Leaving Pugdê Village – 3/8

One bummer about not understanding the language of one’s hosts is that often I have no idea of plans that are in the making, and changes in those plans (of which I am oblivious) are even more rarely communicated.  On the day of our departure, I was under the impression that our bus left from Labrang for Lanzhou at noon. There was very little sleep  for me because, of course, I had that disturbed repose one has when morning tasks before departure are many. My bed can’t be dissembled (and hopefully aired out) till I arise. As it is the base layer for my packing, it is important to allow time for all that that entails. And, I want to wash my hair and the rest of myself as well as possible, too. Lots to do, you see.

Meanwhile Samtso is gone. She went early to pay her respects to the Mountain Gods in their special valley (two loads of garbage from Labrang arrived while she was prostrating. See The Dump). I managed to get most of my belongings together before her return, and even put my luggage out by the courtyard gate. Her blasé approach is unnerving. Then I discover we are not leaving til 3!  The family, fully aware of the timetable, has resumed their daily tasks and are pretty much ignoring me. Visitors arrive, and chatting prevails. Samtso is with them and I am just hanging around the courtyard.

What I ultimately realize is that Samtso’s leaving is very hard on this close knit family. Her house in Shangri-La is so far away that they only see her once a year. Now, while she is in Pugdê Village, the house is filled with the joy of both her and Padrun. Everyone, especially her mom, is camouflaging their sadness at the impending departure by being gruff and busy. Unaware of the depth of the situation, I ask to make a picture of the family with me in it, as I have no photos of me in the village at all, let alone with them. The answer is “No, we are busy. She should have done that earlier.” Of course I accept their decision, but it is a bit of a sting. Then I get that they are suffering, their grief only thinly veiled.

Of interest on a curiousity level, very unlike before, not one person has asked to have a photo with me in it. I could be there or not, although it is very clear I am welcome. I am simply not part of their lives. They happily live around me. As we have no conversation, it is hard to see me as anything but an enigmatic presence, I am sure.

Which brings up another change in my Tibetan visits. Certainly in 2005 and I think in 2007, a visit to a villager by a Westerner brought prestige to the family. This I was told. But, now that outsiders are everywhere, and Westerners are a dime a dozen, this is no longer true. We can be a liability, as I mentioned in The Men’s Room. Another very significant shift is that very few people, be it in the village or in town, are OK with having their picture recorded. I get it actually. Being a curiosity myself has afforded me a new perspective. It is tiresome.

Ed Ross, a California Academy of Sciences entomologist and world traveler, made extraordinary images of people during his travels in the 1950’s through the 80’s. He would have lunchtime slide presentations at the museum for employees, where this gorgeous, intimate work was often summarily dismissed because he “paid the villagers he photographed.” This was said with great disdain, but it was how he gained entry into their lives. His subjects were not only cooperative, they were happy. I find this laudable. After all, we are using these images we make for some self oriented purpose, be it the joy of capture or paid assignment. Models can make a lot of money because there is really something about them that makes the image work. Why should we get to TAKE pictures of people, especially if we are going to use them? I realize this brings up some logistical issues, and I am not advocating that we all need to pay for our travel pictures. But there is something to respecting those who do not wish to participate in our documentary efforts.

Another thing: as I write about my photographic explorations, I find it disturbing that the terminology is so war oriented. Only a few artists create images, most of us take pictures, or capture an image, or shoot a subject. It is awkward to discuss a photo outing without such descriptions. How many times in a paragraph can one “create an image?” Anyway, I perceive I am gathering raw data. The image making comes later.

Well, our delay has its benefits. Something has just happened and the family is now in the courtyard awaiting the creation of the final photograph, the one with me in it. Goody. Also, we have time for a nice meal, and I get to take a last pass around the village. The chained guard dogs get their final lunge, and I have the great fortune of seeing one of the “jumping girls” from my first visit. She lets me take another picture, and I am please to have a recent image of her.

I also have time to put Neosporin in my little dog-pal’s eyes, and give him one last scratch. He is a sweet guy.

Thank you. And that is it. We leave Fudi Village.

No emotional good-byes, but I can see Samtso’s departure is very hard for everyone, especially her Mom. I want to tell Tse Dai Kyi that she has done a magnificent job raising her family, thinking that would be a true and nice thing to say to a mother. But Samtso cannot get the words out. She, too, is barely holding it together.


