THE TRISONG CAFE OF LHASA
CHAPTER 1: DOLMA
5 am, Lhasa. Black Sky. Stars.
Dolma’s brass alarm clock clangs her awake. She hits the off lever and switches on the bed lamp. She slides out from under her sheep-skin, stumbles off the platform bed of her Tibetan sofa-by-day, and shuffles over to her computer work-station.
The shiny glow of its cool glass and metal frame had always conflicted with the lacquered yellows, reds, and greens of her Tibetan furniture. But Dolma had tried sitting on a meditation cushion while working her computer to be “Tibetan,” and ended up wracking her back with spasms. “Too long sitting on chairs,” she recalls sitting cross-legged on pillows in Tibetan grammar school. Before she left for neidi.
The one “so not Tibetan” work-station was deliberately tucked into a far corner by a small window facing the narrow street. “Diminishes its impact on Tibetan furnitures’ low height line,” she had explained to Jigme, her boyfriend? partner? Tibetan soulmate? when she had directed him to assemble it there.
It's also 5 am Beijing time, although Lhasa is three time zones away in American terms. But under China’s “one nation one time zone policy,” Beijing’s summer dawn is moltengold, streaked with magenta while Lhasa’s morning skies may as well be midnight.
It’s the “sensitive situation” that gets Dolma out of bed at 5 am daily. Her Lenovo PC’s green pinpoint light blinks incessantly - thank goodness Dolma had figured out how to turn off the pinging sound every time someone added to a thread. She lights up a stick of incense. Dzongsar - light, sweet smokiness. Dolma goes on-line, starts her daily purge of Tibetan diaspora screeds.
“Two diametrically opposing views of Tibet's political status have dominated. The pro-Free Tibet school argues that Tibet had been an independent state conquered by the Chinese Communists, thus wrongly incorporated into the Chinese nation.
The pro-Chinese school sees Tibet as a traditional part of China which tried to split from it only due to British machinations during the weak, waning years of the Qing dynasty, but which was rightly reunited with China in 1951.”
“Peace can only be achieved by accepting the present situation and moving forward into a compassionate future. To cling to the past and past ideas can only lead to suffering, as the Buddha taught.”
Someone named “The Middle-Way Guy” writing in English and alternating with bad Chinese and even worse Tibetan (as if using translation software), posted this. The writer goes on for some time.
“Hmmm, well at least it’s original…not too controversial…still…feels a bit tropish.”
“Whatever.” She deletes it.
Dolma scampers down the open balcony hallway to the communal toilet, a long room with an equally long trough. “Someone got up early today,” as she spots a dump pile towards the far end. Squatting, she added hers and opens the water flow of an eye-level pipe extending across the tiled wall. A steady stream of water would now flow all day long. “But never enough to clear out the solid stuff.” Another reason to be an early riser.
Dolma scampers over to the communal wash room next door to get wash water which she brings back to and boils in the electric hot water maker. “Brrrr.” as she waits. She quickly sponge-bathes herself and then re-wraps herself in her luxurious, white bath robe, a souvenir from a weekend staycation at the Shangri-la Hotel in Haidan, Beijing’s university district. Dolma had won the weekend raffle in a fundraiser for a rural Tibetan blindness prevention program.
She deletes the usual overseas Tibetan slogans like Total independence for Tibet, Tibet for Tibetans only, and Down with Chinese Imperialism: or threats like When the Dalai Lama dies, the Tibet Youth Congress will rise! And so on and so forth.
“Is there some algorithmic software that nightly uploads the same-old-lame-old slogans?” she mused. “I want to hire THAT guy for a counter-algorithm.”
She lingered over one new one, an accusations of ongoing cultural genocide,
Dolma picks-up the electric hot water pot and pours herself a mug of steaming water.
