Gillybean in China: What a Trip!

“Is it alright if we join you?” said the tallest of three lanky guys in their early 20s.

“Er, uh, yes, of course,” I stuttered, exhausted after an exhilarating day touring Shanghai with California college students I had accompanied on a three-week study abroad journey. I sat in our hotel bar, enjoying the opportunity to recharge with a Chinese beer. My students were upstairs in their rooms, giving their professor a break.

“Thank you,” the young man said as he and his two buddies sat with me in chairs around the low-profile table. “What a day!”

To heck with recharging. I was curious. “Tell me about it.”

I ordered three beers and leaned forward to hear their story. The Norwegians had flown the previous day to Germany, where they looked up at the departures board for a place to go. They found three seats on an overnight flight to Shanghai and off they went, without reservations. They had grabbed the last room in the downtown hotel and, as we sipped our beers, they picked my brain for ideas for their weeklong adventure.

When she turned 60, Scottish native Gill Puckridge planned to leave her life in South Africa for three months in Central America, but got sidetracked by a cheap flight to China. Three months later, her experiences had exceeded her expectations and she left China a changed person and traveler. She has been on the road ever since (for six years) and I eagerly await her next book.

Her story is Gillybean Goes to China: The Adventures of a Wandering Sexagenarian. The book often made me wonder, “Could I do that?” as I read about her daily adventures, accommodations, social life, and much more.

Gill Puckridge did not share the youth of my three fellow beer drinkers in Shanghai. And she was alone in a country that can intimidate even the most worldly traveler. But she packed courage and a thirst for new experiences in her seventh decade of life.

Her story is captivating. Like the Norwegians, she embraced China as a place full of opportunity while she employed her natural charm and curiosity.

Dalai Lama: How to Practice

How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life is a brief guidebook to Buddhist thought and practice.

Are you interested in a quick look at His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s philosophy? Or are you hoping to pick up some meditation tips? Or are you devoted to attaining enlightenment? This book has value for all three quests.

For 10 years, I have been puzzled about possible conflicting values from Buddhist teachings and reality. The exiled leader of Tibet promotes liberation from wants, not just for monastics, but lay people too. That means no expensive clothing and other high-cost material goods. But, during a 2009 visit to a Buddhist monastery in China, I saw monks with top-of-the-line cell phones and even one who drove a BMW.

“I thought Buddhist monks were to live a simple life and avoid attachment to material belongings,” I said to a woman guiding a group as one monk talked on his cell phone.

She quickly answered. “This is modern Buddhism. Some monks even drive expensive cars.”

What do you think?

I wonder what the Dalai Lama would say. He flies mostly on chartered planes and, on the rare occasion that he joins a commercial flight, I hear he is upgraded (free) to business or first class. Is this consistent with his philosophy?

Nonetheless, the Dalai Lama has devoted his life to his teachings around the world, urging followers to do no harm and to help others. He writes specifics about these two virtuous actions in this book.

Not a Buddhist? Or are you non-religious? I don’t think it matters because in this book you will discover wisdom for any life that looks for morality, calm, and selflessness.

Bicycling Crusader Follows the Silk Road

She climbed to a peak of academia as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University and later as a scientist/graduate student at MIT. She dreamed of walking on Mars.

But for Kate Harris, work inside science laboratories could not satisfy her need to discover, so she and her best friend Mel set out to get lost in the world of exploration–for a year, bicycling the Silk Road of Marco Polo from Turkey to Tibet.

Thousands of miles, at altitudes higher than 17,000 feet, over every kind of terrain you can imagine, and through blazing heat and freezing snow. They eluded and tricked menacing military and police, adapted to cultures as different as they could be, and traversed geography as foreign to them as Mars. They found human compassion in many places, including Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, China, Tibet, and Nepal as locals took them into their homes to save them from another night in their tent.

In Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road, Harris eloquently and humorously weaves history, science, and compelling anecdotes from her adventure that left my jaw hanging open.

As I have learned while walking the long-distance trails of Europe, the borders of cultures, countries and languages are lost when you step outside the comforts of everyday life and push yourself to, or even beyond, your limits. On the Silk Road, Kate Harris went well beyond the limits of most humans and her book made me want to load up my backpack and leave my borders behind.

(Click on the cover if you want to see the book on Amazon.)