A Travellerspoint blog

Bar Fights in Lhasa

Friday was the birthday of one of my friends here. If there is one thing we all like to do here, it's celebrate, regardless of the reason. We make up things to celebrate. Friday, though, we had an actual reason to go out and do a little partying.

The celebrating started at lunch time. A group of us went to a really nice vegetarian restaurant--one of three that we know of in Lhasa, and by far the best. It is truly amazing what the Chinese have learned to do with tofu and various soy products to create fake meat. The particular restaurant we went to is owned by Drikung Monastary outside of Lhasa. The monk who runs it is a young rinpoche (high lama) from Drikung. He's quite funny, a member of the recently formed Lhasa Drama Club, and speaks English with an American accent, which surprised me when I met him.

Anyway, the food is excellent there, but a little pricey, so we don't go often. The birthday girl is a vegetarian, so it was the best choice for the celebratory meal. After a leisurely meal of various types of fake meat and a number of vegetable and noodle dishes, some of us decided to visit a Khampa restaurant on the Bharkor and spend the afternoon drinking tea. The hope was that there would be some eye candy for us to occupy our time with. Unfortunately, the majority of the customers that day were monks.

We left the restaurant after several hours of drinking tea and playing Truth or Dare, which mostly ended up being truth. Dinner didn't matter, but we planned on going to a nangma later in the evening to see a show. We went to a rather large nangma around 10pm, since most of the shows start between 10 and 10:30. Stephanie and I had visited this nangma previously, but the show was drastically changed to accommodate the Chinese tourists who have been flooding the city. Most of the songs were in Chinese, although a few were Tibetan, and there were a few more dances than before, which was nice. One dace involved the whole troupe of guys dancing without shirts. While most Tibetan guys are too skinny for my taste (I don't like seeing rib bones), their backs were quite nice.

Around 1am, the birthday girl and one of the others decided to call it a night and went home. The rest of us, a total of four, went to Tang Club to do some dancing before turning in. When we got to Tang Club, we found some space on the dance floor and danced happily, avoiding disgusting, middle-aged Chinese guys, and younger guys trying to invade our personal space. This lasted until about 2:30am, when suddenly, two guys pulled out knives and made ready to fight on our side of the room.

Bar fights in the States tend to involve fists, maybe some handy paraphenalia from the bar, and sometimes a real weapon. The thing about Tibetan guys here that come to bars, is that a lot of them tend to be Khampa, which means a knife is part of regular attire. When I say knife, though, I don't mean a pocket knife, something small used for cleaning fingernails, slicing apples, and opening packages. I mean a Knife, with an 8 or 10 inch blade, designed to inflict a great deal of harm on someone or something.

Now, the problem with Tang Club is that there is not enough space for security to quickly and effectively reach people who are fighting, unlike Babila, where security has easy access to everyone, and fights are stopped before they are begun by the sheer number of security guards and military men they keep around. So, when these guys started fighting, there was only one security guard close enough to do anything and unfortunately, he wasn't successful in separating these two men.

The second that we heard glass breaking, my friends and I high-tailed it outside to await the outcome. This was a long time in coming. Shortly after we went out, a young man ran out of the club, followed by half a dozen security guards, who chased him around the parking lot. I'm not sure what happened to him, but a few minutes later, the guards went back inside, where the lights were still down and the music was still playing.

Then, guys started coming out with blood on their shirts. It clearly wasn't their own, but someone who obviously had been Knifed inside. One young man came out wiping blood off his face and neck. When he passed us, we could see that the back of his shirt was covered, nearly soaked in blood that didn't seem to be his own. He was standing in the parking lot talking with a friend, when almost a dozen security guards came out and made a bee-line straight for him, carrying night sticks and long, thin metal rods. They surrounded this guy and we were sure he was going to be beaten, but apparently, he wasn't in trouble. The guards spoke to him for a bit, then went back inside. He got in a cab with his friends and left.

We waited a bit more hoping for some indication of what had happened inside. No one who was injured was brought out of the building, nor were any medical personnel summoned. Instead, six police officers showed up in a van. Obviously someone was hurt inside the club, but it was not emptied. In fact, new people were allowed in, where the music continued to play.

