Monday, June 19, 2006
June 16, 2006 - 09:05 IND
Here it is Saturday, and for the first time since I arrived in India it feels like a weekend. Maybe it's that I'm getting into a routine here, doing one-hour conversations Monday through Friday with my friend at the restaurant and getting used to the incomings and outgoings of the rich Punjabi tourists as they have their breaks from their own workweeks. Or maybe it's the way this morning's panning out, cold and cloudy in the pine trees of these Himalayan foothills. It's the kind of weather that breeds a lazy day.
In any case, I'm taking advantage of this morning (and of the water heater in the girls' bathroom) to do some laundry and to warm up my cold feet with a hot bucket shower. The clothes are soaking a little in the bucket next to me now while I type at a table we've just put into our room. Someone brought the table to our guesthouse yesterday, and one of the guys who takes care of the place, Surindr, offered it to us for our room. We put it in the corner of the room by my side of the bed and set up all my things with it - computer and my contacts and toothbrush on top, clean and dirty clothes all rolled up on a little shelf below the tabletop, and a folded-up wool blanket on the floor below so my bare feet don't get too cold while I sit and work. To the left of the table I stow my camera (which is beautiful) all set up on a tripod while it waits to be taken out for shooting the next day, along the packpack that carries my rainjacket, boom pole, and consent forms. From this corner I can sit and study in the mornings: as I take a seat in my chair here the windows are to my back instead of in front of me, and the light from the windows shines on my book instead of my face when I sit down to read. It's made all the difference.
Speaking of Surindr, this week we've really seen a good relationship develop between him and us. I give Ben the credit; since their long conversation about work and school the other night I've sensed that he knows we're really interested in him as a person. He feels comfortable stopping in at night or just stopping to say hi through our window. He makes jokes with us about how much we work, and the other night when I went down to watch the end of the England-Trinidad and Tobago match he was there too. He knows we're interested in football (soccer - 'football' and 'match' have just become habitual phrases for me now) and gives us results each morning. More importantly, I think he feels comfortable coming to us with his frustrations at work and in life, and I'm glad we can be here to hear him out.
Ben's playing some music on his computer. She said the man in the Gaberdeen suit was a spy... Meanwhile, I realize I don't know how to spell Gaberdeen.
Yesterday I went back again to watch the dancers from a certain village in Kham (a region of Tibet) prepare for the Karmapa's birthday celebration. I don't know what village they've all come from, but they get together every day to rehearse for the Karmapa Lama's upcoming birthday celebration. Since I've been going every day for a week now, I think they're getting pretty comfortable with my being there. I've learned the melody to the song they sing as they dance, and one day I even jumped into the circle of dancers and tried to follow along. I think they appreciated all of that. So yesterday I pulled out the camera, and Ben grabbed the boom and ran the microphone for a while. They were nervous at first, but eventually I started to sense that they were accepting my presence there - especially when the dance leader, a hard-looking man who wears traditional clothing and a couple of turquoise jewels in his ears, approached me behind my camera and looked at the image in my LCD. I decided to just allow for a timecode break, rewind the tape a bit, and show him what I'd been shooting, and when he saw himself on the screen he got a big smile on his face. I hadn't seen him show any real signs of smiling at all up until then, and I felt like this might have been a big step in building trust with the group.
You should know that I've decided the best way to maintain the safety of those I video and of their families and friends still in Tibet, and still keep some kind of artistic unity throughout the whole piece, is to simply blur every shot I take. I think I've said that already in my last entry. And I think that's actually going to prove to my benefit as I go shooting. The fact that the man in traditional clothing, the dance leader, saw that he was unidentifiable to the viewer likely made it much easier for him to accept the fact that he was on tape. And that fact - the fact that he can trust me to not reveal who he is - allows him to share that trust in me with others. What I mean is, it helps ease some of the doubts or fears that Tibetan refugees would have appearing on tape and makes my job of shooting and interviewing that much easier. I only have 3 1/2 weeks left here on site, so I hope those relationships can grow, both in number and in strength, within that time.
Some things I think I'll need to do soon: try to set up interviews with some educated and influencial folks who can tell me more about Tibetan regionalisms and other divisions that might exist between Tibetans, especially differing opinions they have about policy regarding Tibet's political position relative to China. I'll also be heading up to TIPA - Tibetan Institute for the Performing Arts (?) - to see what they think about my filming preparations for the Dalai Lama's birthday and interviewing some of the students there. I'll have to take a tape that shows blurred footage so they know that I'll be shooting everything like that. Otherwise I too, like everyone else, might have to obey the signs at TIPA's gates that read 'Cameras strictly prohibited'.
I've now done some laundry, taken breakfast, and showered from a bucket of hot water. That last one felt goooood, believe me. My clothes are up on the roof hanging from a communal clothesline, but since it's so cool and humid out I doubt they'll be ready to wear any time soon. Today I'm going to talk to my friend at the travel agency to see about meeting for a more extended period of time tomorrow afternoon. Though it's Sunday, I feel okay about meeting with a friend and just shooting the breeze - even if some of the byproducts of that meeting are directly related to my research.
I've just had a realization, while taking a moment to open H. Russell Bernard's Research Methods in Anthropolgy, a book I've come to really enjoy. Before I left Provo and got to 'the field', I imagined myself looking forward to coming home each night to report about what I'd learned or observed. What I'm talking about here is field notes. For some reason - well, maybe because it's just something I've tended to do all through school - what I expected to be an enjoyable endeavor in learning has often turned into drudgery. I'm not sure what the reason is for this constant fight to keep my ideals alive, but I need to find a way to rejuvinate them.
Ben's just come home with momos, little vegetable-filled Tibetan dumplings, and I'm chomping down on one of them right now. (Like I've said before, Ben's always helping out everybody else.) I guess this kind of thing might help rejuvinate me in my efforts to enjoy this because man-oh-man do these taste good...
June 19, 2006 08:30 IND
Happy Father's Day, Dad. (Sorry it's late. I was thinking about you yesterday though!) (Mom, I'm well aware that your birthday's coming up.)
Last night I had a conversation with my friends from BYU - there are four of us here in McLeod Ganj - about our upcoming world religions tour of India and how I'm really not looking forward to it. A lot of my frustration stems from the fact that I'm here to do my research and to do the video documentary piece on Tibetan refugees, and everybody heard me out and that was good - in fact, we share some of the same frustrations. But this morning I had a thought. As I'm getting on that plane in Chennai headed for Mumbai, or as I'm boarding in Mumbai for Frankfurt and eventually Los Angeles, how am I going to feel? Will I be looking back, or forward? And if I am looking back, how do I want to see my time here? As seven weeks of utility and a wasted rest-of-the-summer? It's pretty obvious to me that that won't do me any good. So I might as well embrace this tour of India - which, I have to say, I've been able to do on several occasions while preparing for and being on this trip, though that's been inconsistent. I'm just going to have to get out and shoot everything I can and set up all the interviews I can in these next two or three weeks and let that be enough and work with it in the editing room later.
I think a lot of my frustration comes from things here not matching up to my ideals, and from my unwillingness to detach myself from those ideals. And it seems like that's a problem. First of all, why should I expect all my ideals to become realities? And second, why am I so attached to these ideals, as if they were actually important just because they're mine? After all, maybe my ideals aren't actually for the best - the long-term best - anyway.
