Sunday, June 27, 2010

Snow Lion! Raaar!

I didn't buy much in the way of souvenirs in Tibet. There is plenty available which would serve well - prayer flags, prayer wheels, rosaries, yak bells and so on - and the streets around the Jokhang and Barkhor Square in Lhasa and the Tashilumpo in Shigatse were lined with stalls. The opportunities were there (and saying, "Hello, hello, hello, hello,").

Most of what is on sale are cheap imitations imported from China and Nepal, as stated in the Lonely Planet and confirmed by both our tour leader and Tibetan guide. There is a stall selling religious items inside the Jokhang, the holiest of holies in Lhasa and Tibet, and there I found a gorgeous wooden rosary. Being quite expensive and found inside the Jokhang, I assumed it must be genuine Tibetan.

I did that thing I do when shopping, and walked off to do something totally different. When I returned, the display had been disturbed slightly, and the maker's certificate in the box below was now visible, with a massive MADE IN CHINA glaring at me.

Point taken.

You know me. I don't like being thwarted. It became a quest to find something that was Tibetan and made by Tibetans, which in Lhasa is trickier than you would think. The Lonely Planet guide came to my aid, however, and one afternoon I took myself off wandering through the back alleys behind the Johkang, around to the Muslim Quarter, up some more back alleys and through some courtyards - they have different ideas about space there - and found Dropenling; a shop that specifically sells goods made by Tibetans, the profits of which go back to those same artisans.

(And for those of you who recall some of my adventures in Japan; can you believe I did not get lost doing this? Not a single wrong turn, not a single instance of heading in exactly the opposite direction! I was gobsmacked too, considering the alleys I was walking through had no landmarks to speak of.

I shouldn't call them alleys. They're streets. They're organic Lhasa.)

And that is where I bought my awesome little snow lion.

As soon as I saw him I fell in love. The big manic eyes, batty happy ears, massive toothy slavering grin - how can anyone resist? When I proudly showed him off to my traveling companions, they didn't see the love. They said he was scary and ugly.

Wikipedia has the following to say on the subject of snow lions:

The Snow Lion resides in the East and represents unconditional cheerfulness, a mind free of doubt, clear and precise. It has a beauty and dignity resulting from a body and mind that are synchronized. The Snow Lion has a youthful, vibrant energy of goodness and a natural sense of delight. Sometimes the throne of a Buddha is depicted with eight Snow Lions on it, in this case, they represent the 8 main Bodhisattva-disciples of Buddha Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha. Associations: main quality is fearlessness, dominance over mountains, and the earth element.
-- The Four Dignities, Rudy Harderwijk

The Snow Lion is an archetypal thoughtform confluence or personification of the primordial playfullness of 'joy' and 'bliss' (Sanskrit: ananda; Tibetan: dga' ), somewhat energetically comparable to the western unicorn, though without a horn. Though paradoxical, the Snow Lion does not fly but their feet never touch the ground; their existence is a playful 'continuum' (Tibetan: rgyud) of leaping from mountain peak to mountain peak.

Later, when I proudly showed him off to my mum and told her he was a snow lion, she said, "There's no such thing as a snow lion!"

If that is true, then the world is not as awesome as it should be.

The postal service has brought unto me more objects of delight! Copies of Weird Tales #355: Steampunk Spectacular, huzzah! I haven't read it yet, but don't doubt it'll be as tasty as all the issues gone before.

There are four spare copies I'm giving away, and actually while I think of it, I also have a couple of copies of issue #354 lying around as well. For the second year running Weird Tales has been nominated for a Hugo Award, with voting closing on the 31st of July. Interested in sampling this mighty magazine? Leave a comment, first in first served.

I only ask that you please post something about what you find between the covers somewhere, even if it's just a throwaway comment on twitter.

The magazines weren't alone; in their company was a copy of Ann & Jeff VanderMeer's The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals, and my snow lion got his paws all over it.

On flip through it's a delightful little book with some delectable illustrations. I made a very careful check and double-check of the table of contents. Snow lions are not listed.

Ergo, they are not imaginary.

Ergo, they are real.

