Trip to the Tibetan World

Grace L. is currently a junior at SYA China and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from The Loomis Chaffee School in Connecticut.

I just got back from the last school study trip of the year. A week ago, I took an overnight train for the first time from Beijing to Lanzhou. To my surprise, I actually really enjoyed the 17-hour train ride. SYA students were moving up and down the train’s hallways with instant noodles and decks of cards in hand.

Once we arrived in Lanzhou, we all savored the city’s specialty dish: spicy noodles (拉面). From Lanzhou, we bussed to Xiahe, where we spent the majority of our time during the trip. We visited the Labrang Monastery, an ancient Tibetan Buddhist monastery where thousands of monks live today. A monk wearing blood red robes gave us a tour of the monastery in perfect English and challenged the batch of American kids with deep, philosophical questions. “Do you want happiness?” Yes. “But do you know what happiness is?” Not really… “Then why do you want happiness?” Good question. After a significant amount of time spent exploring the Labrang Monastery, we spent the evening in a local art studio run by a Canadian woman named Kristal. She gave us a speedy summary of her life story, which basically explained that she ran away from home at the age of 17, joined Hell’s Angels, ended up in Mexico, went to India and lived in a monastery as the only woman, then “accidentally” got married, and found her way to Tibet and opened an art studio specializing in traditional tangka paintings. Later that night, every SYA student went back to Kristal’s for a bonfire and Indian chai tea. It was an unforgettable night. Every one of Kristal’s students were Tibetan. They told us Tibetan ghost stories around the fire, and then we showed them how to dance to “HUMBLE.” We spent the next day out in the grasslands, where plenty of sheep grazed peacefully and the occasional car drove by. We talked with locals and tried a local Tibetan snack, a paste made of yak butter, nuts, and sugar. Afterwards, we played a couple of traditional games. The goal of the first game was to eat a red date sitting on top a pile of corn flour, but without using your hands. Instead, you need to get into the yoga “crow pose” and eat the date with the least amount of corn flour ending up on your face. I WON!! We bussed back to Lanzhou in the afternoon and did a scavenger hunt the next day before getting on the long train ride back to Beijing. I saw the Yellow River in Lanzhou and enjoyed free time exploring the city.

Now, I’m back in Beijing and am getting ready for upcoming exams. I can’t believe how fast this year has gone by. I’ll be on a plane back to “Sweet Home Chicago” in a mere three weeks. Time is fleeting. I’ve drafted a final Beijing bucket list of things to do before I leave, and plan on checking every single item off.

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