Saturday, May 31, 2008

do online magazines count as being published?

what if you don't get paid?

I got an article about the march on an online magazine called Reality Sandwich that gets 50k unique visitors a month according to my editor there.


Friday, May 30, 2008

me and norbu

I reacted like an excited schoolgirl last night. There's a girl here who works for Students for a Free Tibet, Jessica, and we started a facebook group called "I heart Jamyang Norbu", the amazing Tibetan political writer I talked about in my column (the post before this one).

Last night, I requested him as a facebook friend and sent him a message telling him about the group and expressing my admiration for his writing. He wrote back immediately thanking me and said he enjoyed the biographies I wrote on the website. I got giggly and started wriggling like a puppy dog being petted.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

India by Thumb or: They Don’t Want Me

My column for the Lititz Record with a focus on hitchhiking:

With hundreds of police twenty kilometers up the road, the march has
been stopped for four days, waiting for media to arrive before provoking the fireworks.
It's a beautiful spot to rest at the bottom of a valley
beside a strong clear water that turns to a rush of chocolate during
the unseasonable heavy bursts of rain that come out of the north. The green hills,
crisscrossed with goat paths, sit high above us, hiding many small
caves where I hide from the hubbub of the march.

Except for the nurse where things are going quite well thank you very much, all of my best friends here have left for their home,
further adventures around the world or to go on secret missions with a destination you can probably guess. Time sits heavy on my hands. I play
chess, spend hours swimming with
monks wearing small and/or ill fitting underwear and reread my books (Keourac's Dharma Bums twice in 48 hours, wow, makes me sad I missed the glory day of American hitchhiking and hobo-ism). After a few days like this, I head back to the
last big town to finish an article for a magazine. No, I still haven't gotten paid for anything but at least people want my free stuff. I stopped for dinner at a nice little restaurant called Yahoo! that even had the web portal's logo on its sign. You often see knocked off names in touristy areas such as the Hilson and Shilton hotels in Calcutta. My favorite feature of this restaurant: an
adorable 3 month old Tibetan girl with a shock of thick black hair that I put back to sleep after she woke up. If I have any special skills (debatable, I know), it's being able to put babies to sleep using the patented Pelger "Hush Little Baby" method. A girlfriend once said "maybe I bored them to sleep" but I think she was just projecting.

Because of the cute distraction, I started late from town with the sun almost gone. In a fast jeep, I could get back to the campsite in three hours but when hitchhiking in India, it's usually the trucks who pick you up and they go much slower on the windy, narrow mountain roads. After a few short hops, a happy little guy named Yadow Pandit pulls over to let me in. We stop at a Kali shrine by
the side of the road, a small painted red structure with a white round
roof just big enough for one person on their knees to comfortably

Hinduism Fakt Time: Kali, the goddess associated with death and destruction, has a staff topped with a skull and wears a garland of skulls over her tiger skin clothing. Each god and goddess usually has a few classic depitctions of themselvs with their body in certain positions and carrying their specific icons. For instance, Kali most often has four arms carrying a sword, a trident, a severed head and a bowl or skull-cup to catch the blood of the severed head. This relates to her most famous story where another goddess and her assistants could not defeat the demon, Raktabija, because every time she wounded him, his droplets of blood would form another copy of herself. They called for Kali who solved the situation by eating all of the duplicate demons and then sucking the blood out of Raktabija.

Back to Kali's temple: as we get out of the car, he tells me that he stops here
every time he drives past, a frequent event as the shrine is on the
only road between his house and small restaurant. He pours oil into a
small clay bowl and places a wick inside as he happily points out the
main statue of Kali with a sleeping Shiva at her feet and a small
Hanuman (the monkey faced god) in the corner. As he lights the candle
and a few sticks of incense, he waves the incense in front of Kali's
face and explains how the god feeds on the incense. Then he gleefully
tells me that since Kali eats the incense, we can eat the bananas that
someone left there. He handed me a banana from the feet of Kali and
we eagerly ate as he laughingly repeated a few times that Kali
only eats the incense so we can have the banansas. A jolly guy, we
liked each other and he kept me laughing with his infectous spirit.

It's here I realize I had missed a turn pretty far back. Traffic had already decreased to a trickle so I began my favorite
new trick: jumping on the back of trucks when they slow down for
narrow spots, road construction and mud. These obstructions often come together.
My first try came at a small bridge where I clambered onto an almost
stopped truck. Sitting on top of burlap bags filled with vegatbles
that smelled wonderful, I laid under one of the starriest skies
of the trip with a refreshing cool wind blowing as the truck slowly
lumbered around the sharp curves of the mountain road. As it stopped
for a delivery near the town and my turn, I just hopped off and ambled by the cab,
grinning mischievously to myself because they never even knew I was

Then came the perfect truck with heavenly choir and everything. It
slowed for a big hill as I easily climbed in the back onto bags of sand
and lengths of steel rebar bent into a horshoe shape to accomadate the
longest lengths of steel possible inside the bed. I didn't exactly know how to get back
to the march from this side of town but the truck apparently needed to in the same direction as me. I heaved a sigh of relief once it took the
last turn I needed onto a road with no side roads to distract for a long time. I settled down for an hour of waiting as the moon rose almost full, helping me to spot the scenes of the daily little
adventures I had along the way with Westerners and Tibetans.

