Dockpo arrived in Xining on Sunday, March 15, right as Quajia (my amazing Tibetan roommate) was finishing my lesson on making tsampa. I hadn't quite mastered the technique, so my hands were crusty and covered in barley flour, but it was still a very happy meeting. I'm thinking about bringing tsampa ingredients back to the States since yak butter and cheese are scarce in Phippsburg, Maine. Tsampa is made with yak cheese curds in the bottom of a bowl, a piece of yak butter, a pile of barley flour, and milk tea (oja) poured on top. After sipping away the oja, being careful to blow the melted butter away from your mouth, you mix the remaining ingredients with a forefinger, kneading it into a fist-sized, oblong ball with a thick, doughy consistency. Holding the finished tsampa in your right hand, you take a bite size piece, roll it and eat! Meanwhile, your empty bowl is filled with the ever-present oja, and it is a complete and filling meal. (Yes, we wash our hands before eating tsampa.)
After a lovely tour of the Kumbum (or Ta'er) Monastery, courtesy of Dockpo and Dogun, I was named “Dechan Wangmo,” meaning “Powerful Happiness.” The monastery was beautiful, and gave me a deeper understanding of the Tibetan/Buddhist culture. The pictures are on Facebook, and as they are each worth a thousand words, I won't try to describe Kumbum's rich culture here.
Monday, March 16, and we are planning on leaving for Tibet tomorrow. I spend Monday mastering the Chinese bus system (by myself) to buy a kennel, food, and something for Ollie to chew on other than my fingers. My destination was the animal market, or the “Remin Gong Yuan” where I found Oliver and where I can also find the items on my list. I've picked up the necessary Chinese phrases to make those purchases fairly easily, and where my Chinese is lacking, I make a fool of myself with miming and acting. I don't know the Chinese numbers very well, but the Chinese have different hand gestures to symbolize the number, which I learned while shopping with Maria. And, yes, I did haggle with the pet-store attendant and got him to drop his price from 110 quai to 70 quai (approx 12 USD). While returning to Maria's on the bus, I was tapped on the shoulder and turned to see a college-aged Chinese guy who immediately said “Hellonicetomeetyouuu” and smiled while bobbing his head repeatedly. I laughed and said hi, and he responded “you are very beautiful!!!” I thanked him, knowing that this was the go-to statement for Chinese guys to foreign women. We spent my remaining minutes on the bus chatting about his education (Business Administration at Qinghai University) and he tried to teach me a Chinese poem... Right.
The weather has been beautiful-- much warmer, and I am able to walk around without 10 layers constricting my blood/oxygen flow. I am sure that when I return to Xining in June to depart for the US, it will prepare me well for a humid night in Boston upon my arrival.
Monday night, Maria had set a date for all of us to have dinner in the revolving “Western” restaurant on top of a sky-scraper in downtown Xining, and she left a note before leaving for a class that included the instructions “do not wear sports clothes.” When her daughter, Sofia, returned from school around 4:30, we headed straight to the main drag in Xining to find something for me to wear that did not resemble a t-shirt and Carhartts. You'd think that would be the easiest task in the world, especially in China where all of my clothes come from anyway. But, no. China makes absolutely AWFUL cheap terrible items for their own citizens that make Walmart look like Neiman Marcus. They make better quality items for Americans because we're willing to pay for it... well, except for lead paint on our childrens toys. Regardless, Sofia and I had 40 minutes to find something in little stores with no dressing rooms and lurid, fake, logos on all their clothes. I finally found something, sans logo, in the 20 quai store (like an American dollar store) and we headed back home to change and leave for the restaurant with Dockpo and Dogun. You can see the pictures from dinner on Facebook. We were accompanied by two monks at dinner, one of whom owns a girls home and school, similar to Dockpo's mission. It was enjoyable, with a good assortment of foods and hilarious Chinese-English translations in the menu. Some of my favorites include “the fragrance fries the Buddhist ritual procedures fat foie gras” and “the British lucky row cod its its juice.” I ate something labeled “The cow falls into the quarry.” It was good.
Tuesday, March 17, Dockpo tells me that we're going to leave for Darlag that afternoon and I am so excited to be on the move again. We spend the morning doing some bulk shopping for the girls at the home, and enjoyed lunch at the Tibetan Market. Yak meat...mmmm. I also had my first taste of butter tea, and, as the name implies, it is very rich and a little too much for me.
One more order of business, and that is to pay a quick visit to a local American vet in Xining to give Ollie his puppy shots. After the fiasco with a Chinese vet (one word for him: incompetent) I was looking forward to someone who would actually know something about dogs, and like them, for that matter. Maria dropped me off at Monty's (US vet) apartment, and I said a quick goodbye to her since I wouldn't see her again before I left for Golok. Ben, the Cambridge student from Wales who is studying Chinese here in Xining, helped me find the room, and I also said a goodbye to him; hopefully I will see him, and all my other new acquaintances, again in June before I leave. Monty is a middle-aged missionary from Washington state, who practices vet medicine with his wife in remote areas of the world. They were most recently in Nepal, and Monty is a wonderful, gentle man with an obvious heart for God and for me. His wife, Shelley, was in the US, and while he was checking Ollie, his son, Morgan, came in. Morgan is a USAFA student who, like me, took a year off between his sophomore and junior years to come to China. He is studying Chinese in Xining, and we enjoyed discovering some mutual friends at the AF Academy; Josh Seefried and Matt Fleharty.
Monty and Morgan (and their border collie, Nora) were a joy to meet, but I had to hurry away to pack for Golok. Just like climbing down a tree is harder than climbing up, it is much harder to re-pack than it is to start from scratch; somehow all of my stuff grew. But we squashed it all into Dogun's hot yellow mini cooper-ish car, leaving a Geneva-sized spot in the back seat. I am so looking forward to meeting the girls and unpacking and becoming installed and ready for whatever these next couple months have in store for me.
Dockpo asked me if I miss home, and I truthfully responded that I don't. Which is to say, I don't miss my amenities or my comforts, and I don't miss the familiar. I think of the faces of my family and friends with love, and with the knowledge that I will be happy to see them again in June.
Vergil said it best: si qua fors adiuvet ausum, FORTUNE FAVORS THE BOLD.