A Travellerspoint blog

Yogis, Dakinis, and Yaks! Oh, my! Part II

Ok, so it's 6:30am, and so cold outside! As beautiful as the view is from Drikung's public toilet, all you want to do is be finished! At 7am, we all pile back into Mr. Hong's car and make our way back down the mountain to Terdrom nunnery, about 40 minutes away. At 7:50, we were separating, men and women, to go into the hot springs, for which I would like to say, no one except Mr. Hong was prepared. No flip flops, no towel, no bathing clothes. So, Stephanie, Doris and I walked into the changing area in front of the women's half of the hot spring, wondering what we were going to wear in the spring. We looked around the corner and realized--nothing... The Tibetan women were all naked in the spring.

So, we all took a deep breath, stripped down and got in the water. Aside from the staring, which was surprisingly at a minimum, it was a wonderful experience to be immersed in hot, hot water, with the coldness outside, and the sometimes disappointing nature of the showering in the dorms, (every so often, when the weather is overcast, the hot water disappears because the heating operates mainly by solar energy.) So, we spent twenty to thirty minutes in the water, then had to get out--it was extremely hot.

It was also interesting to be the only foreigners in the spring and to observe the women there. While they did not wear any clothing in the spring, they continued to wear their jewelry, and of course, the nomad women had the stones in their hair. It was quite aesthetic. Furthermore, because the springs are holy, blessed with healing powers by Padmasambhava, many of them prayed the whole time they were in the water.

When we exited the water, we then had to decide which piece of clothing to dry off with, which we then could not wear because it would be soaked. So, with that decision made, we dried, dressed and met Mr. Hong and Michael outside. We went to the small restaurant there and while we were eating, Mr. Hong told us that we would be visiting another highly advanced teacher, a woman, this time, a dakini.

After breakfast, he asked a nun the way to where this woman was staying. She pointed up the mountain, and said she was near a cave. Well, aside from Mr. Hong, none of us had ever visited any caves, but the mountain was quite high, and I was a little discouraged, and honestly, a little ticked at Mr. Hong for not really letting us know what we were getting into by going on a weekend trip with him. But, it is difficult to stay mad at a monk, so I got over it, and we started up the mountain.

Pretty quickly, I fell behind the rest, and Michael agreed to stay back with me, going slowly, and if I decided I could not continue, he said he would stop as well. So, as we made our way slowly up the side of the mountain, we developed a system of determining short goals, consisting of blob rocks (dirt piles with lichen growing on them), yak poo piles, grey flowers, and prickly bushes. We took turns pointing out the next goal (ex. "Let's make it to the pile of three yak poos.") I will say that I am not ashamed it took me three hours to make it to the small gompa. I made it and that is all that matters.

The view from this mountain is spectacular, and if anyone reading this ever goes to Terdrom, I highly suggest climbing at least partway up to get the view. On the neighboring mountain, is a herd of yaks that slowly make their way up, down, and around the mountain. In fact, we encountered a yak in our path on the way up. He was beautiful, and eating his tether rope.

There is a river that runs between the nunnery and the mountain we were climbing. Across the river and up the sides of the mounains are strung thousands of prayer flags, there are birds flying, and on the side we were on, some nomads were camping with their ponies. Further up the side of the opposite mountain, are some of the holy caves in which Padmasambhava meditated, with more flags, and for a reasonable cost of $7000, you can have a hut built above the nunnery so that you too can meditate in this idyllic locale.

As we continued up the mountain, it was clear that the mountains here are young. The blob rocks seem to be the displacement of the earth from the upward movement of the mountain. They occur at fairly regular intervals, all the way across the mountain. Nothing has been smoothed down, and worn flat over time. As we continued, up, the path got steeper and rockier, but the view was just as beautiful. Unfortunately, it is difficult to admire the view when one is out of breath.

Also at regular intervals, there were piles of stones, placed as prayers beside the path. As we approached one particularly large pile of stones, Michael announced that it was the top of the mountain--it wasn't, for which he apologized profusely. Luckily, the actual top of the mountain was not too far away. When we reached it though, and were able to look over the top of the mountain, we saw--nothing. I was feeling pretty unpleasant at this point (aside from being out of breath, and not owning hiking shoes, which is not good for the feet, I was also getting cold, because I was missing my shirt/impromptu towel. I had a thermal silk shirt and a hoodie, but at that altitude, with the wind, it was not quite enough.) So, we continued over the top of the mountain, following the path, and following the path, and following the path. It continued for quite a while, though luckily across the mountain in a fairly level manner.

