In July 2006 the Tibetan Railway was completed and you could actually go to Lhasa, Tibet by train all the way from Lanzhou, China. Before this you had to either fly or go by train to Xining, China and then the rest of the way by bus. A very difficult trip before! And I wanted to go to Lhasa!
Paul was a very close Korean friend working with us in Jiuquan, China at that time. He was fluent in Mandarin. We invited him to go to Lhasa with us. Remember, Lhasa is about 10,000 foot elevation and many people who go there suffer from altitude sickness.
One day as I was working on our travel plans, Paul came by.
“Sandi,” he said, oh, so wistfully, “wouldn’t you rather go to Hainan Island or Hong Kong?” I said, “No, Paul. I really want to go to Lhasa. It is so much more exciting than Hainan Island or Hong Kong. Why do you ask?” Then, he explained that he had seen something troubling to him on the news. He reported that an old American couple had gone to Lhasa and as the husband was taking a photo of his wife, she had spread her arms and smiled big and said, “I’m so happy to be in Lhasa!” and dropped dead! He was very concerned about my health! I assured him that I am a “tough old bird” and that I WAS GOING TO LHASA!!
We planned to go to Lhasa in February 2007, during our winter holiday from teaching. But EVERYONE who heard this news advised us not to go to Lhasa in the winter. They said it was too cold. Now, this deterred me not at all because I love the cold … as long as I’m dressed for it when I’m outside and as long as it’s warm inside.
Finally, L (for Lhasa) Day came and we began our journey. The first leg of our trip was from Jiuquan, China to Lanzhou, China, which is an overnight train trip. While in Lanzhou we visited with friends, went out to dinner with them and did a little more shopping. Then, to the train station for the L (for Lhasa) train!
We had been in the Lanzhou train station many times but we had never been in the part of the station where you wait for the Lhasa train before. This part of the station wasn’t crowded at all, whereas the other part of the station was a solid sea of humanity. The people waiting here all looked Tibetan with their colorful, traditional clothing and headgear, and unique bone structure.
We were sitting and waiting for our train. Paul was on my left and my husband, Tim, was on my right. Paul is Korean and can easily be mistaken for Chinese until he talks and then is recognized as a foreigner. But, Tim is near 6 foot tall with blondish hair, and we both have green eyes and can NOT be mistaken for Chinese.
Paul leaned over to me and whispered, “Sandi, does this happen to you often?”
I asked, “Does what happen to me often?”
He said, “Everyone in this room is staring at us. Do you often get stared at?”
“Only everywhere we go, Paul!” I answered, sweetly.
In many areas that we’ve been in China, we are the first foreigners that the people have ever seen. So, we have gotten used to feeling like monkeys in the zoo! But it was a new experience for our poor friend, Paul!