After a few hours and a half hour tea break where I quietly hid in the back, the truck stopped right at the small side road that I needed. I
quickly hopped out of the back hoping to not be spotted but the driver's assistant , a young
kid of 18, stood right there helping the driver back up the
truck. He laughed when he saw me but stopped laughing when I refused
to pay him the 100 Rs ($2.50) he demanded, twice the price of a private jeep for this
distance. In fact, in a slightly surly mood from lack of sleep, I said I would pay no
money and walked off into the dark. I had already disappered into the
gloom when he threw two rocks at me that never came close. I swore the third would
result in a thrashing for him but it never came.

I made a bed of pine needles up the mountain from the road, out of sight on one of
the goat trails that make every hill look like a honeycomb. I cursed
softly as a truck trundled past, pulling me back from the edge of
sleep. I thought we had the big arrest coming the next morning so I
should have been staying by the road to make sure I'd get there in
time instead of cutting it close for a few hours of sleep. Waking before
dawn, I waited only 15 minutes until a truck with four guys welcomed
me aboard. I spent the ride answering their questions quickly as I nervously thought about missing the arrest. From
where the truck stopped, I grabbed a bus for the last hour at 10 Rs ($0.25). I got to the campsite just as everyone rolled up the hill for
breakfast. I spent the last 14 hours worrying and it turned out I was
late for nothing.

The rain began to pour down as I got under the kitchen tarp strung
between the back of the two trucks carrying equipment and food. I
chatted over chai (tea with milk and sugar, the national drink of
India) before settling down to read Jamyang Norbu, one of my newest
literary heroes, a political writer, Tibetan activist, and former
freedom fighter who has, for decades, been "pouring cold water" on the
abdunant enthusiasm that arises whenever China grants some kind of
talk or visit. From his 1994 essay "The Heart of the Matter":

"Whenver the Tibetan issue has received any substansial attention in
the world, be it with the demonstrations in Lhasa or the awarding of
the Nobel Peace Prize to the Dalai Lama, the Chinese have nearly
always succeeded in side-tracking international concern by making
titillating press announcements soon after the event, declaring their
willingness to sit down and talk with the Dalai Lama or his
representatives. Those sympathetic to Tibet naturally heave a huge
sigh of relief on hearing this, and the situation is then effectively

At Dharamsala (seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile in India) a
delegation to Beijing is announced and fierce intrigues are conducted
by various political factions to get their man on the team. It all
comes to nothing, of course. Once in a while though, the delegation
does actually get to go to Beijing. They invariably return to
Dharamsala in a daze, with a look on their face not unlike that on
Charlie Brown's when he is lying flat on his back, after having been
persuaded by Lucy, for the umpteenth time, to take a running kick at a
football that she never fails to yank away at the last moment. "Isn't
trust a wonderful thing, Charlie Brown?"

Norbu's realistic statements kept him a pariah
state in the idealistic and politically inexperienced Tibetan
community of the 70's and 80's. Now, the new generation has begun
repeating the words he has been saying for years. Norbu just
started a blog called Shadow Tibet ( I admire him for his eclectic references, his obscure quotes and in depth knowledge of his subject. However, I couldn't be a political writer. I want everyone to like me. I'll probably end up writing the scripts for blue

After the downpour, the police took me away to examine my passport and
visa. It made me a little nervous because they had gotten down to
business by arresting anyone who left the camp to get
chai or walk around. After writing down my information several times,
they gave me a "Quit India" notice. Read it carfully. And I quote: "I have reason's for
my satisfaction that you, Edward Pelger, has violated visa rules as
you are on tourist visa but participating in religious activity
'Tibetan Shanti March'. I Foreigner's Registration Officer Distt –
Pithgoragarh, Uttrakhand (India) hereby order you to leave India
within 7 days from the date of receipt of this notice. If you will not
adhere of this order's you will be liable under 14 Foreigners Act." I
only quote this to highlight the haphazard nature of the order. It
looks like a flunky typed it quickly and I don't think it's being sent
anywhere. It looks like a scare tactic to get the foreigners off the
march. It worked because has taken off and the march organizers
told me to fade back to a local town during the next round of arrests.
Understandably it drives me crazy to miss this but it's the only option.

With no media or foreigners present, the arrests are immeinent. They might be hapenning right now and will certainly be over by the time this column sees the light. So now I sit and wait in this idyllic hill station while all 350 marchers get hauled off to jail. Now I have to figure out my next move and how I can help. You can check their website at for updates.

life plan from little rock houses

The Chandigrah Rock Garden gave me an idea:

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Happy Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day, which means that Americans can take a moment to remember how to start a grill. Never forget. - David Goligorsky

Monday, May 26, 2008

the way of the thumb and the boot

I got to know both of the above in the last few days.

I studied the way of the thumb by hitchhiking around the state a lot the last few weeks. However, I wrote more about hitchhiking in my column this week for my hometown paper. I'll post the column once it's published there so I don't ruin it for my Lititz readers.

