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"Xenophobia is a strange thing," noted my latest traveling companion, Tom (Bryan returned to Taiwan early for personal reasons). He was commenting on the fact that the China air ticketing agent had left eight seats for the two of us, the only westerners on a packed plane. Sadly none of them were window seats. Next time I will bribe, lie, steal, or whatever it takes to get one of those window seats. If you are ever flying from Chengdu to Lhasa I advise you to do the same.

In all my travels I have never seen such beauty. Mountain range after mountain range extended in every direction below us (once we cleared the clouds of Chengdu). Many of the peaks were white with snow, some of the valleys were so deep I could not see the bottom. Granted I only saw this ducking and weaving to see past other gawkers' (who had been fortunate enough to get a window seat) heads. It still took my breath away - I wonder if one could travel above Tibet on a hot air balloon. Looking out various windows I wonder where on earth the "Tibetan Plateau" is - all I saw was not what one would call a plateau (which brings to mind at least mildly flat terrain). In fact, I was amazed any one made it through those mountains to this highland in the first place.

A good thing the plane ride was so rewarding since getting to Lhasa ended up taking more than twelve hours (and only two and a half were in the air). This included sitting around the airport for hours, napping in the airport hotel for a few hours and finally, after the most nauseating descent I have ever experienced, over an hour ride to Lhasa from the airport.

I don't know where the beautiful snow capped mountains ended but it was far away from Tibet's capital city. Somewhere along the way (I might be able to tell you when if I had a window seat) the mountains turned in to hills and the valleys got large enough that I could actually imagine people living in them, though they all seemed like flood plains. Sadly, it is the time of year when all the hills are brown, not exactly an awe inspiring sight. I am told they turn green sometimes and are covered in snow other times, just my luck to get here in between.

I have only breifly walked around the city and don't want to reveal more than the fact that it is very very different from Chengdu. For one thing everything is twice as expensive, for another thing it is a lot smaller and, well, grungier.

As soon as I stepped out of the airport I felt all the moisture from my throat evaporate. I can't decide which is worse, the altitude or the dryness. My sinuses feel like dried prunes several meters below sea level (the weight, not the wetness). However, other than occasional dizziness, shortness of breath when I do absolutely anything and the headaches, I am fine. I met one girl who threw up her first night here (due to the altitude) so I feel quite lucky.

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