At one point, I sat down to take a break, and Michael continued on to the top of a small ridge, to see what he could see, and he shouted back that he found it! Well, I got up, made my way to the top of the ridge, and sure enough, in the distance, on the other side of a small valley, across a semi-frozen stream, there was indeed a small gompa. So, we continued, and as we got closer, we saw Mr. Hong run out of the gompa, shouting, "Michael! Michael!" Then, he waited until we were closer, then came over to us, and walked the rest of the way in with us.

When we got into the nunnery, it consisted of perhaps three or four buildings and I'm sure, there were only a few nuns living there with the Khandro-ma. I, for one, was relieved that they did not have the traditional butter tea, but rather delicious plain tea of some sort.

Now, while this elderly woman that we met may indeed have advanced spiritual knowledge, she looked and acted, for all the world, like anyone's grandmother. She did not want us to do any prostrations and sat with us on a mattress on the porch in front of the small main temple, and she freely held hands with whomever was closest to her.

After Michael and I had rested for a bit, she sent us upstairs to visit their assembly room, then had the main temple opened for us. All the while, her tortoise-shell cat wandered around, in and out of the temple, and in and out of people's laps.

Finally, Mr. Hong decided it was time to leave, and on our way out, this lovely woman gave Stephanie the phone number of the gompa so that all of us could keep in touch. To date, however, whenever Stephanie has called, no one has picked up the phone. And Mr. Hong promised we would return.

The trip back down the mountain was, of course, much faster, and unlike previous trips, I did not need any assistance, whatsoever, on my descent. So, we made our way back to the car, during which time, a nun asked me for my glasses, and I lost my hat.

Because we spent so much time on the mountain, we had to skip the visit to Drepung monastery that Mr. Hong had planned. Instead, we came back to Lhasa, only stopping to eat by the side of the road. At that point, however, I was too tired even to eat. I think we were all happy, though to be back in Lhasa. It was one crazy weekend.

Posted by michab3 04:29 Comments (2)

Yogis, Dakinis, and Yaks! Oh, my!

Sorry, I know it's been a long time since I last wrote. Things haven't actually been too busy here, except on the weekends, but the internet and the electricity have gotten rather sketchy, often going out several times a day for anywhere from an hour to three hours.

Ok, so the last time I wrote, I had been to Drikung monastery, and had a blast, although difficult time climbing to see the sky burial site. Well, when Stephanie and I returned, we met Mr. Hong, a monk studying here, and he told us that we would go to Drikung together, since one of his masters is at Drikung, and we should meet him. On Friday, immediately after class, five of us, and Mr. Hong, piled into his car with our scant belongings and left for the monastery, where we would be staying the night, before going on to Terdrom nunnery and Ganden monastery the next day.

In an effort to make the most of our time, Mr. Hong even had the cafeteria pack a lunch for us to eat on the way, so about two hours into our drive, we stopped at a rather scenic spot on the side of the road (what, in the Tibetan countryside is not scenic?) and unpacked our lunch. While we were eating, with mountains on one side, and a rather small, picturesque monastery on the other side, a group of men, going home from somewhere, came upon us eating, and decided to walk up to us and watch. That was an interesting experience. I never knew eating could be a spectator sport. Here, though, especially when the eaters are foreign, it is.

After lunch, and after our friends continued on their way, we continued to the monastery. When we arrived, we immediately visited the main temple of the monaster, Stephanie and I greeting some of the folks we had met previously. Then, acquiring a resident of the monastery as a guide, we began our ascent up the mountain to meet Mr. Hong's master.

Now, little did we know that there would be climbing involved in this venture, but we should have. In Tibet, there is little that does not involve climbing. So, as we made our way up the side of the mountain above the monastery, I thought I was gonna die. The path was quite steep, and rather narrow in places. Furthermore, it did not help that Mr. Hong is as proficient at mountain climbing as any Tibetan and booked it up the path, where he and our guide would sit chuckling at my lack of abilities and breath.

Eventually, we made it to our destination, a small hut where Mr. Hong's master has lived for something like 30 years. In defense of this (for me) really horrible climb up the mountain, we were granted the opportunity to actually go inside the hut to perform our prostrations, meet this yogi, and converse with him, something that the pilgrims who visit him do not even get to do. Instead, they perform their prostrations outside the hut, and give their offerings and receive their blessings through a window.