After the van of police officers showed up, we left, but not before we saw three guys run out from the side of the strip of buildings and make it out onto the streets; involved parties, no doubt. The saddest thing is that those guys were most likely fighting over nothing important.

It is strange. Knowing that guys here carry knives like that, and knowing that they are prone to fighting when drunk (almost every Tibetan guy I have met here says that he fights when he drinks), they don't do a body check at the door of the club and force people to check their weapons.

Hopefully, it will be a long time before I see something like that again.

Posted by michab3 08:08 Comments (0)

Day to Day

Hi all. I want to apologize for not writing for so long. I haven't been in the mood to write for quite some time. But, hopefully things are back on track, and I will be more diligent with this, since it looks like I will be staying at least one more semester here.

There haven't been too many exciting things going on here since I last wrote. In fact, things have been really normal. Perhaps the most interesting thing has been my experience with Tibetan medicine.

Sometime in March, right after we started school again, I started having some really bad back pain. I've had it before, something from high school. It usually goes away in a few days, no problem. This time, however, it lasted for a couple of weeks. When I could no longer walk upright, my friends insisted I go to a doctor. A friend of mine here had her collar bone broken by a thief trying to steal her bag. When she went to the hospital, they put her in a brace which caused the ends of the bones to grow together incorrectly. To repair this, she visited a rather well-known Tibetan doctor at the traditional Tibetan hospital who specializes in bones. In a matter of weeks, he was able to repair three months of incorrect bone growth...with massage.

Anyway, she suggested I go with her to see this doctor. I agreed, and when he made the examination, he knew exactly where to push to cause maximum pain and allow him to tell me that I had a slightly herniated disc in my back which was putting pressure on the sciatic nerve. I opted against a CT scan, because of the cost, and chose instead to do a round of traditional Tibetan herbal medicine. He felt the pulse in both my wrists, then prescribed three medicines, each to be taken once a day.

At the end of five days of Tibetan medicine, I was feeling a bit better, but not much, and so I returned to the doctor, to see what his next suggestion was. He said..."Tibetan massage." I said I was willing to try that, but little did I know what I was getting into. I went into the next room where the intern, who was responsible for massage, was waiting. Once there, I had to remove nearly all of my clothing and lay on the massage table. The intern poked around until he found where it hurt, then he slathered my back with a combination of old butter (minimum age--1 year old) and herbs. Then, he proceeded to do some deep tissue massage, which I assure you was quite painful. After a while, the doctor came in and put his own pressure on certain points, which was even more painful. During this time, there were heat lamps focused on various places, and there they remained until I finally had to say that it was burning. After a bit more massage (total time, perhaps 30 minutes) the butter was removed, I got dressed, and was told to come back the next day and get some more.

That night was nearly excruciating. When I woke up in the morning, the entire massage are was polka dotted with bruises and had a couple of red circles from the heat lamps. Upon my return to the massage table, the intern was quite surprised, but proceeded to work the bruises quite hard and then to burn them with the lamps. Luckily, the doctor decided I didn't need any more massage. Instead, he prescribed more Tibetan medicine and a trip to the hot springs.

I will say that the massage was certainly effective. I had significantly less pain in my back...after the bruises went away.

A little information about Tibetan medicine: it is deceptive. Much of the medicine looks the same--small, perfectly round pills in various shades of brown. They smell quite nice, but the niceness ends with the smell. Instead of being able to merely swallow these pills and have them dissolve in the stomach, most are too hard to dissolve in the stomach. Consequently, they need a little help. This means, grinding the pills into a powder and swallowing the powder with the aid of hot water. There are very few things that are as disgusting as this. And, doing this three times a day was certainly taxing. More than once, I accidentally inhaled powder and ended up showering my room in herbs. Fortunately, this type of medicine seems to be much more effective than the Chinese medicine on the market.

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This month in the Tibetan calendar is Saga Dawa, the most important month of the year. During this month, Tibetans celebrate the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha. Any merit gathered during this month is multiplied 100,000 times. Some common merit-gathering activities include not eating meat (to prevent the deaths of animals), performing prostrations around the Jokhang, Potala, and the Lingkor (meaning a large portion of the city), giving to beggars, and making special offerings at temples. Certain days are considered especially important and people make special efforts on these days, circumambulating the Jokhang and Potala, and burning incense outside.

