Journey to the West

Trip Start Jul 20, 2004
Trip End Jul 20, 2020

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Where I stayed
Black Tent Hostel

Flag of China  , Sichuan,
Monday, October 5, 2009

After 3 years in Beijing, time has come to get to know the other places of China and Asia. And so, I decided to spend 3 months travelling and volunteering around Sichuan and Yunnan province in Western China.  After that, I plan on travelling around SEA, then in April to Oz to volunteer for another RacingthePlanet event and last but not least to Japan and Korea and back to China.

Arriving in Chengdu at the beginning of September, I decided to stay at a hostel so that I could leave my backpack there and travel light around the western part of Sichuan.  Though I had arranged to stay with a CS host, I told Dhane, who is an English teacher at a Kindergarten in Chengdu, that the hostel is a better option.  We did meet for dinner and chatted about teaching, Chengdu and travel.   Not far from the train station is Sim's Cozy Garden Hostel (, a lovely oasis of calm and green in Chengdu. Though I only spent two nights, I took some time wandering around the city.  People seem to be mostly smiling and friendly; the Sichuanese women are pretty.  I saw some wired advertising posters in Chengdu, such as a Chinese Marylin Monroe and a Chinese Audrey Hepburn (but not sure what products they are advertising). I stayed two nights (40 yuan/dorm) and then I left for Kangding from where I set off to my volunteer teaching job at an Orphan School ( in Ganzi Prefecture.

Arriving in Kangding, I stayed one night at the Black Tent hostel for Y20.  Walking around the city, I later met American Richard from Idaho and Mary, a lovely Tibetan lady who runs the "Village Window" and the Bala Boutique behind the Black Tent hostel.  Mary speaks English and is a great source of information.  The next day, I left on the long journey to Ganzi which turned out to be  a gut wrenching journey of 14 hours.  The road to Ganzi looks like a one way road or at least it would be considered one in western terms.  However, traffic on this road is heavy in both directions with buses and trucks, all of them brand-spanking new Chinese models, competing for the right of way.  Major construction and delays on this stretch, and on many other roads in this area, are nothing for the weak-bladder minded. Along the way to Ganzi, we passed many Tibetan villages with colorful houses but trash ladden streets and river. The plastic bottle collectors from Chengdu and BJ would have a field trip out here.  To me, it is an oximoron; having such a beautiful environment littered with trash. It is heartbreaking to see the towns, roads, rivers, and grasslands littered with it. I realize that plastic bottles and wrapping paper are a realtively new concept to these regions but I don't think it is impossible to organize a sort of village controlled trash collection to keep the environment clean and beautiful.

Watching Tibetan women, it appears that they do most of the work.  They can be seen in the fields, taking care of the animals, the kids, the house and the cooking whereas most of the men can be seen playing pool, riding their motorcycles or otherwise just hanging out chatting and drinking tea.

I found out the next day that I actually didnt arrive in Ganzi but I got off 3 hours earlier in Luhou. Both Luhuo and Ganzi (and Dege as I discovered later) have a Golden Yak hotel.  All I wanted was a shower to get the dust of the day off me and rest, so for 80 yuan I got a beautiful room with bathroom and a hot shower which I enjoyed tremendously.

The next day I continued to Ganzi where I was met by Zuola and the founder of the orphan school.  It was a 4 hour car ride to the village of Zhu Qing Xiang which is famous for the Dzogchen Gompa, an important Nyingmapa monastery with a stunning location at the foot of a glacial valley. The monastry was founded in 1684 and is the home of the Dzogchen school from which many important high Nyingmapa , now exiled abroad, originate from. 

The Orphan School (gu'er xue xiao) is located about 4 miles from the village of Zhu Qing Xiang.  At the moment, there are about 50+ children living at the orphanage.  There are two buildings housing teachers, staff and students.  Then, there is the school building with 4 class rooms in need of tables, chairs, lighting, heating and a paint job.  There is an outside washroom, a toilet (bring your own toilet paper) and a basketball court. There are no showers on the grounds. The orphanage also has a little store when one can buy essentials.  The staff, all Tibetan women, are in charge of cooking, laundry and cleaning for the kids. Unfortunately, trash collection or proper disposal has not been taught to the kids or the staff as trash is littered around the grounds.  The one trash can available, will be discarded in the river behind the school when full.  This is sad, as it doesn't teach the children anything about being responsible with their environment.  The school would be an excellent starting point but I do believe it has to come from the elders who should set a good example.   Blackouts are common, especially in the evening, which means no electricity and water.  The last 3 days in school, we didn't have electricity nor water. For my own pleasure, there are about 13+ dogs on the ground, inside and outside the orphanage.  My teaching hours are light, one hour a day (actually 40 min.) from Monday through Saturday.  No school on Sundays.  I teach the older kids but the books available are horrible and useless, so I made up my own curriculum for the 2 weeks.

During my free-time, which was a lot, I wandered around the grassland, went to Zhu Qing Xiang, read my book, or helped in the kitchen.  During the last week of my stay, the surrounding grasslands were taking over by yak herders which made it difficult to wander about without stepping into yak poop.  So, i looked for work in the kitchen and ended up peeling potatoes and de-seeding green peppers.  I realized than and there that the vegetables were not being washed before cutting.  But since I haven't gotten sick during my time at the school, they must have cooked the food thoroughly  enough to kill dirt and bacteria.  There wasn't a lot of variety in the food what whatever the women whipped up tasted pretty good.  We had fried noodles, noodle soup, fried potatoes with green peppers and Chinese cabbage and rice.

For someone just visiting the school, they might get the impression of neglect (especially when comparing the photos on the website with the actual site) which is probably true to some extent. From my point of view, the place needs some TLC but it is difficult for an outsider to impose cultural or societal values on a culture that is very different from my own.  Values such as responsibility, order, respect for people and environment and hygiene may be values that mean nothing or little in this culture.  So, let's just say that the school has potential.

If you are interested, you can contact lotuseduction at
to find out about volunteer opportunities at this school.  The website is a bit misleading as it states "volunteering in Tibet" which is not true.  You volunteer in Sichuan, not in Tibet.  Be aware though, if you go through lotuseducation directly you will have to pay a "participation fee".  Its better to contract the school directly as you dont have to pay or if you do want to make a monetary contribution, you can do it directly to the school.

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