…If you guessed “Qinghai,” you’re right!
Large open spaces we few people, grasslands, mountains in the distance… The only differences being yaks instead of buffalo and lots and lots of Chinese people hanging around.

Anyways the impetus for this question and answer is our visit to Qinghai Lake yesterday.  But I think I’m getting ahead of myself. So let’s see, since the last entry, we have met up with students, and had fun with our Swiss friends. But I guess all of that could really be a separate blog post. Right so, Qinghai Lake.

The night before I had attempted to do some research (as I am wont to do) to try to find out the best way to get to Qinghai lake.  Unfortunately I found lots of conflicting information, so we pretty much just decided to go to the long distance bus station the next morning and just wing it.
So we got up at  7:30 and got out by eight, took a taxi to the long distance bus station, and found… a ridiculous chaotic mess of a line. (Also a beautiful long-haired Tibetan man that we completely failed to get a picture of) After waiting for ages, we finally got to the front of the line and asked for tickets to Qinghai lake. We managed to get tickets, but the earliest we could get was for noon. So much for getting up at 7:30 and getting an early start.
Then we wandered around for awhile, saw a mosque (someone tried to see if Amanda was, in fact, black all over), and visited a student’s house for about 15 minutes, which was only slightly strange.
Then we hopped the bus for the lake. It was not as exciting as we had hoped.  Apparently the best time of year to come is in July, as we keep hearing over and over and over again from former students, when the grasslands are green and blooming with wildflowers, and the the lake sparkles like a jewel in the summer sun (but it is still cooler than eastern China).
It was still cool though, the lake’s edge had cool rocks and the water, if you look at it closely, was quite clear and blue, but since we had had a sandstorm the day before, and it was a bit cloudy, mostly the lake just looked as gray as the sky.  There were lots of interesting people there, and you could get your picture taken astride a yak, but mostly I think people found the two of us far more interesting than the World Heritage Site of the lake…
…Actually in retrospect, the three hour bus ride there and two and a half hour bus ride there were quite beautiful and interesting.  Rolling hills, grass, Tibetan villages, and all sorts of animals and cool, rural things.  It’s good to get out of the city from time to time.
We had heard that it was actually sort of hard to get back from the lake, as easy as it might be to get there. But we were like, meh, it’ll be fine. Well, turns out it could actually be difficult to get back from the lake.  The bus there doesn’t actually drop you off at a station so much as in the middle of the road, so there wasn’t really a place to buy tickets back or even to wait for a bus back.  So there went our original plan. We inquired around, but decided, again, to pretty much wing it when the time came.  When we were ready to go, we decided our  plan would be to just ask all the buses and mini-vans on the side of the road if they were going to Xining, and to just keep asking ’til we found one willing to give us a reasonable price.  And, if that didn’t work, hitchhiking back as a last resort. Luckily (luckily, luckily, luckily) the first bus we saw ended up being the one.  It went something like this.
Me: (I initiated a conversation in Chinese all by myself, yay!) Excuse me please, does this bus go to Xining.
Bus Driver (BD): Yes, it does.
Me: How much is it per person?
BD: Oh, um well, actually we’re a tour group so we can’t really do that I guess… mrr.
Tour guide lady (TGL):  Well, I mean, they are foreigners, and we do have to extra seats, so I mean… we could.
BD: 50 yuan a person?
Us: Awesome! yes!
And we made it home without any difficulties.
Then we ate dinner with the same student from earlier in the day and her husband, which was real nice, although we were both pretty tired by that point. There were some delicious fried potatoes that seem to be a thing around here, which is great because some of the other special local products that I’ve had are not so great.
And then we went out for some beers with our new Swiss friends and talked about many things, including being a foreigner in China.  It was an interesting conversation, and they’re really cool.
All in all, a spectacularly successful day, although Qinghai lake is not always exciting as people may tell you.  If we had to go again, I think we might go the approach of circling the lake somehow and not paying the entrance fee, and go to a less built-up and touristy part of the lake.  Also bringing more snacks. Perhaps a proper picnic. But, it was a good day.

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