I learned about the way of the boot when I received a "Quit India" notice from police a few days ago. And I quote (read carefully): "I have reason's for my satisfaction that you, EP, has violated visa rules as you are on tourist visa but participating in religious activity 'Tibetan Shanti March'. I Foreigner's RegistrationOfficer DisttPithgoragarh, Uttrakhand (India) hereby order you to leave India within 7 days from the date of receipt of this notice. If you will not adhere of this order's you will be liable under 14 Foreigners Act."

I decided that the 14 Foreigners Act sounded like a Chinese play but Goligorsky thought "a challenging martial arts/karma sutra move." In either case, I quoted the text of the notice to highlight it's haphazard and thrown together appearance. I am almost positive that the police used this notice as a scare tactic to get the foreigners off the march. At this camp, for the first time, the police focused on the foreigners instead of the marchers. They simply wanted us gone.

I understand their concern. This march has no upsides for the local police who must be getting immense pressure from an embarrassed Indian Central Government. If the arrests go perfectly, nothing happens to the police. If anybody gets hurt or more than minimal press coverage occurs for some reason, the police will have their balls on the chopping block. They have been much more intense with a feeling of stress. However, I still dislike them strongly. The plant obvious undercover police to pose as journalists and have officers in camp constantly filming everything. They will arrest anyone who takes their picture and only with great prodding will show identification. I know that in stopping this march, they are only obeying orders but that's the worst excuse in the book.

As for my situation, the march organizers told me to clear out and lay low in Nainital. Luckily, I have some friends here to help pass the time and a bookstore with an eclectic collection of books. I don't think this order will go any farther than the state police and will not be distributed across this country. I have never been wrong when betting on the inefficiency of the Indian bureaucracy. I should be able to leave the country with no problem when I go to Indonesia with the family in mid-June. Until then, I wait.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Tom Waits interviews Tom Waits

An excerpt from Tom Waits' True Confessions: via Perpenduum

I must admit, before meeting Tom, I had heard so many rumors and so much gossip that I was afraid. Frankly, his gambling debts, his animal magnetism, coupled with his disregard for the feelings of others... His elaborate gun collection, his mad shopping sprees, the face lifts, the ski trips, the drug busts and the hundreds of rooms in his home. The tax shelters, the public urination...I was nervous to meet the real man himself. Baggage and all. But I found him to be gentle, intelligent, open, bright, helpful, humorous, brave, audacious, loquacious, clean, and reverent. A Boy Scout, really (and a giant of a man). Join me now for a rare glimpse into the heart of Tom Waits. Remove your shoes and no smoking, please.

Q: What's wrong with the world?
A: We are buried beneath the weight of information, which is being confused with knowledge; quantity is being confused with abundance and wealth with happiness. Leona Helmsley's dog made 12 million last year... and Dean McLaine, a farmer in Ohio made $30,000. It's just a gigantic version of the madness that grows in every one of our brains. We are monkeys with money and guns.

Q: What have you learned from parenthood?
A: "Never loan your car to anyone to whom you've given birth." - Erma Bombeck

Q: How would you compare guitarists Marc Ribot and Smokey Hormel?
A: Octopus have eight and squid have ten tentacles, each with hundreds of suction cups and each have the power to burst a man's artery. They have small birdlike beaks used to inject venom into a victim. Some gigantic squid and octopus with one hundred foot tentacles have been reported. Squids have been known to pull down entire boats to feed on the disoriented sailors in the water. Many believe unexplained, sunken deep-sea vessels, and entire boat disappearances are the handiwork of giant squid.

Q: Tom, you love words and their origins. For $2,000...what is the origin of the word bedlam?
A: It's a contraction of the word Bethlehem. It comes from the hospital of Saint Mary of Bethlehem outside London. The hospital began admitting mental patients in the late fourteenth century. In the sixteenth century it became a lunatic asylum. The word bedlam came to be used for any madhouse- and by extension, for any scene of noisy confusion.

Q: Favorite Bucky Fuller quote?
A: "Fire is the sun unwinding itself from the wood".

Q: What do you wonder about?
1. Do bullets know whom they are intended for?
2. Is there a plug in the bottom of the ocean?
3. What do jockeys say to their horses?
4. How does a newspaper feel about winding up papier-m??ch???
5. How does it feel to be a tree by a freeway?
6. Sometimes a violin sounds like a Siamese cat; the first violin strings were made from cat gut- any connection?
7. When is the world going to rear up and scrape us off its back?
8. Will we humans eventually intermarry with robots?
9. Is a diamond just a piece of coal with patience?
10. Did Ella Fitzgerald really break that wine glass with her voice?

Friday, May 23, 2008

I'm big in japan

but blocked in shanghai.

According to which tests access to website from around the world, I am blocked by the Great Firewall of China. The government has a huge base of technicians (I've heard estimates of 30,000) who scour the web for inappropriate content to be blocked such as information on Tibet or Tiananmen Square. According to one of the photographers on the march who's based out of San Francisco, he went to a party there of Chinese grad students. He asked them about Tiananmen Square and they had never heard about it. Furthermore, they refused to believe it had ever happen but did not go so far as to look it up when he challenged them.

