My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Getting up out of this MC Gees piece!!!!

Well, I am down to one last full day in Mo la Ganji, and also at the same time there is a festival that is supposedly to happen today. On the main market road of Jogiwara, tons of Indians vendors have set up their roadside tiendas clogging the street to sell (as far as I have seen thus far) cheap plastic things to the public. This festival (mela) is to celebrate the coming end of the monsoon. Just as when I first arrived here about a year ago, this very same mela was in full swing. Thus, it is in this way that I know that I have made a full year circle in McLeod Ganj.

I definitely got to say that I am sad that I must depart, especially know that I have made concrete progress in the Tibetan Language. I am definitely going to miss the luxury of speaking and hearing Tibetan day in and day out, but more than this I will miss all the friends that I have made and the great family that I was lucky enough to live with. They all hold a very dear place in my heart. On top of that, my two rocking kick ass Tibetan tutors Thupwang la and Pema la, will definitely be missed, for correcting my all too common mistakes and for the lovely humor that they have supplied me with during our sessions.

In this pass week I have packed most of my belongings with is quite incredible considering the fact that with being here for a year that I have acquired a lot of things. I have recently given away a lot of things away. Today I donated most of my clothes to the Tibetan Refugee office in which where all the new refugees come when they first arrive in McLeod Ganj. My Tibetan tutor Thupwang was making fun of me. He said that I am so tall that done of my clothes will be able to fit any of the Tibetans, in which I told him that at least for the pants that they can cut them, or just wear them long and baggy. Their friends will think of them to be in the hip-hop fashion that many young Tibetans are now donning.

There are so many things to think and reflect upon about my stay in this of most interesting places. I know that I will need time to digest my experience. My advisor from BC has asked me to give a presentation about my year here about two weeks after I arrive in Berea. I think that that will give me enough time to reflect on this experience and where I want to go with. Thus far meaning for my hopeful return to India sometime next June to attend Sarah College for Higher Tibetan Studies.

Tomorrow I will head to Dehra Dun where I visited this pass winter to spend about three weeks there, engaged monks in Tibetan conversation practice and other matters. I had such a great time the last time that I was there, and I also hope to get an audience with His Holiness Sakya Trizin, in which I will be extremely happy if this happened. And of course to share some of my time with my old friend Dagmo Kusho La who lives there. I hope to while I am there to update my blog. After that I will head to Delhi and to hopefully meet three friends that I have just met who are living in Delhi. I met them through Jason who was just here not too long ago. These folks were coming to McLeod Ganj for the weekend and Jason suggested to them that they should contact me and hang out, which they did. We had a lot of fun this pass weekend. I hope that I served them as a good host.

This pass Sunday I had set up an appointment for dinner with a Russian woman named Julia who is a friend with Dagmo Kusho la and who she had asked Julia to carry some parcels for me. Julia speaks awesome Tibetan and knows some Amdo dialect too. So we went to eat a new restaurant called Carpe Diem that had a Jam session in which I had also brought my didgeridoo. The thing with Julia is that she knows English all right, but she struggles with my ghetto slang English (even when I severely simplify it), and so we have been conversing in Tibetan. When we had arrived at the restaurant it was not full. We were sitting in a table for four by ourselves, but as the place started filling up naturally people asked to share to table with us in which we kindly obliged.

The first couple that did this, left immediately, for we continued our conversation without paying them too much attention. The next couple, which like the first couple whom where from Israel sat down with us. We kept on talking and after awhile one of them asked us what language we were speaking. In which before I could say anything, Julia had told them that we were speaking in Russian. I, of course almost died laughing, and so after that had subsided I told them the truth and I explained why we were speaking in Tibetan.

Eventually, this couple left and another fellow had sat down next to me. It turned out that he was from Spain and I immediately started a Spanish conversation with him. He too asked us what language we were speaking in which again Julia replied Russian. He had thought that we were speaking an African language or something. Then two more Israelites joined us. One who was born in Latvia but moved to Israel when she was quite young. So she and Julia start speaking Russian together. I thought that it was all very amusing because with all of us combined at this one table we had five very different languages covered. One all of us minus two spoke three languages.