Luckily for me, assistants receive a lot of merit as well. A couple of my friends undertook the prostrating circumambulation of the Jokhang, something which Tibetans are quite fast at, but we had heard took the foreigners 3 hours last year. My part in this was to make the knee and hand pads for my friends. This wasn't very complicated, but there is no way to do the korra without this protection. When you do a full-body prostration, your knees and hands are prone to having problems. The hands, in particular, must be protected because they slide out in front of you on the ground, and back again. I am proud to say that my friends broke the foreigner time record and beat out some Tibetans on time, making their circumambulation in one hour and forty-five minutes. Their next goal is the five-hour prostrating circumambulation of the Potala. Best of luck to them.

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As for classes, they are going well. My reading and listening comprehension keep getting better and better, but my speaking skills haven't improved as drastically. I think I'm just too shy to speak with people spontaneously. I've heard from others here that they had the same problem, but by the beginning of their second year, were over that. Hopefully that will be the case with me as well. I've been listening to a lot of Tibetan music, and that helps with reading aloud.

We heard a rumor that we would be moving to the new campus at the end of the semester. While that sounds nice, considering the falling-down condition of the dorm we are in, some of us took a field trip out to the new campus to see what it would really be like. First of all, the new campus is so far out of town that there are no taxis, and only a single bus. Facing the campus are a total of six small shops, some are restaurants, some quickie marts and others for playing pool. That is it. The campus is out past the edge of the city, and is convenient to nothing but the countryside. However, on a positive note, the buildings look considerably more modern than those currently in use, and the campus is probably three times as large. Unfortunately, it is still under construction, and while there are students and teachers already living out there, they frequently have no electricity or water, not to mention internet.

Apparently, however, the Foreign Student Department is expecting there to be an enormous surge in applicants and admitted foreign students. They built two buildings with something over one hundred rooms for the foreign students. We were lucky to find someone with a key who was willing to let us in to see the rooms. Each room is for one student, but significantly smaller than what we currently have. The bathroom, however, is a thing of beauty. A counter top runs the length of one wall, with an inlaid sink and a large mirror on the wall. Next to this, is a brand new, western style toilet. Opposite the wall with the sink is the shower, and I mean a section devoted solely to bathing. No more straddling the toilet or removing the paper so it doesn't get soaked. It is set up with a curtain and removable shower head. The catch is, no more individual kitchen. Instead, one communal kitchen with three sinks and two gas burners.

Recently, another rumor was heard, to the effect that we are not going to move and one of the reasons given was that the classrooms are too big...if you can make sense of that, more power to you.

  • ****

On the party front, I must say, I have been enjoying myself the last week or so. I never party in the States, so I am surprised that I enjoy it here. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that people seem to be more accepting here than at home...and no one knows how to dance, so they look on foreigners as knowledgeable in that area, even if they aren't. Monday night, I had the opportunity to ride in a limo for the first time in my life--strange that it was in Lhasa. A friend of a friend works for a new company that, in part, rents a limo out in Lhasa. A couple of friends and I ended up being out on the night of their company victory celebration and were able to ride around for free, as friends of the company. After a few drinks at a very nice western restaurant, called Dunya, located next to the Yak Hotel, (I recommend the pizza, the house lettuce salad, and the alcohol of your choice--they are quite well stocked), we went to Babila, recently reopened after a dramatic face lift. There, we shared a table with the owner of the sole BMW in Lhasa. This, plus the limo, made me think about the extreme polarity that exists between the rich and the poor. This distinction exists in all countries to some extent. However, I think it is in greater relief here because it is such a small place, and one almost can't help running into the filthy rich and the dirt poor on the same day. I will say though, as someone who is definitely slightly less than wealthy, that I do not mind allowing one of these people to pay for the meal, the taxi, the drinks. Sounds bad, but there it is.

