Belgium 2015

2015/12/23

Although we have run Instructor Training courses outside of North America, the attendees have been a homogeneous mix of locals.  This year we scheduled one in Belgium for participants from Belgium, Finland, Iceland, Italy, Kenya and China (an expat living in Spain).  Fay Johnson (MT), Sun from WMAI China and I were the leaders.  After some initial angst following the Paris bombing and the heightened security concerns in Belgium, and particularly Brussels, we decided to proceed anyway.  I am happy that we did.

PRECOURSE:  I arrived 2 days early for a meeting that was delayed until after the course.  It gave me a chance to get a little rest and a wander around Brussels.  Brussels is a pretty cosmopolitan place.  As well as being the capital, it is the home of NATO, the European Union and the Benelux countries (their Secretariat).  This is fitting in that Belgium itself is like 3 countries with French, Dutch, and Flemish enclaves as well as those for the growing influx of people from around the world.  In addition to the Belgium Federal Parliament, the French and Flemish communities have their own parliaments too. This all makes for interesting and arcane politics.  Here are 2 of a surprising number of articles from the NY Times that offer glimpses of some of the complexities.

Brussels is on a hill which means it is a great place to walk around (even in drizzly late November). There are plenty of bakeries, coffee shops, restaurants, and stores on many pedestrian-only thoroughfares.  Even their convenience stores have a good selection of decent food on the fly.  Delhaize, the parent of our own Hannaford markets has one called shop and go.

Despite reports by the US press, there was little evidence of the high alert that had been placed just one week earlier.  Not so surprising. Sure there were some military presence in the airport, in front of the French Embassy and occasionally in the shopping district  but I had no sense of unusually long waits or tension on the streets.  People were out and about enjoying shops and displays with their children.  This was true in both the more traditional European and Eastern neighborhoods. In fact the only tension I felt (and it was mild) was when hundreds of people joined hands in a long, winding line as a demonstration for the environment.

COURSE:  Our course was held in Lustin, a small, rural community with no traffic light, located in the South central part of Belgium.  We ran it at the training facility for Outward Bound Belgium (OBB), a partner of ours for over 20 years.  I won’t bore you with the details. It was a really fun and rewarding challenge.  Everyone was enthusiastic and collegially committed to the task at hand. Here is a picture of all of us sharing a meal.

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Sun is in front of me with James (Spain by way of China) standing next to him.  Then Fay, Lella, Johan (Belgium), Riccardo (Italy – his arms and hands uncharacteristically down at his sides), Kazi and George (Kenya), Pieter (Belgium),  Henri (Finland), and Sverrir and Elva (Iceland). 

AFTERMATH:  The day after the course we took a train to Leuven, not far from Brussels.  After another pleasant walk, I met with the principle decision makers for OBB.  They hope that with Pieter and Johan as instructors, they will be able to run our courses less expensively and perhaps expand to other locations

That evening, I wandered around Brussels again. As you know, I am not a huge Christmas fan but Northern Europeans know how to do it right.  I had an excellent beer and bought chocolate while enjoying the ambiance and festivities.  It was a good trip.

After returning to GA, I flew to MN to visit family.  Here is my 94+ yo Mom.  She may not recognize me but I know she is happy when I visit.  Plus it is always good to see Mark, Roberta and Teri

mom 2015-12

No one ever accused either of us of being photogenic.  Remember, happiness is a relative term Read the rest of this entry »

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China (2015)

2015/12/23

Time got away from me again.

After leaving Japan I continued on to China (Shanghai) for another week.  As always, my stay in China was educational and a lot of fun.  We conducted a course and an instructor meeting while still having some time to tour about.

THE COURSE:  This time I ran a 4 day Offshore Emergency Medicine course.  This course was designed by one of our instructors (Jeff Isaac) for an audience of serious sailors.  Past attendees have crossed oceans and some have circumnavigated the globe.  In this class we only had one sailor.  I have learned not to be surprised by anything when I travel to China.  Most of the class came because this is a new course in China and they just wanted to experience it and be the first attendees.  As always, the food was plentiful and good and the participants were eager and enthusiastic with plenty of questions.

