Desired objects are like salt water.
The more you enjoy them,
the more craving increases.
To give up instantly all things
that give rise to attachment
is the practice of bodhisattvas.
This is one of The Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva, a booklet my Tibetan friend Puba gave me.
It’s also timely advice, because on Friday, both my new bicycle and my digital camera were stolen. My bicycle disappeared from its spot outside a classroom building while I was giving an exam to my 8:30 class. The camera disappeared from its carrying case (hung around my neck, under my jacket) during a ride on the #49 bus back from downtown Chengdu. I guess this means the end of posting photos to my blog for a while. It was also a crash course in practicing non-attachment to things.
The past week had been difficult, with an unbearable attack of loneliness and a bout of depression. On top of all this, the prospect of grading 300 essay exams was daunting. I was thus very grateful for an unexpected visit.
I met my friend Puba in August in Kangding, and I stayed with his family in Bamei. When he called me Wednesday night, I didn’t realize that my phone was having problems, so he kept getting cut off, and I never knew the reason for his call. The next night at 8 pm, he called again, but this time he managed to tell me that he was in Chengdu, at the University gate on the First Ring Road. I was amazed that he’d made the 7-hour bus trip from Kangding. I hopped on my bike (still in my possession a that point), and after a wild goose chase around campus I finally located him and brought him home to stay with me.
Puba and I had talked about his coming to Chengdu, and also about his dreams of visiting Lhasa and then going to India. Little did I know that he was now doing all three! He informed me that he was going to Lhasa by train on Saturday; from there he plans to somehow get to India, where he will study English for three years at a school sponsored by the Dalai Lama. I assumed that this means he’ll be in the area of Dharamsala, since this is where the Tibetan-government-in-exile resides, but Puba didn’t know for sure.
I’m a bit mystified by his plans. You see, our communication is difficult, because he barely speaks any English, and I barely speak any Chinese or Tibetan. We communicate by way of dictionaries, sign language, and drawing pictures.
Friday was full of adventures (not just the thefts). I took Puba to the Chengdu Railway Station to buy his ticket to Lhasa. The train station was a nightmare of humanity, lined up as far as the eye could see. I finally began to appreciate the sheer number of people in this country. After about an hour of standing in line, mostly in front of an unstaffed ticket window (the ticket seller was on break), we emerged victorious with the coveted train ticket. Puba would depart Saturday evening for the 48-hour journey on the recently-opened train route to the Holy City of Tibet. He would soon be seeing the Potala, one of the most wondrous buildings of the world.
We then hopped in a pedicab (tricycle taxi; my first such experience) for a leisurely ride to Wenshu Monastery. After a quick tour we adjourned to its vegetarian restaurant for a scrumptious meal of coconut-coated walnuts, seaweed soup with glass noodles, and spicy garlic-sauteed eggplant. Afterward, we ran into another mass of humanity – this time a procession of about 200 yellow-robed Buddhist monks. We followed them, and watched part of a long “robing ceremony,” with incredibly complicated instructions on how to properly put on and drape a brown robe over the yellow ensemble.
After a stroll down the new tourist shopping street outside the temple, we boarded a bus for downtown, and a sojourn at Starbucks, where I took off my shoes and rested my poor feet.
The next morning I bought Puba a Chinese-English dictionary. As his official teacher (he calls me “Teacher” instead of Roger), I felt it was the least I could do to in support of his English study. We then had a simple lunch of dumplings, and I bought some film for my Pentax camera, since my digital one was now gone, along with my photos of Puba’s visit. We also looked for warm clothing and a backpack for him, but found neither, at least at affordable prices.
It was back on the bus to my part of town, then a quick visit to the local amusement park, where we rode a toy railway. Neither of us had the guts for the 360-degree roller coaster or the giant Ferris Wheel. In the afternoon we hopped in a cab to the train station for Puba’s departure. I said an envious goodbye to him, promising to visit him in India if and when I get there. I left him loaded down with my gifts of food, water, good luck charms, dictionary, and some money for food on the long journey. Sigh.
From the station I hopped on the #27 bus for an hour’s ride to meet my next “date,” my friend Jian, at Sichuan University. He gave me a guided tour of his school, where he studies English with the goal of being an interpreter in the business world. I then treated us both to a superb dinner at an Indian restaurant near the American consulate, complete with belly dancer. It was also the most expensive dinner I’ve yet had in China.
It was a week of ups and downs, and I’ve resolved to not even think about a bicycle until spring. I have the memories of some wonderful food, and of friends who ended my loneliness for the time being.