“Cultural genocide? That’s a new one. Shouldn’t that be “culture-cide?” As in the “culture is being buried and Tibetans forced-assimilated?” No one’s being killed, right?” But then she had to smile at the clever subliminal tie-in to the apocryphal claim of 1.2 million Tibetans killed. Good copy writer, whoever you are. Or was it still at its original 1.6 million Tibetans killed? The total kept being knocked lower and lower the more investigative reporters researched it.
“Doesn’t matter,” she mused. “For even after a Big Lie is factually exposed, it stays in people’s hearts,” according to Professor Dimiter Tzanev in her “Rise of Modern European Nationalism” class at Minzu, the Beijing Central University for National-Minorities.
Professor Tzanev was a former Bulgarian Ambassador to China.
Adolph Hitler said that,” he said. “The longer an outrageous lie remains unchallenged, it remains emotionally “true,” even after it’s debunked,” he underscored.
“Guess people don’t like to admit they’ve been fooled so “Big Time!” Dolma liked the emphatic blare of the phrase “Big Time!” which she picked up at the popular Sculpting in Time coffee house on Weicongcun Road one day, across from Minzu University. A table of American students had shouted it out about ten times in as many minutes.
“Can’t people honor the spirit of this website, designed for, created for, and managed by born-here-and-raised-here Tibetans!” growled Dolma. “Uggghhh!” Dolma stifled her scream.
Months earlier, Dolma had wanted to post an Advisory: “Dear Diaspora Tibetans, love you, but please remember, we have to live here, not you. This website is our safe space, not yours. Remember what the Buddha said, skillful, non-harming speech!”
She grumbles, “Why clutter up the site with screeds you know can shut it down? The Buddha knows you have kajillions of sites to rub up on eachother.”
“Stop-messing-with-our-space!” Dolma snarls with every trounce of her index finger on the delete button. “Stop-messing-with-our-space!” Delete."
Dolma had learned this American expression at Minzu U, too, the crown jewel of China’s ethnic college system for its 55 official National Minorities. Han was of course the 56th ethnic and largest group - 90%.
Now completely wide-awake after her typical energetic ritual of morning deletes and cussing out her diaspora brothers and sisters, Dolma more quietly continues her monitoring. By 6:30 am, she is done. Dolma deletes the morning’s e-trash and then double-deletes it from her Trash bin. She waits a minute and then restarts her computer.
Gray dawn light nuzzles into her room. She peers out the window straight up into the narrow swatch of sky, framed in by the row of building rooftops on the sides of her alley. Metal gates clatter open as merchants set-up their street stalls. Voices greet each other. Clopping of horse drawn wagons dropping off fresh vegetables and butchered yak body parts. The humming of small trucks also dropping off goods. Smells of charcoal braziers drift up as street vendors boil up pots of Tibetan noodle soups and deep-fry long bread, the Tibetan breakfast staple.
Dolma spends the next hour perusing the locals’s posts. She smiles, the reason, like a daily devotion, she awoke at 5 am, no matter how late or tired from the night before. “To keep this space open for us!”
“Wanted: flute player - traditional or western flute, doesn’t matter. I wish to sing traditional Buddhist sutras to modern music. Must want to perform. I am male with deep voice so a flute is nice contrast. Girl is a nice contrast too, but guy is OK. Knowledge of a few Songs of Milarepa is good, but not necessary.”
“ Check it out, we have an English Salon at Trisong Cafe every Sunday night, 6 pm. Then an English corner until 9pm. Many foreigners from Tibet U come here and so you can talk to native English speakers. It’s free but please order refreshments.”
“Just accepted to Jiaotong Communications University in Beijing. Would like to talk to you if you studied there.”
“Anybody want to join us to watch Mavericks vs. Houston game this Saturday? We are meeting at the Snowy Lotus Flower bar. Opens at 8:30 am, game starts at 9. Special on Tibetan breakfast noodles, or curry rice with fried egg, & Yanjing beers. Go Yao Ming!”
“Buddhism for Everyday Life study group. Meet every Sunday at 4 PM. Lhamsa School, Education building 2, Room 302. This week’s topic continues the meaning of karma and whether reincarnation is real or metaphor.”
