Tuesday, November 6, 2007

HEllo dear friends,

I write from a little "cafe" in Ulaan baatar, mongolia. I arived last night to the cold windswept plains of mongolia to find my whole mongolian family waiting with warm smiles. They had prepared a traditional welcome dinner full of sheep dumplings and horse milk. It was quite a feast! my friend amaraa presented me with the gift of a real mongolian sword, that he said was sure to have killed at least a few warriors. today i will prepare for my first mongolian wedding, i will send pictures soon!

please send me your addresses if you would like a postcard

Love Albert (naching - my mongolian name)

A Mongolian Wedding... Incredible

For those of you who attended my bday party this year, you would know that eating huge amounts of meat from large animal bones is one of my favorite things to do in life.... well i know now where this passion came from, my Mongolian blood.

As we left the city of UB and headed for the hills, i couldn't help but notice the half carcass of sheep sitting next to me in the back of amaraa's landcruzer. Pulling up to a river, some 4 hours later, amaraa and his buddies jumped out of our caravan of cars and started to make 3 small fires, the woman in the group (amaraa's beautiful new wife Urin and a few of the guys girlfriends) started preparing tea for us, and cutting up the sheep carcass. two large metal pots began to cook over the burning fires while a third fire heated stones to be placed in the pots for internal heating.

As we waited the men sat around and sang songs of horses, rivers, and of course Chingas Khan. about 40 min later wild dogs began circling our camp, drawn by the beckoning scent of stewing meat. and for the following hours into the night we dined on the huge ribs, legs, and of course the neck of a freshly departed sheep. Everyone eat with their hands, fat and juices dripping from our lips. large bowls of fermented horse milk ("irag") and vodka passed hands as we eat under the moonlit sky. The next day we spent wandering the countryside, passing through an ancient land of beauty and power. Camals scattered the desert like stepes, while rivers carved their way into the earth. I have never felt like such a man. what a wedding celebration...

Now im trying desperately to find a way back to Beijing before my flight to Urumqi tomorrow. but things are starting to look dire. Ill keep you posted. Naching! (ALBERT)
Hello again, i write from the Beijing airport, waiting to catch a flight west. my body still aches from the beating i took in some country side Mongolian wrestling matches. After some crazy scrambling of flights, and a couple of high level phone calls amaraa was able to find me a way back into china (equiped with a very contraband authentic Mongolian sword). Once again i must extend a warm thanks for the my loving Mongolian family, for their hospitality showed me a nature in the human race which i had not known to be capable, one of true brotherhood! Now i head west towards a land which i am doubly unwelcome. I head to kashar, atown which boarders Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, a place which neither favors the American customs of the west, or the Han invasion from the east. However the call of desert swept oasis' and exotic treasures calls me in the same way its called traders for the last 2000 years. I am excited and nervous to head toward the unknown! Wish me luck!!!! Naching, yu-min, or albert Albert Lin

Its been a hell of an adventure! after planes, trains, and automobiles i found myself in the oasis town of Turpin. Things here were strange to say the least. Undeniably unchinese, the Muslim culture here has a way about them that i have never seen before. The constant Arabic and Ulgihar language embattled by an increasing Chinese influence has a harsh, yet ancient tone.

The market bazaar is just that... bizzar!

Blood stains the streets on the outskirts of the market, piles of sheep heads, guts, hearts, feet, balls, and other parts line the sidewalks, all for sale. Further into the market men sit on piles 20 ft high of; peppers, melons, fruits, veggies, and pretty much anything one could eat. The meat market in the heart of it all steams with the sent of freshly spilled blood, animal carcases hanging from every wall. The traders look at me with intrigued eyes, welcoming the pictures i take, eversuprissed to see their faces pop up on the back of my camera. Tourists are few and far between here.

Following a few days in Turpin i decided to catch the night bus to kashgar... looking back i would not wish this ride on my worst enemy! 22 hours in a cramped musky bus, filled with people who dont look like they've showered in weeks (and dont smell like they have either). The tv in the front of the bus blaring 5 strait hours of Kazakh music videos, and ulgihars yelling at each other all through the night. It was possibly one of the worst transports i have ever been on. Yet as i arrived in kashgar the weight of that hardship lifted with delight. Even though raining and cold, the streets of kashgar are those of the exotic tales of times past. After meeting some great X-pats from beijing (Trevor and "The bullet") we decided to explore the city. Nothing can really describe my feelings as i walked through them and was repeatedly invited into homes to sit and eat bread.

