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February 28, 2004

Tourism

There is something about visiting holy places that doesn't set right with me. I keep trying to figure out why and only come up with too many reasons. Today I managed to visit a Wat (Thai Buddhist Temple), Wat Pho to be exact, which houses among other things a reclining buddha over 40 meters long. Considering that I grew up Buddhist I felt I should have experienced more reverence at this massive figure. Instead I felt embarrassed by the massive display of wealth that brought it about and wondered what on earth would inspire a ruler to do such a thing in a the name of Buddhism. Granted I haven't studied that hard but no where have I come across the part of Buddha's teachings where he instructs everyone with extra pocket money to hire architects and artisans to build glorious shrines.

But then I wonder, what would be a better way to spend the money? At least this way you have people doing what they love (I hope) and creating something beautiful for future generations. Sure a king could pay his servants and subjects better, make schools more available, or some sort of heath care, but by building shrines and stupas he is still infusing the money back into the local economy instead of keeping it locked up in his storehouse. So who am I to judge? I am sure among the masses of tourists who visit these places just because they can, are other people who come here to remember the Buddha's teachings, to reconnect with a spirit greater than their little ego (as Paulo Coelho calls it, "the soul of the world"). Just because it doesn't work for me doesn't mean the place has no intrinsic value.

And so I am back to square one. I know that when I enter a shrine, church, monastary, or mosque with out tons of tourists, with no one or just a small enclave of devotees I do feel reverence and perhaps even slightly refreshed. I also feel no need to see any more such things that day - very few people have the inclination to attend church more than once a day if even that. I guess I am one of those who enjoys the occasional touch of the divine but prefers to get on with life.

And so as long as I am around I will appreciate the architecture and the art but am not educated enough to do more than that, the real reason I persist in visiting these places despite the conflict it arouses in me is to see how this "soul of the world" is recognized in other places. I can only absorb so much of this at a time, so for now it will have to be no more than one holy site per day.

February 26, 2004

Thailand

The plane trip to Bangkok was uneventful - what a blessing!
Bryan and I arrived safely, though it was tough finding room in the crowded tourist district we are staying in. So far my impressions of Thailand are hardly formed - though I must confess I miss India. True, Bangkok seems cleaner, less crowded and more organized than Delhi and Bangalore, but in my opinion that means more sterile, less entertaining and less surprising. However, if I constantly judge my new location by my old one I won't ever really appreciate where I am. With this logic in mind, I will set out tommorrow determined to enjoy this country for what it is, regardless of what it isn't. If I find anything interesting I will let you know.

February 24, 2004

Loving Losar

Have any of you heard complaints about how there is no "rite of passage" for young folks in the U.S. these days? Sure we graduate from high school and if we are lucky maybe even from college, and there is always our first paycheck, but none of those are a solid, confidence boosters. In many cultures when a person is ready to enter adulthood he or she faces a test that may be more difficult than most of what an adult actually faces, thus after passing, they know themselves better and feel able to deal with what ever lies ahead, with out resorting to drugs or other escape measures.

I just realized that for young Tibetans a month (or close to month) long trek over some of the coldest, highest mountains is their right of passage. Some do this when they are children, others when they are teenagers and some come when they are in their twenties. They do this in order to get an education (and we think going thousands of dollars in debt is bad - at least it isn't risking our lives), some do it because they want to become monks, a difficult task in the PRC today, and a few just do it because their parents tell them to. Men and women face this challenge, it is not limited by gender, only by physical fitness.

The result of this challenge is that now there are lots and lots of youth with out family in Tibet. Sure some of them have an uncle or a distant cousin, but most just have each other, the family they met while they were in school or on the journey over.

Having just spent one of the most important holidays with these youth, I felt much like I have during past Thanksgivings in Minneapolis. In the U.S. many of my generation are also unable, for various reasons, to go home for the holidays, so we gather together, emulate what our parents taught us and celebrate as a family, just a young one. Last weekend was very touching, especially since as another youth with out a family any where nearby I fit right in. The whole time was filled with food, drinking (lots and lots of drinking), talking, hanging out (it got kind of boring after awhile), visiting other people and dancing.

The holiday was Losar (Tibetan New Year)
The food was Tibetan, Chinese, and Indian.
The drink was soda, salty butter tea (I have finally aquired a taste for this), whiskey, Indian beer and Chaang (a mild Tibetan beer from barely that tastes similar to Zima)
Friends visited from all over and finally we went to my friends old T.T.S. school, what he calls his second family. He lived there for two years when he first escaped from Tibet. At the school we payed our respects to several teachers and the headmaster before finally joining all the students on the basket ball court for dancing.

