Announcing that the novel I’d been writing for eight years, The Dream of the Turquoise Bee, is out in paperback and all ebook channels (Kindle, Nook), so check it out. Over the years I’ve been in the Dharamsala refugee community and in Tibet, I’ve collected some touching, hilarious and tragic stories from my Tibetan friends and have woven them all into a story that has been reviewed as “a ripping tale of intrigue” and ” mesmerizing stories of life on the Tibetan Plateau all brought together in a novel that will both charm you and capture your attention from beginning to end.“
Order now at:
ABOUT THE DREAM of the TURQUOISE BEE:
In 1959, renowned French photojournalist Girard Pelletier disappears in Tibet. His colleagues believe he was murdered, as it is known he was writing a book about the Chinese takeover of Tibet. Years later his wife, Erzebet, a botanical illustrator, accepts an official invitation to join an educational exchange in the same region where Girard disappeared. She believes she will solve the mystery of his disappearance. The scholarly mission is a ruse. Erzebet has been set up by the Chinese Government.
What appears to be a scholarly quest evolves into a twisting tale of the police, forbidden romance, dangerous adventures, and personal obsessions played out against the backdrop of the spectacular landscape, exotic people, wildlife and flowers of Tibet.
REVIEWS HAVE BEEN STRONG, SALES ARE MARCHING ALONG:
A rich and powerful novel that combines romance, mysticism, and politics in the mysterious world of Tibet. A thrilling and intelligent story unfolds as artist and botanist Erzebet Pelletier sets out to find wildflowers — and to discover what happened to her journalist husband who vanished years earlier as the Chinese moved into Tibet.
— Sasha Paulsen, Napa Valley Register
My greatest hope in writing this novel was that Tibetan themselves would think it captured the truth of their lives,:the struggle, the fun, and the connection to the West which has been enthralled by the Tibetan story for centuries. And, so it has:
“. . . the touching and gripping tale of Tibetans who escape over the mountains to India, pray for the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet, live under the brutal oppression of the Chinese government, and teach their children to love, herd animals and read—this describes my parents and their parents and their parents before them in Tibet. More than a great adventure story you cannot put down, this is an education about our culture–written by someone who has been on the inside learning and experiencing it for years.”
–Lobsang Tsering (Director of Tibetan Living Communities)
I wanted to tell the story and interlace it with my work in botanical illustration on the Plateau (I’ve got 58 paintings so far, with another 50 to go) , so that’s in there, too, as Erzebet Pelletier, a French botanical illustrator, travels to Tibet to solve the mystery of her husband’s disappearance.
Where did it happen? Here, at the nomad camp at Manigango in Kham, where nomads, horses, and yaks live on the shores of the sacred lake known for its celadon waters and stones carved with the Tibetan Buddhist prayer, Om Mani Padme Hung:
And of course, what is Tibet and what is a botanical illustrator in Tibet without the stunning display of the the Tibetan Blue Poppy to drive the turquoise bee wild?
Hope you love it and think of it as a great gift for friends and colleagues for the holidays and those reading vacations. 10% of the profits from all sales go to Tibetan support groups and projects world-wide, so while you kick back and dream of Tibet, you continue to give to our friends on the Plateau, too. The first set of profits will go to International Campaign for Tibet until January 15, 2013.
Thinking about how all of you can come and visit in New Orleans and have an extraordinary experience of the strange and intimate kind–the experience you would never get on your own or with your standard tour groups. . .
We’ve got a plan!
Cassandra Snyder, a resident of New Orleans since 1988, leads culinary/historic tours in this fabulous city. She said to me, “Tibet’s too far away! India’s too far away! Let’s do a New Orleans tour together and show people parts of the city tourists generally never see.”
We’ve put together a wonderful, multi-dimensional time in The Big Easy, that will include sketching for those who are so inclined. We’ll keep our eyes and ears open for special events (such as jumping into Second Line parades with their brass bands) that add spice and vim and vigor to New Orleans.
Take a look and see if this suits your fancy, and if it does, let us know soon. We’ve set the limit at tenguests.
October 18 (Start at 3:00pm), 19, 20, 21 (Until Noon)
We’re past the heat and the hurricanes and into the best weather of the year with
flowers in bloom and music and art on every corner
Introducing the ever-ebullient Cassandra. She started doing tours in New Orleans in 2011, with an emphasis on the culinary—loves to take people to the great places locals visit but tourists never hear about. Besides that, she’s the source for inside tips on local music, artists, and history.
Built in 1832, the Olivier House Hotel on Toulouse Street is a prime example of Creole Greek Revival architecture. There’s banana trees and fragrant flowers, a pool and your rooms have patio access.
Olivier House in the French Quarter
October 18 (Thursday):
3:00pm: Check in at the Olivier House if you arrive early, they’ll hold your luggage for you while you wander in the neighborhood of the French Quarter, or allow you an early check in if your room is ready).
4:00pm: We’ll take the streetcar up St. Charles Avenue, admire the Southern mansions, and lounge with snacks and a mint julep on the verandah of the famous Columns Hotel on St. Charles.
The Columns Hotel
6:00pm-8:00pm: We’ll climb aboard again and reverse our streetcar adventure heading for the Ogden Museum of Southern Art o be part of their AfterHours evening of music and art. The quality and diverse media of the art in their collection is nothing short of exemplary. While we wander between the galleries, we’ll listen to local musicians with a national and international standing. A well-loved part of the Ogden AfterHours experience is the interview with the musicians by local radio personalities.
Dinner on Your Own: We’ll provide a list of great restaurants in the city–some near the Ogden Museum, some in the French Quarter, some a short cab ride away. There’ll be cuisine for every taste.
10:00pm-???: Still going strong? We’re happy to accompany you to the one or two of the hundreds of clubs in New Orleans—there’s music for everyone’s taste from blues to Cajun zydeco, classical, brass bands, smooth jazz and hard hitting rock and roll. Tell us what kind of music you would like to hear and we’ll search it out.
October 19 (Friday):
Breakfast On Your Own: Choose one of the local breakfast spots (we’ll give you our suggestions) with full menus.
9:30am: Meet at the Olivier House for an historic two hour walk through the French Quarter and Jackson Square with a private guide from Friends of the Cabildo.
Jackson Square famous for its architecture, buskers, street artists,
and Caffe du Monde for coffee and beignet cafes.
Noon: Will find us at Café Amelie where a special lunch will be prepared for us, and we’ll sketch the buildings, people and flowers in Café Amelie’s gorgeous gardens.
2:00pm: In the Quarter, we’ll catch up with Frank Relle, known for his iconic photographs of New Orleans mansions He’ll share a few secrets of how he captures the haunting light and atmosphere of these antebellum beauties and you’ll have a chance to see some of the work from his stunning portfolio of Nightscapes from New Orleans. (www.frankrelle.com).
One of Frank Relle’s luminous and haunting photographs of New Orleans at night.
East into the Marigny/Bywater: For those who would enjoy more wandering in the neighborhoods, we’ll walk East out of the French Quarter to the Marigny/Bywater, two of the up and coming neighborhoods of the city.
Originally settled by the French, and showing the distinctive shotgun style of homes with delicate decorative details, these areas are experiencing an art and culture renaissance. We’ll visit artists’ studios: Kate Beck’s studio with stunning hand painted silk clothing and scarves (katebecktextiles.com). drop into antique shops, hang out somewhere around Piety and Desire (“STELLA!!!!!”), and absorb the locals’ side of old New Orleans.
Sticking Close to the French Quarter: Take a nap; chill out on the patio of the Olivier House or wander on your own in the city. We suggest visits to The Louisiana State Museum at the Cabildo, or the 1850 House showing life as it was in mid-nineteenth century New Orleans; and The Presbytere which houses a Mardi Gras Museum and the new, interactive multimedia exhibit Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond.
