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Tenzin’s friend is an incarnate lama.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Tibetan Buddhist religion, a lama is a monk who has attained a particularly high level of meditation and transcendence.  They are able to have visions and give guidance by way of these visions.  Every community in Tibet has a lama. Every person goes to these lamas in times of strife.  And some children are found to be the reincarnation of past lamas.

Tenzin’s friend is an incarnate lama, however he does not wear his traditional yellow undergarments, nor does he advertise his title in any way.  If he did, he would run the risk of the Chinese government questioning him, possibly putting him in jail.  The government might be suspicious that he is collaborating with the Dalai Lama in India.  However, these restrictions on his identity do not hinder his constant smile nor does it keep him from offering as much advice as he can.  This guidance is his “business.”

Tenzin’s friend was eager to answer my questions about religion and the traditional practices of devout Buddhists.  He pointed at various over-decorated statues, figures in the longest thangka in the world, and explained who each deity represented.  He thoroughly enjoyed teaching me the Amdo dialect.

Together we traveled through the vast open plains of Qinghai province.  A four hour car ride that showed us herds of  yaks, their dark figures striking against the dull yellows of the fields.  We peered eagerly at the light indigo contours of Qinghai Lake.

We arrived finally in a very deserted town about forty five minutes from the lake, only to find that foreigners were not allowed.  There was a slightly tense run in with the police, but after about an hour of explaining that we had no idea about the laws governing this remote area of China, they let us stay the night on the promise that we would leave as quickly as possible the following morning.

The fact that there are restricted areas in this country, makes it more obvious that China has something to hide.  This town didn’t seem much different from others I had been in.  Yes, it was remote.  Poverty was clearly visible, but I had seen worse.  It wasn’t until dinner that I realized just why they don’t want us here.  Tenzin’s friend invited to Tibetan girls to join us.  The spoke no English.  They asked where we were from, and Tenzin explained that we were from just over those mountains.  He pointed at the rolling hills, deep purple in the dusk.  They nodded in approval of this answer.  When he clarified that we were from America, they offered looks of confusion, and asked where and what America was.  I realized that these women had no proper education.  They had spent their lives as nomads, out with the herds or in with the family.  They watched TV but only the local channels.  China’s ignorance is its bliss.

April 2010
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