The dance was amazing, the energy of these youth was boundless as they moved and grooved all over the court. The music bounced between popular hindi, classic and pop American and Tibetan. The kids danced the same to most of it except the Tibetan stuff when the would kick up their heals extra high and lift there knees to astonishing proportions. I wish I could describe it better. Actually it was just the men who danced so exhuberantly, the women tend to be more shy and discreet. When they weren't doing line dancing (to Hindi music - a very popular thing here) they would gather in a large circle with one or two dancers showing their stuff in the middle. The center dancers would join the circle, making room for new people and new moves. When the circles became large very few women felt inspired to take the center, the men however love to show off. I found this quite amusing since in the U.S. girls practically have to bribe most guys to dance.

It was a wonderful way to end my time here - I am going to miss this place! Tonight I leave for to Delhi, Thursday to Bangkok and hope to finally arrive in China on Sunday (yeah, I know that is a long transit time). Hopefully I will be able to find some internet cafes along the way.

February 19, 2004

Another View

This is a view from the town of the town, one side effect of being on a curvy mountain. It is crazy how compact and stacked the dwellings are. Nobody seems to mind though, perhaps it is because solitude and sanity are a brisk ten minute walk away.

February 18, 2004

View

Here it is folks, a view of the magnificent Chomolangma, or as the Chinese spell it Qomolangma (they pronounce Q as CH) or as we in the west know it as - Everest. I have lots more photos to share but unfortunately forget how to share them (it has been awhile) as soon as my beloved sends me a refresher course I promise they will go up with explanations and footnotes.

February 16, 2004

Student Life!

This is one of the marvelous views outside my door. To be a student is sometimes truly wonderful. The cooking class yesterday was great, and it looks like the chef is willing to sit down with me to talk more about traditional and modern Tibetan cuisine.

There were ten students, mostly women, but Sangye, the teacher, said this varies. We learned how to make momos, delicious steamed dumplings. Normally these have yak or other meat in them but for the sake of health now you can easily get them vegetarian. We made spinach and cheese ones, cabbage, carrot, and onion ones, potato ones and finally chocolate sesame ones. In all but the chocolate, we used a lot of fresh ginger and garlic. They all turned out amazingly edible. I preferred the spinach and the potato ones though.Our teacher also showed us how to make egg rolls but I didn't pay too much attention. Tonight we learn about Thupta and Thanthak, two sorts of vegetable noodle soups.

Our teacher was born in Tibet, escaping only a few years ago. His story is amazing, he was in the Chinese army, and prison as well as being a chef in Lhasa. He lost both parents by the time he was 15, and more family members in the following years. He recently typed his story up, I offered to help him with grammar and spelling (I know I am not the most qualified, but some body should do this). With his permission I will post his story here when it is completed.

Truly Tibetan

"I love my wife.
I live in New York where I make lots of money.
They can't kick me out because I have the power.
Most days I can be found at Shangri-la - you should come look for me there."

These were the drunken ramblings of our disruptive neigbor last night. The poor fellow was obviously drowning out his sorrows with a bottle and some loud television or music. Bryan asked him to keep it down, it was after eleven at night, a bit late for loudness in a small buddhist town. But he couldn't keep it down because he loved the song and really wanted to hear it and besides, he owned the place so got his room free and nobody could kick him out. He suggested we switch rooms.
Not exactly a good business man's idea.
Bryan went to check out the deal with management, who urged the alcoholic to quiet down a litte, or at least shut his door, which would keep the sound down. They also offered to give us another room to sleep in. After the song our lonely drunken neigbor complied a bit. The sound was lowered and he was in his room but the dialog continued in his head. I suspect that he was so drunk that anything going on in his head came out his mouth. Thus I fell asleep to the sound of a distant television and his excuses or explanations for his life. It was sad; Bryan, a friend to everyone, even sat with him for a bit just to make sure he was okay and listen to his woe. I was too tired to do anything but sleep.

February 15, 2004

Picture Perfect

Nothing much has happened - met a few people, ate some delicious food, drank some okay whiskey, and took a few pictures. I figured out that I can post them so I will try to do this over the next few days to keep your interest as I get settled.

Things to look for on the horizen:

* I start Tibetan language lessons on Monday.
* Tonight will attend my first Tibetan cooking class.
* I hope to visit the Tibetan Childrens village
The Tibetan Women's Assocation
and a library I have heard much about.
* Finding some youth who will explain the whole music scene

Please let me know if there is anything I am forgetting or specific areas you want to read about!