We are finally coming into an age where Big Brother is possible. If anything scares me about China, it is the control of information.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

it's coming

I came back three hours to finish an article but it looks like tomorrow might be D-Day. The march is camped about 1 km from hundreds of police waiting at a blockade. I'm going to hitchhike back there now but I don't know how long until I'm back again. They could keep waiting for media to arrive before confronting the police. There is also a chance I will be detained although it seems clear that the Indian government does not want the harassment of charging Westerners.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

books to take for my lifetime on a deserted island...

where my homemade brewery pumps out beers to improve my writing. It's manned by Friday, my wizened Tibetan guru who has spent his life on the island alone.

Fakt time: In a Buddhist monastery, after a monk completes his 25 years of study on the five major subjects (the perfection of wisdom, philosophy of the Middle Way, valid cognition, phenomenology and monastic discipline), he has up to six years of examinations before receiving the degree of geishe. Then he can choose to continue his studies, teach younger monks, go into the world to spread Dharma (the truth) or disappear from the world completely to live out the rest of his life in seclusion, praying for all sentient beings.

So with no further ado, the five books I would take with me to that island:

1. The Brothers Karamazov - of course

2. Catch-22 - my Dad made a vow with a friend to read this every year for the rest of his life which he managed to keep for quite awhile. I already read it twice on my first trip to India and Nepal five years ago and a few times since then. The funniest book I have ever read.

3. The Complete Works of Isaac Babel - the
bespectacled Jew who rode with the hard drinking and hard living Cossacks as they invaded Poland after the Russian Revolution. In writing, he's like Hemingway. In life, he was a misfit with the Cossacks like Hunter S Thompson with the Hell's Angels (who seem to be same people as the Cossacks, just 50 years later and with motorcycles).

4. Complete Mark Twain - my Dad's red
leather bound edition with the gold pages and the knife hole I put in the back cover

5. The Collection of Native American Mythology - hey, between this and the Illustrated Encyclopedia of Greek Mythology, these had my early masturbation years covered and should do me just fine on the island

Feel free to add your five books in the comments. I'll post them on the main page.

David Goligorsky:

1. Hemingway - The Sun Also

2. Woody Allen- The Complete Prose of Woody Allen

3. Fitzgerald - The Beautiful and the Damned

4. Dali - The Diary of a Genius

5. The script to Castaway starring Tom Hanks! (Travel light)

the Old Man:

1. the Bible

2. Crime and Punishment

3. War and Peace

4. Les Miserables

5. Harpo Speaks - (from lex: the autobiography of Harpo Marx, a great portrait of growing up poor and Jewish with a crazy family on the Upper East Side, Harpo's book has the heart and the good stories while Groucho's "Groucho and Me" has all the great one-liners)

his unrequested list of movies that matches mine except I would replace number 4 with Casablanca:

1. Captain's Courageous

2. It Happened One Night

3. Life is Beautiful

4. Walk on Water - Israeli film

5. Cool Hand Luke

He adds much to my despair: "Though if there was any way possible to have all the seasons of the Gilmore Girls, I might be willing to trade a testicle or something" (And if you know the pride and joy of pelger men, you know that's saying a lot)

Megan McDonald and a truly english major list I might add:

1. A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters--Julian Barnes

2. The Complete Sherlock Holmes--Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

3. Women in Love--DH Lawrence

4. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

5. Moll Flanders--Daniel Defoe

Astrid Gordon with a list that's pretty good for an engineer:

1. Great Expectations - Dickens

2. Through the Looking Glass - Carroll

3. Love in the Time of Cholera - Marquez

4. Shantaram - Roberts

5. Complete collection of Dahl

Wen-Jay Ying who's doing movies because "I'm ignorant":

1. eternal sunshine of the spotless mind

2. wet hot american summer

3. rushmore (also so i can listen to the soundtrack over and over)

Stephanie Shih:

1. hem - a moveable feast

2. ted hughes, the collected poems of

3. faulkner - as i lay dying

4. the bible

5. joy luck club (really?)

PS: Sorry to be away so long. We've been sitting by a river for days because there's a few hundred policeman waiting up the road for us. The Internet is three hours away but I decided to come back to this town for convalesce.

Rule of the day: Don't drink out of monsoon swollen rivers with fresh monk poop washed in and bodies being cremated just a kilometer upstream

Monday, May 12, 2008

do Tibetans deal with death better?

Tibetans believe that the soul stays in the neighborhood for twenty-four hours so all the monks and nuns spent several hours that day praying for a positive rebirth for the young monk. The next morning, everyone gathered around his body wrapped in muslin with a Tibetan flag over him underneath the green heavy canvas tent where a team of monks stayed up all night praying over his body. A monk kept incense burning near the body for its purification. After praying in the baritone tones that issue from deep in their chests, some leaders gave short speeches, all with tears in their eyes. The president of Gu-Chu-Sum, the ex-poltical prisoners association, a tough looking warrior monk, choked up when he tried to address the mourners. Everyone walked through the tent to lay a khata on Pema Tashi’s body, the traditional white scarf of esteem.