AFTER THE COURSE:  On the first day after the class we walked through the newer section of Shanghai.  The architecture is stunning. We were greeted by unexpected asymmetrical curves, interesting angular shapes, gaping holes and acres of glass.  From there we took a ferry across the Huangpu River, a tributary of the Yangtze River that splits the city into 2 sections.  On the West shore we walked around the Bund, a section that was the international banking center of China from the 19th and into the mid twentieth century.  What a contrast. This was a protected enclave of British, French and American financial interests in China.  The architecture reflects this past presence.  Many of the buildings  have ornate facades and steepled or domed roofs.  Others are in the more conservative, blocky style so often seen in older financial buildings.  It was/is about the illusion of stability and power.

That evening Sun, Lella and their friend Ethan took me out for a wonderful vegetarian meal.  The next day I traveled by bullet train to West Lake in Hangzhou.  It is a really beautiful place that feels more quaint  and much less hectic than Shanghai.  I would like to return when I can spend more time.

Shanghai is really an incredible place to visit.  It is enormous with history, architecture, street life and as I found out after I got home, a vibrant arts scene.  I am again grateful to my growing circle of friends in China for caring for me so well.

After arriving back to Maine and spending about a week trying to get caught up, we headed South, trailer in tow, to Georgia.

Next stop, Belgium for an international Instructor Training course.

Oh, by the way, have a look at this documentary on YouTube.  You will see a familiar face at around the 4 minute mark.  As you may recall from a prior post, Fay and I did a workshop in Lhasa 2 years ago at the Mountaineering Guide school there.  The film highlights some of the people we worked with.

wrap-up

2015/11/22

After the course I got to hang around some areas of Tokyo I had not visited before and do some interviews.

My hotel was located in Shinjuku, a modern section popular with tourists.  It was a good place just to walk around.  Even better was a side trip to Harajuku.  This is a place of contrasts and another tourist favorite.  On one side of the train tracks the shopping district is clearly geared to young, tuned-in, media savvy kids and young adults.  Everything is electric and colorful including the self-expressive Decora fashion characterized by color, accessories, layers.  Takeshita Dori (St) is the iconic epicenter.  Below is a pict of a Japanese version of a dollar store (actually ¥100 which equals about $.83 US).

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The more interesting side of Harajuku are the grounds of the Meiji Jinju (Shinto shrine).  You approach it by walking through a typical Japanese gateway (Torii) and then walk along on a beautiful, wide, tree-lined path whose name is the rough equivalent of birth canal.  Along the way is an offering of beautifully painted barrels of sake. image

The other pict here is of a man sweeping the walkway of leaves with the longest broom I have ever seen.  He accomplished this efficiently using wide sweeping strokes.

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This is a lovely place that warrants more time to wander about on some of the other pathways.

The interviews went pretty well.  I met with a writer for a national emergency medical services magazine and an editor for a magazine published by MontBell, a prominent Japanese outdoor gear retailer.  We keep trying to improve our visibility in a place where our ideas may be alien but are met with interest and enthusiasm. I am a minor celebrity to our learners.

As always I have to comment on something mundane that intrigued/puzzled me. While the Japanese drive on the left (L), I noticed that people tend to stay to the right (R) on stairs (reinforced by painted arrows) and to the left on escalators. I saw something similar in Hong Kong (HK) when I visited last year.  My HK host seemed unaware of the discrepancy and he had no explanation when I pointed it out.  Isamu told me driving on the L in Japan had to do with Samuri and how they wore their swords.  I Goggled the question and found that my innocent curiosity is in fact part of a mild tempest in Japan about whether it is okay to walk on escalators.  As an aside to this commentary, here is a link cataloguing the who, what and when about the preferred driving sides around the world.

It is hard to finish these reflections on Japan without mentioning food one last time.

At the end of the course we had a delicious, fresh sushi meal at the restaurant with the automated delivery system that I described in a prior blog.