7:00pm-10:00pm: You know you can’t come to New Orleans without going to Preservation Hall. We’ll have an early dinner in the neighborhood and be at the doors of Preservation Hall by 8:30 for a fabulous evening. Preservation Hall opened its doors in 1961. The hall was created as a sanctuary, to protect and honor New Orleans Jazz which had lost much of its popularity to modern jazz and rock ‘n roll. Every night, the hall is filled to capacity with people eager to hear New Orleans jazz played by veteran musicians in their 70’s and 80’s and younger musicians learning and embracing the sweet and beautiful music of their city.
At Preservation Hall with the Musical Legends of New Orleans
October 20 (Saturday):
7:00-11:00am: Guest pick up at the Olivier House
Stop for coffee and croissants and then we drive ½ hour to the Honey Island Swamp, one of the least-altered river swamps in the country. It’s pretty much in its original condition, almost a pristine wilderness. We’ll take a personalized narrated nature tour into the 250-square-mile swamp. Nearly 70,000 acres of it is a permanently-protected wildlife area–the Nature Conservancy’s First Louisiana Nature Preserve. Turtle, herons, egrets, alligators abound!!
Egret at Its Nesting Area in the Honey Island Swamp
Lunch: At Liuzza’s one of the city’s most popular local eateries.
1:00pm: Bike Tour up the historic Esplanade Ridge to City Park. Esplanade Ridge with its gorgeous mansions was known as the “millionaire’s row” of the Louisiana Creole society of New Orleans. We’ll also drop by one of the famous cemeteries of New Orleans-they’ve had their own starring role in such novels as John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Classic New Orleans Mansion on Esplanade Avenue
2:00pm: At City Park, we’ll have a lecture by Davis Baker, botanist and environmental ecologist, and an expert on the centuries-old oak trees (City Park has the largest stand of mature live oaks in the nation).
Our group will wile away a few lazy hours, sketching the oak trees, creating personal remembrances of New Orleans and its arboreal heritage. You may also choose to see the excellent collection at the New Orleans Museum of Modern Art, boat on the lake or visit the botanical gardens (one of the few remaining examples of public garden design constructed during the WPA Art deco period)
Centuries-Old Oak Trees in City Park
4:00pm-5:00pm: Leisurely ride back to the French Quarter, through neighborhoods adjacent to Esplanade, all with their own ambience and architectural flair. Look for the iron fences and gates shaped and painted like corn husks, the magnolia trees, and classic verandahs.
Late afternoon: Take a nap; chill out in the patio of the Hotel Olivier or wander on your own in the city. We suggest visits to The Louisiana State Museum at the Cabildo, or the 1850 House showing life as it was in mid-nineteenth century New Orleans; and The Presbytere which houses a Mardi Gras Museum and the new, interactive multimedia exhibit Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond.
Evening on Your Own: We suggesthearty snacks, drinks and music at The Three Muses on Frenchmen Street, where Creole Cottages abound and the scene is pure New Orleans. Check out the other clubs in the area, too, where you’ll find everything from blues to jazz, the wild Mardi Gras Indians, traditional brass and jazz bands, rock and roll and soak up the street music, in this, one of the world’s most exciting music locales. There are many area restaurants from high end to casual dining—we’re happy to provide our recommendations, and accompany you there.
October 21 (Sunday)
9:30am- Noon:Meet at Olivier House for a short stroll to House of Blues for a rousing Gospel Brunch to end our time in New Orleans.
We’ll feast on a wide variety of breakfast/brunch fare– everything from shrimp to chicken jambalaya, scrambled eggs, omelets, BBG ribs, couscous and Champagne mimosas –yep, we’re in New Orleans! And while we brunch away, we’ll take in the soul-stirring music that was born in the churches of the South.
Gospel Singers at House of Blues
12:30pm: Check out from Olivier House. We all say good-bye, but guess New Orleans will be in your heart and we’ll be seeing you again.
Cost/Person/ Sharing Double Room: $1,250/person
Single Room Accommodations: Please add $250 (Total Cost= $1,500)
Your place is reserved with a $500 Nonrefundable Deposit (by check) to:
3210 St. Peter
New Orleans, La. 70119
Balance due by September 30, 2012
Paypal: It is also possible to pay both the Deposit and Balance by Paypal. If you choose to do this, please add 3% to the Tour Fee to cover Paypal charges.
Paypal Account for Payment: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tour Fee Covers:
- Hotel Accommodations at Olivier House for 3 nights (Oct 18, 19, and 20)
- Meals/Drinks/Activities Included:
- Drinks and snacks at The Columns
- Streetcar ride up St. Charles Avenue
- Music and art at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art
- Private Walking Tour of the French Quarter with Friends of the Cabildo
- Lunch at Café Amelie
- Dinner and evening at Preservation Hall
- Honey Island Swamp Tour
- Lunch at Liuzza’s
- Bike Tour up Esplanade
- Gospel Brunch at House of Blues
Please contact Dianne Aigaki at email@example.com
or Cassandra Snyder at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dianne Aigaki’s Life List
Dianne’s Philosophy About the Life List
I first read about explorer John Goddard’s Life List in the early 1980’s. Immediately I knew it was a ground-breaking and heart-opening philosophy concept, and that it dovetailed perfectly with how I had lived my life since I was a child. I always believed that you can do what you love in your life and money will follow. That has been my experience my whole life. The Life List can be the vehicle that pushes and pulls you and elevates you throughout your entire life, whether you are 5 or 105.
I began to facilitate workshops in the Life List in 1981. Hundreds of people attended, and I have introduced Mr. Goddard’s Life List concept to hundreds more over the years. Here are some of the comments from people before they wrote their lists, and afterwards.
Before Writing the Life List:
- How does a Life List translate into a “real life”–what relevance could it possibly have to a “real life” where people have to work and pay the bills?
- Isn’t a Life List all about dreams—who’s got time for that in this day and age? Get practical!
- Am I doing myself, my spouse, or my kids a favor by suggesting that they create a Life List, or is this just encouraging them to spin them off into fantasy land when they need to buckle down and get to work on their real life?
- Yes, you may have made your Life List come true, but you were probably born with a silver spoon in your mouth! What does this have to do with me?
After Writing the Life List:
- I was afraid to write my Life List—and was actually trembling with anxiety when I started. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I thought I would have 5 items—instead I had 87 when I finished. Some of these I had been afraid to tell another soul—for fear they would laugh at me for being in a fantasy world. When I looked back over my list at the ed of the afternoon, I was elated. There wasn’t a thing on it I couldn’t accomplish in my lifetime—they weren’t fantastical visions at all. I showed it my friends, my brother, my friends, and even my boss-there wasn’t a single person who laughed at me. In fact, every one of them wrote their own list the very day they saw mine!
- The day I wrote my Life List, my world changed—before I even started to get to work on it, my life was brighter.
- I can’t believe how many things I wrote on my Life List that have now come true—as if the energy were magnetized to make it happen just by my writing it down, without me doing anything at all.
- The Life List exercise shaped my life—from the first day. I saw right in front of me every dream I had had as a kid and as a young adult—and better yet, I saw they were still possible.
- I’m a goal person. I wrote my Life List and suddenly had a chart of my greatest dreams. I started within five minutes to put the details in place to make them happen, and within weeks was checking items off—hopes that had been sitting in the back of my mind for decades.
- My husband, my teenage son and I came to the Life List workshop together. We all think it was the day our lives changed for the better. We walked into that workshop feeling like we were each living in little boxes and out of there laughing and exhilarated by what lay ahead.
Here is my list. I have to admit, it feels a little scary to put it out there for not only friends and family, but perfect strangers to read–but in the spirit of this blog, here I go! I’m going to throw in a few photos at the end to show you what has come to my life via my Life List. I hope you find it interesting and are inspired to write your own. It’s never too late to write your List and start to live it.