February 14, 2004

Mcleod Ganj a.k.a. Upper Dharamsala

After a weary 14 hour over-night bus ride I finally made it to this refugee town in the clouds. I woke an hour before arriving and was captivated by the veiw from the bus window as the sun rose and illuminated the valley growing every more distant below us and the white-capped mountains we were slowly approaching. The chill in the air was palpable, making us all look like smokers as our exhales were visible. There is no snow, and I am sure the temperatures are well above freezing but it takes a bit to get used to.

After my five hour nap I felt ready to get adjust, following a late lunch of course. Exploring the town, I discovered what I already suspected (that there are lots of Tibetans here) and the unexpected - this place is huge! It isn't large in the sense of Delhi, where it goes on forever, but rather in the sense that things aren't close together and the windy mountain roads make it easy to get lost despite my excellent map reading skills. I was looking for the library, which turned out to be a 45 minute hike away (in the mountains there are no walks, just hikes) and then took a wrong turn on the way back getting me thoroughly and delightfully lost. A sweet elderly Tibetan nun found me and directed me back into town - at her pace. I was glad of the practice I had walking with my grandmother. It was easy to switch from my vigorous gait to her leisurely stroll. She was accompanied by a young monk, dressed in dark robes (not the crimson ones I am used to seeing) and they were talking animatedly about something the whole back, pausing only to banter with the fruit seller and collect meat scraps to feed the stray dogs. Neither of them spoke any English so I can't say what they were talking about.

Bryan found his way here safely, full of light from the Golden Temple, already with friends he made along the way. He is also now full of the idea to stay longer, perhaps long enough to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama give teachings in early March.

I am not sure what I want to do but this town is beautiful so I will wait a few days to see how things pan out. Best of all there is plenty of time and places for hiking and contemplation, something I missed while living in the big cities of India.

February 12, 2004

Conclusion

Conclusion

At the hospital, trying to find answers, Bryan happens to mention that he was in the military and was a medic. This seems to get people moving, looking for answers. Soon an embarrassed doctor admits, "these things don't usually happen here." Things move so much that at three in the morning Bryan gets a phone call letting him know they found the guy's scooter.

The following day he gets another call, this one announcing that they found the deceased man's belongings and have even contacted his family. So at least one family won't wonder what happened to their loved one.

Realizing Bryan understands medical language the doctor explained that along with the broken limbs, the accident victim's instestines were shredded and his spleen ruptured. By the time he arrived at the hospital too much blood was lost. They did surgery on him anyhow and put him in the ICU where he died overnight.

"I'm glad he's gone," Bryan admits calmly. "I'm glad he doesn't have to suffer any more." He has a point, with those broken bones the poor man might never have been able to work again; becoming yet another beggar with his hand out. India can be cruel and doesn't have a social net beyond your own family and your own community.

Today we leave this city behind, hopefully leaving its beggars and extreme poverty as well. It will be nice to get into the country side, to a place governed (for the most part) by the exiled Tibetan community. I am heading straight there on the night bus, but Bryan, always curious about religions and holy places, is taking the long way, stopping off at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. This is the holy of all holy spots for Sikhs. It is also a place full of intense history and much blood shed. I wonder if this makes the place more or less peaceful? More or less holy?

February 10, 2004

Bryan

Let me tell you all about Bryan.
I feel the need to do this partially because I will be traveling with him for the next several weeks so those of you who aren't acquainted with this fellow might wonder who he is, and partially because interesting things happen to him. I am a reporter, although I like excitement now and then, I prefer for the excitement to happen to other folks and then I can write about it.

Two years older than me, Bryan is also in his senior year. I don't know his whole story (who ever does) but I do know that he has been to a few different colleges, finally transfering in to Friend's World last year to do the Comparative Religion and Culture course. This is a crazy program that introduces you to as many as five different religions and cultures in the course of one year. He was the most conservative student in his class and felt outcast because of it. Not much of an academic but a dedicated learner, Bryan had read only two books before a few years ago, when a doctor accurately prescribed him glasses. Suddenly for the first time he could read for more than ten minutes with out falling asleep. He is still catching up on all he missed but is so determined not to miss anything else that he reads very thoroughly and therefor slowly.

Before attending school Bryan spent several years in the army as a medic and then helped his father run a business. In many ways were are opposite so constandly debate everything and anything under the sun. But we both value personal experience and opinions so things usually stay pretty polite.

However, my travel partner seems to take the weight of the world on his shoulder, a sense of responsibility that while commendable, leads to some intense actions.

