This entry is going to be a catch-up on the last couple of weeks. My friends and I went to Drikung for the second time, let me think...four weekends ago, since it is already well into Monday for me. Since then, I have had a few interesting experiences.
After we returned from Drikung, I discovered that I had an allergy to some food that I had eaten, so I spent the better part of that week covered in an itchy, welty rash. This is interesting because at home, I have yet to find anything I am allergic to. I have a guess about what it was here, but no firm decision was made.
So, aside from that, the week was uneventful. The weekend, however was another story. On Friday night, three of my friends went out on the town, such as it is here. They returned home at 3:30am, quite drunk, and consequently spent the day lounging in bed. I declined the invitation to go out, since I am not really into that kind of thing.
Saturday night, we were sitting in our favorite restaurant, eating our food in the dark (more on the darkness later) and Stephanie and Doris decided they wanted to go out again. I said I would go with so that there was someone to keep an eye on their things while they were drinking and dancing.
No problem there. It was still relatively early when we left the restaurant, so we found a little place down the street and I had a Sprite while the others had a beer. Finally, at about 11:30, we hopped in a cab and went to a nangma. Now, nangmas are an interesting phenomenon. We think they have evolved out of the Chinese love of karaoke, and the natural Tibetan inclination to sing every chance they get. Inside the nangma we went to, the first floor was filled with people sitting around tables and on couches, drinking and listening to the performer. Upstairs were more tables and recessed couches, but all providing a decent view of the stage. The performance is somewhat like a variety show, with an emphasis on the singing and some instrument playing. Every so often there is a production number or a comedy piece. For the most part, however, the performer sings two songs, and during this time, people from the audience walk onto the stage and present katas (ceremonial scarves) to the performers. The more katas a performer has, the more popular he/she is, and the more songs they perform, up to perhaps 5 songs.
Every so often, there is a break, maybe every 30-45 minutes. During this time, the people in the audience all come up onto the stage and dance. Now, unlike in America where everyone dances with their own style and separated, the Tibetans at the nangmas prefer to begin the dance as a kor-shay, or circle dance. Everyone knows the proper feet and hand movements, and everyone dances in a circle, until the young guys get a bit enthusiastic and go crazy on the dance floor.
This continues for a while, perhaps 10 or 15 minutes. Then, the performance begins again. This goes on and on, while the people get drunker and drunker. We aren't really sure what time the nangmas close. On this Saturday night, we left the nangma at 3:30am, after Stephanie and Doris had jointly consumed eight beers. But, we did not go home.
Instead, we went to Babila, the only dance club/bar in town. Unlike the nangma, there is no traditional music, only modern dance music, with a dj, a small dance floor, and a lot of booze and flashing lights. It is like a transplanted modern club from the States, or from Europe. Everything is mirrors and metal. The choice of alcoholic drinks is quite limited, however. Either a person may have beer, or he may have Chivas Regal whiskey. Unlike in other places, though, you may not purchase a shot of whiskey, you must purchase the entire bottle, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of $50-$60. And then, one still does not drink straight shots, but rather, the whiskey is mixed with Chinese iced tea, a drink so sweet that it makes the teeth hurt when consumed alone. When it is mixed with whiskey, it is actually acceptable to drink.
Now, I am not really the kind of person to get drunk and dance--certainly not dance. However, we met some acquaintances of Stephanie and Doris' from the night before, and he (the other man was drunk, passed out on the table) insisted on paying for drinks, something the men always do here, and offered me some whiskey while Doris and Stephanie were dancing. I politely declined, but he insisted, so he and I drank some whiskey together, and before long, I was indeed, drunk, having done several shots of whiskey on an empty stomach at 4:00am. By 4:15, I was dancing, and at 5am, we decided to leave and do circumambulations around the Jokhang, since it was only a couple of hours until 7am when they unlock the door to our building. (The curfew is 11:30pm--this just means they lock the door with a chain from the inside and we must wake up one of the reception girls downstairs so that she can unlock the door.) It made a lot of sense at the time...
So, off we went to the Jokhang, and we did circumambulations until a little after 6am, but by then, we were too cold to stay out, so we made our way back to the dorm. Luckily, though, we did not have to wake anyone up to get in the building. One of the kitchen girls was already awake, and she was kind enough to let us in through the kitchen.
The next day, Sunday, was our first pot luck in Tibet. Another American, Rachel, and I planned it and invited our teachers, and anyone who wanted to come. It was set for 3:00pm, and I had had a yak pot roast cooking in my slow cooker for an entire day. I will say this about yak--it smells terrible, both raw and while it is cooking, but it tastes just like beef. Rachel, Lauren and I had gone on Saturday afternoon to buy the roast, and managed to get a reasonable discount out of the butcher because we are students, and because Rachel begged so nicely while batting her eyelashes. So, the pot roast was ready, and with the help of Stephanie and Doris, we made mashed potatoes (Doris took off part of her finger nail with the peeler) and fried apples.
When we went upstairs for lunch, it was wonderful. Quite a number of people attended, and everyone brought delicious food, including our teachers (except for one teacher who brought some really unpleasant cheese that had been mixed with butter and sugar. Normally this would be tasty, but when made with yak products, it is pretty yucky. I did try it though...) Over all, the afternoon was a great success. Some of us stayed upstairs until almost 7pm, just chatting and enjoying ourselves.
The next week passed without much of importance happening. On Friday, the culture class went to Sera monastery (which I have a few photos of that I must post.) Sera is an important monastery just on the edge of Lhasa. It was mostly destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, but has been rebuilt. There are, however, significantly fewer monks than there used to be. It was quite beautiful, as monasteries tend to be here. Unfortunately, we were unable to take photos inside of the temples, unless we paid. (Sorry, guys. I didn't feel like paying, and it is a bit strange to take pictures in holy place, anyway.) There was one particularly interesting note--there was one particular chapel in which women were not allowed to step foot. They said it would offer some offense to the deity within.
