the deluge cometh

i awoke this morning, looked out my window and thought i was on the s.s. ark. my knee told me last night that it would be coming, but i was not expecting so much.

i live on the tibetan plateau, behind the himalayas for you geographically challenged; we're not supposed to get very much rain here. the surrounding mountains are evidence--brown nearly all the time. so when there is a foot of standing water in the streets its a big deal. big enough to require men in business suits to walk up to the edge, measure the distance, retreat for a running start, and then leap--always landing smack in the middle. must be nice to walk the rest of the way to work in one wet dress shoe.

on a positive note, if the above could be taken as negative--probably not since i chuckled to myself seeing the described--i was less of spectacle with umbrella in hand. we all looked roughly the same, depending on our choice from the color wheel. but alas, my beard always gives me away. from beneath a picachu umbrella a girl calls out hello, how are you? but they never let me answer, turning before i can find the face for the voice. don't they know it's polite to wait for a response?

so, it's now come to be evening and the rain is still falling, albeit at a lighter rate. this day gives me three of my favorite things on earth, waking up to the sound of rain and laying in bed for while longer, reading a book with a cup of coffee while it rains outside (i finished the hobbit today, by the way--just for you little bro), and slipping into a cold bed to fall asleep to the sound of rain. i guess i like the rain. though today it cancelled almost all my plans, except phone calls.



i should have posted this months ago, when i bought the album. now introducing, balmorhea, a band my college buddy plays in. they are what i call ambient alternative. formed less than a year ago, they, in my opinion, show considerable maturity in their music. for all of you mono, EIS and godspeed fans, you should like this. it's similar to said bands, but with a lo-fi folksy twist. if you wonder where the name came from, that is where they are from, balmorhea, tx. i would post the album for you all to dload, but, alas, these are friends of mine.

their next show in texas is not till nov. 16 in austin, plenty of time to get you familiar with the band.

a few links:
here is a link to their website, where you can listen to all the tracks from their full length album,
their myspace page, and a review of their music


to be honest, there are times i can almost forget where i am. we like to think that every place is so different, or that we don't carry internal imaginings of a place, but that is not true. i find myself relying on a catalogue of images, words and stories to makes sense of what i see.

i had only just arrived in mai wa, a small tibetan village in northern sichuan, when my mind thought my eyes were playing tricks. wait i thought i was in tibet, not afghanistan or the middle east. up strode this boy, head wrapped in a scarf leaving only the blacks of his eyes to reveal life beneath. he pierced through the narrow slit as though it was a highway to revelation. eyes darting back and forth, unsure what to make of the white man in his midst. for several silent minutes he stood, and i too, neither ready to break the ignorant silence. then he suddenly turned and disappeared. as he strode away i was struck by the fact that i could have experienced the same turbaned non-verbal interrogation in central asia or the middle east, but with much different implications.

as i stayed among the nomads longer i saw more and more turbaned men. every time i could not help but recall the fanatics from newscasts. these appearances become markers for us, even the non-racist. we profile in a way. images arise in our minds, and the associated rhetoric follows, giving us a beginning point from which to make assumptions. albeit assumptions that are more concoction than experience. with too many parts unfiltered political rhetoric we look upon the world with a recipe of discrimination.

i am not sure what i am trying to say with this story--but we need to evaluate the images in our minds, and especially the rhetoric related to them. i would never intend to judge a people by something other than how i've experienced them, but my first reaction to what i saw full of sterotypes. now this is a bit of an exaggeration, as i did not really think the boy to be a radical, but i was stunned by my immediate response to his garb.


the ape returns to his own jungle

it seems that even a place that is not your home can satisfy that desire for rootedness. i'd been on the road for nearly 4 weeks till yesterday. arriving in xining i felt the satisfaction of returning home. though i live in the guest bedroom of a friends apartment, when i stepped through the door i was relieved. back packs were flung on the floor and i was flung on the coach. home at last! now a few days to settle and back to business.

you all will be relieved to know that the updates will come more regularly now that i am not spending weeks at a time in a nomad tent. here are some pictures to peruse. a few short stories will follow in the coming days.

a small chapel in yushu. pilgrims light butter candles for the bodhisattva's. the light of the sun only shone through like this for about two minutes; i was lucky to catch it on film.

this foot bridge was used more by monks on motorcycles than pedestrians. at one point when i was walking across i had to avoid a gang of monks. monks would remind you of a gang more than you would realize.

this girl came running out to greet me and my two 11 year old, self appointed tour guides as we left the mountaintop monastery. i just love the way children photograph. their expressions are so real, and revealing of their naivete.

when classes let out the monks mill about like any college student would. they rib each other and harass the younger monks.