And the world is significantly awesomer for it.
This week several people around me confessed to having dreams about sex. Some of them had more than one in a single night.

Yesterday I dreamed that a hostile foreign army filled the woods around my lovely summer palace and proceeded to slay everyone around with a torrent of arrows. I had to learn to fly to stay alive.

This morning I dreamed that assassins were out to get Michelle Obama, but instead of shooting her, they shot me. In the butt.

I'm getting the short end of the stick here.

Can I get a swapsies? Who do I speak to about this?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

From Somewhere Else

The post office worker handed this to me, and I boggled.

"Is that sealed with tar?"
"...No, wax I think. Proper sealing wax."

As a birthday present to myself I did end up ordering a selection of books from Asian Educational Services, namely Sven Hedin's account of attempting to explore Tibet, plus a couple of others that looked too tasty to pass up. Given I selected seamail I wasn't expecting to see these for another few weeks.

The packaging was almost as much a gift as the books.

It's wrapped in cotton, sewn at one end and sealed with something that could very well have been tar at one end.

I've never received anything like it. Of course it's from another land, it's from India, but, it's from another land. Exactly like getting mail from Wonderland.

And, as is law in the multiverse, was still a right bitch to open.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Red Hot Elephant Socks

An unexpected parcel was waiting for me when I visited my parents. Unexpected parcels are always mildly alarming, as some part of me instantly assumes I'm going to be asked to pay for something I didn't order. Given this has never happened to me, this fear is entirely irrational.

It still hasn't happened to me. Instead, THERE WERE SOCKS. AND ARMWARMERS. Damn HAWT ones if I do say so myself, cue gratuitous camwhore shot;

I burst out laughing when I saw the socks, in lieu of who they're from. I had the exact same pair given to me seven years ago in New Orleans, on my first solo jaunt overseas which wasn't really solo at all given the purpose of trip was to meet some people who were and still are magnificent co-conspirators.

Thank ye, Jaimesis. <3

The armwarmers are especially appreciated. Hands are aching with the return to computers, and the cold isn't helping. The line "write every day" has been sitting at the front of my thoughts, and is almost instantly followed by "except when you're hurting", which has also been every day. As such I've been looking for some gloves that wouldn't interfere with typing too much, and these are perfect. Double mwah-mwah.

Because he matched the presents so well it had to be fate, that photo is also the introduction of a finger puppet I bought in Kathmandu. Readers, I would like you to meet Ganesh, short for Angry-Ganesh-Doesn't-Like-The-Spicy-Bone-Filled-Curry-Stomp-Crash-Raaar.

He wasn't named after a personal experience. No. Not at all. Ever.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Western Tibet


If you intend to travel to western Tibet and particularly Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarova any time in the next couple of months, you should know that the road (there's only one) is fucked.

It's undergoing some serious roadworks. They're so serious it doesn't look like roadworks at all. It looks like they're building the damn thing for the first time. There is no sealed road from Saga onwards, and if you hit a stretch that has had the rocks cleared you'll start cheering. Some stretches have been leveled, but they're rare treats. They appear to be putting in drains or something similar, which involves digging up the road every couple of kilometres and around which you must detour. You will be catapulted from your seat, you will hit your head, you will get very tired and grumpy, and you will not go far fast. If you have boobs, you will need to get some seriously hardcore sports bras.

Our itinerary was originally to drive from Sakya to Saga, and then Saga to Darchen where we would start our three day kora around Kailash. We got word from a group going before us that the 9 hour drive between Saga and Darchen was actually 16, with them starting the trek the next day. We had to do a lot more time in the 4WDs to stay on timetable (one plan that was thankfully jettisoned involved leaving at 3 in the morning) and not screw ourselves over.

I recommend an mp3 player with some sort of travel battery, and a light long-sleeved top. The air up on the plateau is icy, but the sun is incredibly enthusiastic, and when you're out of the wind it is hot. You won't often be able to put the windows down due to dust. After a particularly long period of time going through roadworks up a mountain pass, we pinged the temperature inside the 4WD at 36.7C degrees. Then we stopped, opened all the doors and the temperature dropped 20 degrees.