I crossed the river holding hands with Tenpa. At 74, the nimble old man helped me across more than I helped him. Friends and leaders carried his body across the river, laying it on a stack of wood before covering it with more logs. They sprinkled kerosene and sugar on the body. The sugar makes the fire burn hotter. Gruesome fakt time: The genitals and brains take the longest to burn. His best friend walked around the fire three times with a large torch before lighting the pyre.

They burn his clothes off to the side including the new jacket he bought for the mountains of Tibet. After the fire burns for an hour, the marchers file back across the river. A monk hangs five prayer flags from the large rock overlooking the scene of the accident. Everyone walks around a small pile of burning evergreens and washes their mouth with a thin white liquid to purify the presence of death. Life returns to normal with people laughing and splashing in the river. Ledup Tsering explains “it’s karma. Maybe he died young in a previous life and now lived out the rest of the time. It’s fate. It makes it easier to deal with.”

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Indian men have an endearing habit that always makes me smile. Often while eating at a restaurant, a man will come up and asks a few questions. He usually appears happy at the answers (especially America) and then nod his head several times. Eventually, he just wanders back to where he stood before without saying anything. A few minutes later he comes back with a few more questions before slowly walking off. This usually repeats a few times. My hands down favorite example:

Sitting with some friends by the road after dark when a motorcycle pulls up with its headlight right in our faces. Then we hear a siren from the machine so faint and duck-like, we had to stifle giggles. The cop on the back slowly gets off his bike (senior officers always on back) and asks the standard few questions. He pauses slowly between each sentence, repeating the answer a few times. He eventually strolls back to the bike and he mounts with all of the dignity of his office before they roll away on their Enfield (the coolest motorcycles in India). They kept coming back in ten minute intervals with the same questions. Every time they left, we burst into laughter at his roostering around the chicken yard. Maybe you had to be there.

the saddest thing I had to write

The Obituary of Pema Tashi:

A few days before his death, Pema Tashi told his best friend, Leki Dendrup, that “Tibet has given me so much and I want to give back to the cause. If necessary, I will contribute my life to the struggle.” On May 10, Pema drowned in the Kosi River at Kakri Ghat, Uttrankhand during the March to Tibet.

Born in Arunachal Pradesh to non-Tibetan parents, he decided to become a monk by the age of six. He delighted his parents with his decision and journeyed down to Sera Mae Monastery to take his vows of monkhood. When he the announcement about the March to Tibet, “I was happy because I had always wanted to see Tibet. I have lived in a Tibetan community for a long time and have always viewed Tibetans as compassionate people and this motivated me to join the march. Since I have made up my mind to go on this march, I am fearless."

When arrested with the other 100 Core Marchers at Dehra, Himachal Pradesh, “I felt the agony and the status of a homeless refugee.” Once released from house arrest, Pema rejoined the march only to develop problems walking. They allowed him to switch to the tent building crew where he earned the reputation as a hard worker and a joker. In fact, everyone knew of Pema’s infectious joking and his friend Leki said “he couldn’t be quiet for a minute.” He eventually got the nickname “Man of the March”. Other marchers would never refer to him as Pema. In fact, most didn’t even know that name. They simply called him “the Man”. It was said that without him on the march, there would be no joking.

As they approached Pema’s last campsite, he marveled at “the beauty of newly entered hills and felt a sensation of coming to his homeland.” After building the tents at the campsite, Pema jumped into the cold and cloudy water of the river, apparently hitting his head on a rock. He spent too long underwater and passed away a few hours later at the Almora Hospital. The entire march spent several hours in prayer for his soul and a team of monks stayed up all night praying over his body. His body was cremated the next morning with a mountain of katas.

To a hard worker, a lover of jokes and a warm person with a brave heart who died before he reached his home, everyone on the March to Tibet sends our prayers with you. I'm sorry we never got another chess game.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A river with a pool liner or: Wedding Crashers III - Attack of the cellphone cameras

The march stopped last week to celebrate the birthday of the Panchen Lama. If still alive, he would be 19. At the age of 6, the Chinese took him into “protective custody”. They now refuse to divulge his location which made him the youngest political prisoner in the world. We halted by the holy Ganges River which washes your sins away according to Hindus. Since it was awhile ago, all I have are these impressions written in my notebook:

Men stripped to their underwear vigorously dunking themselves a certain number of times while women wade in with full saris
Kids trowling the bottom of the river with magnets to retrieve the coins thrown in as offering
Sadhus patiently waiting for alms and woe to any kid who tries to cut the line of seniority
Wading into water with so much plastic that it felt like a pool liner
Small candles floated into the water in leaf bowls with small offerings
Garlands and cremated ashes thrown off the bridge

We also crashed a wedding there. Unfortunately, I didn’t take notes and most has faded from my mind. I know they had 800 guests, lots of food and no drinks but the smell of secret liquor on many breaths. Boys on the dance floor got so excited to dance with me that they literally shoved each other out of the way. Then my friend Maryala started dancing with one of the little girls and the entire dance floor shut down so over forty guys could crowd around and take video with their cell phones. That’s when they asked us to leave. I wanted to say to the guys, “This is why you can’t have nice things.”

