The plot thickens. Some days ago the tour agent called me to say that because of the coming "celebration" our tour would have to end on July 25, when all non-Chinese are kicked out of the region. A few days after that, another call, "I'm sorry. We have to cancel your tour because no more travel permits are being issued." After months of planning, sucking it up to go on an "official tour" and a sizeable deposit made...THAT'S CHINA. Always a little ugly reminder rears up to let you know in no uncertain terms you are never in control. (To be fair it is probably a much worse situation for all those tour operators trying to obtain permits for their foreign customers...how lovely it would be to be working there and suddenly, officially, most of your tours are cancelled due to human-forces out of your hands.) The plan now is to go to the Kham and Amdo regions of T!bet which do not require foreigners to carry permits and be "guided" to only official tourist stops. I suspect that this will turn into a fantastic trip anyway, despite the inconvenience generated by *domestic* politics! I went to the train ticket office nearby today, where the agent told me to come by at 3:00 when the tickets for trains ten days out would come available. So, I did. Two parties were already ahead of me, at 2:55 trying to book on the same westward train I wanted, all sold out before anyone could buy any tickets for soft-sleeper. Go figure.