Landing in Lhasa (or A Closely Watched Plane)

Lhasa. The name has a particularly mysterious and forbidden ring to it these days. Maybe it’s images of Tibetan cowboys on the high plateau or flashes of defiant monks protesting in the face of Chinese police last March.

Recently, the Chinese government reported that the situation in Tibet was “back to normal” in preparation for the arrival of the Olympic flame there. Even with the Olympic torch safely relayed through Lhasa this past weekend with an escort squadron of blue track-suited torch guards, Tibet still remains closed to foreigners.

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China: Pictionary to the Rescue

So there we were: I was sketching an amorphous menagerie – a sheep, a cow, and a chicken – along with a simple carrot, all on small pad of paper, while Dan offered a few charades and barnyard audio cues – a chicken dance, a moo, and a hearty “baaah” – to help bring the animal farm to life. (Thankfully, charading a carrot was beyond Dan’s abilities.)

Pictionary - Xi'an
Drawing charades to find out what's inside the dumplings.

Had the Chinese wine we consumed turned on us?

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A Tibetan Pilgrimage

Tibetan Mother and Daughter
Mother and daughter in Xiahe, China.

When we missed the last direct train of the season from Urumqi to Dunhuang, China, we didn’t realize that lady luck was actually smiling on us. We skipped the Buddhist cave paintings of Dunhuang, but landed smack in the middle of a crowd of Tibetan pilgrims visiting the Labrang Monastery for a cham (Tibetan monastic opera) in the town of Xiahe.

This was just the visual stimulation we were looking for!

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The Search for Grandfather’s House, Part Two

The new house, commanding magnificent views of open sea and bathing beaches, and mountains and forest gardens, and houses. North of the Iltis Huk church, at foot of the big hill, on south slope. Wish you could enjoy it soon with us. Big love, Daddy

— a note on the back of a photo of the house in Qingdao, China, written by my great-grandfather to one of his children on July 31, 1937.

Armed with the photo of the house and the description above, we hopped on a bus

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The Best European Christmas Markets

We’re here in Beijing, China and the only things going up more rapidly than new buildings are Christmas trees (mostly fake, of course). Last night, we became nostalgic while strolling past another giant shopping center Christmas tree, this one shielded by a roof that houses the world's largest LED video screen (250 meters long by 30 meters wide).

Beijing Christmas Decorations
Getting into the Christmas spirit in Beijing, China.

Though the proliferation of Christmas decorations in Beijing is remarkable, their presence just doesn't capture the holiday spirit like a European Christmas market would. So, we offer a walk down European Christmas Market memory lane and our “Best of” European Christmas Markets list.

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To Grandfather’s House We Go

We’re headed next to Qingdao to look for my grandfather's birthplace and the house my great-grandparents built.

— explaining our travel plans in China to a group of expats at a Thanksgiving dinner in Beijing.

The group appeared utterly confused. I don’t look like I’m of Chinese heritage in the least. So how is it that my grandfather was born in China? And had a house in Qingdao?

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