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.
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.
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.