Archive for the ‘Life in Golok’ Category

We also received images of the recent winter teaching retreat for monks, nuns, and laypeople that occurred at Longen Monastery.

Longen Monks Gathering for Winter Teachings

The winter teachings are so popular with local people to the point that there is not enough room for them indoors, so many sit outside all day listening.

Clergy and Lay People Listen to Buddhist Teachings in the Cold Golok Winter


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Mandarin Chinese is set to replace Tibetan as the official language of instruction in Tibetan schools in Qinghai province.  In an October 2010 decision, the provincial government of Qinghai, which had previously allowed schools offering the nine years of compulsory education to use Tibetan as the language of instruction, indicated that Mandarin must be the language of instruction by 2015.  Xinhua, the official news agency, reported widespread protests to this move October 17-20 in Tibetan areas of Qinghai: Malho (Chin: Huangnan), Tsolho (Chin: Hainan) Tsojang (Chin: Haibei) and Golog (Chin: Guoluo).

The Mayul School, located in Golog, does not need to adhere to this policy since it is a private vocational institution, but if Tibetan is dropped from the regular curriculum, then future students at the Mayul School will be less prepared for their course of study in Tibetan language. These changes might also cause a further deterioration of the attendance rate for Tibetan students, which averages just 2.2 years of education as opposed to over 10 years for Han Chinese living in urban areas.

Students Outside an Classroom Building, Mayul School, Qinghai

The loss of Tibetan as the language of instruction in schools would further endanger the vitality of Tibetan culture and identity, making the role of the Mayul School all the more important as a place where students can study traditional Tibetan culture, while learning foreign languages, in their own language. Preservation of native languages is a right affirmed in the Chinese constitution, which states: “The people of all nationalities have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages, and to preserve or reform their own ways and customs.” Our hope is that educational reform in Qinghai will align with this constitutional right and allow Tibetan school children to study Tibetan in Tibetan.

– Eric C. Rath

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On November 5th in Alderson Auditorium at the University of Kansas Union our project team presented “Wrathful Deities and Peaceful Buddhas: Studying Tibetan Art in China.” The presentation described our two-year project to develop a program in traditional arts at a school for Tibetans in China, providing an overview of the process of creating traditional Tibetan paintings (tangkha), and their cultural meanings.

Eric Rath introduced the project, describing the aims and construction of the Mayul school profiling its students and current offering of courses that provide a context for the new courses on traditional art funded by our grant.  Champa Lhunpo described the religious practices and significance of traditional Tibetan painting to Tibetan culture and religiosity.  Eric Conrad and Yoonmi Nam explained the process that the teacher of Tibetan art, Dorje, uses to instruct students at the Mayul School.

Professors Conrad and Nam lecturing on Tibetan Drawing (photo by Dana Rath)

Typically, Dorje draws an image on the blackboard for students to copy and then he critiques their work as they reproduce his drawing in class.   This allows students to practice the proportions and stylistic conventions fundamental to Tibetan art.  Since paintings begin as sketches, drawing is the literal and physical foundation of Tibetan painting.


Eric Conrad's rendering of a drawing of a yak by Dorje

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this event and made it possible.

– Eric Rath

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A September 2, 2010 article in the Guardian spotlighted the environmental degradation of the Tibetan plateau particularly in Qinghai province, location of our grant.  This damage is caused by agricultural mismanagement and global warning.

Yak Grazing, perhaps a vanishing site in rural Qinghai

One impact of environmental degradation is the government’s removal of Tibetan nomads off of the land and  to reservations where they cannot find work and face the loss of their traditional culture. As the article’s author, Jonathan Watts, writes:

“Qinghai is dotted with resettlement centres, many on the way to becoming ghettos. Nomads are paid an annual allowance – of 3,000 yuan (about £300) to 8,000 yuan per household – to give up herding for 10 years and be provided with housing. As in some native American reservations in the US and Canada, they have trouble finding jobs. Many end up either unemployed or recycling rubbish or collecting dung.”

We witnessed the construction of many of these ghettos which consist of row after row of small houses with little other infrastructure around them, as I have written about elsewhere on this blog. The full text of the Guardian article is available here.

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A Tibetan family reunion or an outdoor gathering of nomad friends will include a picnic, but people soon get tired of eating and want to amuse themselves.  One possibility is to join a group of people in contests of strength, horsemanship, or running as I described previously.  But if you have just one or two friends who wish to have fun, there are other games for just two people.

A Digression about Large Tents (and What Goes on Inside of Them)

To digress for a moment, a lot of this playing around occurs at night outside of the view of cameras, so my illustrations here are from a Tibetan gathering earlier in the day, particularly of activities in and around a large tent where meetings, music and eating occurred.