That turned into an annoying night (yet still humorous) because the police found us and insisted on helping. As soon as they beckoned us over, I knew we just lost an hour of sleep. The head honcho took us into his office lit by a coleman lamp to subject us to an endless circle of questioning. After every question, it’d be a minute of blinking and staring off into space while that little piggy mind kept getting stuck in a sand trap. Finally, they wouldn’t let us hitch a ride and we had to take some expensive commuter bus back to our campsite which we almost missed in the dark. I had a beer under the stars and called it a good night.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


I spent my first night in a Nainital hotel watching X2 (I miss comic books). I spent my second night under the stars and storm. But I spent my best night at the gompa (Buddhist temple) that sat above the town. I’m glad I got to see this beautiful small temple with 10 monks before the 300 strong march crashed down on them.

That morning, I woke on a simple bed with a thin foam mattress. One of my monkish roommates still sleeps under his blanket. The night before, we discussed the coming end of his two decade course of studies and the five years of examination he will soon face to graduate as a geishe. He has two years left on his study of Vinaya, the Buddhist regulations concerning the behavior of a monk. When talking about his early life in Ladakh, Kashmir, he described riding horses with his friends like today’s generation rides motorcycles; just wandering around the hills, exploring, laughing and talking. The two of us stayed up so late talking that I got more sleep the night during the thunder storm.

I brushed my teeth in water from the faucet set in the wall outside the kitchen with two monks who flashed big smiles at me when I said “Good morning” in Tibetan. Don’t worry my habit of being shitty/lazy at languages remains unbroken. I know little Tibetan. An extremely hygienic people, I’ve never anyone spend more time on lathering and teeth brushing. I’m trying to follow this habit so I had ample time to admire the sun just lighting up the evergreens at the top of the facing mountain, the beautiful green lake set in the bottom of the valley surrounded by a picturesque town and a brown mutt fucking a white bitch just down the hill, made more tantalizing by the pine tree partially obscuring the view. Fakt time: after copulation, dogs often can’t remove the penis for several minutes because the head has swollen too large. They must spend this time together whether they like it or not. Some friends (human) have expressed wishes for a similar device that would keep their boyfriends around post coitally.

The temple had thousands of the multicolored Buddhist prayer flags strung over it between the tops of the trees. The colors of the gompa’s simple exterior soothe while the sumptous interior amazes. Organized around a picture of the Dalai Lama draped with strings of fake brightly colored flowers, the gompa houses a special treasure: one thousand small brass statues of the Buddah complete with a finely made outfit. The back wall has a large statue of the Buddah complete with the large ears of wisdom. Curiously enough (to me at least), a fierce Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, stands to one side complete with a pencil thin mustache and his symbolic trident with the requisite three heads impaled on the shaft.

Two very old women, heavily wrinkled but still beautiful in their chupas, walk around the gompa spinning the prayer wheels while murmuring Om Mani Pema Hu. The monks cook or use the ubiquitous brushes of straw held together by string to sweep the leaves and little trash into a pile for burning. I cut tomatoes while making small sounds of appreciation for the blade master to my left, the Bane of Tomatoes. I have to force myself to not replicate his speed but concentrate on doing the job right, the lesson I never quite learn. We breakfast in the kitchen on a long rectangular table. The seven monks smile and laugh often during our meal of tsampa and rice soup (almost as good at Grandma Pelgers and no higher praise do I know). I find myself laughing with them even though I never know what is said.

The Tibetans in general are the most optimistic and joyful people I have met. The Dalai Lama said in his autobiography, “My Land and My People”, "we are not a joking people but we are a joyful people" (can’t find exact quote). It’s true. Simple innocent jokes go over big. Someone tripping always brings huge laughs but never in a spirit of malice. It’s one of their unique qualities that I fear will be lost if the Tibetans remain exiled from their homeland. The longer I’m here, the more special traits that I think the would needs to learn from. I hope we can help save them.

I spent the night before wandering the dark mountain, lost trying to find the gompa while practicing with my new switchblade to pass the time. I vowed to ignore the pain in my shoulder from my bag pushed just over my comfort level by the two blankets I use for sleeping. The books don’t help either. My Tibetan library keeps expanding:

“The Story of Tibet – Conversations with the Dalai Lama” by Thomas Laird: possibly the best nonfiction I have ever read. Laird knows the history of Tibet but he had 18 personal interviews with the Dalai Lama who gave his unique perspective through the lens of the karma of the nation and it’s guiding soul, Chenrizi, who manifests in key times as well as in the person of every Dalai Lama

“My Land and My People” by His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet – a well written perspective of his early life and the invasion of Tibet

“Kluxing: Torture in Tibet” by Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy – a report by an NGO about the widespread torture practices by the People’s Republic of China against the Tibetan people

“Seven Years in Tibet” by Heinrich Harrer – an inspiring story of escape from detention in India for the crime of being German and flight into Tibet. This mountain climber and his companion managed to eventually get into the Forbidden City of Lhasa where they welcomed them with open arms. One of only seven foreigners in the city, he got a unique view on life in Tibet before the invasion and eventually became a friend and tutor to the young Dalai Lama

