Photo by Ben Foster.

Map and Story by Will


This story was a major project for Will and is well worth reading in spite of its length (over 60 printed pages). Will once told me to leave my copy near the toilet so I could read it at my leisure. Or instead of printing it you can download and read it on your computer offline (no need to move your computer to the bathroom, though).

All photos were taken by Ben Foster, his hiking partner.

After reading the final paragraph, go back and read the Goodbye Missives (link on home page). One could conclude that paying off your debts is one cause of cancer.

I - Departure

November 19, 1994

After two weeks floating the Yangbi River, a tributary to the mighty Mekong in western Yunnan Province of China, it's time for two of the expedition members to embark on a secondary reconnaissance. Foster's and Downs' intention is to circumnavigate the Great Snowy Mountains in western Sichuan Province to evaluate 225 million-year-old Triassic rocks for potential future field work relating to the evolution of mammals from mammal-like reptiles. They will also make observations to glean any information about the timing and uplift of the Tibetan Plateau. Concurrently, they propose to explore alternate routes to the mountain-climbing base camp of 24,800-foot Mt. Gonga Shan for future climbing expeditions. To their knowledge, no foreigner has ever attempted access to the base camp via the eastern route of the Bushu River Canyon. En route, Downs also aspires to visit a minor Mecca for him, the famous chain-link bridge at Luding, which is a historic site of heroic actions during World War II.

It is also time for some apprehension, as these two Americans are unsure about the true status of restricted areas in China. Rumors in Peking insinuate that China is now completely open to travel, and as such, foreigners and natives may now roam the country with impunity (with the obvious exception of military areas). However, if the rumors are false, and if local authorities detain and expel Foster and Downs, they would simply be forced to travel elsewhere, perhaps to other wilderness areas in a different province where they may find potential scientific endeavors, such as Tiger Leap Gorge in Yunnan. It is important that travelers in China realize that when in a restricted area, they absolutely should not become detained for a second time in the same region for this could lead to serious complications such as deportation or incarceration. Provisionally, the two hikers will apply Stewart's Law of Retroaction: "It is easier to be granted forgiveness than permission." After all, the Chinese authorities do have a sense of humor, right? ...Right?

After spending the day in the Yunnan provincial capital of Kunming cleaning and storing river equipment, buying food, and packing the same for their reconnaissance, Foster and Downs finally board the northbound train for Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province. They acquired their tickets yesterday at the train station, since China International Travel Service would provide them this service only seven days in advance. Downs' previous travel arrangements within the country had been provided by his colleagues in the government, and consequently this was his first experience undertaking business at a Chinese train station, which produced results that were much easier than either his federal colleagues related or tourist guidebook descriptions suggest. Cost for a soft sleeper is 706 Chinese yuan (Y706.00 = approximately $80.00 American @ Y8.30 = $1.00) to a railway station designated Wusihe southwest of Chengdu. Foster and Downs are being decadent by riding first class, but it's worth it for the long train ride. Wusihe is not on any of the maps, including the official Chinese map of Sichuan province, but with the aid of China International Travel Service, they selected the station, and after being questioned, the ticket agent was able to provide the travelers with an approximate location of the station, which confirms it to be the station most proximal sto Gonga Shan. Downs is still a bit unnerved about disembarking a train at an unknown destination at midnight for the first encounter with the local authorities.

Yesterday they were told they would arrive at midnight, but the elder of two Chinese men sharing the four-berth cabin informs the Americans that the train arrives Wusihe at 10:20 pm according to his train schedule. It is unfortunate that the latter half of the trip through the mountainous region of Sichuan will be in the dark. The young and middle-aged Chinese in the cabin are refrigerator salesmen from Shaanxi (pronounced Shensi) Province, who will travel a lengthy 40-hour ride to Xian, the ancient capital of China. There one of the greatest archeological finds in human history is represented by terra-cotta soldiers in front of the tomb of Chin Shih Huang, the first emperor of China. The tomb is still unexcavated although it has reportedly been penetrated but the government is keeping its contents classified. More armies surrounding the burial require excavation. The salesmen are smoking heavily, providing Foster with a strong dose of secondary smoke, but the bed is comfortable which allows him some solace. The American hikers possess heavy packs loaded with perhaps five to seven days’ worth of provisions, which will allow them to camp with impunity anywhere in the wilderness, or if necessary in an empty field on a farm.

The train has just started rolling: 17:03 exactly on time. It is both exciting and liberating to begin Phase II of the six-week exploration of southwestern China. Downs and Foster have left behind the first descent of the Yangbi River expedition and their American, Chinese, and Australian colleagues, to explore the inner reaches of China at their presumed liberty.

The conductress informs them that the actual scheduled arrival at Wusihe is 10:30 am the next morning, turning this segment into a 17 1/2-hour ride. The toilet is a hole in the floor with two ceramic steps on each side of it and is not as hygienic as it could be.

The hikers move to the dining car to order two beers, a plate of bean sprouts, and a plate of green beans for a light repast. The price of the food is equivalent to a near liter Y4.00 bottle of beer. The beer is more expensive than usual due to its purchase aboard the train. In other parts of the world, Foster and Downs would hesitate to leave their full packs unguarded in the sleeping berth, but this is China. Of course things are still stolen, but not with the frequency or severity of other parts of the world. There is a girl in a pink sweater asleep in the dining car with her head down nestled in the crook of her elbow on the table. She has been sleeping as such since the train departed and appears to be an ornament of the dining car's decor.

Returning from the dining car, the Americans encounter in the three-foot-wide hallway outside the berths two German women who are traveling alone. The ladies speak perfect English to provide a pleasant opportunity for someone to talk with. Their husbands work for a Chinese-French-Italian joint venture constructing the largest dam in China on the Yalong Jiang River. This is the same project a gentleman told Foster about yesterday during a casual conversation in the train station. The dam jeopardizes future plans to run that section of the river, but it will not be completed for another eight years. The dam site is south of the great bend of the Yalong Jiang near the city of Dukou. The Germans live at the site with their families in European quarters, apparently in accommodations that are rather reminiscent of the European concessions prior to the founding of the People’s Republic. The ladies describe their living conditions as a comfortable segment of European society, complete with a movie theater, that is isolated in the middle of the Chinese countryside. They also sound a bit fatigued and bored at first, but they are friendly. The four travelers decide to move to the dining car to drink tea, beer, and talk. Everyone has nothing but honorable intentions.

Irene and Manuella are returning from Kunming where they have been Christmas shopping. Irene, an attractive blonde, wears pink-rimmed glasses, smokes Marlboros, and has a 17-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son. Manuella, apparently a bit younger, is a very attractive brunette with an eight-year-old son. Foster presents pictures of his two 8- and 12-year-old daughters Catie and Liz to the ladies, who admire them lovingly. The ladies turn an expectant gaze to Downs who informs them that he has a cat but doesn't have a picture of her. The girl in the pink sweater lifts her head with sleepy swollen eyes to peruse the scene around her, and with a languid expression of "fuck this" returns to her former position. The Germans claim that they like to get behind the scenes; that it's better to live in a country rather than take a whirlwind two-week tour living in tourist hotels. Nevertheless, it appears to Downs to be a bit hypocritical to dwell in a European-styled community in the heart of a foreign country. He has observed this type of cultural isolation in American foreign-service personnel elsewhere and is not impressed. Why bother living in a foreign country just to be culturally isolated by one’s own social artifacts? The ladies have misgivings about some of the Chinese living habits, such as spitting. They do not realize that within the past eight years, the government has been vigorously promoting the incremental decrease in spitting in China. It used to be rather revolting.

The travelers talk until 10:30. The ladies are due to disembark the train at midnight. Foster and Downs bid them a safe journey, retire to their own bunks, and soon fall comfortably asleep to the rhythm of the train. Downs left the ladies infatuated with Manuella.

II - Arrival

November 20

Popular Chinese music awakens the first-class car through an electric speaker at about 8:00. At least it isn't associated with the count-off of calisthenics as it is heard around the rest of the country in the morning. The two hikers attend the dining car for breakfast, which consists of a large bowl of noodles. This being one of Downs' favorite meals, he is ecstatic, but a little disappointed that there is no fresh garlic to accompany his bowl. The girl in the pink sweater is at her regular repose.

It appears the train is now passing through more tunnels than open country, with some tunnels requiring lengthy periods to traverse. It is said the Chengdu-Kunming rail line is one of the great feats of human labor in this century, for it is estimated that a million workers died constructing it within a tortuous maze of mountains and canyons in a limited amount of time. The tracks are supported by innumerable 100-foot-high trestles, from which travelers are allowed brief glimpses of rivers a thousand feet below, then only to enter another tunnel. At times it is possible to observe the posterior portion of the train snaking around curves with various sections of it either exposed or obscured by the cliffs it penetrates. It is like a giant worm crawling through occasionally exposed portions of the earth. Every one of the over 300 tunnels on this route is named. Occasionally, when passing from one canyon to the next, the land rises to meet the railroad tracks and reveals, on a parallel road, a horse-drawn covered carriage that is, in fact, a surrey with a fringe on top.

At 10:40 am, the train slows for Wusihe station while the conductress loans the refrigerator salesmen copies of the latest pornographic magazines. Foster and Downs disembark into an empty station, where they attempt to learn from a young lady at a concession station what time the ticket office opens in order to purchase confirmed return sleeper tickets in advance. The young woman informs them that the ticket booth opens in the evening at 7:30, one-half hour prior to the arrival of the train. They decide the hell with it, they will confront the situation upon their return in two weeks.

As they turn to exit the station, they are faced by a public security officer with four gold stars on his red epaulets. They will now learn the truth about the new open China. Gruffly the officer inquires where the foreigners are going. (Downs is certain they will be detained and placed on the next train. He has been in this situation and seen this face and tone of voice before). But , after the official is informed that they plan to visit the city of Shimian (pronounced Shrmian) at the southern end of the great Snowy Mountains, the officer smiles warmly and escorts the backpackers to the local bus stop while suggesting that they may wish to dine or take some liquid refreshment at one of the local establishments before departing. Downs is stupefied. He is also exuberant, for they have now begun to penetrate the recesses of China without the restraint of a federal chaperone.

The hikers now travel by bus to the county capitol of Hanyuan via a two-lane tarmac road that traverses the gorge cut by the mighty Dadu River, which flows between 30-50,000 ft.3 per second, or twice as large as the normal flow of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. The Dadu must be daunting during run-off season. It is an impressive river with clear water and very runnable rapids. In some areas it is intense and frightening, while in others it braids through large gravel bars. To imagine the scale of the Yangzi River, the third largest in the world just westward, which in this region slices throughout the eastern mountain ranges of the Tibetan Plateau with unharnessed fury, is unfathomable.

Speaking of fury, Downs verges on murdering the 15-year-old looking bus driver for driving like a maniac. The driver and a bus directly in front are playing "leapfrog for passengers" by conducting high-speed passes on blind curves to overtake the other in order to be first to secure the next roadside passenger. Arriving at the large city of Hanuan just after noon cost the travelers a total of Y23.00.

Now they board a second bus to the county capital of Shimian, which is twice the distance but half the cost of Y12.00 for both passengers. The Americans are infuriated to learn they have been swindled by being charged double on the last leg (she was such a nice old lady), and that they have lost seventy-five American cents a piece (it's the principle of the thing). Downs is having trouble with the local western Sichuan dialect* while he tries to interpret the unit of measure for oranges (Mandarin of course) from an old lady with a hand-held scale.

They ultimately arrive in the county capital of Shimian at 2 pm after a delay on the highway due to a crane extracting pieces of what was once a truck from the Dadu River. In all, it took merely three hours by bus from Wusihe Station to Shimian and cost Y35.00 or about $4.00 for both, the swindle included.

From the Shimian bus stop, it is a ten-minute walk through a mixture of modern eight-story and 1960's three-story architecture to the government rest house, where the hikers rent a room with two double beds for Y66.00, plus Y5.00 key deposit. It is surprising that the local authorities now provide accommodation to tourists, for on previous trips, if foreigners weren't accompanied by government personnel, the room would be denied them. The bathroom has a broken sink and tub, but there is a public shower on the third floor.

Leaving their packs in the room, Foster and Downs go for a stroll to the center of town to assess the city. There are two newly-built large hotels on the main streets which charge Y70.00 for a double. These establishments were unseen when they initially entered town. The two foreigners sit down at a cafe next to one of the new hotels and order a couple of local beers. Nice afternoon light illuminates the bustling street scenes where there is hardly any motor traffic. Foster sits on a curb outside documenting the town with his camera. When too many curious onlookers crowd around, he recedes back into the cafe to imbibe a bit more. Foreigners are very rare in this region, and as such, Foster and Downs are promoted to celebrities. The cafe waitress, speaking beautiful Chinese without a hint of regional accent, informs Downs that several foreigners have passed by Shimian on their way to Mt. Gonga Shan this year. She also claims that a German and Swiss on mountain bikes, who lodged here last week, also planned to visit Gonga Shan (by journey's end Downs will realize that the two bikers would have had to carry their bikes to the mountain if they traveled to the same destination).

Only a few Yi minority people populate the streets. The women, who definitely don't want their picture taken, wear hats with detailed, brightly colored, embroidered backflaps. No two flaps are the same. There are black turbans and white turbans (which may represent Islamic orientation), many bicycles, people walking, shopping in the open-air market, sitting and socializing on curbs. Several men are half drunk with their comrades after trading shots of 120 proof "baijiu" ("rocket fuel," as Henry Kissinger proclaimed it). It is a small, peaceful, and friendly Chinese town of probably 70,000. These people are neither starving nor, it surficially appears, politically repressed. The absence of police is conspicuous, as is the absence of beggars, which is in direct contrast to the wealthiest nation on Earth. End edits

The guests finish their drinks, and cross the street where Downs is invited to share a shot of rocket fuel with the troupe of jovial minority natives. Shortly, the hikers enter a department store to purchase more food for the hike: tinned meat, dried fruit, and hard candy. The shop clerk tries to overcharge them twice the amount until he realizes one of the foreigners can recognize Chinese characters. They then peruse the street market for fresh garlic, dried shitake mushrooms, ginger, and whatever other light-weight condiments or sustenance they may encounter. This is a great market....and...there's plenty of free parking. They return to the rest-house in a two-person rickshaw bicycle, which is single geared with a seat attached behind the peddler to accommodate two people. The driver must peddle uphill and is paid Y3.00. He initially asks for five but is talked down to Y2.00 with a Y1.00 gratuity ( Of course, it is still the principle of the thing and the peddler expresses enjoyment over the process of bargaining nonetheless).

At their lodgings, the hikers calculate available funds for their proposed endeavor. Foster has Y673.00 in addition to a few hundred U.S. dollars and a credit card. Downs has Y800.00, $400.00 and two credit cards. This should be much more than sufficient, considering the prices they have been encountering so far (Little do the travelers realize how much they have underestimated their financial resources at this point.).

This evening they dine in the extremely large restaurant of the government rest-house, which is designed to provision hundreds of guests during large political meetings, but the Americans are the only guests tonight. The food from the palatial kitchen is excellent but a little bit too fiery for Downs who thrives on spicy food. The Sichuaneze must possess entrails of steel.

After dinner the two decide to return to the center of town to observe Shimian's night life and stop at a small disco-bar where they sample a couple of beers, nibble on pumpkin seeds and oranges, and end up dancing with a couple of the local girls who work in the bar.* One extremely beautiful young maiden works Foster while the other even more voluptuous nymph works Downs. They are young, beautiful, and snugly. Foster assumes that they are typical bar-girls. This may be true, but with an obvious exception: they are virgins, not prostitutes, as evidenced by their dancing techniques (No bump and grinding. You can get close, but not too close).

As a digression, Downs has basically stopped patronizing dancing bars in the U.S. because situations had become too bizarre. One evening he danced with a rather attractive brunette who was grinding him so intensely she provided herself with an orgasm in the middle of the dance floor. After a slight swoon she then planted a wet tongue filled kiss on his mouth, which provoked a gentleman standing along the wall to approach the couple and demand a halt to such outrageous public behavior. The brunette responded with strong terse words and the offended party departed in anger. Downs apologized for insulting what must have been her boyfriend, but she responded "don't pay any attention to him, he's just my husband." Experiences too bizarre to recount here became more potentially violent and frequent, compelling him to stop attending drunken dancing establishments (the endearing incident with four lesbians finally pushed him over the edge).

A return to the present general social conditions in China reveals that in Kunming, as opposed to Peking, prostitution is becoming more prevalent and blatant. Call girls phone a hotel room from the lobby to propose their services. Downs has now reluctantly sworn off prostitutes due to the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases, although in the past he was quite an aficionado of red light districts. In his youth in Hong Kong he was once provided with a 20% student discount at a brothel (after having his student I.D. inspected) with the provision that he would be attended by a courtesan who only speaks Chinese. Although he acquired much practical knowledge in social conversation that night, it was predominantly acquired by Braille. At this writing, due to the lack of significant or non significant love affairs over the years, he is now a re-certified virgin.

One problem in China several years ago related to attractive young damsels who became prey items to lustful young foreign men, who through promises of marriage and the specter of a wealthy life in Europe or the U.S, successfully deflowered, abandoned, and consequently ruined innocent womens' lives. But currently a sexual revolution is underway, for in the larger cities of China, pre-marital sex and multiple partners are becoming more prevalent or even common. But Shimian is to rural and represents a traditional concervative town. It would be absolutely inappropriate to continue to be further seduced by this beautiful and enchanting young woman named Miss Feng. Downs departs completely infatuated and nearly in love with this nubile ethnic at 10:30 pm. Foster also later admits that he is more than simply attracted to his temptress. This night requires a termination immediately.

November 21, 1:00 PM.

"This has been a terrific day so far," writes Foster in his journal, and continues... the two awoke at 7:00 am after a comfortable sleep accompanied by dreams of disco sweethearts (that is to say that the other of the team nearly had a wet dream about a sensuous Chinese temptress. Wet dreams are most appreciated by this individual, considering the absence of sexual love. A good dream is as good as reality, or sometimes even better. It is regrettable it wasn't realized.).

The hikers ate breakfast at the rest-house dining room and walked five minutes to the Shimian bus station, where, upon their arrival, there was a bus pulling out of the gate bound north for Luding. They boarded and rode up the east bank of the Dadu River. The confluence of the Bushu River with the Dadu was 27 miles from Shimian, but because the bus traveled up the east bank of the Dadu and the Bushu is a tributary from the west, there was a little apprehension regarding access to the Bushu River canyon. En route, bridges over the Dadu were definitely far and few between or nearly none, to be precise, which is the reason the Red Army in flight required to cross it at Luding. About 4 miles prior to the Bushu, the Dadu canyon narrowed precipitously and developed within it numerous class III-IV rapids, all runable but some extremely hazardous to whitewater rafts.

Relief! Not only was there a bridge at the Bushu confluence, but it supported truck and bus traffic. Of course neither the bridge nor the ensuing road to Caoke was on the official map. The hikers descended from the bus at 10:00 am and walked up the dirt road paralleling the Bushu River. They are now at the entrance to the Great Snowy Mountains.

Suddenly, a Shanghai jeep with public security license plates came speeding around the corner. Shit! Here they were in the middle of the canyon with full packs. This was a dead bust! As the jeep sped by the hikers, the police inside smile and wave, leaving Downs standing in the wake of their dust scratching his head. A year ago they would have been detained on the spot. There was also other traffic on the road: "putt-putts,"* a Jeep Wagoneer, bicycles, and pedestrians.

The Bushu River is a large tributary with a high gradient and a nearly continuous cascade that would be challenging for a Kayak. Occasionally, cable foot bridges span it, and lead to some quite charming dwellings and fields within the canyon. The ambiance leaves one with the impression that Shimian County is relatively prosperous.

After an hour of walking with heavy packs there was a fork in the road, the left path led to the small village of Tianwan less than 100 yds away. The walkers arrive and bought a couple of beers to sit on a stool drinking outside the store. Locals crowded around as usual. Downs began to have trouble with the local dialect but was still able to glean some information: Yes, the road continues for 15 miles all the way to the village of Tsemei (which is only a short walk from the Gonga Shan Monastery) and which would save the hikers three days of walking, to provide them with additional time for reconnaissance in the high mountain region.