Dianne Aigaki’s Life List
LIST FIRST WRITTEN FORMALLY in 1981
(SOME KEY GOALS WRITTEN IN RETROACTIVELY),
UPDATED EVERY FEW YEARS
|1)||Move back to Brazil (Added: 1968)|
|2)||Buy an island (Added: 1972)|
|3)||Live on an island where I have the only house on the island||Have lived on two-Sacramento Delta (1971-1976), Napa River (1990-1996)|
|4)||Move to a place where I am right next to or surrounded by flat water, an inlet, an island, the bayou, a delta; with a dock that runs out into the water|
|5)||Become a hands-on healer (added: 1989)||Completed some of it in 2004-tapping; grant writing|
|6)||Win a prize for baking a cake (Added: 1970)||Completed: 2cnd place at Heart Association Cake Baking Contest in Stockton, CA (1970)|
|7)||Train a frog to jump in the Calaveras County Frog Jump Contest at Angels Camp, CA (Added: 1971)||Completed: 1971|
|8)||Be a professional fine artist (Added: 1972)||Completed|
|9)||Live for at least several months in Venice, Budapest, Sydney, Bahia, Guanajuato, Barcelona||Have lived in Bahia (1966, 1967), Sydney (2005)|
|10)||Have a lifelong relationship with an intelligent, funny, relaxed man–financially solvent, likes to travel, adores me and my family and thinks my approach to life is wonderful. (Added: 1994)|
|11)||Do the Tell Us Your Story project on the Li River in China
|12)||Have a museum exhibit of the Documenting Our Lives Scrolls- go back to China and do them again in the same areas-Guangzhou, Shanghai, Wuli, Kunming (Added 1988)|
|13)||Build a stone house (added: 1989)||Completed-Built my stone house in India in 1999|
|14)||Hike the Santiago de Compostela in Spain (Added:1990)|
|15)||Be with Wren when she has a baby (Added: 1992)|
|16)||Have formal gardens with calla lilies (added: 1993)||Completed- 2000|
|17)||Raise at least $500,000 for Gyudmed Tantric Monastery (Added 1998)||Completed-2000 and 2001|
|18)||Stay at the following five star hotels- Nilaya Hotel in Goa, Bangkok Oriental (Added: 2000)|
|19)||Die with Gyudmed monks at my bedside (Added: 2000)|
|20)||Be excellent in a competitive sport (Added: 2003)|
|21)||Earn my living at a job that is mostly outdoors (Added: 2003)||Completed: 2004|
|22)||Exhibit the Tibet botanicals in major botanic gardens and museums (added: 2004)||Completed-2006, 2007|
|23)||Complete 108 Tibetan botanical illustrations in eastern Tibet (added: 2004)||54 completed; 54 to go|
|24)||Show the Dalai Lama the paintings from Tibet (Added: 2004)|
|25)||Become a professional botanical illustrator and exhibit my work at museums and botanical gardens (Added: 2004)||Completed 1st round in Fall, 2007|
|26)||Exhibit paintings at the Royal Horticultural Society in London and win a gold medal (Added: 2004)||Got a Bronze Medal in Fall, 2006|
|27)||Be really good at pool (Added: 2004)|
|28)||Have a topiary garden with large topiary of a two rabbits, camel, llama, swan (Added: 2005)|
|29)||Be accepted into an explorers club (Added: 2005)||Completed: 2006 – Society of Women Geographers and WINGS WorldQuest)|
|30)||Receive the Right Livelihood Award (Added: 2006)|
|31)||Receive an Ashoka Fellowship (Added: 2006)|
|32)||Grow an entire garden of blue poppies of every kind (Added: 2006)|
|33)||Wear a necklace with flower seeds from the Dalai Lama’s garden (Added: 2004)||Completed- 2006|
|34)||Receive MacArthur Genius Grant (Added: 2006)|
|35)||Have an exhibit of the Tibet botanicals at the Tibet Museum in Dharamsala (Added: 2006)|
|36)||Take a botanical illustration tour to Tibet (Added: 2007)||Completed 2009|
|Do at least one motivational speech with John Goddard (Added: 2007)|
|39)||Be the commencement speaker at a private girls’ college and high school (Added: 2007)|
|40)||Do the Funding Forum training with the UN-be paid by the UN (Added: 2007)|
|41)||Speak Portuguese||1st Phase Completed|
|43)||Speak Spanish — Study Spanish every day or night for 1 hr for 6 weeks||Completed;|
|44)||Play tennis well (Added 1985)|
|45)||Play the guitar well (Added: 1985)|
|46)||Salsa dance (added: 2005)|
|47)||Learn all the constellations (Added: 1970)||Completed in 1972, most forgotten by 2007!|
|48)||Hike on a volcano; see a volcano erupting (Added: 1985)||Completed in 1990|
|49)||Hike the Blue Ridge Mountain Trail (Added: 1991)|
|50)||Speak Tibetan (Added: 1996)||Completed 2004|
|51)||Do a music tour of Africa- traveling for two months and hearing some sort of music every night—bars, clubs, concerts, villages—the whole range of music in Africa (Added: 1998)|
|52)||Speak with the Dalai lama in Tibetan as a first choice language (Added: 1999)|
|53)||Go by steamboat to Cachoeira, Bahia (Added: 2001)|
|54)||Go on five Earthwatch expeditions (Added: 2001)|
|55)||Take Thai cooking classes with Wren (Added: 2002)|
|56)||Do the grant writing training in Tibet without a translator Added: 2004|
|57)||Complete 50 paintings about the Voyage of the Endeavor around the world in 1768-1771 (Added: 2009)|
|58)||Write “Guardians of the Seven Wonders” (Added: 1996)|
|59)||Get $100,000 advance for Traveling with Monks in America (Added: 2001)|
|60)||Interview Gandhi’s niece he slept with and write an article about her and her experiences (Added: 2003)|
|61)||Get $100,000 advance for the grant-writing manual (Added: 2003)|
|62)||Receive largest advance ever given for first time novelist for Dream of the Turquoise Bee (Added: 2005)|
|63)||Know the islands of the Sacramento Delta and visit them all in small boats,using the Delta maps as a guide (Added:1980)||Completed: 1981, 1982, 1983|
|64)||Travel with Wren to Egypt on her 12th birthday (Added: 1982)|
|65)||Travel with Wren to China (Added: 1982)||Completed in 1987|
|66)||Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Belize (Added: 1985)||Completed in 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992|
|67)||Tikal (Added: 1985)||Completed in 1989|
|68)||Japan, China (Added: 1985)||Japan-1976, China-1987, 1988, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009|
|69)||Thailand, Laos (Luang Prabang) (Added: 1996)||Completed in 1996—|
|70)||Go to England to where the veil is the thinnest between the worlds-Avalon (Added: 1997)||Completed : 1997|
|71)||See the soldiers at Xian, China (Added: 1998)|
|72)||Travel in a bamboo boat on the backwaters of Kerala, India (Added: 1998)||Completed 2000|
|73)||Tibet (Added: 1999)||Completed-2004, 2006, 2007, 2009|
|74)||Tondabayashi Japan for the world’s biggest fireworks (Added: 1999)|
|75)||Solentiname Islands in Lake Nicaragaua (Added: 1999)||\|
|76)||Walk from Spiti-Lahoul to Ladakh (Added: 2000)|
|77)||The Amazon River Cruise with Dulce Nascimento (Added: 2001)|
|78)||Hot baths at the Hotel Danubius Gellert in Budapest (Added: 2004)|
|79)||Ice Festival in Iceland where they have all the giant ice figures (Added: 2004)|
|80)||Monet’s Gardens at Giverney for two weeks and create a book of botanicals done in the garden (Added: 2007)||\|
|81)||Run a 10k in Italy|
|82)||Sail in the Grecian Islands (Added: 2007)|
|83)||Go down the river that links Mexico and Guatemala (Added: 1989)|
|84)||Follow in the footsteps of Frank Kingdon-Ward retracing his 1926 botanical expedition through Tibet (Added: 2004)|
|85)||Khowalingri Mountain in Kham, Tibet (Added: 2007)|
|86)||Nam-tso, The sacred lake in Tibet (Added: 2007)|
|87)||Travel the length of the Endeavour River in Australia and paint the same botanicals there that Sydney Parkinson did when he was on Captain Cook’s tall ship, the Endeavour 1768-1771 (Added: 2009)|
|88)||See the Royal Barges go up the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok (Added: 1999)||Completed: 2007|
|90)||See a tiger in the wild (Added: 2000)||Completed in 2002|
|91)||See a yak (Added: 2000)||Completed in 2004|
|92)||Ride a horse or some other big animal in every country I visit (Added: 1985)||Completed: China (horse), Tibet (horse), Guatemala (horse), Costa Rica (horse), India (camel, elephant), Thailand (elephant), Mexico (Horse),|
|93)||Have a giant rabbit||Yes!|
|94)||See a giraffe in the wild (Added:: 2002)|
|FAMILY AND FRIENDS
|95)||Bake the rabbit/lamb/wagon birthday cake for Wren on her 100th birthday (Added 1982). This will be April 21, 2077|
|96)||Meet the Dalai Lama (Added: 1995)||Completed in 1995|
|97)||Be with my aunts when they are dying (Added: 1998)||Completed with Blanche (2007) and Margaret (2000)|
|98)||Take Rafael and Eliza on an Earthwatch Expedition (Added: 1999)|
|99)||Meet Jimmy Carter (Added: 2004)|
|100)||Have the Dalai Lama to dinner at my house in Dharamsala (Added: 2004)|
|101)||Meet Ratan Tata and have dinner with him at one of the Taj Hotels (Added: 2005)|
|102)||Be with Norbu and Sonam when they return to their families in Tibet (Added: 2006)|
|103)||Meet John Goddard (Added: 2007)||Completed: Dec 28, 2008|
More photos to come. Stay Tuned!
