Thursday, 10 April 2014

Japanese People and Japanese Literature

Japanese People and Japanese Literature (ཉི་ཧོང་གི་མི་དང་ཉི་ཧོང་གི་རྩོམ་རིག) is a short article from October 2013 by Kyabchen Dedrol (སྐྱབས་ཆེན་བདེ་གྲོལ།) discussing Japanese literature. Kyabchen draws on his own personal experience in Japan and advises Tibetan writers to be more open minded in their literary digest. Tibetan can be found here.

Japanese People and Japanese Literature 

Kyabchen Dedrol

Translated by Ingsel


Because of my surroundings they have been three distinct ways of referring to Japan. Ri bin (རི་པིན་) from the Chinese 'Rìběn' (日本), Jar pan (འཇར་པན་) from the English 'Japan' and Nyi hong (ཉི་ཧོང་) from the Japanese 'Nihon' (日本). At this time Nyi hong seems most suitable. 

In November 2009 I went to Japan on holiday. I was so impressed by both the peaceful and gentle behaviour of the people and the extent of material wealth in the city. 

On the plane from Beijing to Tokyo, the train from Kyoto to Osaka and the flight from Osaka to Korea, I read Yukio Mishima's novel 'The Temple of the Golden Pavilion'. At times I drank my Asahi beer and pondered off into nothingness. In reality and fantasy, the people and the places of this Eastern country have produced a history, religion and culture, realizing good fortune a clear path. 

I have forgotten most of the plot of 'The Temple of the Golden Pavilion' but I will never forget my special trip. Especially in Tokyo when I saw a some young women in traditional Japanese dress strolling leisurely in the shade of the storied houses. And in Kyoto some beautiful women dressed in multi coloured kimonos of red, green, blue and yellow, were performing in an exhibition of traditional clothing. What a thing good quality clothes and fabric are! How skilled they were at applying just the right amount of rouge to their faces! And with this I thought of these unfading ancient traditions and how they will forever captivates the minds of all people. 


I prefer to discuss writers with an emphasis on the individual rather than focusing on the national, grouping together a number of writers because of where they are from. If we think our own Tibetan literature, Shangshung Choewang Drakpa's poetry were lustrous in style and very exaggerative, and Gedun Choephel were easy to read and understand. What do they have in common? The only thing they have in common is that they were written in Tibetan. 

As a writer and a reader, when I think of Japanese literature, I think of Yasunari Kawabata's 'Snow Country'. As the train speeds through the snow covered land a number of images of flash across the train's windows. In Ryunosuke Akutagawa's 'In a Grove' all the witnesses produce a different account of what happened, when they are questioned by a judge. Senji Kuroi's short stories have wondrous plots yet are simple and easy to read. When I think of how both Yukio Mishima and Yasunari Kawabata committed suicide, I am unable to think like a literary critic. How many great writers there are. What made the writer special? What kind of style they employed? 

From the pens of Kawabata and these others flow the themes of meeting and parting, birth and death, love, character, isolation, and so on. From this I can see the beauty of asian literature with steady roots of religion and culture. Our own Tibetan writers have to expand their scope when it comes to the meaning and the composition of their works. If we Tibetans can write like these Japanese writers then it's possible we can produce a writer like Kawabata. In this world when someone's heart is moved by the stars they will find the stars can free all the lonely minds.


Some people mentioned to me that after the Second World War, the Japanese people began to study western culture intensely and doing so managed to become a powerful and developed nation very quickly. They added that before the war, the Japanese concentrated only on their own culture, closing off their doors. Lately I read a Tibetan translation of Tetsuko's Kuroyanagi 'Totto Chan : The Little Girl at the Window' and learnt that Western literature, music, cinema, dance, education theory and psychology had caught on even before the Second World War. Not only this but I found out the war had actually interrupted the spread of foreign culture in Japan. 