“The Wise Bat Tibet Children’s Fairy Tales drama group is adding an outdoor summer season. Need actors, technicians, stage hands, etc. If you wish to join us, we are meeting Thursday night, 7 pm, at the Tibetan Opera Troupe theater, practice room 4. Visit: www.TheWiseBat.com.”
“I am organizing a new Saturday morning Tibetan language class for returning university grads If you wish to talk back to your mother and win, then this class is for you! :-) Just kidding, but I am a Professor of Tibetan language at Lhasa campus, University of Tibet. 4th year teaching this: www.U-TsangLingo2Day.com.”
“Hip-Hop breakdance contest auditions Saturday afternoon at Khamsang school. Email video-tape of your crew at 11 am. firstname.lastname@example.org. Those accepted throw down at 1 pm. 3 finalists go to Shigatse next weekend to compete.”
“That’s what I’m talking about.” shouts Dolma as she shoots her arms straight above her head. Dolma liked using what her friends called her “Americanisms.” In her first year at Minzu University in Beijing, an American Born Chinese professor of English had advised her class to pick either American or British English going forward as their main dialect.
“Either one serves equally well as the global language of educated people everywhere,” he emphasized. “American English is more widely popular due to our movies and pop music. But it doesn’t matter which one you choose.”
A rather elegantly fashionable and svelte middle-age man, “Victor,” he said to call him, he then went on to give his skillful imitations of BBC, Hindi, Singaporean, and urban Black English. “But I can’t do Australian English for some reason,” he kind of apologized, as everyone laughed, recalled Dolma.
Finally, he said, “You will make more progress selecting a base dialect now.”
He then told a story about a student whose writing was advanced, yet foreigners had a hard time understanding her spoken English. Initially, she was told it was an accent problem, which seemed impossible given her years of study.
It seems that she had continuously alternated listening between BBC and Voice of America radio during her high school years. Victor diagnosed that she ending up speaking a patois of British and American accents, awkwardly combining differing sentence rhythms and musicality flow, combining local slang, and diction differences. Finally after a semester of sticking to American English (mainly modeling “Desperate Housewives” Bree Van De Kamp’s perfect, paced, dry diction), she smoothed it out all.
“So whichever one — Pick One, Stick To It! The English language does not need another dialect. China has already given us Chinglish and thank you very much already!” he concluded.
That afternoon, Dolma decided on American English.
Victor was shorter, stocky, and dark-skinned like a Tibetan. In fact, that first day, Dolma thought Victor was a Tibetan professor who had entered the wrong classroom. There were a lot of Tibetan Professors of Tibetology at Minzu and it was easy to get lost in its modern, sprawling twin-towers of 13 floors connected by a sky-bridge on the 10th floor. She of course had expected the usual white native speaker teacher for their oral English class. But just as she was about to ask Victor in Tibetan which room he was looking for, the bell rang and Victor sprang into perfect English.
He explained that while he was a third generation American with 100% percent Chinese DNA on the outside, yet he was 100% American on the inside! Fifth generation in fact as his paternal grandfather emigrated to California right after the Gold Rush of 1949.
In fact, he spoke no Chinese, he declared. “So, the entire class will be taught 100% in English.” This was the first English class Dolma taught by a native speaker since she had started English in middle-school. Without any explanations in Chinese, it would be challenging. “Like watching Friends without subtitles!” she screamed in her head. And optically, it was complicated, because here was a 100% Chinese guy who doesn’t speak Chinese. Here was an American who doesn’t look like any “American” in the movies and who was neither white nor black. And he speaks 100% mainstream American English! Not Taiwan English. Not Hong Kong English. Not even Singaporean English. He speaks 100%, pure, clear, Californian!
“And he looks Tibetan, not Han!”