After a while, a tall man dressed in a suit and tie and accompanied by his wife approached the hikers but behaved a bit aloof. Another lady with whom Downs was having trouble communicating finally wrote in his notebook that the road terminated at the village of Caoke just five miles from here. And yes, there was a 1:30 PM bus that runs up canyon (when all else fails resort to calligraphy, for Chinese characters are consistent from Taiwan to Japan to Southeast Asia even though the vocalizations applied to the characters differ).

The tall man in the suit departed briefly and returned with a Chinese violin (an Erhu) and proceeded to play a melancholy melody strongly accented with vibrato. Foster, with his camera, approached the gentleman who allowed him a photograph. In return the gentleman offered Foster his musical instrument to play. As Foster attempted a melody on the Erhu the crowd of onlookers quickly disseminated, leaving Downs alone with his fingers in his ears. The gentleman, who in fact was the Mayor of Tianwan, departed again and returned with a western violin and his camera. Foster, being conversant with the former, played the violin in the middle of the street while the Mayor photographed him. Later the two exchanged addresses with promises to send each their picture. A third bottle of beer was bought and the hikers bid goodbye to their newly made friends to return to the fork in the road and await the bus.

1:40 pm:

Foster repacks his journal with a smile. The bus is now ten minutes late and there are some eight or nine people waiting with the hikers, who are sitting on one of the other passenger's sacks of potatoes. Downs passes out cigarettes and drinks beer with Foster. The conversations among the natives may as well be spoken in Tambuka as they are completely incomprehensible. It amazes the Americans that the logistics of this journey are flowing so smoothly, although if the bus indeed only goes to the next village, there will be a 15 mile walk between Caoke and Tsemei.

2:20 pm:

Still waiting. Foster shows the locals pictures of his family, which of course delights the entire assemblage. Downs vows to start carrying a picture of his cat. People keep coming and going. One local on a motorcycle has four straw baskets on the back, the top two of which are filled with piglets. The back of one man's jacket is embroidered with "United Trends of U Right" (?). Currently, stirrup pants or tights are all the rage in Chinese womens' fashion, but many of the older generation still don Mao suits. Black or white turbaned natives pass by, in addition to the occasional Yi minority women with beautifully embroidered caps and extraordinarily colorful skirts and vests.

2:45 pm:

The hikers relinquish hope for the bus and again walk up the dirt road. A Chinese gentleman, with whom it is difficult to communicate, is carrying a package of hack-saw blades and joins them on their walk up canyon (of course, he offers to carry both of the packs and continues to offer until his gracious proposal is customarily refused for the third time by the hikers). In a quarter mile or so a concrete bridge spans the Bushu where a group of men emerge from four or five large platform tents to scrutinize the "foreign devils." The characteristically different colored eyes, beards, and hair of westerners facilitate Chinese mothers in their discipline of a misbehaving child, who is threatened with abduction by devils if his behavior is not corrected. Of course it upsets Downs' altruistic heart to see juveniles run screaming in panic upon first sight of him. But it also causes him to chuckle.

The walk continues up canyon for perhaps another two miles past other large tributaries that contain luxuriant fields and stone houses, some of which are distinctly well constructed. Finally, a bus approaches from behind, the walkers board, and it is merely a ten minute ride to the village of Caoke. On the overloaded bus there is quite a nice young man in a western suit jacket who converses with Foster in limited English. He apparently noticed the Americans walking around the streets of Shimian the previous day and is indeed glad to have the opportunity to meet them and be their host in the village.

The bus arrives at its destination and the young western suited gentleman named Mister Feng (the same surname as Downs' disco beauty) provides the foreign devils with a tour of the town. Caoke is alienated from the main traffic of southwest China but is nevertheless provided with electricity that is generated downstream at Tianwan by a small hydroelectric station powered by a small diversion off the Bushu River. In the near future, many more of these ecologically low impact stations will be seen around and within the Great Snowy Mts. But, from this point up canyon, there will be no more electricity. The village of Caoke maintains a well stocked store, a middle school, and a brand new three story hospital, which surprisingly, contains no patients. At the store, the Americans take one last opportunity to purchase more noodles, salt, nuts, a bottle of the best quality rocket fuel, five packs of expensive cigarettes for gifts,* and two "Red Army" caps to enable Foster and Downs to disguise themselves as Chinese. Right! The paranoia about running out of food is not only becoming silly but also increasingly backbreaking. The backpacks are nearly 80 lbs and are becoming too cumbersome.

Mr. Feng is very anxious to please and provides a tour of the town beginning with a small wickery factory where eight to ten young women are cutting bamboo dangerously close to band saws and circular saws. It is fortunate that the hospital is next door. The womens' technique is to first cross-cut the bamboo with chop-saws, then feed it into a "shredder" where it comes out in very thin straws, after which bundles are again cross-cut to 18" lengths. It is a noisy, dusty, and dark warehouse that represents the only industry in the entire canyon. Mr. Feng states that the name of the river is the Tianwan River. He has never heard a reference to the name Bushu.

Mr. Feng leads further upstream to the outskirts of town where there is a small diversion canal off the Bushu that feeds a water-wheel for grinding corn. The wheel is horizontal and not vertical like its western counterpart, and is turned on and off by a diversion gate. While at the water wheel a ten-year-old child emerges from around the corner carrying a large and very flat rat, which he then discards in the canal. Curiosity regarding the nature of the rat-trap is satisfied upon watching it be reset. It consists of a heavy two inch thick slab of slate that is propped up by a single stick levered against another stick and is then ingeniously bound and triggered by a green twig, at the end of which is a piece of corn on the cob skewered for bait. The slightest movement of the corn triggers the collapse of the slab which flattens the rat instantly. It's brilliant.

Some of the houses on the outskirts of town hang a six-inch red star under the eves at the front corners. However, several houses have had these stars conspicuously removed leaving a pentagonal silhouette on the sun bleached wood. This must be a political statement by some of the inhabitants.

Feng continues his tour out of town and further up the canyon where several high waterfalls cascade in grandeur over the ramparts of the thousand foot thickly foiliaged canyon walls. One waterfall is at least several hundred feet in length. The scenery and general ambiance is all very Chinese.

Another fifteen minute walk further takes the tour to an assemblage of garish red Swiss A-frame style houses with small front verandahs that extend to several large cement pools. The complex looks quite out of place. Mr. Feng asserts that this was intended as a tourist resort, but the venture failed. Five minutes further brings the trio to two hot spring pools, one with a few women and the other with a man in it. It is nice looking water and relatively hot for lying right next to the ice-fed Bushu River. Foster wants to soak in the hot springs, but it is now 5:30 and Mr. Feng suggests a return to town for dinner. It is a pity that so much effort was expended to divert the hot springs to the potential resort, only to find that the volume of water was insufficient to support the capacity that was required.

Mr. Feng has made an arrangement with the local doctor to provide the Americans with lodging in the new hospital for the evening for a price of Y20.00, so it is still another night in opulence where they expected to be camping. Foster and Downs invite Mr. Feng for dinner at the local restaurant and meet him in a small and possibly the cleanest little restaurant in China. Mr. Feng is a "broadcaster" by profession and informs them that there is a radio station right here in the little village of Caoke. Indeed, there is a satellite dish on the building next to the hospital. Downs is a little suspicious of Feng's claimed occupation because Feng's Chinese accent is not one of the best, but later he realizes that the broadcaster must have sacrificed his efforts to perfect a national language accent to learn English. Additionally, the local populace has no need of a broadcaster with a perfect national accent.

Various locals visit during dinner among whom is an old woman who asks how old Foster is, guesses six years off that he is 50, and jokes that he must be Downs' father. The owner of the restaurant introduces his 12-year-old daughter who moans she is starving and of course is invited to sit and eat. She doesn't touch a thing but the nuts and appears to be gratified to simply be in the company of the American celebrities. Of course Foster once more extracts his family pictures which, as usual, are a delight to all. The company doesn't give a shit about Downs' cat.

After a quite filling and delicious dinner consisting of hors d'ouvres, three main dishes, all the rice one can eat, beer, and tea, the official government map of Sichuan Province is spread out on the table and it is learned that the trail to Tsemei is not passable by horse, which the two hikers planned on hiring to carry their now seriously overloaded packs. This is a revelation, as they have traveled to this location from the train station at Wusihe via 4 busses, including the last 15 minute ride to Caoke.

The old lady pleads with them not to go to Tsemei because it is so very cold. Another gentleman warns about the danger of bears en route, and at this point Mr. Feng asks if assistance is required to attain their destination. The hikers decide they could use a single man, and immediately the owner of the restaurant, Mr. Zhang, volunteers to provide his services. Mr. Zhang has been to Tsemei many times. He is intelligent, friendly, and strongly built. He also informs Foster and Downs that it is a three day walk with a load up canyon to Tsemei but only a two day return for him. He will help carry food and gear and requests Y30.00 per day. An agreement is made to meet him here at the restaurant at 8:00 am on the morrow.

The travelers return to the hospital where the doctor shows the hikers the toilet facilities. They are then left alone in their own room with a single suspended electric light bulb and hot water thermoses. The outside temperature is beautifully cool and the blankets on the beds are thick and warm. "Wow, what a day!" scribes Foster in his journal, not realizing that it will be registered as one of the more uneventful ones for the next two weeks.

III - Hinterland

November 22:

Foster awakens at 6:15 to attend the perfect temperature 104? hot springs. As he undresses and enters the pool before dawn, three young men arrive wearing swimming suits, and soon a middle aged man arrives to also enter the pool naked and exonerate Foster's nudity. Foster borrows some soap and shampoo and departs at dawn. Morning overcast hangs high in the canyon.

At breakfast, Zhang reveals that he is either too busy, in his older years (he is probably 40), or too reluctant to make the five day round trip trudge to Tsemei and instead offers the services of his younger brother for the same wages. The hikers agree to the new arrangement and return to the hospital to repack and consolidate the tent and two full stuff sacks of food for younger Zhang.

Outside the hospital, a ping-pong table constructed out of a four-inch slab of concrete atop a layed stone foundation with a single wooden "net" upon it alleviates the wait for young Zhang while he organizes his things. Six people including the doctor and Mr. Feng take turns competing. Foster and Downs are simply no match for the Chinese, particularly the intimidating heavy set woman who demolishes her opposition with perfectly placed power shots slammed from eight feet behind the table. Concrete provides the perfect medium for a responsive ping-pong table.

Finally, at 10:45, they bid farewell to begin the walk, with Mr. Feng carrying a 30 pound bag of oranges on his back and accompanied by his aunt, both of whom travel up canyon to their family residences at a small village named Xiaoreshui (small hot springs). A mist still hangs in the air intermittently exposing portions of the tree shrouded cliffs, pinnacles, and beautiful waterfalls.

After a couple of miles the group crosses a suspended bridge which is well built with cable handrails and two or three wide planks to walk upon. Two cables anchor the structure in stone at each end, where occasionally there is a five-pointed star etched into the anchorage. Four more of these bridges span the Bushe between Caoke and todays destination of Jinwo. Downs is not entirely comfortable crossing the cable bridges, for when three or more people cross at once, the structure gyrates in figure-eight convulsions threatening to toss the pedestrians into the torrent below. Soon a group of people panning for gold are encountered and introduced as Feng's cousins. Foster and Downs are later introduced to Feng's family in his pleasant little village surrounded by fields in the Bushu River canyon, where they drink tea, pass out cigarettes, photograph the family, and finally bid adieu to Mr. Feng, after thanking him profusely for his assistance.

Another four hours of hiking along the raging Bushu takes the trio further into the canyon, where they are surrounded by 2,000 ft. sheer cliffs with ramparts overflown by frequent waterfalls. It is beautiful here but absolutely hopeless for conducting paleontological research due to the lack of appropriate exposure and the nature of the sediments. Soon the river bends to reveal further habitation of attractive stone houses with waterwheels. The hikers then traverse a one-mile wide alluvial fan of a major tributary. Simply exploring this immense side canyon would be an interesting endeavor in itself. They continue into a moss carpeted dense forest of thin deciduous trees with abundant lichen ornamenting the branches (actually a fungus combined with an alga).

Eventually, the trio takes a rest stop at another river crossing where stone steps are hewn into a massive boulder. They continue to a point where the Bushu pinches down to pass beneath a large chock stone boulder at an absolute tumultuous rate. Off the main trail, there is a tiny precarious cable bridge that crosses 40 feet above the torrent. The trio meets three hunters with rifles and dogs. When asked what they are hunting, they reply, "Anything."

Arriving at the tiny village of Jinwo at about 3:40 makes it a moderate five hour walk from Caoke. Young Zhang praises Downs and Foster as "fierce" hikers, but they realize Zhang is merely being polite to a couple of worn out old men. Zhang's friends here in Jinwo provide the Chinese equivalent to a bed and breakfast. They are an older couple that live in one of only two residences in the narrow canyon's settlement. The couple has a huge stone oven with three four foot diameter woks imbedded in the top, no doubt to provide banquet services for large groups (how many large groups attend Jinwo for banquets per decade?).

That evening the travelers dine on millet, absolutely delicious wild bighorn sheep, and a variety of vegetables, after which hosts and guests sit around a fire in a small room adjacent to the kitchen where burning bamboo occasionally explodes like one-inch firecrackers. Young Zhang informs the Americans that even though they hiked like tigers today, tomorrow will be a 12 hour hike ascending to nearly 10,000 feet in elevation to reach the next place of human habitation, for the region to be traversed is very wild. Downs informs Zhang that as they are equipped with a tent and food, it would be no trouble to camp in the forest. But Zhang is adamant and insists they go the distance, particularly because of the bears. He also claims that if the weather is good, Panda may be in the vicinity, and that he saw a tiger in this wilderness last April.

Today it would have been possible to use a pack animal between Caoke to Jinwo, but apparently not on tomorrow's hike. It is still not clear to either of the Americans why tomorrow's hike will be difficult or dangerous. Foster's back is a little sore and Downs' feet are a little tender from just the five hour walk today. Twelve hours and a 4,000 foot increase in elevation tomorrow might be stretching their endurance a little, but Zhang insists it's important to reach human habitation. It is now two days to Tsemei. The trio plans to be walking by earliest dawn into the wilderness. Zhang remarks that it may snow tomorrow.

Zhang also states that there were foreigners on Mt. Gonga Shan this year. Whose expedition could it be?

Downs is first into the guest chambers to arrange his bedding. He has been traveling in China now for six years and is not easily intimidated, but upon noticing the condition of the bed he is absolutely appalled by its slovenly condition! If Foster sees this he'll have a cow! There's no place to pitch the tent in the immediate vicinity and he promises himself not to make this mistake again. The hell with it, sleep on top of the apparently clean coverlet in sleeping bags. Upon unfolding the quilt, a large black spider escapes from a fold into the wall by the head board. Now what could be contracted in this bed? Scabies, bedbugs, crabs, fleas? At least this isn't the habitat of the dreaded and fatal Baringo sand flea. And certainly this can't be as nerve wracking as sleeping in a side canyon of the Grand Canyon during tarantula migration season when hundreds of the large heavy arachnids are tromping all over the sleeping bag all night long ("and you know what was really funny about it," said Billingsley, "they were all going in the same direction."). China is also blessed by the absence of caterpillars with silica spicules. In Kenya one night, one of these insects, which resembles the friendly and tactile woolly caterpillar in the U.S., crawled across the face of a young lady in her bungalow to leave numerous spicules embedded in her eye lids. Eventually, the filaments worked their way through her eyelids to abrade her eyeballs. Although doctors were able to extract nearly all of them from the inside of her eyelids, one had escaped by penetrated her eye, and at this writing a silica spicule is traveling down her optic nerve toward her brain.

As it turns out, the bed in Jinwo is infested with nothing, but is merely cramped.

November 23:

Mrs. Li, the propriatress of the abode, awakens the trio at 3:30 am. The two Americans are under the impression they were to be called at 6:00 am, which is raised at breakfast in a discussion by candlelight. Zhang confirms the intended wake-up call and inquires into the current time. When he is informed it is 4:00 am, he looks surprised, exchanges a few unintelligible words with Mrs. Li, and laughs loudly while remarking "she doesn't run on time because she doesn't own a clock."

Foster finishes breakfast and returns to bed in disgust. For the next two and a half hours, Downs remains awake talking with Zhang and Mrs. Li while drinking tea around the open fire in the next room. He searches his pocket dictionary to decipher precisely what taxa constitute the upcoming wilderness fauna. When pressed about the animals that live in the wilderness Zhang recounts: golden fox, wolf, three kinds of monkeys restricted to the Jinwo region, two taxa of wild sheep, another wild bovid (Takin?), deer, snow leopard (in the highest elevations), and a couple of animals he couldn't remember the Chinese characters for.

Downs presents the impoverished Mrs. Li with a pack of Y20.00 Red Pagoda cigarettes, which Zhang informs her, costs Y1.00 for each cigarette. This impresses her greatly and compels her to smoke them sparingly and with great pleasure, as some would enjoy a fine Cuban cigar. At this point Downs requests that Zhang please speak more slowly and distinctly in order to better understand him, and lo and behold! Zhang begins speaking like a Chinese CNN anchor-man! From this point onward he is completely intelligible. Why isn't Zhang the broadcaster in Caoke?!

The trio is on the trail at 6:30 in the moonlight. The first river crossing occurs at first light, when it is still basically night time, over the furious Bushu on three ice-coated timbers. There is the semblance of a handrail, though if one required it for support, he would fall into the freezing waterfall and be swept to his doom. It is probably fortuitous that they can not see the danger clearly.

On the opposite bank, Zhang darts ahead leaving Foster and Downs floundering around the thickly wooded river banks searching for the trail. Dawn is breaking to reveal a primeval forest dripping with lichen. This is allegedly the site of monkeys although none are witnessed.

After ten minutes of hooting and hollering over the roar of the river the trio is again united and continues up the moss laden path to a more difficult crossing. At least the scenery is now visible. The crossing begins with a Chinese ladder (an eight foot long 10" diameter lodge pole with notches cut into it) that leans against a boulder to ascend a boulder bar which one traverses to a newly constructed three timber ice-covered span crossing the river. A two-inch green-sapling handrail sags in a very disheartening looking parabola where, at the center, it has sunk to beneath foot level. Zhang veritably skips across the logs, but Downs, admitting his intimidation, sinks to his hands and knees when crossing the center section. (Later, he will cross these structures with alacrity, he just needs practice.) Foster thinks it is difficult but does not humiliate himself as Downs did.*

Now on the opposite bank of the river, Zhang extracts a bottle of rocket fuel and presents it to Downs in a congratulatory gesture (rocket fuel is not a bad breakfast drink). As the bottle makes its rounds, Zhang informs the two that normally a toll must be paid to cross this bridge, but because they are such honored foreign guests, the likes of which have not been seen before in the canyon (and also gave the propriatress such fancy smokes), the toll fee has been rescinded. He takes another pull on the bottle and passes it to Downs who refuses politely, not wanting to become too intoxicated for the upcoming rest of the day (did Downs really think that?). Foster and Zhang continue passing the bottle. This crossing was just recently reconstructed due to a washout by the floods earlier this summer. If this bridge were absent, Zhang states, there would be the delay of an 800 foot high and two extra hour long detour.

It is time to resume. The rocket fuel turns Foster into Astroboy, motivating him to blast high up into the forest leaving Zhang and Downs in his wake. The morning's clouds have scattered to reveal a beautifully clear day. Again they hike through more dense bamboo and deciduous forest but this time with a higher canopy. The trail continues in a regular pattern of climbing several hundred feet and descending 75-100 feet as it traverses river meanders. Foster finally waits for the others before continuing with several tributary crossings. The Bushu itself will not be crossed again until their destination at Tsemei. Now high peaks and bare rock ridges come into view as the forest vegetation keeps changing with every bend of the river: now a bamboo forest, now deciduous, now it's a different type of bamboo forest, now conifer, now another bamboo. How many varieties of bamboo forests are there?!

Toward midday they trek nearly an hour through another fairly dense bamboo forest with new growth when they notice to the south a high volume waterfall which pouring over a low cliff at its confluence with the Bushu. Zhang claims this to be the site where he witnessed four Panda with young, which sounds a bit suspicious for Pandas are solitary and raise one cub at a time. Nevertheless, the ecosystem here is a perfect Panda niche, and Zhang did indicate a Panda evasion chute just previously (Pandas use evasion chutes??). He is probably exaggerating a bit as he has not been disingenuous or prone to creating real falsehoods as yet. At least several days of observation would be required to document the presence of these animals here.