After reading Haruki Murakami's 'Norwegian Wood' I found out Western arts became an important part of life university students in postwar Japan. Murakami and other Japanese writers have adopted many motifs and images from Western culture in their own works. Western readers have enjoyed their works. This has helped Murakami become the third Japanese recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature. A writer's composition is product of how far reaching their mind is. I think that like Murakami, we other Asian writers must we must think outside the confines of an individual culture in our writing.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Poet

The Poet (སྙན་ངག་པ།) is a free form poem written by Kyabchen Dedrol (སྐྱབས་ཆེན་བདེ་གྲོལ།)  in June 2012. Kyabchen is one of the leading writers of his generation. His poems, short stories and essays have been featured in publications such as Light Rain (སྦྲང་ཆར།). The original Tibetan can be found here on Tibetan Literature Net.

The Poet

Kyabchen Dedrol

Translated by Ingsel

He is a wild animal within the wall,
A formless being hidden between rays of light,
Like a great bear slyly hurling stones towards the sun.
Writhing insects and ants in the dark shadows.

He is a madman.
And so he is poet.
Everyone can see his heart and lungs through his ribcage,
And in turn he can see their forsaken dreams and loves.

He is a swan swimming in the sky.
With a flap of his wings,
The red moon is saturated with black blood.
All the babes thrown away with the refuse by their bitch mothers, cry out once more.
He plays the piano among the clouds and rain,
Igniting red flames in the cold water.
He waves the the sword of love in all corners,
Cutting the cotton garments of beauties under the cover of night.

You've locked the gate of your high castle walls,
But no matter how one fortifies themselves,
Like a zombie residing in the ceilings of one's abode,
When you suffer from aging,
You will reek of unbearable rot.

Today he fooled a drunk and led him to a remote place,
All the numbers in the drunk's stomach bled out like intestines.

June 1st, 2012

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Love's Worth

Palmo is a poet from Gansu. Love's Worth (བཙེ་དུང་གི་རིན་ཐང་།) is undated. An anthology of her poetry was published by Gansu Minorities Publishing House in 2012.

Tibetan to Follow

Love's Worth (བཙེ་དུང་གི་རིན་ཐང་།)

by Palmo (དཔལ་མོ།)

Translated by Ingsel 

Love is a diamond,
If there's no fate and causality,
Even a diamond will melt.

Love is pure gold,
If there's no modesty and trust,
Even pure gold will become contaminated.

Love is a river,
If feeling and endurance fall short,
Even the course of a river will be interrupted. 

Love is Mount Meru
If seduced by wealth and power,
Even Mount Meru will erode away.

Love is a deep sea,
If fleeting joys are pursued,
Even a deep sea will dry out.

Love is a sculpture,
If consumed by lies and deceit,
Even a sculpture will crumble.

Love is the vow of Samaya,
If a friend lacks conscientiousness,
Even the vow of Samaya will go to waste.

Love is a boiling hot fire,
If seeds of betrayal and trickery are sewn,
Even a boiling hot fire will extinguish.

Love is the sun and moon,
If the mind is not independent,
Even the sun and moon will fall to pieces.

Love is greater than life,
If heart and perception are in agreement,
Even life can be surrendered.

Sunday, 2 February 2014



Trulku (སྤྲུལ་སྐུ།) is one of Dhondup Gyal's (དོན་གྲུབ་གྱལ།) most well known works. Published in Light Rain་ (སྦྲང་ཆར།) in 1981, the short story describes a stranger arriving in a village and announcing himself to be an incarnate Lama. The protagonist, Uncle Nyima has unswerving faith in Tibetan Buddhism. The supposed incarnate Lama however demonstrates no knowledge in Buddhism, abuses the trust of the villagers, and engages in sexual relations with women. Uncle Nyima, seeing this, fails to question the Lama and instead sees the issue to be his own lack of faith.  In the end the Lama is found be a fraud, nothing more than a opportunistic swindler. 

