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You are hereHomeNews › A visit to Qinghai full of surprises and one miracle

A visit to Qinghai full of surprises and one miracle

I had previously spent two Chinese New Years with a Tibetan family in a village of Diqing prefecture, Yunnan province. The six weeks seemed enough for me to know all that I needed. This year, I planned to spend Losar (Tibetan New Year) in Qinghai province with the family of a Tibetan girl I'm supporting financially to study medicine. Before I left Beijing, I refreshed my memory with basic words for greeting, eating and drinking, and rejoiced thinking I would eat mutton every day.

I was surprised to discover, however, that the Amdo Tibetan language spoken in Qinghai differed greatly from Khamba Tibetan of Yunnan. But this was only the beginning of a chain of surprises.

People in this village raised exclusively cows and ate only beef. We ate with hands, using a knife for big pieces of meat with bones.

Every morning "my daughter" and her sister would herd the six cows in a specific area on the mountain, and at sunset the cows came back by themselves. One day I accompanied them. The cows suddenly climbed up instead of following the path. The girls said it was because an enormous and dangerous looking black ox was on the way. "They are afraid of the ox?" I asked. "No, the ox is afraid of you." How could that be, a gentle and kind person like me?

In other parts of China, many Chinese thought I must be an Uygur. This year, several Tibetans remarked "my daughter" and I looked alike. Well, didn't I say that her father looked like an Italian?

As it was my third winter visit to Qinghai, I was expecting cold, wind and snow. Surprisingly we did not have such weather. From 10 am to 3 pm, it was possible to take off my coat. Three layers of wool were enough outside, but a surprise awaited me in the bedroom: While the kang (heated bed) was really warm, the rest of the room was below 0 C. In the morning, the water was frozen hard in the basin, my towel was a piece of ice. My hand cream, toothpaste and pens had to be heated.

By day we stayed in the main room where there was a cow dung stove. Surprisingly, cow dung emits no smell. I was repeatedly warned to stay away from the chimney but even so I managed to burn my coat sleeve, which made everyone laugh.

When I accepted an invitation to the neighbor's wedding the next day, I didn't know it would be at 5:30 am. We waited outside for the groom to arrive from another district. No ceremony was held. Only a huge breakfast was served to women in one room and men in another.

On the way to the next destination, I gave my seat to a woman with a toddler. Trying to keep balance, I put my notebook on the upper shelf with my gloves and a thangka painting. When I got off, I forgot my notebook, which contained the notes of several interviews, phone numbers, information about my hotel in the provincial capital Xining, and of my return flight to Beijing. One can imagine my distress.

Two days later, when I reached Xining, I rushed to the bus station, hoping to find that silver gray bus. A security guard said without its license number there was no hope of tracing it, as buses have irregular schedules.

Sometimes it pays to be a foreigner, as the guard introduced me to a wonderful woman in charge.

"Don't worry, within 48 hours your notebook will be here," said the woman named Wei Suxia. But, I was leaving the next morning.

After several calls and patient explanations, she finally traced the bus, which was based in Jainca county, an hour and a half's drive from Xining, and convinced the driver Ma Jianxiong and his assistant Zhao Ersa of the notebook's importance.

Good hearted Ma and Zhao took the day off and drove to Xining to hand the precious notebook to me. This was such a miracle and the most touching surprise of my eventful trip.