Hey Everyone,

A lot of you seemed to like the short e-mail I sent the last time so I will try to keep this the same.

First of all I would like to say THANKS to all those who wrote me during the recent attack on America. I was stuck in Kathmandu at the time and your support was reassuring. The Nepali people were also really nice to all of us and I thank them also.

I am currently in Hawaii rounding out the last 2 weeks of my incredible journey. I have just spent the last 2 months traveling through China and Tibet (after I left Burma). Again here are some observations and doings that I encountered on my way.

1) China is NOT cheap. It blew my daily budget. Dorm beds are expensive, trains are expensive, and one must pay to do anything (like walk through a park), visit any site (like a temple), or simply exist.

2) Chinese love to hawk up a good one and spit it at your feet. I have seen the daintiest women dressed as if they were going to the opera snarl up a big one and barely hit my leg.

3) There is usually no privacy in public toilets / guesthouse toilets. Either there are NO partitions or the partitions are only half height. The Chinese are fascinated with the act of white people squatting. I can't count the number of times one would watch me use the loo.

A) The GREAT WALL was everything I expected it to be. It made my whole trip to China worthwhile. I hiked from JINSHALING to SIMAITAI on a day hike and encountered some of China's most beautiful scenery.

B) The Terracotta Soldiers in XIAN were also remarkable to see. Thousands of clay soldiers lined up in mass graves really show the power of one of China's most important dynasties.

C) In CHENGDU, I got to see the Panda preservation/breeding center. Wow! These creatures are a joy to watch and experience. The best were the 2 little ones born only 3 weeks before.

D) TIGER LEAPING GORGE - this is a dream for any trekking enthusiast. The 3 day trek takes one along a high mountain ridge and back down to a raging river edge which on a white water scale of 1-6 is about a 10. I made a detour through China to see this gorge once I saw another backpackers pictures.

E) YANGTZE RIVER - I spent 5 days and nights traveling from CHONGCHING to SHANGHAI along the YANGTZE RIVER and the 3 GORGES. Somehow I got put on a local boat versus a tourist one and spent 5 days as the only white/westerner on board. Despite the whole boat experience being exceptional, its a sad shame what is going to happen to the gorge once the dam is completed in 2008. Along the gorge are huge signs indicating the 185 meter level the water will rise basically wiping out many cities and villages. However new high-rises are being built above the old ones so I assume life will go on. That is what the propaganda is saying.

It is a shame what the Chinese have done to the freedom of the Tibetan people and their country. One can immediately see the Chinese influence as it is so UN-Tibet like.

E) LHASA - the Potala Palace (home of the exiled DALAI Lama) perched on it mountain top is a sight to see and experience. You can imagine its grandeur of its former days.

F) We visited the monastery of the 13 year old KARMAPA Lama. We were able to still see the toys and cars in his bedroom as they were when he escaped a little over a year ago. Note: The Karmapa Lama is the 3rd most important Lama in Buddhism with the PANCHEN Lama based in SHIGATSE the 2nd.

G) The turquoise waters of the worlds highest lake - NAMTSO (Alt: 4700 meters) make you think you are in the Caribbean until you look up and see the surrounding snowcapped mountains. Here we were able to visit some nomad Tibetans and had a great time with the kids handing out cookies taking their pictures.

H) The 6 day jeep trek from LHASA to KATHMANDU, NEPAL takes you right by MT. EVEREST BASE CAMP. Unlike the 13 day hike it takes from the Nepali side, one can drive the whole way up the 5,200 meters (17,000 feet) on the Tibetan side. While there we slept at the highest monastery of the world. Yes it was cold.

I) Lastly, I will try to explain one of the most bizarre events on my whole trip. However it probably won't come out as intended as it is hard to describe. (If you are eating, put your food down.) We happened to be invited to attend a Tibetan Sky Burial by some monks at the DRIGUNG TIL monastery. Burials are illegal and off limits to Westerners and is a jailable crime if caught but hey we were invited.

Let me try to explain. The Tibetans believe a <dead> body can't be buried (as the spirit goes to hell) so they take the bodies up on a mountain side and <literally> feed them to the birds. Everything must go including the bones.

On this particular day, there were 4 bodies to be <disposed>. During the 30 minutes of praying and chanting by the monks, the <very large> vultures started to arrive (more than 150). The bodies were eventually stripped of their clothes and a few designated monks started helping the birds by cutting off skin, scalp, muscles, etc. Eventually the <hungry> vultures flocked in and a feeding frenzy took place. Two scenes stand out. 1) I saw one bird stick its head in the belly of one guy and yank out the whole intestine, stomach and anything else in there. The rest of the birds devoured it in seconds 2) 20 birds fighting over one of the bodies ended up dragging it off the stone altar and into the grass right near where I was standing. I couldn't move and stood there mesmerized that a <dead> body was being eaten by birds in front of me. Eventually one of the monks came over and picked up the skeleton by a hook and dragged it back to the stones.

The birds were later scared off and the bones of the skeletons were chopped up and hammered into a pulp and powder. Finally, again the birds were allowed in to finish the job.

Yes, the whole thing sounds bizarre and it is at least to us Westerners. However, it is very sacred to the Tibetan people and it was a one of a kind thing to witness as a Westerner which I'm glad I did.

Anyways, I am now enjoying my final two weeks relaxing in the sun of Hawaii. (Thanks Mark, Alton, and Dee who are putting me up) I still haven't thought about what I am going to job wise when I get back to Atlanta but I am sure something will come up. I am open to suggestions.

Thanks again for all your support during this difficult time that America is going through and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

All the best, MIKE


copyright © 2003 by Michael E. Hopkins - all rights reserved
revised NOVEMBER 2008