Trulku was seen as social commentary on Tibetan's blind faith in tradition and the the authority religion commands over the common people. The story shocked readers at the time, but since 1980 there have been many works criticising bogus Lamas. Some readers have suggested that this work exemplified Dhondup Gyal's critical view of religion. However in 'The Emergence of Modern Tibetan Literature- gsar tsom', Tsering Shakya suggests another reading, 'given the recent history of Tibet and China, the figure of the Incarnate Lama could be interpreted rather differently: it can be seen as a critique of the blind trust placed by the people in Mao and the Communist Party.' 

The short story is stilled enjoyed by readers today and is featured in many anthologies of Tibetan Literature. Trulku is made up ten short chapters or episodes, which will be serialised here.

Apologies, still don't have access to a scanner so the Tibetan text will posted at another date.


by Dhondup Gyal

Translated by Ingsel


As usual Uncle Nyima sat cross-legged on a white woolen mat in the courtyard reciting his prayers. He held his turquoise and sandalwood prayer beads between his left index and middle fingers, his thumb brushing the top of each individual bead. 'Om Ma Ni Pad Me Hum', he repeated, producing each syllable clearly. Then he mumbled 'Omm Omm'  and though unclear you could tell from the movement of his thumb that the six syllable mantra was complete. 'May the Three Jewels, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha care for me' he prayed, clasping his palms together into his chest. The wrinkles of his face bunched together, criss crossed in concentration. This toothless, white haired old man was considered by all to be honest by nature, and as straight as an arrow. Uncle Nyima began his monastic life at the age of ten. Although he wasn't particularly intelligent, he never went against his Lama's teachings in either speech or conduct. He upheld his vows diligently and in his teacher's eyes he was a first class monk. The year he turned eighteen, Uncle Nyima's father fell sick and departed the realm of men. Left alone, his mother requested the Lama to let Nyima leave the monastery. Renouncing his religious life, he now had to take care of the household. Nyima proved to be a very capable man. And his bride Lhamo a more than capable wife. Although the household never became particularly prosperous, they never struggled to put food on the table or clothes on their backs. Still as the saying goes, we never know when death will come. Not long afterwards, Nyima's mother suddenly fell gravely ill. No amount of medical treatment or prayer services seemed to help, and she too passed away.

Although he had now lost both his parents, Uncle Nyima was a very independent man. He'd never been the sort to press his father for counsel. Nor beg his mother for advice. He was the kind of man who sword hilt was always at hands reach. Soon afterwards, Nyima and Lhamo had children, a son called Tsering and a daughter called Dolma. When Tsering grew up they found him a wife by the name of Chakmo Khyam. By convention, they sent their daughter off as a bride to a family in another township. And so their minds were finally at rest. Their only misgivings were about their own bride. Chakmo Khyam wasn't prone to complain or express distaste. Since arriving in the household, she respected her new mother and father, obeying their every word and never putting a word out of place. Whether in running errands outside or in household chores, all were unanimous in their admiration for her. Even though Tsering and Chakmo Khyam's marriage was arranged by their parents, there was never any conflict between husband and wife. Especially after the birth of their son Dorje, the love they had for each other grew even deeper. Really, if one went without food, the other would go without drink. However Chakmo Khyam had one big problem: she had no idea how to talk to people, how to keep a secret. So far as that even when it came to a close family matter, she'd chatter away fervently to anybody who would listen. 'How is it that you, a thinking person doesn't know how to control her mouth!' her father in law scolded her. Tsering went as far as to say 'If you don't watch your mouth, you'll received a wack on the head.' Uncle Nyima rose in anger. 'If you raise a hand to our bride, this day I'll…' he said, taking the side of his daughter in law. 

Aunt Lhamo was of a kind and sincere disposition. Whoever she met, her smile was ever present. Never would there be a coarse word uttered or a trace of a black expression on her face. If an argument fell out between family members, she'd just laugh and ignore them. From time to time Uncle Nyima would berate his daughter in law. 'As you get older, your words grow uglier, you ancient!' Lhamo would tell her husband, smiling. 'What kind of father but you treats their bride this way' she'd criticize. And Uncle Nyima finding himself agreeing with his wife, would quiet and shrink away. Yet Chakmo Khyam still seemed unable to watch her words. And at whits' end Uncle Nyima'd remark 'There's no stopping my harsh mouth nor our bride's elongated tongue!'