Monastic Dances

Fabulous costumes, phenomenal endurance, grace, and big crowds. As well as, as being beaten with a stick to get down so people in the back can see and pounded by a giant Tiger. What more could you ask for? And my pushy Tibetan introduction last evening was of great value. I am now a pro at not getting shoved over.

Representatives from various villages, clad n thier finest, are invited to a special gallery behind the dancers.

Representatives from various villages, clad n thier finest, are invited to a special gallery behind the dancers. They represent the army of the Future Buddha Helper. 

Today is the day when the Chem (not accurate, a Tibetan word pronounced something like this) Monastic Dances are performed. It is truly spectacular. Honoring the Future North Peace Land, that place in time and reality where all people are enlightened (nirvana), the performance features black-faced dancers representing the followers of ______________ the original leader of the Galupa Yellow Hat sect of Mahayana Buddhism and other important players. As well as an enormous entourage of monks accompanying the dancers, some chanting, some playing musical instruments, local village men in Tibetan robes sit together in a large gallery on the left side of the dance stage in the back. They represent army of the Future Buddha Helper.

I push my way toward the front of the huge standing crowd just in time to have the beaters come through and lower everyone in front of me to a sitting squat. Using a willow brach, they slash it  between people it to part the standing crowd. Those to the dance stage side of the part are to lower themselves. If the beaters, clearly officially sanctioned,  feel some one is not low enough, they lash out and whap, whap him or her.

For the long minute there is no one standing in front of me, all I can say is, “Wow”!  Magnificent costumes that literally are beyond my capability for description. Suffice it to say that Labrang is one of the most important monasteries in China, and the only huge one that is not run by the government. The elaborate performances are as good as they get: highly disciplined and  totally Tibetan. The costumes certainly reflect their exalted position.

this tiger is just about to "bonk" me!

The tiger is just about to “bonk” me!

Soon the folks just “beaten down” are back up again. And, in swoops the Tiger, a two person puppet that bonks people. I am a lucky bonkee, proud to say. The beaters and the tiger sweep the audience every fifteen minutes or so. Kind of a fun crowd control mechanism. I am right at the intersection of standees and squatters. Since I cannot squat very well, I feel the stick quite a bit. It is both good natured and serious.

I am using my new pushing tactics to attain a decent view. The phantasmagorical creatures dancing with slow precision are representative of deities and honorees that I am not familiar with. My favorite, or course, is the one with the deer head. I can relate to a degree without interpretation.

It is very hard to photograph, what with the constant pulsing of people. Just as I get an image composed, some one walks into the frame, or I get shoved, or someone raises an iPhone right in front of my lens. But somehow this is all part of the dance. If I get a few images that trigger my memory to recall the whole experience, I will be happy. If I get a great one to share, I’ll be thrilled.

In the beginning, single performers strut their stuff, always slow and precise. Then come pairs, apparently inferring a confrontation. There are certain performers who receive khatas, but I don’t remember if it was only the solo fellows. No matter, by the end, the area is filled with elaborately choreographed interactions by the entire gang of gorgeous mystical apparitions. There must be fifty, maybe more.


monastic-dances-1090408I have seen images from Bhutan, and earlier Tibetan celebrations, where the costumes were more atavistic — a somewhat ragged aesthetic that I particularly like. These were contemporary, magnificent, and looked very heavy. As the performance is long and the day is quite warm (upper 60s), the endurance of the dancers is indicative of some strong, dedicated fellows.

I don’t wait till the end, though I was told there is a splendid finale. I have been riveted in place for three hours, and I think it is time to give up my spot. Also, my back is starting to complain.

I walk the length of Labrang and meet up with the family, who have been visiting in town. It is now cold, and as we wait for our favorite cab driver, I am grateful to have my big coat, which has been tucked away for the day in a lightweight collapsable carrying bag.


An Introduction to Pushy Tibetans – Labrang 3/3b

This household, and I think this whole Labrang region, is very spiritually inclined. Wanma Dun Drub, Samtso’s herder brother, recites his chants like a monk with the scriptures in front of him every morning before he goes off to the tend the herd. ______________, her dad, prostrates daily and is chanting with his beads nearly every time I see him. He also spends time carefully making Tsampa pellets for offerings. The women, too, chant and it is they who tend to the alter. There is a special shrine room, behind a closed door. Outside, drying every afternoon I see little brass cups, a ladle, and an icon that are carefully cleaned. I think the offering in them might be alcohol, as upon entering the gathering room after a day out, I smell spirits.