in terms of being photogenic, old women are only second to children. these women laughed at me as it took me 10 minutes to take this picture. chinese batteries have a life of maybe 20 pictures, but sometimes as few as only 1.

this was the first time i came across tibetan woodworkers. there were at least a dozen shops in a row where furniture was constructed from local trees. i was glad to see some tibetan skills still in the hands of the average joe. too many times these skills are lost in tibet because of the degradation of society and the environment.

weary from a week of nomad life i made the perfect subject for beard update 3.0. the setting for this picture is a dilapidated yak slaughter yard.

like i said, second only to young children. this woman asked to be photographed with stove. she had a nicer than average home.

this kettle comes with a story. my friends grandmother was boiling water to make milk tea for us, but her milk had gone bad. so she picked up the kettle bare handed and walked outside to pour the water/milk out. with only the slightest indication of discomfort she held the pot. my friend and i looked at each other and laughed, she laughed too.

this man was an unabashed starer, so i decided to snap a picture to turn the tables. it did not. he laughed, and my friend told him to stop acting rude. he reminded me of native americans that wore the coats of soldiers. in fact, the similarities between tibetans and native americans are many.

sometimes i feel like an ape

i don't think it was like this the first two times i came to china. for the last four weeks i've been in remote nomad villages, and i feel like i am the one time left behind. old men and young boys stare. mothers and elderly women reach out and touch what must not be real. they stumble over themselves as they look in disbelief.

that's right, it's all about my arm hair. i am beginning to become insecure about how hairy i am. the other day i told the people that i was an animal, since they were all staring at me like one. i could understand the fascination with my beard--it is growing quite well, but may not be around for too much longer--but i am not that hairy on my arms. my conclusion is this, that i am just a highly evolved ape, one with more arm hair than those here and that i must get used to treatment as such. so, i guess since i am an animal that makes it okay to stare and walk up to pet me without ever saying a word.

in all honesty--i'll admit this on here--it makes me feel very odd. and a bit like a spectacle. i'll keep that in mind as i want to stare at people in the future.


life with the nomads and more

so, as you read this picture pigpen from peanuts. that is the only way you will be able to approach my last week.

last week i spend restfully in chengdu, the capital of sichuan province. i ate good food, met some fun people, and stayed in the nicest hostel i've ever seen. imagine a downtown loft refitted to accommodate guest with a lounge/bar with free big screen TV and pool table. it was a refreshing time between stints with the nomads.

on wednesday last i left for a little town called hongyuan. i had no idea what to expect. it was small, but bigger than i expected. i went to meet a friend from xining who grew up in the surrounding grasslands. today marks six days with the nomads. i returned this morning to the relative comfort of hongyuan. and my first shower since chengdu. now you understand why there is a cloud above my head. there may not have been a more refreshing shower in my life.

with the nomads i rode horses, herded yaks, at plenty of tsampa (uncooked barley flour mixed with lots of butter and milk tea) and yak. enough for a life time in my opinion. the life of a nomad is more than austere, it's spartan. it was a shock to my senses. who knew i was mildly addicted to the internet. or perhaps just to connection. i felt very lonely there, even with a friend sticking closer than a childhood puppy. the constant attention, and serving of every (perceived) need, while incredibly kind, grew tiring.

in my time with the nomads i finished a mildly entertaining book, which was given to me in chengdu by a brit., watched 3 1/2 movies, nearly was thrown from a horse running near full speed, and was chased by a wild tibetan mastiff, which are known to be vicious.

but alas, after all the drama, internal and external, i survived. really, it was more difficult than it needed to be. the fact that i have slept in a hotel for three weeks, have eaten out too many times, and am tired of not having a close friend to share things with added to my discomfort. only a few more days of travel and i am 'home.' i await xining like a kid christmas.


story by number

3 days, 2 buses, 31 hours, only 300 miles, 4 hours sitting in a field waiting to get through a check point, 1.5 hours to drive two miles through a construction site, 2 items lost, 1 flannery o'conner novel and 1 patagonia fleece, at least 1 argument with with the bus driver, more than 13000ft of elevation lost, 1000s of nomad tents, 100,000s of yaks, 100s of peaks taller than anything in the lower 48.

4 days, 4 hotels, 1rst migraine headache in 10 years, 1 episode of vomiting in a shared toilet, too many outdoor bathroom trips to remember, 2 lonely bottles of beer, 1 broken, but now fixed ipod, 0 headphones--packed away, 1 monk inviting me to his home--which i passed two days earlier on a horrific bus ride.

6 new friends, 1 more bus ride, 1 girls phone number, 3 old-new friends in a new town, 1 super posh hostel in chengdu, 1 above average chinese pizza for $6, 6 games of pool--all losing, 1 nights worth of great sleep. then today came and we shall see what happens.