Better I think to just go with the flow a little bit more and relax.
Here's a bit from a letter I'm sending to my family. I thought it was of general interest, too.
"Actually, I'm glad we did go to the pool in Bhagsu because it's what happened as we left it that was really great. On our way up some stairs toward the Hindu temple, I saw a Western guy, kind of middle-aged, with bushy hair and a video camera. He was standing on a small platform overlooking the pool and filming all the folks swimming and playing around, and there was a Western kid, around 20 years old or so, standing right behind him with a backpack. I thought maybe the kid was an assistant or something - but he looked like he could have been a son. Anyway, we walked past them and I realized they were using the same model of camera I had brought to India, a Panasonic AG-DVX100B. On top of that, he had some model of Nikon digital SLR with a big ol' fatty zoom lens on it. (I didn't get good enough of a look to tell what model of still camera it was.) We stepped away from the pool complex and rounded a corner, where we could see beautiful Bhagsu falls, but we didn't go any farther because it was just full of people. So we turned around and walked back between the pool and the temple up towards the main road.
"I realized suddenly that the two Western guys were ahead of us on the road, and that we were catching up. I kept our pace and soon we were coming up right behind the kid with the backpack, who was trailing the man with the camera. I happened to glance at the kid's back, and right there, between the kid's backpack straps, was the word UTAH, in all caps. No way, I thought. No way.
"I didn't even say hi - just blurted out (probably too loudly) "Are you from Utah?!" They turned around, kind of taken aback, and replied that yes, they were. Whereabouts? Salt Lake City. I couldn't believe it. I told them I was at BYU, and we had a great conversation about what we were all doing there. Turns out they are in fact a father-son team and that the father's wife works for the Salt Lake Tribune. She, from what I understood, was unable to go on this assignment, but these two guys had been visiting Tibet and were writing some pieces on Tibetans for the paper, as well as doing a vidcast in a couple weeks - thus the camcorder. (Incidentally, they told me it had been the son's dream since childhood to visit Lhasa, and that this was sort of a present too since he'd just graduated from high school and was starting at the University of Utah this fall. Cool present - even if he had to work during the trip.) They seemed to like the idea of my project as I explained it to them, and I told them a little bit about BYU's International Studies Program here. I figured they were busy and wanted to get back to the peace of my guesthouse back McLeod Ganj myself, so I let them go, but they said I could send them an email - which I might do soon, while they're still here in town - and check out the Tribune's website in the next couple of weeks to look for the stories and the vidcast. I can't wait to see what they'll turn out."
That was kind of a cool experience. I'll have to email them; I'm really curious about their work, and I think they're a little curious about mine.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
June 14, 2006 - 10:18 IND
If I have anything to say about it, this is going to be a busy day. There are a couple of people I'll be hanging out with so I can get to know them better - really nice people I've met over the past week or so who probably have important things to say about 'being Tibetan' or 'traditional Tibetan' dance or Tibet's future. One of them is a guy I met a few days ago in front of a clothing/curio shop where I hang out often (we know the guy who works at the desk there). This guy introduced himself in English that was just beautiful and then told me he'd received his masters in economics from a university about four hours out of Mumbai (formerly Bombay). We went up into his office and he helped back-translated a consent form I have to use for the university's ethical interests, and he was awfully friendly. A couple days later I ran by with some Indian-versions-of-muffins (not muffins like I know them, but tasty!) to say thanks. Today I think I'll just spend some time chatting with him.
Right now, at 11, I'm going to my daily one-hour English lesson with a woman who works at a Japanese restaurant here. She's quite friendly but (understandably) finds English to be quite difficult. I don't blame her; learning about their syntax I can see why she says "English is backwards". I happen to think the same thing, from my frame of reference, about Tibetan! But we get along well enough; I'm trying to give her some - what's it called? - comprehensible input (good old i + 1, for all you second-language teachers out there) in the hopes that she'll be open enough to pick up on some things during our few weeks of conversation.
She's also been a source of some information I'm just not sure I would find anywhere else. It's kind of like I remember Seinfeld doing - never talking about the same thing, and trying to extend the list of things you can talk about. What that means is that we're both (I think) trying to find meaningful topics to discuss given her limited vocabulary, and that that's making us cover a large variety of subjects. Each day, it seems, goes into a new subject (though many revolved around Tibet and Buddhism), and where I feel so inclined I ask further questions that might be useful in my research. I don't think this is unethical: I don't try to turn the conversation in any certain direction 'so that' it fits my research, and I didn't start doing the conversation lessons as a way of doing research. It was just a way to help out. And it's just happened to be beneficial for both of us, on a lot of levels. (I also don't ignore the fact that spending an hour every day doing these conversations, while not totally altruistic, helps me stop thinking that my research and my life are the only important things going on here. I get to forget about myself a little bit while I'm there.)
Another place I need to go is this café run by the rock band I want to interview, together with their mother. (All the band members are brothers.) One of the guys in the band knows our friend Sonam, and I introduced myself to him the other day. He seemed more than open to talking with me, but before I do anything with them and video I hope they'll be comfortable with me. That's what today's about, really: building relationships with the people around me and understanding them more deeply.
If you're wondering why I'm not using a lot of names, I don't feel comfortable doing so when most of the people I'm talking about here are political refugees, often with many family members and friends back inside Tibet. The last thing I want to do is endanger them or their loved ones through thoughtless use of their names in such a public venue as the Internet. Now ask me if that's a problem for filming their faces and showing them to audiences...
June 16, 2006 - 07:35 IND
The things I wrote so optimistically in that entry two days ago just plain didn't happen like I'd hoped. I mean, I had my English conversation with the woman who works at the restaurant (the TV was on this time, and she gave me a synopsis of the storyline - it was kind of like a Tibetan Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, with the daughter falling in love with a doctor from some African country) and I did in fact stop by the other two places to talk to my masters-in-econ friends and the rock and roll band. But neither went like I'd hoped.
My meeting with the guy with the masters degree was at his workplace, and I couldn't tell if he was annoyed with having to deal with such a pestering American, or whether what I was sensing was just some tension because he was trying to negotiate a relationship with another human being with his work responsibilities (and thus a relationship with his boss). I'll hope it was the latter; he didn't seem too put out to schedule a time for us to meet this Sunday, when he's off work. Usually Sundays are kind of off limits as far as doing field work goes because I try to maintain a posture of worship on the Sabbath, even while I'm here, but this seems like it's all right. First, I'm sitting down to get to know an individual a little more deeply. Second, he's a peaceful enough guy to where I probably won't feel like I'm in party mode during our visit. Deep down, I kind of hope I can also use this time together to ask him about the possibility of his translating an interview for me sometime, but if it doesn't happen right away I'll be all right with that. Anyway, the reason I didn't feel like it had gone really well with him was that tension I mentioned above. But talking about it now, I think maybe everything was a lot better than I imagined coming out of our conversation.