Last night he was taking a walk, trying to find some whiskey (there seems to be no alcohol in this area). He has been having an upset stomach and was hoping that the strong stuff would kill whatever ailed him.

First he came upon an auto driver harrassing a beggar. Granted we all want to harrass beggars at time - they are filthy and pester us forever - but conquering that urge is part of what makes me feel like a good person. Bryan felt the need to step in and stop this harrassment (the auto driver was throwing urine and water on the beggar) and after he did that he kept walking, eventually coming upon a large gathering of people.

There are usually only two things at the center of a large gathering of people, either a fight or a wounded person. Fighting his way to the front, Bryan discovered it was the latter, fresh from a motor cycle accident, with a severely broken arm and leg; there was blood everywhere.
Nobody was doing anything, other than watch the poor fellow loose body fluids. Immediatly taking control of the situation and calling on all his talents learned in the army, our hero did his best to stop the bleeding, set the bones, call the police and ambulance and keep the poor fellow company.

The ambulance and police finally arrived. At first it seemed like they were going to deny the wounded man ambulance care. Bryan yelled and screamed (something he is very good at) eventually getting the guy into the ambulance with the help of EMT who didn't seem to know what they were doing.
To think we were told that India has good medical care. Between my two friends in the hospital and the accidents I have noted, I have to differ.

Bryan, already wary of medical care here, accompanied the fellow, who had not said a word by this time, to the hospital. There they took him into care but still could not get him to talk. This appeared to upset the doctors or nurses who were trying their best to at least get him to open his mouth. Apparently the emergency room was about as dismal as you could imagine and our medic didn't have much hope for the silent guy. Sadly, despite the wounded man's gestures for him to stay, Bryan left, determined to check on him this morning.

Because of one thing or another, he wasn't able to get to the hospital this morning but did check on him this afternoon.

The guy had died.

Bryan inquired how this happened and nobody could tell him. Apparently the fellow had gone into surgery, came out alright but then mysteriously died today. No one was looking into it and they couldn't even tell our concerned foreigner what the mystery man's name was or where his things went.

So it goes in an Indian hospital in Delhi.

I don't know what to do or say. Nothing prepares you for being even remotely involved in some stranger's death. I know Bryan feels badly about the whole matter.
"He asked me to stay and I refused. That was his dying wish and I couldn't do it."

Wearing Down

I am actually kind of tired. We moved to Mujna Ka Tilla, which is on the northern outskirts of Delhi, making it an hour each way if we have to go into the city.
So far we have had to go into the city every day, it kind of makes me wonder why we moved here.

Yesterday we had to drop our passports off at the Chinese Embassy. Afterwards we dropped by Tibet House and got overwhelmed by their bookstore and museum. The book had every imaginable book on Tibet and then some minus two (A Cultural History of Tibet and the Milarepa illustrated novel).
The museum was small but beautiful with the wall covered by Thangka (cloth religious paintings) after Thangka. Each one had a placard by it describing what the contents meant and the style of artistry used. I longed for time to read them all and take notes. There were also many statues, some dating back several hundred years, of all the dieties in Tibetan Buddhism. In the foyer there were Tibetan dolls traditionally dressed. Perhaps because of the size, it was one of the most enjoyable museums I have ever been to (usually I feel like they will never end, this one was similar to a large classroom).

Today we had to make an impromptu visit to deal with ticket matters. Tommorrow we are going to Agra (to see the Taj) and the next day we have to go back to the Chinese Embassy to pick up our passports (and hopefully Visas).

Now why did we move here?
Because this is where all the Tibetans who live in Delhi live, so we thought it would be wise to live closer to them, get to observe and meet people. Indeed we already met one fellow who lives in Dharamsala so now we won't be arriving as complete strangers. It is also quieter here, on the edge of town. If I squeeze in between the the tall buildings and walk about 100 meters east I arrive at the Yamuna river, with nothing but fields on the other side.

February 07, 2004

Still In Delhi

So what do I do with all this time I seem to have in the capital city?
Stay up until four reading a cheezy novel
Wander around the city, veiwing some fabulous arches, ignoring the locals and trying out the food.
See a few Tibetans and a few non-Tibetans wearing monk/nun robes but sadly shyness over powers curiosity.
Visit the Chinese Embassy twice, first it was closed, second to get the Visa papers (I have yet to turn them in) - At least it is a beautiful ride.

