Sunday, September 17, 2017

My Journey to Shangri La

In 1994 I was asked to join a team to survey possible ministry in southwest China.  This was my first trip to China so, as it is with many of my travels, it was a “learn as you go” situation.  It was in April and I assumed it would be warmer in the spring, but I was cold most of the trip. 

I arrived in the city of Guangzhou, in the southeast of the country. I didn’t have a ticket to my next destination but I arrived early in the morning so booked a ticket to Kunming.  (I usually try to have all my tickets for my whole journey, but for some reason was unable to do that on this trip.  Looking back, it was probably something I wouldn’t do today.)  Of course I was by myself and didn’t know the language, but managed to buy a ticket to my next stop.

That afternoon I flew to the city of Kunming, Yunnan Provence, where I met up with the American team, which consisted of the young married couple who were planning on moving to China, their missions pastor and two other young men from that church.

A plan was devised to travel upcountry to the city of Shangri La (yes, there is such a place (  Our guide, the missions pastor, made reservations for us to take the scenic route, which wasn’t all that scenic, a two day bus ride.  I don’t remember all the details but remember we did visit an American family on the way.  I also remember they served us yak milk and butter ( which made me nauseas.  Yak meat was okay and the picture below is the butchery appropriately named (probably the American) the “Yak Shack.”

My other memory of the journey was arriving in the middle of the night at a bus station.  Having the need to go, the public latrine experience one doesn’t easily forget.  It was dark and cold and there may have been a 50-watt bulb providing light…just enough to leave an indelible imprint on my mind.

The picture, which I pulled of the Internet, is similar to my experience, but I distinctly remember the walls between the squatting holes were only about four feet high.  I guess the communal culture included exchanging gossip while natured called.  I also remember the squealing pigs below who fought over that which we deposited. 

Our time in Shangri La was brief, but memorable.  Half of the 100,000 people that lived there at that time were Tibetan, the rest are Han Chinese and other ethnic groups. 

One of my regrets is that I did not know much about Tibetan Buddhism before this trip ( I found their art very dark, but their architecture quite fascinating. 

Visiting the Songzanlin Monastery was intriguing.  We had free reign to walk throughout the premises and, in hindsight, wish I could have stayed there much longer for cultural study.  The pictures below are a few shots of me at the entrance of the monastery, inside by the prayers wheels and even a group photo of some friendly monks. 

We found a hotel by late afternoon.  The best thing I can say about this hotel is that it had electric blankets.  I was so cold that I went immediately to bed with my clothes on under my warm blanket.  (I have no idea who these girls are, enthusiastic kids enjoying a picture with a foreigner).

The next morning we headed for the mountains, the next leg and post of our travels.
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