June 17, 2009
One of the things we love about Tibet is our addiction to Diamox, the medicine Barb and I are both taking to ward off altitude sickness (I actually first typed attitude sickness, which it may be helping with, too). One of Diamox’s great attributes is that it puts you in a deep sleep at night, and you are REM-MING all night long. For instance, I have dreamed that I was making love with Lapo Elkann (the 30 something heir to the Fiat fortune who wears the greatest suits and shoes), while at a going away party for my dear friend, Angelina Jolie. A few days later I dreamed that Angelina was wrapped up in a blanket, lying in a foetal position, and said to me, “I am your little squirrel.” Yes, I replied, with great affection,“You are my precious little squirrel.” I also dreamed that someone in my family had been through training to be a plastic surgeon, and they said I could have plastic surgery on my nose for free and it would be a great opportunity because the supervisor would also be there. I thought I would go ahead and do that, despite not really thinking I needed a nose job, but when I looked in the mirror, I saw that, indeed, I had a snout on the end of my nose that was just like a pig’s, so surgery was probably in order, after all.
Barb has dreamed that her left arm was a large wing made up of bright orange begonias, and her ex-boyfriend had a complementary wing of bright red begonias. She has also wandered with her grandmother for hours in a hotel looking for her grandmother’s room, and has been unable to culminate making love with somebody (she doesn’t know who—some cute guy) because she is in a room with eight doors and a plethora of people coming in and out serving coffee.
On our way to town one day, we are excited to see Khandro carrying two bags of garbage into Gansi. Yesterday, I had told her not to toss a biscuit wrapper in a field, and she looked at me with total amazement. Waste management hasn’t caught up with the Tibetans—rather like the US in the 1950’s when people would toss a garbage bag out the car window when they were out for a Sunday drive in the countryside. Big fines, recycling and trash pick up at your front door took care of most of that, but those are strategies that have yet to reach us on the Plateau. So, we are thrilled at the environmental breakthrough. As we chug toward Gansi in the taxi, she asks the driver to pull over to the side of the bridge, and lifts the two bags. I assume there is a trash site nearby, but she is about to toss it out the window into the rushing river.
Once again, she is totally taken aback by the screams of protest from Barb and I, and brings it back through the window to be deposited in a barrel in town, with a look of “Whaaaaaat’s the problem?” on her beautiful face.
We know that many of the people on the tours this summer are bringing clothing for the kids in the village. So, one I ask Khandro for a list of all the children in the village so that when the tour guests come, we can distribute those fairly and also buy clothes and toys for the kids in town. Great jackets and dresses abound (being China, everything is a rip off from some manufacturer who sells in the West—you can buy a North Fac jacket that looks like a real North Face or an Ozark Jacket that has a label saying Zarko). They’re a little short on the spelling. On the screen saver at the internet place, it says TES TO LIFE and NO TO DRUGS). Khandro sits down with me after dinner and in one fell swoop rattles off the names of 92 kids and their ages, from 1-18.
I am asleep when she and Nyima Dakpa come in to shake me and wake me up—they are concerned because she has forgotten 6 more kids that live at the edge of the village, so their names go on the list, too. I try to imagine remembering 98 kids’ names and ages, without a falter before I drift back to Diamox Land.
Today we go to town with Nyima Dakpa to buy a small two-burner gas stove for the tour camp site, since we have realized that hauling tons of dried yak dung with us will not work and my plan to have one of the silver paneled solar cookers is dashed when Khandro looks at me with skepticism and has me lift it to see how much it weighs–probably 150 lbs, not so easily hauled along with all the rest of our stuff (I probably could have gotten away without buying microscopes, but I did think the tour guests might want to look at bugs and leaves in Tibet)
Khandro is thrilled about the gas stove, but also scared as it keeps lighting up with a flare. She asks how Americans cook. Do they use an open yak dung fire? Do they use gas? When I tell her many people in the United States have electric stoves, I have to draw her a picture to get the idea across. She keeps looking up at the light and saying luk? (electricity). For someone who lost part of a finger and has 4” round scars all over her body from being electrocuted as a child–unconscious for five days–when she touched a live wire hanging out of a socket, she’s understandably a bit gun shy. By the puzzled look on her face, I can see that I never do bridge the concept between electricity and cooking.
Later on, Khandro shows us who’s boss and gets back at our know-it-all selves by wrestling with us, something that Tibetans love to do—I’ve been in many a wrestling scuffle, trying to hold my own with people who work in fields all day and run up and down the mountainsides—it isn’t easy trying to take down a Tibetan on their home turf, but we give it a go.
In the afternoon, we do the usual and go out to the path in front of the house to wait for our yaks to come home from the hills. Everybody else is out there, too, because that’s what happens at 7:00pm, 365 days a year in Oh Szang Village.
Above: Last of the Yaks Come Home from the Mountains
We open the gate to the courtyard of the home and wander in with our yaks–they don’t need us, they head straight to their stalls under the house. In the courtyard, Khandro starts playing around with her kids, chasing and wrestling with them and pretending to be the Chinese police beating them with truncheons.
Her 14 year old son, Thamdin, laughs and marches around the yard, imitating the rigid form and goose-step of the police and military we have seen in town. It is disconcerting for Barb and I who are on the sidelines, but just part of getting through life for them. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger comes to mind as a maxim that seems to have daily use in Tibet Land.
I have more Letters from Tibet to post from last summer’s tours, but wanted to break that series to let those of you who have asked about our plans for next summer in Tibet in on some great news. We have decided to do two tours in summer, 2010 and here are the details.
Tour #1 (June 19-July 5) will focus on Botanical Illustration, but as usual, everyone who wants the true Tibet experience and isn’t so inclined to learn to sketch and paint is invited along, too. Last summer we had a guest who was completing her 2 year Botanical Illustration Certificate Course and focusing on orchids and poppies of Tibet for her final project and other guests who had never picked up a paint brush before.