“Shadow Tibet” by Jamyang Norbu – One of the first voices to question the Dalai Lama, this former freedom fighter has been one of the most controversial and important voice. It’s on loan from my friend, Sean Mahoney, who showed me the email from Tsundue that got this whole ball rolling

“Indian Leaders on Tibet” by India Tibet Coordination Office – Speeches and letters by Indian leaders on the Tibet issue, found Nehru particularly disappointing

So that’s what weighed down my bag that dark night but I liked the pain and the weight. It’s training time. These past two days in Nainital have given me the shiver of excitement, the feeling that big things are on their way. I asked my dad what “shiver” moment stood out in his mind, forbidding him from saying it was seeing me for the first time partially because I guessed I might not be the answer anyway. He answered immediately, “waiting on the truck for my first Yes tour at 17.” I knew the rest of the story and I knew that he had a prescient shiver. He convinced Doc Bonfield, grand old man of the Warwick education scene and one of my former driveway sealing customers, to let him skip the last two weeks of his senior year to go the road with Clair Brothers Audio. He went onto great adventures roaming around the country with the likes of Yes, Frampton and our family demigod: the Boss, the most down to earth of all the many bands and personalities he met over the years.

My shiver comes in this town because I get a taste of things to come: free as a panther in the woods. Being here, alone and away from the pressures of the march, I’m making random friends, writing down observations and having many private and public laughs. My writing improves along with my mood when I have time to read, wander and take my time. I sleep anywhere. I travel light, hard and fast. This is my future and I'm excited. Let’s see where it leads.

PS: sorry for the screwed up text. I've spent awhile trying to fix it and have given up. Maybe it's cursed like everything else yesterday but more on that later.

a letter from Lhasa

from Jamyang Norbu's blog, Shadow Tibet. He's one of the most influential Tibetan writers. He criticizes the abuses of totalitarianism while also passing judgment against the foolishness of his own government. They hounded him out of Dharamsala but to me, he seems like one of the few guys brave enough to speak the truth, no matter how ugly.

Here's excerpts from a letter he received, recently smuggled out Lhasa:

In the evening my wife went to pick up our child from school around 6p.m. At that time the military was already on Jiangsu Road were the school was. The military was shooting at the locals who went to pick up their children. One woman got shot in her leg and one man was hit in the head or neck and he died. Later his brother wanted to get his body from the hospital, but the hospital didn’t want to give it to him. Finally the brother became so desperate that he threatened to burn himself and the hospital if they didn’t give his dead brother to his family. The hospital finally gave him his brother’s body, but just a few hours after that the military came and took the dead body away.

When the foreign journalists were in Lhasa, I think it was from 27th to 29th of March, the military suddenly disappeared from the streets. Instead of wearing their military uniform they changed into traffic police uniforms, gatekeeper uniforms or civil dress and they were hiding inside buildings and behind corners where the journalists couldn’t see them. We were suddenly allowed to go everywhere; there were no checkpoints for those three days. When the journalists were allowed to walk around by themselves, officials in normal clothes or traditional dress followed them, answered their questions and took photographs of individuals who talked to the press. We wanted to tell the press what is going on here in reality, behind the show that was being performed for them, but we didn’t have any chance to get close to them without being punished for that later. When we finally heard that the Jokhang monks told them the truth we were very happy.

There is a big problem in the jails now. There is not enough food, not enough water and not enough blankets. The prisoners have to sleep on the ground and sometimes they only get one cup of water a day and nothing else. This way they get health problems, their bodies get really weak and they sometimes die, either in prison or after they are released. The prisoners get beaten very badly. They especially hit prisoners in the kidney, liver and gall-bladder region so prisoners get internal injuries and die slowly. I know this from three friends who were just released from prison.

But even in this difficult time you still see brave and good action. Yesterday I saw a little boy, around one or two years old; that I believed displayed a good example of Tibetan spirit. The baby looked as if he had just learnt how to walk and was out with his grandmother and her little dog. They were standing in front of the Jokhang Square where soldiers in blue uniforms ensured that nobody crossed the square. The baby walked up the three steps to the square and started to make prostrations towards the Jokhang while his grandmother also prayed but her frail body prevented her from prostrating as well. When the boy finished he looked at the guards, then at his grandmother, and then started to walk closer to the temple. The guards looked at the baby, not knowing what to do. After about ten meters the baby boy stopped and prostrated again, then turned around, walked back to one of the guards and took his hand to say goodbye. Seeing this reminded me that all Tibetan people want religious freedom and the right to preserve their culture.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

the story of a khampa or: how to win the woman of your dreams

A tale of adventure, romance and bravery in Tibet:

My grandfather was a character in himself. He had migrated to states during the 60's. Earning his way up, first as a waiter and later starting a Tibetan restaurant; he was a very hard working man. Of all these years, I've never heard him or any of the family members mention anything about my grandmother. While I was young, I used to ask him about my grandmother but he would always evade the subject. Even my father didn't mention anything about her. So as I grew, I assumed that she probably was left in Tibet or died there.


An amazing story. I had tears running down my face. Published in Tibetan World, they just accepted my pitch to write a story on the March to Tibet. That's why blogging has been so light.

