Qomolangma~The Mighty Mount Everest

Qomolangma~The Mighty Mount Everest

Qomolangma is the Tibetan name for Mount Everest.  It’s known as Sagarmatha in Nepalese and Chomolungma/Zhumulangma Feng in Chinese.

Climbing season officially closes on the mighty mountain on June 1st.  I just learned that 4 more have lost their lives bringing this season’s death toll to 10.  They were found in a tent at camp four, 7,950 meters (26,085 feet), by a rescue team who were there to retrieve the body of a Slovak climber who died on the mountain earlier in the week.

With nothing exciting happening in Dong’e, I decided to reminisce about my journey to Mount Everest nearly one year ago.  Since having the overwhelming experience of camping overnight at base camp, I feel a connection to the mountain and a bit emotional when I hear that “another one or four” succumbed to the fierce mountain.

Entering the Mount Everest Recreational Area

Even before I came to China, I had an interest in Tibet and meeting the Dalai Lama is on my bucket list.  Yes, I know he no longer lives in Tibet, that aside, how could I come all the way to China and not visit Tibet.  Let the research begin.  As I soon found out, getting to Tibet isn’t as easy as jumping on a train or plane and getting off in Lhasa.  An individual cannot enter Tibet without a travel permit and a Tibetan guide.  In other words, an individual cannot just turn up in Lhasa and hang out for a few days and travel around the region.  My plan was to go in June at the end of the school semester.  I would travel places easily accessible from Changning, Hunan where I was living and then continue on to Tibet before returning to the USA.  I applied for my Tibetan Travel Permit and found a guide and a group following the itinerary that I was interested in.

Working our way south from Changning, I was initially travelling with my Russian roommate, Yulia, I would leave her in Gungzhou and continue to Shenzhen on my own.  In Shenzhen, I would begin my 53 hour train ride to “The Roof of the World’ or “The Land of Snows”, otherwise known as Tibet.  I decided on the train, first of all, because why not, it should be beautiful, right? How bad can 53 hours be?  It was actually quite enjoyable as I met a Malaysian girl named Song and we hit it off famously.  Secondly, Lhasa sits at about 3,500 meters or 12,000 feet above sea level. Taking the train is supposed to make it easier to acclimatize. Each train compartment has oxygen that is released periodically or also can be released manually.  It is also recommended to spend a few days in Lhasa before heading to EBC, Everest Base Camp, which is at 5,200 meters or 17,000 feet above sea level.

When they say you can’t enter Tibet as an individual, believe it.  When my train reached Lhasa, everyone excitedly exited, passport and travel permit in hand as instructed.  Upon exiting, you had to show the documents to uniformed police/soldiers, I wasn’t sure.  After checking the documents you were led to another building and again checked before finally being handed off to your official guide who had to meet you there with his credentials or you weren’t going anywhere in Lhasa.

EBC is about 500 miles from Lhasa. After spending 3 days in and around Lhasa (I had a free day as I arrived one day before our official tour began), my group spent two days traveling and touring Gyantse, Shigatse and Dingri before arriving at base camp.  That journey itself was spectacular and I will address it at another time……on to one of the most amazing experiences of my life thus far.

First actual view of the mountain from a distance
Yes, I was pretty excited

We arrived at EBC as sunset was nearing. I hadn’t given any thought as to our accommodations and we hadn’t brought any “gear” with us.  The first thing our guide told us was that we were actually about 3 km from where the “real climbers” overnight.  Without an Official Everest Climbing Permit, this was as far as we were allowed to go to sleep.

Our accommodations were called “tent hotels”.  They are owned and operated by local nomads.  There are approximately 30 tents at base camp, each housing 5- 10 persons at a cost of 40 rmb per night or $6.00. Tents are made of yak hair as it withstands heavy rains, snows and strong sun.  Inside the tents are daybeds with a table in front for eating and personal belongings.  There is a stove in the center fueled by yak dung that heats the entire tent.  The tent also has a small kitchen which serves basic food such as rice, noodles and eggs.  Beer and baijiu are also available even though they recommend no alcohol at this altitude.  The beds were cozy and the tent quite warm. The latrines…..not so nice.  The latrines were across the way from my tent and cost 1 rmb or about 15 cents to use.  Home sweet home for the night.