I will teach a botanical illustration class in sketching and painting almost every day. Ever wonder how in the world illustrators get leaves to look so realistic–you’ll be doing it in record time! Can’t imagine how you’ll ever be able to ix the colors so that it is true to the plant in front of your eyes? Never fear–that’s what you’ll be learning. We’ll focus on field work, choosing plants we love to look at or those that are strange and mysterious, even dissecting to see the floral reproductive parts (we have microscopes for those who want to get down to a cellular level). While some guests paint, others will be napping in the sun, hanging out with villagers, and who knows what else. The big activities (horseback riding at the glacier lake, spending the night at the restored nunnery, visiting the monasteries, shopping for silver knives with turquoise and coral encrusted handles, soaking in hot springs, and herding yaks) will be part of the painter’s journey, too.
Tour #2 (July 9-July 26) will focus on Photography. People kept asking if we would do a tour with this focus. After all, who is more photogenic than the Tibetans and surely the fantastic landscape on the Tibetan Plateau competes with any locale in the world? We went looking for someone who was not only a top-notch photographer in their own right, but someone who knew how to guide others in foreign lands. We are thrilled because we have just heard from Ron Zak, photography instructor at Napa Valley College (Napa, California), who has led photography trips to such challenging and incredible places as India, Thailand, China, Cuba, Greece, and Vietnam. Ron will give daily instruction and critiques while we visit villages, monastic centers, herd those yaks, go to festivals and meet nomads in the hills and streets of the local towns.
Visit his website at http://www.zakworld.com to read more about him and see what he’s up to these days. And better yet, imagine what it will be like to be traveling in Tibet under the guidance of an adventurer and pro like Ron.
The 2010 Dream of the Turquoise Bee link at www.dianneaigaki.com
The website for the 2010 tours isn’t finished yet, but the itinerary for both tours will be very close to the journey we followed in 2009, so take a look and see if you or someone you know will be joining us in Tibet in Summer, 2010.
June 12, 2009
In Oh Szang Village, we spend a lot of time staring at Khowalangri Mountain which rises up, miles away at the end of the valley. It is considered to be the spiritual home of Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, a famous Tibetan Buddhist teacher, who was a spiritual mentor to many of my friends in the United States. The mountain glows in the early morning, sparkles during the day, and shifts to rose pink in the setting sun. We can’t take enough photos of it—it’s spectacular, and the Tibetans can’t get enough of looking at the photos we take.
It’s 7:30am and I am called out to see Sonam, the neighbor across the road, a relative of Uncle Tsering Ngodhup, and the mother of a 21 year old boy who was arrested during a demonstration in Gansi last year. Before the Beijing Olympics there were demonstrations all over Tibet—thousands of people marched and held up signs, calling for a Free Tibet and for UN attention to human rights abuses on the Tibetan Plateau. Sonam’s son had held up a sign that said Let the Dalai Lama Return to Tibet. He was given a sentence of 2 years and 6 months in the prison in Chengdu, 18 hours from here, so it makes it almost impossible for his family to see him. While in prison, his hand was beaten with an iron truncheon until the wrist and fingers broke.
He had been a promising thangka painter (Tibetan spiritual painting), and now, still in prison, is struggling to regain use of his hand. His mother believes his hopes of painting are over. Sonam came to bring sho, the infamous yogurt the whole village now knows we are pining for, and to thank me for helping the political prisoners who were arrested during demonstrations before the Olympics. I had sent money to Rinchen’s family who distributed it (keeping copious notes it appears) to the poorest families, the money allowing them to provide food and medical care to sons and daughters who had been arrested. Generally, political prisoners are given a half cup of rice a day and a small cup of hot water, so without food provided by the family, they may easily starve to death.
By 9:30am, Sonam has gone and we are on the road with Uncle Soega, off to do the final scouting on the site for the camp we will set up beyond Oh Szang Village. We find the perfect spot across a river (a place Uncle Soega reminds me where I took a long nap a few years ago while painting flowers–Tibet is a great place to take naps), with the Chola Shan Mountains rising at the end of the valley, a nunnery reduced to ruins during the Cultural Revolution, and a large area the length of a football field filled with stones carved with Om Mani Padme Hum (the Tibetan national prayer for compassion and to end suffering for all sentient beings). Along the edges of the mani stones are tall poles strung with thousands of prayer flags, all blowing in the wind.
A yak herd wanders by, two nomads walk up to their horses in the field and sit down for a picnic. The question is—how will we get the 19 passenger bus into the area? There is a steep, dirt road that winds around the mountain. Uncle Soega and the taxi driver think the bus will make that descent and ascent quite easily. Barb and I assure them this won’t be the case. We talk back and forth and Uncle shows me, using pantomime, how the bus can ford the river. I can’t see it, frankly. He keeps telling me the bus will either ford the river or wait on the other side and a smaller car will shuttle guests and camping equipment back and forth. I still see only a rushing river below us. He draws me a map to show me how this act will go, and we walk down to the river, while the taxi driver goes to get the car up on the road and drive down to show us how simple this will be.
Indeed, he drives across the river, submerged above the wheels, but makes it through. Okay, you win. It can happen. We can bring in 15 guests plus all their gear, the tents, the food, the stoves, the chairs, and the art supplies–piece of cake. We all pile in the car to go back across the river, and within a few seconds the car is swamped, water pours in under the doorframes, and the engine stalls out. We get out to look more closely at the situation, whereupon the taxi driver immediately takes out a rag and starts washing off his car, rubbing at various spots that need cleaning.
During a lull in the cleaning activity, we push- Chik, nye, sum. Chik, nye, sum and we push. Little by little the car moves toward the opposite shore. At one point we are stopped by large rocks and the driver takes the opportunity again to do a little more washing—taking out the dirty floor mats and giving them a quick scrubbing in the river. We push the car to the other side, turn it to face the sun, open the hood and wander around until the engine dries out a bit. Uncle Soega, always curious, finds a whole kamboodle of butterflies resting on the ground and calls me over to take a photo.
Fifteen minutes later, against all odds, the engine starts up and we drive back to Oh Szang, talking about how the river will be lower in July and August and the crossing will be easier.
2:00pm and we are at the home in Oh Szang Village when there are loud voices at the front gate—Gya-Mi! is the word. The Chinese police are here! Barb and I grab our passports, while Lhamo Choedon scrambles to hide my computer, filled with evidence of time in Dharamsala and my friendship with Rinchen. Nine people troop up the wooden steps. Khandro shrinks to half her size right before our eyes, and leans back against a wooden post. Uncle Soega comes in behind the police. He has met them at the front gate. One of the police speaks some English and is very excited to talk to us and practice. Only four of the people in the group are police, the others are his friends who have come to see the foreigners. What we are doing here? We’re flower painters—here to see the wildflowers. I take out the prints of the flowers I painted in past years and they pass them around and ooh and aah. Why are we in this village? The people are very kind to us. Uncle Soega tells them that I am paying the family to stay here—it helps them because they can’t work. How long will we stay? Probably a few days, we aren’t sure, there aren’t so many flowers right now. Have I ever been to India? I avoid the probability that he is talking about Northern India, the seat of the Tibetan Exile Government and say instead: Oh yes! I was in South India, the flowers are beautiful there. Have I been to China before? Yes, twenty years ago and a few other times. Why? Do you like it here? Oh yes!! The people are very kind. Have you been to Gansi Monastery? (Gansi Monastery is the hotbed of demonstrations and dissent–many of my friends in India were monks at Gansi Monastery before they were sent to prison and tortured for demonstrating). I went before, I tell him, but not this time—I’m too busy to go right now. Maybe later. It looks interesting, but we’re searching for flowers.
A very tall woman, a cross between an evil spy out of a James Bond movie and Nurse Ratchett, is one of the police. She is dressed in a Tibetan chuba, but as Khandro says later She looks Tibetan, but speaks like a Chinese. I am smiling so much while talking to the police that later my Pollyanna face has to be massaged back to life.
