Risky business: How to die in Rebgong

Sheep on a hike above Rebgong.

On Saturday morning, I awoke to pleasant rays of sunshine, reflected off the gleaming rooftops of the monastery, refracting through my window and bathing the room with a glow that could only be described as “happy” (to take a note from my students, who have put this word through at least twenty cycles of death and rebirth). How, you ask, could a simple ray of light acquire the human emotional characteristics (happiness and pleasantness) described above? One simple reason: that morning, everything I looked upon seemed radiant with joy because of the sudden disappearance of the violent ninja-of-doom monstrously grotesque food poisoning bug that had been keeping me up at night, spouting with an awful physical energy (even enthusiasm) from both ends, for several nights running.

After a leisurely cup of tea, I went outside to enjoy the brilliantly sunny (if frigid) morning and began to stroll towards the monastery square at a pace usually reserved for the inmates of homes for the elderly, and not unfamiliar to drivers in the retirement capitals of Arizona and Florida who are constantly trapped behind the motor vehicles of these same respectably aged inmates; who, once at the wheels of their motor vehicles, insist on maintaining a driving speed comparable to their morning perambulation to the lawn chair. To recap, I walked slowly. But I eventually got to the square, where I decided to continue into town to buy something to drink. I started to walk down the edge of the road. Passively admiring the strenuous devotion of the pilgrims in the square to my right, I looked to my left to find the windshield of a van only two feet from my leg, and rapidly approaching.

I quickly jumped to the right, but there was really no way to get out of the way without running – which I quickly did, into the middle of the square, where, presumably, I was safe from this kind of menace.

Looks peaceful and orderly...but just try walking here

A simple walk through Rebgong will expose you to the risk of innumerable traffic accidents, a fact originally noted by Confucius, or maybe Tsongkhapa. While the main street is equipped with sidewalks, these roughly cobbled areas are often covered by large chunks of yak meat, leftover blood from the slaughter slowly congealing in the cold, and other savory treats. But even if you choose to walk here, you aren’t immune to the rampaging vehicles. In Rebgong, the sidewalk is simply an extension of the roadway, where cars, trucks and motorcycles can roam at will. Thus most people simply walk in the street, which is a chaotic mess of diverse vehicles from diverse eras of humanity’s existence going at diverse speeds.

All of which means that a short walk down the street is a pretty good way to get run over by a bus and die. But as traffic death stared me in the face as I walked along Rebgong’s main street, Dehelong Nanlu, I morbidly realized that walking through the streets of Rebgong puts you at risk in a whole host of ways. So, without further ado, a list of the ways in which you can die (or at least be brutally injured) while wandering down the streets of Rebgong:

  • You get in a traffic accident(s). I know I already illuminated this one above, but no list of this sort is complete without being headed off by a mention of the vehicular chaos that puts thoughts of death into my prematurely young mind.
  • You get a fatal infections from the animal/human blood and feces that are liberally smeared across the streets and sidewalks.
  • You are stabbed by a random used IV needle that is lying in the gutter.
  • You somehow ingest bad caterpillar fungus
  • You buy an electrical appliance. Due to design flaws, these can be surprisingly combustible.
  • You are trampled by the (usually friendly) donkeys
  • You get severe food poisoning from bad food at a street stall
  • You get severe food poisoning from bad food at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant
  • You get severe food poisoning from bad food at any of the nicest restaurants in town
  • You receive an aggressive rubdown from your overly-touchy local “friend”, an elderly Chinese man who lives with his mother
  • You are trampled, suffocated, assaulted, etc. etc. by the mobs of unruly midgets (ages 3-7-ish), who roam the streets at abandon, terrorizing all and sundry
  • You are stabbed by a butcher who gets frustrated at you because he doesn’t understand the strange (Western) cuts of meat that you want
  • You go to the hospital (see here). This exposes you to death in any number of ways.
  • You don’t go to the hospital (although, all things considered, chances of death are slightly lower than above)
  • You get in a car to Xining with the infamous Huang Shifu 黄师傅, who can take you the whole 200km over twisty mountain roads in well under two hours.
  • Your ears explode due to the constant honking of deafeningly loud car horns at a range of one meter.
  • You eat yangrou chuanr 羊肉串 at the place on the right side of the street (see “going to the hospital,” above)
  • You slip and fall due to the numerous ice slicks covering the pavement and sidewalks, caused by people throwing dishwater out of the doors of their shops and houses onto the street, a practice which despite creating at least some degree of personal hazard continues unabated in subzero temperatures (this is also present in the hallways of our schools, which turn into skating rinks which could only be described as “playfully slippery”).
  • Due to the number of people staring and pointing at you, you take in dangerous levels of attention-radiation until you eventually explode and die. This is an affliction generally limited to foreigners in Rebgong, for whom, unfortunately, it is extremely common.
  • Fed up with the dangerous levels of attention described above, you start a fight and get beat up by a mob.
  • You overdose on chemical-laden (yet delicious) XiangPiaoPiao 香飘飘 milk tea drinks.
  • You die from dehydration due to the lack of water available in town.
  • Completely accidentally, you behave with something other than complete reverence towards a monk or lama, and are trampled to death by an angry mob.
  • You pronounce the Tibetan syllable “t’k” as “t’k”, forgetting to imagine the hidden “r” that precedes the pronunciation; as such, instead of asking for milk, you inadvertently curse off a shopkeeper, who gets angry and pulls his knife, starting a fight, in which you are trampled to death by an angry mob.

this deceivingly calm scene is full of life-threatening danger

This, of course, is a partial list, and all disclaimers apply (risks not limited or confined to those listed above). Wander the streets of Rebgong at your own peril, as danger clearly comes looking for you.

If you (dear Reader) happen to have been to rural China and have anything to add about the risks of simply existing in such a place, feel free to post below. And that’s it until next week – unless any of the above list result in my speedy rebirth.

The Gu-chu valley near Shibsha

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3 Responses to Risky business: How to die in Rebgong

  1. Barbara Nordstrom-Loeb says:

    Glad you are ambulatory…and hopefully you have enough ‘merit’ to give you luck in surviving this life.

  2. walt says:

    Discontinuous sidewalks, where every building owner sets their own height means there are small cliffs at every property line, and it is dark at night. While not fatal, certainly retains potential for harm.

    Tibetian Mastiffs, Need i say more?

  3. wingraclaire says:

    Dear Jonas,

    I’m so glad you are temporarily not going to die. To your list you might want to add, going into one of those pharmacies where you tell them what is wrong with you and they give you the sketchy looking pills to fix it. Not that I dared do that, but we did accompany Kailah…. We also came with her for her VIS physical in SGL, during which they would have given her a chest-x-ray without a lead apron if not for her American mother insisting on it. (They had to go into the back room to dig one up.) So, there are other kinds of radiation that are also dangerous! Oh, and how about when your school gives you a wood stove that could asphyxiate you, even though it keeps you from freezing to death?


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