Potala Palace & The Elusive Chupa

I woke up around noon today and went straight to the ‘Palace with Dave. Potala Palace is probably the most famous sight in Lhasa – not only a 13-storey high engineering feat of the 8th century, it’s also been the home of the Dalai Lamas for thousands of years. Everyday hundreds of Buddhist pilgrims make the trek up the mountain to the worship in and around the palace and it’s various courtyards. The size and scope of the building, especially since it’s build into the side of a mountain and so old, is unbelievable. Unfortunately photographs aren’t allowed inside the building, but half of the building was almost like a museum of Tibetan Buddhism. Not a museum in the sense that it’s filled with school children though; we saw a few Chinese people, but the building was filled mostly with worshipping Tibetans. Each of them had prayer beads in hand and were consumed in a seemingly never ending spiritual chant. All of the monks made sure to carefully touch all of the metal designs on the doorways before entering another room – I wasn’t sure what the signifigance of this was.

I grew up exposed to Buddhism as far back as my memory allows me to recall, but I still feel like a fake when I pray in a Buddhist temple among¬†career¬†Buddhists who spend their life seeking Nirvana. Many of them have calouses on their foreheads which are a sign of their¬†religious devotion. It makes me feel more like a white guy who doesn’t really know what’s going on, but at least I don’t beg for money. Buddhism and begging seem to go hand in hand whether I’m in Thailand or Tibet. Still, it’s hard not to marvel at that kind of life-long commitment to peace and spiritual harmony.

After leaving the Palace Dave and I returned to the Tibetan market to continue our search for the Tibetan robe known as the chupa. With each day we become farther from the Tibetan new year and shops and restaurants are starting to open again for business. Today was our lucky day. We found the jacket chupas available from one vendor and I explained to him what we were looking for. He led us through the market and down an alley, into a locked room filled with chupas of all shapes and sizes. I confirmed that we wanted male chupas (chupas for females are more common) that extended below our knees. Within a moment he produced exactly what we were looking for at a reasonable price. We didn’t negotiate at all, and bought them immediately.

Between the conclusion of our chupa search and navigating the hallways where a dozen Tibetan Dalai Lamas have called home, this has been as successful a day as it has memorable.

At 6am tomorrow morning we depart for Chengdu.

Published on March 5, 2006

Final Tibet Gig

Tonight was my final night of work on this particular trip to Tibet, and it was in a KTV-like disco. For those who don’t know, KTV is an acronym which stands for drugs, prostitutes, and monotonous, mind-numbing house music. I wasn’t really that excited once we’d arrived there, especially after the relative excellence of the previous two gigs in a more standard club environment. The equipment was terrible – not only did that not have turntables, but they didn’t even have turntable-emulating CD players. No sir, only a rack-mount Denon dual CD player which didn’t read all of my CD’s properly. The crowd was also really fickle – one moment the dancefloor would be empty and the next it would be so full you couldn’t fit another person on it. It had its moments though; when Dave did his fire dance I played Intergalactic by the Beastie Boys which he apparently hadn’t heard in years, and got so excited dancing around that he had an asthma attack. The fire poi flying around him ate up most of the already-thin air around him, apparently. We both laughed about it a few minutes afterwards.

Published on March 5, 2006

Club Babi La – It's a Request!

Last night all of us performed at the same club. It was pretty similar to the previous night except for a few details; I played Baby Got Back while the girls did their dance and I finished with Santeria by Sublime. Also, ten minutes into my set (which was mandated as house/breaks) a Tibetan approached the booth and handed me a piece of paper. I folded it open and it nearly perfect english it said:

“Can you please play hip hop, PLEASE. IT’S A REQUEST”

It was scribbled in huge letters on a bar receipt with a pencil. I will keep it until the end of time. I met a few more Tibetans who spoke fantastic English (in addition to Chinese and Tibetan). Another fun show – the last one will either be tonight or tomorrow. Monday morning at 10:30 we take the hour long bus ride to Lhasa airport and return to Chengdu. This Monday will mark exactly two weeks until I return to Los Angeles from Beijing. I’m trying to make it to Vietnam before that, we’ll see how it works out. I asked Tingting to check on flights for me today when she can; in return I’m bringing her cool stuff from Tibet.

Today Dave and I returned to the monestary surrounded by the Tibetan market looking for a Chupa. This is the traditional Tibetan jacket/robe that we’ve been looking for several days for. It’s difficult to find at the moment because we’re in the middle of the Tibetan new year celebrations, which don’t include keeping your shop open. We got much closer today than we had before, but couldn’t find exactly what we’re looking for. Kim has reassured us that we can find what we’re looking for in the Tibetan district of Chengdu with the help of her Tibetan husband – it might be the best shot that we have now.

