The Dalai Lama spoke for an hour; his message was mostly about creating peace on Earth. He seemed to be winding down his time on this planet – he made it clear that he was from the twentieth century and now it was time for the twenty-first century folks to take over. He was humble, too. At one point he said that if he thought of himself as the Dalai Lama, he felt lonely. But if he thought of himself as a human, then he had seven billion others to share this life experience with. He spoke in English for this whole hour. During his speech, monks walked through the crowd, passing out bread rolls and pouring cups of yak milk tea. It was savory, not sweet, but still delicious, and a nice gesture.
There were no cockroaches on my overnight train ride to Lau Cai, on the Chinese border. As soon as I stepped off the train, I, along with every other passenger, was hounded by bus drivers looking to take us to Sapa. I bargained one driver from 100,000 dong to 50,000. He put his index finger over his lips and said, “Shh” as I paid him. Apparently he didn't want me to tell any of the other passengers that they had gotten ripped off. Or maybe they had paid even less than I had, and the driver didn't want me to find out. In Vietnam, one never knows.
The owner of the "home stay" was a short and slim man with crooked yellow teeth who wore an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt on top of a wife-beater. All day he sat on his living room couch, smoking cigarettes, playing with his iPad and awkwardly flirting with every female who entered the place. He didn't flirt with me, but he did grab my arm and try to sell me stuff whenever I walked past him. “You could use a suit. My sister has a tailor shop, she'll give you a great price.” “You want to take a tour? My friend can set it up.”
I looked out of my taxi's window and took in the city. There were few cars and thousands of motorcycles. Lane markers meant nothing, but there was so much traffic, it was impossible to drive quickly or aggressively. Filth and poverty were all around me. Many foreigners, too. Like the locals, they drove motorcycles, and squeezed between other bikes whenever a tiny space opened. They wore shorts, muscle shirts and flip-flops in the sweltering heat. One motorcycle passenger leaned back and clenched the seat behind him. His hair was pulled into a bun behind his head. His driver wore a helmet, but he didn't. He looked happy as the breeze whipped against his unprotected face. This was Phnom Penh, the sprawling capital of Cambodia. It was my first day in Southeast Asia.
One day while walking through Manzhouli, I stumbled upon an outdoor bazaar. Like most markets in China, this was a vibrant place, with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables for sale. It was also crowded, with hordes of people and vehicles jockeying for position in the street. I love walking through bazaars; they give me a sense of day-to-day existence in faraway places. Cultural differences can put up barriers between me and the local people, but markets also help me connect me with others in this shared journey through life.
Here are a few photos I took in the Mazhouli market.