There are many monasteries located throughout the area, as well as nunneries. Big D is revered, not for leaving, but for being peaceful. The fact that he left is a matter of confusion for both Tibetans and some inquiring Chinese. Aside from propaganda, which is a serious business here, the vast majority of people have no contact with people who have any facts. Thus, the stories and fears vary from the reasonable to the preposterous. The middle way has been mentioned once, only.

The Chinese young woman (age 22) I met at the Xiahe airport immediately asked Samtso, when we got in the cab, something to the effect of “how could you follow the Big D, when he left this country (China), and wants all Tibetans to disclaim China?” Oddly, she was willing to come for an adventure to this Tibetan world by herself. She told me she was looking for peace. Women traveling alone are rare. In fact she is the first I have encountered. She had been to Australia, and wanted to travel to the U.S., but her parents would not allow it, as everyone in America has a gun. (I am guessing what news China allows in: our riots and war invasions. What else?) When in Australia, Big D was coming to speak, but she had been warned not to attend the huge gathering that that news garnered. There were Chinese spies everywhere, they would take her picture, and she would not be allowed back home.


Extracting myself from the throngs in the street with whom I had witnessed the veiling of the Thanka, I sought refuge in, what turned out to be, a very busy Restaurant Hotel Nirvana. Samtso and Kamu, baby on back, met me there after circumambulating the monastery. We indulge in treats and internet, then trundle off to the main hall at the monastery, where blessings for that part of life after this one, but before the next are being chanted. The molmn (hope/wish/intention) is that one will be born a human in the life when nirvana is finally attained, and all are awakened. This event It is packed to the gills, but we managed our passage, which was the point of our visit. This is when I discovered pushy Tibetans. Holy Smokes! They are something else!

Because of the crowd, coupled with the fact I have not a clue as to what I am doing, nor where I am going, I try to stick close to my group. As it turns out our visit was a simple pass through the building, in one door at one end, walk the length of the building, prostrating in the middle, and out the other side. Easy, and no problem if  we get separated. But I’m not taking any chances. Close as I stick to Samtso, little Tibetan women, strong as little bulldozers, shove their way in front of me, pushing, pushing. The most bumptious of them, this itty bitty thing, just tosses me aside like I am used kleenex. I regain my position in line to pass her prostrating less than a minute later. Like, what is the rush???

Toward the our end goal, Samtso indicates it’s OK to take a photo, so I reach in my pocket for the little camera and find a hand! A warm hand. And it sure isn’t mine. Heavens knows what it is doing there; I gently remove it.

Kind of a haiku, eh?

A warm hand in my pocket
Not belonging to me
I gently remove it

Well, all this was good training for my day to come. Indeed.


The Magnificent Thangka – Labrang, 3/3a

I awoke slowly this morning, as people were in an out of my room through the wee hours last night. Celebrations at the community center went late, and from what I could tell, I was not welcome. OK with me, I needed to sort thru some of my stuff.

When I asked Samtso about the idea that I shouldn’t attend the festivities, she had a curious reply. “On TV, in the news, and in the movies, Tibetans are always shown as sweet, gentle, generous people. It is not true. Some of the villagers have very small hearts. They have lived their whole lives in this tiny village, and they are uneducated. They want everything for themselves. This is not just about outsiders, they do it to each other.” Sounds like the real world to me. Samtso went on to say that the value of education for these people is non existent. “They do not feel that education is nearly as important as fine jewelry.”


The usual bustle of the morning is heightened today. We are going to town to see the giant Thangka. Everyone is dressing up for the event, even Padrun, the baby. Once arrayed, we all pile into the cab. Town is quite a spectacle. Thousands of Tibetans, most in traditional clothing, throng toward the the event, the human density intensifying as we get near the display.

Giant Thangka on hill near Labrang Monastery in Amdo

Giant Thangka on hill near Labrang Monastery in Amdo

I am unprepared for what I see. On the side of a mountain is a HUGE Thangka. I can only guess the size, but a hundred of feet by a hundred fifty feet is a conservative estimate. Made from fabric, many monks, each holding the edge, flap it so it billows into place. Then much to my astonishment, like all Thangkas, I see it has a covering. This massive amount of material is released into place with great effort to perfectly cover the art. Then the whole of it is rolled from the bottom, carefully lowering the top with the guidance of descending monks, into a humungous chimichanga of fabric, which is carried off to the monastery on the shoulders of the yellow-hatted cenobites, accompanied by guards on horseback, gloriously attired.