These are long days, by the end of which you will be in a bad mood. Suck it up. There is no other way to get out there, and it is worth it.

Slowing the Memory

In addendum to my last post about my recalcitrance to share Tibet because I am selfish and greedy and I won't share my lunch with you either, this same selfishness also manifests as a sort of anti-consumption as well.

Since returning a fortnight ago, I haven't watched any movies, nor read any books, nor even thought about starting back in my own fiction. I haven't read or watched anything of substance on the internet, be it articles, essays or clips. I haven't corresponded with any real depth.

Tibet had an effect and infected me like no where else I've been to date. This pile of books about Tibet I have I am famished to read, but am afraid to go near. I avert my eyes from news about the country even as I seek it out. I want to know more, more, more.

But to do so will overlay the time I spent there. Should I expand my knowledge of the place, I won't be able to consider my own experience without viewing it through the filter of that knowledge. There is nothing more to do with life but learn and none of us should ever shy away from it, but, but, but.

I want to carry the space Tibet made in my mind as long as I can. It's a delicate thing, vast and inexplicable, and by simply going through each day that space gets smaller. To do what seems so frivolous a thing as read a novel would only hasten that contraction. I want to savour this rare silhouette of an emotion. Putting things in or turning my mind to other matters is a distraction I don't want.

Inevitably, Tibet will sublimate as Melbourne's own idiosyncrasies change the colour of my thoughts.

Until then, I stay still and silent.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Dream Woken In, And Left Behind

"Enough of washing machines! Of your domestic issues we care not! What of Tibet?"

Very well.

I could tell you that the trip I went on was Tibet Encompassed, and that the following photo was taken on the Qinghai-Tibet Train: I fell asleep surrounded by washed out hills subdued by generations of farming and sky lost in haze, I woke up to find the land rippled with unblemished snow, and watched the sun rise in clean heavens over this so long distant and magical land.

Or, I could tell you that the trip I went on was Blue Harvest, and that the following photo was taken at moisture farming station on Tatooine, shortly before we were attacked by Tusken Raiders and nearly trampled by banthas.

A friend pointed out quite rightly that I am selfish with my photos. Perhaps because I do not go on holiday. When I travel rest and relaxation are not the point. I go out into the world to be confronted and challenged, to learn and be surprised and learn again, to wash out the clutter in my head and heart, and I come back exhausted, wrung out, and bewildered.

It isn't a holiday. It's personal. I'm selfish because what I went through is mine; my life, my mind.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Universe Made Me Do It

Immediately on returning from travels and before making plans for the next trip (thus locking myself into a saving budget in which there is no room to move) is the only time I can bring myself to throw large lumps of money at things that do not involve me getting on a plane.

I want it noted that I tried to be a responsible, sensible, forward-planning adult and purchase a necessary item of household white goods, and I want it noted that I have been thwarted from doing this by three centimetres.


Guess I'll just have to use that money on a ticket to Europe, right?

Well. Shucks. Damn. And poot.

In light of this failure, I have no alternative but to drink this pear cider and start making vegetable soup under the influence.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Cliche In My Ribs

I drove today, for the first time in months. Had my down jacket on, which is like wearing my bed, so snug and warm I had the window down and the cold night air on my face. The music up loud. Hollering incoherently on the downhill rush.

There was nothing special about my destination, and nothing out of the ordinary had happened in the day. It was just a sudden moment of utter exuberance.

They say, "It felt like I was going to burst." As if the organs with which we produce and feel our emotions are housed in our ribs, as if these intangible moods have the power to put physical strain upon those ribs, as if there were a serious danger of physically exploding with joy.

It's a cliche because it's overused, and it's overused because it's true.

I wanted to carry this bubble of happy on and blow it bigger. A night bar hopping and talking ludicrous shit and giggles is exactly what is required, but alas, my possee are overseas or out of town or otherwise engaged.

Instead, I'm at my parents, got the house to myself, sprawled on the couch with a cup of tea at my side, the World Cup on their fuck-off big TV, nice toasty gas heater killing even the hint of a chill, and the two best dogs in world jonsing for space on my lap.

