“Conversations from Gamchung Tea House”

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High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a post from August 2015 that was enjoyed and circulated by Tibetans on the popular mobile phone app WeChat. On one particular WeChat account alone, the post received more than 4000 views. The author is Lobsang Gyaltsen and the post was originally written in Chinese.

The author writes a series of thoughts which are set off by his regular visits to Woeser Gamchung Sweet Tea House in Lhasa, a popular gathering place to drink tea, chat and eat simple hearty meals. Locals in Lhasa simply call it Gamchung Tea House, gamchung meaning a small box, here is a link to Gamchung’s entry on the travel website TripAdvisor.

The post is valuable for a glimpse into the everyday life in the urban setting of contemporary Lhasa, as experienced by a young resident who works as a teacher.

To read about the culture of Sweet Tea Houses in Lhasa, see this previous post by High Peaks Pure Earth.

 

“Conversations from Gamchung Tea House”

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Every time I cycle past Gamchung Tea House, I am sure to stop for a cup of sweet tea.  Sometimes, a single moment can last a lifetime. Inevitably, thinking about Gamchung Tea House there are always some knots in my heart. I don’t exactly know what the Tea House signifies for me. It is located right in the centre of the city amidst the dirt and noise, overflowing with clamor and restlessness. At Gamchung, one can let go of a lot of prejudices. At Gamchung, I don’t need to keep a stern face and act seriously, this is a burden to me and also would drag others down. I like Gamchung not only because their sweet tea is tasty, but also because its space blurs the class distinctions between people. While the city is undergoing a necessary transformation, Gamchung Tea House has become a refuge for some people. Here you don’t need to be a VIP, no deposit is required. High ranking people and beggars share the same seats.

Drinking a cup of tea, I observe the intrinsic peacefulness of the Tibetan people and the trivialities of daily life. I don’t mean to say that they don’t have any worries, but their bright eyes and smiles lead me to firmly believe that they have been holding good thoughts in mind that will never diminish. These magnanimous characteristics, inherent in their behaviour will never vanish. Their solicitude completes them. It suddenly occurs to me: they resemble teenagers, as they are sincere but can all at  once be ill-tempered, living in this world, consumed by desires and suspicions.

Gamchung Tea House is just like a lonely existence. Exposing its own shortcomings while scathingly satirising the outside world – that’s just the frank manner of Gamchung Tea House. In Gamchung Tea House, everyone is equal! By the way, I don’t happen to be some kind of mouthpiece for Gamchung. They don’t need a person like me to be their mouthpiece. Between Gamchung and me, there is only a bottomless cup of tea.

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The Nyenchen Tanglha mountain remain resplendent. However, the grasslands below aren’t as green as before and give signs of decline. All these desolate and magnificent sights make me wonder if the city is a good place to live in. I don’t hate the city, and the city doesn’t treat me badly. It’s just that the city has the magical ability to devour humanity. It makes people lose themselves while thinking they are growing. The original self is not necessarily a good person but the original self is most certainly true. Every step forward is not merely an act of atonement but also goes along with my attitude towards life! Here I see many similarities between travel and pilgrimage.

The secret of daily life is that it will never allow you to ‘drain the cup in one gulp’. It always stays at a seemingly reachable yet actually unreachable height. This arouses in us the desire to move forward. Although we know it’s a real possibility we might ‘hit our noses’, we never stop. It’s just like watching “The Journey of the Flower”- if it wasn’t so heart wrenching, viewers might feel the plot is too simple. But every time the director creates these tantalising scenes we can’t help but wish Zun Shang and Xiao Gu will eventually get together. You can neither love or hate such scenes – but you’ll still be waiting for next week’s episode.

In fact,  life is the wholeness of thousands of contradictions. It’s not important whether it’s good or bad, whether it has a beginning and an end, whether it is flourishing or fading way. When you walk on this road it depends how you view success and failure. Life is the mirror of your mind. Shattered it may be, it’s still a mirror and it reflects the verifiable truth.

So, I always remind myself to travel. Though I cannot renounce urban convenience, I don’t want to become a prisoner of the city. Though I can’t endure the the loneliness of the grassland, I must explore its depths. The sight of Namtso Lake before my eyes tells me it’s all worth it.

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Sitting in a cafe waiting for Dolma, I thumbed through Bon Voyage magazine. Nowadays travel is popular and travelling far from home seems to be quite the achievement to oneself and others. Certainly, whether traveling to Europe or driving along National Highway 318, people need to travel to broaden to their field of vision, and rely on the vigour of nature to remove their inner sadness, to enrich themselves, and to escape their crazy. Anyway, travel encompasses all of these things and more.

Traveling requires many pieces of information to be verified and transmitted. Some so-called senior experts say travel and tourism are different. But my limits of Chinese understanding can’t really tell the difference between the two words. I just believe whether one travels or tours they should do so for sake of inner happiness! Although the sense of elation when arriving in a new place might not compare to the feeling of joy after you upload your photos on your WeChat Moments. In that moment, at least, you experience happiness – that’s the truth, even though this happy feeling is short-lived. I don’t know whether ‘joyfulness’ is appropriate here, but I think it’s okay to reveal one’s real feelings and enjoy one’s real self. Even if it’s a vanity, it’s a tiny vanity, which doesn’t hurt anyone and is nobler than those unrevealed hypocrisies.