The formalities take less than an hour, and I am soon lost in the crowds, which means I cannot find Samtso.  It’s fine, as it turns out, with both of us. Just wondering around by myself provides a kind of freedom. My camera gives me permission to look, although it is not always welcome, like in some of the monastic courtyards. Also, some people are happy to be included in a picture, but many are not. Interestingly, the most beautifully arrayed are usually the ones who say “no”…accompanied by a look of disdain. I do not try to convince them. I really don’t care. That is not why I am here, to make images of beautiful Tibetans. I am much more interested in the ceremonies and the lives of my friends.

OK, not entirely true. I did steal a shot or two.  Every now and then. Sometimes. When I could…

Tibetans wear coral like the Navajo wear turquoise.

Tibetans wear coral like the Navajo wear turquoise.


The Mens’ Room

Today was a day of remarkable privilege! But first let me say that last night I was not allowed out of the house. I could hear festivities broadcast over the loudspeaker, and Samtso’s nieces were dancing. BUT, the celebrations were for the officials from town: the government. It turns out that should they find out there is a westerner here they will levy a hefty tax!!!!! Whoa, pardner…

The morning here is bustling with everyone getting dressed in traditional garb, and the arrival, with according hospitality, of out-of-village guests, also traditionally attired. I met two of Samtso’s dad’s brothers and a sister. One brother is a well-regarded Tibetan doctor in Labrang. He looks, it, too. Especially when he cleans his glasses, which he does a fair bit. ______________, Samtso’s brother who speaks a some of English, arrived and bestowed a warm hello. It was fun to see him again, especially as he cuts a mean figure in his Tibetan habiliments.

Food is served, and it is seen to, midst the buzz, that I am fed.

We all trundle off in the freshly snow covered morning to the community meeting hall. A beautiful new structure, it replaces the one built in the 1980s, and this is the first series of events celebrating a town structure that they have had for some 35 years. It is a big deal. Guests from other villages are invited to participate in the feast, tables laden with carefully stacked piles of apples, canned beverages (including Red Bull), boiled mutton, bread, nuts. We, and this is where it gets unusual, enter into the primary feast site, passing through an outer room with similarly laden tables. I follow Samtso, with her brother and her father and his relatives to a long table at the back of the room. I try to gracefully lower my self and fit onto the rug on the floor, and just as I am about in position, we are asked to move. So, of course we do. Now, my back is to everything, and I find the change less than desirable, but hey!, I am a guest.

Samtso, says to me, ” Get pictures, because this is very special.” Then, I realize, we are the only women in the room. And it is true, we are inside the House Tameran (sp), (a place where women are not allowed in the bronze-age Sepik River cultures of New Guinea — very similar to the Bohemian Grove), and we are being tolerated very well. Plates of dumplings are served by teams of young men, along with milk tea, and a wonderful dish of sweet rice and special Tibetan grassland nuts. A bit later, a stew of glass noodles, mutton and vegetables is served, the broth of which, by the way, is delicious. I am somewhat bewildered as to why the family was adamant about my eating before we left the house.

Meanwhile, we are being entertained by Tibetan song and dance. Encouraged by a host with a microphone, various villagers perform songs of praise: for the mountain gods, for the wonderful people, for their beautiful land, for this new building, etc. Being up close and personal, I realize how intricate the vocalizations are. Rarely is a sustained note held, rather a series of trills is passionately expelled, often with great force. There is a relationship to the yodel, in that one can imagine them calling across a valley.

It is with these performances that women are permitted in the inner sanctum. Dancers, in groups of four, perform intricate and varied movements. The girls and women, are graceful and expressive, and their choreography is lively. This is in contrast to the placid, almost disinterested demeanor that seems most preferable with the female Kham dancers. My guess is that it is because their dance is one of courtship, and the ladies do not want to look too anxious.

The men’s dance is quite like the movement of a bird, and I am reminded of the Native American dancers I saw up near Lake Wallowa, in Eastern Oregon. In fact, the more I hear the language in conversation here, I think it sounds very similar to the Ogalala Sioux I heard spoken at Sabrina’s home. (Sabrina is my niece Kristina’s Native American sister-in-law.)