They copy down the information from our passports, tell us to be careful so we will be safe in China, and if we have any problems at all, to come and see them at their office. Just before they leave the English-speaking policeman says to me, One last thing. I advise you to guard your secret carefully. Be careful with your secret. What secret? I think he is using the wrong word, so I spell it out. S-e-c-r-e-t? That’s right. Secret-be sure to keep your secret. And with that mysterious message that only he and Barb and I could understand, they were gone and we were drinking hot water, eating biscuits, gazing at Khowalangri Mountain and talking about how the afternoon went down.
June 10, 2009
We’ve settled into village life, haven’t even been here a week and have already had a year’s worth of strange adventures. Things are a bit different than when I was at the house here in 2007. For one thing, the family now has a refrigerator. I was a bit concerned about the electricity that the refrigerator uses; they’ve been using silver folding panels for years to heat water for tea. But now they also have a solar panel that is 12” X 24” and powers two rooms and the refrigerator.
The first day in town, Barb (Barb has now acquired the moniker Bob-boo) and I bought a bunch of vegetables for meals (cauliflower, shallots, tomatoes, bell peppers, chili peppers, mushrooms of various kinds, and carrots) and when we looked in the refrigerator later, the only thing in there were bananas in a bowl.
What about the vegetables, we asked—later we would get to the information that bananas don’t go in the refrigerator. Oh, the shang-kee (the refrigerator) isn’t good for them, it’s too cold. We keep them in the root cellar. They’ll spoil in the shang-kee. They had a big chunk of meat in the freezer compartment, but thought this was probably too cold for it, too. Lhamo Choedon rapped on it with a wooden spoon to show me the problem, and sure enough, it was frozen solid.
I looked out over the wall, and sure enough, Ani-La (the sister who is a nun) was climbing into the root cellar like a mouse, and then re-emerged, backing out with the vegetables in her arms.
They also have a new washing machine, which was one of the first things they showed me after we arrived. Despite clothes washing happening in big tubs everyday since we’ve been here (we haul water up from the well in the yard and heat it on the stove with a yak dung fire), we haven’t seen the machine put into action. It sits in the large space below the living quarters, covered with a fitted tarp, making its home mid-way between the yak stalls and the 20’ high neatly-stacked piles of dried yak dung which serve as fuel all year long. These new additions to life in the village have come about because of the generosity of Norbu, their relative who has immigrated to Australia.
But back to yaks. Barb and I have jumped right in with our city slicker ignorance. Years ago when I first came to Tibet I ate the best yogurt in the world that comes from the dri, the female yak. Every time I tasted it, it was slightly different, with faint flavors of meadow or flowers—you could rhapsodize over the thick yogurt just like vintners do over fine wines from the Napa Valley, making up endless descriptions for the subtle flavors and aromas. Recently, after dinner one night, we asked about sho (yogurt)—where was it? I was used to a two litre bowl of it available at all times. It often sat right next to the five pound mound of dri butter that was gobbled up in a few days. Meh song was the word on the sho. It’s gone—there isn’t any. But why? Thus ensued a lengthy discussion about how sho is best in the morning, after the dri is milked at night, and the sho sits and thickens. Sho at night is not so good. Okay, so where’s our morning sho? There isn’t any? But why, there’s two yaks down there. Answer: One yak is too young to produce milk. Okay we get that, but what about the other one? They look at us, puzzled–perhaps we have a communication breakdown. With a stroke of pure genius Barb suggested I ask if the yak was a male and that was why there wasn’t any. Indeed. They looked at us incredulously. It hadn’t even occurred to them as we worked the yogurt conversation from several different directions that we were missing the basic fact that the yak (which by the way is the biggest, stud-liest yak in the village) was a male and wouldn’t be giving milk anytime soon in this lifetime. We told them we were just “de-tsi, de-tsi, khuk-pa”—a little stupid in the head, and they got a laugh out of that.
The fourth day we were here, Uncle Soega came to say that while all the villagers were circumambulating the main prayer wheel, the police came and asked about foreigners in the village. Uncle Soega (who is my plant guide when I am in Tibet during the summers) told them he didn’t know too much about us, but we were Americans and just here looking at wild flowers and would leave soon. They said they would be back at night to check our papers. Photos of the Dalai Lama were taken down and hidden in the temple room (which doesn’t seem like too much of a hiding place to me, but I assume they know what they’re doing). The family also removed several photos of me and their brother/nephew/uncle Rinchen. As a monk who raised a sign for Free Tibet, Rinchen was arrested and put in prison. After three years of being half-starved and tortured, he was released and escaped to Dharamsala where I met him on the street. We became fast friends and I now serve as the living link to his family, who never expect to see him again.
As the world turns, Rinchen was given a visa by the Australian Government in 2007 (something they did for 50 Tibetan high profile ex-political prisoners), so almost every day he calls us from Sydney and checks in. While we eat yak meat momos and sit in our mud house, with a dome of trillions of stars glittering above us in the Milky Way, Rinchen is often on break from his job as an aide at a nursing home, or sitting on Bondi Beach in Sydney with Tibetan friends.
Rinchen has described his low-pay/hard work job to me as, “As the very best job I could ever have. It makes me very happy. I love taking care of these old people. They are often angry at the world and I like to talk to them and make them happy and help them change their dirty clothes.”
With the news of a possible police arrival, I laid out the painting supplies and gave Barb a quick lesson in painting leaves, so we could look like authentic flower painters, but the police never showed up, and we’ve almost forgotten the whole scare even happened.
Yesterday afternoon, unexpectedly a man showed up at the house who looked almost exactly like Uncle Tsering Ngodhup, same nose, mouth and eyes. Yee-Doh is, in fact, a stepbrother—they have the same father and are one year apart in age. He came to thank me for my financial assistance when his brother, a Lama from Gansi Monastery, fell ill. This was several months ago. Rinchen had told me the Lama was ill and in great pain and no one had money for him to go to Chengdu to get proper assessment or medical care. I sent the money so he could go and be taken care of, but he died a month ago, at the age of 55 years. This Lama was the main teacher at the nunnery up the mountain where Rinchen’s sister is a nun. I first met him 4 years ago. Yee-Doh held my hand and wept as he talked about how this was his younger brother, a very kind Lama, always willing to do anything to help the nuns learn. His road had been hard and he should not have been the one to die first. He showed us all photos of the funeral pyre burning on the mountain with monks from Gansi Monastery and nuns from Gedun Choeling Nunnery in attendance, praying for his positive rebirth.
Late in the morning, we went to a hot springs about 45 minutes away. It is owned by a monastery, where (wouldn’t you know it?) the very large natural pool is mostly for men and monks and it is bad form for women to get in there, too. There is another much, much smaller area for the girls. It is a warm pool behind some rocks and the nearby ground is strewn with empty laundry soap packages and shampoo bottles, with the occasional flip flop scattered in among the litter. We scrubbed down and were on our way, stopping briefly on the main road (a two-laner with a car or truck going by every 15 minutes) to buy snacks from a Chinese vendor. He was pushing his cart like a popsicle wagon from village to village, and sliced off some translucent noodles –maybe soy- dowsed them with chili, leaving off the MSG for us foreign types, and we chowed down on the roadside. As we continued to drive toward Oh Szang Village, he was already pushing his cart along the empty road, the next village not even in sight,
As I write this now, Bob-boo is hoeing the potato fields with Lhamo Choedon, the snow of Khowalangri Mountain shining in the distance. Lhamo Choedon takes care of the daily family needs, herds yaks several days a month and is the sole person responsible for bringing in the crops-barley, potatoes and peas. She has several acres to work, no irrigation system–and, as you might guess, is a few years behind on the job. Almost every day she has a major migraine headache (what other kind of migraine is there, after all?)–which we can’t figure out if it is from the sun, from being dehydrated, or just the long view of her life of toil.
I shall take a turn at the potatoes after I haul up buckets of water from the well, and as the sun goes down, we’ll be set for a dinner of thukpa (noodles and vegetables) and another round of mysteries.