Speaking of travel, it’s quite natural to think about the land under my own feet. For a thousand years, it’s been catching the worlds attention and and has now been honoured as ‘the last pure land of the world’. I don’t know if it’s because I have a sense of arrogance deep down but it leads to be feel as if I’m surveying little children from atop a lofty peak. This sort of reverse is not really one of vicious capability. I always feel that I am son of the high plateau, that I am person who rides horseback.

We have uncountable beautiful natural scenes, an astoundingly brilliant civilization and a religious belief that prioritizes the alleviation of suffering for all living beings. When I see people from all around the world, I always lift my head proudly. Even to the extended that I feel quite smug that I don’t have a particularly tiring. I love when I can look up at a most blue sky. More than once have I told self that I want to be a Tibetan in my next life again.

Just like other Tibetans who feel grateful to have been born here, I am always appreciative I could be part of group. Tibet culture is broad and profound. Although I am a Tibetan, there is a distance of one hundred and eight thousand li between such knowledge and me. It’s just that I grew up here, and this place having exerted a gradual, uplifting influence has left me believing the greatest aspect of Tibet culture: showing gratitude towards every part of the world.

This sense of gratitude doesn’t come from a sense of expectancy but is as simple as the gratitude one might show to the sun for giving us sunlight, to nature for allowing us to survive, to the animals and the land for giving us our livelihoods, to our parents for giving us our existence, and to our Lamas for bestowing upon us wisdom. This gratitude is unconditional and arises from deeps inside of heart.

I don’t dare to say how magnanimous and pure Tibetans are but I can say that Tibetans hold most precious the land under their feet and the blue sky above their heads.

So, whenever Tibetans see tourists littering and defiling the holy land, they become very agitated. These kinds of photo are fervently shared online, lead to the trading of criticism and accusation that quickly deteriorates the trading of insults. To the extent that if you get a little carried away you might find yourself facing some unrelated problems… Regardless, I’m willing to believe the starting point of the dispute rests with a deep caring for the land. The above is to emphasize the Tibetan’s sincere love towards this land.

As for the many people, who have similar attitude with me, what do we do? It will all become clear to you if you think about Norbulingka during the Shoton festival this year. Here, as in many other areas we still lag far behind our ancestors. I have a problem, might share with others, is that: I talk too much and do too little. I always focus on a blemish on another person’s face but never check whether I have zipped up my own fly or not.

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Recently, I noticed the ‘Liking Syndrome’ amongst WeChat users. It can be classified as one of four kinds of symptoms: to blindly follow, piqued interest, calm analysis and ignore completely. It’s difficult to determine the reasons for the fourth response, but for the other three are from someone’s senses of truth, goodness or beauty. One’s acquired life experiences affect the differences in your reasoning. I can’t say it is a flood of love, but I wish it was, because the true love is in short supply. Like an endangered species of animal, human compassion is facing a rigorous challenge.

When someone in your WeChat Moments, who normally appears to be quite ‘hip hop’ and cheeky but all of a sudden becomes very serious and driven, my feelings towards them all of a sudden change! They are trying to use different ways to create meaningful values and believe that their weak appeals will elect sincere returns.

I discovered the people who really make a change in their environment are always those are cheeky in their daily life. Regardless of whether they go down as immortal or infamous, they are certainly not people who stick to convention!

Being a teacher, I have to become appreciative of this kind of student. But before that I must cultivate one basic human skill, that is the ability to distinguish between fact and fiction to avoid being taken in by all-pervasive rumours and squandering my cheap compassion. These last two days the Tibetan internet censors have been particularly busy.

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I always want to talk about a few people who are around my age. I never thought I could know them, at least before I started working. If had to encourage myself to become a little more mature I would say: give the youth a choice they won’t regret. They are all my leaders. I’m a person who sticks to convention, I might want to change or break some of my habits but never do anything about it. They, however, are different, they seem have fully followed the pace and step of this era, they have clear plans and ideas, though some ‘cross the river while all the time feeling for stones’, they have already done their homework.

The great enthusiasm they have shown to new ideas and thoughts mirrors their respect towards traditions! If you have to label them, then you could say they are fond of learning. Moreover, they dare to challenge, query and argue. The most important point is that they love to offer their best suggestions to their potential opponents with no hesitation. Maybe they are not the winners of society, but they are already the winners of their own lives. There is no such pure happiness that can compare with the feeling when one’s advancement is held in one’s own hands.

Many of them started their own businesses after graduation. Some quit their stable jobs early, and some picked up their literary dreams of ‘adversity’. In their own words: they’d rather work harder and be exhausted, because they are at least finally free! I don’t dare to suggest there is another Steve Jobs or Dhondup Gyal, but their spirit of freedom is not inferior to any such noble soul. When you are with them, you’ll find out your shortcomings in the shortest time. They carry a lot of burdens of life, family and even the nation. This encourages them to keep up with contemporary knowledge and news. While I sigh that there is nothing to do, they regret that every day goes by too quickly.

Making a comparison, you can see the gulf. It’s the simplest truth. When I see their indomitable energy and momentum, I can’t help imagining myself in the future. I definitely won’t like myself more than before. To avoid becoming a miserable old man, I have to find some indomitable energy and courage of my own.

This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)