At one point on a return to the river, a 60 foot stairway of laid stone descends to a boulder bar but services no man made structure. Perhaps there is something special here that is unobserved. It is regrettable that there is no time to stop, relax, or explore.

They take a quick lunch at the river where the guide explains that from Jinwo down canyon the river is named the Tianwan, but in its higher reaches it has numerous names, one of which is the Bushu.

Then back on the march. There is more of the is all different. There are excellent and beautiful places to camp, but Zhang won't consider it due to his fear of bears. It is late afternoon, when traversing a meander of the river, they enter a distinctly characteristic bamboo forest consisting of large widely spaced four to six foot diameter clumps of mature stalks which ascend high enough to form a canopy and which is surrounded by a soft carpeting of grass. This is unique and quite special. It would be ideal camping but there is no nearby water. Who would imagine that bamboo forests grow at 10,000 foot elevation? This is rather disconcerting toward paleoenvironmental reconstruction, as will be noted later.

They now break out of the forest to cross three or four timber bridges that lead to a scrub land covering a wide hanging valley or ancient glacial moraine. The gradient of the Bushu is now much lower, but there is still a continuous gradual ascent up the valley. Here, where occasional horses graze off the now expanded trail, is the first real view of snow covered peaks. The wilderness area is behind them.

All day the rock exposures have been either vertical or vegetated with those that are exposed representing marine flysch (an uninteresting uniform gray unfossiliferous siltstone).

Approaching 5 pm the tired trio reaches a herdsman's camp, but it is unoccupied and they must continue on. At approximately 6:30 the troupe finally slogs into an inhabited camp (precisely a 12 hour walk, just as Zhang predicted) to be welcomed by colorfully dressed attractive women with ivory rings in their braids and embellished with necklaces of silver, bone, or glass beads. These are obviously Tibetans, but of course they must simply be nomadic herdspeople and not native to the region as this is still well into Sichuan Province.

The trio is welcomed by an older couple with a 10 year old girl who is undoubtedly their niece and with whom Foster falls platonically in love. First order of business is to erect the tent behind the cabin and corral of Yaks (Yaks?!) where a large vicious dog on a stout chain attempts to attack the hikers. The cold prompts Downs to shed his red army hat for his turban, which is a much more functional headpiece.* When not walking and until they return to lower altitudes, this will be his headgear of preference.

They enter a log cabin to be offered Tibetan tea, which consists of yak butter, salt, and black Chinese tea that is blended in a tall bamboo churn. As it is more like a broth, Foster thinks it is not as bad as he has heard described, while Downs thinks that it is fine tasting nourishment and must definitely be good for the constitution. They are also offered yak cheese, which Foster initially believes is bread but is surprised to find the texture juicy or somewhat similar to the consistency of mozzarella but with a mildly sharp taste. Tsamba is then provided to the guests, which is maize or barley flour mixed with tea to create a bread dough and eaten as such. Tsamba and tea provide the staple diet for the entire population on the Tibetan plateau. Downs makes a complete mess of his bowl (but it is not as embarrassing as when he manually eats couscous) and is impressed that it is absolutely the most bland fare he's ever put in his mouth. But it is ritual and it would be an affront to refuse it. Presently, they are served absolutely delicious baodzes (baodze singular), which here are stuffed with the meat of wild big-horn sheep.* Several are thrown into the central fire to bake which will preserve them for tomorrow's lunch.

Zhang presents the old woman with cigarettes, herbs, and pills (probably aspirin). In addition to carrying the Americans' supplies, he has been packing herbs, drugs, cigarettes, two quarts of rocket fuel and other presents for his friends here.

After dinner the matriarch sprinkles a small ladle full of tea over a picture of the Dalai Lama as a small offering. The Americans return to their tent where Foster scribes: "This has been a long but incredible day!" Downs concurs. They sleep comfortably and soundly in the crisp air on the outskirts of the Tibetan Plateau.

November 24:

A heavy frost blankets the morning, but it is warmed by a delicious breakfast of hot chili noodles, after which time is spent socializing while Foster photographs the personage and encampment. Downs presents a pack of Red Pagodas to the grandmother and pays her Y25.00 for the meals. She makes an appreciative gesture with the cigarettes and money to Zhang suggesting that every time he visits, gifts and funds such as these are presented to her. Foster presents the adorable young niece with his small Swiss army knife. Although the most effective way to ingratiate oneself into Oriental society is to be generous, the presentation of the knife is a bit excessive, but Foster is entirely enamored with this beautiful nymph, particularly when after viewing the pictures of his children, she gave him a big smile and a double-thumbs-up gesture. The Tibetans speak very little Chinese preventing Downs from describing his cat.

The travelers depart at approximately 10:00 am after providing a demonstration of collapsing ones bedding and home into their backpacks to the wide-eyed stares of the Tibetan onlookers. They hike only a short distance in sunlight that is just clearing the high peaks to illuminate the valley when two young boys approach Zhang, and then depart and return with Zhang's old friends, their parents. Rocket fuel is extracted to celebrate the reunion and all sit down talking and drinking amidst the comfortably arranged boulders of a fluvial outwash. Zhang complains of his sore shoulders while informing the Americans that pack horses are available for rent here. This subsequently provokes a bargaining session that culminates in a price of Y60.00 for one horse and attendant to pack the gear to Tsemei. As far as the Americans are concerned this rental is not necessary, as the horse trails from this point onward are well maintained, facilitating an easy walk. But it would be polite to Zhang to ease his load, and it is a gesture of gratitude to leave some money with these poor nomads.

As it turns out, the owner of the horse is the regional Party Census Taker and when Downs asks him if he can provide change for a C-note, the official fingers through a wad of large denomination bills (so much for the poor nomad concept). Zhang states he will later introduce the Americans to his friend the regional Party Secretary who also happens to be the Mayor of Tsemei. These encampments are registered on the Sichuan map as Mogangling.

While the horse is fetched, all retire to the family's cabin camp and drink tea, corn whiskey, rocket fuel, and eat tsamba. It becomes a four martini lunch with everyone getting completely shit-faced and engaging in jovial conversation. As were the prior hosts, these are all true Tibetans with the women dressed predominantly in black and festooned with bright red and green, or beautiful shades of maroon. Some wear fur boots, silver earrings, pendants, and large beads.

A 12-year-old boy finally arrives with the horse and secures all three loads upon it. The boys mother provides her son with a provision of tsamba in a woven bag prior to departure, and finally at 1:00 pm, the quartet with the horse departs half stumbling down the trail (after "just one more round, then we really gotta go").

The landscape now changes dramatically. The river flood plain has been completely inundated by gray silt with hundreds of dead trees protruding from it. It is obvious something drastic has occurred which is probably related to the disastrous summer floods of several months ago which caused intense mudslides and destruction in southwest China.

There is a small village up ahead where a number of women are threshing wheat by the use of a putt-putt engine turned on its head and which is connected to a thresher by a long conveyor belt. This must be the only gasoline engine in the entire valley. Both the engine and the fuel must have been brought in by pack animals over the 15,400 toot Tsemei La pass.

One more hour to Tsemei proper, which is visible two miles distant, while passing large fortress-like homes built of stone and timber, and occasionally large mounds of rocks inscribed with characters that are not Chinese but resemble a Southeast Asian language (this is no longer China proper, and after all, if it smells like it, looks like it, and feels like it, it probably is...). "Tibet! What the hell are we doing in Tibet, we're supposed to be in China." Downs is quite aware that formerly Chinese government did not want foreigners wandering at liberty around politically sensitive Tibet. The official map however, indicates this region is well into Sichuan Province by 150 miles. It is another revelation that the wilderness between the bed and breakfast at Jinwo is also a cultural boundary between China and Tibet.

The Bushu river again increases its gradient in a narrow valley when the travelers finally arrive at the village of Tsemei. None of the largest snowy peaks is visible, but there are many high mountains with a sprinkling of snow upon them. Rock exposures are still precipitous, but now there are conspicuous bedding planes and structural features, but the disinteresting marine flysch is still the predominant matrix. Downs recalls that in some places on the Tibetan Plateau these uninteresting Triassic sediments attain 60,000 feet in thickness!

The gang of four with their horse crosses the Bushu river on a sturdy log bridge to enter a courtyard and unload their baggage. The boy departs with his horse to stay with family further down the valley, while the others ascend steep steps from within a dark manger to enter a large darkened smoke filled room infiltrated with the musky aroma of incense and resonating with the intonation of chanting Buddhist prayers and bells emanating from a side room. This ambiance inspires the feeling of being in an Indiana Jones movie such that the paleontologist in the trio decides to add a bull-whip to his gear and to start searching for golden idols with ruby eyes instead of continuing his impoverished career solving the enigmas of earth history.

A middle aged and attractive slender faced Tibetan woman offers tea and tsamba to the trio while they allow their eyes to adjust to the firelight and mere shafts of light that enter from the deeply set windows. Most of the fire smoke ascends into an eight-foot-diameter open chimney as firelight illuminates the decor of beautiful dark wood paneling, lengthy two-foot diameter beams, hardwood floorboards, and three foot thick rock walls. It is a veritable fortress.

A 13-year-old girl dressed in western cloths (slacks and a suit coat with a red "Young Pioneer"* scarf) leans upon the sill of the inset window studying Chinese lessons by the light from the recessed window. This is interesting, for while the young one studies, her two elder sisters, who are elegantly garbed in traditional Tibetan costume, card and spin wool. It is later learned that here, many kilometers from even the closest dirt road, the Mayor's youngest daughter is also studying English, just as does everyone in school. Hence, she is learning to read and write Chinese in addition to her native Tibetan (which is a member of the Burmese language group and as different from Chinese as German) and she learns English! Education and overpopulation indoctrination are the extent of the Chinese government's influence upon the region, however there are no Han Chinese that dwell in this valley. The Mayor's youngest is also reminiscent of the dedicated children encountered two weeks ago in the remote canyons of the Yangbi River in western Yunnan Province who walk 18 miles, traversing two or three thousand foot deep canyons, to attend school for three days every week to study English among other subjects.

A handsome middle aged man donning a long brown robe speaking Chinese with a very heavy western Sichuan accent enters to be introduced as Mr. Deji, the mayor of Tsemei. The continuous chanting of "Omini-Bomini," accompanied by the occasional clap of a bell, eventually ceases and, robed in red, an older Buddhist priest and his young disciple enter the large common room. Tibetan beer is poured in a four-inch diameter red lacquer bowl with a gilt interior of gold and is offered to the travelers. It is flavored much like a flat home brew with a very low alcohol content. By dinner time the assemblage consists of the family matriarch and her three daughters, her husband the Mayor, the two Buddhists, and the three travelers.

The women wear large stone inlaid earrings and have braided red and green yarn into their long hair which is then strung through ivory rings and wound up on top of their head. Occasionally, there is long tassel descending down one's back. The matriarch is appareled in a rough leather vest over a raspberry colored sweater, a long brown skirt, and red and blue heavy cloth Tibetan boots. One of the daughters wears green socks and blue Converse-style tennis shoes. Most wear an inexpensive watch (which has long since stopped), and bracelets. One wears a small decorative knife in a silver sheath attached to a silver chain at her waist. The traditionally dressed suspend a cluster of nail clippers (some picture Mickey Mouse) from their belts.

The young disciple has added a black leather motorcycle jacket to his attire, as if he will ride his Harley upon the rays of the sun to enlightenment.

Just prior to dinner, a tall melancholy man dressed in western clothing enters to ask the foreigners for medical assistance with his bedridden seven-year-old son who has fallen off a horse. Shit, they're not doctors, although Foster has had some EMT training. The two extract their first-aid kits and, accompanied by Zhang, head downstairs through the yaks and pigs in the manger, exit the courtyard to cross to the next house, and ascend another flight of steep steps into a floor plan similar to the mayor's house, but lacking in the abundance of material goods.

A young boy lies next to the fire propped up by pillows and covered with blankets. His right ear is encrusted with blood and there are several surficial wounds on his forehead and face. Foster calls for boiled water and clean cloth. Fortunately, the home contains a bolt of gauze which Foster tears into strips. What a mess. Downs hates the sight of blood and is on the verge of fainting when the father approaches him with a bottle of rocket fuel. After taking a big pull, he is bolstered to join Foster in spreading out their inadequate first-aid supplies. Foster washes his hands in the hot water and commences cleaning the encrusted blood off the child's ear. Shit! The ear is still bleeding from internal damage! The nearest hospital is a two-day journey by horse over 15,400 foot Tsemei La pass. The hospital down canyon at Caoke is not an option. The boy appears not to be in any pain, although he does appear a bit frightened by the sight of the hairy foreign devils. The facial wounds are cleaned and antibiotics applied. The child screams in pain when an alcohol swab touches his bloodied forehead which is an encouraging reaction. Foster displays a state of the art multi-color kids band-aid before placing it across the child's forehead, which brings out a slight smile from the child. The medics don't dare prescribe any drugs.

Foster and Downs discuss the situation and with the aid of Zhang inform the father that they cannot stop the bleeding. The father, through the interpretation of Zhang asks how bad the damage could be and Downs replies that the child could become permanently deaf in his right ear which the father shrugs off as nothing. Of course this would be the best-case scenario. At worst the child could die this evening from basicranial damage or cerebral hemorrhaging. Foster stresses that it is essential the ear be kept clean to avoid infection and that the parents must stay up all night with the child as long as the bleeding continues and with sterilized hands they must keep the ear clean. With the help of his dictionary Downs conveys the concept of infection to Zhang, who takes the theme further by suggesting to the father that after the ear is cleaned, the parents should ream its circumference with rocket fuel as an antiseptic. The travelers feel helpless and depressed that they can do no more. The father tries to press some money into Downs' hands who adamantly refuses to take it, and the saddened trio returns to the mayors house.

There is a long dinner awaiting which consists of rice (which is rare here), greens, a stew, and too much to drink. This is the last night with Zhang, who heralds the Chinese proverb that "three days on the road together creates a lifelong friendship." Prior to dinner, Downs unpacks his Dom Perignon of rocket fuel he purchased at Caoke, and pours a round for the hosts (after seeing the label the elderly priest also requests to partake). Then, corn whiskey is poured and later ginseng wine (at 80 proof, it is one of Downs' favorite). The women do not drink, but sit quietly talking and knitting among themselves until the meal is served.

After dinner, various types of snuff are offered. Prior to inhaling it, the snuff is placed in the small pocket made by curving ones index finger around the distal end of the thumbnail. One snuffbrand, which is the favorite of the matriarch, is from India and consists predominantly of camphor. Downs inhales too much and, as if he had eaten too much wasabe, tears stream down his face, to the laughter of the others, which promotes him to wait a while before requesting more. A mixture of Tibetan and thickly accented Chinese is spoken among the locals. At one point Downs catches bits of conversation about a 175 pound wolf. The matriarch claims to have seen snow leopard in the region this year (how genuine is all this wildlife?).

Later, there is a discussion regarding the next day's acquisition of one of the Mayor's horses to pack gear to the Gonga Shan Monastery and a price is agreed upon. The young Buddhist disciple informs the Americans that the monastery is still inhabited and very active, and that the Lama is minimally conversant in Chinese. The Mayor states that he will send his wife with the two hikers to introduce them to the Lama, which will continue to link the chain of introductions for them.

The Americans then take Zhang aside to settle their account with him, which amounts to Y150.00 plus 50.00 gratuity. He has been an invaluable guide, good company, and a fine friend who carried a third of their load. As he is completely out of cigarettes now, Downs presses his last pack of Red Pagodas into Zhang's palms which he does not refuse for a third time. Foster gives him two pens, one for himself and one for the boy who led the horse with an additional Y5.00 gratuity for the boy.

Zhang then departs to visit the family next door to evaluate the condition of the hurt child, and upon returning states that the bleeding has now stopped. It appears the child will recover.

Zhang and his older brother are a vital cultural link between the Tibetans here and the Han Chinese down canyon. How long these families have interacted with mutual assistance is anyone's guess and it is indeed heartening to see friendship and cooperation between the populations. Media, independent personal reports, and historical accounts generally depict these two cultures in a virtual state of war, which is genuinely not the situation here.

China subjugated Tibet under its sphere of influence in the Tang Dynasty (approximately 600-900 AD) and has since not expanded it borders.* Tibet, recognized as part of the Chinese dominion (but with a degree of autonomy) for over a millenia, has no more right of succession as does Texas from the United States (although many would similarly argue this to be beneficial). Currently, it is fashionable to believe that the government of China is in the midst of an official pogrom to subsume Tibetan culture. If this were true, than instead of recently expending the equivalent of millions of dollars to renovate the Potalla Palace in Lhasa, the Chinese government would have destroyed it, or left it to degenerate on its own. The political and cultural conflicts between these two societies will eventually be solved between themselves and not by New Age fanatics in southern California sporting "Free Tibet" bumper stickers. These bumper stickers are so offensive to Downs that he aspires to create one proclaiming "Fuck Tibet" just to irritate a new age bliss ninny in his car. This would be safe enough as it is not equivalent to displaying a potentially hazardous "Fuck the Aryan Nation" bumper sticker.

This evening, the guests in Tsemei are provided individual sleeping accommodations of animal skins and heavy blankets on the floor of the common room and they retire wondering when they will ever use their sleeping bags on this endeavor. Others in the household stay up very late knitting and socializing. The blankets are heavy and warm but the floor is hard.

It must have been after 1:00 am when Downs awoke briefly to observe the standing silhouette of the mayor's oldest daughter, the only one still awake, spinning wool with a spindle whorl by the light of a dying fire. It then becomes a restful night's sleep.

IV - Gonga Shan

November 25:

At 7:00 am all are dining on a breakfast of noodles and greens, which Foster claims he is becoming accustomed to. Downs, of course, is in bliss. After breakfast, Foster descends to the Bushu to filter water where he passes women milking yaks. Upon his return, Zhang is on the verge of departure and insists all drink a traditional toast of rocket fuel to bid him farewell, after which the Americans, with the Mayor's two elder daughters herding their yaks, escort him to the Bushu River, and bid him farewell as he "crosses the bridge."* Foster is nearly tearful as Zhang has become a true friend.

An hour later the horse is loaded, led by the mayor's wife Beimei jege, and bound up canyon to Gonga Shan Monastery. En route the trio encounters an elderly lady neighbor who accompanies them for the first half hour and complains of a headache, which compels the Americans to give her a handful of Ibuprofin. A cantilever log bridge crossing the Bushu River initiates the trail that ascends eastward high above the Konka River,** which has a much higher discharge than the Bushu flowing from the north.

Beimei maintains a good steady pace while frequently flashing her beautiful smile. She is a handsome woman who speaks only a little Chinese, but when she does speak, it is so softly and sweetly that she attracts Downs to distraction. Becoming attracted to the mayor's wife, who is five years his junior, or anyone's wife, is immoral, and he vows to stop it....eventually.

Further upstream rock exposure is nonexistent due to an oak and rhododendron forest draped in long strands of lime green lichen. This forest, at an elevation of 11,000 foot, contains interspersed 40 foot high rhododendron and 50-60 foot high oak that are eight inches and over in diameter, and branch at the top with contorted boughs into a beautiful dark green canopy carpeting the surrounding hills and mountain ridges. The understory is fairly open which would allow easy bushwhacking if required.

It is time for deliberation: Down stream lies a 10,000 foot elevation bamboo forest, while here at 11,500 foot stands 40 foot rhododendron and oak forest persists higher in elevation to 14,500 foot Currently, there are two predominant hypotheses regarding the world's highest feature, the Tibetan Plateau’s, time of uplifoot The most accepted and prevalent hypothesis assumes that the Plateau lay at low elevations until its rise (orogeny) in the Pleistocene 2.5 million years ago, which was the result of a separate continental plate, the Indian subcontinent, being drivin beneath China (subduction). This precisely illustrates the bumper sticker phrase "subduction leads to orogeny." Data supporting this hypothesis is derived from sediments in Himalayan front range basins that lie at 15-18,000 foot elevation which contain plant and animal fossils that are attributed to lower elevations, and which are dated biostratigraphically at approximately eight million years old. The same animals or close relatives are directly correlated to rocks dated by radiometric decay methods or paleomagnetic stratigraphy.* The reasoning assumes that since low elevation fossils exist in rocks that are eight million years old, then eight million years ago this region was at a low elevation.