Saturday night, I went out with the same group of people, this time to celebrate a birthday. At Babila, I had the chance to learn a very popular drinking game involving dice (popular, I think, because it is so simple) and listened to the drunken, philosophical rantings of two different men, for about 20 minutes each, while they slurred their words beyond recognition and released saliva onto my cheek while telling me they liked me. One said I should be his Acha (meaning his wife) and the other informed me we would be together one day--perhaps in his next life, when he is not so drunk and closer to my age. If the guy with the BMW hadn't been so drunk on Monday night, I probably would have heard similar things from him, as he would not let my hand go for nearly five minutes.

One interesting thing I have learned recently is that it is possible to rent a theatre at the cinema, and it is cheaper than buying individual tickets to a movie. The room, which seats maybe twenty, costs 100 yuan, or about $14, where a single movie ticket is 30 yuan, or $4. At this rate, four movie tickets already puts you over the cost of renting the theatre, where you bring your own movie, generally one in English. I went to see the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with a few friends, and it, as with all movies here it seems, was dubbed in Chinese. This adds to the benefit of renting our own theatre, and the guys who run the theatre get to see a movie they probably haven't seen before, since they like to sit with us.

That reminds me, somehow, about my birthday. I had my first surprise party. I usually give them, but don't have them for myself. This year, it was reversed. I went out with a couple of friends for lunch. We went to a nice Khampa restaurant, where the view on the inside is what to go for. Khampa guys are just hot. There is no other way to say it. So, that is where we went, so we could look at the guys. Of course, the food is good too. Our favorite there is the sha momo, the yak dumplings. They are huge. It is possible to eat maybe four, five if you are really hungry. They are solid yak meat inside, although, if you are squeamish about fat, don't eat there. You can pour the liquified fat from inside the momo. But, they are delicious.

After we ate, I walked around with one of my friends, the other having gone to make secret plans. So, we sat in front of the Jokhang and people-watched for a while, before going up to a restaurant overlooking the Bharkor and drinking tea while doing some more people-watching. I certainly didn't think anything about staying out all afternoon watching people and drinking tea. In fact it has become a favorite pasttime of my friends and myself.

We returned to school about 7pm, where I learned my friends had bought me some nice bedding and beautiful flowers, and even left a box of Swiss chocolates on my bed (having gotten into my room by stealing the key from the spares downstairs.) I went to Doris' room to see what we were going to do for dinner, where the surprise party happened, and involved chicken cordon bleu, ranch dressing with cucumbers and tomatoes, homemade brownies and chocolate cake. I was thoroughly surprised, which actually shocked my friends, because they were sure I had guessed something by then. What can I say? I'm always the party planner, so it never occurred to me that they were planning a party for me. It was great, though. I really enjoyed it.

  • ****

All right, I believe that brings me pretty much up to date. Like I said, there hasn't been much going on. I promise, promise, promise to write more frequently.

Posted by michab3 05:18 Comments (0)

Losar La Tashi Deleg!!!

Losar la tashi deleg! This is the traditional greeting for Tibetan new year. This past Sunday was the first day of the Fire Pig year for Tibetans, and also the first day of the Pig year for Chinese.

For Tibetans, however, this day is not the only day of celebration for the new year. Two weeks before the actual first day of Losar, people begin cleaning their homes and businesses. They clean everything from the outside of their homes to the rugs on the floor. It is also the time to buy new clothing. Many Tibetans only buy new clothes one time of the year, at Losar. As I mentioned before, I also bought a new piece of clothing for the new year, a traditional Tibetan dress, which I did indeed wear for the new year, and pictures will be posted shortly.

So, two weeks before the new year, Tibetans begin preparing. In addition to cleaning, they spend a little more time in devotional activities, visiting temples, making offerings, and of course, circumambulating the Jokhang. Many people come into the city to buy gifts. One of the most popular gifts is sha gampo, or dry meat. It is simply raw yak meat that is dried. A half kilo (a little over a pound) of this meat runs somewhere around $8-$10, quite pricey. Of course, it is possible for people to buy the raw meat and dry it themselves, but many people don't take the time.

As the new year approached, the city began to empty. Many people went back to their home villages to be with their extended families, and perhaps three or four days before the new year, the city streets were nearly free of people.