Later at the Jam session, after some monotonous hippy fried music, I was invited with my didgeridoo to play with an amazing tabla player. It was by far one of the most accomplished sessions that I had ever had. The table player and I lock into several complex rhythms that I was able to counter point on the didgeridoo perfectly. I know that us together had grabbed the attention of the stoned out audience. The rhythms that this man busted out with so many variations matched so well with what I was doing on the didgeridoo. We played for at least for six to seven minutes. It was definitely the biggest musical highlight for me in India. What was even greater was that because of that performance that the owners of the restaurant gave Julia’s meal and mine on the house to us. Sweet heh!!

Then again last night I again ate dinner with Julia at Nick’s Italian restaurant. As we ate our meal a Tibetan waiter kept on staring at us in an odd fashion. I could understand these looks. It is one thing for a foreigner to converse in Tibetan with a Tibetan, but it is quite an entirely odd thing to see a tall blond Russian women and a taller black man conversing in Tibetan. I think that we must have messed with these people brains a bit on that one. She thought me how to say some things in the Amdo dialect (which I have already forgotten), which is very different from the Lhasa based dialect that I am learning. To me it sounds goods. She has spent some time in Tibet including the town of Sakya and the Tibetan province of Amdo. She showed me some excellent pictures of Tibet. I still hope to go some day.

I have wrapped things up at TC MEC, my position as volunteer coordinator and office assistant will be taken over by paid Tibetan staff person, named Namgyal. I trained him in the procedures and now he is well equipped. I am sure that he will do a wonderful job.
I will miss my time here at the school, even though, over the time of my year here I have been an office assistant more than an English teacher but I feel that I have been able to help countless number of newly arrived Tibetan refugees with desire for a better education by mostly staying in touch with future volunteers and writing letters from TC MEC to sponsors who keep this place funded. One volunteer told me that he was extremely appreciative of me, for helping him with all his questions and concerns. And now I hear from the students on how great of a teacher he his. This has proved to me that what I have done here makes a difference in the students’ lives.


Sunday, August 20, 2006

Last full week in McLeod Ganj.

I am approaching my last week in McLeod Ganj which now in retrospect has gone really quickly. My plans thus far are to leave McLeod Ganj and head to Dehra Dun to stay next to the Sakya Gompa for three weeks. Hopefully there I will be able to find a conversation partner to help me with my Tibetan. For I know that I will have a hard time trying to keep the little of bit of choppy Tibetan that I know from deteriorating in the States. So far my plan to return to Berea is mainly based on the fact that there are Tibetan students at Berea College in whom I can engaged in Tibetan conversation, but my hopes for that have been severely shattered, because one of those BC Tibetan students who is here in McLeod Ganj and is well aware of my desire for Tibetan language studies still talks to me in English every time that I have seen him, which really upsets me. I have had a hard enough time to literally force Tibetans in Exile to converse in Tibetan with me (unless I paid), so I foresee the same problem at Berea with the Tibetan students there. At the same time I hope that they prove me wrong for I am counting on them to help me with Tibetan conversation so there is still hope. But I will continue to study Tibetan regardless of my obstacles until I can come back to India next year for the one year Tibetan Language course at the Sarah College of Higher Tibetan Studies in Gaggal.