“The Buddha teaches the only constant is change. And an ethnic Han who speaks no Chinese and looks so Tibetan? That’s change.” But mainly, she felt she would really learn from him, especially since Victor was humorous, relaxed, and well, yeah, as that night during the usual sizing up of new teachers, everyone agreed that Victor was “…waaay cooool!”
“Hmm, just about 8 am.” the start of a PSB officials’ day. By 8:30 am, they routinely checked all websites on the watch list. Dolma knew from a friend in PSB that her website was top of the list, A senior Tibetan detective, Dawa by first name was all she knew, was the website’s PSB monitor. She knew that Dawa, waiting for retirement, wasn’t too hardworking, but of course, couldn’t ignore obvious red flags.
Dawa reported directly to Dorje, head of the PSB’s Lhasa Intelligence Unit. Dorje was a friend of her Twangmo, Dolma’s grandmother. Both had grown up in Chamdo and joined the Tibetan Young Communist League about the same time.
So, Dolma knew their routine and so far, so good no invites for a long chat over yak butter tea. She actually preferred cappuccinos. Dolma was looking forward to her first cap at the Trisong Cafe, at their private table in the Gesar Salon room. Well, the Gesar Salon room was actually an alcove, a former banquet table for ten placed in a corner cubby. A halfwall afforded some privacy. But it was reserved for friends of the Gesar Salon, of which she was a co-founding member along with her partner Jigme. And now that someone had gifted the Gesar Salon table’s with an English Reserve sign (“borrowed” from the Lhasa Holiday Inn), they no longer had to smilingly shoo innocent foreigners away.
The Trisong Cafe was on the second floor of a building on the corner of bustling Beijing Central Road and XiaoZhaoShi Lane, named after the XiaoZhaoShi Temple located on that lane. This revered pilgrimage temple was also known as the Ramouche, which in Tibetan means the other Jokhang, Buddhism’s holiest site. Or as Dolma called it, the “Mini-Jokhang,” after Mini-Me in the Austin Powers movie, The Spy Who Shagged Me.
With floor to ceiling windows, Trisong Cafe commanded clear views onto traffic-clogged Beijing Central Road. On a typical day, the Gesar Salon irregulars wandered in between 9 and 10 am, before their day began. Some, like Jampa, would be hung-over from too much beer the night before. Jampa spent his nights at the Sacred Mandala Bar and Tibetan Cabaret. He had an eye on one of the blind Xinjiang belly dancers who performed there nightly. In between sets, she’d sit next to him and drive up his beer bill, for which she received a percentage.
On Friday mornings, fewer straggled in, if at all, from dancing all night at Queenland Ballroom, the weekly more-fun-than-even-than-the-weekend LGBT nite with an accent on transvestitism. Some Friday mornings, Dolma sipped her cap alone.
“Well, I just love waking up early!”
Dolma tromped down the four levels of concrete stairs to the inner courtyard. She u-turned towards the heavy wooden door tucked behind the stairs, unlocked it’s creaking, iron boltlock and pulled it inward.
The streets were still clean from last night’s summer showers. “Love those dinner time showers. Day is over and get drenched to the skin or get home, relax and eat dinner with your family.”
“How blessed is Lhasa?” exulted Dolma, for the night rains not only washed away the dust, the grime, the noise, but the crowds and traffic.
“Like a mandala sand painting wiped clean every night,” she thought.
Sometimes thunder and lightning preceded the deluge and then periodically thundered and lit up the sky all evening. “A shower to shoo us off to bed.” But mostly, the rains fell straight down in a noisy splatter and then clattering as it hit metallic roofs, storehouses, and cars. Noisy and drenching…for about two hours…and then silence. Complete silence.
And Lhasa awakes in pristine condition.
Dolma decided to pop up onto the rooftop of the Yak Hotel, just around the corner on Beijing Road. Her friends who worked there comped her the buffet breakfast. The Yak Hotel was well known to western tourists courtesy of The Lonely Planet Guide and encounters there was one way she kept her English sharp.
