Eng: Tongren, Qinghai, China
Tib: Rebkong, Amdo
Written by Em
I lay in bed for about an hour after waking up. The cold was getting to me. We slowly changed under the sheets and put all the clothes we could fit on. I tried packing my bag, but my fingers just ached from the cold. Then our door burst open and the little girl told us, "quickly, quickly come and eat." I perked up a bit and we walked over for two warming bowls of rice porridge and bread. Outside in the courtyard, the little girl and her baby brother were playing. As soon as she saw us coming, the little girl quickly ran giggling into the kitchen, slamming the door behind her. Her brother, milk bottle in hand, froze in horror as the giant, furry, white foreigner (Dan) approached. He couldn't look away, but started wailing and running towards the kitchen. Mesmerized by Dan, he failed to notice the closed door and smacked right into it! Seconds later, his sister opened the door and the baby fell head-first into the kitchen, spraying milk everywhere, including all-over himself. Not such a great start to the day.
After breakfast, we sort of puttered about, drawing on the frosted windows with the kids and getting in the way of their mom. Finally, Grandpa came over and told us to follow him. We asked if we were finally going to see the Thangka artists and Jiao Ba Jia in action. "No." What?! We've spent an extra day in the freezing cold just to see these artists and still no?! We're still not really clear what was going on, but apparently everyone neglected to tell us that Jiao Ba Jia and his brothers all went to take a test in another town and the other monks all went home. "So, no Thangka artists?" The answer was a firm "No." Completely bummed out we followed him to the monastery to have a look there.
Only one of the buildings was actually open. We walked into the dimly lit hall and held Grandpa's hand as he led us into the dark temple. He pointed to a shadow that was a wall covered in Thangka art, but it was too dark to see anything. I couldn't help but smile as we stumbled through the rest of the temple. Grandpa led us to Jiao Ba Jia's home and a small shrine room that he painted himself. It was absolutely stunning and only made us feel more disappointed in the fact that we wouldn't see him paint. We sat in the sun for a bit, not
We'd seen a small studio advertising Thangka art along the road and decided to walk and see if they were open. While walking, we both expressed our disappointment. I smiled and told Dan our mini drawing session with the kids was our Thangka experience. It didn't really go over well. We caught someone leaving the studio and asked if we could have a look. He hesitated and then agreed.
The door opened into a small, one room studio with a still sleeping artist in bed. We immediately felt awkward, as if we were intruding and quickly looked at a few of the paintings in progress and left. We had a great time with the family, but we really came to see the art. It was disappointing. We returned to the home, packed our stuff and shared one last great meal of homemade dumplings stuffed with meat, green onions and cabbage.
We're in the town tonight and are catching a morning bus to Xiahe, a small town centered about the Labrang Monastery (Dan has to constantly correct me that it's not the Lebron James Monastery). It has been a bit of a trying experience traveling in winter. We expected a few roads and tourists spots to be closed, but it seems we really have picked the worst time to visit this area. Even when we are able to visit the various ruins, temples and villages, they seem deserted and a bit unfriendly. It's frustrating, but at the same time we know we can always come back in the summer. Besides, it wouldn't be an epic adventure without some obstacles.