However being Ramadan, i was the only one eating. Maybe tomorrow i will try to fast, however the sunday market is supposed to be incredible! From here i am not sure of my plan next, one road (unopened to tourists) may take me down to Lhasa, this is supposedly the wildest and most dangerous road in the world, however it will take me past mountains like K2 and Mnt Kilash. My original plan being to sneak past the boarder pretending to be a Chinese citizen. The rain however, and dropping temperature is beginning to nag at my better judgment. Thus i am thinking of heading back east then south into the villages of the hunan people. Im hoping to meet up with my friend Derek there, maybe together we can explore the jungles and the people who inhabit them. I have a phone i china +13520123446 but will only have it on from 12pm -2pm Beijing time (no batteries). Hope to hear from you all soon! Yu-min! Naching! Albert!

I feel like ive seen the shades of skin change as steadily as the colors of the rainbow as ive traveled from east to west. Last night i found myself on Pakistan soil, surrounded by the highest and most unforgiving mountains in the world, the peak of K2 within 75 miles of where i stood (at 15000 ft elevation). This is something not many foreigners are allowed to do, and was only afforded to me after pretending to be a student at quing hua university (Beijing). The last border town on the Chinese side, Tashkorgen, is filled with people that look more Italian then anything. the men wear strange shoe shaped hates, while the women dress with large square head wear, and the most colorful robes i have ever seen. they really almost look like catholic nuns but covered in multicolor glitter and embroidery.

As i head back east past kashgar towards urumuqi i dare not spend another sleepless night on the bus from hell, thus ive opted for the "flight" back. For now i still dont quite know where i go from there, but it seems south, towards the warmer climate. I might even get into Vietnam if possible. Tonight i will venture back into the streets to watch the people wait till exactly sun down to begin their massive lamb-filled feast. From Kashgar! Albert

Me on a horse near Pakistan

My last nights in the Uilgar filled community have left me running for the hills, literally. After heading back into the desert town of Urumqi, i found my self in the center of a 100 year racial and cultural battle. The underlying tension in these towns is so thick you could cut it with a knife, and that is exactly what almost happened. The Uilgar people have been experiencing a slow, but steady cultural wipe out, with the central government of china at the helm. To them i am simply the "Han" face that represented every independent offense they had experienced throughout the last century. As five Uilgar men approached me in a nearly empty restaurant, i could feel the conflict brew to a boiling point. The table behind me (full of Han men) stood up and joined the fight on my behalf. Uilgar men are known for carrying large knifes, yet in my mind i was thinking of this, i was tired of being scapegoated for every Han offense. In the end things settled with little more than mere words, yet for a brief moment i felt the true essence of modern life on the silk road. Its a place of conflicting worlds, as it has been for the last 2000 years, and thus a place of constant struggle.

Now (many bus hours later) I'm in the tiny town of Xia He on the eastern side of Tibet. The town, which holds the largest running Buddhist monastery in China, is nestled between

impressive snow capped mountains and a large yellow river. I am surrounded by Monks in red robes, constantly turning the prayer wheels. The smell of yak butter tea rises from every building (a nice change from cooking sheep).

Tomorrow i will go try to catch the monks in their daily debates, it should be fantastic! From here i will continue to head south towards kunming. On this long journey Ive found myself in moments of doubt, this is definitely my hardest trip yet seeing as i am totally alone in a somewhat inhospitable land. But your messages of support have seriously given me renewed energy at almost every juncture. Please keep them coming, even if i don't respond (the Internet is really slow here and its hard to send messages).

Hello all! Thanks so much for all the great emails, it means a lot to hear from you! As i sat outside the great prayer hall of the snowy Laprong monastery, monks passed by shivering in their robes yet still sending warm smiles my way. One by one a group of red robes formed around me, curious to the language with which i was writing in my journal.

We sat in the snow and talked in Chinese for quite some time, taking pictures of each other and talking about the world. When i said "this was the most beautiful place i had seen in china", one of the monks quickly replied "this is not china, this is Tibet". Suddenly a bell rang and they all started to move towards one of the prayer halls, i followed...

