The Trek to Little Potala Palace

by Chris Pady

While visiting the town of Derge (rhymes with reggae) in eastern Tibet, my partner, Michele, and I learn of Palpung, the area’s largest and most important Kagyupa (White) sect monastery, locally known as the “Little Potala Palace”. 

Yet despite Palpung’s reputation, we have no luck hiring a guide through any of the town’s hotel staff, shopkeepers, or restaurant owners. Finally, we bump into an English-speaking monk who promises to arrange everything for us. “Meet here at 7 o’clock tomorrow morning”, he instructs, pointing to a designated spot. Nothing about the arrangement spells certainty, yet we’ve got nothing to lose. 

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China Observations: The More it Changes, The More it Stays the Same...and Sometimes Not

by Fyllis Hockman

As a travel journalist, I’m fortunate enough to travel the world, reveling in a multitude of life-enhancing experiences that I would never otherwise be exposed to. I then get to come home, kicking and screaming, and write about them, usually dispensing with facts and focusing instead on my observations. After a recent trip to Shandong Province in China, I had even more observations than usual and was motivated to record them before even thinking about the article I would ultimately write. So here I’ve blended the personal with the professional—and they are indeed more personal than professional—in the hopes of sharing with you my private reactions to that recent trip.

Once a country of thousands upon thousands of bikes, gray-green clothes and propaganda signs everywhere promoting Mao Tse-Tung, the glories of socialism and China’s one-child policy, China now boast 6-lane highways full of traffic, bright Western high-fashion dress and advertising promoting Sony to Gucci to Prada to Ferrari to KFC and Starbucks, of course, and even 7/11s. What not long ago were farming villages are now bustling urban metropolises with legions of skyscrapers and high-priced  condominiums . China has not only come into the 21st century but is forging ahead of most other countries into the next.

After 10 days and nights with our 30-year-old young guide and mother of a three-year-old, we became such close friends that we were walking down the streets with our arms around each other. A strange and wonderful relationship forged so quickly.

Many Chinese prefer drinking just plain hot water to anything else – and everything is served warm, from water to soda to beer – especially beer.

Despite all of China’s progress, Western toilets have not really caught on except in the better hotels. Everywhere else, at attractions and restaurants, treadle toilets are the norm—more often than not, without toilet paper. You think you get used to them—but you don’t really.

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China's Wild Wall

words and photography by Shelley Seale


I hiked slowly through the fall foliage in the woods surrounding the Shuiguan Mountains, about an hour outside Beijing. Vivid orange and yellow leaves swayed on the breeze in the branches around me as I picked my way carefully along the rocky path. My footsteps were the only sound I could hear.

Suddenly, there it was. Emerging through the trees was a rocky wall just in front of me. I peered up at the top of it, thirty feet above my head. Following the path as it veered off to the left and up a steep rise, I found myself standing on a crumbling, original section of the Great Wall of China. Boulders and smaller stones were scattered wherever they had come loose from the wall, resting where they were for who knows how many years. Grass and weeds sprouted up from the remaining rocks that made up the top of the wall. This part of the Wall had not been restored since the day it was constructed over a thousand years ago; it was truly a piece of ancient, undisturbed history that lay beneath my feet and undulated across the mountains in front of me. There was no one else in sight.

I was at a private, untouched part of the Great Wall, on the grounds of the Commune Kempinski resort. A few minutes later my small group of traveling companions caught up with me, and together we walked along the wall in silence, marveling at our incredible experience of leaving the well-worn tourist trail where hordes of people clambered up steps that were built on the wall and made of rocks and plaster younger than I am. A short while later we gathered together, still the only visitors in sight, and, as the sun began to set behind the wall, we popped open a bottle of champagne to toast the end of a two-week trip.

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