Not quite the same as mischief and mayhem. Not a second prize either. My heart is still puffed up and manic. There's ice cream in my future.

Being me is fucking glee-inducing. For no reason whatsoever. My ribs aren't used to this.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010


Someone landed on my blog by googling "what else does volcanoes spit out" sans question mark.



"Only you could come back from Tibet with BOOKS."

I dispute the above statement.

There are plenty of people within my pocket of society who would do exactly the same. Yeah, I'm looking at you. And you. And you especially.

Alas, none of these books were bought in Tibet. The only books I met in Tibet were scriptures sold in the Sera Monastery just outside of Lhasa, and while I was tempted, the Tibetan spoken language tends to flummox me, and the alphabet is far beyond my comprehension.

Besides, the last place to buy books about Tibet is in Tibet. Thank you, CCP.

From China, I present the Little Red Book (which is not a quality print job, I think it has been made from toilet paper), and The Qin Dynasty Terra-Cotta Army of DREAMS.

This second book is signed by Mr Yan. The Mr Yan. A skim around google will teach you that Emperor Qin's tomb was first discovered "by local farmers drilling a water well".

Mr Yan is that farmer.

He's not a farmer anymore. The discovery made him a millionaire, and now he spends every day sitting in the museum shop, smoking and signing books. That is all he does. He wins the prize for being the most dour, sour, grumpy and glowering old man I met on my journey. He needs to quit smoking too.

The rest came from Kathmandu, Nepal, a city that is apparently Mecca for all manner of books concerning Tibet. Baggage space limited what I came away with, but regardless, that's a pile of pure treasure.

Return to Tibet is Heinrich Harrer's account of his return to his second home after Chinese occupation. Seven Years In Tibet, his account of how he came to live in the holy city of Lhasa in the first place, is an exceptionally wonderful read.

The Tibetan-English Dictionary I snatched up as soon as I saw it. If perhaps I'd taken a moment to think about it, I would have left it and spent more time hunting for an English-Tibetan dictionary, heh.

ནང-མཆད nan-mchod 1. mystical religious service; also offerings made to deities in such a service, the most important offering being sanctified beer poured from a human-skull-cup into the cups of devotees who drink it as something efficacious against evil. 2. a sort of potion consisting of the ten impurities, viz., five kinds of flesh (including human flesh), excrement, urine, blood, marrow and (more Tibetan characters I can't make out) (semen) all mixed together, trans-substantiated by charms into (Tibetan characters) bdud-rtsi the potion of immortality, a small quantity of which is tasted by the devotees with the lama at their head. This drink is considered of great importance by the mystics who seek to obtain gifts of witchcraft; hence every offering is sprinkled with this potion.

I couldn't find the right accent for a couple of those Tibetan characters, nor figure any accents for the romanised terms. At any rate, there's a sample of the gems you get when you randomly open a dictionary. First printed 1902, and this is a reprint, not a new edition. It shows.

These two books I bought from a book shop by the Boudhanath, the heart of Little Tibet in Kathmandu. A couple of monks were going through every single magnet the shopkeeper had when I wandered up to the counter. There were a lot of magnets, but I don't think they were pressed for time.

When at last I found myself roaming Kathmandu alone, my companions having departed for the airport one by one, I was almost immediately sucked into yet another bookshop; Vajra Books in Thamel. Spent a good hour in there, just looking. It's funny how you can find home in strange lands.

After much agonising, I came away with;

They're reprints of journals, accounts and diaries of Europeans who explored Tibet, back when the land was sealed not just by mountains but its own choice. Bower and Wellby I chose after flipping through the pages, but Hedin I was very excited to see. He was a very interesting personality, and more than a touch blinded by his own ambition. Unfortunately, they didn't have his accounts specifically detailing his forays into Tibet, so these are something of a consolation prize.

Fortunately, the publisher Asian Educational Services has those books in stock and available online. Maybe that should be "unfortunately". They're exceptionally beautiful editions, all of these books, as well as all the other books I left behind in Kathmandu. There's an absolute dragon's hoard of explorer logs available there. Very dangerous site. Click at your own risk.

