In Search of a billboard

With a couple of days until I have to return to the pasture, I left most of my filming equipment at Sangji’s home and caught a ride to the nearby city of Rma Chu, a dusty and characterless town, the first bigger city on the Yellow River. The Tibetans call the Yellow River Rma Chu (རྨ་ཆུ) as well, Chu is water, river, and Ma is the short name for the mountain peak where the Yellow River is originated from: Aemye Rma-chhen. Tibetan normally name their river based on its source, while the Chinese names are mostly the characteristic of the river. It’s good to be aware of the source, I reckon.

Not so much to do in Rma Chu other than waiting for the once-a-day bus to leave early next morning. I had plenty of time to print some photographs I took of the herders and added a few more Tibetan books to my collection. After a quick intro from Shike, Tibetan starts to make some sense to me, tea is ཇ, so far.

My bus departed at 6:30 in the morning. The direct line would be to Zoige, but that bus was broken on the road so I had to go Rma Chu to Langmusi, and Zoige. And I was glad it turned out this way. The mountain pass down from Rma Chu was spectacular. In addition, loads of pickers of Caterpillar Fungus, a highly-priced herb used in traditional Chinese medicine dotted the steep hillside. They were mostly Tibetan women. A good-sized such fungus goes for hundreds if not thousands of yuan in fancy stores in Beijing. Here, the herders get about 20 yuan for one, still a very good addition to their income. The fungus is not very easy to spot since there is hardly anything growing above the ground other than a small brownish stem, hence a lot of holes left behind by the pickers. In environment as fragile as it is here, any damage takes a long time to heal. Herders in Chake though don’t have access to any land with the priced herb.

After cruising down the mountains and passing a big lake called The Ocean of Ga, Langmusi was near. One of the Tibetan passengers was so fond of his own music he wanted to share them with the whole bus of passengers, by turning the speaker of his handheld player to the maximum. I sat right in the middle of the bus, where the Chinese and English pop music from the bus speaker and the Tibetan music from the eager passenger mingled.

The reason I wanted to make a trip out, other than a quick shower and some fruit/veggie infusion was to look for a billboard I saw on my last trip here. On there, a shiny new village, the kind that the herders were said to be settled into was blessed by the party leader, Cmd. Hu. Thanks to the communist party for rescuing us from thousands of years of nomadic hardship, the slogan said. I remembered seeing a few like that.

From Langmusi, I took a minivan bus to Zoige, and after everybody else got off, let the driver drove me around Zoige. No there. So, after a short break in the dusty town center, I caught another bus towards Songpan. The airport I flew in last time was close by. It could very well be there that I saw the billboards.

Pouring going through mountain passes. Almost at Chuan Zhu temple, I did see two billboards that resembled that in my memory, but not quite as interesting. Without much options left, after getting off at Chuan Zhu temple, an increasingly touristy town, I let a taxi driver take me to the model village and filmed a little bit of the billboard, in the rain.

Songpan, less than 20 kilometers away, was a nice tourist town with a walled old town center and lots of nice shops and restaurants. A simple room by the mountain side and a nice bowl of rice noodle made the trip worthwhile, in addition to the billboard.

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