I stood alone, the only non-monk in a great candle lit hall. A large 50 ft tall golden statue of Buddha stood in the center, surrounded by bright colored banners and images. At its base around 100 small yak butter candles glowed against the golden belly of the Buddha. 30 monks lined in the rim of the room, sitting cross legged on red mats. Slowly they chanted various Tibetan prayers in unison. Intermittently a chime would sound, followed by the low roar of a large horn and a "dong" from a huge drum. Some of the monks would look my way and smile, others just ignored me, I however was frozen in a state of total awe. As i walked back out of the hall the smell of burning incense and yak butter candles lingered for a moment then disappeared. Around the hall Tibetan woman had been repeatedly doing a full body prayer in which they stand, fall to their knees, then lye forward with their arms fully stretched forward. They had done this so many times the floor under them had been polished smooth.

Later, amidst increasing snow fall i learned that the roads along the eastern Tibetan range were completely destroyed due to land slides and avalanches...

Thus i was forced to head back and look for a train south. Ive spent over 20 hours crammed in a smoke filled cabin with chickens and pigeons in clucking in the luggage compartment by my head. Now i wait for the 1 pm train to Kunming which should be another 25 hours or so.... but from their i hear there are villages where people live entirely in the canopy of the jungle trees. I am excited to go! Thanks again for reading, i think if anything it is therapeutic for me to write this stuff. Yu-Min Lin, (Albert)

Randomly, i found myself wandering the streets of Chengdu on a 5 hour train layover, when i stumbled upon a large Taoist temple. This was a welcome haven within the chaotic confines of the southern regional capital. I sat for hours under a small pine tree, reading the verses of Taoist poetry that Gill and Dan had lent me, while Taoist priests walked peacefully past me. Their blue Chinese gowns, small black shoes, and overwhelmingly ugly and over grown beards and nails made them look like something out of bad kungfu movie. But it was a perfect background for a bit of philosophical soul searching.

That night i sat quietly strumming my guitar in the cramped train cabin. Everyone slept yet i was stuck to the window, watching china turn from a harsh desert with mud caves (which people lived in until only 50 some years ago!) into a lush tropical forest, with rising amphitheaters of rice patties carved into the hillsides. 50 hours later, and another 5 hours on a bus i found myself in Dali!

Dali was a place which i had first heard of in the small "buddha bar" of china town, san Francisco. I had heard stories of villages without hotels, where people would quickly invite you into your homes and make you part of their family on a moments notice. Things have quite changed since those times, now the obnoxious buses of tourist flood into the once modest city. Yet through that all an interesting subculture has developed in the older part of town. Cobbled stone streets and tiny Chinese cottages house the young revolution of china. Artist from all over Asia come to Dali for an oasis in the rapidly changing china. Music flows out of the many small tea houses, stinking of frustration, but also rebellion. Its quite interesting to have seen the landscapes of cultural struggles throughout this trip, and equally interesting to see the reaction of china's youth centered within the streets of Dali. I will spend a few more days here then head further south, maybe to the border of Myanmar...

Yu-Min, Albert
Dali is the type of place where one can lose himself, what starts of as a one or two day visit ends up being a week, then a month, then often times... a year or much more. As i walked the muddy streets of a small neighboring lakeside village the life of the Chinese farmer seeped simplicity into my somewhat overwhelmed state of mind. Old men sat in door ways smoking strange long water pipes, women wearing the huge straw pyramid like hats walked the streets singing sales pitches about the goods carried on their backs.

Walking back through the many rows of farm fields i found myself once again contemplating the diversities of life. Who is really more happy, the simple man who spends his life planting rice, or the one who bares the weight of the world's complexities on his mind. And what makes them all that different, really just a state of mind, a perspective. As i began to discussed this with a few of the young Dali locals they stopped me and in a very poetic way said "look up at those mountains, they have been here for countless years, watching peacefully as the world changes under them. Your mind could be as at peace if you let go of all this thinking". That is the mindset of the Dali youth, they are here to escape the pressures of a suffocating modern Chinese life.

The next day i rose ready to leave for the south, yet while sitting in an old city wall Court yard drinking coffee i noticed a kungfu master practicing above the gate temple. I walked up to him with the intention of taking a picture, but 3 hours later and a lot of lost translation, i had been given a crash course in the ways of a master. It was INCREDIBLE! And now i find myself once again trying to leave, admits a rapidly growing number of great local friends. Today is the fall party above the large city gate. And afterwards, they want to take me to a secret mountain hot spring... But if i don't go now, what will stop me from saying "tomorrow", every day hence forth.