Uncle Nyima sat in the courtyard, reciting his prayers and enjoying the sun. But his mind was restless, full of memories of the past. Ever since he'd lost the strength to work, whether it was summer, winter, autumn or spring, he'd sit out in the yard if the sun was bright enough. Sun and prayer were his closest friends he'd say. Suddenly a magpie perched itself on the wall of the courtyard, 'Chak, chak, chak', it produced three sharp sounds. To Uncle Nyima the appearance of a magpie signaled the arrival of guests. Who would pay a visit so late in the evening? He thought for a moment. Oh! It's been ten days since Tsering left for Kumbum. Thinking it was probably his son returning, he made his way to the gate. 

The fields of their village were green. The warm summer winds had blow across the land like waves rippling the surface of the ocean. Trees covered the foot of the far off mountainside. The sun was about to set over the western mountain. The scenery of the summer evening was resplendent. Yet Uncle Nyima's eyesight was failing him. How could he admire the distant view? At this time two dark shadows made their way unseen along the village's narrow footpath. Dorje was coming back from school, and seeing his father, he jumped up and down in elation. 'Aba's home!' he cried and ran off towards the path to greet Tsering.Hearing his grandson's voice, Uncle Nyima rubbed his eyes.  He stood up and looked ahead, with one hand over his eyes. Tsering had really returned home. And looked to have a bearded companion alongside him. Turning back inside he shouted 'Lhamo! Make some tea. We have guests.'

Monday, 20 January 2014

The Story of How the Bicycle First Came to Tibet

Phuntsok Tashi is a well known writer from Shigatse. His work focuses mainly on the Shigatse of his youth, usually in the form of humorous essays that draw on very personal experiences. In 'The Story of How the Bicycle First Came to Tibet', Phuntsok Tashi relates the history of the bicycle in Tibet, from it's introduction by the British, through the Cultural Revolution and finally to the modern day. A bicycle enthusiast himself he can often be seen cycling his Flying Pigeon past Shigatse's football ground.

The original Tibetan will be posted at a later date. Do not have access to a scanner at the moment.

The Story of How the Bicycle First Came to Tibet

Phuntsok Tashi

Translated by Ingsel

Of all forms of transport I have a special affection for the simple bicycle. The bicycle helped me navigate the twists and turns of those hungry and needy times. Yes, cycling helped me get from place to place but more importantly my bicycle was like a companion to me. Together we experienced moments of inexpressible joy. These days I still ride my old bicycle. Whenever I visit the repair shop, the mechanic remarks ' isn't it time to exchange your bike for a new one?'. I have to admit that in the bottom of my heart, I have a strange sense of attachment to my old bicycle. One that I can never forget. This curious attachment inspired me to study the bicycle over these many months and years.

Recently I read an article in the newspaper that said the bicycle was invented by the French in 1819. The first bicycle was made of wood! There was a photo of that strange looking bicycle in the paper too. The article was at most six hundred words long but I was caught up in a net of thoughts and ideas. The bicycle has a played an important part in my life. In the past I have the impression that the bicycle was a status symbol, a rather costly play thing. As time passed and social conditions improved, the bicycle gradually came to be used by ordinary people. Even I had the fortune of being able to use one. The land and times have changed the bicycle's role as a brilliant status symbol, these days bicycles can be found resting against the walls of many households. Can today's youths even imagine that bicycle once occupied such an elevated position?

If I were to relate to you the history of the bicycle in Tibet it would be necessary for me to explain a little about the bicycle boom in the twentieth century. According to the stories and recollections of the elderly it's been about 80 years since the bicycle came to the land of the snows. The city of Lhasa was supposedly where the Tibetans were first introduced to the bicycle. But some people have told me that bicycles appeared earlier, in Gyantse. In any case if one were to pay heed to those venerables in Lhasa, those with matchless memories, the bicycle surely came to Lhasa first. They say that back then the Nepalese traders in Lhasa would ride bicycles. Others tell me the first cyclist in Lhasa was a British doctor resident in Dekyilingka. Each to their own sayings and reasons. In brief the bicycle was an object that came from a foreign country and the first cyclist in Lhasa was a foreigner. 