A second hypothesis is proposed by geologists such as Peter Molnar from MIT, who accompanied the Yangbi expedition two weeks ago, and who, after extensive geological mapping circumscribing the Plateau, cannot find geological evidence to confirm the former hypothesis. Molnar et al. further propose that the Plateau was at its current elevation at 8-10 Ma but under a much warmer climate which supported a lower elevation biota. Here in the Gonga Shan region, the low altitude flora in this high altitude suggests the latter hypothesis is plausible and renders the use of faunal and floral data to reconstruct paleo elevations suspect. This altitude variation of ecological habitats is a significant revelation.

The trail continues to climb steeply as the walkers now encounter numerous piles of elaborately carved prayer rocks that line the center of the trail. Beimei indicates the acorns strewn along the path to be edible by imitating their eating and feeding some to the horse, which spits the bitter nuts out of its mouth. Foster recalls hearing that North American Indians had a process for leeching the tannins out of crushed acorns, but apparently, the Tibetans neglect to do this, which is a shame as this large expanse of oak forest would provide a substantial resource.

After one and a half hours from Tsemei the first view of Gonga Shan itself emerges. The summit is obscured by clouds although the northwest ridge is partially visible, with impressive dazzling blue and white ice falls precariously clinging to the steep precipice leading to the summit.

At 12:30 Beimei heralds their arrival at the monastery with a long single noted call which arouses the attention of the Lama. Burdsall et. al in 1935 described the monastery as nearly in ruins, but contrary to their descriptions, it is a beautiful edifice with neatly painted walls and colorfully painted windows and eaves. It is indeed fortunate that it wasn't destroyed during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, which may be more a testament to the remote location where it resides.

Downs' Chinese colleagues in the government insist that freedom of religion is still an option in China. This is supported by the presence of religious structures which survived the ravages of the Cultural Revolution, such as a Jewish community in south central China and structures including the Catholic church at the village of Lintou, Yushe Co., Shanxi Province. Many of the local populace still attend weekly services in the church which was constructed at the turn of the century under the direction of the Jesuit priests M. Trassaert and P. Leroy, who later became ardent Chinese naturalists and eventually, vertebrate paleontologists due to their proximity to the abundant fossil resources of the Yushe Basin. Continuing in this tradition of studying the evolutionary history of China was the Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, most widely recognized for his contributions to theology and philosophy, but who was also one of the more prolific vertebrate paleontologists of the twentieth century. The history of the Jesuits in China is anomalous in light of their conduct around the rest of the world. They were quite successful and humane in China and nearly converted one of the emperors to Christianity because they admitted to the Chinese that Christianity was not an exclusive path to God. Needless to say, the repercussions from the Vatican over this declaration were quite serious, and resulted in excomunication for some.

The travelers enter the monastic courtyard to tether the horse while Beimei introduces the Americans to the lama in residence. They ascend a steep stairway from the courtyard to a covered balcony that is constructed along three of the four inner courtyard walls. It is quiet in the courtyard, with merely the sound of a trickling spring as it dribbles from a narrow hewn trough to create a peaceful ambiance next to the central stupa.

The Americans are provided with an empty room off the balcony where they drop their packs. It is later learned that these rooms accommodate pilgrims (in addition to occasional mountain climbing parties) who arrive to pay homage to both this house of worship and to the sacred mountain. The lama invites the trio into his quarters for tea and tsamba, where he is in the process of kneading perhaps thirty-five four-inch high tsamba "Gumby" figurines that are alligned neatly on a wooden tray with a little tsamba tab placed at the base of the last figurine in each column. The lama works on the figurines while conversing with Beimei in Tibetan. Communication with the Americans is minimal due to the lama's thickly accented Chinese, though the lama can understand Downs.

Foster is perfecting his blending of tsamba and tea. First he takes a small bowl of salty yak buttered tea, drinks one half to two thirds and adds the appropriate amount of light brown flour while kneading it with his fingers until it is the consistency of bread dough. It is then suitable to knead into different shapes or to eat (Foster really should stop playing with his food and treat Tsamba with more respect than being edible plasticine). Downs, however, never does acquire the technique and makes a mess of his bowl, taking a half hour to clean it as thoroughly as his hosts. Tsamba definitely requires something to spice its taste, which inspires Foster with the brilliant idea to open a Tsamba House in Boulder, Colorado. As everything Tibetan is currently very much in vogue there (particularly "Free Tibet" bumper stickers), it would undoubtedly be a success. Imagine it: strawberry tsamba, tsamba with salsa, tsamba and lox, tsamba and escargot... the potentials are limitless. Of course, there would be many crystals in Tsamba House and aroma therapy would be provided with each Tsamba order.

The Americans stroll outside the monastery to survey their surroundings and discuss the next plan of advance. The 800 foot "Rock's Ridge" ascends behind and to the northeast of the monastery and would provide an exceptional regional view, but today it appears cold, exposed, and windy. The ridge was named by Burdsall et al. in 1935 after the noted explorer and botanist Joseph Rock, who spent numerous years studying the flora and geography in southwest China in the late 1920s and 1930s under the auspices of The National Geographic Society. The hikers decide to leave unnecessary articles at the monastery and hike to the Gonga Shan base camp rather than dwell here for an evening. Leo Lebon's account3 states a three day strenuous round trip is required from the monastery to the advance base camp which was Burdsall's camp at the base of his "rock pyramid."

The hikers repack, bid a bientot to Beimei, and leave a small box of articles with the lama, when five Tibetan women with an infant arrive on horseback to laugh at the hikers as they descend the steep precarious stairway into the courtyard with heavy packs.

The current plan is to return to Tsemei the eve of the 28th, rent a horse from the Mayor on the 29th, and traverse the 15,400 foot Tsemei La Pass on their way to Liuba, where they expect to arrive on the 30th to board a bus northward.

At approximately 2:00 PM they descend 500 foot on a steep trail through scrub-oak forest to the Konka river. The route takes them up the river flood-plain, across a small log bridge, and up through the loose boulders and gravel of an 800 foot glacial moraine.* The summit of Gonga Shan is revealed several times during this ascent, although working their way up the steep boulder field is a slow process, and Downs makes stupid moves due to the affects of altitude. Soon they reach a narrow chute of the cascading Konka River, after which the terrain flattens into a nice open grassy meadow where there is a fire ring and a small pile of wood. This "hanging valley" is a perfect camp at riverside and is quite comfortable at 13,500 foot elevation only two and a half hours from the monastery. From this camp, most of the west side of Gonga Shan in addition to Mt. Chu diplay an amazing constantly changing cloud and light show. Additional firewood is sparse but available. The river water is milky due to silt from the glacier upstream where the watercourse meanders between the steep basement of Rock's Ridge on one side and the glacial moraine on the other. Basement rock exposures across the river from camp consist of the ubiquitous marine flysch. This night Downs begins reading the collected short stories of Paul and Jane Bowles, which is appropriate as Jane hates to travel, as do most of her literary characters.* That night a sound evening sleep is invigorating.

November 26:

This morning Foster is not well, displaying symptoms of dizziness, nausea, and back-ache, which he believes is predominantly due to the altitude. After breakfast he returns to his sleeping bag for the morning while Downs takes short reconnoiters and collects firewood across the river where it is more plentiful.

At midmorning, Downs awakens Foster with news that there are five Tibetan babes entering camp. Foster exits the tent with his knuckles in his eyes either to rub the sleep from them or alleviate the shock of the vision he confronts. These are the same five women who arrived at the monastery the previous day, and here they are, carrying the one-year old infant, cloth bags stuffed with supplies, wicker baskets, and a large black tea kettle.

This is one of those humiliating moments that Alpha or Beta (or even Gamma) males dread, as here, after traveling to the other side of the globe to a remote place on a mountain with the latest high technology equipment, men have their egos violated by a troup of captivating and elaborately bejeweled women wearing tennis shoes and carrying an infant. This happens continuously, and worldwide, and is a truly humiliating experience. Furthermore, the ladies can't leave well enough alone by insulting the expedition by their mere presence, they happily seat themselves around the fire and unpack accoutrements for a picnic, which includes rocket fuel! This is bordering on the ridiculous! Camping at nearly 14,000 feet , without alcohol to cleanse oneself spiritually and physically at the foot of a sacred mountain when an attractive princess walks out of the clouds to offer a drink! Of course it would be an insult to refuse (A scenario such as this happened to Siegfied as well, someone with whom Downs identifies).

The entire troupe gathers around the campfire while water is boiled in the tea kettle. Because they speak no Chinese, Foster attempts to learn Tibetan by pointing to objects and imitating the responses from the ladies to their great delight. When tea is brewed, the ladies extract their bowls while the hikers retrieve theirs from their tent, but the ladies now require a strainer to pour the tea. The matriarch orders one of the younger women to fetch fingers full of tiny twigs, which are then stuffed into the spout of the teapot. Brilliant! Instant tea strainer. Downs, to solve this problem, would have extracted his knife and cut pieces of clothing from his body.

The ladies provide yak cheese, tsamba, and jerked meat (as it were). The hikers offer some candy, a bag of sugar coated fruits and a bag of pistachios, which become as habit forming with Tibetan women as with anyone. One lady discards the acorn she is masticating (so, they are edible) for the other nuts. Foster's culinary craftsmanship is superlative as he kneads his tsamba perfectly, but the ladies laugh at Downs with his cup full of wall-paper paste (go ahead ladies,...just...keep ...laughing). Foster is tired of eating non-salsa tsamba but understands that it is impolite to refuse. One of the younger ladies locks her gaze on Downs and will not release him, which gives him a sinking feeling. The infant, who is wearing a knitted wool overall that is open at the crotch permitting him to squat and relieve himself at any time (which children do all over China), loves the sugared fruit and is also provided with broken bread in his tea.

After lunch, Foster indicates an interest in the ladies' elaborate jewelry, which they gladly exhibit. In turn, he displays his nifty gadgets, such as a compass which he offers to trade for their jewelry and his Leatherman combination tool-kit knife. The ladies are not impressed by the compass, indeed, they have apparently never seen one, such that when Foster tries to impress them with the fact that the needle remains stationary as the housing is rotated, the ladies contemptuously regard him with amused disinterest. One indicates, by rubbing forefinger against thumb, that she would prefer straight cash, which consequently leads to a free-for-all negotiation for a variety of items, with the matriarch establishing the preliminary price while the youngest transcribes the amount into Arabic numerals on a flat rock with a piece of charcoal. Prices fluctuate at the Gonga Shan Dow-Jones as digits are furiously crossed out and rewritten. Foster ultimately purchases a pair of earrings, a heart shaped polished stone, and a beaded necklace for approximately Y90.00, while Downs purchases a small knife with an inlaid silver sheath on a silver chain for Y70.00 and feels a bit ashamed exchanging cash to disrobe a woman at the foot of a sacred mountain. Foster decides to cease purchasing the women's apparel in order to conserve money to rent horses and buy bus tickets in the future. Both Americans do not realize how short their resources are becoming.

After the elder pours shots of rocket fuel into the others' open palms, the ladies leave personal items at camp to be retrieved upon their return and depart for their mission up canyon. Why do they implicitly trust these Americans with their personal possessions?

Foster, now feeling better, is determined to take a walk, leaving a half hour after the women, while Downs remains to rest and relax at camp for the day. On his walk up canyon, Foster notices the ladies ascending a trail to two stone houses about 500 feet up a steep ridge. He continues upstream to view two raptors, which appear to be eagles, soaring among the peaks. Further on, near the confluence of two glaciers and near the base of Birdsall's Peak III, he climbs a small moraine to find the stream suddenly disappears. His continued route follows cairns, indicating passage up the north side of another smaller moraine which soon becomes fairly easy walking within a small arroyo between the steep ridge and the moraine. Further up the valley are alternately steep rock barriers followed by flat open areas where there are three good potential camp sites in open meadows. Trickles of water come and go while firewood becomes more scarce to nearly absent. On the bank of the small dry arroyo, lies a three and one half foot wide big-horn sheep skull with fully curled horns. After several hours, the altitude again affects Foster and he decides to return to camp.

While Foster is on his descent, the troupe of women return to camp carrying a variety of plants, such as juniper boughs and other attractive bouquets in their wicker baskets, which obviously will be used as votive objects in their homes. As they return, clouds and snow billow up from the canyon below prompting them to hurriedly wrap their possessions, as it is also getting late. The eldest bundles the infant tightly, lifts, and ties him onto her back with a shawl and they wave good-bye while disappearing into the mist to descend the treacherous 800 foot fog enshrouded boulder field (these are some damned tough women). The young one that locked eyes on Downs remains a minute before departing and with a stern gaze gesticulates and admonishes him in Tibetan which he cannot misinterpret as anything but "Don't burn all the firewood here, ass hole!" Here he is in the middle of nowhere at 14,000 feet being nagged by a gorgeous woman,who is even more beautiful when she's angry. The story of his life. The least she could have done was kiss him good-bye.

On his return descent, Foster is enveloped in the same storm but returns to camp prior to dark. Another fine gourmet meal of tuna and rice with shitake mushrooms, garlic, soy sauce and Chinese hot sauce is cooked amidst small snow storms, after which, the two retire for the evening.

In the middle of the night Foster awakens to relieve himself and upon exiting the tent observes the entire mountain exposed and glowing in the moonlight. He thinks of his older daughter and how she must be in the warmth of Hawaii baby-sitting by now while he is here on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau.

November 27:

It is a frosty morning but reasonably clear. Foster is feeling much better after eating Ibu Profin and believes he is better acclimated to the altitude. Downs doesn't understand why he is not having altitude problems, with the exception of being stupid (which may not be the altitude). As the lower half of Gonga Shan is visible, the hikers decide to take a leisurely walk to the advance base camp. After packing day-bags, they ascend to Foster's high point of the previous day. Halfway to the advance camp, where a small side canyon enters from the north they notice yak dung and footprints associated with horse tracks. But there are no sightings of the animals themselves nor is there a distinct trail indicating access to the arroyo. The route from the monastery is certainly impassable to pack animals, and as such, the Tibetans must have a different trail allowing the animals to reach these high meadows via the back side of Rock's Ridge. If this is correct, it would not be necessary to supply climbing or paleontological expeditions with human labor, which may be then be replaced by yak or horses from the North side.

And what is this?! A piece of petrified wood in the stream bank! Downs surveys the region to try and determine what productive rock layer could have produced the fossil. To the left is the precipitous foliaged bank of Rock's Ridge, to the right lies the jumbled boulders of the moraine and beyond that the snow-clad peaks and glaciers of Gonga Shan. Ahead and upstream are more snow-clad high peaks. This is simply not an appropriate field area for paleontological reconnaissance.

They reach the alleged advance base camp after a two and a half hour walk, where a large meadow with a side stream from the northwest extends from the foot of the mountain. In the center of the meadow stands a four-foot stone cairn with five chords radiating from its summit and hanging on the lines, nearly one hundred one by two foot brightly colored flags with prayers and line drawings. The alleged camp is so immaculate Downs is suspicious of its authenticity. Other localities that he has visited, where other expeditions either camped or worked, have always been rubbish filled with antique cans, bottles, broken tools, and other paraphenalia. Therefore, he needs to inspect further upstream to see if a "genuine" camp exists there. Further upstream are some ancient ruins that lie in sepuchral silence and which indicate a proximity to golden idols. How could people subsist up here? About an hour is spent exploring around the meadow area, including the dry stream bed upstream and a much larger ruin part way up the lower slopes of the peak. Still there is no sign of garbage from former expeditions (has the trash really been cleaned??).

insert discussion of Burdsall and history of climbing the mountain.

The hikers have now attained their main objective of the entire Sichuan trip. What is here that is so special? Nothing! (in its most abstruse sense) No people, garbage, or noise. Neither are there disgruntled postal workers, rush hour traffic, or ringing telephones. The silence is deafening. Continuous changing moods of lighting reflect off the rapidly moving tumultuous clouds that conceal and reveal the peaks in their awe inspiring solitude. The entire scene nearly transforms into an ether of pure visual energy, which inspires Downs to eat a gummy bear, which he does not have. Neither does he have psychedelic drugs, though either would be fine at this moment.

Later, cold snow flurries accompany lunch and obscure most of Gonga Shan's summit. The return walk is uneventful with the exception of the reemerging sun which illuminates and warms the glacial valley temporarily.

A lackadaisical round trip takes six hours, including an hour or so at the advance base camp, indicating that one could carry a pack from the monastery to the advance base camp in one day easily, contra the description of Leo La Bon.

That evening, after a meal of noodles with some canned meat and condiments, clouds again ascend from the valley of the monastery to envelope the camp and drizzle it with light snow. The thought of a morning descent of the 800 ft boulder field and its accompanying waterfalls in a foot of snow is a little unnerving.

November 28:

The morning is perfectly cloudless although the sun doesn't arrive at camp until 9:40 due to the position of Nyamba peak. Nevertheless, activities are taken easy: drying out cloths and sleeping bags from condensation in the tent, taking pictures, packing up, crushing cans to pack out and to be disposed in Tsemei.

They depart camp at 11:00 to descend the boulder cascade along the route of cairns where Foster discovers a pistachio nut shell left by one of the ladies two nights ago. Its visualization is cute. Downs makes a minor klutz move crossing one of the cascades, but by 12:30 they reach the base of the trail to the monastery on the west bank of the Konka River where they rest 15 minutes and continue another 15 minute walk up the trail to the monastery.

About an hour is spent visiting with the lama who offers to sell the Americans a heavy silk fur Tibetan hat for Y200.00 or a thick ivory ring such as those worn in womens' hair, but the hikers decline the fur hat and particularly the ring due to the world wide ban on ivory importation, which is currently promoting the repopulation of African elephants under the Sisyphean efforts of conservationists such as Richard Leaky. Foster purchases a woven cloth bag for Y40.00 and provides the lama with an additional Y/20.00 for storing their supplies. Some extra food is donated including noodles, cookies, oranges, and name brand Chinese tea. Two large cans of tuna are also offered, and when asked if he eats fish, the lama responds giggling the equivalent of "hell yes" (he will probably simply sell the fish to hungry pilgrims). As everyone does in Tibet, the lama requests aspirin and is provided with it.

At 2:00 a lenticular cloud shrouds the summit of Gonga Shan while the lama provides a tour of the monastery for the Americans. They are first led to a small prayer room festooned with numerous prayer cloths and flags where colorful designs ornament the walls and muffled male voices infuse from the next room. Across the chamber in a corner by a window rests a seat for praying, incense tray, scripture books, a small gong, and other religious implements. Against the far wall is a small elaborate alter illustrated with raven, wild dog, and bear and where the lama's tsamba Gumby-men and other figurines are now lacquered in a bright red arrangement. Typical Buddhist torture scenes decorate the lower facade portraying bleeding men hanged upside down by their ankles, which represents existence as perceived by Buddhism: Life is suffering. The shackles of desire are the true hell of mankind. The more one desires the more satisfaction alludes.

In the Asian and Oriental perspective, there are many paths that lead out of hell to heaven (or enlightenment) as opposed to Occidental dogmas which preach the exclusivity of a single path, as evidenced in Christianity, or Islam. The Orientals see these theologies as merely different tributaries to the same stream and regardless of whether one chooses the Catholic Church or Kama Sutra, all lead to the same objective. Islam regards non-Moslem Asians, Orientals, and Christians as infidels. Fundamentalist Christians regard Moslems, Asians, and Orientals as heretics. Asians and Orientals regard Occidentals as unenlightened. All are correct.

The lama escorts the two downstairs, across the courtyard and up another flight of stairs into a much more majestic prayer hall that is highly vaulted and contains rows of blankets and benches that face a much larger and more elaborate alter upon which are two pictures of the Dalai Lama, a portrait of another notable Indian priest, and an eight-year old child (?). At the front of the hall is a large drum suspended in a frame, which the smiling lama strikes with a resounding blow. To each side of the alter are 17 three foot by two foot open cupboards each containing a large three foot long leather strapped carved ebony chest containing scriptures. The lama has no objection to Foster's viewing the contents, but the box is too heavy for a single person to lift, such that Foster decides to forgo his observation Another larger cabinet contains a stack of 22 cloth wrapped packets of scripture two to three inch thick and two feet wide. Once again, it is truly a miracle all this escaped the destruction of the 1960s cultural disturbances.