The result of my time with the rock band was unequivocably worse, however. I went into the café they run and had a late lunch with Ben and Elizabeth at about 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon (my breakfast that morning had consisted of two huge pieces of Tibetan brown bread w/ butter and cheese, plus half an omelette on each to make a sandwich - two sandwiches!). The 'Potato Home Fried' was very good, and afterwards I went up to pay. It was the band's drummer, a long-haired Tibetan twenty-something in decidedly Western clothes with whom I'd spoken before, who stood behind the counter. A really nice guy. I paid (and bought one of their peanut-butter cookies to boot) and then just before leaving asked the guy if I could come back and get to know the brothers in the band sometime that would be best for them. Were they awake in the mornings, maybe, when the café might be less busy? He smiled and shook his head - I figured he meant they would be in bed, hung over or something. But then he shook his head again. Something bad was coming. "No man, the band, we're on a break right now, not really doing anything. So, no filming. No documentary, man." I gave him a smile and a friendly "Naw, that's okay!" and walked out the door and took a few steps before it really hit me what this meant. This meant the piece I'd put so much credence and excitement into just plain wasn't going to happen. I'd planned on looking at Tibetan traditional performing arts versus Tibetan rock music, but at this point it sounded like it just wasn't going to happen. Where was I going to get another idea, though, that would be as exciting? Or even viewable by a general audience? The whole thing really threw me for a loop.
So that was two days ago. Yesterday I woke up still in sort of the same mental state but still left in time to head down to do my daily hour of English conversation. On my way down to her small apartment I was thinking about the whole situation and just decided I needed to start filming, and that to avoid the ethical and artistic issues in blurring some people but not others, I would just blur everyone and everything. Every shot would be blurred. And when people say, "Man, that was really frustrating to watch!" I'll say, "Imagine how frustrating it was to shoot!" So waiting on the gravel-covered street in front of the woman's house, I got my camera out and just started getting shots of all the flyers and bills posted on walls and telephone poles: Tibetan cooking, yoga classes, meditation and cafés were all advertised there. These people really knew their audience.
While I was filming a couple of Tibetan cooking flyers a young Tibetan man came up behind me and looked at my LCD screen. "You can't even see the letters," he protested. I turned and saw he was with an older gentlemen, and that both were smiling. I explained to him a little bit about the ethical problems in filming refugees and what my solution was, and he seemed to think that was pretty cool. I noticed he was wearing a German national soccer jersey. We introduced ourselves, and he introduced the other man as his uncle, and then I just decided to ask if I could meet with him later that afternoon to do an interview. He said that was fine, and at 2:00 that afternoon I was at his house having my first consent form signed and doing my first taped interview. I felt like maybe he was giving some of the answers he thought I wanted to hear, but it was good nonetheless.
I need to start asking about people's views about what should be done with Tibet. That could get them speaking their own minds instead of a canned answer that they've heard other Westerners publishing in print and film. Apparently there's a lot of controversy and division in that question, and I wonder if any of the side-taking regarding autonomy and independence corresponds to other factors - why some people agree with the Dalai Lama in his 'middle path' approach and why some don't.
Well, in any case it's time to start my day with breakfast and some scripture studying, so I'm out of here. I think maybe I'm back on my feet - even if I don't know where I'm going with all of this.
I'll probably post this pretty soon - like this morning - and keep you better updated in the future. I'll try to post more regularly.
A quick shoutout to my friend Evan, who has emailed me saying he enjoys the blog. Thanks. Just so everyone knows, this is also my journal. Yes, you're actually seeing pretty much everything I type so I can either (A) remember for myself, (2) think through my problems, or (D) show off to friends. (That last one is the least honorable I think...) I type it up on my cheap laptop and save it under file names like "ElectronicJournal6" (which was this one) and throw it on my USB drive to bring to Internet cafés so I don't have to spend a fortune just to type.
I just spent probably an hour or so doing some observations in a café I go to for breakfast a lot, so I might throw those expanded fieldnotes up on the blog like I did with my temple notes last time.
Oh, and still no photos. Sorry everybody. I'll get to it eventually - just so busy with research and school stuff!
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
June 8, 2006 - 21:07 IND
I don't know how to think anymore. And maybe that's a good thing.
My roommate, Ben, has come to me with all kinds of new additions or modifications to his theoretical approach to his research. Problematizations of the words 'identity' and 'memory', and of the distinctions and similarities between each and of the manipulation of one to create another and of the imposing of one on the other and all kinds of things. And some good sentences come out of it - for instance, "They have not lost their religion, so it has become less of a focus within the cause or their struggle for memory. They fear losing Tibet, not Buddhism.... Their culture is one of looking forward, toward gaining a Tibet they have not known, while those who knew Tibet are looking back to a Tibet they have lost." But the theory, or analysis, or whatever happens in the background of that writing, has held him in our room (spacious and bright and beautiful as it is - thank you, Kailwood Guesthouse) and in the Tibetan Library for the past couple of days and held us in a couple of conversations revolving around abstractions and nuances, and I'm just tired of it.
Don't get me wrong, I don't villify Ben for any of this stuff. I'm not put off by his doing it either. Heavens no! I like this guy as much as just about any of the friends I've ever had. After all, how would you go about disliking somebody who spends every moment thinking about things he can do for other people? No, it's more that I just don't know how any more thinking is going to do me any good. During the past semester, in a course we had together, we spent four months working on our research proposals, and for a long time (until just the week before finals) I thought I knew what I was doing. Then, at professors' recommendations, I had to revamp the thing. Twice. And quite frankly, by the end of that whirlwind I just didn't know which way was up anymore, and now that I'm here I see that things are even less clear than I thought they would be, and I think it's going to take me a lot longer than the time we have here to straighten my thoughts out.
It's also that all told, we've only got seven weeks to finish our projects, and we're already two weeks in. And I've just today started getting footage of folks learning traditional dance, and I've only done the one interview with the producer from Channel V so far. (Oh, I just realized I haven't told that story yet. I'll get to it below. Sorry.) At the pace I'm currently going I'm wondering how much footage I'm going to end up with, and the limited amount of footage I may end up with would of course limit the numbers of connections I can make between clips while editing - which could make for a really schizophrenic piece when it's all over. So I really need to start talking with more performing-arts folks like those up at TIPA and the band I mentioned earlier, as opposed to sitting and agonizing about what kind of approach I'm going to take. I guess that's sort of in motion, though: our friend Sonam talked to Chigme, who's in the band, and Roommate Ben talked with the monk he does conversation classes with about finding a way for me to go to TIPA and start research up there. All I need to do, I guess, is take the next step with Chigme and wait for the word from Ben's influential monk friend after the weekend, and then I can start with those two veins of my videoing. (By the way, I think a lot of the decision-making process as far as My Approach goes happens in the editing room, once all the footage is gathered. Maybe that's why I feel like I should jump in a bit more readily than the other kids. Or at least more readily than I was originally doing.)
Another frustration is that with every step Ben takes in his thinking, I'm finding it more difficult to differentiate his research from my own - or maybe his theoretical perspective, rather. And to hear somebody else say what you wanted to say all along, and to know that both your projects are going to be based on these underlying ideas - that's a really frustrating thing. It's like I don't have any motivation to think any more - like I don't need to have any motivation for thinking. Why would I, after all, if Ben's doing all the hard stuff for me?
