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Moresby Meanders Observations From an Ongoing Journey

Earth-Porn, Injury, and a Touch of Tibetan Hospitality

CHINA | Thursday, 30 May 2013 | Views [1366]

Heading north from Chengdu into the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, signs direct traffic up a winding mountain road to the not so aptly named Jiuzhaigou “Scenic Area”. Frankly, passing off this extraordinary UNESCO world heritage, AAAAA rated, World Biosphere piece of earth-porn as a humble “scenic area” does not do it justice.

 To my dismay, having spent only a matter of hours marvelling at the rivers, waterfalls and iridescent, sparkling jade blue lakes, I found myself riding out of the park in the back of the park ambulance. Sore, demoralised and tired, my wife with a badly swollen ankle that resembled a grapefruit with toes, and me with a sore back from piggybacking her out, we made our way back to our home for the coming days; Zhou Ma’s.

 In the hills above the Shansi Zhai village, about a ten-minute drive from the gates of the national park, sits a traditional Tibetan home stay. On our return, Amma (Zhuo Ma’s mother) rose from where she had been chatting with a monk, and began to coo with gentle concern. Assessing the swollen ankle she produced a bottle of liquid tiger balm, gave a short demonstration of the appropriate massage technique, and sent us off to our room to tend to the injury.

 Swinging open the carved wooden windows, afternoon sun and crisp high altitude air flowed in to the room. Dutifully I massaged, bandaged and elevated the swollen ankle. Outside I heard the creaking of stairs as someone climbed up to the first floor. I poked my head out the door as the monk we had briefly encountered downstairs sat himself in the chair by our open doorway and produced a long rectangular book from the satchel hanging over his shoulder. As I returned to the bed to sit by my wife, the deep throaty tones of Buddhist prayer reverberated from the hall. I cast my eyes over grassy hills and the scattered rooftops of the surrounding village to the mountain ranges beyond. Brightly coloured prayer flags flapped in the distance as the soft clucking of chickens, and the bleating of wandering mountain goats carried from the road outside. The dramas of the day started to melt away and I slipped off in to a deep, relaxing sleep.

 The following days were spent wandering (or, in my wife’s case, hobbling) about the house in the company of Amma, and her son Ke Zhu. Whereas being grounded due to injury in a hotel or hostel can be downright depressing, here felt like home.

 The house, built from flat stones in traditional Tibetan style, was two stories high, with an attic nestled under a pitched roof. Inside, the ground floor comprised of a bathroom, bedroom for the host family, lounge room and kitchen. Meals were served in the lounge room around a low, square wooden table. Wood panelling, painted in patterns of dark red, blue, green and gold encased the internal walls of the room. On one panel a mural depicting the tall white buildings and temples of Lhasa. Aromatic pine smoke drifted from a wood stove. Up stairs, the bedrooms, simple, sparsely furnished with firm Chinese style beds.

 Outside a gravel road lead up to the house, piles of firewood neatly arranged by the side. Goats, sheep and the occasional yak wandered freely. A weathered wooden fence surrounded the property. Prayer flags spaned the eaves of the house. Opposite the front door a low fence encircled a small patch of young barley. Beehives, fashioned by hand from sections of tree trunk lined a wall carved in to the steep hillside opposite.

 Amma dressed in a full-length skirt that hung just shy of her toes allowing glimpses of red cloth moccasins beneath. A long-sleeved shirt, white, with overlapping lapels held in place by a creamy leather belt studded with polished orange and turquois stones set in elaborate sliver studs. Large rings and bracelets adorned work worn hands. A hat fashioned from red material and white sheepskin sat over long thin black braids. Her aging face was defined by the wrinkles around her kind brown eyes. Outside she would feed the chicken and new born chicks, chase away a boisterous rooster, meticulously maintain the crop of barley and tend to the beehives. Inside she would prepare the daily meals and complete other small chores. In her spare time she took visits from family members and the local community, sit in the lounge room and discuss matters in her mother tongue.

 Ke Zhu was his mother’s son, dressed in a casual western style, blue jeans, t-shirt and a cap, his smiley disposition obviously a genetic trait. In the morning he served breakfast. “Eggs!” he would announce, as the bleary eyed guests filed in to the lounge. Small plates each with two eggs over easy, fried in the wok would be handed around the table. “Tea!” would then be poured in to drinking bowls from a large ladle dipped in to a steaming kettle sitting over the wood fired oven. “Bread, yak butter and honey!” (all home made) would be placed in the centre of the table and consumed by hungry mouths. After breakfast, lunches of thick hearty barley bread filled with slices of lettuce, tomato and yak meat were distributed. Driving about in the family’s shiny 4WD he would facilitate the day’s activities, dropping off and picking up the guests, and arranging tickets for transport and events as they were requested. In the evening Amma and Ke Zhu would serve vegetables, yak meat and barley noodles, washed down with tea and a dark vinegary barley wine for dinner. They sat by the stove chatting with the guests, ensuring everybody’s glasses were topped and stomachs were filled.

 By the end of our stay, due to a perhaps fortunate sprained ankle, the extra time we had to spend with Amma and Ke Zhu had allowed us to strike a rapport. We were privy to stories, photo albums, and that brand of kind concern that makes you feel truly welcome. But, as with all good travels the time came to leave. We hugged and thanked each other mutually for the stay and exchanged good wishes as my wife and I set off down the gravel road to catch the bus south to Songpan. 

Tags: china, earth-porn, hospitality, jiuzhaigou, sichuan, tibetan

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