We also dined on some of the variations of Japanese noodles at several different noodle shops.  My favorite was in a basement restaurant in Shinjuku. There Isamu and I enjoyed a wonderful meal of tempura vegetables and cold soba (buckwheat) noodles.  Rather than supply us with a dollop of wasabi, we got the root and little grater so we could do it ourselves.  Whether or not it really tasted better than the usual fare (I thought so), it added something delightful to the experience.

Our last meal was at a small sushi bar located on a narrow, smoky street in a gamier section of Shinjuku.  The bar was similar to an old American diner, just narrower.  The countertop accommodates 10 people.   The patrons have to squeeze in sideways to gain purchase to the stools.  We sat at the only table, a tiny one, in the back. The food and ambiance capped another wonderful trip nicely.

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No, we did not meet Joseph Merrick there, that’s me.  I moved during a pan shot.

Course

2015/11/06

This is the third time that I have come back to Gotemba.

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I think I have described a typical day previously.  It starts with a morning wake-up announcement followed in one half hour by the morning assembly.  The assembly routine begins with the exchange of a morning greeting (phonetically – ohio gozima) and bow followed by the flag raising.  The raisers then introduce themselves and we proceed to radio exercises.  There are apparently 3 versions but we always do #1.  EVERYONE knows the routine.  Have a look at a shortened version.  Class starts at 0830 following breakfast.  We end at 1700 (5 PM) with a flag lowering ceremony.  

The US base fires off artillery shells most mornings and US helicopters fly around all day long. It must be incredible to be 20-something and fly a Black Hawk around the base of Fuji by day and enjoy Japanese food and culture by night. But maybe that is just the wistful musing of a guy in his late 60s.
The most prominent team billeted at Gotemba with us was a group of railroad engineer trainees from a private Japanese company.  They marched around in formation, shouting out marching cadences and answers to questions from before the morning flag raising until bedtime.  It was pretty amusing but I would have hated to be one.  Again, this is not unusual behavior for business or other organizational trainees.

In addition to being unfailingly polite, the Japanese people I work with are collectively industrious.  When late for class (a rarity), they are embarrassed and profusely apologetic.  Even the most accomplished are self-effacing and modest.  This is the only place where we have regular night sessions. Although my hosts suggested doing these 1.5 – 2 hour sessions, opting out was never an option.

Everything went well.  After the course we did a one-day workshop for former course graduates and then some supplemental work with one of our new assistants on the final day.   I think everyone enjoyed their courses and I hope that they learned something of value.  Tak and Isamu continue to make wonderful progress.  They are valuable colleagues and good friends.

Food

2015/10/28

I was never an adventurous eater as a kid. Eating in a restaurant made me feel ill. My vegetable repertoire was limited to corn (canned and on the cob) and frozen peas; potatoes if they qualify. Meat, some fish, pasta/red sauce, cheese typical US grown fruits, cereal and PB and J rounded things out. My exotic tastes ran to Chinese egg rolls and the restaurant provided dried, crunchy noodles without the dishes one would normally sprinkle them on. There are many foods to like in Japan and fortunately for me, my tastes have broadened.

My first introduction to Japanese cooking was at a Benihana-style grill restaurant. The center piece of those restaurants was the performance of the chef flipping knives and condiment containers into the air while deftly chopping and cooking the food on a grill surface that was part of the tabletop. These steel grills/pans are called teppan-yaki.

These venues are common here but without the theatrics. In addition to the expected grilled seafood and meat, they also specialize in okonomi-yaki. Isamu describes these as pancakes but they seem more like omelettes that are light on the eggs and heavy on the ingredients. They are brought to the table in bowls containing the egg on the bottom and other ingredients (e.g., meat, seafood, vegetables, sprouts, noodles) on the top. After mixing them and oiling the grill, you pour the mixture onto the grill and wait from them to cook. They can be eaten in one of several ways and of course there are usually several options to garnish and dress them with. In deference to me, we ate mostly vegetable mixtures. Sitting around talking and eating like this is a wonderful treat. This meal with a beer has become a precourse tradition for us.
Meals at our training facility are pretty standard fare. Every meal includes shredded cabbage, white rice and miso soup. The latter comes in about a half of a dozen varieties – clear or cloudy with varieties of tofu, seaweed, scallions, and other vegetables. There are garnishes like pickled vegetables, powdered seasonings, scallions, ground radish, and soy sauce. Soy sauce must be mostly for Westerners because I saw very few locals using it. They also offer a variety of noodles and sprouts that can be either hot or cold with meat, seafood and vegetables. There was always some form of seafood in croquettes, stew, deep-fried, or smoked but never raw. There are never desserts as we know them. The drinks include cold oolong or green tea, watery orange drink, tap water, or rice water. We were never served coffee and I did not see hot tea or milk.

