I had heard that, Western Sichuan was very beautiful and as my mate Tenzin was living near Kangding I made the trip over. The road over was possibly the worst I had ever travelled on and the "7 hour" trip took 12 hours. I heard later, that it once took one of Tenzin's colleagues 35 hours. They actually made me buy life insurance before they would sell me the ticket. I was hoping this was not.....inauspicious. Chinese seldom buy insurance because even the mention of death can bring bad luck. Traffic between Kangding and Chengdu is a one-way affair. One day it's all East to West and the next in the opposite direction.


Kangding, Sichuan.

I spent a couple of nights in Kangding before heading off to find Tenzin. Kangding is nested around two river valleys and the surrounding area is quite scenic. By no means a large city, it is famous to Chinese all over the world because of the Kangding Love Song (Kang Ding Ching Ge) which I made the effort to learn while I was there.

A chair lift takes you up Pao Ma Shan (Horse Race Mountain), as spoken of in the Kangding Love Song for impressive views of the region.

Kangding Love Song

Paoma liuliude shan shan,
Yi duo liuliude yun yo,
Duanduan liuliude zhao zai,
Kangding liuliude cheng yo,
Yue liang, wan, wan,
Kangding liuliude cheng yo.

It roughly translates: "On Paoma Mountain top is a cloud looking down on Kangding city, crescent moon, Kangding city."

Changing some cash at a local bank I received some curious looking banknotes. Yi fen, the Chinese equivalent of one cent are little larger than a postage stamp and probably not worth the paper they are printed on.

Khampa University:

I managed to flag down a taxi going to Guza where I could meet Tenzin at the Khampa University a.k.a. Kangding Teacher's College. Khampa are the people from the Kham region which was traditionally part of Tibet but was more recently annexed by Sichuan Province. The taxi obviously was filled to capacity. A couple of Khampa women were puking out each side of the car one of them lying across me to do so, clearly not at comfortable with travelling in a vehicle on such rough roads.


Tenzin with student

A word about Tenzin: A musician of some repute, he is best known in Dunedin (my home town) for his work with the band Suka and less known for his solo projects as Baa Baa and the Black Sheep. More recently he took employment in the U.S. driving a bus load of monks around the country before moving to China.

I hadn't seen Tenzin for about 4 years so it was good to catch up. We had a lot of fun. I spent nearly two weeks just chilling out there. I met some other good people there too. There were some Americans and an English bloke also teaching English. Every morning I would hear a visiting Tibetan musician playing the accordion or some Tibetan instruments. The Tibetan students were delightful. They were a bit self conscious in the classroom but full of mirth and laughter, occasionally breaking into song. Sometimes though, Tenzin had fights break out in the classroom. Tibetans are a proud bunch and can be a bit rough at times.

The town of Guza is a thriving metropolis of perhaps a few thousand people. We went out on the town a couple of times. One night during a birthday banquet I remember picking up an item of food on my chopsticks and enquiring of Tenzin who though it was a piece of marrow. On tasting it I discovered it to be a rancid lump of fat and not having anywhere to spit it out I just closed my eyes and, gulp, down the hatch. Later I got my first case of diahrroea, valuable lesson there! Lurching through Guza in the rain I finally found a public toilet before the floodgates opened. I paid on the way out. Meanwhile back at the karoake bar Tenzin was all at sea as some Chinese students had been gan bei-ing baijiu with him.

In Guza was the first time I've ever bought a sack of beer. One night as one of the stores were closing we asked for a box and they offered us the 20 bottles in the sack for Y30, a very good deal. Chinese beer is in general very cheap though not quite as strong as western beer.

Tenzin was keen to get out of town for the weekend and I was getting itchy feet so we headed off down the road for Luding. We went for a wander through the night market. As I stopped to buy some "dragon's eyes" (longyan) Tenzin alerted my attention to a guy who was hitting a woman and he started toward them. I cautioned him about getting involved, always risky in a foreign country. In any case the scuffle appeared to be over. As the guy was leaving however, the younger of the two women threw something at him and he flew back at her brandishing a chair at which point I charged in with one of my best rugby tackles. So much for not getting involved! Anyway, that seemed to be the end of it and thankfully we hadn't set off an international incident. As some bystanders were attempting to calm the bloke down we discreetly left. On the way out Tenzin says to me "Where are your glasses Richard?" I looked up at him , and there he was, wearing my glasses. What a wag eh? Apparently some kid had run up and given them to him. Fortunate that. Later we found a local disco pub and had a few beers and a bit of a boogie with some of the locals before calling it a night.

  • yi jiao = "10 cents" 1 yuan = 10 jiao = 100 fen
  • gan bei = dry glass (i.e. down the hatch)
  • bai jiu = a strong white spirit made from sorghum