The 29th day of the 12th month, or in Western terms, February 16th this year, is a holiday for Tibetans. On this day, Tibetans free their homes of evil spirits, ghosts, and bad influences. The evening is when all of the action takes place. I had the good fortune, along with two of my friends here, to spend it with a Tibetan family.

We arrived at their home at perhaps 8:30pm. We were invited to drink butter tea and to eat homemade kapse, a deep fried butter cookie, and which taste the same here as they do when I make them in the States, much to my delight.

After a bit of socializing and watching the special Losar programming, which I will address later, we were each given a ball of tsampa (barley flour). We were told to squeeze it in our hands, blow on it, and touch it to shoulders, stomach, legs, etc. This, they said, would keep us healthy during the next year. Then, we ate guthuk, a particular type of thukpa (noodle soup) made especially for this day. Instead of the normal thukpa which is made with just a clear broth, noodles, and beef, this thukpa includes two kinds of noodles, cheese, a few beans, and sometimes small momos (dumplings) which contain small items which Tibetans use to fortell what the coming year will bring for them or identify a personality trait. For example, if one receives salt in his momo, that means he talks too much. If one received peach, this means that he will have good health in the coming year and drolma (wild ginseng root) means that one will be lucky in the new year. The family I ate with declined this part of the tradition, perhaps because the family was small.

When eating the thukpa, one must remember not to consume the entire portion. You must leave a bit in the bottom of the bowl. This gets poured, in three parts, into a larger bowl which contains all of the negative things from the house, collected in small bundles of twigs. This bowl also contained our tsampa balls from earlier. The thukpa, they told us, was to feed the hungry ghosts.

Once everyone had finished the first bowl and the remainder poured into the large bowl, the father put on a hat, which they called a long life hat, and he took the bowl outside to the intersection near their home, and the entire thing was tossed into a bonfire, which had been started by others doing the same thing. The bonfire is at crossroads to keep the ghosts and evil spirits from finding their way back to the houses.

Then, everyone ate more thukpa, and went outside to set off fireworks. Now, fireworks are nice, and it is not always so convenient in the States to have them restricted on type and time one can use fireworks, but it is my sincere hope that those restrictions stay in place. No one pays one bit of attention to safety with fireworks here. Children are allowed to set off any firework, and there are several fireworks here that one actually holds while things explode out of the end. Admittedly, we have sparklers in the States that we hold while they burn, but we do not allow children to light a string of small fireworks that spark like mad, while the child swings the string in a circle, all the while being covered in sparks. Nor do we allow children to hold a long stick, lit at one end, which, as it burns, shoots flame as a small exploding projectile bursts from the end, with no attention give to aim. I do not have statistics on how many firework-related injuries there are at this time of year, but given the examples of firework shooting I saw, I imagine there are quite a few. Admittedly, however, many of the fireworks were nice.

After this, we all went back inside to drink more tea and watch more of the television programming. It consisted of a combination of traditional Tibetan songs, modern Tibetan songs, and Chinese songs. It appeared that the performances, the applause and the bits by the MC's were all taped separately and then spliced together. The audience and the performance were never shown together. One of the most interesting pieces was, to say the least, strange. It consisted of all Chinese performers, one man in a white military uniform, and maybe twenty male, Chinese ballet dancers, all clad in camouflage military uniform leotards. It was one of the strangest sites I have seen here. It was a very serious performance, but my friends and I could not help but laugh constantly, both at the costumes, and at the fact that they could dance with straight faces while wearing them.

Anyway, the next day, many people stay in their homes, finishing any cleaning that has to be done. Losar starts on the first day of the first month, which this year was the 18th of February. Families stay together, playing games, eating, talking, and enjoying each other's company. For three days, including the first, there are visits made to relatives and friends, lots of eating, and lots of chang.

On the first day of Losar, I went out with Ingri, from Norway. We walked around the Barkhor, and were invited to someone's home. Once there, we were given butter tea, chang (which was quite nice), sha gampo (dried yak) and kapse. Then, we chatted, ate and drank for almost three hours before we could politely leave.

