Shangmuju to Tsemi Pass to Konka Monastery

Last week, we made a trip we’ve been dreaming of making since we received our Peace Corps invitation letter to serve in China. As soon as we knew we were headed to China, we started searching the backpacker sites for Western China and discovered what looked to be a good intro hike in Kham, the Tibetan region of China’s western Sichuan province. More specifically, we found this listing on ChinaBackpacker.com about the Shangmuju Village to Tsemi Pass to Konka Monastery trek. Many thanks to the author of that post, but after making the trip last week, we realized the interwebs are in dire need of an update about this fare trek. This post is our effort to do just that.

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Up a creek…on Earth Day

In an effort to do my very small part in creating a greener, cleaner world, I spent all my class time this week on Environmentalism.  First, my Oral English classes discussed the connections between media, advertising, and over-consumption.  We tried to reveal the problems created with media telling everyone to BUY-BUY-BUY – EAT-EAT-EAT – CONSUME-CONSUME-CONSUME.

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Where learning happens…

When a person’s view of the world is challenged, they must reconsider their position and either stay with their former beliefs or adopt an adjusted view of the world. It is in the paradigm stretching and realignment that learning can happen. This is where teachers can begin their real work of providing informed, engaging, and thoughtful opportunities for students to shatter their existing notions and enter into creative exploration of new ideas and concepts.

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Light at the End of the Tunnel

[10,000 Peaks – Karst Limestone Forest – Xingyi, Guizhou]

We’re back up and running here at the blog after a bit of a delay. Today, the irises are blooming and the birds are chirping with a light mist in the air.  With another holiday, Tomb Sweeping Day, on the horizon we hurriedly re-schedule classes, pack our backpacks, and load the bus to Xingyi.  This time we know what to expect, we know the rest stops and where to get fantastic dumplings, but a lot has happened since we first made this trip two weeks ago.

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Soundscape #1: Funeral

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For the last 28 hours or so, we’ve had a funeral going on downstairs. We live on one of the upper floors of our building, but we’ve been able to hear and “participate” vicariously with every gong and chant. I remember funerals from my childhood. There was always a wake. There were covered dishes. There was a lot of standing and talking. Funerals were mini family reunions.

Here, it’s just a bit more all encompassing. Incense. Chanting. Fireworks to rid the area of evil spirits. Banners. Gongs. Cymbals. Drums. Mahjong. Coal fires. Men standing. Women wringing their hands. White head wraps, and at least for this funeral, they’ve had our first snow of the year. We’re not sure who the woman was, but she’s getting quite the send off. 28 hours and counting. It’s 11:40PM, and it’s looking like another all-nighter for the family and friends in the tent downstairs.

Wandering Huaxi


This past week was an interesting break from the norm for us.  Charlie along with three student actors and a Chinese colleague went to Hangzhou for the Chinese Universities Shakespeare Festival Master Class for the week.  They spent 50 hours on the train in total but learned a lot and had a blast!  I held down the fort and had a lot of time to think, plan, dream, and scheme.  Some of the week was spent updating my website with some of the completed pieces in Nostalgia for the Present, a multi-faceted mixed media project which deals artistically with my observations as a westerner living in SW China right now.  You can check that out at my personal website.  I also spent time running and poking around some the tiny villages that surround our campus.

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The Road Most Taken

[Entrance to Lang De Village]

As students in the US, we read the likes of Robert Frost and many of us like to quote him in our normal, every day lives.  With his words in mind, my dream in travel is to take the poem literally and find roads “less traveled by.” I like to find those untouched secret places or at least ones without tour buses lined up for ½ mile in either direction.

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Country Roads

After a week of 36 hour power outages and no water all over campus, we were seeking a little R&R.  We got up early on Saturday morning to ride into the bus station and caught a 10 am bus to Qinghe.  This town existed to us only in a note left for us by the previous PCV’s here, thanks, C&R!  We couldn’t even find it on the map.

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Festival Days in Anshun

[Huangguoshu Pubu, the largest waterfall in Asia]

With a week off of classes after an exciting National Day in Zhenshan, we felt the need to see more of Guizhou.  We joined friends for dinner with their college dean at a local Huaxi restaurant then set about making a plan for the remaining days of our holiday.

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