The hikers bid farewell with much gratitude at 2:00 pm and encounter a beautiful old nun on the trail who allows them her photograph. Further on, a beautiful oak surrounded meadow is simply too inviting for a rest in the sun. Lying against their packs, the hikers hail two approaching well attired families on horseback who attend the monastery as pilgrims. They consist of a father, two elder women, two elder daughters, and two young boys, who stop to socialize for a while, although communication is broken, and it is difficult to interpret their names and place of habitat. The husband requests Foster take a picture of his two youngest boys before they depart upon their way. These people are happy, well-off, and will undoubtedly make a contribution to the monastery. Organized religion always makes money.

The hikers return to the mayor's house at Tsemei at 4:30 where they encounter him sitting on the ground outside his courtyard weaving a wicker basket and who beckons them welcome. Upon entering his dwelling, Beimei jege and her daughters immediately offer a silk hat for Y200.00, which matches the lama's price earlier. The situation is becoming comical. Apparently, the five women that were disrobed at the base camp have spread the word that the two Americans are an easy target for some fast money. What a scene. Bartering ensues at the mayor's and continues intermittently until 11:00 PM. The hikers realize they require a supply of Chinese money to allow them to reach a foreign exchange, as they are running seriously low on cash from disrobing women and dematerializing lamas. By spending all their cash now they will regret it later, but they are consumed with living for the moment and care not for the problems they may encounter in the future. Future worries have become an artifice left behind in the Industrial World (This is in stark juxtaposition to a hasty attempt to confirm a two week advance sleeping berth 10 days ago).

The Mayor refuses to accept American dollars as there is no local facility where he can convert it. As an alternative, he suggests that one of his daughters will accompany the hikers to Liuba, a larger town where there is access to a road, and where he has relatives that would certainly be interested in converting American dollars. A price of Y160.00 is negotiated for a pack horse and guide to cross the 15,400 foot pass to Liuba for the next two days which is paid in advance.

Early in the evening Foster assists the mayor's youngest daughter, Gamma Lu, who still wears a suit jacket and slacks, with her English. She is insatiable in her constant persual of knowledge and writes Tibetan phonetics and Chinese characters in her school notebook to help her remember English words. Later, she indicates to Foster that she would like to barter for his belt which is black with printed red chile peppers. He allows her to try it on but now can't retrieve it. He genuinely doesn't want to part with his belt as he requires this to hold up his pants. Toward the end of the night she reluctantly returns Foster's clothing with a sense of deep disappointment.

Downs convinces the mayor to extract a bottle of rocket fuel and proceeds to drink with the young Buddhist disciple, who, it turns out, speaks very distinct Chinese. The disciple initiates a conversation on world traveling and airfares but the American tries to convey that what the disciple is searching for won't be found traveling to exotic cities. The disciple believes Lhasa to be a cool place. The Vatican is a cool place too, but how many find enlightenment there. Incidentally, would somebody please enlighten the Pope.

Everyone in the house appears to have the flu and the priest has an intestinal disorder. More aspirins, Ibuprofin, and Imodium are dispensed. Inquiries are made into the health of the young boy who fell off the horse. Apparently, he is better, but of course, he may have died days ago and the hosts are simply being polite. The Americans don't persue the subject further. The party gradually dwindles and the animal skins are spread for the guests. The ladies continue to knit well into the night.

V - Disjunction

November 29:

The travelers are awakened at 6:00 am by the sound of soft rustling, which attracts their somnolent gaze to the quiet and sensuous silhouettes of the two elder sisters before flickering firelight. After one braids the other's hair, she performs the lengthy ritual of dressing her sibling in layer, upon layer, upon layer of clothing. The warmly dressed one will lead the horse over Tsemei La pass for the two day journey to Liuba.

Soon the house is astir as morning sun-beams penetrate the opened windows to illuminate a feast of rice and vegetables. Toward the end of the meal, Foster adamantly refuses one more bowl of rice by withdrawing his bowl from beneath the ladle offered by the Mayor's eldest and is served with a lap full of rice, swearing wide-eyed to Downs that she deliberately dumped it on him. It takes Downs a short time to placate and convince Foster that the entire incident was an accident and finally, all resume their composure (Although Downs recalls with amusement that she did deliberately dump the rice in his lap. He must have offended her by his tone of refusal.).

The backpacks are resorted and, with the exception of one meal, the remaining food is donated to the mayors home. The mayor is then paid in full for the use of a guide and one of his horses (Y20.00 for the horse and Y20.00 for the guide per day = Y160.00 @ 4 days), after which the host offers Tibetan beer in red lacquered bowls (which, once again, is another nice breakfast drink). Foster then escorts the family outside for portraits, and prior to leaving at 9:30 he removes his belt and presents it to Gamma Lu, who beams so brightly in appreciation that Downs nearly becomes tearful. Foster has made a very deep friend this time.

Because the mayors oldest daughter is too flu stricken, the second daughter named Sunao-chisye, who speaks almost no Chinese, will be the guide. She has been so demure and quite during the previous nights' parties that she has remained essentially unnoticed by the Americans.

Gamma Lu and the Mayor accompany the trio for several yards prior to their departure at the trailhead which initiates at the site of a ten year old forest fire that annihilated two hillsides of fir and spruce, but fortunately spared the oak forest across the river. The route soon becomes relentlessly uphill, as it ascends 3600 ft. to the pass. However, this does not phase Sunao a bit who, as a genuine "princess" with her mother's smile that could launch a thousand ships, leads the horse with a steady pace up the numerous switch backs, which reveal more spectacular views of the Great Snowy Mountains, with the summit of Gonga Shan visible for most of the morning.

Soon there occurs another moment of humiliation: Again, here are two males ascending a 15,400 pass with all the highest technology equipment: glacier glasses, mountain boots, Goretex parkas, and they are being led by a young lady who is dressed like she is strolling to a cocktail party and wearing chucks! As the horse runs out of breath and halts she continuously yanks on the tether which she has tied in a loop and slings around her lower arm up to her elbow to free her hands. It is even more embarrassing that these macho Himalayan hikers cannot maintain her pace, which wouldn't be so humiliating if she would just stop knitting!

Now the scenario thickens. Halfway up the steep trail Sunao turns to Downs with one of her alluring smiles and presents him with a copper ring on a very strategic finger. How sweet. This is a genuinely nice gesture, but Downs is not going to let this young siren get to his heart, for he is wearing his strongest and most impenetrable emotional armor. Further up the trail she also presents a silver ring to Foster, which eases the strain on Downs' armor. She really should slow the pace down, as it is tiring the horse.

Above tree line and approaching the pass, the trio takes a rest, where Downs extracts several Pemmican bars, which are the equivalent of American tsamba, and which he used to hate to eat, until tasting Tibetan tsamba. These sweet dense chewy high caloric food items now taste like the finest of confections to him. As an introduction to fruit flavored or chocolate tsamba, Sunao simply loves hers. The Pemmican company could make a lot of money in Tibet. They really could. Now, attempting to converse with a limited Chinese vocabulary, Sunao informs Downs she is 26 years old, which he finds interesting since her older sister is 19.

A large mound of prayer rocks with several flags protruding from the pile stands at the summit of the pass. As it is 1:15, the walk required only three and three-quarters hours from Tsemei. In North America it is the summits of the highest mountains that are 15,000 feet, while here the passes are at this elevation. The wind blows cold with scattered snow flurries but ground snow is minimal. The exposed rock is the same uninteresting matrix they have observed for the past ten days.

The view off the west side of the range reveals a distinctly drier climate reflecting a rain shadow, where high brown and gray hills support yaks grazing on their slopes and which surround a wide valley plane at 13,000 ft. Gone are the oak and rhododendron as they are replaced by scattered shrubs or an occasional stand of conifers in the cleft of a nearly bare eroded hillside. The Great Snowy Mountains have developed distinct neighboring ecosystems by their affect on the monsoon climate. It is remarkable that these natural settings are so contrary within a single line of sight.

Descending the summit of the pass, Sunao finally disposes of the socks she is knitting and sings with fortissimo a local Tibetan song as if she were a member of the Bulgarian Women's Choir. This is very cute. Another group of rather ragamuffin Tibetans with several horses are encountered heading to Tsemei but Sunao speaks tersely to them and does not stop to socialize. Soon the trio encounters a stream crossing on logs which is unsuitable for the horse. How will Sunao get the horse across the stream without wetting her feet? Simple, she throws rocks at the horse until it reaches the opposite bank and then she crosses the bridge to retrieve it.

At the base of the trail the group bears south down the broad valley Burdsall et al. referred to as the Wulongshi River Valley, though the Sichuan map designates this Sewurong Creek. An alternative route here would be to turn north to their destination of the County Capitol of Kangding which the Americans initially planned to hike and in the past was the route of preference to Gonga Shan prior to the advent of motor vehicles. But to walk this route now would require more days than they can currently afford.

A closer look at the bare hills within this valley reveals them to be lifeless, dry, and dull, with slopes and fields that have been overgrazed by yak, goats, and sheep. Sunao continues her unrelenting pace and now insists Downs uses a stick to beat the horse when it slows its gate. It is not necessary to beat the mare, as just a light tap accomplishes the task, the horse gets the idea, and no one becomes mad with the other. Downs realizes he would lose an obstinance battle with a horse.

Foster is falling behind taking pictures when Sunao decides to stop and wash her face at a small glacial stream which puts a noticeable rouge on the smooth complexion of her cheeks. She asks Downs the time and when learning it is 3:30 she remarks in Chinese "Five hours." Downs thinks he may misapprehend and asks her if she meant to say 5:00, meaning the time of arrival at her aunt's in Subu. Sunao affirms the correction with a blushing embarrassed smile before they continue their walk. At one point Downs appreciates the attractive rhythmic sway of Sunao's Gluteus maximus but averts his eyes when he realizes his is visually molesting a teenager.

Massive stone Tibetan houses and villages begin to reveal themselves, which architecturally resemble Tsemei Valley to the east but here they differ by being surrounded by potato fields, sheep, and goats here associated with transverse waterwheels, several power lines, and an extremely well maintained dirt road rugged enough to support truck traffic.

Sunao and Downs are now quite ahead of Foster when, approaching a hairpin turn in the road, a large plume of dust coupled with the roar of an unmuffled eight cylinder engine announces the imminent encounter with a fast approaching lorry. As the road will not simultaneously accommodate a horse and a truck, Sunao spins to her partner with a terror stricken face that expresses there is no time to deliberate. To the right is the twenty-foot shear bank of the river. But 20 yards ahead to the left, a foot path ascends a steep embankment. Sunao now frantically pulls on the horse tether while Downs no longer feigns his blows on the horse, which suddenly apprehends the urgency of the situation by breaking into a canter. As the truck careens around the turn missing the pedestrians by two seconds, the occupants of the vehicle laugh and wave at the company with the horse. If this trail had not been present there would have easily been a messy scene of horse, packs, and possibly pedestrians plastered against the front of a large truck or run off the road into the river below. As this was the only trail off the road for the past mile, it is fortunate the engagement occurred here. The driver and passengers were all wearing golden conical silken wool hats and were completely drunk as they passed bottles of rocket fuel amongst each other. Is there a Tibetan Mothers Against Drunk Driving here? Lamas Against Drunk Driving? There certainly should be.

Further behind, Foster photographs the same vehicle and makes the same observations about the condition of the driver and passengers, but now he falls even further behind taking pictures. Sunao does not wait for she is determined to accomplish her mission to deliver the travelers by dinner time and perhaps facilitate foreign exchange for them. The travelers are split like this for the last two hours until their arrival at Subu, where there are large cavities in the opposite bank of the river which are the result of laborers slaving to sift gold from the sediments.

To the north and further beyond the hills lie red sediments. Finally, here are rocks which may be of significance by representing an upthrown block of Late Mesozoic or Early Tertiary, or perhaps a pocket of Late Tertiary basin fill. It is regrettable there is no time to make an evaluation but merely to note their presence.

A corpulent neighbor of Sunao's aunt is enthroned outside her home in an exquisitely embroidered silk gown. When Downs comments to her about its beauty, she offers with a snide countenance to sell it to him. This woman is a Philistine.

Cars and trucks are parked between several dwellings, but who knows where or when they travel. This region is economically depressed but wealthier in material goods than Tsemei. Nevertheless, it is not as clean, cultured, or genial as the beautiful valley over the pass

Foster finally arrives to meet Sunao's middle aged aunt and three children who live in a smaller and more decrepit abode than their relatives in the eastern valley. The aunt is obviously poor but nevertheless is generous and polite. A single light bulb descends from a wire in the common room which has undoubtedly ceased illuminating for years. The trio is a little tired, but the guide's clothes are still immaculate. She hasn't picked up a smudge all day and is as radiant as she began the walk in the morning, as opposed to her companions, who are lightly spattered with mud.

As they sit around the hearth, more young female relatives arrive to mock and joke among themselves at the sight of the "foreign devils" while Sunao sits apart from them on the floor knitting in regal composure. As the frivolous jocularity from her vulgar cousins grows more unruly, she contrasts them by becoming proportionately more composed and sophisticated in her knitting. The aunt serves a dinner of potatoes with several cubes of meat, sunflower seeds, and walnuts to the two Americans while the rest of the family drinks tea and eats tsamba, which causes the Americans to be a bit uncomfortable. More uncomfortable yet is the observation that there is some delicate kinship interaction involved, for Sunao is not even provided the courtesy of Tsamba and tea, which offends the hikers but who are forced to hold their mouths in fear of upsetting some delicate family animosity. Sunao continues to sit knitting in her exalted ambiance completely non-pulsed.

As the night wears on, numerous small groups bearing more walnuts arrive and diminish. Where do all the walnuts come from? At one point 14 clamorous people crowd into the small common room, but no one has suggested exchanging money and the hikers do not wish to offend the hosts by broaching the subject. Money can certainly be changed tomorrow at the larger town of Liuba.

The night wanes late and the Americans decide to call it a day by extracting their Therm-A-Rests and sleeping bags from their packs to the intense interest of Sunao and the hosts who have never seen such high-tech equipment. Foster, while preparing his bag, finds the scrutiny of the family a little intrusive, and responds by narrating point by point the finer details of disrobing to the intense attention and amusement of the others: "Now I take my right sock off, fold it like this and tuck it into my boot..." The Americans eventually collapse into a warm comfortable sleep while the ladies (including Sunao) and children leave to socialize in town.

In the middle of the night, Downs awakens to a pitch black room. Where is she? She is probably upstairs, which is fortunate as he has felt a rent in his armor and has now become slightly vulnerable.

November 30:

The faint light of dawn creeps into the room from the small deeply inset windows. Upon awakening and sitting up, Downs beholds Sunao sleeping next to him. She has placed a small bag of candy next to where his head lay. Major pieces of armor are now fracturing while he wishes his morning erection would dissipate immediately. How does one accomplish this? (some males frequently have this problem) He certainly doesn't want to observe the visage of a sleeping princess while thinking of garbage to relax himself. He is forces himself to maintain the most honorable behavior despite of his condition.

At breakfast, potatoes and small cubes of meat are again served to the guests, but this time Sunao is included with the Americans while the rest of the household eats tsamba and tea. Why is she now regarded an honored guest when last night she was completely ignored?

The Americans filter water at a nearby stream at about 8:00 am under the gaze of curious onlookers. They load the horse, pay the aunt the standard fee for bed and board despite the protestations of Sunao (two days ago the Mayor declared it unnecessary to pay for lodging here), shoot some pictures of the locals, and depart with Sunao at her usual pace. She does not want to stop or stroll. She is on a mission.

Foster conveys to Sunao that he wishes to know the Tibetan words for various objects (tree, grass, rock, road) and once again resumes Tibetan language classes. As the trio now bears eastward they descend gradually in elevation, canyon walls become more pronounced, and the vegetation becomes more dense with conifers blanketing the steep slopes. After an hour of language lessons, a large tributary enters the canyon from the south, at the confluence of which is a small hydroelectric station and a very small store where they purchase the first half-dozen oranges they have seen in over a week. Sunao does not stop as there are now more travelers on the road and she has made friends with two older women with horses who travel the same direction for a mile or so. There are also more men with silken wool hats, gallantly dressed tribesmen on palomino ponies, bicycles, putt-putts, and the occasional truck which stops to offer a ride to the hikers but which is politely refused.

They arrive Liuba at noon, much earlier than expected, and where it is still quite cold due to the high altitude above 12,000 ft. It is a nice looking town with abundant Tibetan architecture where nearly all the males are dressed in western clothing. A red PRC flag indicates a school and a hospital. Near the center of town the horse is tethered and the trio enters a typical regional Tibetan domicile, ascending the steep staircase to a kindly old gentleman's flat, presumably a relative of Sunao, who sits at a treadle sewing machine in the light from an open window. The rest of the room is a little untidy, or rather like the accommodations of the previous night.

After accepting a cup of tea and tsamba Downs decides not to waste time waiting for someone to find him to change money and exits to find the largest (in this case the only) general store in town. Previously, in western, northern, and southern China, it was merely necessary to stand idle in the street until a stranger approached to propose an exchange rate for dollars. These money changers are generally rude, considered a nuisance, and are omnipresent in China. Downs and Foster enter the store to browse while a crowd of children gather to stare at the strangers. After purchasing several packs of "Nine Oxen" cigarettes and a beer, Downs turns to the throng of children to ask why they are not in school. Following up on this theme, the proprietor shoos the children out of the store to leave the Americans in the company of 10 local adults. Downs inquires about a local bank, but the proprietor informs him that the nearest financial establishment is at the town of Sha De 20 miles to the north. Well then, perhaps someone in this town would like to exchange hard American currency for Chinese Yuan?

Vacant stares.

One gentleman declares that they have no need for American dollars here. What would they do with them?

Downs informs Foster about the trend of the conversation and the latter leaves in disgust.

What could they do with American dollars?! Why that's ridiculous! You, buy real estate, or perhaps a tank,* or even an atomic bomb! A younger wise-guy approaches Downs to propose that he will exchange yuan for dollars at parity. In desperation Downs offers six to one (down from the standard 8.3), but the wise-ass refuses.

Now flustered, Downs takes his beer outside to sit on a log next to other locals and socialize with them while clouds thicken and the wind begins to gust. One gentleman is introduced as a Han Chinese, the first met in a week. They offer the American a cigarette and he responds by offering them a swig of beer but they refuse, regarding him like he's an idiot. Nothing like a nice cold beer before an impending snow storm. The locals jokingly inform him that he looks like Marx, and after he wonders whether they mean Karl or Groucho, he smilingly tells them to go to hell in English, which fortunately they don't understand, finishes his beer, and returns to the tailor's house. These are basically good people, but a bit aloof and rude. They lack the inner beauty, courtesy, and sophistication encountered in the magical valley to the east.

Foster sits morosely drinking tea under the open window where snow flurries occasionally swirl in over his head. Downs gestures to Sunao that he is unable to exchange money which causes her to hide her beautiful face in her hands in shame (as if it is her fault). The Americans calculate what funds they have and what they think they can part with until they get to the bank at Sha De. They purchase the dagger, necklace, and two cummerbunds, leaving Sunao with the third cummerbund and the beautiful knitted wool sweater.

Sunao indicates she must leave and descends the stairs to load her horse with her small bag of possessions. Here Foster (unbeknownst to Downs) gives her a pair of gloves but she doesn't seem interested in saying good-bye to him. He thinks she is a strange girl, so soft-spoken, unafraid, and unflappable! Foster returns upstairs to find Downs searching through his pack for some item to give the departing friend and guide. He finds his new pair of Goretex snowmobile gloves which he supposes would be an appropriate gift as he still hasn't had an occasion to wear them and she spends so much time in the cold of high altitudes.