In old Tibetan society the footsteps of development were very slow. People's quality of life was low. Those who were able to use and enjoy luxury items were the high born or those occupied powerful positions. In Tibet, the bicycle at first gained popularity among the children of aristocratic families and merchants. 'Two wheels attached to a seat and band. What a strange animal!' the people used to remark in wonder. Hearing this you can understand why, that at the time whenever you saw a bicycle, a large amazed crowd would not be far off. One man was riding his bicycle and when he was coming to the end of his journey, a group of people gathered nearby fled, trembling in fright. Some people would startle an run off at the ring ring of a bicycle bell. In order to name that creature that moved on two wheels, those intelligent Tibetans put together a compound word of Tibetan and foreign languages. When I was a child the elders would debate whether they should ride a bicycle or motorcycle. They'd look less favourably on the bicycle (as compared to the motorcar or motorcycle). To me it was inconceivable! To ride a bicycle well you need to be able to have good control of the handlebars. You'd have to turn the pedals with your feet. Furthermore you'd have to be able to sit upright with your weight distributed evenly. If I think a little, at that time and from those people's points of view the bicycle was nothing but a tiring plaything. 

In old Tibet, new ideas and inventions would be met with a blow to the the top of the hair locks. The bicycle was unable to escape this fate. Certain people took the two wheels of the bicycle to stand for the two wheels of the dharma. They considered those who rode atop the wheels of the dharma to be heinous and sinful. Those conservatives and fundamentalists bore great enmity and resentment towards cyclists .At this time, the Kashag almost passed a law making it illegal to ride a bicycle. The bicycle faced a long and bumpy road before it could finally call Tibet home. I remember seeing a documentary about the first meeting of the Tibetan Work Committee after the Peaceful Liberation. The camera panned to committee members hurrying along to the meeting. A few aristocrats in traditional dress were riding on horseback.  Some however were dressed in very contemporary fashion, speeding along together on bicycles or motorcycles . One could easily tell those conservatives apart from those more forward minded. 

Before the Peaceful Liberation most of the bicycles in Tibet were British made. I can remember some of the brand names clearly; Three Rifles, Crane, Lion, Hubbard and Sons. When I think of these old British bicycles, I immediately think back to my uncle's very own Three Rifles bicycle. I can confirm that his bicycle is one of the most long lived bicycles in Tibet. The bicycle still remains in pristine condition. Not just in it's outward appearance too. It's still in perfect working order, one can still take it out for a ride today. According to my uncle, he ordered the bicycle in 1956 from a Tibetan trader who regularly brought goods over from India. At this time fashionable young men would order items such as wristwatches from such traders. My uncle's 'Three Rifles' bicycle was brought over unassembled from Calcutta. It's been almost fifty years but my uncle's most prized possession has still retained its charm and lustre. Today when I see my elderly uncle ride his bicycle I can't help but be reminded of the swagger of his youth. 

In the sixties and seventies Flying Pidgeon's and Yong Jiu became available for purchase in Lhasa. These Chinese made bicycles were now competing with the British made ones imported from India. At this time there were only a few bicycles in my hometown of Shigatse. I could instantly recognise the ringing of my uncle's bell from the the other bicycles in town. When he rode his bicycle through the streets, I would give chase and run up alongside him. Whenever I got the chance to actually ride on the bicycle I'd be overcome with joy. Nothing could make be happier than when uncle would take me on the bicycle with him. I'd only really get the chance when I fell ill and my uncle would cycle me over to the hospital. On such occasion I would sit perched atop the handlebars with my head bent down, often craning my neck to look at the tire tracks and upturned pebbles we'd leave behind on the dirt road. I'd survey the countryside, watching the trees and potato fields disappear as my uncle pedalled. I'd have such incomparable experiences on those rides to the hospital. Sometimes I'd think to myself how happy it would be if I fell sick more often and got to ride on my uncle's 'Three Rifles' bicycle. 