So, we entered, and the six of us stood in line, waiting to make our prostrations and offerings. I was fourth to make prostrations and offerings. (On that note, I would like to say that I practiced doing prostrations in my room the night before, and despite that, I'm sure I looked like an uncoordinated idiot.) After which, there were two behind me before we were all crouched rather uncomfortably in a room the size of a small walk-in closet. Now, one of the nice things about this meeting was that we were supposed to speak with this man, who despite his 50 some years on this earth, had a look of complete innocence in his eyes. Unfortunately for us, he did not understand our Tibetan, and did not speak Chinese, so, after about 5 minutes of looking at each other and smiling, we left.

As we exited the hut, it started snowing, not uncommon at Drikung in the middle of the afternoon. For some strange reason, I thought that since we had met this yogi, we would be going back down the mountain. Silly me! Instead, we went across to the sky burial site, a visit to which I would deny no one. It is a powerful place. This time, unlike my previous visit, because we were with someone from the monastery, he was kind enough, and happy to borrow the key to unlock the gate, and he let us into the site.

We entered this holy sky burial site, one of the most important in Tibet. It was quite intense to walk up to the circle of stones where the ceremony is actually performed, and to step over bits of bloody human bone, and to watch the ravens pick at them. And of course, the experience is compounded by the smell. It is so completely different from the smell of the animals at the butcher stalls, and totally inundated the space. For all of that, however, it has a beautiful view, being near the edge of the mountain. As we made ready to depart, having completed a circumambulation around the site, things were a bit eerie with vultures and ravens flying overhead and dogs howling.

After this, I was sure we were going back down the mountain, but Stephanie thought it would be nice to do a complete circumambulation of the monastery, so we continued along the mountain, past the monastery...quite a bit past it because we missed the path back down. However, we were able to backtrack and make our way down. Finally, we settled down in the little restaurant and ate a lot of yak momos. Eventually, Doris and I went up to our room in the guest house, ready for sleep at 8:30pm, knowing that Mr. Hong wanted to leave the monastery at 7am. Unfortunately, it was so cold that I didn't get to sleep for quite a long time.

At 6:30, we were up, and getting ready for a new day of adventures with the unexpected Mr. Hong.

Part II will be posted later...

Posted by michab3 01:55 Comments (1)

Ancient Building and Ravens

Sorry I haven't updated my blog recently. Nothing terribly exciting happened until Friday. You see, on Fridays, Gen Lhakpa-la (Teacher Lhakpa) teaches the culture class for the new students. While this means that I miss out on two hours of grammar taught from Tournadre's Manual of Standard Tibetan, I think it is worth it. Two Friday's ago, we were given a lecture on ceremonies that take place after the birth of a child, learned how a child is named, and had the opportunity to be filmed, most likely for some news program on Xi Zang TV, or Tibet TV. We don't know what happened with that, but it doesn't really matter.

This past Friday, however, there was only a short lecture and then we visited the Jokhang Temple. For those of you who don't know, the Jokhang Temple was built in the middle of the 7th century to house a statue of the Buddha that a Chinese princess by the name of Wen Cheng, brought with her when she married the king of Tibet. She and the king's Nepali wife, were both partially responsible for Buddhism becoming a court religion in Tibet during this time.

Anyway, every year, Tibetans come from all around the TAR (Tibetan Autonomous Region) to visit the temple, many make prostrations for hundred of miles and many months, to visit this very holy place.

As new students to the university, we were not required to pay the entrance fee of 70 yuan (a little less than $10). There is a catch to visiting the temple, however, and that is no photos are allowed to be taken inside the temple. Thus, I have some photos from the outside and the roof, but not inside. Instead, the ticket is a square cd with photos of the Jokhang. To date, I don't think anyone has been brave enough to actually put the cd in a computer, and I don't think I will be the first, either. So, look for my photos on my album site: community.webshots.com/user/michab3.