Descending to find Sunao on the brink of departure in a light snowstorm, he wants to give her the gloves but being unsure of her hand size, holds his left hand up in front of her. Sunao places her palm against his...perfect fit. But wait, she then interlocks fingers with him while twisting his hand 180?, and draws their coupled fists to her heart, while looking up at him longingly. This is definitely a good setting for a kiss, but Downs is beside himself with emotion and in exasperation breaks apart while pressing the gloves into her outstretched hands. Sunao sadly tucks the gloves into her bodice but in a bit of a fluster drops one to the ground. She retrieves the glove and the horse tether simultaneously, turns, and slowly walks up the street 100 yards to the crest of the hill, where she stops, turns, and locks a gaze with Downs who is now standing in the center of the street looking longingly at her and burdened by a three-year abstinence of female companionship. They stand as such for half a minute until a flurry of snow envelopes the vision of Sunao and her horse to gradually dissipate in a helix and reveal the vacancy of where she had just stood. The Princess has taken her leave to return to Shangri-la. Pieces of armor lie at his feet in the middle of the street, the rest lies in tatters around his shoulders while the ring on his finger weighs a ton....He is pathetic.

There is a small but perceptible hole in Downs' heart, of which he has many, and which he cannot afford to increase for fear of causing ill health. There are those that go through life content but dissatisfied with the lover they married, and some who are madly in love with their mates of thirty years or more and still maintain a passionate relationship, so much so, that the demise of one causes the demise of the other. As everyone knows, this occurs in some bird species as well as other species of animals. It also occurred to Downs' parents. Although the loss of a soul-mate may constitute a lethal massive hole in the heart, the accumulation of enough small holes may result in the same affect. The Tibetan princess harmed an individual by her departure from a heart that desired her.

Downs returns to the Tailor's where Foster informs him he prefers not to stay further in Liuba. Downs agrees to leave, but as he is in a minor state of emotional bewilderment does not know which direction to travel. Just move, he thinks! Move! They negotiate a putt-putt ride with one of the locals to the main north-south road where apparently buses are available to the main Tibetan Highway linking Lhasa with Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan.

The putt-putt ride takes approximately 45 minutes and costs Y50.00 (a complete swindle). This leaves the duo with the pittance of Y44.00. They have $700 in U.S. currency and three credit cards worth over $10,000 on a single extraction, but they are now traveling in China on $5.50. The ride is extremely rough, which causes Downs some apprehension about a jolt which may permanently injure his back as has occurred to several of his colleagues. The wind is now cold upon his exposed hands and he wishes he had his gloves. Damn!

Conifers are increasing in number down canyon. Fuck the rocks.

At the road junction, which is also the confluence of the Wulongshi and a larger river, the hikers descend the putt-putt to notice a cement bridge, small restaurants, engine mechanic stalls, and what appears to be a small decrepit hotel. In a larger canyon now, where it is still cold and cloudy, they sit and wait to see what happens.

Nothing happens.

As there is absolutely no northward traffic, they decide to walk beneath an overcast sky in a cold wind and occasional snow flurries. A traditionally dressed pleasant Tibetan woman spinning wool and carrying a bundle of grass accompanies them on their ambulation. In twenty minutes they reach a village where the woman departs after inviting the two in for tea, who politely decline. The duo walk a while, wait one-half hour, and drink some rocket fuel bought earlier in Liuba. For the moment Downs is not feeling numb enough.

When Downs' wife ran off with a banjo player 16 years ago (Why does everyone laugh when he recounts this? Maybe because they are laughing with him and not at him.), it struck him as a small hole because it was more of an insult than a major loss. But since that time he has experienced innumerable passionate love affairs with some of the most beautiful and talented women on the planet and with whom, he has sworn, will not be given the opportunity to cause him grief by rejecting him. As such, he has initiated divorce by applying Scotty's Rule (with a proviso): "As soon as they lose interest (or become abusive), terminate the relationship." But this Solipsist theology pays its toll upon its disciple, and results in the frequent creation of small holes in the heart. At one point it was thought that the more one terminates love affairs, the more callused the heart would become, which would make the process of breaking up easier. In reality, the antithesis occurs and the termination of a love affair becomes more difficult and excruciating, and eventually the heart becomes more brittle, not callused and resilient, and it is merely a matter of time before the next strike finally shatters what is erroneously thought to have become impenetrable. Any gemologist will confirm that to shatter a diamond requires only the slightest tap upon the right place. A hardened and emotionally pockmarked heart can be compared to nothing less. This is the price one pays for living a passionate but reclusive and recalcitrant life, as reiterated by poets such as T.S. Eliot. Downs is not a poet, he is a cretin who now feels he has to move, for a moving target is more difficult to hit, particularly repeatedly, although, he must admit, in the aim of a beautiful woman's desires, he still remains a sitting duck (How could he possibly have imagined that by traveling to one of the more remote places in the world to escape a failed love life he would be subjected to the flirtations of gorgeous women?)

Finally, at 5:00, after a total absence of vehicular and pedestrian traffic, and feeling a little light headed the hikers walk across a barren field and pitch camp beside the river. As they set up camp, they view in the distance the auspicious image of a truck heading north. They finish their final packed meal of rice and tuna with a little canned ham and are ready for bed at 7:30.

Tomorrow they will hitch a ride unless a bus arrives. In either case they don't know if their remaining Y44.00 is sufficient to get them to a town where they can change money. They have lost the thread of their introductions and guides they have maintained since the 22nd of November at Caoke. The break with Sunao is more than a simple personal one, as it signifies a departure from an interconnection of genuine friends. It has only been a week but it feels like a month. The two must still get to Kangding, Luding, back to Shimian, the Wusihe train station, and finally another 16 hour train ride to Kunming. After six weeks in China, they have a flight from Kunming to Hong Kong on December 5 and tomorrow is December 1. An alternative would be to continue on the Tibetan highway to Chengdu and fly to Kunming if time is short. China Southern Airways accepts credit cards in Chengdu as does China International Travel Service. There are many alternatives.

That night Downs begins to sweat and shiver uncontrollably. He has become ill.

VI - Currency

December 1:

A morning cup of tea stimulates Downs and Foster while they sit in the barren field under a cold cloudy sky. The duo breaks camp to walk down the road at 8:30 am, bearing north and downstream where they believe they will encounter warmer temperatures. In addition, as they do not want to miss the bus they are compelled to walk awhile and then wait along the side of the road, continuing this behavior repeatedly. Both Burdsall's and La bon's maps are inaccurate in this region as they depict the river running southward into the Yalong Jiang. To the contrary, and as illustrated on the Sichuan map, it runs northward to converge with the Liqiu River which then flows west and southwest into the Yalong River. The vegetation consists completely of spruce, fir, pine, and leafless poplar in the Winter to compose a scene that closely resembles a mountain scene in Colorado with steep canyon walls, high ridges, and peaks overhead. During one of their waits several runny nosed children approach the travelers and stare at them for several minutes before continuing on their way to school.

The sky is overcast until 11:00 am, yet, with the exception of an occasional bicycle, there is still is no traffic on the dirt road. Numerous large piles of prayer rocks line the route where one consists of a four-foot high and five foot wide stack that is at least 100 yards long. Every well-rounded cobble is intricately carved with a multitude of Tibetan characters (the effort expended to create this is incredible).

At approximately noon, a passing motorcyclist stops to converse with the walkers and confirm that a bus truly travels this road but he can not remember on which days of the week. Downs had the feeling this could happen, for penetrating deep into the outback of China has been too easy, and now they have to extract themselves with a limited amount of time. Still, the time factor is irrelevant, for a worst case scenario would be to arrive Kunming several days late which would then merely require a change of the return dates on their air tickets (though Foster’s wife would be fit to be tied, while Downs' cat expected him back weeks ago). This time of year the flights are not fully booked as they are during peak travel seasons.

Finally, as they are again walking, a truck with a canvas canopy over the bed that shields a passenger riding on the load of pulpwood rounds the bend heading north. The hikers flag down the vehicle, explain their monetary predicament, and negotiate a price of Y40.00 to reach the bank at Sha De. Their packs are placed on the truck’s load with assurances of their security from the driver, who sports a shoulder length pompadour, broad sunglasses, and a knee-length heavy sheepskin coat with a large collar while a cigarette hangs off his lower lip. Two riders from the crew-cab are shifted rearward to make room for the hitch-hikers despite the Americans' protestations to be seated posteriorly (since they are paying passengers they are preferentially treated). The driver’s two colleagues in the front also don heavy sheepskin coats but have close-cut haircuts. A portly gray-haired Buddhist disciple with a conical silken wool hat sits next to the hikers on the rear cab seat fingering his prayer beads and continuously chanting "Omani-Bomani." The small and dense beads are a stringed in a loop with three bead strands radiating from the circumference which are interspersed with tiny silver or copper rings as markers. A bead is passed for every Omani-Bomani and when a circumference is lapped, either a marker bead or silver ring is shifted to enumerate the prayers. The beads are designed to register tens of thousands of prayers.

Traveling downstream at a good pace now, the vegetation becomes a deciduous forest, the sunshine warms the atmosphere, and soon they reach the confluence with the larger Liqiu River running directly westward where the truck crosses a cement bridge in an unanticipated turn upstream. Lebon inaccurately transliterates the river’s name as the Litchi. The riders in the front offer Tibetan beer to the hikers who graciously accept (it would be an insult to refuse). Again, with the ascension of altitude it becomes cold, particularly when the sun is blocked by the steep canyon walls and the wind streams through the broken windows of the truck.

The truck arrives the town of Sha De such that finally they have reached is a legitimate bank. It takes several minutes to locate the establishment, only to be informed from an employee on the second floor balcony that this is an agricultural bank which conducts business with the local populace only. They have no facilities for foreign exchange.

Now what to do? The truck driver mollifies the hitch-hikers’ anxiety by informing them there is a genuine bank with tellers at the town of Xinduqiao on the Tibetan highway which is his home and destination for the day. The Americans accept the truck drivers offer for a ride to the Tibetan highway and are so relieved to be able to continue their journey that they neglect to inquire about a possible increase in fare, since the previous rate only extended to this village.

Sha De contains a very nice outdoor market where daggers in dragon embossed silver scabbards, lacquered bowls, and numerous local handicrafts would make superb Christmas gifts. It is regrettable they don't have any Chinese money to purchase anything.

The truck discharges its load of wood while next door Foster observes a game of Chinese chess. Nearly all the moves are identical with its western counterpart, including the angled course of the knight-like figure, however a few of the pieces move differently and the board differs by portraying a river bisecting the battlefield which only certain pieces can cross. Apparently, the game was introduced from India thousands of years ago, or was it introduced from China to India at this time? The origin of the game is unknown.

The driver then generously treats his riders to a very good lunch of meat, potatoes, and greens at a small but quaint local restaurant after which the truck again departs with a now uncovered bed minus two passengers, but it continuously stops to pick up more individuals along the road who carry heavy bags of foodstuffs, walk bicycles up long inclines, or haul heavy implements.

Omani-Bomani continues his litany.

As the truck’s starter is broken, after each stop the driver restarts the vehicle by either coasting and engaging the clutch, or one of his colleagues hand cranks the engine from the front in the old-fashioned method. They once again continue to ascend in elevation as the canyon opens into a broad treeless valley with towns that contain gigantic stone towers that appear to attain 200 ft. in height. The hikers are informed that these are Tibetan ramparts. There are so many of these massive structures within the canyon, it is obvious the region was war torn for a lengthy period.

By mid-afternoon the sun continues to shine, but now there is commotion in the road ahead. The truck stops to observe a small group of women wearing leather aprons and wooden mittens, who conduct a ritual of clapping their wooden mittens three times along the vertical plane of their body and then dive face-forward skidding on the apron and mittens. Where they come to rest they then stand in place and repeat the performance. Downs is absolutely flabbergasted to see ladies performing "swan dives for god," with clothes and faces that match the color of the dirt road, but Foster has read of this occurring in western Tibet where the ritual is performed circumscribing Mt. Kailas. Nevertheless, this approaches the self-abuse performed by Islamic flagellants who whip themselves with bladed chains.* This group will travel as such for the next 30 miles before returning to their village under the same ritual (When diving down hill how far could they glide? Do they ever slide too fast, miss a corner, and plunge off a cliff?). Sometimes organized religion is just too insane for words.

Noticing the truck and foreigners, the ladies take a rest and laugh at Foster when he tries on the mittens, conducts the ritual clapping, and attempts a dive. He is not very successful with the diving procedure and merely slides a foot or so as compared to the ten-foot slides the pilgrims accomplish. The driver makes a monetary contribution to the troupe and socializes for awhile before the truck is again on its way.

Public Security check-posts are now occasionally encountered, which are simple reminders that this journey would have been obstructed a year prior, but the posts are now devoid of police and the barricades are permanently lifted, allowing all traffic to pass unimpeded.

The river valley widens and flattens further to form a frigid plane. Approaching the Tibetan highway at 14,000 feet, widely spaced barren hills dot the landscape under a cold overcast sky where the truck becomes stalled in a mud hole for fifteen minutes despite the now louder chants of Omani-Bomani. The vehicle is restarted but then continues to intermittently break down for the next hour with the driver and his cohorts priming the carburetor, switching gas tank lines, and suffering a torn tire. It is starting to become late as they pull into a rural petrol station, but the attendant refuses service as the station is closed. Finally, the truck limps onto the main highway where there is a large sixty-foot Buddhist stupa ornamented with Tibetan Buddha eyes. A group of people tend a bonfire that emits a large plume of black smoke which is either a ritual offering or they are simply burning tires.

Omani-Bomani stops fingering his beads and chanting and begins singing in an off pitch wail before resuming his regular invocation. Downs rolls his eyes as this elder fat gentleman is beginning to get on his nerves. Praise the lord!

After a fuel refill and the change of a fan belt the truck heads west approximately three miles to the town of Xinduchiao (which of course is not on any of the maps). Entering town, the driver stops at a mechanic’s shop to drop off a dead battery and miscellaneous auto-parts that require repairs. As it is too late in the day for government or financial establishments, the truck rolls to its destination in town and unloads its passengers, who are then informed that the fare will be Y200.00 which can be paid tomorrow after the travelers have changed their money (cheated again!). Tomorrow they will find a real bank and try to renegotiate the truck fare.

This town displays different womens’ fashion with the trend of tight leather with spiked heels (sexy). One of the driver's colleagues accompanies the hikers to the government rest house where they check into a narrow room with two beds, electric blankets, and a single light bulb hanging from a chord. The room is a bit rustic but clean and is merely Y18.00.

Downs again begins shivering but ceases after drinking a half thermos of boiled water and a couple of shots of ginseng rocket fuel that he has just purchased with his last Y6.00. Foster has Y10.00 left that will hopefully provide them with a meal for the evening.

That evening, with the equivalent of $1.25 between them, they attend the rest house restaurant, which is a small, quaint, and clean establishment with massive black lacquered furniture. Inquires are made to the waitress whether it would be possible to charge the meal to their room, or to be provided with some credit until the bank opens in the morning? Absolutely not! Does she take American Express? Straight cash only! Fine, what can they order for Y10.00? The waitress sneers at them while pointing to the menu on a chalkboard. As they are eating their delicious and satisfying meal of Kung Pao chicken, rice, and tea, a group of four enters and orders a meal of ten dishes wine and beer. They are treated with courtesy and respect while the two foreigners are regarded with scorn. Who the hell does this waitress think she is? She doesn't phase Downs in the least as he has been treated with contempt by women with much more class and beauty than this bitch!

The two return to their room and Downs attempts to acquire more boiled water from the floor attendant, but she is too preoccupied with television to respond to his request, which signifies the official return to the technological world. TV is the main source for the disintegration of modern civilization. You HAVE to watch TV. Take a plane anywhere: “Close your window-shade and watch last night's newscast!” There may be inconceivable thousand-foot high sand dunes burying whole mountain ranges in the Sahara Desert below, but you must “Close your window! You are disturbing others who prefer TV.” You may be flying over Greece where dazzling golden islands are sprinkled in a contrasting setting with the azure Mediterranean. “Close your window! Watch TV.” A new concept in hijacking: Threaten to disconnect the monitors. They’ll take you anywhere. And as for the programming itself, one does not have to be a dinosaur paleontologist to realize that "Barney" requires the attention of a disgruntled postal worker. This media is currently transforming human beings into violence and vacuous sex motivated automatons.

The hikers are now completely out of Chinese money but are confident they will change some in the morning, negotiate the overcharge with the truck driver, and take a bus to Kangding or Luding. Foster is beginning to cough and believes he has contracted something from Tsemei. This day has been cold and a little discouraging but at least they are sheltered for the evening, though they remain in high elevations. Tomorrow looks promising.

At approximately 3:00 am, truck drivers and dogs make a tremendous racket. How much sheet metal can be pounded by four truck drivers with a kennel of barking dogs in an hour?

December 2:

A dusting of snow coats the streets under a bright cloudless sky. The truck driver and his associates arrive at the rest house at 8:00 while the hikers enjoy a morning cup of tea. The group ambles down the cold and icy streets in the bright sunshine to a small restaurant where the driver again provides them with a meal of baozis, tea, and a shot of rocket fuel at a small local restaurant, after which the truckers shoot a few balls of pool on the open-air pool tables that line the streets.* The Americans also participate as they reminisce about the days of their youth when they were hot pool sharks capable of flaunting shots such as a triple bank to sink the eight-ball. Downs certainly cannot perform this maneuver any more as he is currently half blind from over masturbating.**

It is finally 9:00 when the troupe enters the newest three story tile building in town where there are two teller's windows and Downs announces the nature of his business only to observe the tellers’ negatively shaking heads as they inform the customer that they are not authorized for foreign exchange. Downs and the truckers vehemently attempt to persuade the tellers to the contrary with a request that an exception be made and a final request to see the manager. All protestations are denied and further arguments go unheard. The teller informs the American that the bank at the county capitol of Kangding would certainly accommodate him. This, however, does not alleviate the Americans’ debt to the truck driver who is now standing outside the bank with his friends and Foster. Why doesn't anyone in this region want to buy hard currency? This is ridiculous!

Downs suggests that the only recourse lies in the driver accepting American dollars, and it appears that he has already pondered this alternative. Regarding the hitchhiker with a superscilious gaze the driver replies that he will provide the Americans with Y100.00 change and consider payment for his services rendered for the price of two American twenty dollar bills. This is a total rip-off,* but the hikers have no alternative and are in no position to negotiate. As the Americans begrudgingly thank and bid farewell to the truckers, they notice the driver fingering his two $20.00 bills in admiration. He will probably sell one for twice its value and keep the other as a trophy.

Oh well, at least they have Y100.00 to travel with. They return to the rest house, check out, and wait in the vicinity of the bus stop where local Tibetans are sightseeing (i.e. the Americans are the sights). One traditionally dressed gentleman approaches the duo wearing an impressive full length Tibetan sword with a dragon embossed silver scabbard. Downs quite admires this, but the Tibetan will not part with it for under Y1,000.00. Foster shows the Tibetans his Leatherman (whoopee!).

Within an hour the bus arrives and passengers disembark with one young Chinese gentleman proffering an American dollar bill to Downs asking if he'd like to exchange it. Downs can sympathize with this individual. They purchase tickets to Kangding for Y13.00 each and depart eastward upon the highway to traverse the 15,600 ft. Xindushan Pass. Regional architecture is still Tibetan but with larger windows than in the Tsemei area. An occasional fortress and older generation houses are set into the cliffs of broad valleys, yaks graze on barren hills, and eagles soar amidst the occasional white stupa. Prior to the logging industry these people must have used Yak dung for fuel, but now putt-putts service the region with firewood such as milkmen used to provide their services in the United States.

The bright sunshine beams down through the thin air onto the lumbering full-size bus under the control of a competent and steady driver who guides the vehicle through barren icy switch backs while overtaking logging trucks. A young Tibetan pilgrim with long hair cascading over his heavy sheepskin coat sits in front of the Americans and turns to offer his prayer beads. Foster, who is now conversant in Chinese numbers and a limited knowledge of bargaining vocabulary begins to negotiate for the prayer beads but has no idea what a fair price would be. A gentleman behind the two interrupts to inform them that Y300.00 would be a fair price. Foster is worried that a purchase of prayer beads may be a cultural insult, but nobody seems to mind, the pilgrim is not attached to them as a valuable material object, and he can later purchase more while the money he makes from selling them will aid him on his journey. The negotiation is superfluous as the Americans are essentially penniless and frustrated.

