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!

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.

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).

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.

Hi errrrrbody!  This morning I went to 雍和宫, Yonghe Gong, or the Lama Temple.  This is a Tibetan monastery in the middle of Beijing, and this post is probably going to be one of those “educational” ones as there was some fun China-fied history floating about the place, and some fun things about what lets you know this monastery is in the government’s pocket (although, to be honest, that has been the purpose of the monastery since it was built 300 years ago, this is no new PRC thing).  I also went to the Earth Temple, but that will be another post : )  Also, I will throw out that I did appreciate this temple because you could take photos………………..

Anyways, FIRST! my pictures!  The first photo is a photo of Skanda, one of the guys busy protecting the building.  The recording that they provided (besides being fairly sillily pronounced English), was a little over the top in its descriptions of most things- Skanda’s serene face means that he is vanquishing desire and that it is possible for anyone to do this and the serenity means he’s not angry while also killing things (desire?) with the nasty little dagger he’s holding blah blah blah blah blah about the same thing for every single statue in the place.   Also the recording always said “mediating” instead of meditating, which was cute the first time but then it bugged me.  The second picture is mostly pretty- the top of the sculpture is heaven or at least somewhere nice, and then all the turbulent water beneath are the different hells.

Photos three and four are just a few of the buildings from the outside.  They’re pretty large and impressive, to say the least (walkways three stories up kind of surprised me).  The place was originally built for the Yongzheng Emperor, the 5th emperor of the Qing dynasty (he lived in the 18th century, the Qing dynasty is 16something-1911).  After he died, the Qianlong Emperor revamped it and made it into a Tibetan lamasery.  Why?  Because the Manchus were pretty much the expanding China masters (at least for a hundred years or two), going out and conquering places like Mongolia and Tibet where no Han emperor had really ever dared to try and maintain control over.  In the pursuit of this, he set up this temple to a) present as more or less a gift to the Tibetans, so they’d think Qing-dynasty China was a cool place to be a part of, and also to please the Mongolians, who were largely Tibetan Buddhists(ish) at the time, and b) to try to get some control over the religion (and therefore its Tibetan and Mongolian practitioners) by crafting an important ritual center right in the middle of Beijing.

Photos five and six dig into the Tibetan-ness of the place.  The fifth is a simple prayer wheel, with Tibetan on it (most inscriptions throughout the temple were written four times, in Chinese (for the Chinese folks), Manchurian (for the folks ruling China), Tibetan, (for the folks who were responsible for the religion being around in the first place) and Mongolian (for the guys the Manchus were trying super hard to be friends with)).  Spinning it is a good thing to do.  6 is a statue (and you can tell how big it is because of the monk standing in front of it) of Tsongkapa (I’d give you the Chinese but it’s just a crude transliteration of the Tibetan).  He is the founder of the “Yellow Hat” school of Tibetan Buddhism, one of the most popular sects and the one responsible for things like the Dalai and Panchen Lamas being important.  He travelled all around Tibet in the early 15th century, learning things and making new teachings, and when I go to Qinghai next weekend, on the Tibetan plateau, I’ll be visiting a lamasery where, as the story goes, Tsongkapa’s father buried his afterbirth, after which a great big nice tree grew, and then a while later they built the monastery.

The point that I’m trying to make though is that the Beijing-ness, and the Government-controlledness of the monastery comes out a little here.  First, all of the tour guides were not monks.  Closer to Tibet, where the government cannot so readily provide the government-trained tour guides, and where the lamaseries don’t bring in enough money to really pay extra people for this, the monks run the tours and most of the related stuff like that.  Even though none/few of the monks I saw here were Tibetan, they still weren’t the ones allowed to present the story of the lamasery.  Second, in the room with the big Tsongkapa statue, there were two places set up for the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, which traditionally feature photos (although other lamaseries tend to be COVERED in Dalai and Panchen Lama photos, including past Dalai Lamas).  The place for the Dalai Lama’s photo was, conveniently enough, empty, and the Panchen Lama’s had the photo of the fake Panchen Lama that the Chinese government chose.  Kind of a pretty clear signal as to what the party thinks about the whole affair, even if they keep this temple nice and pretty.