It is time to go, to leave while not quite ready gives you more reasons to come back. And further more i have to head out before this "simplicity" quenches my fire. Now i head East to the lime stone walls of langsho, i might even get some climbing in then! I miss you guys dearly, and will be back stateside in only 11 days!!! hope to see you then.


Dear friends and family, Only yesterday did i learn the news of the Sol Cal fires, i hope everyone is doing well and is remaining safe (except Neil who I'm sure is in his car trying to get as close to the blaze as we did in 2003). It feels strange for me to be so far from it all, yet have some many loved ones right in the center of the smoke, my thoughts are definitely with you.

a monastary in guilin

On this side of the world, things are quite different. Life bustles through the crowded streets of Guilin, where I'm stopping through from a few days of rock climbing in Yangsho. Although the city of Yangsho itself has become a western touristic mess, a short van ride by an infamous "Mr. Wong" for $1 takes you out into some of the most impressive limestone crags i have seen yet. Spires rising proudly out of the jungle like canopy offer endless lines of superb fifth class climbing. After renting some "gear" i headed out to meet a few climbers at the "chicken cave". This cave, situated a few hundred yards above a small group farm cottages and endless rice patties, was partly enclosed by ancient fortification. The Qing Dynasty coin i found in the back of the cave lead me to believe its inhabitants had departed over 300 years ago, but the bolts on the walls were new and ready to be climbed. With the sound of farm girls singing below, and the magical rows of peaks staggered into misty distance, it was some of the most exotic climbing i have ever done. However, the advanced corrosion on the buckle of my rented harness did not instill the greatest confidence in Chinese climbing shops, so with some good memories and everything intact i head back west toward the town of Guoyang, and from there to town of Kali where i will head into the mountains in search of more truth amount the minority people of China.

I wait now in Guilin, where in one hour i will board train for the next 20 hours with a STANDING ROOM ONLY ticket.... I'm not totally ready for this next ride... The restaurant i had lunch in offered an assorted array of Snake, Rat, Dog, and some weird looking worm like fish. Another land entirely. Again my thoughts are with all of you back in Southern California, i hope this email find you in good spirits, with all the most important things at your side (the people you love).


I'm glad to hear that everyone is safe, and a big thanks to my roommates who moved my stuff out of the house in anticipation of the fire evacuation! After 20 hours of the worst train ride yet, another 12 hours on two tiny buses, and finally 45 min on the back of a beat up motorcycle over dirt roads i finally found my final destination... The last spot on my adventure of adventures was a tiny unnamed village inhabited by the unchanged Maio people of the eastern Guizhou province.

High up in the steep misty mountains of this subtropical region sits a village of people who have not yet been (and i hope never will be) touched by the Chinese modernization and tourism monster. While walking through their small dirt pathways dogs, pigs, chickens, geese, ducks, and rats nipped at my heals. The smell of small wood fires rose out of all of the beautifully rustic wooden cabins staggered into the foggy hillside, their black dragon scale roof tops poking out of the undergrowth. Each shack rested high above the banana trees, supported by large wooden stilts. Underneath the village flowed miles of beautiful rice patties cut deep into the steep incline of the rolling mountains.

While i sat above the village on a stone platform (used to hammer black ink into their traditional clothes) a young girl and her mother passed by carrying huge barrels of wheat hung from the bamboo shaft resting on their shoulders. The girl could speak Mandarin an unexpected gift in this remote minority village. They both wore these black dress like gowns with bright colorful patterns around their waist. Their hair (when not tied in buns) could run the length of their entire body. Another man approached, in all black with a strange white head rap. He carried a very long muzzle loading rifle, some gun powder, a huge knife, and a big smile. We talked for some time, i played them songs on my guitar, and as the sun began to set behind us they asked where i would sleep that night. Before i knew it i found myself in the indigenous wooden cabin of a warm maio family.

They prepared a strange small fish with some wild veggies over a small wood fire in the center of the one two room shack. With the freshest rice i have ever eaten, i had one of the best meals of the trip. Around ten other villagers had come to the shack to watch me eat, all dressed in their identical traditional garb. We men drank a strange liquor that tasted of sweaty socks while smoking some home grown tobacco leaves from long pipes. The women sang songs to the tune of a bamboo flute, their flicker tonal pitches carried into the moonlit night, it was incredible!

I spent the night in the tree house shack suggled warm next the burning fire.