Throughout this pass week I have been happy to have had my old roommate from my first year at Berea College here visiting me. Jason Fults came up from where he is currently staying at in Delhi (Poor Thing!!) to visit me and attend in the teachings of HHDL. As many of you know, Jason is one of two BC seniors who won the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship this year. He stayed in my room with my host family and got to meet the other two westerners who are staying there. While he was here we went to the Naddi Village, TCV, The Norbulingkha Institute and the Gyuto Ramoche Tantric Gompa. All of these events Jason had enjoyed very much. After we had went to the Naddi Village we took a path to Dharamkot in which we walked right through a Nyingmapa Gompa and next to it there was several small mud brick huts which shale paneled roofs in which some hermits were living. A little bit down the road we found several chortens with one dedicated to HHDL’s junior tutor Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. It was a nice walk and I had been searching for hermits and this chorten for some time so I was glad that I found both and with friends at that. We continued our walk to Dharamkot with the presence of a rainbow across the valley with the jammed cluster of McLeod Ganj way below it.

Jason was stunned at the cosmopolitan aspects of McLeod Ganj. This small hill station is extremely popular with people coming from every corner of the globe. That being said this is still monsoon season thus many westerners were to attend the teachings but not as much as is to come after the monsoon ends. For the rest of the week we attended the teachings of HHDL which started on the 14th of August.

At the teachings I meet an Australian man who is on his honeymoon with his wife. He sat in front of me one day and I noticed that he was writing his notes in the Khyug Yig, fast flowing Tibetan script. Seeing this of course arouse my curiosity because many westerns that learn Tibetan do not normally learn this script which is quite difficult to learn and since he wrote it so beautifully that I was compelled to ask him where he had learned. At the break we started talking and he told me that he had attended upper TCV for six years when he was younger because his mother was studying dharma in McLeod Ganj. He then engaged me in a conversation in Tibetan, and I, of course was amazed at this for though he was Australian; his Tibetan was as perfect as it could get. I told him that I hope to be able to speak Tibetan fluently some day, though I will never sound like a native. He was very encouraging and told me that I must practice Tibetan in the States at all costs, to find conversation partners and the like. Since I fear of losing everything I know I must be vigilant when I get home. He told me that I spoke pretty good Tibetan for a year in McLeod Ganj. I have heard this a lot, and I know that I have improved, but the fact is that my Tibetan is still rather awful. The compliments I feel help me in staying motivated on my goal.

I also met a set of twins from Louisiana. One had long dreadlocks and spoke great Tibetan and Nepali. He has been living in Boudhanath for a few years. He started studying Tibetan in the States. His brother had short hair and speaks Mandarin. They are traveling together first heading to Nepal and then to Tibet and China. That is such and great combination since they got all the main languages of the countries they will be visiting covered. The dreadlock twin knew my first Tibetan language teacher, so that was cool. I noticed throughout the teachings that there are a handful of westerners how are quite accomplished in Tibetan and who have learned at different stages in their lives. Some start learning very young and others in their middle ages and all where determinedly able have achieved a great level of mastery. This gives my hope.

Many of them have gone through the same problems I have had, like trying exchanging English lessons for Tibetan lessons and ended up teaching English with no Tibetan. The wife of the Australian dude was surprise to hear this, for she thought just like I had that they will be happy that I wanted to learn their language. She also rightly said that folks should not just take and take (which seems anti-Buddhist) especially if one is helping with folks learn English then they should be more than enthusiastic in helping foreigners with their Tibetan. But that has not been my and others experience in McLeod Ganj, for all of them said that it is so better in the other Tibetans settlements that are not tourist centered. One English guy in his middle ages who might go to Sarah College to learn Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy told me that many Tibetans think that most foreigners will not succeed in learning Tibetan (which of course does happens) and thus they do not take one seriously at first. I was glad to learn that I was not the only one who has gotten angry with them especially when they knew that one is seriously studying their language. Their struggle with Tibetan gives me hope.

This pass Wednesday on the 16 of August I got to watch the documentary film on Kyi Ani. It told her story and how she got into caring of the street dogs. What I liked was more superficial, for since I was her neighbor when I first arrived in McLeod Ganj, most of the scenes are shot in places that I walked through everyday. I think that she should be in a better position because of this documentary. She is quite old and has many dogs. I wish her the best.

