From the balcony of my dorm! It’s a nice day in Beijing, and hopefully it stays this way til’ the family comes IN JUST DAYS!

From the balcony of my dorm! It’s a nice day in Beijing, and hopefully it stays this way til’ the family comes IN JUST DAYS!

Last post on Xining!  And I’m sorry if there’s any temple overload, but it’s kind of hard to travel into “ethnographic Tibet” without running into a few.  Sunday morning, before heading home, Signe and I headed to the Kumbum Monastery, an hour’s bus ride south of Xining.  It is one of the two most important Tibetan monasteries outside of Tibet proper (the other one being Labrang Monastery), and the birthplace of Tsongkappa, the founder of the “Yellow Hat” sect of Tibetan Buddhism that brings us the Dalai Lama (the original Dalai and Panchen Lamas (and I mean, technically, the current ones since they are reborn) were students of Tsongkappa).  He’s also the guy that you can see at the Lama Temple in Beijing.

This place was a real tourist site (and one of the few Tibetan related places that foreigners could go to, considering the previously mentioned anniversary of protests and people still regularly setting themselves on fire thing).  What I’m trying to say is that, not only were we not kicked out of here like at the Dalai Lama’s birthplace, but we were even provided with an English speaking tour guide!  He was Tibetan, and he lived close to the temple, considering that his grandfather had been a monk at the monastery and he had studied Tibetan and Buddhism at the monastery.  He was incredibly informative, and seemed to be pretty frank.  The main downside, however, was that photo opportunities were very limited.  This also means that the photos I took were fairly random, and so I’ll just tell you the most important part of the tour(and the part that I remember most clearly).  None of my usual photo play-by-plays.

Picture number three, which I like anyways, has a roof with golden tiles.  This building contains a giant gold stupa (the same thing as those eight little things in the first picture, just bigger (my safe estimate is 10 m) and golder).  This stupa was more recently constructed around a more simple stone stupa.  This stone stupa houses a Bodhi tree (the kind that the Buddha got enlightened under) which grew up on the place that Tsongkappa was born.  The original stone stupa was built by his mother after she had sent Tsongkappa a message asking him to come home and see the family (he had left home at… 22…ish (sorry) to go to Lhasa and continue his Buddhist studies).  He replied that he could not come home, as travel from Tibet to (now) Xining and back was actually a multi-year journey at the time (the late 15th century), considering the terrain and general unforgivingness of the Tibetan landscape, and he could not turn away from his studies for that long.  He suggested, however, that she put a stupa at his birthplace so she could think of him whenever she went by, and voila, now we have an important center of Tibetan buddhism.

As the Dalai and Panchen Lamas are all originally students of Tsongkappa, they find returning to this monastery to be extremely important, and every one of them has done so in their lifetime to properly pay respect to their teacher from their past life.  The current Dalai Lama visited as a young child and then again in the 50s, not too long before his exile (he has, needless to say, not been back since).  

This monastery is also known for its butter sculptures.  These are crafted by the monks out of yak butter, and involves a relatively arduous process of submerging your hands in ice water, working with the butter for a while, and then doing this again once your hands are too warm and make the butter too melty.  I do not have photos (how!?  I don’t even know) but Signe does and I will be sure to put them up once I get them from here. The detail is absolutely stunning (you can see one example in my Labrang post), and the murals (they make a new one each year, and keep the old one around until it melts away too much) are incredibly large and impressive.

Okay, well there you go!  Hope you enjoyed all of this stuff : ) and if I snap pictures of anything regular happening around me or travel again (I think Signe and I are going to go camping in Mongolia!), I’ll be sure to put them up!

Shining Buddha: Open pit King Kong
Too much information in these last few posts!  Here’s a nice, short, fun post for you.  It’s from Beichan Si, the post I threw up earlier (the seventh photo, if you’re interested).  I believe the issue comes from 金刚, “jean gong”/jin gang, which Google translate also (and perhaps this is not just a coincidence) renders as King Kong.  But it also means diamond, which has to do with it being “the Shining Buddha”.  Although it was more of an empty crevasse than anything else. 

Shining Buddha: Open pit King Kong

Too much information in these last few posts!  Here’s a nice, short, fun post for you.  It’s from Beichan Si, the post I threw up earlier (the seventh photo, if you’re interested).  I believe the issue comes from 金刚, “jean gong”/jin gang, which Google translate also (and perhaps this is not just a coincidence) renders as King Kong.  But it also means diamond, which has to do with it being “the Shining Buddha”.  Although it was more of an empty crevasse than anything else. 