As she stepped out from the quiet of her alley onto Beijing Road, the cacophony of the traffic rammed into her ears: cars honking, motorcycles roaring and tooting, buses booming down the street, and traffic police blowing their whistles. She twisted her way through mothers hurrying their yellow-capped and blue-red-green-yellow-brown backpacked children to school, suited office workers hailing cabs, and women with their amber and blue stones adorned hair hurrying to the Barkhor to pull open the canvass of their outdoor souvenir stalls.
Dolma shoved open the left of the double glass doors into the lobby of the Yak Hotel. She took the stairs two at a time, easily passing tourists wheezing and dragging themselves up to the 6th floor rooftop terrace buffet. Lhasa’s 10,000+ feet altitude was devastating for first-timers and if ever a hotel could use an elevator, the Yak Hotel was it. But the call of a free western breakfast with strong coffee (even if wretched Nestle’s powder coffee) was a great motivator.
“Good practice for climbing the stairs of the Potala tour later in the day,” she consoled foreigners over brunch.
There were days when she was contemplative and then she would pretend to speak only Tibetan. “No In-gless speak,” deferring with a slight bow and prayerful palms.
Mostly, Dolma enjoyed sitting on the terrace, watching the jagged circle of fang-tooth-like peaks, lightly clothed in green grass and streaked with brown rocks, cradling and protecting Lhasa from the bone-chilling wind gusts, blinding snow storms, and invading Mongol and Nepalese hordes alike.
Dolma wondered whether there ever really was a city specifically named Shangri-lila. She thought it more likely that in some precursor language to modern Tibetan, Shangri-lila was the definition of a natural sanctuary: a protective mountain valley flowing with rivers, where nomads could settle in for the winter. “Lhasa is a Shangri-lila.”
“That’s my Tibet!” she joked with Victor throughout the vid. The Tibetans guffawed and doubled over so many times. “Suppose to be a comedy, right?” was their group conclusion.
“You know, a lot of Westerners romanticize Tibet along these lines,” commented Victor, chuckling away himself. “Say, was there ever really a city called Shangri-la.”
“Maybe Shangri-lila comes from the Sanskrit word Shambala, which in Tibetan is…” Dolma asks Victor for paper and pen. She scribbles the Tibetan characters ཤམ་བྷ་ལ་ .
“And according to the Kalachakra sutra, Shambala was a spiritual world prophesied by the Buddha…more likely an inner spiritual space arrived at through mediation a la the Kalachakra sutra than a real planet. So, how then did Shambala become Shangri-li-la?”
Dolma writes the Chinese characters:
Dolma enjoyed her linguistics classes and occasionally doodled Tibetan and Chinese drawings and English words to detect linguistic links. She pondered “Sham -bla -la… Shangri-li-la… I wonder what the Sanskrit script looks like?” as the others watched her transfixed.
“Hmm..”fragrant” - “pattern or form” - “interior” -“ extended time or hold onto”… A sweetsmelling space inside something to stay in…hmmm, like a sheltered valley refuge from the hellacious Himalayan storms…maybe…”
Victor tossed in this rather apocryphal comment. “Legend has it that it’s a term coined by some Cantonese restauranteur in London, to appease some right, honorable English gentleman who was pestering him in-between serving egg fu yong and chop suey, like he was talking to some Sinologist instead of an overworked, tired owner-cum-waiter-busboyjanitor.”
As they all chuckled again, Victor added “You got to understand, we Cantonese people are crazy. First to leave China to go all over the world - Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and the South Pacific, and later America, Europe, and Africa. The Taiping Rebel Army was led by a Southerner, someone who thought he was the brother of Jesus Christ. Taiping conquered China south of the Yangtze River and almost overthrew the Qing Dynasty. For sure, we wouldn’t hesitate to prank a Brit a bit.”
More laughter. “In America, we call this getting over on white folks!”
Silence as no one understood this last comment. Victor who loved explaining didn’t explain. “Long story.”
