Unrest and beauty in Sichuan, China’s Wild West

I have a real soft space in my heart for Western China. It’s a beautiful place filled with fascinating people – many of them Tibetan. Though outside the border of Tibet,  much of northern Yunnan and western Sichuan are on the Tibetan plateau and populated by many Tibetans. (Parts of other provinces are also on the plateau, including Qinghai and Gansu, but I have not visited them.)

So I have been closely following unrest in western Sichuan, where more than a couple of Tibetans have set themselves on fire in protest of Chinese rule and policies. It is very hard to really know what’s going on there, because foreign journalists are not exactly being invited up to explore for themselves.  Journalist Tom Lasseter captures the confusing but certainly sad situation quite well in this post on his China Rises blog.

Seda County, which he writes about in that post, is quite close to the beautiful mountainous regions of Western Sichuan where we traveled with Becky’s parents, sister and Aunt Judy 9 (as well as our own still-quite-little kids, of course). It was a remarkable, fascinating, grueling and ultimately terrifying trip, which culminated in a 9 or 10-hour, death-defying trip up and over a high and steep mountain pass under construction

I wrote about it in this The Expat Life column, which I think is one of my best. One of the few regrets I have about Big in China was that I did not include more about this wild and wooly adventure. I am going to write up a more extensive post, a sort of chapter-that-never-was-but-should-have-been. In the meantime, some photos and highlights from that column follow… At the bottom is a video I made. it was an early effort and is a little rough.

[expat life 2]

Note that we were driving a full size coach bus on this road - and it had two-way traffic.

For four days, we rode our 28-seat coach through grand vistas, past monasteries, roaring rivers and soaring mountains up to 24,790 feet (!) high. We visited ancient watchtowers and Tibetan villages populated by rakish, cowboy-hat-wearing men zipping around on motorcycles. We were welcomed into homes and fed impossibly rich yak-butter tea and raw barley cookies. But we rarely had time to linger in any of these places and some of the roads were just rock-strewn dirt tracks. One eight-hour drive was so bad that it cured Rebecca’s Aunt Judy of motion sickness, apparently pushing her so far she broke on through to the other side. That afternoon, I apologized for the long drives and rough conditions over a lunch of chicken feet and mushrooms, a sentiment that was soundly rejected by everyone. They were enjoying their walk on the wild side.

Then things started getting interesting…. Eventually, I wondered if the guides’ standards for safe and normal travel were so vastly different that they couldn’t fully grasp our concerns, even while apologizing for the sorry conditions.

[expat life 1]

When we came nose to nose with a little car, the little guy lost - and he backed up into a ditch.

3 replies
  1. Kim Kelley-Wagner
    Kim Kelley-Wagner says:

    This was great! One of my daughters is from Sichuan and I wish we had been able to spend more time there. It was only 4 months after the earthquake, so I think they wanted us to not hang around too long and got the paperwork done very quickly. I am hoping we can visit in a couple of years and see more.

    Thanks for your continued writing and insights, love them!

    • AlanPaul
      AlanPaul says:

      You’re welcome Kim. We were supposed to return to this area with my parents in June, 2008, but had to make other plans because of the earthquake. I should have noted that was also in the same area. I’m sure you will go back to visit with your daughters some day.

  2. Ella
    Ella says:

    It’s so cool place, I love this place, last year, I traveled on my a href=”http://windhorsetour.com”>China Tours, it’s really impressed me.


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