD in Denmark and I had met him there in Foulum. He remembered me and it was very nice to have a long chat with him, he even spoke a little Danish. After dinner Simon and I went with Carolina to a karaoke dance where some more students were. It was a pleasant two hours; music, singing a little, dancing and a beer. Anyway, this morning we are on the go again to the Tibetan Plateau where we will be even higher than yesterday, but so beautiful. We have only one car left now, the other four people went back to Lanzhou. We have now had lunch and have stopped at a Tibetan house where they gave us Tibetan tea and barley meal made into a type of bread. It was a wonderful experience to visit them. I took a few pieces of children’s clothes with me as well. Prior to that we stopped at a real Tibetan yak farm where they were milking the yaks. I think I got some lovely pictures of it. We stopped at another Tibetan temple. It seems a mixture of two ethnic groups; Tibetan Buddhists and Tibetan Muslims. They are wonderful people, dressed in ethnic clothes. It was another eight-hour drive across at 4000 meters. In this Prefecture guesthouse it is about 3600 meters up, oxygen is low and we have to walk quite slowly so not to exhaust ourselves. Anyway, it has been a lovely day during which we have seen so many different things, particularly to meet up with the rural people and their animals – yak, sheep and goats. Tomorrow we will visit more rural communities.
30 August 2006
We are now back in Chengdu city, Sichuan Province. We spent the last two nights in Guamo, very high up – 4000 meters – where the oxygen was very low and it was difficult to breathe. We have spent one morning with Long’s student. There are problems with rodents called Paica , problems of overgrazing followed with Paica and destruction of grassland due to nutrient extraction as nothing is put back. This afternoon we are on a longer trip to black soil in Qinghai Province ,met some Tibetan farmers but they live so far apart from each other and keep thousands of yak and sheep. We also saw a couple of wolves yesterday. We are on our way back to Xining. We met up again with a girl called Carolina who wanted to show us Tibetan dancing on the large city square. I tried it as well, it was quite easy. It is very interesting to see the system or the problems of grazing; complete overgrazing where they have used everything from the yak – manure, hair, meat and milk – but never put anything back, so the soil is being depleted. Due to the soil depletion these rodents are coming in but it seems that the Chinese are doing more about killing the rodents than sorting out the problem that causes the problems in the first place. This morning we had a meeting about what to do next and future collaboration. Then we were off to Chengdu. We spent a couple of hours in a famous temple, I cannot remember the name. Then we were off to the airport to go back to Chengdu where we now have to stay for one night then tomorrow night its back to Aberdeen.

It has been a fantastic trip. I do not know what I can do though. I also have to give some lectures here in Chengdu. I then go on to a flight to Amsterdam. I certainly know more about grasslands in the Tibetan Plateau. I know much more about Tibetan people and their Buddhist beliefs. We left children’s clothes with them. I hope we have an early night tonight. I left Chengdu about dinnertime. I was supposed to lecture this morning only to find that there was nobody to lecture to, so we went to the bank to change some money which they could not do. We went to the local market where I bought a couple of handbags and all sorts of food, chicken meat etc. We arrived at the airport and they gave me a business class ticket which was nice, so I had a good flight to Amsterdam. Simon had to be satisfied with economy. So back to Aberdeen. It seems that Professor Ly from Vietnam is coming to the opening of the Ørskov Foundation.