Derjee, who was completing her Masters in early Tibetan History wondered aloud, “Hmm, well as a Tibetan term, maybe Tibetan nomads pointed weary traders from India, Persia, Arabia, China - and I heard, they even came from as far as Rome - towards one of many Shangri-lilas. Perhaps that’s how the word spread into general use. Experienced traders knew their Shangri-lilas.” And then she thought of the first time she watched Frank Capra’s movie, “The Lost Horizon.” “Come for dinner and stay for the movie!” Victor had emailed several Tibetan students, “Chez Victor,” his 14th floor faculty apartment across from Minzu campus. A tantalizing smell of tomato sauce with basil, Italian sausage, green long-bean, and mushroom greeted the four students from the open door of his 14th floor apartment. He taught them how to use a small handheld grater to sprinkle a smelly cheese he called Parmesan over the pasta. None of them had ever bit into freshly toasted chopped garlic and buttered French bread and they loved it. More than the pasta. He taught them how to twist the cork off a wine bottle and then wait at least 10 minutes to let the red wine mix with the air and smooth out it’s flavor. Later, Victor said something about “tannic acids” and decanters, but by then the full-throated California Napa Valley Barberra had taken her breath and then half of her mind away.
Tenzin, an English major from Ganze Autonomous Tibetan Prefecture in Sichuan Province, piped in “Well, that makes a Shangri-lila the Himalayan equivalent of a desert oasis along the Silk Road.”
Slightly drunk, every student managed to stumble back to their dorms before the weekend midnight curfew. Missed that and your option was to spend the entire night at a coffee house kept open for that very purpose. Still, that could be fun for you met students from universities all over the Haidan university district.
Sometimes, though Victor privately asked Dolma about subjects that were euphemistically “sensitive.”
“What do you really think about the Dalai Lama?”
Or “Do Tibetans wish to be free from China?”
Or “As an educated person, do you still believe in Tibetan Buddhism?”
Or “Do you know monks and nuns who have been tortured, maybe killed?”
Having lived through her Han boarding school classmates’ innocent but often offensive
questions Dolma’s face remained noncommittal. She knew he would ask sooner or later, so there no surprises here. She knew to smile blandly as if considering the question, pausing for long moments, and then not really answering.
Dolma had noticed that her Western classmates and professors assumed that now that they’ve “made a Tibetan friend,” they could ask “just-between-me-and-you” questions. At least, Victor didn’t think of himself as a “freedom fighter” striking a blow for human rights by specially “making a Tibetan friend” and then informing one with a smile and wink, “I’m on your side, just in case you’re wondering. Huge admirer of your leader, the Dalai Lama.”
“So naive. Shallow,” she thought. After several similar encounters at Minzu, Dolma could almost feel the day the new “bestie” foreigner was about to get “just-between-me-andyou’ish” about Tibet. So many Tibetans had shared “just between friends” thoughts that later shockingly surfaced in an western article, often distorting what had been said or without context, and had anyway promised to be held in the strictest confidence “justbetween-you-and-me.”
Among neidi university students, the saying goes “Westerners are like butterflies. They come, they go. They play. You stay. Westerners are not your forever friends.”
Trouble is what it eventually brought, in the form of a rather thorough PSB interrogation or several as to your relationship to this foreigner, who of course, was long gone and safely back home in Los Angeles or London or Berlin. Nothing dire ever happened: no expulsion from college, no detention, no loss of job prospects. But it just was never a very, pleasant afternoon.
Dolma smiled again at Victor’s home-toasted garlic bread. She could taste it, “Wonder if we can add that to the cafe menu.” Oh, yes, that night, too, he had shown them how to twirl pasta with a fork and spoon, quietly float it into their open mouths, and pull it off the fork before chewing.“Don’t slurp!” he warned. A happy memory.
She missed Victor…and Adele Forrester.
“Oh, Adele…just so crazy!” Adele self-described herself as a mountain girl but was actually a farm girl from some place around Blachy Lake in the middle of Oregon.