This spectacle goes on for quite sometime, many singers, complimented by a few dances. Mid song, and rather abruptly, an entire table of men arise and leave, as though by design. It’s just that they have to pee. I know this because when Dolma’s brother left, I asked if I was supposed o follow. LOL.

Also, a ritual of drink is enacted. An elder carrying a tray with three small glasses, followed by attendant holding the bottle, offers each and everyone, including me, a glass of hootch. The glass is accepted by all, except we girls, and a finger is dipped in the drink, then drops flicked. Three times this happens, then, which is impressive, most of the men refuse the drink. Even when beer is offered, most of the local villagers do not partake. If it is the same with visiting guests, who are on the other side of the hall, I do not know.

Now this brings up another interesting point. This building is being feted, and people from other villages are invited to this opulent celebration. They arrive in cars and taxis — and all are men. Not a single woman, other than Drunter Ja’s sister. When they leave, there is a receiving, or in this case, departing line out by the entrance to the village, waving them all off with great fanfare.

Another seeming incongruity is that VERY LITTLE of the food was consumed. Nothing of the careful stacks was touched, except for the dishes of pumpkin seeds. Those were unabashedly molested. No drinks were opened, and, dang, not even the Red Bull that kept calling my name. It wasn’t hard to get the message to refrain. No one touched the stuff. Not even the heaping plates of steaming momos (dumplings). What was consumed was only the tea, the stew and, for only a few, the rice. I was feeling kinda uncomfortable about the whole thing, some how embarrassed for the elaborate effort that was being ignored.

Samtso later explained that in Amdo, one doesn’t accept that which is offered. This is NOT like Kham, where it is “eat, eat!” Here it is considered uncouth, indeed, to chow down when a guest. So, what happens to all that food (prepared by, you guessed it: the village women, who also have clean-up duty)? Well, the feasting goes on for several days, during which it is distributed to the villagers. (I’ll check the logistics out with Samtso.)

Immediately after leaving the ceremonies, we are now gathered here, at the house and out comes more food. Dumplings, mutton, drinks, candies, yogurts….and all is consumed with gusto! Appetites are happily satisfied in the privacy of one’s home, just not in public.


The monks hut

This morning I hiked up to the winds, and brought them back down the mountain with me.

The Monks' Hut, Pudgé Village

The Monks’ Hut, Pudgé Village

Nestled high above the village is a little white hut, used over the years by monks to live in isolation. Now it is empty. The weather this morning was still, so carefully following the steep sheep paths, I slowly made my way to the hut. It is difficult country to walk over if you are not used to it, but well worth the effort for the views and the solitude. Wind cresting over the mountain tumbled down to where sat for my snack, blowing my orange peals down the slope.

There are a few holes burrowed in the ground, maybe foxes, maybe marmots?, and I saw four crows, but that is it for wildlife. On the other hand it is a pleasure watching the village activities from this distance; hearing the songs waft up the gullies and the smoke from the celebratory firecrackers drift in isolated puffs across the valley. I think about Wanma Dun Drub’s traditional herding life, imagining a day in the field with him: finding enough forage in this dry winter for his sheep, leading them to water, protecting them. Walking, walking, walking in wind, rain, snow, heat.

Descending the hill is pretty tricky. The ground is covered with loose rocks scattered over narrow sheep tracks. I didn’t quite realize how steep the incline till I set down my borrowed bamboo walking stick. Off it went. Dang thing just skied down the slope, managing to find a direct route down a sheer drop to a deep gully. I would be using my cool hiking stick that I brought from home, with wrist strap, thus avoiding such a mishap, but I inadvertently gave it to Dolma’s mom, Ah Mo, in Hongpo Village. She twisted her ankle, so I offered to loan it to her so she could walk to that evening’s dance. Next thing, I hear from Dolma that I gave Ah Mo a wonderful cane. Well, of course I did, right?

I creeped down the hill, often resorting to butt slides, and into the gully to retrieve the stick, and by the time I found myself back on the track to home, the wind had picked up substantially. The good thing is that it will help my clothes dry. I did a hand wash yesterday, and when I left this morning, they were still wet. Last evening, when I went to bring them in—jammies in particular—everything was stiff like cardboard. What on earth was in the soap? Maybe I used starch instead of detergent? Then I realized they hadn’t dried and were frozen!  So I slept in my clothes, like the Tibetans do.