When you enter the temple, you are in the main meeting hall, where the monks gather to pray and chant. There is an enormous statue of Guru Rinpoche, or Padmasambhava, and important figure in Tibetan history, responsible for the subjugation of various demons that allowed the first monastery to be built. In addition, he is a tantric master, and quite a popular person in Tibet. Second, is a statue of Maitreya, or the future Buddha. It is believed that the Buddha for this span of time was Sakyamuni Buddha, the historical Buddha that many of us are familiar with. When the current teachings are gone from the earth, however, a new Buddha will descend from heaven and bring the teachings again. This is Maitreya. Then, in between the two, is a statue of 1000-armed Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, probably the most well-known bodhisattva because of his association with the Dalai Lamas and because of his popularity as the goddess Guan Yin in China.

As you go around the first floor of the temple, there are chapels devoted to specific Buddhas, such as the Medicine Buddha, and statues all along the walls, depicting various religious figures. Now, while the tourists rush through viewing everything, sometimes pushing in front of Tibetans, the Tibetan visitors to the temple wait patiently in line to visit each of the chapels and offer butter or small amounts of money. In fact, there is so much butter inside the temple, that the floors are slippery with it, and one must take care, or risk falling on that buttery floor.

Once you have walked clockwise to the stairwell (and Susan, I'm really not sure why it is clockwise--perhaps Dr. Cuevas knows for sure) you walk up and visit more chapels. While this may sound quite repetative, I assure you, it is not. Each chapel has different statues (some labeled, some not) lit by butter lamps in the center of the small rooms, and one is surrounded by Tibetans who have such strong devotion, and who are happy and eager to point out a particular statue or carving of interest that they think you might have missed.

Furthermore, all of the walls, with very few exceptions, are painted with deities, bodhisattvas, buddhas, or other designs, so even if you miss a chapel or two, there is plenty of beautiful imagery to examine. The final room on the second floor is actually up a flight of stairs. It is the chapel devoted to the state oracle, the Nechung Oracle. There are two statues of the deity in the chapel, and photos of the man who is the oracle. During our visit, only one statue was visible, the peaceful emanation of the deity. We were told that on certain days, the wrathful statue is visible, but most days it remains covered.

Finally, you make it up to the roof, which has an absolutely amazing view of the city, the surrounding mountains, and the pilgrims performing prostrations in front of the temple.

The visit to the Jokhang was quite obviously the highlight to Friday. During lunch at a popular tourist hotel, I was convinced by my friend Stephanie, a wonderful young woman from Switzerland, to join her on a weekend trip to a monastery of the Drikung Kagyu lineage, named Drikung Monastery, founded during the early part of the 12th century. One of the important features of this monastery is that it is home to one of the most holy and famous sky burial sites in Tibet. The sky burial is the most popular of Tibetan burials. During the burial, the body is cut into pieces and the flesh removed from the bones. The flesh is then fed to vultures, and here, to ravens. If it can be afforded, many people choose to bring their dead to this place for burial.

Our journey started at 6:30am on Saturday, when we left the dorm to make our way to the bus station, full of buses designed for use by local populations, not foreigners. Because of this, they refused to sell us tickets, but we were told by a wonderfully helpful man that if we hop on the bus, we could then pay the driver. So, we waited until about 20 minutes till 7, when the bus driver appeared and opened the door. Now, I know that having a seat on a bus when the trip is four hours long, is important, but I have never seen people shove so hard to get onto a bus. Stephanie and I managed to get seats, but not without paying the price to the pickpockets hanging around at the bus station. During the mad rush to get on the bus, Stephanie's cell phone was stolen, and so was my packet of tissues. Certainly not a big loss for me, but it was the second time in three weeks that Stephanie was robbed.

So, we managed to find seats, originally together, but we were separated by the Tibetan women sitting in front of the bus, who were definitely like a bunch of mothers, tsking about Stephanie's lost phone, and commenting about my size. Nothing new there. Then, when I thought we were ready to leave, suddenly there are five more people getting on the bus, which was already out of seats. Instead, they placed a rather large bag of apples and a bag of tsampa (roasted barley flour) in the middle of the bus floor, and three women sat on that. Two of the women were nuns and were quite amused by me during the trip. One amusing thing was of course my size, and there was a lot of arm and thigh touching going on. Second was the fact that the nun sitting a little to the front of me, kept trying to speak to me in Tibetan and aside from the general comments about name and native country and being a student, I did not understand what she said to me. Many of her words sounded strange, perhaps an accent from somewhere. So, it was amusing that I didn't understand what she said to me.