“Where the McKenzie River runs down from the eastern mountains to the Coast, near Florence. Highway 126,” she added cryptically.
Adele dressed like the country girl she claimed to be, lumber jack shirts, fleece vests, jeans of course, and something she called “Farmer Johns.” But most notable was her hiking boots. Adele owned boots for every climbing terrain and one especially for walking the streets of Beijing. “From REI, she declared, the best outdoor outfitters in America. Better than Any Mountain or North Face or Columbia. And I’ve tried them all.”
“And yes, I want to hike Tibet and you’ll be my guide, right?”
Dolma smiled and nodded yes, as if she had a choice in the matter.
It was actually Adele who ended up guiding Dolma, but in the ideas of something she called “third wave feminism,” of “deconstructing sexism,” of being an independent woman but “without being a bitch to guys,” of choosing career over “going barefoot and making babies.” Of running for office and using the government to “change things.”
Dolma learned terms like “leveling the playing field” and “breaking the glass ceiling.”
Through Adele’s eyes, Dolma came to see Grandmother Twangmo in a new light, as a pioneering Tibetan feminist, who without knowing what feminism was, was one and who had essentially raised Dolma to be one. Adele’s discussions were as welcomed rain to her seeding by Grandmother Twangmo.
“Thank you Adele.”
Slowly, Dolma was able to articulate what happened, or didn’t happen, to China’s slogan of “Women Hold Up Half the Sky” in Tibet over her years at Minzu. Through their discussions, Dolma explored how Tibetan women could break free of the Buddhist derogation of females as an inferior reincarnation to males, a social attitude that gripped even atheistic, Marxist Tibetans.
“Yes, Adele, you awakened me. For which I shall ever be grateful.”
But country though she may be, yet Adele was a statuesque blond who turned the heads of every foreigner they passed.
“I’m a foxy, girl. And so are you,” she told Dolma.”
Sometimes Adele dragged Dolma to Beijing’s hottest discos. Xiu the exclusive bottle-bar preserve of Beijing’s second generation rich kids who parked their Ferraris outside and mingled with foreigners on expense accounts being cruised by hookers. Xiu was at the multi-tower Grand Hyatt on Jianguomen Road in the business district. Live rocking band every night.
Tango, all three-stories booming with a different DJ near Earth Temple Park and conveniently next door to a 24-hour, 3-story dim sum palace where they would nosh while waiting for the subway to start up at 6 am.
DAO, when Adele “just need to shake but not all night. You know what I mean?” a small, boutique, dancing club at a Soviet-style government building five minutes away by taxi where the action petered out by midnight with a mad dash back to the dorms and some humble pleading to be let inside. “It’s only 12:15!”
Still, Dolma wouldn’t “party” with Adele, but stuck to juices and later, at Adele's’ insistence,
Watson Soda water on ice with a twist. “Because it looks like you’re drinking a Gin &
Still, Adele did initiate her to enjoy dance music: hip-hop, funk, urban blues, teck, reggae. Adele would just pull Dolma onto the dance floor and taught her “a few moves” and “moving to the beat.”
“You need to know this stuff when you visit me. Think of it as inter-cultural training.”
And if Adele was going home with a guy, she would always make sure Dolma was safely in a cab before disappearing until Sunday night.
On the day Adele flew back to Reed College in Oregon, she gifted Dolma with a pair of new REI hiking books, trimmed in lavender and with red shoe laces. “The soles are Vibram. Lasts forever. Go hiking, girl.”
And together, they shouted, “And Made in China!”
“Adele! Crazy-ass girlfriend. I miss you.” Dolma picked at her yak milk yogurt. She scanned the open skies.