Last night after the gig the 5 of us returned to the hotel but weren’t really tired. Dave and I went with the two Chinese jugglers (Mr Wu and Mr Gu!) to the internet cafe that I’m at now. This place is enormous and constantly packed – I’d estimate at least 400 people at any time of day. They were anxious to compete against us, we think of national pride. Warcraft 3 was a close match, but counterstrike was even closer. For anyone who’s never been to China, counterstrike is nearly a religion here. People play it everywhere, constantly. At first Dave and I were losing badly, but after an hour or so we were able to refine our strategy. By the second hour the competition was intense and the game was neck and neck, but we were always one or two games behind. We finally caught up on the 95th game – we ended on top, 48 games to 47. It was a tremendous victory that we didn’t reach until 5am. When we walked back to the hotel the path back to our hotel was still lined with prostitutes and we saw several large pools of blood on the street. First one, then another 2 blocks down. We couldn’t figure out what had happened, but it was a lot of blood.

It’s a request!

Published on March 4, 2006

Tibetan New Year

Evidently yesterday was the first day of the Tibetan new year, so it was my first gig here in Lhasa. It was much more a standard Chinese club than the place where everyone else performed the night before last. It’s as if the same person designed every club in China, because they’re all virtually identical. I was glad to see a lot of Tibetans in the house, though. All of us performed last night – Kimmy and Maria danced, Dave did his fire eating and dance show, and I played for two hours.

Because most of the music played here is nearly identical, I was trying to get away with playing as much hip hop as possible, if only to break up the musical monotony that I’m sure club-goers here are constantly exposed to. It worked for 45 minutes until they insisted that I played house music, so I played breaks instead. Things were pretty much immediately going well and it was a good time, though. The decks were so low that I asked them if I could sit in a chair because my back would be killing me – instead they removed some of the floor boards so I was standing on a surface almost a foot below the floor in the DJ booth. It worked out fine, and the gig was actually a lot of fun. One of the clubs dancers grabbed my ass while I was playing and made it look like one of the security guards did it. She didn’t tell me until afterwards and it really weirded me out since I couldn’t worry about it at the time.

Immediately afterwards we were all collecting our things and getting ready to leave when some Tibetan guys at a table urged me to have a drink with them. They asked where I was from, I told them America, and they said they really love Americans. They asked me if I knew why, I said no, and they said because we care about them. We don’t really do anything because of the trade implications it would have with China, but maybe they heard about our “Free Tibet” bumper stickers or concerts or something. Anyway they were very enthusiastic and friendly, and a joy to hang out with.

Today we had another Tibetan meal (no more Chinese food) and some fantastic teas – masala and butter tea. Dave and I wandered through a neighborhood network for an hour or so, hanging out with small children and taking photos while observing what it was like.

In a few moments we’ll leave for dinner. Tonight we’ll be performing in the same club again – looking forward to it!

Published on March 3, 2006

Captivating Beauty; Also, Sunburn

This place is beautiful and dangerous. The landscape is not like any other I’ve ever seen – it’s half mountain, half desert. You sweat in the day and shiver at night, and the extremes are amplified by the inevitable sunburn. Yesterday we spent a few hours of the late afternoon in a Tibetan market and browsing around a monestary and returned to the hotel to assemble and eat dinner before realizing how unforgiving the sun really is here. The dangerous rays which make the skin of locals look like leather is veiled by a constant cool breeze, but now that we’ve learned this, we’re armed with 35spf sunscreen.

Last night we had the first proper Tibetan meal of the trip. With our homebase well within the border of Chinese territory of Lhasa, we have to make a trip to even find a place that will serve us Tibetan cuisine. Last night we found a place just outside of the market we spent the afternoon browsing we found a restaurant that not only serves Tibetan and Nepalese food, but they have a menu with english text. The food was fantastic and included a variety of treats including Masala and Butter tea, momo, and lots of yak meat. It’s maybe as delicious as it is exotic – the food here appears to be excellent, even if easily overshadowed by mediocre Chinese food. Because we’re at the cusp of the Tibetan new year, many Tibetan restaurants are closed for the holidays, so it takes some work to find a good restaurant with a door that isn’t chained closed.

After the meal we assembled at the hotel to prepare for the evening. I didn’t have to work, so I would just tag along to observe. The club wasn’t entirely identical to what I’m used to, but I wouldn’t say that it’s a great departure from clubs in mainland China, with regard to either the music or the atmosphere. There was no dancefloor at all, but there was a large stage with an assortment of band equipment. There were a few house performers, and we came with juggling bartenders, a fire dancer/eater, and two dancing white girls. The outfit that Kim and Maria had to wear was hilarious – it was like a big white fuzzy bikini with white fuzzy boots. Absolutely hilarious; I’ll post photos when I return to Chengdu. Dave’s performance was tremendous – first he ate fire and then danced with flaming poi. Without a doubt the highlight of the show, in my opinion. I sat and watched the show for two hours while declining to drink Chivas and opting for Lhasa beer. On the green can it clearly said “Beer from the roof of the world”. How cool is that?