My host brother Tashi has started nursing school in Dehra Dun. This is first time that he has left the family. Ama Chukyi recounted to us that Tashi has never had to clean for himself or cook in his life. Chukyi’s nickname for him is “Golden” because when she was pregnant with him a lama had predicted that he might be a high lama. Although he was never recognized as such Tashi parents continued to shower him with special attention and love. But now as a first year student, he has to go through this “Ragging” ritual that freshers must endure when they start college and Tashi was forced to cut his hair. Pa Dorje told me that he was crying since it was his first time truly away from home. Tashi is a great student and I know that he will make his parents proud.

Some might of remembered the post that I have placed about Tibetans all over the world claiming to have seen HHDL on the moon. Well my host father stated to me that he has seen it. It was one clear night two weeks ago and many Tibetans were on roof tops that night praying for the vision. Also my tutor daughter also claimed to have seen it too. My tutor said she was not so lucky, since this was quite an unusual scene of Tibetans staring at the moon that had arouse the curiosity of local Indians who were asking her very few minutes if she saw anything yet thus disturbing her devotions. This is definitely a bit strange but at the same time such things are common throughout the world and throughout history.

Throughout HHDL’s teachings I continued on attend my Tibetan classes with both my tutors Thupwang and Pema. I am going to miss them when I return to the States. With having Jason here, I was able to catch up on old friend’s happenings back at home and he was able to see where I have been living for the past year. I shared with him my tiny knowledge of the Tibetan political situation, Buddhism and the particular eclectic and eccentric mix of people that makes up McLeod Ganj. We are going to plan to meet back in India next year when he will be in Delhi and come back for HHDL’s summer teachings before his B-day and before the course at Sarah starts. He left yesterday back to Delhi on a typically misty and rainy McLeod Ganj monsoon day. The funny thing was that right before the teachings it had rained like utter madness. When Jason got here the weather was awesome. The day he left the rain came back after the last day of the teachings. I wish him the best on his Watson research.

Yesterday at the Tushita Meditation Center in Dharmakot, the English Ani (nun) Tenzin Palmo was having a question and answer session. I had heard about this nun when I was studying Tibetan at Cornell University a few summers ago. It was after a talk on Madhyamika (I think) that I had attended that a lady there had documentary on her life called Cave in the Snow which is also the title of a book about her life. She had spent 12 years in mountain retreat and is an advocate for the right of nuns to gain an education just like the monks do. Because of this she has become quite famous, and she has a nunnery in Bir about a 4 hour local bus ride from McLeod Ganj at another Tibetan Settlement. First they showed a movie of one of her teachings and then she was there in person. I liked what she had to say. Unlike other teachers in the Tibetan tradition who emphasize scholasticism, Tenzin Palmo was more pragmatic in her approach and very down to earth making this related to our everyday lives. She also emphasized other aspects of Dharma practice besides meditation, which is what most western Buddhist practice. This I found to rear since Tibetan Buddhism is so complex and must people find themselves getting very confused, like many were during HHDL’s recent teachings. It was definitely a treat and I (among others) consider myself lucky to hear the wisdom from this English Ani.


Monday, August 07, 2006

HHDL on the Moon?

I have just come from my house just a few minutes ago after experiencing an hour of Hindi soaps while I studied Tibetan in the living room. Even though I was not watching the shows, I could still feel the melodrama involved due to the intensity of it all. Of course my family members are all deeply in gross in their favorite show Kasauti Zindagi Kyi.

My host brother Tashi is very happy, nursing school is about to start for him in Dehra Dun and the family have just brought him a motorbike, a total crotch rocket. Blue with the word movie star written on it in big white letters. The owner sold it to him for 20,000 INR with is dirt cheap for a bike. He told me that the guy is with a rich white lady who sends him money, in which he keeps on buying newer, better bikes with.