Slowly blinking to the early morning iridescent sky: blues, reds, purples, and greens sparkling like daytime fireflies, Dolma counted the fluffy white clouds that seem so close she could imagine a chunk breaking loose and landing on her head (harmlessly of course). But most of all, she loved watching the Potala in the distance. She pinpointed the Dalai Lama’s White Palace, the Desi administration offices, memorial halls with embalmed bodies of Dalai Lamas past, all the temples and offices pressed against Red Hill and flowing down, down, down to the walled entrance grounds. She imagined its infamous ground-floor jail cells and torture chambers with some pretty sick torture implements.
To her, the Potala resembled a full-bodied, painted lady who had known better day. She stood tall, proud and her red protruding front, the red palace, struck Dolma as… well…“grandly full-breasted” as she faced the new “People’s Plaza” across the avenue, formerly the historic Kyuchi neighborhood. “I wonder if the Kyuchi district was like the Barkhor?” In Dolma’s imagination, the flow of the Potala down the hillside was the flow of this lady’s silken robes, crowning out at the base. The recessed whShe remembered having this very conversation with Adele, when she visited Dolma in Lhasa. “Of course, the Potala is female.” Dolma mused further that day, the name comes from an island named Potalaka, in the realm of the Avalokitesvara Buddha. And Tara is the female emanation of Avalokitesvara. Tara is kind of like a feminist Deity in Tibetan Buddhism.”
“What’s an “avello” umm “kite” aura?” And what the heck is an emanation?
“Avalokitesvara is a Bodhisattva with Boddhicitta, a intention to help all living beings.”
“You’re losing me even more.”
“Hmm, OK, Buddhism 101. A Bodhisattva is an ideal in Tibetan Buddhism. They are the beings who strive for buddhahood in order to liberate all the living beings from the endless circle of samsara. This compassionate intention is known as Boddhicitta.”
“Sam and Sara…?”
“Sorry, samsara means the endless cycle of birth and rebirth on earth. You get stuck here and never advance to the higher states of enlightenment and freedom.”
“Actually, I rather enjoy my life! Don’t mind repeating this at all.”
“And in Tibetan Buddhism, a woman must reincarnate as a man to attain enlightenment.” Adele held both hands up in surrender, as if to say, “Still not getting it.”
“Maybe to simplify, Tara is a female deity who was created from the tears of the male Buddha Avalokitesvara. But in Chinese Buddhism, Avalokitesvara’s counterpart is Kuan Yin, a full fledged, female Buddha. So Tibetan Buddhism does not have a female Buddha, but we have female deities. But Chinese Buddhism has a female Buddha, Kuan Yin. ”
“OK. Sure. Why not.” Adele at least understood that there was a female aspect to Buddhism.
Dolma liked thinking about the Potala that way, as female, as Dakini energy, feminizing this Buddhist Vatican City of a male-centric religion, the Gelupta Yellow Hats. Dolma did not consider herself as the demureness of the White Tara but the action orientated protector of the Green Tara. Dolma knew that in tantric Buddhism, Tara was also a consort joined at the loins with a male.
Dolma was herself a full-on, fierce female energy of a Dakini, a dancing, sexual, tantric force, who in the throes of megatonic genital orgasm would explode into blinding samadhi. And rocket her male-consort into the same heavenly realm.
“I’ll be damned if I have to reincarnate as a man first before I can become enlightened!”
“For I am a tetron. Termas of buried teachings leap into my body from mountain peaks, rivers, lakes, caves, forests. Even from the sky. I reveal their secret teachings to my sisters and our male consorts.”
“I am a ritual mistress. I summon down Lhabhab Duchen energy in divine, ritual gatherings into free women and free men so they can shake, dance, chant-shout earthshaking sutras, ite wing buildings, the white palace, struck Dolma as a regal train trailing behind. and sing sublime songs in strange and mysterious languages whose meanings we can understand only during the ritual, but whose power stays with us, in us.”
“I am a Dakini reincarnate. Tseringhse is my dakini name. I am named after the great consort to the great Milarepa. Through union with me, we taste the transcendence of Nirvana.”
She had re-discovered this self within a year of returning from neidi.