That Friday, a large group of us went to Namtso, our favorite restaurant, for a little farewell party for a fellow classmate, who had visa trouble and was going back to the States. After dinner, a bunch of us decided to go to Babila (mostly it was Ingrid. She had a bad day. It's a bit of a funny story. She received a package from home, Norway, containing all kinds of presents and an Advent calendar with chocolate, but the package was mistakenly delivered to an orphanage, and they took out half of the contents, meaning presents and chocolate, before returning it to the post office. No one at the post office could tell Ingrid what had happened to her stuff, and when the director of the orphanage showed up to explain, she had already been crying in the post office for a couple of hours trying to get a straight story. Now, when she found out that orphans had possession of her things from home, she felt bad that she was so upset about her stuff. At the same time though, no one offered her compensation for her stolen items.)
So, we went to Babila, and even though it was only about 10:30 when we got there, it was jam-packed with people. Palden, whose party it was, got us a table upstairs and promptly paid for drinks all around, meaning a bottle of whiskey and the tea to mix with it. Until somewhere around 2:30am, we were there, dancing and drinking, and for some inexplicable reason, my dancing, such as it was, was quite popular. I also had a stalker friend, a rather middle-aged Tibetan man who would not leave me alone. I told him I wasn't interested. In fact, I told him I only like girls (a blatant lie, I know) just to get him to go away. It didn't work. It took about three hours of ignoring him before he went away.
After about 2:30, some of our group was ready to go home, so several left, and Stephanie, Doris and I stayed until 4:30am. This time, when we returned to the dorm, one of our friends was still awake and she was kind enough to sneak down the hall and unlock the door for us.
The rest of the weekend was uneventful. Monday came, and during lunch time, I went with Stephanie, Michael, and Mr. Hong to visit one of his masters who lives in town. He was a really nice man, and we sat in his sitting room drinking Tibetan sweet tea, eating cookies, and chatting in a combination of Chinese, Tibetan, and English. We left his place about 4pm and went around the corner to the place where they make the wood blocks for pecha (Tibetan book) printing. Unlike some more traditional places, this publishing house has lasers that make the wood blocks.
After that, we went to the Barkhor so that Mr. Hong could find some mandala paintings to send home to his monastery in South Korea. There were some disappointments before he found what he was looking for at the price he wanted. He stood, arguing with a woman for the better part of an hour, while Michael, Stephanie and I made friends with the stall-keepers around.
During the course of our chatting, a young man walked up to me, pulled my hand out of my pocket and stood holding it, while he said how much he liked me, how pretty I was, and when Stephanie asked if he was married and he said no, he promptly told me we should get married. I can honestly say it is the first marriage proposal I have received, but unfortunately, I had to turn him down. After all, he was only 23, and I found out later, already married. I have heard from others that marriage proposals to Western women are rather common here, so perhaps there will be more eligible proposals in the future...
Other than that, I did spend the week doing some Christmas shopping. It seems early, but it takes about a month for mail to make it to the States from here. So, I went shopping three days in a row last week, and say many beautiful, but expensive things which I could not buy and many things which I would not buy because of the low quality. It is quite frustrating to shop here sometimes, because there are no real mid-priced, mid-quality goods. The majority of things are either high-quality, high-price or low-quality, low-price (for those who know how to bargain, not for the tourists.)
This weekend, though, I decided to try my hand at baking at this altitude, which I have heard is quite difficult. I made chocolate chip cookies, using dark chocolate Dove bars as chocolate chips. While there was some difficulty removing the cookies from the trays, texture- and flavor-wise, they were a great success, and I think I will be making more for Thanksgiving.
On the topic of Thanksgiving, I would like to say that while we won't be celebrating it this week, we will be celebrating next weekend, complete with a turkey! Rachel heard of a man who imported turkeys for Thanksgiving, and we went down to his shop by the Potala, and sure enough, he had a 16lb turkey in his case, which we bought. He only had two turkeys, the other only about 5lbs. So, now we have a turkey, which we will be deep-frying, because there isn't an oven large enough to bake a turkey. Also, if the box from my dad comes through ok, there will be cranberries to make cranberry sauce with, and if my sister can find it, there will be Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving special as well. Of course, we will be inviting our teachers as well, after all, part of this experience is cultural exchange.
Now, onto the subject of weather. It is getting progressively colder, as is to be expected during the winter time, however, the problem is with the heating. The Lhasa electric company does not produce enough electricity to power the entire city during the evening time. Consequently, there are rolling blackouts, and the university is not allowed to turn the heat on until 11:30pm. It is quite interesting to be walking through a city that is half dark. The other night, Stephanie, Doris and I were returning from shopping, and the power was out in the part of the city we were walking in. That did not stop us, however, from eating stick food in the Muslim quarter. A good friend told me that I should not miss the potato balls, and man, was he right! Imagine mashed potatoes, formed into balls, deep-fried, and covered in salty, spicy goodness. <sigh> They are really, really, really good. Luckily, there was electricity at the university, but because they don't turn the heat on until 11:30, it is frigid when you go to sleep, and they usually turn it off pretty early in the morning, so it is frigid again when you wake up. It's pretty difficult to shower when it is 35 degrees in your room when you step out of the bathroom.
So, we are trying to get used to the cold, and everyone is wearing more clothing, and drinking more hot water, but having to deal with fairly regular power outages, or, like the other night, no gas, because our maintainence man doesn't always pay attention to his job. Anyway...
That's pretty much it for the last two weeks. Let me know if there is something specific anyone wants from Tibet, so I can get it and ship it with everything for Christmas.