Nearing the End in Dharamsala

India 2013

Friday, March 22, 2013:

Three more days to go. Today, I'll buy my ticket for the bus leaving at 6 p.m. Monday for New Delhi. And this will be the last day of teaching. I can feel my body readying to return home. I want to pull back on the busy schedule. Today I'll be teaching two conversation circles, a grammar class, a guitar lesson, a private tutoring session and taking a lesson with Chung Den on both damien (dranyen) and piwang. It makes me tired writing about it, but the actual execution is mostly fascinating and rewarding.

I'm up early to get into the lineup for Dr. Dhonden. I was told to be there at 7:00, and I am. I put my name down on the list (again). Last time I did this, I was #65, and they only gave tokens to up to #40. This time I am #25, so I figure my chances are very good to get a token. I am told to come back at 1:30 to stand in line again for that.

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Since it's Friday, the topic for the 11:00 conversation circle at The Hope Education Centre is a light-hearted one - hobbies.
1. What are your hobbies? What things do you like to do to have fun?
2. Tell us about the last time you did these things.
3. Do you think having fun is important in life? Why?

The procedure at H.E.C. is that we spend about 40-45 minutes talking about the topic, with the volunteer writing down the main points of the student's answer, and the remainder is taken up with the students reading their answers aloud to the group.

Pretend you're a monkey on the wall and give a listen to these responses from three of the students:

Today I have two students. Tshering, a 28-year-old Bhutanese Buddhist whom I had taught previously, and 32-year-old Bin from mainland China - Shanghai, to be exact. I feel a background nervousness as soon as she says "from China." I hope it doesn't show on my face. "The enemy is in our camp!" is honestly what I'm thinking, but my mouth says stuff like "...and how long have you been travelling... and where else have you been...?" She tells us she's been to Dharamsala 3 times. Surprised at this, I ask "what do you like about Dharamsala?" She says (her English is at a pretty high level) "I like getting to know more about the Tibetans and their situation so I can understand and take the true story back to China." Any tension I've been feeling vanishes like a rain cloud in the sun. I am practically moved to tears.

"Aren't you afraid?" She's not. "I've been back and forth many times. I was away all of 2012 and I went home just long enough to earn some money, now I'm back again. There have been no police watching me." I have to wonder.

Bin also says she wants the Tibetans to get to know a Chinese person so they will know that not all of them are bad. "In fact most are very tolerant. It's only the government that is tyrannical." And she says they are not singling out Tibetans in their effort to implement the Cultural Revolution. They are destroying all cultures. Mongolian and Chinese, too. "What about Confucianism?" I ask. "What?" "You know.. Confucius." She has never heard of him. She asks me to write the name in her notebook so she can look him up.

Lastly, she tells me that besides destroying culture, the Communists are making improvements. Like what? "Like my parents' generation never had enough to eat. Now most people do." I have to wonder.

Overall though, Bin is pretty disgusted with her government. She believes Mao was unspeakably cruel. The reason she travels so much - she's been all over SE Asia and Australia - is because she is hoping to find someplace else to live. Overall, Bin is a very well-spoken, strong - even a bit hard - woman. In one softer reflective moment she tells me, "I am a victim of the brainwashing. I don't know if I can really change. I try, but I hope it's not too late." I assure her that from where I sit, there is no doubt that she can change. "In fact," I tell her, "your heart seems to be wide open, so you have already succeeded."

We also somehow find time to discuss today's topic. Here are Bin and Tshering reading their answers. (Sorry, filming them felt a little over the top.)


Pat, the young Irishman who heads up the H.E.C. volunteers has an announcement. Today is his last day. People are visibly moved. Penpa, the young woman who is on staff at H.E.C., drapes the traditional Tibetan Buddhist white scarf (khata) around Pat's neck, and we spend a few extra minutes drinking tea toasts to Pat.

Pat's Good-bye.

This makes the 12:00 grammar class about 10 minutes late, and then I have to leave it 10 minutes early to get to my lesson with Chung Den-la. And that will have to be cut short so I can get in line again for Doctor Dhonden…my version of the movie "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium." Not fun.

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Chung Den has a nice surprise for me: lyrics! He dictates, syllable by syllable, the words to Shiveh Khang Seng, the Snow Lion Song. I am very excited to learn it, but then again, I've always wanted to sing Jobim in Portuguese, and that hasn't materialized (yet).

Chung Den plays the damien, sings, and dictates the words.

