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Wednesday 21 – April – 2010

Busy morning this morning as the Irish Girls headed to Jiuzhaigou for Fitzy’s 30th birthday party.

In hindsight the car situation was a bit dogey. We were told to meet the diver outside the Juizhai hotel in Chengdu at 6am. He, in turn, was told that four western girls who spoke no Chinese would be there to meet him. When we arrived at the hotel a man came over to us and pointed at his car, a black Volkswagen with tinted windows. Saying nothing we all got into the car and fell asleep – very safety conscience indeed. Seven hours later we arrived in Jiuzhaigou, Happy Days, you gotta have faith Eh!

When we got to the valley Fitzy picked us up and took us to get lunch. From there he brought us to our new home for the duration of our stay in Jiuzhaigou – Zhou Ma’s house, which is in a Tibetan village. When we arrived we were given Yak Butter tea, which is barley powder, honey and yak butter, in a bowl with hot tea poured over it. You mix it with chopsticks and then as you drink the hosts keep topping it up with hot tea. It tastes like porridge soup. The tea is said to be good for relaxing, we found it really comforting, homely or something. We were also given bread, which is served in big rounds that you rip pieces off, with wild Jiuzhaigou honey, so tasty!

Zhou Ma’s house decorated in a traditional Tibetan Style which is really bright colours, painted around the cupboards and on the ceiling and walls. The five Tibetan colours are White, Yellow, Red, Blue, and Green.

The village itself is obviously Tibetan, recognisable by the prayer flags that dot the country side. Prayer flags, use the five colours and have prayers written on them. It is believed that the wind carries the prayers away.

We spent the afternoon meeting Zhou Ma’s family and playing with her nephew Lom Son – Cutest kid ever. That night Zhou Ma and her Mom cooked us the most amazing Tibetan food, which was enjoyed over a couple of beers.

Thursday 22- April - 2010

This morning we got up early and went to the park where Fitzy works. He is responsible for the marketing aimed at attracting foreign tourists. The park itself is stunning. It is made up 114 lakes which are the most incredible colours of turquoises, blues and greens. The highest lake is 3000ft above sea level and when we got up there is was covered in snow. We had decided beforehand to get the bus up and walk back down through the park and as we got lower down the snow started to melt and it was like walking into another season.

When we got off the bus there were about ten local women renting out traditional costumes for tourists to take pictures. It was very funny to watch the poses that some of the Chinese women were making, it was as if someone was shouting ‘you’re a lotus flower’ at them.

That night, Fitzy’s friends had organised a traditional Tibetan birthday dinner for him and had rented a room in a local restaurant. When we arrived at the restaurant there was a welcoming ceremony. To get into the restaurant you have to pass through an arch and at the arch were three Tibetan girls, one with a teapot, one with a cup and another with Yellow scarves. We had to enter in single file, drink from the teacup and then the third girl put a yellow scarf around our necks. This symbolises health and good fortune. So I went up and received the cup and knocked it back. I have never tried so hard not to wince at the taste and the shock, (for fear of being disrespectful). I didn’t know it at the time but it wasn’t tea inside the cup at all, it was fecking barley wine! A particularly pungent drink, that happens to be the same colour as tea. Of course like those before me I wasn’t able to warn the person behind me as I had already passed through the arch so all 14 of us had the same surprise!

Inside dinner was amazing and afterwards the lads produced the hugest cake I’ve ever seen.

After dinner there was a singsong. Be warned, Tibetans have the most beautiful singing voices and are brought up to be entertainers. Not only that, but our host for the night, the guy in the grey jumper, on the left, is professional and one of the most famous singers  in Tibetan, he has DVD’s and everything! He blew us away and then it was our turn, how do you follow that? Despite our wriggling, the Irish Girls (as we’re affectionately known now) sang Five Drunken Nights and fair play to Caoimhe, the voice of an angle, she saved us and got us through all the verses.

The foreigners, in fairness to us all, did put up a fight, with Patches singing a lovely rendition of ‘Oh Canada’ quote of the night, was him singing ‘And now in French’. This was followed up with Jonas’ ‘Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer’, the Proclaimers by Callum – in his thickest Scottish accent and an attempt by Charlie to sing ‘Swing Low, Sweet Charity’. Unfortunately for him the Irish contingent quickly told him where to stick his chariots and that was the end of that!

Very aware that tonight was just the warm-up party and that there were still two more to come, so we decided that it might be best if we learned an Irish Dance to entertain our new friends, and save face. Walls of Limerick here we come.

The night turned out to be a late one and when all the beer was gone we turned to Bijo, a Chinese version of Poitín. Suffice to say that, or more so we, didn’t last long at that game! It was a great night and we were delighted that even though we spoke no Chinese or Tibetan and the lads spoke no English we were still able to sit around a table with them all night and have a great laugh. Bijo knows no barriers!

Friday 23rd April 2010

The weather was gorgeous today and we spent the morning out in the garden playing with LomSon.

Everybody started arriving in the afternoon which was great. Zhou Ma’s was the central hub for the weekend and whenever someone arrived they were taken straight to her house for tea, honey and bread.

Dinner was in Zhou Ma and Ke Zhou’s (her brother) restaurant, where they served 40 of us with traditional Tibetan food, it was divine. From there were headed downriver to a local pub for some messing! Fitzy and I were the Jägerbomb waiters, but we didn’t really think it through because none of his local friends had done them before, which required us to give them demonstrations. Suffice to say it was a very large party and everyone got their drink and did it to perfection!

