Photo: NavinTar/Shutterstock

Where Am I?

Photo: NavinTar/Shutterstock
Kelly Ward
May 19, 2009
I am 10,000 feet in the sky amongst the mountains.

WHITEWASHED TEMPLE walls embellished with vibrant artwork taper off into red dust.

The land beyond the temple falls sharply into green grasslands speckled with herds of horses, goats and cows, until the plains reach the river that cuts this valley in two.

The wind is unyielding. It can be pleasant when mixed with rays of the sun.

Snow mountains peak out from behind the clouds.

Where am I?

I have been living in monasteries and nunneries.

Life in these places is deceptively simple, and the idea that devout souls lead a magical existence is quickly thrown to the wind that whips around robes and rubs cheeks rosy.

Monks ride away from evening prayer on their motorbikes; nuns chatter away on their cellphones.

Where am I?

The days seem to continue on forever, and yet time does not drag.

I am kept constantly busy and only realize the slow quality of time when I have a moment to stop, sit, and reflect.

The sun rises earlier and sets later in the mountains. My mornings begin with the sounds of young nuns rising early to practice their chants.

In the city, my evenings end with strolls down the dusty tree-lined streets that have been decked out with lights. It feels almost like Christmas, and so I sing carols.

Another Side Of China

I am surrounded by people who look vastly different from the Chinese I have met thus far. I am in an area that is primarily inhabited by Tibetan and Hui (muslim) minorities.

Traditional garb is the norm. Men’s hair is longer and of a different texture. Women’s clothing is more functional rather than stylish.

A nun who lives alone on top of a mountain welcomed me into her home and stuffed me full of seeds and peanuts.

A monk, fascinated with technology, earned the nickname “modern old man” among his friends.

A hostess in my favorite restaurant played with my hair and marveled at watches and jewelry.

A man who has studied Tangka (traditional Buddhist artwork) for 28 years happily led me around his studio.

Where am I?

I am content. I love waking up every morning, excited to be here and anticipating what the day has in store.

The mountainous air has a cleansing quality and I feel calm. Although speaking in a foreign tongue is challenging and constant travel is tiring, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Where am I?

I’m still trying to figure it out but, wherever I am, I feel incredibly lucky to be here.


The author recently completed a semester abroad in China with Where There Be Dragons.

Are you interested in youth travel programs? Check out these Matador articles.

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