So I'm just letting myself take steps towards videoing. Or rather, I'm videoing. I've already mentioned some of the footage I've captured so far, and that the next steps are interviews and actual rehearsals for the Dalai Lama's birthday celebration. Today was especially important because I found a guy ('Chophel'), a young guy who just received his masters in economics from a university down by Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and speaks English really well, who might agree to doing some translation work. I don't know - maybe I overstayed my welcome today at his office, asking him to back-translate my consent form, which someone else had already translated from English to Tibetan. In any case, the next couple times I see him I'd just like to take it easy and treat him to some food or something. He's an awfully nice guy; it's too bad that the first day I met him was also a day I needed to find somebody who could do the back-translation. It would have been nice to just hang out for a while before I suddenly 'used' him.
What I'm thinking is that a couple weeks of listening for what people here say is going to lead me better in my research than looking for what academics have said about the people in this community. It's that kind of thing that usually sparks video ideas in me, too. So this is probably a good idea, just jumping in instead of thinking how warm or cold the water's going to be. Thinking is nice in the classroom, but out here, I just don't know how much good it's doing me.
June 10, 2006 - 23:47 IND
The World Cup is upon us, and while that Trinidad & Tobago - Sweden match I just finished watching was quite a thrill, it's not what I'm wanting to talk about tonight. When I came back up the hill from the guesthouse that neighbors ours below, Ben was in our room talking with Surindr, one of the guys who takes care of the whole place. I did my spiel about Trinidad & Tobago's brilliant keeper, etc., and then they continued their conversation. It was centered on Surindr's education and work situations and quickly moved to his family back home. The guy hasn't saved any of his money because he sends it back to his family - especially his younger brother who is in the 11th grade, the second-to-last grade before finishing school here (from what I can gather) and the very grade Surindr himself was in when he left school. "He can finish school," says Surindr, "go to university, do any job he wants." Our friend here at the guesthouse takes it upon himself to take care of his little brother. "That's his luck, we say."
Ben went for a bit deeper of an understanding. "Is that his karma? Would you say that?"
"Yes!" replied Surindr. "You know the karma?" I felt a connection form between Ben and Surindr then. And it occurred to me, as it had before, that karma is for well over a billion people a completely sensible and effective way of understanding and making peace with their current situations in life. I think that's one of the basic needs - spiritual, psychological, or otherwise - that we all have in our lives, to find a way of looking at our current situations in a way that allows us to be happy. For me, I'm of the school that says that God, a loving Father, has put us in the place and time where and when we will be able to make the greatest possible progress for our real, long-term happiness, even if that means postponing temporary pleasure or even comfort. For who-knows-how-many people, the explanation is karma, and for others it's the idea of Camus's absurde and, beyond that, existentialism. Across the world different ideas and systems have developed in order to make peace to some degree possible.
To a large extent I'm convinced by the idea of karma, too, and I think many of my friends will be surprised at how easily they would agree with it as well. I'll quote below a little bit from Huston Smith's The World's Religions (copyright 1991 by the author, Huston Smith), but first you should know that Smith's translation of the word karma is essentially 'work'. Thus one of the ways Hindus can see themselves coming to God is through 'work':
"[A]ccording to Hindu doctrine every action performed on the external world reacts on the doer. If I chop down a tree that blocks my view, each stroke of the ax unsettles the tree; but it leaves its mark on me as well, driving deeper into my being my determination to have my way in the world. Everything I do for my private wellbeing adds another layer to my ego, and in the thickening it insulates me more from God. Conversely, every act done without thought for myself diminishes my self-centeredness until finally no barrier remains to separate me from the Divine." (38)
Many thanks to Mr. Smith for such a beautiful passage. This is an image that's stuck with me very strongly since I read these words for the first time about a month ago, and I've thought a lot about the analogy and what it means for us to overcome our lower, natural selves and be higher, more refined beings. You might say more human, in the very best sense of the word. (To Mr. Smith and HarperCollins: Please don't sue me for using a section of your book. I'm simply reading it for a course and especially enjoyed this example, both in content and in form. I really have read the copyright in the book and am trying to keep with the spirit of what you've laid out there.)
Of course, Hindus (among others) will apply this to reincarnation - an idea which in fact makes plenty of sense (ask me sometime how I sort of invented it for myself when I was 10 years old or so and contemplating The Mysteries of Eternity) but to which I don't adhere. And this is where Surindr has found his explanation for why he's perfectly content giving his earnings to his family so his brother can continue attending school and one day graduate from a university: his karma and his brother's karma have placed them in a place that's just for them, based on how they have acted in the past, as they continue on in their quest for detachment from this world. Now they have their roles to play, and each will play his own to the best of his ability.
The point here is not whether reincarnation is what really happens in life; I've already told you I don't think it is, but I'm still bringing it up because it brings us to the greater purpose in this discussion. Surindr has, like many others, found a way to see his world in a way that helps him to make sense of it, to come to terms with it, and to feel peace in the midst (and perhaps in spite of) it.
I think if we realize that that's something we really do need in our lives, and recognize how beautifully our belief systems help us do that, we can learn to appreciate our own beliefs even more. And what's more - and maybe more important - we can find incongruencies and address them honestly and earnestly so that our worldview and our resulting actions really can bring us true happiness. For me, the center of that worldview is Christ, but I've found that several of my ways of thinking about Jesus and His role in my life haven't fulfilled their purpose in making me happy. As I've addressed them very honestly, with my faith and my mind and heart together, I've actually found better answers that make my way of thinking and living more complete. It hasn't been an easy process, and I admit it's a bit scary walking into the dark like that. But it's shown me a better way each time, and I really have become happier.
On the lighter side, our otherwise very sober friend Benjamin Brady on the topic of big slugs: "Put it on the blog, man! The turd was walking!"
12 June, 2006 - 16:57 IND
I just realized I still haven't written out what happened the other night. It was a nice experience and one worth sharing, though maybe not the most profound. It all started at Nick's Italian, a favorite resaurant and hangout for foreigners here in McLeod Ganj. (We usually go to less expensive - and less touristy - places for our meals, but we had a craving for this thing called Banaffi pie, you see...) We were there shocked at a couple of Tibetan girls at the table next to ours who let their plates be taken away half full of pasta and American-style French fries, when I heard some drums next door.
Now I may have mentioned that there's a Tibetan rock band here that's caught my attention as a potential documentary subject, in juxtaposition with those doing traditional Tibetan dance and music. Aaaand it turns out the restaurant we were at was right next door to a café they and their mother run. So when I heard the drums I thought there might be a rehearsal going on next door, and I ran out of the restaurant to find out.
I pulled back the curtain across the front door and stepped into the café, a red-lit room measuring maybe 15-by-20 feet, and found myself in maybe the only open spot on the crowded wooden floor. Cigarette smoke curled through the air towards the ceiling, and a million different languages came at me from the café tables that had packed a capacity crowd of Western backpackers into the room. The Doors were playing above me. A slender woman with a dark, wrinkled face stood behind the small counter wearing a chupa, an elegantly simple traditional Tibetan dress I'd seen on the streets and in the temple.