Number 8….my home for the night

As I mentioned, we arrived just before sunset.  Sadly, the peak of the mighty mountain was under cloud cover.  We got settled in our tent, I was rooming with George and Phillipe, who I had become quite close with during our time together and a French couple who had also hung out with us during most of the trip.  It was nice being just the 5 of us in our tent.  We were still getting settled in, when we heard a bit of a ruckus outside.  Dropping everything we went to see what was causing the commotion.  I got outside and everyone was looking toward the peak of Everest.  The skies had opened and we witnessed the sun setting on that magnificent summit that has claimed the lives of so many, so many who are still buried in her breast.  All I could do was look to the sky and cry.  I turned to George and Phillipe and we all knew we were witnessing something amazing. The peak of Mount Everest, a glowing orange triangle bathed in the setting sun.  They gave me a squeeze and we just stared in silence.  I don’t think I will ever forget how I felt at that moment in time.  Pictures snapped, tears dried, we headed back to our tent for hopefully a good nights sleep.  Of course, me being me, had stuck a couple of those airplane size bottles of absolut in my bag.  As the evening air was quite cold, they were nicely chilled and we all had a toast to life.


Clearing skies
My photos come no where near the actual beauty of this moment.

Okay, the sun has set, it’s dark, why didn’t I think to use the toilet when I could actually see where I was walking.  This isn’t exactly a walk in the park to take a pee. I mean, I am on a mountain, no not any mountain, I am on THE Mountain.  Find my phone for light, there is no outside lights at base camp, grab a 1 rmb bill, I can’t believe someone stays up all night around a smelly latrine to collect 15 cents.  Whatever, shoes on, I hike across the stones to a box with a hole in the ground so I can squat and relieve my bladder.

A photo of the latrine I snagged from the website.  Trust me, this must be from when it was new.

Outside, I am once again filled with awe as I stare up at the shining moon amongst what looked like a million stars.  If you don’t believe in God or a higher being, you might start here.  “I think to myself, what a wonderful world”….beyond description, I could have looked up forever, except for the fact I was freezing my nuts off, well if I had them they would be freezing off.  Back to the tent and under my nice thick, warm, cozy quilt.  I awakened a short time later, feeling a bit funny, maybe it was the alcohol at this altitude, maybe it was the yak dung stove fumes, maybe the food didn’t sit so well, I just felt like I needed fresh air……it was about 4 am, I went outside the tent.  Alone, under the stars on Mount Everest.  I just breathed in the cold night air and was swept by emotion.  Not sure how long I was out there, but it was a most peaceful, serene feeling that encompassed me.

Peaceful and serene until my bladder said you aren’t going back to bed yet.  Well, there was no way I was making my way back across the rocks to that lovely latrine.  Besides, I was the only person outside, there are no lights, I have lived in China long enough to just drop and squat outside the tent.  I did make sure I moved out of the walkway.  Back inside and sweet dreams until morning.

We woke to an amazingly clear view of the summit

Morning arrives and we have the option of trekking the 3km to the “official” base camp or taking the bus.  Still feeling a little light headed, I opted for the bus, which isn’t really a bus, but a dilapidated van with no heat.  I also found out I wasn’t the only one who felt a little funny, I think maybe we had a touch of altitude sickness.  Nevertheless, I walked outside to a glorious morning and the peak of the mountain in perfect view.  Going to the official base camp and seeing where the “real” climbers begin their ascent was pretty cool.  In order to try to summit Everest, you must purchase a climbing permit at the price of about $11,000.  Wow….that’s all I can say……wow.

Climbing the last bit and over the hill to the “real” base camp.
I made it, Barrel33 menu in hand. and Nick and Lou in my bag.  The “real” deal, this is where those that are attempting to summit from the North Face begin their trek.