On Saturday, we went to 佑尼寺, or Youni temple, before going to 达赖故居, the birthplace of the Dalai Lama!  We started the day off by hopping a bus to 平安, Ping’an, a small city (read: population of 120,000), and then 包车, baoche, chartering a cab to carry us around all day.  It was 60 bucks, although I think the cabbie was expecting us to argue down a little harder, but he was a cool guy and was fairly informative as he drove us about.  We went 23 km north to the temple, then back into Ping’an and 30 km south to the Dalai Lama’s birth place, before finally getting back into Ping’an by 3:30.  

Anyways, the temple was actually a 土族, Tu zu, or the Tu nationality (a type of Mongolian that go by the name “Monguor” in English and who believe in Tibetan Buddhism), temple.  It was pretty much the same as any Tibetan monastery I’ve been in (not that I know how to look for the differences, but I can tell a Tibetan monastery apart from other Buddhist ones), even if it was ran by Tu monks and catered to the surrounding Tu villages.

I will mostly let the pictures speak for themselves, as this trip was nearly entirely information free (there was no entry fee, no guides, and the monks said we could pretty much do anything we pleased, INCLUDING! taking photos).  We did speak to a few of the monks for a while though, and they were all extremely nice and helpful, and told us a *little* about what was going on.  I will say of the first photo, however, that we started at the temple with the gold roof off to the right, then went across (left in the photo) up the mountain to where the banners and streamers are (far left middle), straight across to the highest temple in the photo (smack dab in the middle of the photo) before going down to the one beneath it to the right and then largely slip-sliding our way the rest of the way back down.  The fourth photo was of the largest Buddha in the place (probably about 5 meters) and is Maitreya Buddha, the future Buddha for those of you that have actually been reading my lessons.  You can see our little green cab in the middle left of the fifth photo.  I!!!!! am in the 6th photo!  you’re surprised I got one of me in there, aren’t you!?

I AM ALSO IN THE 7TH!  THAT’S TWO!

Once we got back into town (oh, don’t forget my trip to the Dalai Lama’s house in this post! if you haven’t read it already, that happened before we got back into town), we had some Tu Hotpot and then grabbed some cans of 青稞酒, Qingke Jiu, or barley wine.  It’s pretty much a weaker version of Baijiu, the more standard Chinese liquor (this stuff was about as strong as beer at 4%, but Baijiu usually hangs out around 120 proof).  The first sip is interesting but it pretty much goes downhill from there, it’s a pretty weird flavor.  Then we went home and crashed because we had done quite a bit of hiking at, if I may say so myself, a respectable altitude.  I’ve included a picture of the barley wine as well (last one) for your consideration.

Anyways, you guys should start asking me questions : p or commenting or something, it’s getting boring just throwing up mountains of photos.

After we went to the mosque, we headed over to a Daoist temple on the outside of town.  This temple, 北禅寺, Bei Chan Si, or just the Northern Temple (north of town, as it were), was a series of new, currently being renovated, and old temples as well as caves.  It was very much built in the mountainside, which a giant staircase up into the mountain and all of the buildings that were built into/around the caves.  I wasn’t on too big of a fact finding mission, but the stuff in the caves was pretty old, and I snapped a few pictures of what is definitely old, fading paintings that were still on some overhangs.  The temple also enjoyed a little bit of the “three teachings” vibe, because even though it was way heavier on Daoist/Chinese symbology, in one temple Confucius, Laozi, and the Buddha all made an appearance together.

I’ve included a few pictures of figures throughout the temple complex, a fun one of a giant mural depicting hell Dante-style in its explicitness, the city of Xining from the mountain, and the like!  I hope you enjoy!

After our pit-stop at the golden tower temple, we went to 东关清真大寺, Dongguan Qingzhendasi, or the Dongguan Street Mosque!  I don’t have the actual numbers, but this is one of China’s biggest mosques in terms of regular attendance.  Different signs were saying 20,000-50,000 members attended Friday service, and although these seem a touch high, there were at least 10,000 people that came in for Friday afternoon prayer (Muslims, as you may know, are required to pray five times a day.  Friday afternoon is the only prayer you are expected to do at a mosque).  This is illustrated by picture one.  Signe and I could not be in the mosque/courtyard during prayer, although we walked around inside beforehand and there were even way more people there.  The fifth picture is what the outside of the place looked like before people started showing up.