As the bus approaches the summit the driver plays a pleasant violin melody from “The East is Red” over the bus’s speakers. Downs catches himself beginning to doze off and a perusal of his surroundings reveals that nearly all the passengers are asleep. This is a becoming quite a civilized ride and as he drifts off into a nap he reflects upon the nature of civilization. This is a quite refined country compared to places where he has been shot at (including the U.S.).* He also recalls an account about Voltaire’s visit to China during the reign of the mostly benevolent Qing (formerly written Ching) Dynasty emperor Qianlong who was rather xenophobic but occasionally tolerant of Westerners. The Frenchman was reputedly so impressed by Chinese civilization that he henceforth wore his hair in a queue to emulate Chinese society,* a fashion which later spread to England and eventually the Gentry of the English colonies in North America including Jefferson, Washington, and the like. The story may be accurate, but is probably apocryphal.

Chinese civilization differs from its western counterpart by evolving in a single locale, whereas western civilization developed through a series of advances which were followed by a migration of the political center (i.e. Mesopotamia, to Egypt, to Greece, to Rome, to Europe, etc.). The United States has taken this concept of mobility to the extreme as it is reputed that the majority of its population does not stay in a single location for over five years before moving their home. Seemingly, China’s continuity would allow it to learn from its mistakes of the past while western civilization would lose its historical thread. But this is not the case, for the Chinese, like their western counterparts repeat history time and again. This must be the result of a biological or social software program that motivates the human race to entropy. Where are the leaders for the impending millennium? Why is Sonny Bono a national leader?

The summit of the pass is traversed and a steep descent ensues to reveal an immediate transformation to Han Chinese architectural style. This is amazing, as it appears the cultural division line between Tibet and China can be drawn with a razor blade.

Now descending into a steep-walled canyon, the metropolis of Kangding reveals itself with a city-center much larger than each of the Americans imagined from reading the guidebooks and other literature. Half the inhabitants are in Tibetan apparel, some who stroll by a brand new five-story golden glass and pink granite structure that resembles a Dallas bank. With the exception of the new glass architecture, the setting is exclusively Chinese.

Disembarking the bus at approximately 2:30 they walk to the nearest cab station where the transportation consists of motorcycles with side-cars piloted by riders clothed in black leather (including their cap). Downs leaves Foster with the packs, requests the driver take him to the largest bank, and shoots off amidst the sound of an unmuffled Harley down the icy streets with his turban trailing in the wind.

It is none other than the Dallas building itself that the driver and his passenger enter to witness a large financial establishment with over 25 teller's booths that are all queued with customers. Kangding is doing very well economically. Now where is Foreign Exchange? Downs does not observe it immediately, and the cab driver, comprehending the American’s dilemma, breaks into a line to inquire where a foreigner can exchange funds. The teller informs him that this bank has no facilities for that function and suggests the bank across the street may be able to help.

This is unbelievable.

Across the street they meet another negative. Try another bank. No! Another, No! Downs needs to return to the bus station to either think, or get drunk.

While Foster sits between the packs on the sidewalk eating oranges and peanuts, Downs informs him of the news while fingering Sunao's ring on his finger and thinking that perhaps he should simply return to Tsemei to spend the rest of his life with the Tibetan princess. But then she wouldn't want him as he realizes her attraction is to the prosperity of the American Dream and not to Downs himself.

Foster suggests trying a tourist hotel for assistance.

Downs replies in rapid hysterics "Tourist Hotel?! This is Kangding, fucking middle of nowhere, China!" But he then notices a plethora of tourist information on a billboard map in Chinese just above Foster's head. Downs clears his throat in acknowledgment while commending Foster with a "good idea," and returns to the cab to be taken to the best hotel in Kangding.

The cab driver is definitely appreciating the problem now and appears to be enjoying this day of racing the streets to solve a problem (not to mention making Y5.00 per trip). Downs jives with the driver...they will crack this problem.

The newest Kangding hotel is palatial with thick pile carpeting and marble columns in the lobby. It is not quite the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong, which boasts the largest selection of Rolls Royses in the world to accommodate its patrons, but after all this is Kangding. A double room for foreigners is Y100.00 (such a deal!). Why not say the hell with it for the day, stay in an opulent room and relax in a new city while enjoying the new sights? Do they accept credit cards?

“Sorry cash payment only.”

Good, then they can exchange foreign money.

“Sorry, you must go to a bank."

The cab driver interrupts to explain the predicament to the cute desk-clerkstresses, who suggest that perhaps one of the government offices down the street could be of assistance.

Hurriedly, the two now mount the cab, speed down the street, and make a sharp left turn into a large courtyard surrounded by a complex of buildings when an armed guard steps in front of their vehicle. The cab driver explains their circumstance in a rapid Sichuan accent, but the guard adamantly refuses to allow entrance, and suggests that they try the local offices back up the street. Downs feigns ignorant tourist before the authority figure. A quick acknowledgment followed by screaming tires announce their departure. Then a hard right, a left, a right into another courtyard, out of the vehicle, and up the stairs into a building to the left where, after a quick exchange of words, an elderly man in a blue Mao suit informs them that they should try the office across the courtyard.

The driver strides rapidly across the courtyard with Downs at his heels, who then enter the opposite building, quickly ascend two flights of stairs, jog down a long dark hallway, and pass through a dark curtain to the left where, in a large rectangular office embellished with beautiful Chinese character scrolls amidst the strong aroma of garlic, three old ladies sit knitting.

The smell of garlic is always an auspicious sign.

After the cab driver explains their problem in Sichuanese, the eldest of the three stands to address Downs, stating that of course she would be happy to assist the American, how much money would he like to exchange? Downs meekly requests $250.00 and the sweet old lady replies that she can't remember exactly, but she thinks she heard on television last night that the current exchange rate is 8.5.

Downs replies that this is perfectly suitable while another matron yells into the hallway for their young assistant Meimei to go to the bank and return with Y2,000.00.

While Meimei is retrieving the funds, Downs inquires into which federal office this might be. The three gentle women try to be concise and distinct but Downs is forced to resort to his pocket dictionary: "Tibetan Office for Foreign Nationals"

What the....

"He's not Tibetan you realize," remarks one of the ladies knitting.

"But he is foreign," responds a second also knitting.

"And since that is part of our title, we should certainly help him," comments the standing one smiling at the foreigner.

Downs nearly falls over. He has finally, after so many years traveling and working in China, been out Chinesed by the Chinese. It had to be knitting old ladies to accomplish this. He now sits with his forehead in his palm, his mind completely blown.

Meimei returns warmly dressed in a heavy bright red overcoat from which she extracts a large package of bills. Downs exchanges an assortment of his legal tender with the ladies who comment on the exquisite detail and beauty of American money compared to their own, as they have never seen American currency before. Downs admits he has never appreciated the attractiveness of American money. He can't even remember whose portrait is on the ten dollar bill.

The cab returns to Foster who is suspicious about the story of the old ladies. Downs then attempts to present the driver with a heavy gratuity, but the driver refuses repeatedly. He has enjoyed simply doing his job. Why is he being polite to strangers he knows have money? Other incidents similar to this have been experienced: In Malawi three Americans stopped for a Coke and peanuts at a dirt-poor ramshackle store. Upon departing the travelers attempted to pay but the proprietor refused the money with the remark that he was honored to provision the first Americans to enter his store (would an American provide the same courtesy to a Malawian?). As always, it is the poorest who are the most generous. Is this generosity altruistic? Is altruism real or imagined? More than several entomologists and animal behaviorists claim that all behavior is based upon retribution and that altruism does not exist. In contrast to the generosity of the poor, the Herald Tribune once reported that a survey of the wealthiest people on earth revealed that 99% of them do nothing with their fortunes but hoard it.

It is still cold as Kangding is at 10,000 or 12,000 ft. and the precipitous canyon that encloses the city allows only a few hours of sunlight a day to strike the streets. The two now solvent travelers decide to ride the bus to Luding which is lower in elevation and which will provide them a visit to the famous chain-link bridge across the Dadu River. As they turn and walk back to the bus station, the cab driver informs them that the vehicles at this station do not travel south to Luding but travel east on the Tibetan highway to the provincial capitol of Chengdu. A small private company provides bus service to Luding downtown, where the driver and another colleague propose to deliver them. Foster throws his pack in a side-car and mounts the bike behind the driver. This time each of them rides a cab and it becomes a steeplechase through the icy streets of the city. Foster whips his hat around his head as if riding a bucking bronco while his lead cab careens around corners with a side-car that goes airborne at one point.

The minibus (Y14.00 for two) disembarks Kangding via the highway that parallels the river which drops rapidly in nearly continuous cascades. The gorge is very narrow and impressive with a gradient that is much too steep for standard erosional processes and consequently must follow a major structural lineament. Numerous small hydroelectric stations have been built along its course.

So, China is now totally open to travel, but there still are no financial institutions to facilitate foreign travelers. However, at the tumultuous procession that China is changing, it will not be long before all tourist services and amenities are provided throughout the country.

The road eventually intersects the confluence with the immense Dadu River gorge at the much lower and warmer elevation of 5,000 ft. and travels south to the county capitol of Luding, one of the famous historical sites from the "Long March." Luding is a smaller town that has obviously seen its better days for there is no new construction, the likes of which were observed in Hanyuan, Shimian, and Kangding. Many of the faded and cracked "modern" Soviet-style buildings were built in the 1960's. Apparently, the best hotel in town is the large four-story government rest house with the price for foreigners of Y100.00 which provides a suite with two double bedded bedrooms, a studio with a television, and what used to be a functional bathroom. The toilet is sinking into the floor with a seat that is broken off the hinges and propped against the wall. The bathtub is rust encrusted with spigot handles that fall off the plumbing when touched. Hot water is provided at 9:30 PM.

That evening the two travelers prefer to walk around town to find a more pleasant restaurant than the large overcrowded raucous rest house dining hall. The back street scenes abound with food stalls, small shops selling clothing or utensils, and contented idle socialization of the local inhabitants among traditional Chinese architecture. It appears to be a satisfactory and comfortable life here.

A small and clean restaurant provides excellent fare and local beer but the Sichuan vegetables are much too hot as one third of the plate consists of red chili peppers. A large group of customers in the front room plays the Chinese finger game, which is the equivalent to “rock, paper, scissors,” but instead is gestured with ten hand signals that are associated with vociferous expletives. This is a real mind-reading game: The numbers one through ten are represented in a single hand gesture and as each contestant simultaneously flings a hand signal he screams the number he estimates will be the sum of both party’s hands. The loser of each round takes a shot of rocket fuel and this continues until one of the contestants falls over drunk.

The beds that night are warm and comfortable but once again Downs shivers and sweats.

VII - The Bridge

December 3:

Downs awakens with an illness that has turned him stupid. The hikers dress and at 8:00am walk under an overcast sky to the bus station where Foster purchases a large piece of flat-bread for breakfast and decides to photograph the town while Downs, energyless, in a mental fog, and too nauseous to eat, waits for the bus by the packs. On his sojourn, Foster encounters and photographs the famous centuries old chain-link bridge which was the sight of incredible feats of heroism in 1935.

The departing 8:40 bus provides Downs with a glimpse of the bridge which truly impresses him by its length, for his initial impression from the published descriptions was that it spanned approximately 100 feet, but in actuality, it is five times that size.

This is the site where the Red Army was nearly annihilated under the relentless pursuit of Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomingtang forces. The United States and other allies had donated large amounts of weaponry to the Nationalist governnment to oppose Japanese aggression, but Chiang employed these munitions combined with German strategic advisors to exterminate the Chinese Communists. He was justifiably intimidated by the significant entourage the Communists were generating by liberating Chinese peasantry from years of oppression and feudalism. Chiang felt that "the Japanese are a disease of the skin, while the Communists are a disease of the heart,"[4] His paranoia of this political movement was further substatiated because the formula for Chinese dynastic succession historically lies in the support of the rural peasantry, who, have nearly alwarys been subjected to heinous abuse by warloards and landlords. In some cases, impoverished farmers were charged rent ten generations in the future. Following are accounts by William Hinton [17] who witnessed the political upheaval of rural Chinese villages:

The gentry literally held the power of life and death of the peasants and personally carried out whatever punitive measures they deemed necessary when their interests were damaged or threatened...One famine year a Long Bow peasant child, only six years old, stole some leaves (to eat) from a tree belonging to his father’s employer. The landlord caught the boy, beat him black and blue with a stout stick, and docket his father $12. This amounted to the father’s earnings for the entire year. He had to borrow money from a relative to get through the winter and was still paying the debt a decade later.

Similar direct action was taken when rent fell in arrears or interest went unpaid. Then the landlord went in person to the home of his tenant and demanded the grain due him. If it was not forthcoming, he drove the peasant off the land or out of the house. If the peasant resisted, the landlord or one of his retainers beat him.

Should a peasant attempt to defend himself, affairs could easily take a very ugly turn. One Taihang peasant struck back at a landlord who raped his wife. He was hung (sic) by the hair of his head and beaten until his scalp separated from his skull. He fell to the ground and bled to death.

It was this back ground of corruption favoritism, influence peddling and violence that drove many a young peasant into gangster-type secret societies....that were endemic in the region. It was this same background that made it possible for certain powerful gentry to organize their own private armed forces, oppress powerful gentry to organize their own private armed forces, oppress and rob people at will, loot and rape and murder without fear of reprisal, and when successful, build themselves up into local warlords with power over whole districts, whole counties, and even provinces.

When the communists began to fundamentally alter this system in favor of the rural peasant...

Then Chiang Kai-shek introduced additional forms of control into every village reached by his power–the pao-chia system of mutual responsibility, and the Kuomintang Party organization....Key individuals were expected to report their neighbors’ every move, and everyone was punished when any member of the group was suspected of involvement in revolutionary activity. Mass executions were carried out under the slogan: “Better to kill one hundred innocent people than to allow one Communist to escape.”

When the communists liberated a community, they routed warlord armies and summarily arrested malicious landlords who were put on public trial. In addition, the Red Army instigated community agricultural improvements, medical, and educational programs while abolishing prostitution, opium smoking, and local banditry. Christian missionaries felt that the Reds were achieving what they had been attempting to accomplish for 100 years. "This was social reform a la Carrie Nation, it went the missionaries one step further."[5] Missionaries were testifying in the United States Congress that the Communists were the benevolent forces deserving of U.S. support and not the Kuomintang regime of Chiang* which, incidentally, was also allegedly selling tungsten to the Japanese.**[9] Others were less than enthralled with the leadership of the Chinese government, particularly when in 1929 Nationalist troops slaughtered labor union members, missionaries and foreign consular officials in Nanking.[10]

An American marine captain who toured the northern provinces in 1938 enthusiastically reported that the Red “insurgents” were attempting to establish a way of life which “politically was close to being a pure democracy, while socially and economically they approached the cooperative effort urged by Jesus of Nazareth.”[6] E.F. Carlson, in direct communication with the the Red Army and the White House, informed Franklin Roosevelt that the Red Army was not composed of Communists in the literal sense, but that they more resembled agrarian reformers. Furthermore, he was so impressed by their guerilla tactics that he later adopted and applied them to his own Marine contingent “Carlson’s Raiders” in the Japanese theatre. General Joseph Stillwell himself preferred to refer to the Red Army as the “Reb Army” for he also did not regard them to be Communist in the literal sense.[7]

Chiang's 1933 agenda to eradicate the Reds resulted in the “Long March,” which initiated in 1934 with some 86,000 men and women compiling the First Front Army who set out from South China to flee to safety and reestablish a new base. Possibly 4,000 arrived with Mao Tse-dung, Chou En-lai, and Deng Hsiao-ping a year later in North China after marching 6,000 miles through some of the most rugged country on the planet.[11]

Edgar Snow[13] reminds us that in Chinese history, the Dadu River witnessed the defeat of heroes of The Three Kingdoms in 250 AD and more recently the extermination of the Christian based Taiping Rebellion of the mid 1800's which very nearly overthrew the Ching (now written Qing) Dynasty at the expense of an estimated death of half the population of China.[12] This “rebellion” is generally recognized as the forebear to the twentieth century Chinese revolution, or dynastic succession, which took nearly 100 years to accomplish. During the Opium Wars and the Taiping Rebellion, foreign powers realized that a corrupt and weakened court in Peking was less able to oppose English sales of opium to the Chinese in addition to further imperialistic aggression, and hence, they preferred to support the failing dynasty rather than risk certain expulsion by a victorious army of revolutionaries. Indeed, the Taiping movement was in the process of reclaiming national sovergnty, abolishing English sales of opium to China, and eventually would haved erradicated all forms of foreign encroachment had they been successful, which they very nearly were. Occupying foreign powers thereby provided the decrepit dynastic army with modern munitions and the assistance of strategists such as Charles Gordon (who would later die at Khartoum). Within the gorges of the Dadu the last of the 100,000 Taiping revolutionaries met their demise. Some historians have estimated that the combination of natural disasters combined with the political insurrections may have cost on the order of 200 million Chinese lives between 1850-1865. It was a nightmare.

This time, in 1935, the Dadu was the Rubicon for the Red Army under the relentless persuit of Chiang Kai-shek who believed that here, he could finally annihilate his political opposition, and as such sent a wire to his forces to repeat the history of the Taipings. But the Communists were not ignorant of history* and realized that the Taiping destruction was due to a costly delay of three days because of the birth of their leader's son. The Red Army would not repeat this error.

It was May, and the spring runoff had the Dadu river swollen to flood stage. Although several ferry boats had been captured from Nationalist forces and were used to ferry one contingent of troops, the transort was so slow and difficult that it would have taken weeks for the entire army and its supplies to make the crossing. Chiang's airplanes had located the Reds and were bombing while more Nationalist troops raced for a final confrontation from the southeast and north. An emergency conference was summoned by the Red leadership which decided on a last ditch effort to take the Luding Bridge which was the only crossing of the Dadu east of Tibet. A failure to reach the bridge at Luding in three days, which was 100 miles away, would be their demise. Consequently, they dispatched a vanguard which set to at a forced march. At times, the detachment climbed several thousand feet only to drop back to the level of the raging river and wallow through waist-deep mud, fighting occasional resistance, and making detours into the mountains to avoid losses from unnecessary clashes with the enemy.

The following account combines the descriptions of Edgar Snow and Yang Cheng-wu, the Political Commissar of the regiment who was given the task of taking the bridge (in quotes, as cited from Wilson[14]):

"Day and night the vanguard moved at double-quick, pausing only for brief ten minute rests and meals, when the soldiers listened to lectures by their weary political workers, who over and over again explained the importance of this one action, exhorting each to save his last breath, his last urgent strength, for victory in the test ahead of them. There could be no slackening of pace, no halfheartedness, no fatigue. 'Victory was life,' said Peng Dehuai; 'defeat was certain death.

Orders arrived commanding the vanguard to take the bridge a day earlier than initially planned which would entail a 63 mile march. They would have to cover two days in one! Time was everything now.

Presently new troops appeared on the opposite bank, and through their field glasses the Reds saw that they were (Nationalist) reinforcements hurrying to the bridge. For a whole day these troops raced each other along the river, but gradually the Red vanguard, the pick of all the Red Army, pulled away from the enemy's tired soldiers, whose rests were longer and more frequent, whose energy seemed more spent, and who were perhaps none to anxious to die for a bridge.

"Troubles never come singly, and no one can control the weather. Suddenly there was a tremendous downpour with thunder and lightning. The sky was so black you couldn't see the fingers of your own hand. Our men hadn't eaten all day; they were suffering from hunger. Marching at night in the slippery mud, the pack animals with our food and supplies couldn't keep up."

"An order was issued for every man to cut himself a staff. Anyone who couldn't march could walk leaning on the staff. Those who couldn't walk with the aid of staffs could crawl – but they still had to reach our objective on time! We couldn't stop to cook. Everyone was directed to eat his rice ration raw– and wash it down with unboiled water. For the sake of speed, (the advance vanguard) left all our animals, baggage, and heavy weapons.

"(In the pitch black of night) rain pelted mercilessly; torrents rushed down the mountain gullies into the river. The twisting path along the side of the mountain had been difficult enough before; now the water made it slick as oil. Our walking staffs proved of little use. One slip and you landed on your head. It was a case of every three steps a skid, every five steps a fall. We rolled rather than marched forward."

"Even under those conditions, men kept dozing off. A soldier would slowly come to a halt and the comrade behind would push him and yell, 'Keep going! They're way ahead of you!' Only then would he suddenly waken and hurry to catch up. Finally, the men simply unwrapped their puttees and tied themselves together in a long chain, each pulling the other along.