But best of all was the American resource center, granted I have yet to visit the Delhi Library, but the resource center library was full of books and magazines (always a lovely site). Unfortunately I only had fifteen minutes before it closed for the weekend but they actually had Ms Magazine! It was so refreshing to sit there and browse about the amazing things intelligent dedicated women around the globe have been doing over the past year. I must go back, not only to finish reading the magazine but to see what other wonders are hidden in the building. I am such a geek.

Luckily I seem to have a good travel partner to compensate for both my geekiness and my shyness. Bryan finally showed up, reluctantly leaving his fiance in Taiwan to work on his senior thesis. He is studying Tibetan Buddhism while I study Tibetan culture so our travel plans coincide perfectly. And he has no qualms about going up to mysterious looking Tibetans (and anyone else) to ask questions. I may have to go back to the library with out him though - he is much more comfortable with live format than with written word.

February 04, 2004

DDDeli

Where is the culture shock?
Where are the throngs of beggars who won't leave me alone
Okay, I don't really need to know that one, and I have seen more than enough touts and determined-to-make-a-sale shop peddlars. But still, Delhi keeps surprising me by how NOT bad it is. For Example

* I can actually breathe here, the air is cleaner than in Bangalore.
* There are so many beautiful parks and wide avenues it is actually nice when the auto drivers take the long way.
* Everything is cheaper than any where else I have ever been.
* There are so many foreigners here that I blend right in.
* The books available, oh my goodness, the books!
* It smells okay (probably because of the cold)
* It is easy to get around
* The food is edible and it is very easy to get not-spicy meals.

Perhaps my pleasure is due to low expectations? Aclimation in Bangalore? Who cares! I can't wait to explore more, see The Red Fort, The Nehru Library, the parks, The Bahai Temple, a visit to Agra to visit the Taj, you name it, I can do it! Oh, wait, I have school work to do. Damn, Damn, Damn. I only hope I like Dharamsala half as much. My boyfriend and family might start worrying about the chances of me ever leaving this land of opportunity and diversity!

February 02, 2004

Smells Like Cold

In one of my interviews with Tibetans, I came upon a startling aspect of their culture. In Tibet, they rarely bathed; however this is not because they are dirty savages as one might believe, but rather, as my translator pointed out, because when it is cold you don't smell. With out smell, what is the point of bathing? Thus now they are in India, she assured me, all Tibetans bathe quite regularly because you can't go more than a day or two with out aquiring a smell.

I just went three days with out bathing or changing my clothes, and I have admit that Kelsang was right - you don't smell. The first night was tough, we were still south enough for it to be warm and my shirt was soaked from all the running around I had to do finding a seat. However, by day two it was chilly enough that I couldn't wear just my t-shirt and that night I was so glad I had a silk sheet and plenty warm clothes (I also have my down sleeping bag but didn't feel like dragging it out on the train). And by the third day, when we arrived in Delhi, where it is actually chilly (especially on cloudly days), I couldn't smell myself at all. And no, I don't think this is because I got used to it - usually if for some reason I can't bathe the smell just gets worse and worse until I at least find a sink to wash a bit in. However this time I hardly felt the need to do more than wash my face.

Don't worry, I still bathed last night anyhow, despite the chill in the air, the luke warm water and the freezing floors. It is up to a warm 50 or 60 now but I last night it must have dropped near if not below 40. Having lived in Minnesota this seems like nothing, but now I am used to Bangalore temperatures!

February 01, 2004

surviving

I just got done with the craziest Indian experience yet. However I don't think it is good essay material. Although tiring and exciting at the time, it mostly involved a lot of running around with all my bags on and much uncertainty about what my next 48 hours were going to look like.

I managed to somehow get on a train with out having a proper ticket. Convincing the porter to let me stay on to Chennai was simple, it was finding a spot on the completely packed day-and-two-night-journey to Delhi that took all the work. Amazingly it only cost me about ten extra dollars.

Okay, now the embarrasssing confession - get ready to laugh. It turns out the train ticket I had was for the following day! Luckily I was able to get most of it refunded while wheeling and dealing for the next train.

So I ended up in the "tagkle" (sp?) section, specially saved for folks without the fore sight to have a reservation or idiots like me who don't know how to read a ticket. Oh well, the important thing is that I got here safe and sound, right?

Other than the stress of getting a seat, the ride was fine. I was a bit nervous since all my neighbors seemed to be men between the ages of 20 and 40 but they were all gentlemen and though I stayed wary the whole time no one did anything sketchy. I did hear a heated fight - twice. The first time it was about identity, I think some one insulted some one else and the second time it involved this guy dressed in green carrying a large rifle. I think the porters were concerned about the rifle. Mostly I just kept my nose in my book.