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The Cornucopia List

If you happen to be reading this (why, even if you’re not), tell me what you think of my blog. Should I change anything, add or delete something? There are other designs and I’ve been using this one for two years. But perhaps I should tweak it or rearrange elements.

But it’s now time for the Cornucopia List for this week, listing five things for which I am grateful, or that are beautiful, but in some way positive, to negate the dire aspects of weekly media and the state of the world.

  1. Irisesthe flowers, not the eyes. There are small ones, which don’t have a scent, to the large ones, which do. This scent is used to flavor Bombay gin and some perfumes. It’s the reason I love the irises

    from Wikipedia

    as my favorite flower. The scent is sweet yet lemony, and the intriguing shape of the bloom is complex and lovely. When I was a kid, we only had the purple ones and the pale yellows. Now there are many more. Yellow irises are also used for filtering pollutants out of water. Last night I stopped to sniff the two-town purple irises. There was also a mauve colored one with rippled edges. This one tends to smell sweeter but it is that tangy lemony scent that I love most.

  2. Life–this is diverse but in this sense I mean my life. It has had its traumas and tragedies, downfalls and failures. It’s not perfect, not what I thought it would be but it is my life. And I have had successes and love, accomplishments and beauty. No matter how terrible it has been I choose it over the alternative. I would rather experience the hills and valleys of living than live in blissful ignorance. I don’t always live my life to my fullest but I try and I love it dearly.
  3. Dance–I never tried anything professional with this and discovered a bit too late that I have a natural ability. I still have to work at dance styles but I can put a dance together intuitively and remain graceful. It’s one thing where I don’t usually tend to worry about how people judge me and I just dance with confidence. I bellydance and do freestyle dance where I can be expressive. I took a tango class last year and that took some work as I’m not used to following. It would take many lessons yet to be really good at it but it’s very intriguing with the different moves. It allows me to be truly expressive, joyful and exuberant. I don’t think I could live without dancing.
  4. Thai food–if I had to be stuck with one food for the rest of my life, it would be Thai food. I am extremely grateful to be able to have this whenever I want. Of course I don’t because that yummy coconut milk is very fattening. And it’s a good thing I can’t make this stuff easily or I’d be three hundred pounds. But the blend of lemon grass, lime, chilies, coconut milk and other secret ingredients makes this a palate pleaser for me. I like complexity in my food.
  5. Silver–not the price of nor the monetary worth but the look. I like silver jewellery far over gold and find something as pristine and bright about it as I do with water. Silver is shiny and it’s what we as humans love, shiny. I’m grateful for this metal for giving me forms of ornamentation. It can be beaten, soldered, smelted, molded, twisted into a variety of objects and I like a great many of them. And it’s not toxic to wear.

That’s this week’s list. Items or things for which I’m grateful.

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Musings From Tibet III

It seems I somehow didn’t publish post II on Friday. So today I’m doing parts II and III. This was first posted August 15, 2007. This is the last part of Angela’s email on Tibet. Unfortunately I don’t have her pictures to post with this.

There are many arts that come out of Tibetan monasteries, some of which I have pictures of here. Some of my pictures are from Rekong which is actually thought of as the art capitol of Amdo (this upper region of Tibet), possibly even of all Tibet. Mostly they are famous for their thangka painting, which unfortunately I didn’t get to photograph, I only have pictures of the buildings and stupas there, but they are pretty amazing, intricately painted and carved, etc. From Labrang monastery I again have many pictures of the buildings, but I also have some pictures of cham dancing, and the butter sculptures which are both really fascinating art forms. The cham dancing is done by the monks, and it portrays stories of great events in the history of Buddhism. Sometimes it’s the lives of the great masters, or sometimes the bringing of scriptures from India, mythical tales, etc.

The butter sculptures are incredibly intricate and colorful, in this case mostly of great Buddhist masters such as Tsongkaba (founder of the Gelukpa sect), Shakyamuni Buddha, etc., also lots of flowers, and other ritual shapes. The amazing thing about these is that they really are constructed from butter (in case you couldn’t guess that from the name). They make these once a year just before Losar, then keep them throughout the year.