My uncle had a great love for his bicycle and paid close attention to and took great care of each part of his bicycle. He kept a raggedy cloth underneath the seat (Uncle was very meticulous and systematic in his maintenance). Before setting out from home or leaving for work in the morning he would remove the cloth from its place beneath the seat and he would wipe each part of the bicycle once thoroughly. He'd then place the cloth back under the seat. Next he'd clean the spokes of the wheel, turning the bike upside down and wiping down all the parts of the wheel. First the front wheel, then the rear. First the left side of the bicycle, and then turning it onto the other side he would begin on the right. Only after getting the bicycle shiny would he take it for a ride. Unless he was in a great hurry my uncle would always carry out this maintenance procedure. Once in a while he'd take his bicycle apart, wash each piece individually and if need be repair them. He'd keep a repair kit of a pump and a net  in a small leather pouch under the seat so he was ready to use them in case of emergency. 

During the sixties personalizing your bicycle was very popular. No two bicycles looked the same. Most bicycles had lights fastened to them with red cloth. Some bicycles not only had bells but electric horns. Several cyclists had their frames adorned with tassels, ribbons and feathers or wrapped entirely with rubber tape. Others covered their handle bars with yarn knit sleeves. A few people would cut up squares of mutlticoloured rubber and attach them to the spokes of their wheels.

During the Cultural Revolution bicycles were adorned with revolutionary paraphernalia. At the time my uncle would hang Mao's Little Red Book from the frame of his bicycle, when he went for a ride the book would sway from left to right. It was quite sight. My uncle would take great care of the bicycle. One day my uncle rode his bicycle to watch a film. Coming out of the film, the bicycle was nowhere to be seen. He spent that night in great distress. He found out the next day that one his friends had seen the bicycle outside the cinema hall and had taken it home for safekeeping. We saw how much he valued his bicycle and he never let it out of his sight again.

In the sixties and seventies many government employees were sent to the countryside. Each stay would last for a few months and in total they had to stay for a bit over a year. At that time my uncle who had to spend time in the villages gradually started to wrap his bicycle in tattered cloth and leave atop the beams of our houses roof. Doing so he kept the bicycle safe as well as discouraging other people from borrowing it. Despite taking such a precaution there would always be someone trying to borrow the bicycle. I remember my aunt being very worried when some distant relations of ours working in Lhasa would ask us to lend them the bicycle. We thought that if we lent it out once, we'd never get it back so we told them we'd never ever lend it out. Some time before when my family was facing very hard times, my uncle decided to economize and sold his bicycle to buy supplies. I protested immediately. I had an especial love for my uncle's bicycle. This bicycle was the first bicycle I'd ridden on. This bicycle was the one I'd learnt to cycle on. My family were angry but the bicycle was safe. Now whenever I see the bicycles receipt and registration that have been preserved by my uncle, I think of how the history of how the bicycle came to Tibet.

In my youth, the children whose families owned bicycles would venture out secretly with them and play together. These were some of the happiest moments. We'd ride those bicycles everywhere and sometimes forget about returning home. Those whose families were lucky enough to have a bicycle were subject to much envy. They'd always encourage me to bring the bicycle out to play. One of my  childhood friends rode a bicycle that had its wheels out of alignment. When you'd ride that old bicycle, the two wheels wouldn't stay centred, the prints of the front and back wheel would always veer to opposite sides.  We could always tell where that particular friend had been going from his tire tracks. One day our teacher's friend was riding this old bicycle to another county and upon seeing him we joked 'Your bicycle keeps on moving from side to side. If you're not careful, it'll fall apart!' Even though it was such an ancient bicycle we would have so much fun playing with it. During Shigatse Losar, the favourite amusement for all children was to go and learn how to ride a bicycle at the football ground. It was the same during the Children's day festival on the first of june, parks would be full of children learning to cycle. It seems like todays youth have known how to cycle from the moment they were born. Back then during the new year or picnic times, you could see a child on his bicycle, with their friend or relative running alongside. 'Keep your head up!' 'Look ahead!' you'd hear. Whenever a guest would come to a house by bicycle, children would approach bearing bashful expressions and ask for a ride. The guests usually handed over their bicycles, albeit begrudgingly. With bicycle in hand, most children would lose track of time. When it was time for the visitor to leave they wouldn't even be a trace of their bicycle left!