I will not talk forever!  Promises!  The next two photos are of a 50 ft + tall Buddha.  Now, I’ve seen my fair share of monstersized Buddha statues (no but seriously.  Like four. maybe five.), BUT THIS IS THE FIRST ONE I COULD TAKE A PHOT OF!  So I’m excited.  He’s big, as you can tell.  It is the Maitreya Buddha, or the future Buddha.  Buddhism works in cycles - a Buddha shows up, brings enlightenment and the way to end suffering, but as time goes on people forget/things get muddled/there’s more desire and pain and less enlightenment until! a new Buddha shows up.  This guy is next on the list.  (just in case you get a trivia question, the one before Sakyamuni/Siddharta Gautama/the historical Buddha who showed up in 600 b.c., is the Dipankara Buddha).

LAST PHOTO/PARAGRAPH.  This is the mountain of 500 Arhats.  It is cut out of some kind of wood or another, and it’s this big sculpture/mural of a mountain.  Featured inside are some 500 figures, Arhats, who are essentially really awesome Buddhists that have made it to that step you get to before Nirvana.  It’s pretty, and intricate.

STAY TUNED FOR THE EARTH TEMPLE!

Whoa!  Be impressed.  Part 9.  Almost done with my trek through China’s West.

I’m actually combining TWO things here, so, yeah, don’t freak out or anything.  The first few photos are of the hiking trip we took while in Xiahe, and the rest are of Lanzhou again.  Because I actually saw things more interesting than just the train station in Lanzhou this time around.

The first three photos are of the hike (what a pretty flower!).  In the first photo, the group of buildings that are closer (in the middle of the photo) are of just a little village or community on our way up the mountain, and the buildings way off in the distance are actually Xiahe.

The last three photos are of Lanzhou, and the last two are just to prove that it’s actually quite the hustling and bustling city.  Photo number 4 is of a Tibetan monastery in the city (now not operated as such, just a tourist site) taken from the Sun Yat-sen Bridge over 黄河, Huang He, the Yellow River (which everyone in China loves and thinks is great because it’s the cradle of Chinese civilization (not here, mind you, but along the river further East).  Sun Yat-Sen was one of the guys behind getting rid of the Qing Empire (in 1911), and was kind of in charge of the KMT (Guomindang, the nationalists, that were fighting with the communists all the time and got sent to Taiwan).  But when he was in charge they were getting along with the communists, and he died at more or less the perfect time (as in, before the communists could tarnish his image for some sort of political issue or another), with both the KMT (and Taiwanese) and the Communists (and all of China) thinking he’s about the best guy in the world.  So that’s your history for the day!  More posts tomorrow!

Actually got two up in a row this time!  Respectable, isn’t it?  Not having to wait three days and whatnot.  Part EIGHT!

On our trip to 夏河, Xiahe, we crossed over onto the 西藏高原, Xizang Gaoyuan, the Tibetan Plateau.  Tibet proper is already a fairly big region in China, but the plateau or the “ethnic boundaries” of Tibet extend into Xinjiang, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan.  That just means that you can find pretty heavy concentrations of Tibetans in any of those areas that are close to Tibet (and until recently the Free Tibet crowd wanted to fight for all of this area, but now they’re just after Tibet proper, also the government is probably really upset that I said Free Tibet right there).  The first two photos are of the gate and accompanying stupa which indicates you’re entering the plateau. 

While in Xiahe, we visited 拉卜楞寺 (forgive me, I don’t know the Tibetan), the Labrong Monastery.  It’s a Tibetan Buddhist temple, and it was pretty cool/intense/all of the above.  Our guide, one of the monks who was about our age (and joined when he was… 10? 11?  I forgot), was incredibly shy/cute/giggly and made friends with Jimmy, a person on our trip, and pretty much just hid behind Jimmy and talked to Jimmy the entire time.  The English he spoke was also… well, he obviously learned it in a Tibetan Monastery.  So I can’t tell you THAT much about the monastery, considering the rudeness of picture taking in most places, and the fact that I had no clue what our guide was actually saying.  So just enjoy/take in the next four pictures (ask if you are dying for more), and then the last picture is, in my opinion, the greatest, funnest picture of our guide and Jimmy.

I also don’t know that much about Tibetans, so I can’t fill you in here : (  The monastery WAS really cool though, and the monastery pretty much had its entire community that was completely different from Xiahe itself.  But then when you were in the city you would also have these monks coming to sit down at the booth next to you at a restaurant or in line behind you at the supermarket, which was pretty sweet/pretty interesting.