Speaking of butter, food in general seems to be a central theme in Tibetan culture, more so than most other places I’ve seen. The second you enter a house you are offered (practically forced) tea, and bread or whatever other food is sitting around. To refuse is not rude, but it is not really accepted. No matter how full you are, it’s near impossible to get by without at least drinking a cup of tea. This became an entire art form for me, and a very difficult one at that – the art of refusing food. But another thing that I noticed was the fact that whenever I was taking pictures, having food around was essential. If I took a picture of a single person, they usually needed to have a full cup of tea in their hand, and at least a bowl overflowing with bread in front. When I was taking pictures of Jinpa and Gonpu’s (Shedhe’s cousins) homes, they made sure that they moved the bowls of food around so that they were in the picture. After all, if I brought pictures of their homes back to India and there was no food around, they might get worried that their families didn’t have enough to eat. Food heaping is an art for them as it isn’t enough to just fill a bowl with fruit or bread, it has to be heaping so high that it looks ready to collapse if you so much as speak next to it. But alas, after years of practice, it is actually very stable.

You will notice that in the pictures, most of the women wear long strings of red beads around their necks. These are traditional for nomad women, especially in Amdo. They are made out of red coral which is becoming more and more rare in Tibet, and I was surprised to find out that each bead costs between 100-400 Chinese yuen (there are about 7.7 yuen to one US dollar right now). As there are often a hundred or two of these beads on a necklace, the price is often similar to buying a house. This is the way that women literally wear their wealth around their necks as a status symbol. Gold is also very popular, though I recently found out from one of my friends here that gold is a new thing, probably brought in by the Chinese. Apparently at least in some places 10 years ago people only had silver but now gold has become the big thing. Obviously its much more expensive, so again a status symbol. I’m not sure when this came in, as Shedhe values gold much more than silver (we argue about that often as I don’t particularly like gold, but he doesn’t like silver, he thinks it looks cheap) and he’s been here for around 7 years, but one of my friends here said that in her village (which is only a few hours from Labrang) she never even saw gold and she’s been here for around 12 years. Fashion amongst the nomads is very important, and they use it as an opportunity to display their wealth. I was also intrigued to find out that each different village, even if they are only an hour apart from each other have their own distinct fashion. To my eyes it mostly looked the same, but everywhere I went people were telling me that I looked just like a Senko nomad (Senko being the place where Shedhe’s family is from) even when they had no idea who I was staying with. Not only the style of sewing the clothes was different from village to village, but also the way that you tie the chupa/tsarer is different. I not only learned to tie mine from mother, but the ones that I wore were also hers, thus why people recognized the area I was living in. Four hours away, in the town of Rekong the chupas looked very different, even to my untrained eyes.

I was amazed just how different Tibet was from Dharamshala. Being in India I thought that I was learning a lot about Tibet, and though I was, it was nothing compared to actually being there. I could go on for hours about Dharamshala and how/why the people there have changed, but that is an entirely different paper.

The thing that I noticed most about Tibet was just how Chinese it had become, and how much it will continue to do so. In Tibet, I had to be careful to even mention the Dalai Lama, and certainly did not dare to utter the words “Free Tibet.” But while in Dharamshala, I went to many protests for Tibetan freedom, and lived in a city of people who every day fight for it with every fiber of their being and live every day of their lives for the news that they and their families are free at last. After so much of that, I started to believe that it was a possibility. How could it be possible that so many people around the world were fighting for something so noble, and have it not come to fruition? It just didn’t seem possible.

I remember walking home from teaching one day in Tibet, seeing all the Chinese signs painted on walls, the kids in Chinese clothes, all the modern technology and the food wrappers strewn on the side of the street. I started thinking about it, and realized that no matter how much I did not want to admit it, I think Tibet will never really be free from its Chinese colonizer. Though Tibetans work hard to preserve their culture, it is dying out with every new generation, becoming more and more Chinese practically by the minute. China has invested a lot into making Tibet what it is; they just built a new railroad all the way to Lhasa, have set up a huge tourist industry, recently discovered some sort of large ore or iron deposit and have made a lot of money out of the natural resources there. China is an incredibly powerful country, so powerful that nobody in the world, including the US, will stand up to them. To them, there is no reason to give up Tibet, but there is lots of reason to keep it. Upon this realization a very strong sense of grief flew through me, and as I walked into our home to see this old conservative nomad family that I loved so dearly, I nearly wept for the loss that they have to endure every day. Not only have they lost their son Shedhe to exile, but every day they have to watch the destruction of their culture and religion, and live in terrible fear of the people who have surrounded them. I’ve heard stories of the things his parents had to endure after the Chinese occupation (they were relatively young when it happened, but the brutality lasted for a long time), and I see the physical scars and deformities from it on their bodies. I see it in their faces and hear it in their voices. Though conditions there are much better now than they were for a long time after the Chinese first came in, it is still a daily struggle. Already they live in a climate which itself makes living difficult, but now they are prisoners in their own lands.

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