Samtso spoke to me of Drub’s shoes.  They are not very good, and do not keep his feet dry.  This really causes problems in winter. One can only imagine! Samtso would like to get him a pair of good breathable hiking boots. His feet are too wide for Chinese boots, and even the local cobblers won’t make a pair to fit him. We just have to figure out his size so I can help her. I decided to photograph his feet and draw their outlines on a piece of paper. But paper is not readily at hand. In fact, it is scarce! I finally use a sheet I brought, printed both sides with travel information. This lack of paper, even scrap paper, is quite humbling.


Wow, the fog has descended. I am glad that Samtso’s house is cozy.  There is a coal fire in the living room stove that keeps the room quite warm.  It also keeps the tea water at the ready any time anyone should want some.  Later one of the the women will bring in milk tea, and keep it warm on the stove as well.

Samtso had to go into Labrang to take care of her brother’s new baby, and will be gone a few days. So, since last night, I am once again in a house where verbal communication is impossible. It’s fine. They are all very busy with the festivities, and I have my stories to write. Plus the cat and dog are good company. They both speak English!

I met this little guy eight years ago, when he was a ferocious guard dog. We made friends then and, amazingly, he remembers me.


My sleeping partner.  When not in the dust outside, he is in the coal bin! But he is a warm little thing, and likes to purr.



The dump, Fudi Village

It seems most, if not all, Tibetan villages have a landscape sacred to them. In Hongpo Village, it is Dralha Chonyi, the mountain from whence the village water supply comes. In Fudi Village, near LaBrang , it is a beautiful, small valley, where animals graze peacefully in an unaltered environment. Because it is sacred, nothing is ever put there, nor is anything ever taken out. Great care is taken to insure this home of the mountain gods suffers no trespass. This fastidiousness engenders peace and assures that babies are robust, livestock is healthy, and crops are plentiful.

Well, that is how it is supposed to be, but the Chinese government paid an expert to come to the region and decide where best to put the township dump. The site picked out as the one least compromising to the environment, a great concern to the ruling class, was, yup, you guessed it: Fudi’s sacred valley.

The villagers got together to present their case to the county government, to no avail. In fact, they were threatened for their outspokenness. In a final attempt, the men of the village went again to plead their case, telling the officials how important the site is, giving their reasons. The officials retorted that they were not going to pay an expert to come out again, and the villagers should stop being so superstitious. Two of the entourage, arbitrarily picked, were thrown in jail. Released a few days later, the incident was so frightening that the villagers signed a ten year contract.

The dump site is a repository for everything from the sizable town: garbage, toxic chemicals, hospital waste. To facilitate disposal all this effluent, a large roadway wide enough to accommodate three vehicles at a time was graded and paved. Truckloads are brought in everyday, mornings and afternoons. The bucolic valley is defiled, and the peace of the region forever disturbed.

But that is not all. Some very strange things started to occur as the mountain gods cried out loud. The first anomaly was to manifest itself in the teeth of the cattle grazing on their traditional feeding grounds in the valley. They turned black. A few months later most of the animals were were dead. Autopsies revealed guts full of plastic.

By the second year the dump was active, it was worse. Two children of the village were not developing as they should. They had both been fed milk from cows known to be grazing near the dump. One of the children has a cousin of the same age living elsewhere. When the cousin came to visit, the grandparents were disturbed at the comparison: the village child’s growth was considerably stunted. They called in a doctor, who after testing, concluded it was definitely something in the milk. Now, cows are not allowed to graze in the sacred valley.

But it doesn’t stop. By the third year, sudden blindness was afflicting villagers. At first it was just the oldest, those in their 80’s, but gradually the condition struck younger and younger people. Last year, the seventh of the existence of the dump, a 37-year old villager lost his sight in one eye. The blindness manifests itself in anywhere from a week to three weeks after the first symptoms occur. Ten people in a village of 50 households have gone blind.

Adding even further insult to the situation, the government contract stipulates that the trash will be covered with fill dirt with every load dumped. That has not happened, and now plastic trash flies everywhere, especially in the winter with the winds that accompany that season. Flies, too, proliferate. Lord knows what they are carrying around.
The villager’s beliefs were validated last year as the mountain gods spoke loudly. Every year these gods in any Buddhist village are honored with the planting of auspicious arrows by the village men, creating a labtse, which can have hundreds, maybe thousands of arrows. Since before communism, Fudi Village has maintained their labtse, and the site stands straight and strong all year. In 2013, for the first time ever, it tilted to a very noticeable angle. This is a very direct indication that the gods are distraught. And, of course, so are the villagers. The government offered money to rebuild the site, but the villagers are righteously annoyed. From their viewpoint, all of the problems would be solved if they would just close the dump, and that money that they were willing to give could be put to use for a truly meaningful project.

