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Teaching, Rituals and Hidden Places

As I have written before, I have been tutoring English for two people. Well, Tashi, my favorite of the two, has returned home. It is Tibetan New Year this week, and it is time for family. My other student has been taxing my patience and I decided to take a two-week vacation from tutoring. This works well because, as I mentioned, it is holiday time, and I have been teaching since Christmas.

I am not really a teacher, and the experience has proved to be a learning one on both sides. However, I feel that I am failing her as a teacher. She never listens, nor does there seem to be much improvement in her English skills in the month I have been tutoring her. We have been doing work on commas and periods, and then working in her textbook, which she ignored for the better part of the break, and now has a massive amount of work to do in a few short weeks. It seems strange to me that someone can study a subject for three years, yet have no real idea about it. When I ask her to write sentences, for example, she does not know the correct placement of nouns and verbs. Her speaking skills are atrocious and she said she is top in her class. Most of the time when she speaks to me, I have to ask her to repeat several times, not because of pronunciation, but because she does not make any sense. It is an almost random collection of words. When I correct her speaking, she never listens well enough to remember the corrections the next time she says the same things. And reading is a complete disaster. She is working in a book that uses short articles with comprehension questions after. I will have her read aloud, so I can correct her pronunciation, but when it comes time to answer the questions, she has no idea about the content of the article. She will answer four out of five questions incorrectly, usually more than once. I have her look up words she does not understand, which has been a fight, every time, and then we discuss the meaning. She says she understands, but then will continue to answer incorrectly.

All right, enough venting. I have a good time with her older sister. She taught me to make thukpa, and last week, on my last day of tutoring, I learned to make momos, similar to Chinese dumplings. The filling is easy, but the shape still confounds me a bit, and I will need to do a great deal of practice before I would consider making them for anyone other than myself.

A few days earlier, I went shoe shopping with my student and her sister. I wanted to buy close-toed dress shoes to wear with my chuba. However, it became clear after visiting every major shoe shop in Lhasa that my feet are too large for dress shoes here. In China, they use both European sizing and their own sizing. In European sizing, I wear a 40, but would probably do better in a 41 since my feet are rather wide. This is impossible here. The highest size for ladies' dress shoes is a 39. In one shop, the sales lady pulled out almost two dozen pairs of shoes, all of which were 39, telling me that because it was afternoon, my feet were larger than in the morning, and so if I wore these too-small shoes in the morning, they would fit. I almost laughed in her face. I could not believe she would try so hard to sell me shoes that did not fit. I think though, that some ladies here do buy shoes that are too small and do wear them. I, however, am not about to do that. So, consequently, I will be wearing my black sandals with a pair of socks, and hope that the chuba is long enough to cover the shoes.

This week, I had an experience that few foreigners have. I was invited by a friend to attend a gold offering at the Jokhang temple. My friend is a foreigner, but a practitioner of Buddhism and the offering was made for the death anniversary of her lama's mother. We walked to the Jokhang, since the weather was quite nice, and on the way, she needed to stop at a small monastery. It was located on a back alley, of which there are many in Lhasa. The lama at this monastery, which I am sure I could not find alone, is well known for divination, and he has been quite busy since it is new year time. I stayed in the back while Patricia gave him what she had brought, then he asked about me, and she told him I was American, and he gave me some special, blessed incense.

We then made our way to the Jokhang. A monk who is a friend of a friend, led us inside, and since there was a gold offering to be done, and we were with a monk, we did not have to wait or pay for entrance. Once inside, we went to the section across from the Jowo chapel. When a gold offering is made, gold dust is added to water, and is then painted onto a statue. The least expensive is the face at 300 yuan (~$40), followed by the body, which runs something over 1000 yuan (>$130), and finally, one can buy new clothes for a statue at more than 3000 yuan (~$400). This gold offering was just for the face. The painter, a monk, paints the gold onto the face, while the devotee circumambulates the statue and offers a kata. Then, a blessed kata is returned to the devotee, in addition to other kinds of blessed items, such as barley.

After the offering was complete, the monk who was guiding us, took us to the roof. There, we had an experience very few, and probably almost no foreigners have had. We shared this experience with three Tibetans.

On the roof of the Jokhang, there is a series of locked doors which are usually covered by drapes, and so are nearly invisible. Inside these doors are the apartments of the Dalai Lama, where he stayed during the Monlam Chenmo, or Great Prayer Festival, a week long celebration, which is no longer permitted in Tibet. These rooms have been preserved quite well, and because of the sacredness of the space, we were required to cover our shoes before entering.

Inside the first hallway was a case containing statues of Chenresig, or Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, of whom the Dalai Lama is believed to be an incarnation. This opened up into a large gathering hall, with a throne for the Dalai Lama, statues of various deities and Sakyamuni in the background. Surrounding two sides of the room were thangkas (religious paintings) of the 21 Taras, a goddess who is known as the Saviouress. Each version of Tara had her own thangka, something which is not so common to see. The next room was a small sitting room, and this was followed by the room in which the Dalai Lama could watch the rituals and dances of the Monlam Chenmo. There was a window with a view directly over the central courtyard. This room contained more statues and two couches.

Down another hall was the private chamber of the Dalai Lama, including a private room for sitting and praying, and his sleeping room. The Tibetans who were with us were quite moved at being in these rooms, and I can understand why. Even in the Potala Palace, one cannot visit the sleeping chambers of the Dalai Lamas.

Overall, the furnishing were quite plain, but the entire set of apartments was carpeted and the statues inside were quite beautiful and seemed of a little better quality than some inside the temple.

Tibet is full of hidden places. Tourists see only the bare surface of what exists here. Even after so much destruction during the Cultural Revolution, there are secrets upon secrets here, many of which are just waiting to be discovered.

Posted by michab3 18:56

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