After about three and a half hours of beautiful landscape, we arrived at Terdrom nunnery, which is also a hot spring "resort". The bus driver took a break for lunch, so Stephanie and I hopped off the bus, helped the ladies down the hill with all of their luggage for their weekend stay at the spring, and then ate at the restaurant. I did take some photos of this nunnery, so they are available.

About a quarter to 1, we went back up the hill, making sure we were on time for the driver, so we could leave promptly and so we wouldn't miss the bus. But, the bus driver did not show up until 1:30. While we waited, Stephanie and I chatted with some people at the top of the hill where the cars park. Again, there was a communication problem with accent, bu I'm sure that will get better with time. What I did understand, was that one of the nuns I was sitting next to, most definitely said that I should not go back to Lhasa, but should stay there at the nunnery and be a nun. I apologized, and said I had to go back to Lhasa and study. But I suppose it is nice to know that option is available.

Finally, we get back on the bus, drive for maybe half an hour, and make it to Drikung. The monastery is beautiful, built into the side of a mountain. There is a road going up, thank goodness, but the bus didn't stay. Instead, the driver said that we were to meet him at 9am down in the town at the base of the mountain.

So, Stephanie and I got settled at the monastery guest house, which was surprisingly clean and the bedding looked almost new. Then we went out to explore a little. We were at the main temple just after the monks finished, so we were able to go inside. We took our shoes off, even though the monks said we didn't have to. I think they appreciated it, although I'm sure they take their shoes off because they do have to.

Inside the temple were more beautiful statues, like we had seen in the Jokhang. My favorite deity, Tara, has a wonderful statue there, and we offered a kata (ceremonial scarf) to a statue of Padmasambhava. We worked our way around the temple, and came, at last to a corner where the monks had made a sand mandala. Unfortunately, I do not remember the name of the person whose mandala it is.

Next, we started the circumambulation of the monastery, turning prayer wheels, and following a group of nomads through various smaller chapels in the monastery. Finally, Stephanie went with the nomads up towards the top of the mountain, where I decided I should not go. Not being in great physical shape, and seeing the steepness of the path, I decided to stay behind. I stood looking out at the town for a while. Then, a Tibetan family, an elderly man, woman, and their daughter, a nun, whom we had seen on the bus, asked me where my friend was, I told them, and they invited me to go with them. I followed them to a chapel which looked fairly new, and contained statues of some of the great yogis, including Marpa, Milarepa, and Gampopa. After that, the man said they were going to the sky burial site and I should go with them, so I did.

Now, later, when I said where I had been to another Tibetan woman we met on the bus, she said it was not far to the sky burial site, however, in my lexicon, an hour hike up to the top of a mountain constitutes a long distance. However, to Tibetans, climbing mountains is nothing. So, I would like to announce, that I climbed my first mountain at Drikung. The sky burial site was amazing. While it is not legal to take pictures, so I did not, I know that it will remain with me without photos. On top of the mountain, is a large square, fenced off and locked, to keep people out. Inside the square is a small area surrounded by rocks, and a small building. Obviously, in the not too distant past, perhaps even Saturday morning, there had been a sky burial--the ravens were still eating. There were perhaps two or three dozen ravens inside the circle of stones. For all that there were so many birds, it was eerily quiet on top of the mountain. No sounds except those that we were making.

After perhaps twenty minutes, we made our way back down the mountain, which was not so easy. While it was difficult going up, going down was even harder, with the sandy path providing a good place for one to slide off the side of the mountain. If it hadn't been for that wonderful man, I probably would have gone down the mountain the hard way. He stopped me from sliding three times, and kept hold of my hand until we were on more level ground.

Back at the monastery, Stephanie had been looking for me, and found me chatting with a couple of the monks. The monks here are super nice, and friendly. Well, once Stephanie found out where I had been, nothing would do but that she had to leave right then and go for herself. As she was leaving, it was obvious that snow was coming and she would be climbing in the storm. While this concerned me, it did not bother her too much, and she went and came back in an hour's time. While she was gone, the monks were in the courtyard in front of the main temple, preparing a body for burial, chanting, and praying as the snow fell around them.

After Stephanie returned, we went to eat, and had the opportunity to eat in the kitchen with the workers and a few of the monks. We had absolutely delicious yak momos (dumplings) and chatted with the guys in the kitchen for probably an hour. One thing about Tibetans that distinguishes them from their Chinese neighbors, is that Tibetans have a wonderful sense of humor. They know how to take jokes, and how to give back as good as they get.