A Big Tent

Tents like this are white from the outside, but inside they have a pink cast due to their colorful interior fabric.

Watching Entertainers inside the Tent

The audience sat on carpets and enjoyed various refreshments — candies, fried bread, fruit, etc — while watching musical and dance performances and hearing from various speakers, in this case describing the virtues of the extended family that they all belonged to.

Musician Performing in the Tent

Individual Games

There are relay races, rock throwing and other competitions that take place during the day and  gatherings at night where young people dance together in a circle.  (This video provides some sense of that except that one needs to imagine the dancing at night around a fire or in front of the headlights of parked cars, like we enjoyed it).

Besides these activities, individuals can challenge one another to various games and tests of strength and agility.  There are pushing games: 1) hopping on one foot (hold your other foot to do that) and try to push your opponent over; or 2) stand about two feet apart from someone with your legs together, straight and attempt to push them over.

And there are tests of strength where two opponents get on all fours and face each other like angry yaks.  The opponents touch their heads together and attempt to push each other backward, which can be painful if one’s opponent has a hard head!  In a variation on this, which is probably the most amusing game to watch, two players get on all fours facing the opposite direction, and a long rope — tied so that it makes a circle — is put around their necks like yaks yoked to a wagon.  The two yaks pull in opposite directions in a contest of strength.  This is particularly funny because the rope passes through the players’ legs, constricting their lower extremities in some cases.  Truly some games are best as spectator sports.

– Eric C. Rath

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Exterior of the Main Prayer Hall

Yesterday the paintings in the main prayer hall were uncovered in anticipation of a visit by government officials today.

Prayer Hall Interior

Usually the paintings that adorn the walls of the prayer hall are covered by cloth strips that have to be lifted to see the paintings underneath.  With the cloth removed, the paintings could be viewed in their full glory.  Here is just a selection of a few of these.

Dorje Purba (Vajrakilaya)

Dharma Regent

Guru Rinpoche with Consort and Entourage (Detail)

— Eric C. Rath

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At events like family gatherings, it is clear that Tibetans have almost limitless ways of entertaining themselves using little more than their imaginations and a large repertoire of games.

Running Yogi

One of our favorite group games is “Horse Thief.”  People divide into two teams, and line up facing each other.  A representative from one side called the “buyer” walks to the other side and speaks to one of the other team members, who is the “seller.” asking how much each one of his horses cost.  (The other team members pretend they are the horses).  Part of the fun of the game is the negotiations between the buyer and seller over the cost of the horses.  “How much is this poor horse?  500?  That’s too much!”  During the course of the discussion the horse buyer tries to get close enough to one of the horses on the opposite team to slap him or her on the shoulder to “steal” the horse.  If the buyer turned thief can run back to his team without the tagged player tagging him, then he gets to keep the horse and the other player joins his team.  Players take turns being the buyer, seller, and horses.  The game continues until one side has stolen all the horses from the other side.

Another game involving two teams is Sun and Moon (nyima,dawa).  A judge finds a stone and makes enough markings on it so that everyone will recognize it and be able to tell it apart from other stones on the ground.  Both teams line up side by side with their backs facing the judge.  The judge hides the marked stone behind the players.  After the stone has been hidden the judge tells the players, who turn around and race trying to find the stone.  When a member from one team finds the stone, he tries to run back to the judge.  Members from the other team try to tag him on the head (or tackle him to the ground), but the person with the stone can throw it to his teammates.  When someone gives the stone to the judge without being tagged, then he scores a point for his team.

Watching the games

A group game where people compete against one another is the Tibetan variation of “Duck, Duck, Goose.”  Players make a circle and one person who is “it” walks around the circle carrying a hat or another object.  The player can choose to drop the hat behind any of the other players.  When he does that, the players race around the circle.  The player who dropped the hat tries to run back and sit down in the tagged player’s spot.  The tagged player tries to tag the person who dropped the hat.  The looser becomes it and has to dance or sing for the others in the middle of the circle.

A non-competitive group game is called “Dragon.”  Everyone holds hands in a long line.  One end of the dragon is the head.  The head of the dragon starts walking pulling the other team members behind.  The head picks a spot between two players and darts under their joined hands, and then chooses a spot between two more players and darts under their hands.  The rest of the dragon follows in this ever faster dash between the players, everyone trying to hold on as the dragon twists and turns.  In a variation of this game the group divides up into two teams with the team members holding on to each other from behind to form two dragons.  The dragons then fight trying to knock each other over.

— Eric C. Rath

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