I assumed this was the mother of the band's members - who are all brothers - and decided to ask her where the rehearsal was going on and whether I could visit. "No, not tonight," she said, "but come tomorrow. Tonight there is the television here, you see. You come tomorrow." And as she explained I saw four or five people pour out of the kitchen into the already crowded dining room, two of them armed with video cameras and bright lights and one following close behind carrying a boom mike. They moved like a curious machine, zooming up to the nearest table and stopping like they'd been programmed for unison, hunching over it with their cameras like scientists over their microscopes. If I wanted to film, I'd come too late.
Back outside, I sat myself down on the café's front step next to a heavy Indian man looking at a small camcorder that he held in his hands. He seemed out of place after the scene I'd just come from inside, and yet he looked like he was supposed to somehow belong to all of that. He affirmed that yes, he was part of that crew, that he'd come with them from Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and that they were all working for Channel V, a worldwide youth and music station, and furthermore that they were doing a piece on the same band I wanted to. (Not that this last bit was any news to me...) When I told him what I did he asked to see my camera. I think he was surprised when I took mine out - surprised that a kid would have something like that. I figured he'd been around cameras quite a bit. And then I had an idea. Maybe, instead of feeling like I'd missed out on an opportunity to talk to the band, I'd actually come up on a rare or even unique chance to talk to someone who'd talked to the band. I could get a popular, media perspective on this band and its significance and find out where other folks figured this group into the music scene. I proposed as much to the guy next to me, and he admitted that he couldn't make any decision like that, that I'd have to talk to the producer. Fair enough, I would wait for them to come out.
Turns out that didn't take long. They soon came bursting through the café's front curtain, lights and mike and all, and sat down their female talent along with some American or German or English or French girl who could answer some questions about her interest in the band and the café. So, rather than thinking too much about the band, I turned my camera on and got a shot of their cameras. A crowd was gathering and noise started to build, so they ended their interview pretty soon, and I found out that my camera had attracted the attention of their crew. They gathered around me, and the producer came up and introduced herself and heard my case. She was actually friendlier and more inviting than I ever could have hoped, and pretty soon we were sitting down to do a short interview right there in the café. But it turned out the low light just wasn't going to work out for us there so I started putting my things away. "It's too bad," I said, "but that's all right, you know? I'll still get the band." "Well," she answered, "why don't I give you my cell number, and you come up to our hotel and do the interview there, man? We don't get to bed until midnight or one anyway, so you'd have plenty of time." I told her I thought it was a great idea, and we sat down and chatted for a while - quite a conversation about how she ended up getting into a producing job like this one - and then the VJ/talent (I'm afraid to use names here - could I get sued?) came and sat down and started telling me her story too. Both of them were just great, really friendly and fun to talk to. And soon I was all packed up and on my way home for a spell.
I ended up trying to call maybe half an hour later, after taking a quick banana curd and the monk-operated Shangri-la restaurant on Jogibara Road, but I got the producer's voice mail (some Dylan song, actually... maybe "Like a Rolling Stone"??) and just figured I would try to find the hotel the whole crew was staying at. (I had gotten directions from her before leaving the café.) It didn't take me long - there are only four main roads here in McLeod, and only one goes to the Dalai Lama's temple - so I actually ended up beating the producer and the VJ back. The whole rest of the crew was already there though, just a bunch of guys hanging out after a long day of work, so we just took a load off and talked video for a while on the balcony in front of their rooms. They were every bit as interested in my equipment as I was in theirs; we spent a good half hour comparing cameras and booms and things, and one of the guys brought up a really impressive rig that allowed you, at the simple flick of a rest essentially, to set up a camera on any flat, sturdy object and then set it at any imaginable angle. Really ingenious stuff, I thought. I'm pretty sure it was the same guy I had sat with in front of the café before, and I was really glad we had met. The other guys were awfully nice, too, showing me their cameras and offering me food and talking boom and sound. Anyway, I felt like maybe I could find my place among folks like these;.by the time the producer and VJ came up the stairs we were practically old friends. (Except I couldn't remember their names. Indian names are always hard for me.)
When the other two members of the crew got there we set up for an interview, which was a fun experience in its own right. It was really nice both having my own crew to work with - and that's really how they were acting, it was great - and learning from them as we went. I picked up some good tips from the guys, and soon we were ready for the shoot. The producer, I thought, was having a good time finally being in front of the camera instead of looking through a viewfinder, and despite some repetitions we needed to do (especially thanks to some Indian folks being loud down on the street below us), it all came off really well. I mean, she had some great stuff to say, stuff I'll really be able to use!
We were finished then and exchanged email addresses and business cards and such, and I was glad that I had finally done my first interview for this project - unorthodox and surprising as it had been.
I felt today like I hadn't felt in a while. (And I can talk about this some now, by the way, because the venue where we were watching the US-Croatia World Cup match had some bizarre electrical problem tonight, and we lost power in the 38th minute. It was 2-0 Croatia, and I wasn't feeling very peaceful about the whole thing at all (to say the least - I really howled at that first goal by Koller), so maybe it's better that the power be out down there so I can just come up and relax my nerves.) I've had kind of a breakthrough in my research, and that's felt really good, like I'm moving beyond my old, stale ideas to look more deeply into the problem and find out more about what's going on in this community (and all this even though it's come from some interpretation of field notes as I've gathered them, which Bernard tells us is pretty much a big no-no). But it's been something else, too.
I was discussing ideas again, in an exciting way like I hadn't since some of my most recent classroom experiences at BYU. I'm talking theoretical stuff here, like a couple questions brought up by a Korean guy in broken English: "Does civilization cause culture or does culture cause civilization?" "Is culture more mental or physical? What about civilization?" I mean, it was fun to have to think off the top of my head and feel like I was doing an okay job at it - I wonder how I'd lived for a month and a half without that kind of interaction!
But then again, I dunno... this whole classroom thing and these unanswerable questions - are they doing us any good? I guess maybe individually, as we attack real-world problems. What I mean is that I should probably figure out which answers work best for the world I see around me and give those answers credence in my worldview and models. Isn't that what academic-types do anyway? And then can't they use those worldviews when new problems surface? And once that happens, it seems like their answers take greater force as they explain and defend them to the folks who do stuff about the problems, like create policy and such. So maybe there is value here.
Or maybe I'm just thinking about this all wrong. I'm gonna go to bed.
Okay now it's later and here are just a couple more things. First, a sample of my field notes - just so you guys know what I'm doing here. Here's the sample.
~0026 Dalai Lama's Temple MCLD 050606 REL MTHD MAR GNDR:
On a whim I decided to spend some time this afternoon at the temple. Sitting in the small park between the temple and the Dalai Lama's residence, I heard one man chanting loudly upstairs in the main temple. It sounded like his voice was being amplified by his being in one of the large temple rooms. I decided to go up and see what was happening, and when I reached the top of the stairs I found myself looking at hundreds of Tibetans around three sides of the temple (the three sides with windows and doors), most chanting in unison. Around the actual central temple structure there were monks and nuns in their burgundy robes, seated on cushions, pillows, and blankets. Then there was a pathway between one and two feet lower than the area where the monks and nuns were seated; I was familiar with this pathway, as I had done circumambulations on it before with Elizabeth. (Prayer wheels were located in three sections along the parts of the main temple structure's walls that were not already made up of windows or doors.) On the other side of the pathway, the rest of the floor was again elevated to the same height as directly around the main temple structure, and lay people sat near the pathway - probably over a hundred of them - on all three sides of the structure. There were also pockets of lay people just behind the monks and nuns, on the main elevated floor closer to the temple. All these individuals, however, were along the edges of the platform and in almost no case sat in front of anyone dressed in burgundy robes. A few lay people also did circumambluations in the lowered pathway around the two temple structures. Moreover, just as I was getting there (at around 3:30 pm) a group of monks were ending some kind of ritual session in the other temple structure, a ritual that involved percussion and 'brass' (because from my observations they use only lips directly applied to a mouthpiece) instruments.