Then, we went to sleep, even though it was only about 8:30. We were quite tired, and it was rally cold outside, so we bundled up in our beds, and slept.

Morning came, and at 6:30, no one was up at the monastery, so we stayed in bed until 7:30, then went down to see about breakfast, but the guys that work in the kitchen apparently slept in too, because there was no breakfast.

We left the monastery a little after 8, and made our way down the mountain, not via the road by which we had come, but by the path that was made down the middle of the mountain from the center of the monastery to the center of the town below. We were told that the way down takes about half and hour, so I was sure we were going to miss the bus, because I was sure I couldn't go down the path in half an hour. In fact, it took us about 45 minutes. There were a couple of times though, when I was really quite scared, I am not ashamed to say. It was tough, me not being a mountain person. Stephanie was the soul of patience, though, and refused to let me stay scared or freak out.

So, we made it safely down the mountain, in time for the bus, only...the bus was late, and almost full when it stopped in the town. The trip back to Lhasa was relatively uneventful, about the same as going to Drikung. The trip was definitely worth the effort. I learned a lot about myself, and managed to work through my fear of falling off a mountain. I can't say it won't happen again while I am here, but I will be able to have a little more confidence in myself. I was able to push myself as well, to finish climbing to the top of the mountain where the burial site is. Not too long ago, I would have given up, but my Tibetan friends did not let me give up. They were patient and waited for me to catch my breath, and join them. They did not care how long it took me, so long as I made it to the top to share in the experience with them.

After this excursion, I would like there to be a little time before I have to climb any more mountains, either up or down, but I am certainly excited about seeing other places here. The landscape is so beautiful, and the people are so wonderful, I can hardly wait until next weekend!

Posted by michab3 08:20 Comments (3)

Golden Week = Catch up time

All right, I know I've been a little lax about updating my blog. Luckily, this is Golden Week, one of them, anyway. This week was turned into a holiday week in order to celebrate October 1, or National Day. October 1, 1949, Chairman Mao took power in China. So, it was decided that a week was needed so everyone could go on vacation--except store owners/workers, restaurant owners/workers, bank employees, street cleaners, university staff, etc. And, since this week falls directly after the first week of the semester for us foreign students, it is the perfect opportunity for those of us who are new to catch up on the school work done by our colleagues who have been here a year already.

This past week and a half has provided a wonderful opportunity for me to gain a great deal of patience. Now, everyone reading this knows that I am not a skinny person, by any means, but in America, people more or less forget that, since there are many others like me. Here, however, there are very few people that a anywhere near my size. Tibetans in general seem to be healthy weights. They are not generally skinny in the Western supermodel sense, but many are just physically small, and not many people seem to carry much extra weight. While I expected to be stared at as a rather white foreigner, I did not expect the number of people that just outright say I am fat, and believe me, there are a lot of people that comment on it, or take their time staring, while my friends and I are in the Barkhor. There seems to be a distinction though. The people who are city dwellers, and the elderly women, in particular, disapprove. One woman walked beside me, said I was too fat, hit my backside, and said it again, all the while with a rather sour look on her face, tsking at me. On the other hand, those who are coming from outside the city as pilgrims or nomads, (of which I have been told there will be an ever increasing amount as we make it through October and into November) tend to give me a thumbs up. In fact, the other day, two rather tall young men came back for a second look, and a day later, Doris and I ran into one of them again, and he wanted to take a picture with me. So, while it is good for my patience and character development to deal with staring people every day, I will be very glad when I have lost some weight.

As for visiting some of the beautiful places here, it is outside of my budget to travel this week, although many of my new friends are, and it is generally agreed that waiting until tourist season is over, is the best option for seeing most of the famous places in town, such as the Potala. Even though winter weather may make it a bit unpleasant to go sightseeing, an hour in the Potala (which is the time allotted during tourist season) is not nearly enough.

After my rather horrid sunburn last week, I purchased a hat from a vendor outside the Jokhang, for about $3.25, so now, I can keep the sun off my face and head, and look like a cowgirl.

I would like to take this opportunity now to share the wonderful feelings I had when I discovered that since I was in China two years ago, they have discovered hair conditioner and have their own version of Windex. While we take these things for granted in the States, imagine for a moment attempting to clean a rather dirty apartment with hot water and...a rag, and then, running out of conditioner, but, oh no!, the store no longer carries any--what do you do? Lucky for my family they have started selling it here, although it is rather expensive.