May 25-June 1, 2009
Okay, I take a lot of it back. After that last letter, we arranged for the expensive truck, went out for spaghetti and meat balls again to get ourselves ready, came back to the hotel at 10:00pm to find Uncle Wangyal sitting in the lobby waiting for us. He had come in from 1.5 hours away out in the country for the second time that day, and said he had a truck. A young woman with a very beautiful face and abrasive voice got on her cell phone and starting yelling at God knows who, Jason (English nom de plume of our handsome hotel manager who I have a crush on) translated between Chinese and English, and after only 2 hours of yelling and the Tibetans’ phone ringing every two minutes (Jason: “My God, they’re busier than I am and I run a 145 room hotel!” Me: “They must be drug dealers–that’s the only explanation.”), it was decided that we would leave at 6:30 am with the new/old truck with a Chinese driver who was a friend of some one or other and spoke no English. During all of this fol-de-rol, the Tibetan dance troupe arrived back in full costume from a successful performance at the Intangible Culture Festival and ran exuberantly around the lobby leaping and singing Tibetan opera and punching each other in the arms.
We left Chengdu at 6:30am on schedule and drove for 40 hours (usually takes 18 hours). We had to buck road construction for hours, a blinding snowstorm coming over a 16,000 foot pass, and a driving rainstorm with rain coming at us like crystal swizzle sticks.
The driver kept talking to us in Chinese and looking at road signs, asking me where to go. I had no idea, as I don’t read Chinese and couldn’t remember the way to Gansi–all yak herds were looking the same.
The fun nature of the trip was added to by a leak of freezing water coming in through the roof of the cab-right over Barb’s head. Being Barb, she gamely just wadded up a plastic bag and balanced it on her hair to ward off a potentially severe head cold.
Finally we crossed the last high pass (Gye La Pass–4,290 m/14,075 ft) and descended into the fabulous Tagong grasslands (a bit snow-covered for our arrival, but grasslands none the same). We pulled into our hotel about 10:00pm, falling out of the cab and into the hugs of the hotel’s owner. I’ve been through here before and they are always a warm, inviting group, chattering away. They showed us our rooms, and ran to the kitchen to start preparing a meal of thukpa (vegetable soup), rice, yak meat, potatoes–enough for a hungry party of forty, although we were the only guests.
Early morning, we were on the road again, the potholes and mud slides hardly fazing us. In the fields were decorated ponies and people with red yard woven in their hair, topped off with big amber and ivory headdresses and huge chunks of turquoise hanging from their ears. Snow covered the fields and the yaks in the meadows who also sported red yarn in their tails. We passed the beautiful homes made of native stone–they have a crisp rich feel–and indeed the Tagong grasslands are known for their fertile fields and fine architecture.
The Tibetan Plateau is known for its highly decorated windows and doors on stores, hotels, homes and monastic centers–designs include mountains, animals like the snow lion, flowers, leaves and the Eight Auspicious Symbols of Tibetan Buddhism.
The snow gradually disappeared and the roads improved a slight bit, cheering us up immensely. There is nothing that makes your heart skip and speaks more to being in Tibet than rounding a bend in the road and seeing Om Mani Padme Hung (often spelled and pronounced by Westerners as Hum)–the Tibetan prayer to end suffering for all sentient beings painted on the hillside high above a village.
. . . or driving by a village and seeing prayer flags stretching up the mountainsides, fluttering in the wind, sending out these same prayers of compassion out into the universe.
The weather began to clear before Tagong, where we stopped briefly at Lha-Khang Monastery, one of those shining examples that the Chinese Government has on display to show that all is well in the land of Tibetan Buddhism. I could be wrong about the public relations motivation on this one, but I have been there many times and have never seen more than a few monks on the grounds, and never heard or seen a ritual in progress.
Hours later (9:00pm), after more hours of insanely inefficient 10km/hour road construction, we crossed the final pass that signaled we were almost in Gansi. It was just in time–we were all ready to crack.
In the village of Oh Szang, a short drive beyond Gansi, we were greeted with tears and hugs by the villagers, and within minutes a fight with the driver had ensued because I had agreed to pay him more for the trials and tribulations of the trip and they thought I shouldn’t and insisted I not, hustling me into the house (We’ll take care of this!!”).
Jason had been calling all day from Chengdu to track our progress (world’s most nurturing hotel manager) and got on the phone and talked to everyone while the driver and the villagers yelled. Finally, I had Jason tell the driver I would give him the agreed upon fare in front of everyone, he should accept it graciously, and I would slip the remaining $130 “tip” under his seat in the truck. This came down with no further problems–we all went in the mud house to eat momos (including the driver), and be force fed with cookies and tea, and slept a sound sleep after being tucked in by Lhamo Choedon, my friend Ricnhen’s sister, and a woman who has become a friend like family over the last years.
Today we put one of the fab tents up and Uncle Soega went off to town to negotiate for tent poles, spikes and other accessories.
The Vision of the Dream of the Turquoise Bee Tours to Tibet
The Dream of the Turquoise Bee Tours is an eco-tourism partnership with Tibetan villagers living in Eastern Tibet (Kham). It began as a conversation with villager from Oh Szang during one summer when I was in Kham working on my botanical illustration project of 108 wildflowers growing at 11,000-18,000 feet on the Tibetan Plateau.
Since 2004, I have been coming to this area, traveling into the mountains with guides, searching for medicinal plants, the strange and the beautiful in flowers–dedicated to completing a documentation that could be a new way of telling the “Tibetan” story–a way of telling that goes beyond the political and human rights issues. Not a Disneyland perspective on “happy Tibetans”, but the real story of a peoples’ hopes, dreams and struggle for cultural survival. A way of telling that may draw in a new audience who may have never heard of the Tibetan Plateau or the issues that confront the people who live there in the 21st century.
My goal is to exhibit these paintings (there are now 47 painted over a five year span) and show that Tibet is alive and well–a culture and environment worth caring about and fighting for. The project brings new information and focus to how global warming is affecting the Tibetan Plateau and how Tibetan nomads and villagers are faring fifty years after the Chinese occupation of their homeland.
Despite the environmental destruction of the Chinese occupation on the Tibetan Plateau (thousands of acres of forest logged out and rivers polluted with factory waste are only two of the problems), it still enjoys one of the most diverse and richest expanses of flora in the world. From late May until September, wildflowers carpet the hills, meadows and mountainsides, a river of purple, white, blue, orange, magenta and every color in between. Many of these plants are rare and endangered or have been used for centuries in traditional medicines to treat illnesses such as asthma, arthritis, cancer, blood pressure, parasites and a plethora of other diseases and illnesses.
The conversation that evolved into the tours centered around the fact that this particular year, in 2007, the villagers were watching their crops wither and die in the fields. There was no rain–a situation no one could remember having experienced before.
We talked about global warming (they, naturally, had never heard of the concept) and I told them how people all over the world were concerned about this phenomenon and how it would impact people like themselves–subsistence level farmers who grow crops that feed their animals and their families and are used to barter for other goods. No rain-no crops-no food-no medicine-no school.
The question was—what will happen if you can no longer rely on your crops for your survival? We talked about the possibility of bringing Westerners to Tibet to be part of their lives–to witness their lives. We made lists of activities the tour guests could participate in–including botanical illustration sketching and painting classes, visits to monasteries, nunneries, and festivals, and yak herding. The villagers laughed at the idea that anyone would want to come along and herd yaks all day or churn butter, but I knew I loved it and others would, too. We talked about how the Tibetans could be guides, teach about medicinal plants (Aku Soega, one uncle, is from a long line of traditional doctors/medicinal plant experts) help with the tent camps, and cook. The children would have the chance to be around foreigners, learn new languages, and expand their world. After a long night of discussion, questions, laughter, we made commitments on all sides. It was a go.
The Dream of the Turquoise Bee eco-tourism project had begun. I would go back to the West and make it happen. The Tibetans would be ready to do whatever was needed on their end. The eco-tours started out as botanical illustration journeys and quickly evolved into journeys for photographers, landscape artists, botanists, and outdoor enthusiasts.
