Monday, August 25, 2008

Concerto: Basan Part 8

Eleanor and Genevieve are recovering from the flight in their rooms. Jeff and I meet on the roof of our hotel, from which we look down on Beijing Road cross into Bahkgor Square. Potala Palace pierces the clouds like Pride Rock in the The Lion King. The pace of life here is as fast as that of Beijing's, but there are less people. Chinese soldiers guard intersections and march in brigades, toting Russian rifles and heavy armored shields. The monk riots that occurred a few months ago still seem to worry the government, but these soldiers instill no sense of security. I feel wariness, restlessness. Down on the street, I take a picture of a bicycler. While judging the picture on my camera's digital screen, a solider confronts me and asks to see the picture. I ask why. No pictures of the security forces may be taken, he says. I show him the picture of the bicycler, fearing for the life of my memory card. Fortunately, the background shows no rifle, no green camouflage uniform, no trace of Chinese military occupation in Lhasa. He nods his head and walks away. While on the roof of Jakhong Temple (大昭寺), Jeff took a picture of me - I didn't notice the Chinese military sniper looking down at the market behind me.
Potala Palace - the former residence of the Dalai Lama, now converted into a money-making cultural relic by the Chinese government. The steps up to the White Palace, or the Potrang Karpo, are blocked by steel gates. All stairs lead to the Red Palace, or the Potrang Marpo. Red powder dyes the packed mountain wood walls. As I climb the uneven stone stairs, I use the battlements as support, red grains and splinters accumulating on my hand. I find myself breathing heavily, and sit at the next rest bench. The others continue moving up the stairs with the tour guide. I had just come from climbing Emei Mountain - how could a little less oxygen in the air be affecting me so much?
Up the stairs behind me climbs a skinny old man in Lama monk outfit. His royal red outer cloth and orange shirt are lined with black dirt at the creases. His yellow beanie is like that of Tsongkhapa without the sideburn protectors, though worn from lack of wash. He clutches a small bag of butter, humming softly while climbing the steps one by one. He sits down next to me.
"Hello," I greet.
He nods. I wonder if he can speak Mandarin.
"Are you here to worship?" I ask.
He nods.
"I see."
He looks at me and smiles. "I prayed all the way from Qinghai," said the Lama in accented Mandarin, "to kneel in front of the Dalai Lama."
I smile. Finally a break. "But my tour guide says the Dalai Lama isn't here," I say, "In fact, he hasn't been in the palace for almost sixty years."
"Nonsense, he is here. I have butter."
"What's the butter for?"
"Are you a tourist?"
"Where are you from?"
"Ah! amerigha amerigha!" he exclaims. "Ok, I am rested. Let us go."
He clutches my hand, forces me up, and proceeds to almost drag my body up the stairs with a vigor almost supernatural compared to his state before he sat down. As I pass by Jeff, I smile weakly, still trying to breathe. Jeff looks taken aback, his eyes moving from the Lama to our hands to my face.
"I'll see you guys up there," I say, the Lama pulling me up at an even faster pace.
Inside the chamber of the Dalai Lama, the Lama rummages his pockets and takes out two little black peas that could pass for lint. He quickly swallows one and puts the other in my hand.
"Eat," he commands.
I smell the pea. It vaguely smells of ginseng and ginger. A Lama wouldn't try to kill anyone, I think. I place the pea on my tongue and swallow. The Lama walks through the gate preventing tourists from stepping on the royal carpet and prays in front of the empty throne of the Dalai Lama, his old body flat on the ground with palms raised to the ceiling.
"What was the pill I just ate?" I ask to the man who had sat next to the Lama.
"A piece of Sakyamuni Buddha's body."
"I just ate Buddha?"

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1 Comment:

Lucky said...

I think this chance encounter with the monk counts as another bit of your luck during your trip.

Are you supposed to bring butter/yak butter for the Dali Lama?

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