|On Thursday we left Xi'an on an 18 hour train ride to Xining. The train was old and felt like we were in a mobile chinese village, with noodles being slurped,children playing and people chatting and milling about all around us. The landscape we passed through was grey and poor, lots of mountains with villages settled between them. We arrived at 6 am on Thursday to a cold and snowy Xining. We got a cab to a youth hostel that we had an address for, it took the driver a few phone calls and u-turns to find it, but we got there in the end! The poor guys at the hostel were rudely awoken by his blasting car horn apon arrival.
The hostel guys kindly gave us some hot sweet Nescafe and left us to wait the 2 hours or so for the woman who could help us with travel advice to arrive. Our plan was to try and organise some train tickets on the new line to Lhasa. We hugged our hot mugs and waited with fingers crossed for her arrival. The Hostel filled us with anticipation for a trip to Tibet, as it was beautifully painted and had lots of photos of Lhasa all about the place.
The woman arrived, and was a brilliant help, and after they'd given us a hearty breakfast of steamed buns, pickles and rice porrige, she dispatched Holly and I off with one of the guys from the Hostel to buy train and bus tickets. He was so sweet, got us train tickets to Lhasa, and bus tickets to Jaiyi, our next port of call. We hopped on a bus with Tibetan nomads smelling of Yak skin and were soon on our way. Half way there a bunch of tibetan traders squeezed on with large sacks of unidentified goods and played cards while chain smoking. Another passenger got out his electric shaver and had a quick shave while Holly and I played with the cute baby in the seat in front of us.
We got dropped of at a place called YaoWuYao (means 151) and looked for a school. But no luck. I called Karlsan, who we were going to meet, he laughed, and reminded me that we should have got off the bus 20 km earlier. Whoops! We flagged down a local bus and made it back to Jaiyi to meet Karlsan at his school. He gave us steamed buns with yaks butter and cheese ( not yaks cheese..it was gouda, a gift from a friend!) and we talked and found out more about the Schools he has built there and the life they have out in the middle of nowhere. We met the three secondary scool classes and as there was snow on the ground, the students were doing theur homework reading outside walking around in the snow!
The following 3 days were a series of new experiences for holly and I. Well, there was an element of 'busmans' holiday' for Holly as she has been teaching chinese children in Taiwan for 2 years, so she was on pretty familiar ground when it came to doing stuff with the classes. Neither of us had ever tended a dung stove, eaten Tsampa ( a tibetan staple made with barley and hard cheese), or collected water from a freezing well. We enjoyed every minute of it.
On Friday Karlsan took us to the monastary and we walked up a hill for a great view. Back in the village we visited Aga Puntsok, a fine man of 75, who built the original school that Karlsan now runs with Zebe, his tibetan co manager/boss/headmaster. We also spent a lot of time in Karlsans home, warming up by the stove and drinking hot sweet nescafe. There was a stream of visitors in the afternoons, from teachers to parents of the children. The Children live at the school while their parents are off working, mostly moving around with their livestock.
On Saturday we visited the primary school next door, and were greated not only by the teachers and headmaster, but two hundred small faces staring up at us with rosy cheeks and runny noses. We were introduced to a class from each of the 5 grades and they were all able to say hello, and some a bit more...it was fantastic. Little ones 4 years old living in a school on the tibetan plateau, learning Tibetan, Chinese and English. I was really impressed. Back in the playground they were rather wary of Holly and I, so we chased them about a bit and then taught them the Hokey Kokey and played 'follow the leader'. The final game was take photos and get mobbed by hundreds of kids...brilliant fun! I was sorry to say goodbye.
Back at the secondary school the boys were playing football, and we watched a while until Puntsok payed a visit so we went inside to drink tea, give him some foreign money which he apparently collected, and talk about the Dalai Lama. Punsok told us how he's met the Dalai Lama in India and talked with him. He was full of awe.
Sunday morning was time to leave. We said our goodbyes to the children in class, and ate our last steamed buns before piling into Karlsans truck with the other teachers for the drive into Rigamore. One of the teachers flagged down a smart looking Buick and hitched us a ride back to Xining..what a touch! We were very grateful and said our last goodbyes to Karlsan and Zebe. We grinned all the way back to town, what a wonderful experience to have had, and how lucky we are. What a fantastic stranger to have met on the train to Guangzhou all those weeks ago!