I’ll leave this place shortly and return with Dave to the market that we went to yesterday, this time to conclude our search for a singular item – a Chupa. It’s a traditional Tibetan article of clothing which looks somewhat like a large robe. The outside is black and decorated with colorful Tibetan fabric ornaments and the inside is sheep hide. Tenzin has one and had to travel to the Tibetan part of western Sichuan to find it. Neither Dave or I have ever seen anything like it and we’re absolutely committed to finding them, even if we have to have them custom made by a Tibetan tailor. Wish us luck.

Published on March 2, 2006

Roof of the Planet. My Head Hurts.

The flight over the Himalayas was incredible. I took photos and video and I’ll post them here when I get back home and can edit my content.

I arrived yesterday at 9:30am in Lhasa and immediately noticed the thinner air. With less oxygen in the air you need to take deeper breaths, so you quickly become short of breath, even carrying your luggage from the airport to the taxi. Over the next 24 hours this would have a greater effect on me than it did in the airport, although it wasn’t entirely unexpected. Because I’d only had two hours of sleep (although on the flight I was stretched out across three seats when I wasn’t looking out the window), I fell asleep in the hotel for 5 hours immediately after eating an early lunch. Shortly after waking I had a headache and was feeling nauceous while still being exhausted. My mother called me to say hello and see how I was doing and¬†I spoke about the altitude sickness to her and she assured me that it’s normal. She reminded me to check out the hot springs outside of Lhasa which supposedly offer an incredible view of the Himalayas.

Last night before I really felt the effects of the altitude, Dave told me that he saw two Chinese people in the lobby of our hotel with oxygen tubes in their noses. A few hours later we’d take a trip to a street-side hospital and get hooked up with some oxygen pillows which we quickly inhaled. It looked like a fully-inflated plastic blue pillow with a rubber tube and nozzle attached to it. One end goes into a nostril and a plastic lever releases the oxygen. I don’t know if it helped, but it was fun – we took photos and had a good time. Afterwards we watched the extended cut of The 40 Year Old Virgin which was hilarious. We were strongly advised to not do much of anything the entire day as it takes 24 hours to adjust to the air and pressure.

I slept for 11 hours last night in a comfortable bed and had lunch in a restaurant attached to the hotel. It was a Chinese restaurant (as opposed to a Tibetan restaurant), but then, nearly everything around here is Chinese. The overbearing influence that the Han Chinese have had here over the last 40 years is saddening – even in their homeland, Tibetans are a minority. I haven’t had a single Tibetan meal since arriving here, although we did see a number of Tibetan sights today. We went to a monestary surrounded by a circular avenue filled with vendors selling Tibetan wares. I bought a lot of things, all of which are intended as offerings to friends and family when I return to USA. My impromptu trip to Tibet had the added bonus of giving me the chance to collect rare and incredible artifacts to bring home.

I don’t work tonight, but everyone else (Dave, Kimmy, Maria) does. I start tomorrow and work for the following three nights, and then we return to Chengdu shortly thereafter. We haven’t been to a club in Lhasa yet, so tonight will be my chance to see what it’s really about. I expect it to be not very much different from clubs in mainland China, being that most people here seem to be Chinese immigrants. Hopefully more surprises are in store.

I’ll leave here in a few moments to get a real Tibetan meal. No more Chinese food!

Published on March 1, 2006

5:43am

Good morning!

I woke up 40 minutes ago and I’m meeting the promoters outside in ten minutes. It’s pitch dark outside and I’ve only slept for two and a half hours. I’ll sleep on the plane and listen to Boards of Canada to regain as much energy as I can.

Published on February 28, 2006

Prepare for Elevation

In 12 hours I leave for Tibet; at 5am. I’m not sure if I should sleep or stay up that late or what. I understand that even if I sleep tonight I’ll arrive there exhausted and winded from the dramatic change in elevation although I think it might be better to subject my body to as little abuse as possible until my body equalizes, which I understand may take at least 24 hours. I’ll have 5 days there if I’m not mistaken, during which I hope to see as much as I can. Maybe most important to me is Potala Palace, which I’ve been anxious to photograph since I first saw a photo of it a year ago. I’ll always have my camera with me and I’ll be taking as many photos as I can, so I’ll post them here.

I tried to get an idea of what kind of music goes down in Tibet but was unsuccessful. I’ve never met anyone who’s DJ’d in Tibet; none of the foreign DJ’s (all four of us!) this town of 13 million have been. I posted on a Chinese nightlife forum about it seeing if I could collect any information, even inside the DJ section, and still no one could provide any information.

It’s lining up to be a tremendous adventure that I can’t wait for!

Published on February 27, 2006