On the second day of Losar (this sounds almost like a song...) I went out with two friends, all of us in chubas, to take pictures in front of the Jokhang and Potala. We attracted quite a lot of attention. I was wearing a traditional Lhasa chuba, while Doris was wearing an Amdo chuba. Random people were only too happy to take pictures with us or of us.

Losar is a big holiday here. It lasts until the full moon of the first month, so fifteen days. During this time, nothing is open. And, this year, Chinese new year fell on the same day, so Chinese and Tibetan shops were all closed. There was almost nothing open, including restaurants. There was very little produce and meat available. It was a bit tough for a few days. We wandered around looking for places to eat or hang out, but with very few options.

A week after the start of Losar, I visited the English Corner, a group of Tibetans and some Chinese who like to practice their English with foreigners. The Saturday I went, was the Losar party. There is a new Lhasa Drama Club and they had prepared a short, funny play for the party, and I was asked to tape it. There was also a lot of singing, from various places around Tibet, and general merry-making. Tibetans do like to celebrate things together, many times in a non-alcoholic, and very amiable atmosphere.

I will be happy to celebrate Losar here again in the future, perhaps with more Tibetans next time.

Posted by michab3 06:59 Comments (0)

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 Comments (0)

Being Polite is a Matter of Perspective

I recently had the opportunity to explore some things considered polite and impolite to Tibetans. Some things are common sense; responding to greetings, eating the food the host provides, respecting religious traditions. These are similar to our own traditions in the West. However, we also consider things like holding doors for others, covering our mouths when we cough, and not relieving ourselves on the sidewalk to be polite as well. Here, those things do not matter.

What does matter here is accepting invitations, even if you know you will not be able to make the date, eating more food than one person should safely eat, and not refusing to dance if asked.

I was out one evening with a Western friend and my English student, Tashi. We had spent the early part of the evening in a nangma, enjoying some modern Tibetan rock/pop music. About 1:30am, Stephanie decided she wanted to go dancing, so we went to the newest, and second, disco in Lhasa, Tang Club. We found a table, ordered a couple of beers and Stephanie proceeded to dance. Less than ten minutes into our stay, a rather drunk Tibetan man came over to our table, with a couple of beers he ordered for us, and started talking with Tashi, after the traditional drink together. Although he was drunk, he continued to drink over the next two hours, and by 4:00am, he was thoroughly plastered. He insisted on dancing with Stephanie, but when he asked me, I politely, or so I thought, declined. It was late, I was tired, and was quite ready to go home. However, he kept asking me, and then Tashi told me I was being impolite to this man by refusing to dance.

In the States, it is the woman's choice to dance or not, if the man asks. In fact, many people consider it impolite for someone to keep asking once they have been refused. Here, I ended up dancing with the man, because it is rude to decline the invitation. Instead of simply dancing and then sitting after one song, he left the dance floor after passing me to someone else, who passed me to a third person. That is certainly rude by Western standards. Woman are not typically passed among strangers on the dance floor, when the inviting party has left the floor.

Around 4:30am, we left the club and Tashi insisted that this man join us for an early morning meal at a restaurant down the street. After being quite belligerent with the waitress, this crazy man ordered a bottle of baijiu, chinese rice liquor, which usually runs about 52% alcohol. He wanted to split the small bottle between three of us, since Tashi does not drink. However, I declined, so that left Stephanie to drink with this man. He emptied the small bottle into two classes, and Stephanie, in a brilliant move, was able to talk with him long enough for her to empty two thirds of hers onto the floor. I was watching for this and did not even see her do it. Then, she insisted they shapda, or empty their glasses in a single go. This man was still so drunk, he didn't care.

Finally, we were able to leave the restaurant. We all got into a cab, expecting to drop him home, then go home ourselves. It was after 5:00am, and we were tired. However, this man had other ideas. He told the cab driver to take us to another bar. While we protested, saying he should go home, and that we wanted to go home, the man would hear of nothing else but that we join him in another beer. Tashi said we would stay for five minutes, but of course that turned into 45 minutes. I finally refused to drink anymore, and eventually we were able to leave, although our drunk "friend" remained at the bar, drinking. It was about 6:30am by the time we got home. This evening proved an inexpensive, but taxing lesson in Tibetan politeness.

Posted by michab3 20:21 Comments (1)

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