Before the dump, none of these problems existed. All this, I was told.

Fudi Village needs Erin Brocovitch.



Ah, Amdo

Amdo. It is still here! The ride in from the Xiahe airport was refreshing with vast grasslands and herders, and hardly any development for the 30 km drive. LaBrang town has changed. It is no longer a provincial hamlet, but a booming urban center revolving and evolving around the big monastery. Despite its modernization, the place FEELS Tibetan. A young, soft spoken Chinese woman who came in on the same flight as I also needed a ride to LaBrang, so we shared the taxi Samtso hired. Once in LaBrang, this young woman couldn’t believe she was in China. She was enchanted, and that was nice to see.

It was a sad ride out to the village, because it was on this leg that I encountered the large hotels, humongous residential projects, government buildings and widened roads where I didn’t want to see them. But once turning into Fudi Village, time and concern evaporated. Of course there are changes, everyone is seven years older, for starters, and Samtso has a 15 month old girl.

Probably the most extraordinary reunion was with the little dog, who is no longer tethered. I am surprised he is alive, and so pleased that he remembered me! Rather remarkable that he does, and he even wanted his hand out. That was our thing. He was a ferocious protecter, tethered near the two-plank. Every time I went out to use it, I would bring a piece of bread. In the beginning, I would toss it to him, as he was really a formidable presence, good at his job. But within a day he stopped barking at me and by day three, we were buddies — like, I could pet him! I have his picture in my office at home.

The hearthside welcome was warm, and Samtso and I visited like we were sisters.

I caught up on the scuttlebutt about the nunnery, sad but not at all surprising. The head nun, the fat one with the scheming eyes, has indeed, ascended to her self built throne. For herself, she has built opulent chambers, replete with servants. Meanwhile, she kicked out all of the older nuns and recruited new ones who are under her sway. They live in little tiny rooms. She would not report to Samtso, who had worked very hard getting and supervising a grant helping the nunnery build the much needed temple. The head nun shined Samtso on, saying that her group’s donation didn’t amount to anything anyway. She, the nun, said she had much richer friends who donated ever so much more. So, no accounting was ever made. Altho Samtso is certain there is money left in the coffers from the grant, she feels it has gone to line the sleeves of the head nun. Samtso does not know what has happened to the beautiful nun, nor, of course, he “youngest”, both of whom I photographed on previous visits. I was hoping to see them, but the women have dispersed with the winds to places where they can stay for little or no money…which is what they have.

Speaking of money, I gave Samtso the donations I gathered for her bakery, and it sure is a relief to get that wad out of my belt. We spoke a bit about her ideas to get the business off the ground. It will be really great if she can succeed, not only for herself, but the idea of an independent Tibetan business that furthers the self sufficiency of Tibetan women is terrific. She has trained her niece in French style baking of pastries, so that ultimately Lhamo can be the head pastry chef, training others. The equipment is in place, and her plan is to start small, serving tourist hotels that cater to western guests, enhancing her presence with a small outlet in the historic center.

I have no doubts that Samtso is up to it, and she has been working hard developing the idea for a couple of years. But there is one serious problem, not at all in her control. A year ago there was a huge fire in Shangri-La that burned the entirety of the the old town business thoroughfare.
I went there. It is devastation full blown. The government is rebuilding, and they are doing a nice job, but it is no longer OLD. It is a reconstruction, and the vibes aren’t there. That said, forgeries in China are remarkably deceptive. Still, for Samtso, the new rents are prohibitive. She is trying to figure this one out.

Now let me tell you a bit about Kelsang Pudrun, whom I call Padoon, cuz that is whatI thought they were saying. She is a doll! Fifteen months old, smart as they come, and with a disposition so delightful that she is a true joy to be around. After the spending time with the naughty Lhasand Dundrup, Dolma’s boy, the idea of children in the same room with me for any length of time was, mildly put, off putting. Padoon is simply fun. She laughs at about anything, and warms instantly to whomever enters the house…me included.