Monday, January 12, 2009

Waking up in a Sparkling New World

I often hear women in the US say that they can't wear large pieces of jewelry because their bodies are too small. Tibetan women don't have any such hesitation. This pendant is 6 inches or about 15 cm from top to bottom. It was only one small portion of the full ensemble.

When we arrived in Lhasa rattled and exhausted from our horrific bus ride, we were greeted with enthusiastic and beautiful smiles. A Chinese tractor with a flat platform hitched to the back was sitting there waiting for us as if they knew we were coming. The four of us, Cheryl, Colin, David and I, all piled ourselves and belongings onto the platform. Colin, the Chinese speaking Scotsman, said that they were taking us to a place to sleep. We were far too exhausted from the horrific bus trip to care where we were going as long as it had beds.

The tractor rattled down the unpaved road through a gate to an inner court-yard. It was an old family home, perhaps hundreds of years old, that had been converted into a guest house. The four of us were taken by candle light up an old wooden ladder to a pitch black room with four beds. We climbed in and fell solidly into slumber.

In the morning dazzling shafts of sunlight pierced the dark shutters and illuminated the dust specks as they gently floated to the floor of our quiet room. David, Colin, Cheryl and I lay motionless on our straw-filled mattresses under heavy quilts. Our bodies were warm and limp with fatigue while the edges of our nostrils felt icy with each deep draught of the cold, dry Tibetan air.

Tap, tap, tap...
Rap, Rap, Rap...
Knock, Knock, Knock..

Colin shuffled to the door and opened it abruptly, surprising the 8-year-old purified water salesman in mid-knock.

"What are you doing waking people up at this indecent hour of the morning?" Colin asked roughly.

The boy, who didn't fully understand Colin's Mandarin Chinese, but who did understand the sentiment, smiled at Colin with both amusement and embarrassment.

"Don't come back tomorrow," Colin grumped before he shut the door.

*Here, I am finally introducing you to my traveling companions. They were warm, witty, intelligent people and I was truly blessed to have been able to travel with them. Cheryl and I knew each other from our time as teachers in Japan. Colin, from Scotland, and David, from Australia, were friends from a former journey. We met them shortly after we arrived in China and traveled with them for months. I am only getting around to introducing them now, because I had no idea where I was going with this story when I started it. We were all part of that international nomad culture that I assume still exists today. There are young people, who travel, sometimes for years, from one back packer haven to another. They live dirt cheap and pick up odd jobs to support their travel addiction. It's fun for a while, but it can become lonely wandering without roots.


  1. A very nice blog. I appreciate that you share your thoughts with us and present them clearly.

    All the best

  2. I could almost feel the blankets and see the dust drifting to the floor...