Saturday “Tibetan” Adventure

On Friday I stayed home all day, except to go to the dining hall for lunch. I had a splitting headache from the direct sunlight and strong UV rays here. My eyes burn constantly, and going from hot steamy weather into air conditioning doesn’t help. I also learned of the death of a friend in Los Angeles, which made me sad. I spent the day being contemplative.

My resolution to eat more healthful food has come to naught. Am I sounding literary today or what? By the way, I’m on a crusade against people, and health food stores, who claim that food is healthy. It’s not: people are health-Y, food is health-FUL. Get it right! Anyway, I’m still eating ramen for dinner, as well as rice, potatoes, white flour dumplings, and sugar. Yucch.

Today was my day to explore the Tibetan area of Chengdu, on the city’s southwest side. I took the 34 bus – I’m kind of learning my way around now – that travels around the First Ring Road, and got off near the Southwest University for Nationalities. “Nationalities” means minority groups, as in a separate university for minority students, including Tibetans and others. This was one of the schools to which I had sent my resume, but I didn’t receive a reply. As I walked down the street I saw several monks in long maroon skirts and yellow sleeveless shirts, so I knew I was in the right area.

I walked through the university campus, then out a side gate, and into a street teeming with restaurants and shops selling Tibetan Buddhist items. My eyes popped out of my head as I walked into a shop and surveyed exquisite silk brocades, Tibetan rugs, silk shirts, and colorful jackets. I had my eye out for a silk banner to hang in my apartment behind my Buddha. There were stores full of thankas (Tibetan Buddhist devotional paintings mounted on silk brocade), obviously mass-produced, probably in Chinese factories. I doubted that many of the items I saw were even made by Tibetans; indeed, the store owners all seemed to be Chinese.

There were many beggars in this area, and they were quite aggressive. All of them appeared to be ethnic Tibetan, and all seemed desperate. I came upon a monk sitting cross-legged on a corner, ringing a bell, his begging bowl in front of him. It was a very Buddha-like posture. I put 3 yuan in his bowl, wishing him tashi delek (a Tibetan greeting). This started a chain reaction, as I was now surrounded by people clinging to me begging for money, including mothers with babies. I gave money to one or two, just to make them detach themselves from me. One mother and her little boy followed me down the street saying “hello, hello,” and getting on their knees to beg. The boy grabbed my pants legs with both little hands and wouldn’t let go. My heart went out to him, but I didn’t have enough money for everyone. I patted him on the head, and eventually escaped his clutches, walking away as fast as I could. I felt helpless.

I walked to a main street, arriving at the Wuhou Temple Museum (admission 60 yuan, too rich for my blood), and gave myself some time to breathe. I then walked back to the Tibetan shops, and found a small silk banner with the 8 auspicious symbols embroidered on it. I also purchased some authentic Tibetan incense, not the kind on a stick that has been dipped in essential oil, but the hand-rolled stuff made from real herbs and plants. I have some burning beside me right now, and it’s delicious, like the fragrance of the Himalaya in my own home.

Some assorted photos from the past week:

Words to live by – sort of. A sign at the SW University for Nationalities.
A sidewalk in my neighborhood. Note the 3-wheeled bicycle (tricycle?), used for deliveries.

Old wall with window

Street market, fish section

Street market, hanging meat section


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