I met with two BC Tibetans, Thupten and Nangkyi today hanging out in Kokonor Italian restaurant. I always cherish hanging out with these folks, and to see them in their hometown. On my way home I ran into one of my neighbor who lives slightly uphill from my house. He has been having pujas at his home for the pass couple of days. Every morning for the pass few days I have woken up to the sound of drums, cymbals and the deep guttural chanting of monks. It was interesting talking to him. He is from Phari, Tibet and father moved to Bhutan (right across the border from Phari) after Chinese occupation. They have lived in Bhutan for some time, but they left because the King of Bhutan wanted to force the exile Tibetans to take Bhutan citizenship and Bhutanese identity by wearing Bhutanese clothes and hairstyles. He told me that it wasn’t the citizenship that has bothered him, but that the Tibetans will have to take on Bhutanese dress. For this reason he family moved to Dharamsala.

He told me that folks have been calling from other Tibetans settlements in India, and places in Tibet, claiming to have seen the face of HHDL on the moon. Even Nangkyi told me that someone had told her to look at the moon, but as everyone in McLeod Ganj knows the clouds have just cleared out this afternoon after a solid week of rain. The sky is clearing up today, but I am not sure if I will be blessed enough to catch it, but I will get to see him at the next teachings coming up in a few weeks.

The rain here is something else. Yesterday, I had to go to TIPA and on my way up it was just raining not so hard, I saw an old Tibetan man with a long wooden pole in the mud trying to get the water to go down the hill. At that same spot last year that house developed a huge crack and in front of it on the road a huge hole developed, big enough to swallow a motor-rickshaw. But on my way down the rivers were coming every which way down the mountain in gullies that are getting bigger and deeper. Already there are sections where the road has sunk. Rich brown water just flowed over the road. The few drainage holes that are there are pouring way more than what they were designed to hold. I was thinking that at this rate with the looming threat of an earthquake that McLeod Ganj will end on top of Lower Dharamsala. When I think about this place, it seem to be built like a huge strip mall, with buildings sprouting everywhere faster than one can count.
The picture that I have place with this entry is from the TIPA quad while I was sheltering myself from the rain in the company of some dogs who looked like drown rats.

My room has turned into a kind of animal sanctuary. I have a group of sparrows that now live inside my room. On my ceiling there is a hole with wires sticking out below it, that had at one time held a light bulb. But now is has become a birds nest. The Papa sparrow sits on the wires all night, while the mother with her little birdies live inside. At first I did not notice the birds until one day I looked up towards the ceiling to see this Papa bird just chillin’. He was not bothered with me at all so, that is cool. Some times other birds come in and they fight. I have to keep a dirty cloth in the middle of the floor so that the bird’s droppings fall on it. I also have spiders, mice and slugs greeting me at times too. And yesterday during the downpour there was a donkey outside my door braying like crazy. My little zoo.

My time is going away; I have about three weeks left here. My friend Jason Fults is coming in a few days for HHDL’s teachings, so I will be happy to see him here. I have been studying Tibetan extra hard trying to see if I could make any incredible progress in the language before I leave. I have two tutors now. Pema is back from Spain, and I am meeting with her three times a week, along with Thupwang six times a week.

One thing that I noticed is that Pema has framed her picture of her with Richard Gere. On that note, supposedly Hillary Swank and Maria Shriver wife for the California Governator Schwarzenegger have graced McLeod Ganj recently. But these things I wouldn’t have known, until a friend told me. Pema also told me of her experience with briefly speaking with Heinrich Harrer author of Seven Years in Tibet. Pema told me that there was a picnic going on Thardoeling (a tiny hill area in McLeod Ganj) before it was all build up. She sees this old white guy passing by where she was sitting. So she ask him where he was from in which he responded in perfect honorific Tibetan that he was from Austria. She was totally shocked to hear this old white dude speaking the Tibetan of old Lhasa aristocrats. Pema’s friend next to her then whispered in her ear who he was. He told Pema that he was just visiting and that has was about to have lunch with the HHDL. It is interesting to me that people that I have gotten to know have met some interesting people.

Well that is it for now, my goal for the next few weeks are to get ready for returning to the United States of America.