At the time bicycle was not only a mode of transport or a children's plaything, for some families it was even a means of life. In our neighbourhood there were a few families who would make a living catching and selling fish. The men of these families would set out on their bicycles in the early morning, with gunny sacks and bamboo baskets atop their racks. They'd return around dusk, their sacks almost bursting with fish. Construction workers commuting to work on far off roads, cadres who worked in the villages returning home to the city. They'd have their bicycles piled high with all sorts of items. They'd have pumps tied to their frames, ready for a flat tire in the middle of a journey. Most bicycles of this time had to bear much more than they could carry. Reduced to just handlebars, frames and wheels, if any other parts fell off you'd be unable to go anywhere. Many a time I saw my neighbours elderly father returning home carrying his frame on his back and a wheel in each hand. 

With the bicycle bearing such heavy responsibilities, maintenance and repairs were of the utmost importance. At the time there were only two or three bicycle mechanics in the whole of Shigatse. If you'd brought your bicycle for a minor repair you could expect it back in a few months. Anything more serious and  anywhere between six months and a year was common. The yard of the repair shop would be old bicycles piled on top of each other. Something as simple as a patching the inner tube would require leaving your bicycle for a two or three days, not like nowadays when you repair your bike in a few minutes on the side of the street. Some who knew how to do even a little repair work would command the respect of a flight technician. One of my brightest friends knew how to fix bicycles and he would always go out to repair our friend's. He'd even work on our teacher's bicycle. I remember how our teacher's wife would secretly reward him with packs of cigarettes. How we'd cherish those filtered cigarettes.

In the seventies you had to buy bicycles with coupons. Crowds would gather staring at the bicycles in the storefront. Only a lucky few with the right connections could take them home. Most people had the money but still couldn't get hold of those elusive coupons. After mid decade reforms, Lhasa saw an abundance of Shanghai brand model 17 and 18 bicycles. Everybody was now free to buy their own bicycle. Bicycle had reach the peak of their popularity. Gone were the days were days people would scare at the sight of a metal beast.
Towards the end of the decade I was studying at the teaching training college. My family sold a cat's eye and bought me a model 17. I finally had a bicycle of my own! Going to the cinema became more and more fashionable. I remember how after watching a film, we'd cycle home proudly amongst the crowds. As the bicycle grew in popularity, bicycle theft became more and more of an issue. 

The biggest problem in the eighties was bicycle theft. I lost two bicycles. That was nothing compared to other people. A friend of mine lost at least ten bicycles. In any given night seven or more bicycles would be stolen from the front of those new high rise buildings. They had gotten rid of the old bicycle licensing system and if you lost your bicycle, you'd likely never see it again. A few years into the decade, racing bicycles became popular in Tibet. Immediately the roads were full of people bending over onto the low handlebars. They looked like cyclists competing in a race. Today it's mostly middle school students riding bicycles. Second most are Chinese migrant workers and then construction workers. It's quite the sight to see a Lhasa local cycling! Salaried office workers are a far cry from those fisherman struggling to make their living. With a months wages they could afford a bicycle many times over. Today a lot of people save up for cars. It's thought that only the poor need to ride bicycles. Most people look down on cyclists. The eyes of thieves look only at cars and car parts.

With developments in living standards for everybody the bicycle is no longer the only alternative to walking. Motorcycles, cars, buses, taxis and so on can take you where you need to go. Those people to who the bicycle was a livelihood can no longer persist in their professions. We live in such times of such an international market, I think the time of the car won't last for too long. But I'm certain that the brilliant time of the bicycle will not dawn upon us again. Yet the numerous, unforgettable stories the bicycle has left me will stay alive in my my heart forever.

