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Published: November 18th 2006
Qinghai Nationalities UniversityShy Schoolgirl
The front gate of my new Alma Mater. Soon I'll be singing patriotic songs of China.
I’ve moved again, this time stationing myself in Xining, the largest major city near Golok. These days, Tibetan winter is in full force so it is a two-day trip between here and there. Xining is flooded with nomads on their way to Lhasa for the winter. There they will go on pilgrimage, visiting and circumambulating sacred sites. Now that there is a new train to Lhasa, it is just a 25-hour trip from here to there.
I’m in school fulltime at the Qinghai Nationalities University, taking 14 hours a week of Tibetan conversation, grammar and reading comprehension. I love it! My teachers are Tibetan and speak no English at all, so it really forces me to rise to the occasion. With two to four hours of structured classes each day, I feel as though I am finally making progress. At first my brain felt like an ancient, cobwebbed archive - I have really felt signs of aging in the last few years. But being in class every day seems to have woken up some part of my learning facility and I’m feeling sharper now. That’s a huge relief.
My favorite class is one in which we
My Belgian friend Anne, surveying the meat situation.
are reading “Tales of a Playful Corpse,” a collection of stories about a Tibetan disciple of the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna. Nagarjuna sends his disciple to a cemetery ground in search of a special corpse made of silver and gold, and instructs him to bring it back without saying a single word during the journey. The corpse is a naughty fellow, taunting and teasing the disciple from the sack he is being carried in, trying to get him to speak. First he asks questions. Then he starts telling intriguing tales, and finally the disciple gets hooked and can’t resist saying, “Tell me more! What happens next?!” This, of course, violates his command of silence, so the corpse flies out of the sack and back to the charnel ground. The disciple must then return to fetch him again, since he must complete his teacher’s instruction. Over the course of many attempted trips, the same scenario plays out and the result is a whole collection of tales.
Xining is a Chinese city, but there is a significant Tibetan population here. There is a small Tibet town with alleys of restaurants and markets of clothing, VCDs, crafts and dharma wares. My friends and
Juliette, le Chat Francais
An artistic shot of the very French Juliette.
I frequent the restaurants for hot thermoses of thick milk tea or plates of steaming mo-mos - the world’s fattiest meat dumplings.
I’ve made two western friends here. One is an American woman named Hamsa who speaks Chinese and Tibetan and is here doing public health research. The other is a Belgian ethnomusicologist named Anne who is working on a PhD in Tibetan music. Both are studying Tibetan at the University, and it’s nice to have study comrades. Anne and I also speak French together - which is fun, fun, fun and another opportunity for my ancient brain to wake from its slumber. We make delicious pseudo-western meals with limited Chinese supplies; these days our favorite is homemade tomato-sauced pasta. Sure, Chinese noodles are not the same as Italian semolina. Sure, basil and oregano does not exist here. But it’s close enough to make us feel as though we are almost in the comforts of home. Le Bon Chat
You might remember Mama Cat, the stray who appeared one night and gave birth to four kittens. She is here with me in Xining, and all of her babies are living with families in Golok. Since Mama Cat
is no longer a full time Mama, Anne decided it was time for her to have a new name to go with her new identity. She is now known as "Juliette," (pronounced with a French accent), but most often she is just called "Le Chat." Juliette speaks only French. Newly Employed
I’m teaching English twice a week at a Chinese elementary school. I speak only a handful of Chinese words, so it’s basically two hours of me miming and entertaining, trying to drum up ways to keep a room full of six and seven year olds interested. The children are very cute, by and large, though at times they resemble wild animals. They are really good at “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” and we’re working on “Itsy-Bitsy Spider.” Update on the Daughters in Golok
The little girls in Golok are doing very well. We’re close to having them fully outfitted for the winter thanks to a few generous donations and a fearless team of American knitters! Dockpo has been working tirelessly to find patrons, and we’ve applied for a few grants from local NGOs. The girls seem happy and healthy. Reports from their school teachers are
good. Even the girls who seemed withdrawn at first are blossoming like little flowers. Several of the older girls are “in charge” of the group, and there is a strong sense of love and camaraderie among all of them. They are like a troupe of 30 sisters, marching to school together, offering comfort when one is sad or hurt, taking turns brushing each other’s hair. Very sweet, indeed. Dockpo’s cousin, Lama Yonten Hamta Tsang, has arranged for the girls to journey to Sichuan province during their winter break. They will spend Golok’s three coldest months there studying Tibetan thangka painting. Yonten Hamta Tsang has set the girls up with art teachers and is providing all of their food and accommodations. It is a wonderful opportunity for them.
For the moment, that’s it. It’s quite cold here, and I spend much time wrapped in a floor length Tibetan robe lined with heavy sheepskin. It’s enormous - practically a bed spread in size - and probably weighs about 12 pounds. It definitely smells like a sheep, but it’s a scent I’ve grown used to and even look forward to now. There are so many tastes, smells and sounds of Tibet that
The girls, freshly outfitted in their new hats, mittens and scarves.
feel like home now - the omnipresent fragrance of yak butter, the dense, salty taste of yak tongue, the belching groan of a grazing yak. The gamey smell of mutton. Thick, sour yogurt made fresh and stored in huge wooden barrels. Gleeful men singing traditional Tibetan songs at full volume as they walk through town. I confess; I love it here.
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