Despite the lack of altitude sickness, it has been rather tough adjusting to the climate. It is soooo dry. Seriously, the humidity must be 0% every day. It's hard on the sinuses and the lips, elbows, knees, etc. I think I've gone through half a stick of chapstick in the week and a half since I arrived.

Some of the good things are that there is a thug-pa (Tibetan noodle soup) restaurant across the street with pretty good thug-pa for 2 yuan, or $.25. It is pretty darn tasty. No vegetables, other than green onion, in it though, just noodles and yak. But, it is still good.

If any vegetarians ever happen to be in Lhasa, there are a couple of places we have found with good food. I've heard there are two vegan restaurants, but I'm not sure how "vegan" is defined here. At one of the two restaurants, Doris and I met a very nice Tibetan man, visiting Lhasa, who took it upon himself to walk with us, in part to protect us from not-nice men. He didn't speak English, but got some free lessons. During our walkabout, he took us to a little tea house to drink Tibetan sweet tea, or cha-ngar-mo. I think it is fairly safe to say that Doris and I were the first westerners to drink tea in this place. She and I were sitting against one wall, facing into the room, while our host sat facing us. Shortly after we began drinking out sweet tea, made with sheep milk, Doris had to excuse herself to visit the restroom, such as it was. Our host went with her--why, I'm not sure, but that left me alone facing a room full of mostly elderly Tibetans, who were all staring, of course. I took a few sips of tea, smiling at people while they stared. Then, I said "Tashi Delek" (Hello) to everyone in the room. Well, that was a big hit. Everyone started laughing, and next thing I know, a couple across the room had brought me a small round of dry bread, which they insisted I dip into my tea before eating (this, I discovered was necessary, because otherwise, there was no way to swallow the bread). Then, finally, Doris and our host re-entered and someone else gave us more bread to eat with our tea. So, what started out as an uncomfortable experience for me turned into a rather fun one.

Another thing I would like to note is the way family dynamics seem to work here. It is wonderful to see parents taking so much interest in their children. It is not uncommon to see several children playing in the street in front of the small shops, but they are being supervised, not only by their own parents, but by others as well. Many parents seem to walk their children to school, home from school, help with homework, and give lots of hugs as well as discipline. Children definitely seem to be safe here, as does everyone, except when there are pickpockets around. I personally have not encountered one, but one of the other girls here had her camera stolen the second day she was here. I think the trick is to not go out alone in crowded areas.

So, not only have I been learning a great deal about Tibetans (who I definitely think are have a better sense of humor than many Chinese I have met), but I have also been learning quite a bit about myself as well.

Unless something terribly exciting happens, my next entry will probably be next week sometime, after classes have started again, and I have more to say about them.

Posted by michab3 20:58 Comments (3)

I Finally Made It!

Ok, so this is likely to be a couple of entries--long story, but I am using someone else's ethernet cable in my room in Lhasa.

My last entry was in Beijing. I has a wonderful stay at the hostel. The folks there were very helpful. I made my flight to Lhasa, and met a wonderful young woman from Switzerland, also studying here. We shared a taxi from the airport. It was so amazingly beautiful. Unfortunately, my camera was packed tightly into my backpack and I was too tired to pull it out, but believe me when I say that I don't think I had ever seen anything as beautiful. The mountains were so close and the clouds touched them. The sky was unbelieveably blue and clear. On the way from the airport (a 50 minute drive, unless you have the driver we had), there were yaks on the road and prayer flags sticking up from poles in the water and covering one of the bridges we passed.

Once at the university, Doris and I were shown to our rooms, large for one person, but the bathrooms leave something to be desired, although I shouldn't complain too much. At least they have bathrooms.

Lucky for me, I haven't had any trouble with the altitude. One woman here from Japan, who came with her American boyfriend, has had terrible altitude sickness, and actually went to the hospital twice. She has been here about a week and is still on oxygen, and until sometime last night, they were planning to leave. But, she is getting better.

So, the first night here, Doris, who has been here before, and I went on walkabout. We made it to the Barkhor, and joined the throng walking clockwise. One difference I have noticed here is that the Tibetans are more likely to say "Hello" than the Chinese generally are.

I'm going to pause here, return Doris' cable, and continue as soon as I can.

Posted by michab3 02:28 Comments (1)

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