Though all monks and nuns have shaven heads, I started to pick up on an overall tendency in the crowd of burgundy-robed people: those on the right side (while facing into the main temple structure towards the Buddha at the hall's far end) all displayed more masculine characteristics in their faces and far more bore broader shoulders and more musular arms. In general, those on the left side (a space created an aisle between the two, at least outside of the temple structure's walls) bore more 'feminine' features. The monks were separated from the nuns. However, I noted that there seemed to be a dozen or so exceptions - of men on the women's side, but not vice versa. What's more, all the lay people on the right side, from my observations, were men. A couple of lay men were on the nuns' side, also. But the lay individuals on the other side of the pathway seemed to have no order to it as far as gender separation went. I sat next to an elderly woman of perhaps 70 or 80, and she sat next to a man on the other side of her, who in turn was seated next to yet another woman. A group of woman sat together on cushions to my left, leaning on the railing that lined a stairwell down to the park and HHDL's residence. From my vantagepoint I observed that every visible person seated on the inner raised floor had removed his or her shoes, and many of these shoes were lying on the lower pathway.
One couple I noticed in the nuns' section shared a blanket and seemed to interact with each other. I assumed they were married, but that could of course prove to be wrong.
Most of the crowd chanted in unison with the man's voice on the loudspeakers, though as I sat with the lay section of the crowd I heard the people around me chanting something that sounded like a repetition of something and not at all in unison - neither with the man on the loudspeaker nor or with each other. Most of the individuals chanting in unison, actually, were in burgundy robes and held thinnish orange paperback books in their hands. They consulted them almost constantly, and at one point I noticed one nun look to another, only to have the second point to a spot in her own book. The first quickly turned to a page in her book and began chanting. Some people chanted with eyes closed, some with eyes open fixed on a certain point, and still others shifted their gaze from one place or person to another. Most sat supporting their own weight - some rather straight up but most individuals hunched over a bit as they chanted. A good number - 25 or so, I think - sat leaned back against railings (like the women I mentioned above), walls, or the large yellow pillars around the temple. This group was made up largely of lay individuals, but I noticed three or four people in burgundy robes doing the same as they were able according to their position around the temple. One robed young man in particular was apparently supporting as little of his own weight as he could and to my eyes was sending all kinds of signals that he wasn't very interested at all: his eyes travelled all over, he consulted his book far less frequently than his neighbors did theirs, and his posture leaned one shouler against a rear pillar and turned his body so it wasn't centered on the temple like everyone else's but rather toward the back end of the crowd, parallel to the lower pathway that ran behind the monks and nuns.
At one point in the ceremony I was surprised to find a number of men walking through the temple - Tibetan men, I take it, and most of them wearing matching light-blue button-down shirts - handing something to each person gathered there. There were at least four of these men. I was even more surprised to see that they were all wearing shoes there in the temple. More surprising yet was what they were passing out - notes of 500 rupees to every person dressed in burgundy robes, each holding a pile of the notes in one hand and distributing one note to each monk and nun. (It's possible there were individuals not actually belonging to the sungha - community of monks or nuns - but also not lay people, as I found out from talking to Dorgye in the café a few days ago. In any case, I didn't see any of the many lay people there receive money from these men.) (Also, I don't know where this money comes from or where it might go - food? housing? clothing? charity projects? Does it need to be accounted for? Are expenses recorded? Actually, come to think of it, I'm not that interested in many of these latter questions anyway.)
Periodically I heard cymbals or a gong sound loudly on the microphone, at which point the man leading the chants would stop and there would be a lull in the chanting as well. This would only last a few seconds, however, and the microphone would come back on and the man would then start his chanting again, followed within the first few words by the rest of the people gathered. (Whenever the cymbals sounded they were even harshly loud, leading me to believe they were likely very close to the microphone. When the man came back in on the microphone I could hear, quite loudly, the lingering ring of the cymbals, reaffirming that thought. I was not in a position to find out if their proximity to each other was as close as I thought it might be.) I noticed after around an hour that one man in robes would hold his orange book to his head each time the cymbals sounded. These breaks in the chanting, accompanied or initiated by the cymbals' sounding, grew in frequency until it was happening two or three times a minute - the man touching his book to his head each time - until a number of the people closed their books and procdeded until the end of the ceremony without referring to it again.
A quick note on these books - they were uniform, orange and thin, paperbacks. On each page I saw 25 or so lines of Tibetan and a page number. As I don't know Tibetan, I don't know what was printed on the pages; I couldn't understand what was being said over the loudspeaker, and even if I'd been close enough to the books I couldn't have been able to read anything.
I sat there with these people for well over an hour - how long I don't know as I didn't have a watch or any kind of timepiece, but it was significant. After the point in the ceremony when people were closing their books, the same men who had been handing out money came around and picked up these books. I noted that the couple I mentioned above had a book, which the man started to give back only to hesitate, bring the book to his forehead much as the monk I mentioned above had done when the cymbals sounded, and then finally yield the book to its collector. Many more people closed their eyes and chanted at this point in the ceremony.
Then, quite suddenly, the chanting stopped and people were gathering their blankets and cushions and things, putting on their shoes, and leaving down the two sets of stairs that lead to the ground level, park, some shrines, and the Dalai Lama's residence. The area around the temple cleared within five minutes, leaving only a large collection of cushions where the members of the sungha had been sitting in and around the structure. A number of people joined those that had been circumambulating during the whole end of the ceremony.
I must say that if this was participant observation, the only participating I did consisted of some frustrating efforts to get the attention of the frequent Indian (I mean mostly Punjabi) tourists who came up the stairs not knowing there was a culturally inappropriate direction to walk around the temple - circumambulating clockwise (relative to a vantagepoint above the temple) is the only proper, auspicious way to do it. See note 29 to see how that may have helped my relationship to the community (albeit in a very small way) and open up a door to relationship with an individual from within that community.
And, finally, a photo.
Monday, June 05, 2006
May 30, 2006 - 23:59 IND
I was finishing up some laundry just now and thinking about Midnight's Children by Rushdie - a lot of kids in the BYU group are reading it. Not including me, though I have some idea of what it's about just from talking about it with folks. I guess it's an appropriate book to be thinking about at this time of night.