Why the Dream of the Turquoise Bee?
We named the tours after the VIth Dalai Lama who lived in the late 1600’s. He was the only Dalai Lama who refused to be ordained as a monk, and instead spent his time leading his people, becoming an expert archer and writing love songs and poetry—wherein he referred to himself as the Turquoise Bee. He had a deep connection to nature, and made many references in his poems to the wildflowers of Tibet.
About the flowers that fade in the fall
The Turquoise Bee does not grieve
It is the fate of lovers to part
And I, too, shall not lament
His story is one that every Tibetan knows (even those who have never been to school can recite his poems and love songs from memory) and his final poem (he was assassinated by Mongol invaders at the age of 23), symbolizes the hope for a return to a homeland—one that refugees around the world share.
Lend me your wings
I shall return
For me, the tours connect to the hope of Tibetans everywhere that they will one day be able to return to their homeland. Recent articles in international press indicate that the Chinese intend to move 100,000 Tibetan nomads and villagers off of the Plateau into Chinese cities. If this takes place, it will be one more affront to Tibetan culture and the traditional ways of life which have been sustained for hundreds of years. The eco-tours take this threat seriously, giving guests the opportunity to be in the pure, clear air of Tibet while spending time with the people who make their homes there.
For me, the tours connect to the hope of Tibetans everywhere that they will one day be able to return to their homeland. Recent articles in international press indicate that the Chinese intend to move 100,000 Tibetan nomads and villagers off of the Plateau into Chinese cities. If this takes place, it will be one more affront to Tibetan culture and the traditional ways of life which have been sustained for hundreds of years. The eco-tours take this threat seriously, giving guests the opportunity to be in the pure, clear air of Tibet while spending time with the people who make their homes there.
May 24, 2009–Leaving for the Plateau—A Few Steps Ahead of the Guests
After months of ordering microscopes, GPS systems, solar chargers, books on Tibet, Tibetan language dictionaries, solar showers, herbal altitude sickness remedies and corresponding with guests summer, I am actually leaving this morning to do the final stages of recon to make sure all is happening with our Tibetan partners in this venture. I am accompanied by my long-time friend, Barbara Morse. She and I have traveled to many countries in the world over thirty years and she is game to take this on and be the “in camp” support for the tours—despite knowing no Tibetan language and never having been to Tibet before.
We’ll fly into Chengdu, spend a day checking out the traditional Tibetan tents we have had made for the tours, and then travel west to the Tibetan Plateau. The goal is a simple one—go through all of the predicted up-front logistics on our own, so that by the time the guests arrive on June 19 in Chengdu, the tour is running seamlessly—and no one will be the wiser for what we have gone through to make it happen. HA!
The Dream of the Turquoise Bee Tour to Tibet
Greetings from the other side of the world. I really miss you-please come and save me from myself. For those of you who don’t know what is happening, I am in China and Tibet completing the final legwork and heavy-lifting for the Dream of the Turquoise Bee Tours to Tibet this summer. Please join me, vicariously, on this rather wild journey, which is an eco-tourism partnership with Tibetan villagers.
Let me start by saying you would not believe how close to the edge of insanity I am. It took days to get the 12 Tibetan tents in our own hands–because the tent guy who made them didn’t think Barbara and I were strong enough to put them up and he didn’t have enough people to help (how many damn people could it take? and he said they were too heavy for us –being girls and all–to lift, etc., etc.) Turns out the tents weigh about 40 lbs or less–a one-handed lift from my world. Anyway, that was exasperating, threw off the whole schedule by days and now we can’t find a truck to take everything to Gansi (last offer was a bus for $1,200 for the 18 hour trip, which as I watch the money drain out of my pocket seems like a bad move). Also had a 3 day holiday thrown in for good measure, which was explained to me as an idea the Chinese Government came up with to help people relax because everyone is so nervous about the economy. Before that we had two vehicles lined up that both cancelled (hours of torturous conversations went into lining them up).
I was awake at midnight last night mulling over my life while doing Sudoku, so went to town to a bar along the river. When I’d passed this bar earlier, I ‘d seen there were some English speaking people hanging out. Dave, the Chinese owner (I assume Dave is his own recent nom de plume) was there when I arrived and after hearing about our dilemma, he said he would drive us and the stuff in his own 4 wheel drive for $450 and we would leave this morning at 6:00am. I came back to the hotel, reshuffled all of the piles (food of every culinary origin, camping chairs, pots and pans, pillows, blankets, clothes, books, etc–you can imagine how much stuff we have packed in the hotel room-the hotel staff think we’re nuts as we have unloaded taxi after taxi of boxes to be carried up to the room), repacked the tents and went to sleep. By 3:00am Dave was calling to say that he had telephones his friend who is a policeman in Gansi (where we are going) and the friend said the area is still closed to foreigners and we would not be able to get in. He could go, but not us. That took care of that solution, as us getting there is at least as important as our belongings arriving.
An alternative is Choegyal who speaks perfect English and could be very helpful, but has a few character/family lineage defects, one being he is the nephew of a lama who is a spy. I wrote to my friend Rinchen to see if I could rely on him–get “permission” so to speak to have him negotiate for trucks. Haven’t heard from Rinchen. Then I had Choegyal call Rinchen’s uncle to see if Rinchen’s family can help with the truck, and got a call back (imagine this all coming down in Tibetan over the phone) with great concern about me talking to the Chinese spy family.
Today I opened an account at Bank of China, so at some point will be able to just start using that. I imagined it would be a nightmare to open an account in China without a permanent address, etc. It took all of five minutes to get a credit card linked to the account, an ATM card and a passbook. That was a bright idea, as we were carrying around tens of thousands of dollars in cash which we will need in Tibet–if we ever get there, of course.
The strain of it all has been broken periodically by foot massages, head massages and 100 wild Tibetans arriving at the hotel to stay while they participate in the Chengdu Intangible Cultural Arts Festival. They practiced dancing–leaping and twirling in the parking lot while the drum beat on. They were suitably attired in lion, tiger, and bull costumes head gear.
This is a good look with jeans, t-shirts and monks’ robes, since it was just a rehearsal–and that was a lift.
Later I had spaghetti with meat balls at Peter’s Tex-Mex Resturant that also had great carrot cake, so that was a boost. You can tell we are grasping at straws to lift our roller-coaster moods. When I look in the mirror my face has taken on a look of apparently permanent dismay
Anyway, now we are off to talk to travel agencies again to see if someone can confirm that Gansi is open–which everyone has said it is–but we need another round of confirmation before we hit the road–not that we know what vehicle we would be using to hit the road. The Tibetans in Kham have told us they have seen foreigners in the streets, but we don’t know if this is true or who those foreigners might be. As Dave the bar guy says, “It doesn’t really matter what the tour agencies say, my friend the policeman knows what the policy is and foreigners are not allowed in.”
At 2:00pm, we go back to the hotel to meet with another trucking company–with a translator, of course, since the potential tuck driver only speaks Chinese. This brilliant connection to the new trucking company happened because I decided we should buy tickets to the Intangible Cultural Festival (everything else being rather intangible, we would fit right in with the Intangible Culture events) and the first thing out of my mouth when we started to discuss the tickets was to ask the hotel manager/ticket guy if he knew of anyone with a truck that would drive to Gansi. Turned out to be a good question, as maybe he does. Hence our meeting in a few minutes.
More later–I hope. We may go to nap in the WenShu Park which is 4,000 years old, but is mostly known in my book for the place where I once paid someone to stick long, thin metal feathery things into my ears and twirl them for a scary ear cleaning, while I drank green tea.
PS-As we travel along on our journeys into Tibet, we are mindful of the privacy of our hosts. Living in Chinese-Occupied Tibet, their security is complicated and fragile, and naturally we will do nothing to compromise that. For that reason, we won’t be using their actual names–you will come to know and love the nomads, villagers, and the regions they inhabit through their pseudonyms.