There were no notable differences between any of the meals with the exception of grapefruit slices and nattō for breakfast. Nattō is fermented soybeans that usually come packaged in a plastic container along with some condiments. Most people eat it on rice. The consistency is somewhere between slimy and gooey. The smell is strong. If it is an acquired taste I am not sure how that would be accomplished. It must be good for you but the same argument was proffered to me about beets as a kid and I was never convinced. The Japanese love it.

I have included a youtube link on how to eat nattō and another with a picture of my typical breakfast, sans the nattō.  There are always plenty of vegetables and on the whole, the meals are quite satisfactory.

Travel to Asia – 2015

2015/10/26

Despite doing some fun and interesting things, this blog has been on a nearly 2 year break.  Drafts that I started during my trips to Thailand, Ukraine, China and Japan during that time smell kind of stale now so I will let them go.

After 2, two-week trips to BC and ON in June and July, I have traveled very little this summer.  It is a good thing because Dharmasuri has struggled with the aftermath of her April head injury.  I have tried to take over as the in-house answer man for our contractors and project manager for our building project in Portland.  I’ve also served as Punk’s personal valet, focusing on her unpredictable and oftentimes unannounced elimination needs.

In the past month, Dharmasuri has made some really important strides in her recovery with the help of some enthusiastic and dedicated rehab staff in Portland.  If there is a silver lining to all of this it is that she realizes how hard she works and how much so many people depend on her.  As she moves forward, Dharmasuri is committed to retool how she lives and what she does.  I will leave the details to her.  Maybe some of this will rub off on me.  As I leave Portland, ME, for a 3+ week international excursion on 13 Oct, I feel better about how she is doing and not as guilty as I might have been

My first stop is a short one to the other Portland for a conference presentation.  Following that, I will be visiting Japan and China to teach and serve whatever marketing chores these guys have for me.

Arrival

It is great to be back in Japan.  I like it here a lot and feel very comfortable.  I have none of the apprehensions that I arrived with in 2012.  I got off the plane, went through customs, collected my bags, found the shuttle stop and waited, unconcerned, for its unspecified arrival.  Once at the hotel, I organized food and awaited my pick-up the next day.

The course is again at Gotemba, a city located 2+ hours SW of Tokyo, at the base of Mt Fuji.  Fuji is an iconic symbol for Japan both as its highest mountain and the volcano posing the greatest threat to Tokyo.  I am reminded each time I return that it is overdue.  Our home was once part of a complex of military camps in the area.  Currently, the US Marines are stationed across the road at Camp Fuji and the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force is just down the road from us.  By all accounts, this is one US base that enjoys a good relationship with the locals.

We will be one of several groups here, all partaking in the usual morning rituals before getting to business.  The fees are incredibly inexpensive.  Rooms are $1.50/night, and then about $15 for 3 all-you-can-eat communal, cafeteria meals.  Most visitors sleep in large rooms on futons on top of tatami (room sized bamboo mats) floors.  This time, we will have our own rooms.

Brasil at last

2014/09/15

Brasil

After many conversations with Vantuil and an aborted attempt after Vanessa died, I have finally gotten my chance to go to Brasil.  I feel well prepared with the smell and taste of bacalhau, the sounds of Jobim and the conjured images of exotic places  imprinted in my memory.  I will be conducting a course for doctors and our third non-North American (NA) instructor training course.  Although I have 8 straight days of teaching, I will be living with and teaching locals so it should be fun.  The only problem is that somehow it does not seem right to go to Brasil for the first time without Vantuil.