Picture 2 is the most standard photo of the mosque that you usually see, and I took this standing in the courtyard/in front of the actual not-muslims-shouldn’t-enter-here part of the mosque.  Picture three is a closer view of the gates that you can’t quite see in picture two, and picture four is the actual prayer room, which we couldn’t enter.  The fact that it was snowing really contributed to the whole “what country am I in, anyways!?” vibe of the place.  

The last photo is a prayer rug I bought there!  

This is a recording I took of the call to prayer while I was at the mosque.  Again, what country was I in?  Oh yeah, China.  

On our last day in Xining (sorry for breaking chronology) we stopped at an ice cream parlor.  This was run (sort of) by an American woman, and Signe and I talked to her for a bit about why she was there and what the city was like and everything.  It was really interesting.  She said she had been living with her husband (and raising kids) in the city for NINE years, back before a lot of investment was pouring into Xining (the amount of investment there now should be apparent in some pictures I’ll put up later).  They came because they heard it was kind of a down and out place, and that there was a touch of tension in the Han Chinese-Tibetan-Hui Muslim-Tu Mongolian demographics of the city (which, to some extent is true, although the Hui and the Chinese get along pretty well, and they make up most of the population).  She opened up the ice cream shop a year ago, peddling flavors such as jasmine and sesame seed (both delicious), and although she had mostly hired Hui, she said the idea was to hire as many different nationalities as possible and encourage working-togetherness.  But at the moment it is still only her, two Hui, and a Mongolian.  

Xining was great, although I can’t imagine living there in the winter, and I think after nine years I would want home and America and normalness quite a bit, but what she was doing also seemed really cool.  If it weren’t for the $150 plane ticket, I would go back and get some of the ice cream.

I’m going to be breaking this up into……. several posts.  This is my trip to 西宁, Xining, the capital of 青海省, Qinghai province!  This province is squashed nicely between Tibet and Xinjiang (Xining is straight north of Lhasa a ways, more or less).  This post is just going to be some city photos, and then the first place we went 金塔寺, Jinta Si, or Golden Tower Temple.  It’s pretty much right smackdab in the middle of the city, making it kind of fun and interesting.  I won’t be throwing out a whole bunch of background/knowledge since I don’t know that much about the place specifically, and I’m going to have a few more Tibet heavy posts.

The first is the city, the next two are art/sculpture from inside, the fourth is a giant incense pot, the fifth is a buddha perched nicely on top of one of the roofs of the temple, and the last photo is prayer wheels (don’t worry, there will be more photos of these).

"The sixth street tastes the coffee to discuss the tea."

"The sixth street tastes the coffee to discuss the tea."

Sooooooooooooooooooooooooo,

I will fill you more in on my trip later (I’m in Xining, the capital of Qinghai, the province just a touch north of Tibet), when I have more time and a better computer, but I couldn’t hold back the bragging on this tidbit.

Today, me and my pengyou/RA Signe went to see the Dalai Lama’s birthplace (after a host of other pleasant adventures.  Again, later!).  What, you mean the 14th Dalai Lama, the one that the Chinese government hates so much and spends a good deal of time yelling about and rallying against, you might ask!?  Yes.  That one.  Where he was born.  I’ve attached a picture of the view from his front door, and you have to say, maybe it explains a bit about who he is.  I have also attached a picture of a cool flag thing that was in the middle of his courtyard.

What, a flag!?  Nothing more interesting than a flag!? you might also ask.  This is because we got kicked out!  I mean, granted, we came right in the smackdab middle of oh-there-were-just-a-few-minor-(read, big)-protests-throughout-Tibet-a-few-years-ago anniversary, and also during the hardly-a-week-goes-by-without-another-monk-setting-themselves-on-fire times.  Anyways, we hired this cab out for the whooooooooooole day (we went somewhere else before) and he didn’t care and just took us out there (I mean, he wanted our money, not for us to say well if we can’t see it we don’t want to pay you 30 bucks to take us there).  And the front door was wide open, and we just mozied on in, and looked around a bit, snapped a few pictures, and then the guy running the place noticed us and freaked out.  And then started scurrying us out way promptly, and had a larger friend actually follow us all the way out, and then start honking our taxi’s horn (the cabbie had ran to the restroom) so that he’d come out and take us away from the place.  We didn’t really want to push so we didn’t try to see what else was there, because either they were government-y (I don’t think so) and probably had some more force they could use, or because they politely ran the place and would get in huuuuuuuuuuuuge trouble if people found out (and I’m guessing there were cameras) that some foreigners had showed up.

So yeah!  I did that today!  If I ever meet the man I’ll be sure to share the story.