He even attempts a translation. For example, the very first line is Peu, Khang che, Yeu La. Sang-khe hey-la-yeu. Peu means Tibet. Khang che means very big. Sang-khe is lion. So, basically it means "Tibet has a very big lion." (the snow lion). Someone who speaks both Tibetan and English is probably having a very big laugh right about now. Please feel free to leave a comment and straighten me out!! I'm doin' my best, here.

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The doctor will (not) see you.

As I said, I have to cut the lesson short to go stand in line for Dr. Dhonden again. I'm a little late, but am feeling confident that I'll get a token because I signed the list this morning. The longer we stand, the more I think. The more I think, the more my confidence wanes. The more my confidence wanes, the angrier I get. Finally the line starts moving. I can't see what they're doing up at the front. People are jostling to get a view. Some seem to be butting in front of me. Just as I am nearing the front, I see that the crowd is angry. People are looking disappointed, throwing their hands up and yelling questions. All the tokens are gone. They gave them to the first 40 people in line. This morning's list meant nothing.

I am smokin' mad. I yell that I've been trying to get in for 2 weeks, and now I've got to go home without seeing him, and blah blah blah, whine whine whine. They tell me to go to the office and speak to Jimmy. What is this, the Mafia? Jimmy?!? Hey! Youse! Jimmy. I'm a-slappa you upside da head ya don't let me see the Dhon. I got connections in the U.S. who got influence, if ya get my drift (I actually refer to my sister-in-law's friend, Marsha, who had studied with Dhonden.) And it works! Jimmy tells me to come in 9 a.m. Monday with a urine sample (his version of a suitcase full of 100s?) and he'll make sure the Doc sees me in time for the 6:00 bus. I blow a puff of smoke in Jimmy's mug, throw my stogie on the floor, stomp on it, turn and walk out. Don't mess with Big Liu.

Next thing in my day is a private tutoring session with Dorjee, the monk who escaped by jumping from the prison truck (see last chapter). I ask him if he minds me recording, but he is reluctant. Doesn't even want me to use his real name. Our 3:15 talk runs well into my 4:00 class at Lha, so I miss it altogether. They have plenty of volunteers, so I don't feel too bad.

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There's time for a little shopping before dinner. My friend Pam (one of the group travelling with Darrol) had recommended that I look up a father & son team who are experts in stones and their healing properties. They have a shop on Temple Road. A couple of days ago I found them and stopped to chat, and today I've decided on my purchase.

Father & Son stone experts. I buy a beautiful pink and green piece of unakite for Sharon. Unakite is known for its gentle, calm, balancing energy that encourages one to love oneself.

The son snaps this shot of two dudes.

I take the unakite to this fine jeweller to craft a silver setting which will allow the stone to be worn as a necklace.

The finished product.

Saturday, March 23:

I wake in the night with an odd feeling in my stomach. Uh oh. Back to sleep. Wake again. Uh oh. Maybe it will go away. Back to sleep. Wake again. UH freakin' OHHH. It's not going away. I don't really know from which end it will come, but I know it's coming. (Sorry for that graphic TMI description.) Wonder how I got this? Could it be last night's dinner? Just the thought of the momos I ate makes me feel nauseous, so I'm pretty sure that's the door from which it entered. And now it's deciding to exit. Through the back door. In a BIG hurry.

I stay in bed all morning and muster enough energy to get to my 1:00 lesson with Chung Den. Today, he's showing me how to play some basic piwang riffs.

The piwang is a 2-stringed 'violin,' similar to the Chinese ecru. Note the fast trill, which gives a kind of yodelling effect. The piwang - like the Indian sitar - was developed as a vocal imitator to begin with.

He encourages me record everything so I can practice it later. I tend to feel like I am being given a precious jewel, and I must learn to play exactly like him. But he surprises me by telling me I should Westernize it. "Play it the way you feel it. Make it your own song." This is an even more precious gift. It makes me think about just what does it really mean to 'preserve' a culture? Merely replicating it feels like locking it in a box and suffocating it. Allowing it to be adapted to modern times can breathe new life into it. But cast tradition to the wind? Seems it's necessary to work with both sides of the argument.

I've also got enough oomph to keep a 2:30 appointment with Palden for one last guitar lesson. It's obvious she has been practicing what I taught her on Thursday. She's a hard worker, and also very generous. She has no qualms about loaning me her beautiful blue guitar for tomorrow night's show at Hotel Mountview with Chung Den, Karma and Shayna & the Saxophone Brothers.

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Happy reading!

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