It's been a long and full day. We headed out together this morning and earlier than usual, foregoing our traditional practice of waking up, reading scriptures on the patio that overlooks the valley, taking breakfast on said patio, showering, and doing schoolwork until noon. Why skip such a lovely routine? Well, Elizabeth and Lily are really keen on the idea of requesting a private audience with the Dalai Lama, and we had agreed that since Lily would be going on an excursion to lower Dharamsala today for a few needed items (including, I believe a book she needs for one of her courses), we would try to sign up as early as possible. It didn't quite work out, as requesting a private audience means going down to his offices near his private residence - which we didn't know until we found the office we thought we were supposed to be at. Fortunately, we found a nice, cheap food stand with sort of European-style pancakes (I'm thinking of what I call 'German pancakes' - sorry if you're European and confused or offended) and some good French (again, I'm sorry) toast. (I've actually heard from a friend who served an LDS mission in France that French toast really is French. They call it 'pain perdu' - lost bread - and make it with bread that's gone stale.) Then I went continuing this hunt I had going for some political histories of Tibet in bookstores. The man there, who was helpful but a little shady in that he kept telling us that if we wanted a taxi or a guide or anything we should come talk to him, found some titles for me and was nice enough to reserve them for me until I came back from looking at the library for the same books.
After all that we did get to do our studying, in case you were in suspense.
At about 13:00 we headed out for the Tibetan library, located on the Government-in-Exile's complex. The walk down was pleasant and familiar to a certain point - that point being a row of prayer wheels Ben and I happened upon yesterday while looking for a hotel called Chonor House. I had wanted to find it so I could get the address of the Norbulingka Institute down in Dharamsala, an organization whose efforts center around Tibetan cultural preservation and where I might be able to make connections that could ultimately help me locate a translator. Anyway, we missed it by a long shot (take the little uphill path just a dozen or so meters outside of the Dialectics gate, if you're ever looking for Chonor House) and ended up at this row of prayer wheels at the opposite end of the temple complex. The hill above them was just covered with string after string of prayer flags, ordered as always blue-white-red-green-yellow, as well as shrines and stupas, and the mid-afternoon's yellow light made the whole place shine. Mostly elderly folks came by, circumambulating clockwise (as always) around the temple complex and spinning the wheels as they went.
That was all yesterday. Did you get confused? Anyway, so today we passed that and asked a man how to get to the library from there. He pointed us to the monastery on the other side of the road and told us to follow its stairs down between pale-yellow buildings and eventually to the shortcut path. So we did - the steps were like something out of a surrealist painting, just a maze really - until we reached at path that led us down through some rather thick woods. We kept looking backwards in the hopes that we would be able to remember the way back up to the monastery when we eventually left the library down below. The path wasn't very clear and branched of again and again into these sort of ambiguous semi-paths, and we just tried to manage the best we could as the ground started getting covered - blanketed, really - in long conifer needles that made the whole path slippery.
So there we were, not really sure where the library was, or whether this path would even take us to the library, or whether what we were on was even really a path, but looking back the whole time to be sure we could retrace our steps on the way back up. I didn't think of it till now, but the whole thing had sort of an absurd buzz about it, didn't it?
Well we finally found the library, but not before I had myself some deep fried momos (mamma mia) and a mango drink Coca-Cola puts out here (not carbonated!). At the library I signed up for a one-month membership that allows me to look at the books (which are not available for browsing but must be requested) but not take them home. That cost me 50 rupees, whereas a membership that would have allowed me to take the books with me would have cost 250, plus I would have had to leave my passport at the library to take the books. No thanks, I'll just read there and take notes. Eh, call me cheap. You're probably right.
Reading was probably the best part of the day. The book, Tibet: Past and Present, was written by a Brit who was serving as ambassador or some other kind of diplomat to South Asia. He spent a long time in Tibet and wrote this book (among others) about the country, which gave me some really significant info for my research. For instance, I was talking to a young guy in the street who said he had fled Tibet near Mt. Everest and made it into Nepal (get this) "by the grace of His Holiness the Dalai Lama". I wasn't expecting that phrase at all, or anything even resembling it. But there it was. So how did "the grace of His Holiness the Dalai Lama" fit into the cultural structure of Tibet? Well, Bell (the British diplomat who wrote the book) says that Tibetan myth describes the origins of the Tibetan people as the union of Avalokitesvara and a she-devil (I've seen it elsewhere that she was a rock demoness), who had six children - the predecessors of today's Tibetans. Well check this out: Avalokitesvara is the Bodhisattva of Compassion, the very Bodhisattva who reincarnated is - guess who - the Dalai Lama. So you can see how such importance might be placed on him. I don't know if that made any sense or was in any way significant to you, but to me it was a revelation and really fascinating.
Other things came up, too, but it's really late and I should just go to bed.
I've finished my consent form, emailed it to a professor at BYU who's going to look it over, and sent my address to a company in India that can replace my windscreen. Research mode is coming along. Now I'll need to focus on finding a translator for both my form and interviews, and on just getting to know people. Lily, who's up here in the North group, is a lot better at that than I am. Or maybe I'm just hesitant to until I have a translator. Aw heck, what am I talking about? Why shouldn't I get to know people? That's crazy talk!
Oh yeah, did I mention I got a haircut? Yeah, it's true. I'm not sure it's really me - I really dig the long hair thing. I'll be sure to get a photo up sometime soon.
I've had some thoughts on representation and manipulation and skepticism that I'll need to write on soon, too, so expect that.
02 June, 2006 - 23:59 IND
Don't ask how I got started at 11:59 on two journal entries in a row - and I'll probably get to this one a little later because I need to get to bed, but I just needed to get this one started so I would have more of a reason to write about some of the things I need to think through in my journal.
I think that coming into McLeod Ganj, my biggest hesitation was that I would play the part of the stupid and naïf Westerner (sorry, I just can’t use 'naïve' here - that's the feminine form in French, and it just feels unnatural) who'll believe whatever he hears from anybody he talks to. That fear - no we'll keep using the word 'hesitation' - that hesitation should probably be important to anyone doing anthro research. At least, that's the impression I've gotten from the classes and readings and conversations I've had. But it becomes a probably even more pointed concern when you consider that Tibetans have lived for a long time with a political agenda and a popular Western attitude that backs it up. And while that attitude is probably justified - there are human rights abuses going on in Tibet, from everything I can see - Western support for the Free Tibet movement has probably washed back into Dharamsala/McLeod Ganj via the media (Brad Pitt and the Beastie Boys come to mind) and the endless stream of travelers and spiritual folks coming to look for answers. So who's to say that the research I'm doing won't be affected by that - by Tibetans in India telling me what they think I'll want to hear, telling me what they think America thinks? You can see the risks as I try to get to the 'reality' of the state of Tibetan culture here in exile.