I will be hosted by and work with Sam(anta) Chu.  She is our sole Brasilian instructor.  What Sam lacks in medical background, she more than makes up with outdoor experience, enthusiasm and hard work.  With some editorial support (including some from Vantuil), she has translated all of our teaching materials into Brasilian Portuguese.  Sam has really done a terrific job in a totally new field for Brasil.  That she is a woman doing this in Brasil is no small feat.  Although she can be a little shy and quiet, Sam is a lot of fun to work with.  Her father had a big hemorrhagic stroke just over a week before my arrival.  In spite of the fact that he is still in the ICU, she insisted that I come.

 

São Paulo

This is an enormous city with 10 million (20+ million metro), residents.  It is busy and crowded with high rises everywhere.  Despite stories of smog, the sky is clear and blue with temperatures in the mid-20s C (70s for Americans).  Of course it is late winter here in the Southern hemisphere.  The main highway from the airport is busy but traffic moves apace.  Off the main streets in town their are few typical rectangular city blocks.  The side roads follow circuitous routes over undulating and sometimes surprisingly steep grades.  Drivers follows rules better than many congested places I have visited.  Still, this relative civility does not take away from what can be a hair-raising experience.  I am happy to be safely strapped into the driver’s side seat of a substantial SUV driven by a reasonably prudent driver.

For me, the most amazing aspect on the roadways is the motorcycle traffic.  They drive almost exclusively between the lanes of traffic, both with and against the flow.   These are not the cautious efforts we see in NA when motorcyclists try to gain headway when traffic comes to a standstill.  The drivers (all helmeted at least) weave in and out of moving traffic at speeds notably faster that the cars, honking to warn car drivers and other slower moving motorcyclists of their approach.  Civilized?  At least the car drivers yield, somewhat, and never seem to purposefully cut the motorcyclists off as they do in the US.

The first night here, Sam took me to a downtown restaurant featuring a very good jazz quartet (piano, bass, electric guitar and drums).  Aside from one Duke Ellington classic, most of the repertoire they improvised off consisted of Brasilian tunes, many of which I recognized.  This place is also open Saturday morning with a far different feel.  They serve brunch and offer live music, all with a family focus.  Kids eat, run around inside and on the sidewalks, and play while their parents talk and listen to music. Sounds like a wonderful scene that I would love to experience.  Still this can be a rough section of the city.  In spite of the government’s efforts to rehab its decay, at night the area was a seedy, dank neighborhood with many sex workers out and about.  Still, I felt relatively safe.

I had my own room in the hostel where I stayed.  After a pretty restful sleep, shower and good food, Sam and I headed to Ibiuna for the first course.

Kosovo and beyond

2014/09/14

It is that time of year for overseas travel.  In late July I was in Kosovo for another RISC/reporter’s course (BMR).  I am now in Brasil and then will return to Japan and China starting in mid-Oct through early/mid-November.

Kosovo

I have never visited Eastern Europe before.  Unfortunately, this was a short trip and most of our time was spent on course related tasks.  Because we did not have any students from Kosovo, I did not have many opportunities to meet locals.

As usual, we had a lot of gear.  Delta does not fly here and Turkish airlines gave me no special dispensation so we had to negotiate and then pay about $1000 USD each way for our 16 bags (all of my clothes were in my carry-on).  We landed at the Pristina airport.  It is modern complex but it is located in a rural area that does not seem to be thriving economically.  This turned out to be a recurring theme for our travels.

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We taught the course in Gjakova.  It is located in a beautiful rural area surrounded by hills/small mountains.  Although this small city is a vacation area for Kosovars in the summer, it is generally economically depressed.  According to our local fixer (a man hired to navigate local requirements and secure for us what we needed), many people are without jobs.  Those who had jobs, worked hard with a positive attitude.  They went out of their way to make our stay enjoyable and productive.  The devastation caused by some of the bloodiest fighting and human right’s atrocities in the Kosovo war of the late 1990’s is one major cause.  The US and our W European allies supplied money to help rebuild.  There was evidence of these efforts everywhere.  It was also clear that the job was never completed for lack of funds.  Behind the hotel where we stayed, there was a twisting alleyway lined by restaurants and some small shops.  After about 75 meters, the paved roadway ended.  Although small storefronts continued, few were occupied.  Apparently no one wants to start a business in them because of the poor access.

