Update Without a Theme

Above the clouds on Amnye Shachung

Above the clouds on Amnye Shachung

Random update here; simply want to put something up to remedy the lack of recent posts. Also, can’t upload any more pics without buying a “space upgrade” from WordPress. BOO.

I thought that I’d be less busy after the third-years had graduated. Ha. Work never goes away, or even diminishes; it simply changes shape, texture, color.

For example, last weekend. After I finished teaching classes, I walked into town under a blazing sun, my capacious backpack soon to be filled with materials for that afternoon’s pizza/barbeque. After doing the rounds, I found myself at the only true supermarket in town. And suddenly, from flufflily white cumuli, it began to rain.

I made my way back home, thinking that – because the sky was still dotted with large gaps of blue – the rain would be over soon. An hour later, I heard a sharp, glancing knock at my window. A cacophonic clattering ensued. I ran to the window just in time for a nearly baseball-sized chunk of ice to hit me in the stomach.

What ensued, neatly coinciding with the time I had set for the pizza/barbeque, was the most epic hailstorm I have ever had the privilege to see. Before I had even closed all the windows in my apartment, massive hailstones were crashing into my apartment, finding their way onto by bed, into my toilet, and around my kitchen. Outside, trees cracked, branches fell, and windshields shattered as the hailstones rapidly accumulated into a dull, white carpet, one without any of snow’s glimmering prestige or beauty windshields shattered. When I ventured into the first-floor vestibule to take a look, I saw that the nearby cars had large dents in them, as if they had survived an enemy attack.

Surprisingly, some students showed up. Nevertheless, despite having prepared nearly everything for the pizza, I postponed the barbeque to the following day – a day for which I had already made big plans.

Students post-gaokao

Students post-gaokao

My alarm rings; I look up. All is unimaginably still, silent, dark; not a deathly stillness , but a living one, in which others – peaceful, resting – are palpable, present. I look at my watch: 2:45am. The previous evening, I had been told to meet Erin (English name) downstairs at 3:00. We would be hiking up Amnye Shachung, the highest peak in the Rebgong area at 4767 meters (15640 feet), to burn bsang to this important mountain deity. Today was to be a special day, I was told; hundreds of people would be making the trek to Amnye Shachung for a special horse festival of some sort.

At 3:15, I go downstairs and knock on the door; no lights are visible. I call Erin; no answer. I go upstairs again and fall asleep.

I hear a knock at the door and look at my watch. 4:10. I jump into my clothes and head downstairs. We pile into the car and take off, careening up a narrow, rutted dirt road, past darkened villages and fields, switchbacking up a mountainside through dense fog, and then reaching a rollercoastering ridgetop where we snake tortuously across a precipitous mountainside. Finally, we arrive at a small parking area at a pass; the mists are thick, the headlights only penetrating a few meters into the murk. We grab our bags and begin to hike.

We hike through foggy yak pastures, yaks and glacial erratics blurring into the same indistinct lumpy forms in the fog, and through encampments of temporary nomads looking for caterpillar fungus. I see a yellowish blur ahead; as I quicken my pace, the blur congeals into a brilliantly shining mountaintop, gray rocks goldentinged by the rising sun. And suddenly, we break out of the clouds and find ourselves below the arcing aquamarine vault of the high-altitude sky. The billowing clouds form a sea, stretching out endlessly from our feet to distant horizons. Only a few isolated mountaintops poke islandlike through the turbulently layered strata of cumuli. We are alone, isolated by altitude in a brilliantly clear, spare, and harshly beautiful world of grass and stone and sky and little else.

We continue upwards, passing several bsang-burning sites where the others stop to perform rituals, through marshes and over rollingly hummocked hillsides. I recognize a valley to the east, where I had gotten lost when attempting Shachung the year before. And suddenly, Shachung is before us, pointed and covered in talus, a Mount-Washington-esque pile of boulders writ large. We start our ascent up a narrow gully behind a small rock tower, and soon find ourselves on an airy ridge. The pointed summit, generously bedecked in prayer flags and a small crowd of people, rises ahead. We hear screams and hoots and a cacophony of firecrackers explode from the peak; Amnye Shachung, the deity, is being given offerings. As we approach the peak, I see beers being passed around; drunk groups of young men yell at me as we approach and try to pull me over for pictures. We continue to the highest peak, a sharp pyramid of black stone which drops precipitously to the west; grasslands are visible far below, and then, the blanket of clouds covers all else.

Soon, the young men descend, and the summit is quiet. I look out, over the surrounding peaks and towards the white sea that obscures the world beyond. What lies below? What landscapes, people, experiences? What lives and emotions and ideas here exist that, after living in the region for three years, I have still yet to encounter? What have I done, and what far greater volume is yet to be done?

First, a descent: we make our way down the mountain and into a peasoup beyond; we eventually find the car and, with drowsy driver, make it back to town in time for me to prepare (with much help) the pizza/barbeque. Which, despite less-than-high-level pizza-making skills and some difficulty getting the grill going, went off without a hitch. And then, the next morning, it was back to school.

This is the last week of school before exams, and the fact of my leaving has truly started to sink in. I told the students last week – and it did not go over well, especially with my (effectively adopted) younger brother. Leaving will be difficult, but – news – luckily, I’ve managed to land a job in San Francisco (pending TB screening and background check) that will get me back to China several times next year! This prospect has helped soften the idea of leaving for me; it has become less of a full-on departure and more of an extended absence. For whatever happens, I will remain with these kids – and I know I’ll be back soon.

And that’s about it for my random update. I simply wanted to put something up because it’s been so long since I last posted. I promise I’ll write something more awesome and fulfilling here soon!

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