...So that was a real guiding thought or feeling as I began performing my research, and it sounded healthy as far as science was concerned. But when I thought about it as a human being it just didn't settle right in my mind or my gut - and folks who know me also know that I tend to trust my gut over just about anything. So I was relieved to find that I might have a heart after all when I caught the tail end of a TIPA performance tonight. TIPA, the Tibetan Institute for the Performing Arts (I hope I have that right...) is up the mountain from McLeod Ganj, relatively easily accessible via (get this) TIPA Road, which I just happen to be living on now. The Institute is a small complex at the top of the road with a handful of largish buildings, a big courtyard with a stage at one corner, and a couple of basketball goals. (That's what I've come to call them - I hear from Sports Illustrated it's an Indiana thing. What would you call them? Hoops?) When we first visited the place with our friend Sanje (whose name I do not know how to spell), I listened to a constant cadence of drums and other percussion instruments - cymbals, I think, as well as a few kind of unique to Tibetan culture. I thought it might be a particularly nice place to ask about being able to film some preparations for the Dalai Lama's birthday celebration and maybe interview some folks; the stage, after all, has a big painting of him with the number 70 and a short dedication to him - apparently left over from last year's celebration of his 70th birthday. So when Lily and I heard that TIPA would be having a concert of music and dance, we decided to go. (Okay, that was kind of confusing. We're back to tonight now - are you caught up?) We caught the very end of the performance, which was held in a packed and very hot performance hall. It consisted of a number of men with long locks of hair or ropes attached to the tops of their heads who after their group performance each took a solo of what you might call (in Western shorthand) head-banging while all the other drummers on stage played, from what I could tell, according to the beat with which the soloist swung the rope from his head. I wish I could describe it better. It was really impressive and got a lot of enthusiastic applause from the crowd, which was made up of mostly Tibetans.
But after that was what really struck me. In Tibetan and then in English, an unseen announcer asked the whole crowd to stand for the singing of the Tibetan national anthem, and I watched from outside - physically and emotionally - while one of the performers came out in his Tibetan garb, bearing the Tibetan flag on a thick pole. He fixed his view at some point in space and led the hundreds of Tibetans present in a melody that was both haunting and beautiful, proud and sad. Everyone sang every word.
It's going to sound ridiculous, but I hadn't ever realized that Tibetans would have their national anthem. It just didn't occur to me that anyone - let alone everyone - would still know the words to the national anthem of a currently non-existent country. I didn't even realize it would ever exist. But now I'm forced to think of all this in a new way - to consider that despite all the factors that still could spell political bias in interviews and the need for caution on my part, there are real emotions involved in all this. Preservation is not just an issue for academic review but a human endeavor for what are, for these individuals, very real and very important reasons. Lily was talking last week to a woman who owns a bookstore with her husband and asked whether the woman was happy that everything's working out for Tibetans here in Dharamsala/McLeod Ganj so well, happy that they were able to maintain some of their culture while they're here and at least have some peace. "No," said the woman, and Lily was taken aback. "I'm supposed to be in Tibet."
That wasn't the clearest story and I know I had paragraphing issues, but I hope it got the message across all right.
As far as the film goes, I'm between two ideas now. The culture-of-cultural-preservation as encapsulated in the Dalai Lama is still a good idea I think, but I've heard about a band around here that my friend Sonam calls 'the only good Tibetan rock band', and I think that's got some merit to it too. Plus rock and roll is a whole lot sexier to an audience than cultural preservation through dance and costume in preparation for the Dalai Lama's birthday celebration. But what if I took a look at both? I mean, I wonder if this band I've heard about (who also runs a café in town, which would be a nice dynamic for the piece) does its rock thing in the name of the Free Tibet movement. In that case wouldn't it be interesting to see the two ways groups are doing performing arts in the name of Tibet - 'traditional' vs. 'Western'? Frankly it sounds a lot more interesting to me because of the contrast visible between the two, and as I've said rock and roll will sure have a lot of sex appeal.
I just realized that that kind of thing might not be the best thing to put up on a blog, for the whole world to see. Fine, okay, just go ahead and steal my ideas, see if I care... Wait, I take it back.
I caught a pretty gross cold this past week, but I think it's about done for now. The first night, though, I practically didn't sleep and when I finally got up in the morning I had a terrible sinus headache so I just stayed in bed and drank hot stuff (like hot lemon-ginger with honey, mmm...) and tried to pamper my way to health. Now I'm doing fine, though, and I'm all kinds of ready to get back and do more work in town. That'll mean going out and doing more work like the other day when, after expressing concern and surprise to the rest of the group about my apparent inability to build any kind of relationships with folks I've met here, I ducked into a little restaurant/café and ended up at the only 'free' table with a guy in the common burgundy robes of Buddhist monks. I pulled out my notebook, where I'd written a couple of Tibetan phrases, and got about halfway through "What's your name?" (Kherang-gi tsen la ga rey yin - see, it's long!) when he finished the phrase for me, smiling. Turns out he spoke a good amount of broken English, so we spent some time talking about the Dalai Lama and monastic life versus laity. Turns out he's 'in the middle' - not a layman and not a monk - because he hasn't 'taken the vow' yet. Too many rules, he says. But he and I got along just great, and I'm going to try to play it really chill, just like that time, from now on.
Oh, by the way, turns out there's another Lama who's also an incarnation of Avalokitesvara, so I'm not sure what to make of this whole thing. Would both be seen as father figures for Tibetans? How can one Bodhisattva have multiple incarnations at one time? Also, where does the incarnation of a Bodhisattva end and the individual we see begin - the Dalai Lama talks about his imperfections but (from what friend and fellow BYU student Elizabeth tells me) teaches that the Boddhisattva doesn't have imperfections.
03 June, 2006 - 22:34 IND
Today was the Buddha's birthday, and we missed it. We were at the farmhouse that belongs to our guesthouse owner - she'd invited us a number of times, and something had always happened (most recently my cold), so when we figure out that today would really work we just went for it. She's been so kind to us that we felt that the continuing appearance of these complications was only beginning to strain our relationship, and we wanted to go and let her share some of her pride and joy with us. I guess I'll have to just plan on going to the Karmapa Lama's birthday celebration (it's about an hour away - I've forgotten the name of the town) on the 26th of this month. Oh wait, that's my birthday too! And up until now I didn't think any celebrities had been born on my birthday...
It's weird to me that a bunch of my friends are playing ultimate in Provo right now, as I get ready for bed. (For those of you who don't really know much about me but are reading anyway because you don't have anything better to do, Provo, Utah, is where I've been living for the past few years while I'm at school at Brigham Young University. 'Ultimate' means ultimate frisbee, and I've played every Saturday, rain or shine, in sickness or in health, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, for about two years - plus a few stretches where I'd play four or five times a week for a couple months.) So to those of you who are playing right now, know that in a way I'm jealous because (1) I don't get much exercise these days and (2) this trip is really expensive. Sometimes I get a little homesick when I think about everybody out there playing. So please, let's keep playing when I get back yeah? I'm kind of taking comfort in the fact that Tony, James, and I are all living like a block away from Kiwanis Park - and I know that's not Joaquin Elementary, but I figure they're probably going to start tearing the field up anyway, right? Or have they already? Wow, that was a weird realization - that a place that's been such a part of me for such a long time (four years!) is probably gone now. Stupid developers... Anyway, I can't wait to get back and experience Provo again with everybody. But for now, I have to figure out where in the world my research is going (will that process ever stop?) and how to finally put together this movie thing...
05 June, 2006 - 10:57 IND
Just a quick note before I shower, do some laundry, and run out to put this entry up on the blog. Really, thanks everybody for reading. Sometimes this switches between stuff that's really meant for you and stuff that's just reflection on my part, so if you're willing (or able, for that matter) to make your way through it thanks for sticking with me. I do want to hear how everybody out there's doing, so please send me an email or leave a comment here because they're sent to me through my GMail account anyway. And if I don't know you then by all means tell me who you are and what's your interest in the blog. Y'all are great. Thanks.
Photos coming soon.