(ETA: Oh dude. A book on Tibet by Younghusband. I'm tempted, yet pretty sure I'd find that nothing but an entirely aggravating read.)

My To Be Read Bookshelf is fucking awesome.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

To The Knuckle, Ya Hear?

After nearly a week back in Oz, I think I’ve expelled the last of the junk that China, Tibet and Nepal laid in my nose.

Most travels become centred on the excretions of the bowel, whether or not this is admitted in polite company. Mess with the diet, never know where the next loo is and have to conquer squats and cesspits – it’s all about the poop.

This trip was equally focused on the excretions of the nasal cavity, as you just can't have too many orifices expelling at the same time, and upon which I shall elaborate upon now.


Beijing has no sky.

That is the first photograph I took on Chinese soil, the first thing I saw upon leaving the airport, and yeah, I totally freaked out at the thought of breathing for the next few days.

I’m exaggerating. Mildly. There were blue skies while I was in the city.

But the pollution. The pollution! Blasphemy.

At Tiananmen Square they raise the Chinese flag every sunrise, and lower it every sunset. It’s quite the ritual, with a squad of the People's Liberation Army marching out from beneath Chairman Mao’s portrait over the gate to the Forbidden City, perfectly choreographed so they take 108 paces per minute, 75cm per pace, and timed so that the flag comes down exactly when the sun disappears below the horizon.

It would be more impressive if the sun had not disappeared behind the pollution half an hour before hand.

There it goes.

I commented to a local who was “practicing his English on me” that no one would know if the timing was out with the pollution hiding the sunset. He told me that oh, the air pollution had improved so much since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when all the big factories had been moved away from the city. It was so much better now, amazing.

This was an improvement?

Don’t think I did a good job of hiding my horror.

China Proper left black boogers in my nose, solid like concrete. Took some blowing and then poking to get them moving.


The Tibetan Plateau is free of China’s air issues, much to my relief. It is, however, dusty.

No, I mean it. The whole country is dusty.



We spent a day in this dust storm. There was more dust than air about, visibility was frequently zilch and we spent a good deal of time stopped, hoping no one ran into us while the dust washed up against the windows like water.

And that shit gets everywhere, and you would not believe how much dust your nasal cavity can contain.

The air is also incredibly cold and bone-dry. Combined with the altitude, I had a permanent blood nose. No major gushing, but a perpetual ooze.

In this regard, the dust was useful. I let it collect and act as a clotting agent. While the others were occupied with clearing their noses at every opportunity, I only got the tissues out of an evening, and proceeded with the excavation before bed. With body systems slowing down with sleep, the body struggles even further getting oxygen around at altitude, so you need all the space in your nose you can get.

This did mean that I was blowing a day's worth of junk out, and oh my lord Buddha. Some of those chunks were as big as my thumbnail, no exaggeration. Green and brown, and with blood clots. First time I was afraid I'd blown out a bit of my brain. The stuff down the nostril passage was dry and caked on too. It was amazing. Seriously, could have used this stuff as mortar in the Great Wall.

Wasn't just the poor soft foreigners either. I have a very clear and distinct and unfortunately precise memory of witnessing a woman who ran a food tent snot into her palm, try to wipe it on her shoe and then turn her hand over to inspect it when it didn't come off. I saw. Oh, I saw. It was fucking huge. Then she gave me my pot noodle.


Coming down from altitude, we were told we'd be near high with oxygen. Oxygen!

This was a lie, as the water to oxygen ratio in the air was about equal. Plus, Kathmandu Valley does not boast particularly clean air either.

Left over blood nose from Tibet plus pollution, but less dust and actual moisture in the air meant a downgrade in the alert status of what came out my nose, which, given that normally nothing comes out my nose, still meant those boogers had punch.

Didn't need to know all that?

This is the real world, kids. Snot happens.

Nose is still bleeding, actually. I think it's a touch traumatised.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

I know it's only because I'm suffering some serious fatigue and am PMSing like a feral bushpig, but today is horrible and I hope it ends soon.

Happy birthday, me.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Monday I was back.
Today is Thursday.
I am not unpacked.