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There was a large clinic and hospital nearby that sat mostly abandoned and many buildings that were never completed.

 

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Much of the construction was shoddy.  Perhaps we were distracted after 9/11 and shifted aid resources elsewhere.  photo (3)

The war has roots that go back several hundred years and throughout the 20th century.  The long lasting impact and potential for future conflicts is symbolized by the statues of anonymous KLA soldiers in most city centers.

My biggest surprise?  Despite Islam being the predominant religion, few if any of the women wore head coverings let alone burkas or floor length coverings.  In fact many were quite provocatively attired when out and about town.

On a sober note, both reporters beheaded by ISIS were prior graduates of the BMR.  I only knew James Foley from the first course.  Their assassinations are grim reminders of how dangerous their important work can be.

Classes

2013/12/30

Fonglou is a small village within Guangxi another autonomous zone in the south of China along the Dragon River, amidst these karsts. They are unique enough to have their own dialect that is sometimes difficult for Sun and Xiao Ming to understand. We stayed at the Fonglou Phoenix Pagoda. It is a small hotel managed and partially owned by a Taiwanese man with the English name Jerry. He has the organizational skills one would expect from the retired army colonel that he is. Jerry is polite and personable; his staff is helpful and efficient. They are dedicated to the comfort of their guests and seem to like their jobs, including educating us about local culture. With a 0900 am class start, I was up and ready for breakfast every day just before 0800. On a couple of occasions I went to the top of Moon Hill first before helping Jerry remove the covers from the tables on the 3rd floor deck so that we can eat outdoors.

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We conducted the class on the second floor of the hotel and the surrounding patio and terrace areas. Our afternoons were held at an isolated spot along a river about a 15 minute walk from the hotel. There were plenty of open areas along with bathrooms and an open-sided building covered by a roof and supplied by electricity for presentations. The only background noise besides the wind came from quacking ducks and the bells of cow grazing cows in the local fields. The karsts provided climbing sites for simulations. All and all, it was pretty nice.

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The classes went well. Our 14 students were from throughout China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The three physicians in the class have helped us fine tune and refine some of the verbiage in our translations. Still there were some amusing speed bumps.

The major challenge, as always, had to do with the translations. One wrinkle was that Sun’s base is Mandarin; John’s Cantonese. The other had to do with pacing. Sun, John and Xiao Ming’s had different styles we had to be cognizant of when we transitioned from one to another. Each also has a different level of experience and background with the curriculum so their understandings are different, even if just in a nuanced way. As I may have mentioned previously, there is a rhythm that you get into with your translators. With a professional translator you can just keep talking. With these guys, there is more of a speak and wait pattern. A logical break for English and most western speakers is not necessarily the same for Chinese speakers because of the ways ideas are expressed. This a problem analogous to characters versus words. Sometimes Fay or I would get a bewildered look when we paused because the translator was not sure where we were going. Unfortunately I cannot think of a good example. Other times we just stood back and let them talk over. This happened regularly during question and answer times.

Early on, we had one interesting dilemma that took some real effort to sort out. Western medical practitioners use the term subjective to mean something that is spoken, a story. This kind of information is referred to as subjective regardless of who provides the information (e.g., patient, family member, bystander). In China, subjective is not all-inclusive in the same way. Sun understands what we mean because he teaches in English. The collective murmuring and confused looks made me realize that I had stepped into it. My clarifications only confused the matter. We had to stop and let Sun explain it to the Chinese and John to the Taiwanese and Hong Kong students. I didn’t understand what the problem was until later in the day. Another problem is acronyms. Westerners, especially Americans in medical fields, rely on them heavily as memorization tools. They make almost no sense to Chinese (and Japanese) students who know little or no English. As a result we tried to de-emphasize them and stress concepts instead. I would love to find characters that would be analogous to some of our achronyms to represent similar concepts .