Upon leaving EBC, we were supposed to head to the Tibet/Nepal border and on to Kathmandu.  Because of the 2015 7.8 earthquake in Nepal which triggered an avalanche on the south base camp (Nepal Side) killing 22, the border between Tibet and Nepal had been closed.  When I booked my trip, it was scheduled to open the week before my EBC excursion.  After we arrived at EBC we were told the border was still closed and they would transport us back to Lhasa and make arrangements to fly us to Kathmandu.

So ends this journey to a magical but controversial part of the Middle Kingdom…..the Roof of the World…..Tibet.

I hope you don’t mind me jumping back in time with some past excursions in Down the Rabbit Hole.  Until next time, here are some more photos from this once in a lifetime experience.

Inside our tent…..looking patriotic.
Couldn’t have asked for a more perfect morning
The fight for power in our generator powered tent.
Fire fueled by yak dung
Not my photo, taken by one of my travel buddies with a real camera instead of a cell phone.  Beyond beautiful
Tacked it to the pole with our Tibetan Prayer Flags.
Yes, I let Nick and Lou out to enjoy the view!
The gang I traveled with in Tibet and Kathmandu.
Little nomad girl I found behind the sign where I had my first glimpse of Qomolangma.
Her little cheeks were so chapped.

Who Was General Tso and Why Do Americans Eat His Chicken?

Who Was General Tso and Why Do Americans Eat His Chicken?

During the Qing Dynasty, Tso TsungTang was a ruthless “war hero”. In 1850-64, during the Chinese Civil War, the Taiping Rebellion, he caused many to flee China, eventually making it to America to work on the transcontinental railroad.

Hailing from Hunan Province, General Tso’s relatives, to this day, have never heard of General Tso’s Chicken.  Now, I have only been in China a short time, about 20 months, I have never seen General Tso’s Chicken on a menu nor have I seen anything in any restaurant that even resembles what we in America know as General Tso’s Chicken.  Not only have I never seen the General’s Chicken, but, I am sorry to have to tell you that egg rolls, chop suey, crab rangoon, sweet and sour pork/chicken, pu pu platter, fried rice, hot mustard and finally fortune cookies basically do not exist in China.  For that matter, I can’t think of one thing from a Chinese menu in the USA that I have actually seen or eaten in China, except white rice.

I am fairly certain that American Chinese food at some point in time actually had roots in mainland China cuisine.  Back to General Tso for a minute, rumor and history claim that a Chef from Taiwan actually created a dish to honor General Tso.  Chef Peng ChangKuei, fled Hunan Province under Mao Zedong.  He fled to Taiwan and this is where he supposedly created his dish.  During the early 1970’s Chinese cuisine was booming in NYC.  Chef’s were always creating dishes claiming “first time in America”  “Authentic Chinese Dish”.  Of course they really were first time dishes because they were created to satisfy the American palate and yes, they did have roots in authentic Chinese cuisine, but those roots really weren’t too deep.  Mostly because most Americans wouldn’t stomach some authentic Chinese dishes such as feichang 猪肠 pig’s intestines,

Pig Intestines

fengzhao 鸡爪  chicken feet, duck’s blood soup, jellyfish, seaweed, goat kidneys, hearts, you name it, they eat it in China.  So, back to Chef Peng, the story goes that 2 chef’s from NYC went to Taiwan for inspiration and ate at Peng’s restaurant.  They brought his most famous dish back to America, recreated and bastardized it.  Peng finally also came to NYC and was disgusted to see what had happened to his dish honoring General Tso.  Not only that, he couldn’t convince anyone that it was originally his dish.

So, the whole point I am trying to make is that American Chinese food is really just American food made by people of Chinese decent.

A few other ways food/dining culture here in China differs is that you rarely find anything fried or breaded.  Egg rolls do not exist, although spring rolls do.  Spring rolls have a much lighter thin translucent wrapper and are not fried but steamed.  Chicken dishes in China are not nice diced pieces of boneless chicken.  If you order a chicken dish in China, expect a dish to arrive that is a chicken chopped, bones, skin, head and feet all in the dish.