Monday, 23 December 2013

A Soul Mixed with Barley Wine

Dulha Buchung ( དུད་བླ་བུ་ཆུང་།) is currently a Professor at Tibet University, Lhasa, where he teaches Tibetan grammar. 'A Soul Mixed with Barley Wine' (ཀྱུར་རཙི་ད་འདྲེས་པའི་རྣམ་ཤེས།) was published in the Tibet University Newspaper in 1995. The satirical essay discusses the drinking habits of a unnamed Tibetan man, while criticizing backwardness and underdevelopment in contemporary Tibetan society. Dulha Buchung's essays share many common themes with Dhondup Gyal, especially in expounding the need for modernity and development. The essay is found in middle school textbooks as well as in Tibetan literature textbooks for Tibetan majors. 

The original Tibetan will be added posthaste.

A Soul Mixed with Barley Wine

by Dulha Buchung ( དུད་བླ་བུ་ཆུང་།)

Translated by Ingsel

Strong waves of emotion,
That flow from the depth of my veins.
One hundred thousand dewdrops of composition.
To stop my yearnings from scattering across the sky,
What hope is there?
- A true story.

Happiness never lasts forever. Then again neither does suffering. My soul, a concoction of blissful and miserable feelings, will forever be mixed up in a vast ocean of barley wine.  Perhaps it's just me and this is what we call a hereditary condition, passed down to me from my ancestors. It's certainly possible.  From father to father, my ancestors found refuge in the Buddha. They gave themselves to compassion, striving for the benefit of other beings. Maybe my addiction is the fruit of their previously accumulated merit! Yet looking back it doesn't seem as if my parents had any such condition. If the only reward for their compassionate practice is my love of drink, then how ungrateful the Buddha is! Aren't we being deceived by the karmic law of cause and effect? Whatever may be, I am who I am.  A late twentieth century descendant of the red faced, who has transcended life's joys and sorrows through his thirst for barley wine.

I don't know what time it is. I haven't thought about what I have to do tomorrow. If only I had a donkey to ride and limitless barley wine to drink, I'd never have to experience any suffering on the narrow path of my future. I wouldn't have any need for happiness either. Let them fly their aeroplanes! Let them fly to the stars.

Yesterday, those tall, blonde, blue eyed, large nosed monkey-like foreigners didn't show a trace of amazement at the culture of my forefathers. Instead coming upon the world's largest open air drinking establishment (in the Lukhang), they stared at my drinking bowl and darkened face, their blue eyes knowing and protuberant. They snapped away at my cheerful disposition with their cameras. Those unhappy ones must have been so impressed with my life of merriment that they wanted to showed their friends and family back home. But as they they looked at me slowly, they shook their heads from side and their expressions soured. An incomprehensible suspicion enter my belly along with the barley wine. You tell me, my fellow countryman. What was real reason they showed me such expressions? 

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Narrow Footpath

Dhondup Gyal (དོན་རྒུབ་རྒྱལ།) was born in 1953 in Chentsa, Amdo and is widely regarded as the founder of modern Tibetan literature. 'The Narrow Footpath' (རྐང་ལམ་ཕྲ་མོ།), a polemical essay, was published in Light Rain (སྦྲང་ཆར།) in 1984. In his essay Dhondup Gyal explores the urgent need for Tibet to modernize. In 'The Waterfall and Fragrant Flowers', Tsering Shakya writes 'A Narrow Footpath" was published under a pseudonym and was seen by many as an attack on traditional culture, which offended conservative sections of the Tibetan community. Dhondup Gyal reportedly received death threats after its publication. However, he remained undaunted and continued to explore the theme of tradition versus modernity.' 'The Narrow Footpath' has become a set text for students in middle school as well as for Tibetan majors in university. The work has influenced a generation of Tibetan writers and continues to remain relevant today.

Find the original Tibetan here.

I've taken down the translation temporarily. Please email directly with any queries.