I won’t belabor the point. The classes went well. We now have 18 new assistant instructors in China, Hong Kong, Japan, and Taiwan who are colleagues and friends. The idea of representatives from these 4 countries working together teaching while their governments squabble is almost unbearably satisfying.

Tibet #1

2013/12/27

As a Westerner, it is hard to go to China without thinking about Tibet.   On our September visit we were able to visit some of the eastern regions of this very large province but not the interior parts and not Lhasa.  As you probably know by now Fay and I got a last minute opportunity to do some teaching at the Tibetan Mountaineering Guide School.  Even though I have another blog about our classes in Founglou, I want to write something now so that it is still fresh in my mind.  Fresh, is of course a relative term especially when you go from about sea level to 3650 meters/almost 12000 feet in about 2 hours.

For most westerners Lhasa IS Tibet.  It is all mixed up with the Dali Lama, Chinese development, freedom of religion and personal destiny.  It is not simple and hardly unemotional for many people.  Don’t worry, this will not be a political or religious tract.  I will try to describe what I did, saw and experienced while there.  After all of this I am not sure that I am much better informed.

China and the US have comparable land masses.  Given relative sizes, Tibet and AK make up similarly large portions (12% vs 15% respectively) of the countries that they are part of.  Like AK, Tibet has considerable potential for natural resources, not least of which is hydroelectric power.  It also has important strategic importance with India.  Imagine the US government allowing AK to secede. 

It is known as an Autonomous Zone of China by virtue of the fact that the Han (Chinese ethnicity) are a minority.  But make no mistake, it is China and is not likely to be an independent state without some unforeseen cataclysm.  The history is confusing so I will leave you to your favorite resource for politics to decide for yourself (see below).

The permitting process (not a visa because Tibet is part of China) seemed like smoke and mirrors.  We sent our passports and China visas to the School and they worked their magic.  Before boarding our final flight to Lhasa we had to show the permit to a variety of people.  It was a good thing that Kang (a well-respected Chinese guide and student in our other courses) was with us because the process was not straight forward.

The flight from Chongqing to Lhasa takes you over a vast mountainous region, bereft of the usual signs of civilization.  On the ground the landscape was brown and drab contrasting with the towering mountains, blue skies and colorfully painted homes.  Lhasa is not one of the Special Economic Zones that I referenced in a prior post, I suspect because attracting foreign capital is not a mission.  Nonetheless, a lot of money is in flowing here.  There are modern high-rises, new stores, and car dealerships.  Even after you cross the Lhasa River into the older part of the city, development abounds.

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We arrived Friday, late in the afternoon.  We met some people from the school, had supper, and then went to our rooms.  The next day we headed to the school and began the first of our classes.  Sat AM was focused on an introduction about wilderness medicine to 100 + students.  Then on Sat PM, Sunday PM and Monday AM we taught classes with 25 experienced guides.  One has summited Everest 6 times and all had been to at least 8000 meters (26000+ feet).  Our presentations were a mix of talks, Q and A and practical skills.    We used our Chinese slides because that is the official language of the school.  Kang translated everything for us except for the practical skills.  For those, we used hand signals and succeeded admirably.  Our students were enthusiastic and very appreciative.

On Sunday we visited two important sites in Lhasa.  Both have been designated UNESCO World Heritage sites.  The Potala Palace, once the major home of the Dali Lama until he fled to India in 1959, is now a museum containing important religious icons. It is located on the top of a prominent hill rising 300 meters (1000 feet) above the valley floor.  There was hardly time to see more than a fraction of its contents.  The Jokhang Temple is perhaps the most sacred of all Buddhist sites in Lhasa.  It is located in Barkor Square  and surrounded by many shops selling Tibetan wares to locals.  We were not able to go inside to see some of the really famous and unique icons because it was closed to non-Tibetans when we arrived.   This time of year, both of these important sites are visited predominately by Tibetans.  In fact, except for one person in the airport and Fay, I did not see another westerner anywhere else in Lhasa.

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