Friday, October 21, 2011

Yak Chow Mein & Tibetan Speed Traps

Lhasa, Tibet, People's Republic of China:

You can't travel anywhere in Tibet without encountering a yak, either standing in the middle of the road thinking it belongs there, or on your plate for dinner in some combination you never considered trying before.

Yaks cross the shallow Yangva Chu river north of Lhasa earlier this week.

Today's highway cruising yaks are domesticated from wild yaks, once numbering more than a million and populating the high Tibetan plateau., and now very rare. The domestic ones crazing in the river valleys and high up mountain sides  could also be dzo, a cross between a yak and a cow. I frankly can't tell a dzo from a yak, although I'm pretty sure I know a Tibetan cow when I see one. 

White yaks are rare, and considered very good luck, while seeing a herd all of one color is a bad omen. I couldn't tell if our Toyota Land Cruiser driver considered the lumbering beasts lucky or bad omens as they blocked our progress this week from Lhasa north to Namsto Lake. The way the long haired beasts stood their ground as the Toyota barreled down on them, I was starting to consider them bad omens. 

No worry,  every time the yaks moved, finally, seeming to wave their horns defiantly. 
The wooly little calves love to scamper at full tilt right past the bumper, and are awfully cute.

Cute or not, yak makes it way into a lot of Tibetan cooking. 

Yak-butter tea is a staple of the Tibetan diet, mixing yak butter with salt, milk, soda and tea leaves. One guide book describes the drink as "unlikely to be a highlight of your trip". One member of our party concurs with that assessment of the  thick yellowish liquid . But I've eaten strips of yak added to thugpa, a piping hot vegetable noodle soup, and ground with spices and stuffed into momos, a steamed or fried dumpling, both wonderful. We've also enjoyed a savory and thick yak steak (a bit chewy), and very spicy yak curry (excellent). All in all, very beefy tasting.

The Lhasa Kitchen caters to Tibetans and foreigners, and offers yak burgers, yak stroganoff, yak pizza, and of course, yak chow mien. Wouldn't any self respecting citizen of the USA look forward to flying over 10,000 miles from Minneapolis to Tibet just to dig into a hot steaming plate of yak chow mien. Hey, wasn't chow mien invented by the American food and the advertising industry, and is not native to the Orient?

And You Thought You Hated Traffic Intersection Cameras 

Life size fiberglass policemen in full uniform have been standing alongside the highways we've been traveling outside of Lhasa, holding speed limit paddles in their white gloved hands. Often mischievous individuals have drawn mustaches and cat whiskers upon their stern faces. The always-on-duty cops warn drivers to slow down at dangerous curves, slow down on the straightaway, slow down when you are passing over a double yellow line going uphill around a blind curve going over a 15,000 foot mountain pass.

Life size fiberglass policeman  keeps it's eyes peeled for speeders on the La Gen La Pass north of Lhasa this week.

Apparently the vigilant fiberglass fuzz have not been effective enough, as the Chinese government has instituted throughout Tibet their special twist on getting motorists to drive safely and within legal speed limits.

Regular police check points require private drivers, chauffeurs and truckers to pull over, park, walk up to a booth, show their national identification card and license, and receive a time stamped permit to proceed. You must not reach the next checkpoint before your stamped time, or you will be forced to pay 100 Yuan (US$16.00) fine per minute. Cash, on the barrel. 

Check point locations are fairly common knowledge, so a kilometer or two ahead drivers pull over, have a smoke, chat, listen to their car radios, killing time. And they are not all crazy speeders. Our highly skilled and conservative driver proceeds between check points at a very moderate pace, yet still must tread water to avid the expensive fines.

During the check in and check outs, we passengers entertain ourselves studying the graphic traffic accident photos posted at arms length from our windows, full color carnage complete with bodies lying in the road and crumpled vehicles. Maybe they need more of those plastic policemen.

To view more examples of journalistic photography from China, please visit my Miami commercial photography portfolio site.

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