This was a chicken and potato dish I ordered. Yes, the head and the feet came in the dish, along with bones, skin, fat,,,,,

Don’t get me wrong, it is always delicious, sautéed with herbs, spices and sometimes vegetables, but never a breaded and fried and slathered in sauce dish.   Usually a touch of oil, soy or vinegar, never swimming in a sweet and sour or any other sauce.  If a dish has sauce, it is always on the side for dipping and this is usually just for meat dishes.  Vegetables are prepared in such a mouthwatering way with ginger, garlic, chili peppers, peppercorns, etc, there is no need for any sauces.









Various animal parts to choose from, notice the duck heads.

Chinese also love grilling.  When I am out in the evenings the smell of lamb, chicken and beef being grilled on the street is heavenly.  Now, when I say grill, don’t think hamburgers, chicken breast or a big fat sirloin, they grill most all of their meat on kabobs served with small dishes of spices to dip.

Grilled Chicken Wings











Chinese cuisine in China also pays more attention to veggies and bean products versus meat and fried dishes like in America.  The Chinese have a way with eggplant that I can’t explain.  It is simple and amazing.  I hope to find someone to teach me to make it.

I can’t describe how amazing this eggplant dish is

A few other differences; in China you never order/get individual servings.  Everything is served family style.  You also don’t serve food on to your personal plate and eat.  Mainly because you don’t really receive a plate.  You do get a small saucer size plate and a small bowl.  This is to basically catch scraps, put things to cool or put waste.  Yes, you spit the bones on the table or on your small plate.  Depending on the restaurant, it is perfectly acceptable to spit your chicken/pig/sheep bones onto the floor.  Using your chopsticks, you just grab a bite of whichever dish you want and eat.

Lazy Susan Dining. Grab and Eat

Don’t expect bing shui, cold water in China, basically it doesn’t exist.  You will ALWAYS be served hot water with a meal.  It can be the middle of summer and the spiciest dish on the menu, you get hot water.  Okay, so you think, I will order a beer……. room temperature.  Tipping doesn’t exist. A receipt for your meal, forget about it, unless you ask for a “fapiao”. This is a receipt with an official government stamp you can use if you need to be reimbursed.

So, China is a huge country, cuisine does differ from province to province.  Hunan spicy is much different than Szechuan spicy, some provinces favor sweeter foods,  bottom line, Chinese food on mainland China is not what we eat in America.  I did google to find out the most popular dish throughout all of China.  Surprise, a simple egg and tomato dish.  I have to say I believe this to true.  No matter where I have been in China, I do always see eggs (usually sorta scrambled) mixed with tomatoes.  It is delicious.

One of my favorite dishes, spicy beef noodles

Depending on where you live, rice or noodles may be more popular.  Noodles differ by region, rice noodles, egg noodles, tofu noodles, fat, thin, etc.  2 other popular dishes, baozi which is a steamed bun stuffed with meat or vegetables and jiaozi or dumplings.  Both are usually dipped in a garlic vinegar sauce.

Baozi, meat or vegetable stuffed steamed buns.  Garlic Vinegar for dipping.
Lamb filled dumplings and spicy potatoes

What do I miss most….sometimes I crave a big juicy burger, a pepperoni pizza, a thick blood rare steak, chardonnay……. I can usually find a way to satisfy these cravings. I am sharing some photos of typical dishes that I enjoy and maybe some I don’t.

My biggest disappointment:  NO CHEESE IN CHINA!

Some more photos of food I have had in China………

Spicy Brussel Sprouts
Pork, Celery and Hot Peppers
Yes, bugs often grace the table
Lotus Root
My favorite food in Xiashan. A crepe with an egg, chicken, spicy sauce and a wonton like crisp.
Grilled rabbit, another favorite
One of the few fried dishes I have seen, pumpkin blossoms.
Fish with chili peppers
Potato dish, sauteed celery, frisee, peking duck
Proper way to eat Peking Duck.  Put the duck in the crepe, top with frisee and hoison sauce.
Pork and red chilis in Hunan Province