"After proceeding at a forced march all night, at a little after six the following morning, we succeeded in reaching the Luding Bridge and capturing its western end and western approaches. In twenty-four hours, besides fighting and repairing wrecked bridges, we had marched 80 miles"*

(The Luding Bridge) was built centuries ago, and in the manner of all bridges of the deep rivers of western China. Heavy iron chains...were stretched across the river, their ends embedded on each side under great piles of cemented rock, beneath the stone bridgeheads. Thick boards lashed over the chains made the road of the bridge, but upon their arrival the Reds found that half this wooden flooring had been removed, and before them only the bare iron chains swung to a point midway in the stream.

Below, the reddish waters, cascading down from the mountain gorges of the river's upper reaches, pounded against the ugly boulders rising from the river bed and tossed white froth high into the air. The roar of the rushing torrent was deafening. Not even a fish could hold its own against that water. Fording or crossing in boats was out of the question. The bridge was the only way to get to the other side.

At the northern bridgehead an enemy machine-gun nest faced them, and behind it were positions held by a regiment of troops. The bridge should, of course, have been destroyed, but the Sichuanese were sentimental about their few bridges; it was not easy to rebuild them, and they were costly....And who would have thought the Reds would insanely try to cross on the chains alone?

No time was to be lost. The bridge must be captured before enemy reinforcements arrived. Once more volunteers were called for. One by one Red soldiers stepped forward to risk their lives, and, of those who offered themselves, thirty were chosen.

"We began our attack at four in the afternoon. All the buglers of the regiment blew the charge call in unison, and we opened up with every weapon we had against the enemy on the opposite bank. The firing, the shouts of the men, reverberated through the valley. Carrying tommy-guns, big knives strapped across their backs, twelve grenades apiece tucked into their belts, twenty-two heroes, led by Commander Liao, climbed across the swaying bridge chains, in the teeth of intense enemy fire. Behind them came the officers and men of 3rd Company, each carrying a plank in addition to full battle gear; they fought and laid planks at the same time.

...snipers shot at the Reds tossing high above the water, working slowly toward them. The first warrior was hit, and dropped into the current below; a second fell, and then a third. But as others drew nearer the center, the bridge flooring somewhat protected these dare-to-dies, and most of the enemy bullets glanced off, or ended in the cliffs on the opposite bank.

Probably never before had the Sichuanese seen fighters like these – men for whom soldiering was not just a rice bowl, and youths ready to commit suicide to win. Were they human being or madmen or gods? Was their own morale affected? Did they perhaps not shoot to kill? Did some of them secretly pray that these men would succeed in their attempt?

At last one Red crawled up over the bridge flooring, uncapped a grenade and tossed it with perfect aim into the enemy redoubt. Nationalist officers ordered the rest of the planking torn up. It was already too late. More Reds were crawling into sight. (Kerosene) was thrown on the planking and it began to burn. By then about twenty Reds were moving forward on the hands and knees, tossing grenade after grenade into the enemy machine-gun nest.

"The whole outcome of the attack hung by a hair. Confronted by the fire at the city gate our assault squad hesitated...(but) at the sound of a clarion bugle call, plunged boldly into the flames. Commander Liao's cap caught fire. He threw it away and fought on. The hair and eyebrows of the men were singed but, streaming smoke and flame, they continued charging behind Liao, smashing their way into the city. In the street fighting that followed, the enemy brought their full weight to bear, determined to wipe our assault squad out. (They) fought until all their bullets and grenades were gone. The situation was critical. It seemed to be all up with them.

"But just then 3rd Company came charging to their rescue. Next, Regimental Commander Wang and I sped across the bridge with our second contingent and also entered the city."

"In two hours' time we destroyed half of the enemy's two regiments. The remainder broke and scattered. By dusk we had completely occupied the city of Luding and were in firm control of the bridge.

Soon afterwards the Red division that had crossed (on the ferrys) came into sight, opening a flank attack on the remaining enemy positions, so that in a little while (Chiang Kai-shek's) troops were wholly in flight.

"The following day...thousands of troops strode across the Luding Bridge. We had conquered the seething barrier of the Dadu River.

The losses were minimal. One source puts the dead at seventeen, with "many scorched and wounded, and a few severely burned," another at under fifty, of whom twelve were blown by the wind into the river below.

By the time the persuing Nationalist reenforcements arrived, the Red Army had escaped into the mountains of western Sichuan to later endure even more intense hardship. Chiang Kai-shek was furious. The rest is history.

It is now late morning and in his viral haze Downs peers out of the crowded minibus down upon the rapids of the Dadu to reflect further about the same devotion to idealism and cause noted more recently with the first Chinese to ascend Mt. Everest (Quomolangma). Quyin Hua stated that early in the expedition he ran out of oxygen but nevertheless continued the climb resolutely. Only 100 yards from the summit the team was confronted by a small ledge that required Hua to stand on the shoulders of one of his partners to surmount, but his thickly padded boots repeatedly slipped off his partners shoulders and in frustration Hua took off his boots to conclude the summit ascent barefooted. It was fortunate that he only lost all of his toes to frost bite.

More recently the Chinese were determined to accomplish a first descent of the entire Yangzi River before an American white-water rafting group. It then became a full on race that resulted in one American and 18 Chinese deaths. The Chinese won due to their patriotic devotion, but with heavy casualties.[15]

In 1980 Vietnam, ignoring repeated admonitions from the Chinese government, continuously shelled Chinese territory. In a final response the Chinese army launched an offensive which culminated in moving the entire sovereign boundary of Vietnam southward approximately 50 miles while capturing major Vietnamese cities. One of the commanding generals stated in an interview that "a maneuver such as this may require an 80% attrition rate." After the short period of several months the Chinese returned the occupied territory to humiliated Vietnam which judiciously ceased the artillary shelling of its gigantic northern neighbor.

Human life is not as sacred to the Chinese as it is to many westerners. More than several of Downs’ Chinese colleagues have stated that they are not afraid to die for their country to attain an objective, even to discover a certain fossil rat. The Chinese are using this same sacrificial fervor to develop their current economic reforms. It is impressive and a little intimidating.

VIII - Repatriation

The bus to Shimian is soon fully packed with standing passengers, large sacks of produce, and several chickens as it travels southward along the highway that parallels the Dadu River. Two young and very attractive Chinese women board the bus to acquaint themselves with Foster, who are just returning from the Hailuoguo "glacier forest" on the east side of Gonga Shan where a large ice fall and glacier are developed with tourist trails and holiday cabins. In poor English, their tourist literature states that the glacier has surged nearly four miles into the forest over the past 1600 years.

As the bus passes the Tianwan bridge, the Americans note where they crossed the Dadu River two weeks ago to now link the entire trip into a loop around the Great Snowy Mountains.

It is an approximate four hour ride from Luding to Shimian. Upon their return, they walk over to the cafe where they imbibed beers two weeks ago and order more to help Downs revive his constitution. The two ladies Foster met on the bus enter the cafe and join the Americans for conversation and refreshments. Lingyan Hu, a banker, and Ying Chen, a nurse, from the Kunming region of Yunnan Province are on holiday enjoying the mountain region of Sichuan as tourists. The current economic conditions that allow the general Chinese populace to engage in tourism must be a first in the history of their civilization. The nurse complains that they are sore from two days of horseback riding. Downs sympathizes and would like to kiss their bruises to make them feel better but prudently refrains from making the offer. Ms. Chen is quite aware of the degree of her physical attraction and maintains a countenance which acknowledges the fact, while her compatriot, Ms. Hu, is more affable and jovial. They propose that they accompany the two hikers to the Wusihe train station since it is also their destination for the day, as they are making a subsequent trip to Chengdu.

The four purchase some oranges at the market prior to boarding a bus eastward for the three and a half hour ride to Wusihe Station with a half hour layover in Hanyuan.

The return ride to the train station in the company of the attractive young women is pleasant and uneventful. Upon arrival, the hikers immediately attend the train station ticket window, which consists of an eight-inch sqaure hole in the wood plank wall within a fully packed waiting room, but the office is still closed. One can imagine the pandemonium when the ticket window finally opens. As it is only 6:30 and the train is due to arrive at 8:30, they exit the station to dine at one of the local establishments where they again meet Ms. Hu and Chen for dinner. The two ladies are very particular about what they will eat, and meticulously inspect the proprietors cooking utensils, burners, and foodstuffs. They then dictate to the cook precisely what dishes will be served and the manner in which they shall be prepared while inspecting the cooks hands for cleanliness, who looks in bewilderment to the proprietor. The walls of the restaurant are adorned with black and white poster photographs of American starlets: Lauren Bacal, Ingrid Bergman, and Marlyn. Inquiring to Ms. Chen whether she can recognize any, and she suprisingly identifies “Manluo.” The result of the ladies’ culinary efforts is a very nice meal of three large dishes with rice and beverages in their charming company.

At 8:00 the Americans bid farewell to the ladies whose train north to Chengdu does not arrive until midnight, and enter a now completely empty waiting room to find the ticket window still shut (Where did all the people vanish to?). Five minutes prior to the train arrival the ticket window snaps opens to inform the foreigners that no, a first or second class ticket cannot be provided to them for the available seating is unknown. The ticket attendant recommends that the Americans purchase tickets on the train.

Upon the train’s arrival, the two hikers attempt to board, but are retained by the conductress who insists upon receiving their tickets. After informing her that they intend to purchase first class tickets which the station would not sell, the conductess permits them access to the train and instructs them to see the head conductor further toward the rear who will provide them a sleeping berth if space is available. Foster remains with the packs while the other begins his search through the train which is completely packed back in the third class hard seats with aisles choked full of people and produce. Families even occupy the cold hinged metal floor space between cars. The head conductor and his assistant are finally located in the dining car where they tally the days receipts. Upon meeting them, the American explains his dilemma. The conductors ask him numerous personal questions, such as where he learned his Chinese, where he's been traveling, where he lives (Do they also want to know is his shoe size?), and then inform him that because he is a foreigner the price of a first-class ticket will be twice that for a Chinese. The foreigner replies that he understands it is not their personal policy but a federal one and he would gladly pay the inflated price. The assistant and the conductor confide among themselves before stating something to the effect of simply selling the American the berths at a Chinese price since he's obviously been in the country long enough to be considered a foreign national (Not again.). They provide the American pair with first-class tickets for Y350.00 (or the equivalent price that was paid to the truck driver).

The conductress leads the Americans to the last available first class berth and upon opening the door reveals John Lind, a working colleague and friend of Foster's from Boulder who just happens to be traveling around China with his wife. This is the final irony. Lind, an aerodynamicist, is assisting the Hong Kong government with their plans to construct a new airport as Hong Kong becomes a member of the People’s Republic of China in 1997. It is an ambitious and far-fetched design which will require many billions of dollars.

Conversation lasts until 10:30. The hikers are on schedule to Kunming and Hong Kong where they plan to do some Christmas shopping, prior to their departure to the United States. As with the entire trip, everything is working if not smoothly, then at least punctually.

December 4:

The Linds disembark the train silently at 6:00 am, and by 8:00 the hikers are up drinking tea and coffee, while reading and appreciating the scenery to the gentle sway of the train. Toward early afternoon the railway breaks out of steep canyons and tunnels to traverse wider basins, and reveal well-exposed sediments worth working paleontologically. Finally, there are rocks to seriously note and evaluate. For the most part they are undoubtedly dinosaur red-beds although some may represent sediments of the post-dinosaur extinction. On the trip north, two weeks ago, this leg was consealed by the night, but now a genuinely huge basin is being traversed from the north, containing sediments that are not the more well-consolidated dinosaur red-beds but consist of tan and buff colored sandstones and silts capped by loess. This is certainly significant and probably indicates Late Tertiary basin fill that entombs the evolutionary record of the modernizing fauna during the period of the Himalayan uplift.

The train slows to stop at a major station: "Yuanmou." Never mind. The politics regarding this paleontologically famous locality are horrendous. The American Museum of Natural History initially collected fossil mammals here in the late 1920’s during their legendary Central Asiatic Expeditions which currently continues with expeditions to Mongolia. In 1965 Pleistocene "Yuanmou Man" was discovered and later, in 1986, underlying the younger rocks, at seven to nine million years, isolated teeth of hominoids, or proto-humans, were discovered. The Chinese federal Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Peking is currently working here with the Yunnan Provincial Museum in a delicate balance of research and cooperation to unravel the secrets of the fauna, while organizations including museums at Yale, Harvard, and Berkeley have either unsuccessfully attempted or judiciously declined the invitation to work here.

Just as field work on human ancestry is conducted everywhere, here it is also politically cut-throat. Globally, fortunes and fame have been made studying human ancestors while others’ scientific careers have been destroyed. The greed resulting from both the fame and riches associated with the discovery of fossil humans is only matched by the belligerence of creationists who deny their legitimacy in addition to the entire concept of evolution, geologic, or cosmologic history, and the fact that dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago (unless one considers birds as remnant dinosaurs, which many vertebrate paleontologists do today). Creationists believe that dinosaurs coexisted with man until the Great Flood, and they simply missed the boat. Furthermore, in this manner, they do not have to accknowledge an ancient age for the Earth. The “Journal for Creationist Research” is a mockery of the scientific method. Louis Jacobs lives in Dallas Texas, proximal to the center for creationist research. In his book "Quest for the African Dinosaurs,"[16] he does not go so far as to accurately identify creationists as a confederacy of congenital idiots, although he does describe their reprehensible tactics and methods vis B vis legitamate paleontological research. Fundamentalist Christians are not alone in their proselytization of ignorance and intollerance as these are taken a step further in Saudi Arabia, where model globes of the Earth are banned because the Mullahs of the country have proclaimed the Earth flat. Indeed, the presence and influence of creationists and other ignoramuses in the world’s educational and political systems (as one has even been elected a U.S. president) appears to defy Darwin's theory of natural selection itself. By now, it would seem that Nature would have disposed of associations such as telephone sanitizers and creationists by providing a mechanism to export them to another planet. The Theory of Evolution, the creationists claim, is no more than a theory. It should also be noted that gravity itself is also no more than a theory.* Creationists require a reeducation into the validity of empirical fact, natural law, theory, hypothesis, observation, and the faith in legend. One does not supplant the other.

Contrary to the beliefs of religious fundamentalists, conflict between a belief in god and evolution or cosmology is nonexistent. Some so-called religious leaders state that "science is now the official religion of the State." This is absurdity. Albert Einstein (“God does not play dice with the world.”) did not have a conflict between religion and science nor did Charles Darwin himself, who began his career as a divinity student. To some cosmologists and paleontologists, physics and evolution are merely God’s mechanical and biological software packages. The recent emphasis on non-linear dynamics, or “Chaos Theory” confirms a structured design in nearly all things physical and behavioral. And as to the creationist claim that the earth and cosmos are only 4,000 years old. Undoubtedly, the creationists are wrong and the Buddhists’ explanation is more plausible, with their claim that the entire cosmos is an illusion (an illusion with an eleven billion year history built into it). Perhaps this illusion was evoked even more recently than 4,000 years ago and was envisioned with human history built into it as well, or, taken to the extreme, the universe is as old as the individual who perceives it. These endless discussions will continue as they have throughout human history. As long as people don’t take them too seriously, they will remain an entertaining diversion.

The train will be arriving Kunming soon. A shower will be appreciated (if hot water is available). The journey through southwest China has been enlightening. Not a single homeless person was noted during the entire trip in China. Although poverty is still present, people are certainly not starving and education is being provided to all who expend the effort to obtain one. New hospitals and medical care are expanding throughout the rural areas. Indeed, there appears to be a general happiness infiltrating the entire population, but this is an observation restricted to the countryside for in densely populated cities there is a higher crime rate, more animosity, and less general esprit d’corps. Nevertheless, compared to the social conditions 50 years ago, the country is a utopia. It is quite evident that China will be a major social and economic influence in the twenty-first century.


Upon his return home, Downs collapses into bed and goes comatose for three days. He knows something is seriously wrong with his health because he does not feel like having a single martini for that entire period of time. Eventually, the virus is overcome and allows him physical movement (At least it wasn't a fatal hemorrhagic virus such as Hanta or Ebola [what a fascinating blitzkrieg strategy for an organism]). He recalls having heard second-hand stories about those who return from overseas, collapse into bed, and die.

The accumulated stack of mail is horrendous as it contains requests for funding to assist poor Native American children, the homeless, the starving in Africa, global overpopulation, handgun control, intolerance, bigotry, racism, terrorism, political reform. It is overwhelming. It is also depressing to read that there is no money in the world’s richest nation to get the offensive spectre of abject poverty off the streets of the nation’s cities because federal funds are being diverted to the suburbs of the more well to do.

He takes his cat for a walk in the woods, or at least allows her to lead him to her ancient fallen Ponderosa pine that she enjoys to play on, while he sits under a tree appreciating the view of the San Francisco Peaks and contemplates upcoming projects in East and North Africa, Greenland, Pakistan, and continued work in China; the papers to complete, and the data that still requires processing and retrieving in his lab. These projects will occur in due time, there is no need to rush them. The cat climbs into his lap, curls up, and falls asleep.

For the moment, everything is just fine.


After his return from East Africa several months later, Downs is driving into work through the Coconino National Forest at 5:00 am still half asleep and on “autopilot.” His sixth sense suddenly startles him with warning lights in his brain flashing "Danger! Danger! Watch for deer!" He shakes his head awake and scans the scene in perplexity to see nothing and continues driving for a couple of miles further when the premonitions occur again, only more intensely this time. He slows down to 50 regardless of still seeing nothing in the vicinity and rounds the next curve to suddenly notice two elk on his left, then two on his right, then a bull in full rack jumps out of the forest right in front of him frozen in the beams of the headlights. Two seconds to impact. This creature is so fucking big it is looking down on him through the windshield of his not so small full sized truck. To hit this 700 lb. wall of muscle and sinew heading 50 mph at his windshield would be certain death. He slams the breaks putting four flat spots on the tires and the truck goes into a four-wheel drift aligning it obliquely to the monstrosity. No good, too much inertia and certain collision. Off breaks, turn the wheel slightly to the left, miss the bull by an inch but now heads directly for a tree. A hard right to compensate nearly rolls the truck which would have killed him a second time. He continues into town now at 25 miles per hour no longer half asleep. If he were doing 60 instead of 50, he wouldn't have been able to thread the needle as he did. This is the third time in his life something has intervened to keep him from certain death, but this is the first time he has encountered a double-barreled scenario. That week there were three deaths on the Flagstaff highways attributed to encounters with elk and many more ocurred for the continuing two months. Something wants to keep him alive for the time being....undoubtedly his creditors.


[1] Burdsall, Richard L., Emmons, Arthur B. 3rd, Moore, Terris, and Young, Jack, 1980; Men Against the Clouds, The Conquest of Minya Konka. The Mountaineers, Seattle.

[2]Spence, Johathan D.,1983; The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci.

[3] Woody Allen, Love and Death.

[4] Theodore H. White China Revisited, Time-Life Films, 1962

[5] Butterfield, Fox, 1970; “A Missionary View of the Chinese Communists (1936-1939) in Kuang Ching-liu ed. American Missionaries in China. Mass.

[6] Carlson, E.F., 1940; Twins Stars of China. New York.

[7] Tuchman, Barbara, 1971; Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-1945. New York.

[8] Tucker, Nancy Bernkopf, 1976; An unlikely Peace: American Missionaries and the Chinese Communists," Pacific Historical Review, Vol. XLV, No. 1, Feb.

[9] Merle Ady, Claremont College Protestant Missionary Oral History Project, 1976;

[10] Isaacs, Harlold R., 1968; The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution. New York. see also Smedley, Agnes, 1943; Battle Hymn of China. Knopf, New York.

[11] Salisbury, H.E., 1985; The Long March, The Untold Story. McGraw-Hill.

[12] Wright, Mary Clabaugh, 1962; The Last Stand of Chinese Conservatism. The T’ung-Chih Restoration, 1862-1874.

[13] Snow, Edgar; 1961; Red Star over China. Grove Press, New York.

[14] Wilson, Dick; 1971 The Long March 1935. Avon Books.

[15] Bangs, Richard, and Kallen, Christian, 1989; Riding the Dragon’s Back. New York.

[16] Jacobs, Louis, 1994 ; Quest for the African Dinosaur,

[17] Hinton, William, 1966, Fanshen. New York