As luck or fate would have it, Zhou Ma’s oldest brother got a new job the week before the party as a minibus driver, which was deadly as the home stays were all about 25- 30 minutes outside the town. After the pub party he brought us back up the mountain and you should have seen him lamping the bus around corners. It was incredible, most people use a 4x4 and put it into off road mode to get around but this bus was having no trouble!

Saturday 24th April 2010

Fitzy had the weekend planned to perfection and had us all pencilled in to work in the orphanage he helps out in. We were to be there from 9 – 1. The forty of us were required to dig flower beds, plant blueberry trees, build a mosaic style car park (for one car) and paint a globe on one of the classroom walls. No mean feat if you’ve only had 4 hours of sleep!

On Saturday morning I woke up in an absolute panic thinking we’d all slept in, and woke everybody else up to find out it was only 7am, Sorry Lads! We were sleeping in Zhou Ma’s aunties because her house was full. The house was up on the top of the mountain in the highest village about a 30min walk to Zhou Ma’s. Since we had made no plans to meet with Fitzy we decided it would be best to get back to Zhou Ma’s and meet everyone there. Only problem being that we didn’t actually know the way, we could see it in the valley below but short of rolling down the hill we were at a bit of a loss. So like true adventures without maps or GPS, with only the clothes on our backs, we braved the Tibetan mountains……

Miraculously we all showed up at the orphanage, pitched in, and got the jobs done. In the end it looked fantastic. We were all wreaked but happy to have done our bit. The majority of us, not used to hard labour, had blisters on our hands from the digging but it was a good hangover cure so we were all delighted.

After our work in the orphanage we went for some food and this is when we gave Fitzy his birthday present. A shiny red motorbike – it’s the least we could do considering we’re taking his car to Africa! He was stoked and despite not being able to ride a bike he picked it up really quickly.

During lunch it started to rain really heavily, which was awful as the big party- the mail event was planned to be an outside event. Zhou Ma’s family had set up a Tibetan tent in the field behind their house but it was raining so heavily that nobody could get up the hill to it. The rain had turned it into a slip and slid. Not beaten by the orphanage experience Johnny and Patches went out in the lashing rain and dug steps into the mud hill. It was a good thing too because the rain didn’t stop until late into the night.

In the house Fitzy was presented with his gift from Zhou Ma’s mother - A full traditional Tibetan outfit. It was incredible. It consisted of a red silk Chinese patterned shirt, a brown yak wool knee length coat, which was lined with beautiful gold material, a silk scarf, and a leather hat. Most amazing thing of all was that she had made the whole thing. When she gave it to him, she gave the most beautiful speech that had everyone in tears, and it only lasted 30 seconds, impressive woman!

Zhou Ma and Fitzy had also arranged a couple of outfits for the guests so we were taken upstairs and dressed in the traditional get-up. Mine was a beautiful pink silk shirt with a turquoise skirt and a red button hat. Sam and Angie got dressed up and looked the part.

When we were all dressed we were called to the tent to start the birthday feast. Thank God the lads built the path because I would have never made it up with ruining the beautiful clothes! The tent where it was held was laid out with cushions around the sides and a series of planks down the middle which acted as the table. Before the meal started Zhou Ma had a Tibetan prayer sung by a local man. She then Ke Zhou then presented Fitzy with barley wine, which his mother had been fermenting for the past year in preparation for the party. Fitzy took a sip and then it was passed around the table for the entire night. (Bruce was given the job of filling the cup, a job he took most seriously!)

The family went all out on the meal, which was delicious. There were so many different dishes, fresh bread with a tomato chilli sauce, beef, yak, loads of different vegetables, currys, stews, and then when we were all full and satisfied, they produced a full goat, fresh off the spit. It was incredible. After dinner we shared a barley flour cake which is a staple for the yak hearders in the region.

There were speeches throughout dinner which Wally translated. However as soon as he called Kieran Kevin we all fell around the place laughing and there was no saving us. He is used to calling him Fitzy but must have felt the occasion required his full name but kept referring to him as Kevin. ‘Kevin is such a special friend’.

Thankfully during dinner the rain let up and we were brought outside to a bonfire. The singsong started here and we had great craic. Wally delighted us again with a rendition from the backstreet boys which he has written himself.

Personally I hate the nervous feeling at singsongs, the fear that I’ll be called next. My knees buckle and my voice cracks, and all the barley wine, beer and spirits in the world can’t shake it – Try as I may! Perhaps I should give Crazy English a lash.

Back at Zhou Ma’s house the guitar was brought out and the songs continued. The night finished up in an Oh so sophisticated manner back in the house with Flinner drawing on Fitzy’s face when he fell asleep. Who needs enemies eh? In solidarity the entire party ended up with some form of moustache, cock or uni-brow! Since few of the home stays had proper bathrooms (just taps outside) people didn’t get a chance to wash it off and the next morning the locals had great gas watching us all wander through their quiet mountains with graffiti all over our faces.

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Sunday 25th April 2010

I got carried to bed this morning/last night because I fell asleep at the table. In fairness it was 4am and I’ve been partying hard since the previous Monday. When I got into bed I was alone and had the double bed all to myself but I woke up this morning pinned to my side to find that Cathy, Caoimhe and Colm had all crawled in beside me.

Things were a little quiet when I got downstairs. lots of sleepy graffiti heads. Everyone started to head home in various cars etc. Caoimhe, Cathy, Lamphead and myself managed to get a lift back in Bruce and Reeds car so we were delighted. When we left Zhou Ma’s there was another ceremony, whereby we were all presented with white scarves. It was similar to the ceremony on Thurs night. Afterwards we found out the yellow scarves are given to anyone visiting but white scarves are for family and friends. Such nice people, the entire weekend we were treated so well, and with such warmth. Zhou Ma kept telling us to stop thanking her because we were now the family.

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