Greetings from the business center of the Shigatze hotel.

Shigatze is a complete dust bowl right now. Every sidewalk is ripped up in preparations for the celebrations in early July. Based on my casual assessment, I don’t think they’re going to make it. They still seem to be in the “destroy everything,” phase of street repair. At some point, somebody needs to start putting concrete in place.

That same July celebration, somewhat ironically, is the reason that all western “Tibet Permits” conclude by June 30 this year. It should be quite a party.

The “Tibet Permit” is an interesting piece of paper. It’s more of a starting point than a permit, per se. We also needed a licensed guide, who checks us into hotels and registers with the local police and army in each prefecture. The guide carries the permit, and apparently has to have enough copies of it to give to any checkpoint officer who feels the need to take a copy. The permit does not actually have our names on it. The register of the trip is stapled to the back.

Interestingly, when we wander the city without our guide – nobody bugs us. When we’re with him we’re constantly getting the “papers please.” Maybe it’s just that we go more interesting places with him – but it does give a pretty clear impression that the permit is more to control the guide than us.

The hotels are drained of people. We had a fair crew of english speakers at breakfast this morning in Gyantze, but they only offered the buffet at 8am. Lunch this afternoon was four of us (me, Jen, guide, driver) in a hall that seats 160. Rules are rules though, and they fired up the massive dining room for the four of us. Changing the procedure would probably be quite difficult.

At an individual level, people are terrific. We interacted with an old monk today at the Kumbum shrine in Gyantze. He shook my hand and Jen’s, and then insisted that Jen take his picture in front of the shrine. He had walked from Samye monestary – perhaps 150km – on his pilgrimage. We’re hoping to be able to send a print of the picture to his monestary.

On the topic of food, we’ve been eating really well. We say “vegetarian,” and that weeds out the more unusual options. Sheeps head and yak penis were both on the last menu we saw. Identification can be tricky – we had one dish that we got down to “not cabbage.” I accept that “not cabbage” doesn’t rule out a lot – but this was definitely not cabbage.

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