And thinking of love, the other night, Tenzin and I saw a shooting star. We both made a wish and someone asked us what we wished for. I said "you can't tell" but tenzin said "I bet we wished for the same thing." As we setup our bed late that night far from the madding crowd, he asked me about my wish. I said "I wished to find the woman of my dreams." He flashed his shy honest smile and said "that's what I wished for too."

Now taking applications for a new position: Woman of my dreams who needs rescuing
please send applications by email, secret courier, message in a bottle or preferrably, a talking magical creature

Monday, May 5, 2008

From Dutch photographer Popel Coumou via the newly discovered The Year in Pictures:


oh, what a night

I'm in the lovely hill station of Nainital where the weather is cool, the newlywed couples don't touch each other and punk ass kids call me a motherfucker in hindi and then bolt. I'm a day or two ahead of the march because I came here to get writing done.

I spent last night about 100m above the lake that the towns center on. I find the only level patch of ground after an almost complete walk around the lake. The stars shine above me as I read Seven Years in Tibet and ready myself for bed. Part of my careful planning (OCD), I have a very strict system before laying down to sleep. Wallet and passport go to buttoned pockets on my leg so these most necessary items don't dig into me while I sleep and my switchblade gets clipped to a lower pocket for easy access. Everything but my shoes pack into my bag which I use as a pillow. That way, I am 7 seconds away from being able to disappear with everything I own in case of rain storm, animal attack or the most common, particularly aggressive women looking for a green card. They can smell American passports.

Tonight, a rain storm arose but the drops came so infrequently that it felt refreshing as I drifted in and out of sleep. Around three in the morning, I wake up to loud bolts of thunder. Lightning frequently lit the sky but the jagged lines stay hidden behind the thick clouds. Instead, the skies light up with a gentle diffuse blue light, illuminating the lake below me and the jungle vegetation around my mountain bed. I gaze on this tranquil sight for a few minutes until sleep overtakes me again.

pics from st. pete

via English Russia who always has good photo collections:

St. Petersburg, Russia 14

St. Petersburg, Russia 25

St. Petersburg, Russia 5

St. Petersburg, Russia 2

Sunday, May 4, 2008

a conversation over dinner

I sat with Bhadur. It's a Nepali nickname for brave man. He deserves the name. He had a medal for bravery pinned to his chest for actions at the Battle of Tiger Hill versus Pakistan by Manhoman Singh himself. Several other Tibetans around my age sat with us as he spoke:

When we had our tea party the night before we left for the march, almost all of the old people said to be strong, help others and when you get to the border, kill a Chinese. They are our elders so we can't say anything but we know they have bad thinking. We grew up here and it's happy. We always heard about the bad things things that happened to them but we don't know what it's like. When His Holiness came and we saw him, he said "Tibetans have money and good jobs but they should not be happy. Their homeland is not under their control." This changed my thinking. He said everybody should do something for their country. He didn't say what. He is our religious leader but the NGO's are doing the politics.

Back to me talking: This is the first generation that questions the Dalai Lama politically. He has said as far back as '67 that it's up to the people of Tibet if they want the institution of the Dalai Lama to continue. Buddhism existed a long time before the Dalai Lama.

Currently, the Dalai Lama advocates the "Middle Way" approach where Tibet remains part of China but gets genuine autonomy inside their country. It probably was never a particularly popular idea but it didn't start receiving opposition until men like Jamyang Norbu began writing criticisms in the '80s. He became a pariah for quite awhile but now I hear many on this march disagree with the Middle Way and Chinese appeasement though always prefaced with a declaration of their love for His Holiness.

Here's an example of recent criticism by Patrick French, a former director of the Free Tibet campaign. More on Tibetan politics later.

no sugar for me turkish, i'm sweet enough

In an email from S on me: Sometimes i think, "aw, he's sweet sometimes," but invariably i think, "wait, is he?" and then, invariably, "no."

I thought I might leave it up to my readers but then decided against it.

a Tibetan joke

One of my best friends here, Tenzin the nurse told me a Tibetan joke.

A Tibetan came to Delhi for the first time and he got attacked by mosquitoes that night. There's no mosquitoes in Tibet so he was quite confused. He hid under the bed that night to escape them. The next day, he tells his friend about these strange creatures who bite and make such a buzzing noise. His friend told him they were mosquitoes. He went back to his room that night and he hid under his bed again. While the mosquitoes continued their attack, a firefly came under the bed during the night, flashing it's light on and off. He went to his friend and complained about these damn mosquitoes. "They're smart. Last night, they came to find me and they brought flashlights."

Friday, May 2, 2008

Tenpa: the oldest man on the march

In 1959, after years of food shortages and misrule by the Chinese, the first great Tibetan uprising occurred. Tenpa, the son of semi-nomadic farmers from Kham Dege, Tibet, fearing for the Dalai Lama's safety, left his home in the dead of night for the capitol of Lhasa. He never saw his mother again and twenty-five years passed before he reunited with his father in Karnataka, India. He rode two nights and one day on horseback to Lhasa. “I went to defend His Holiness and all the Tibetans there.”

Upon reaching the city, he joined the Chushi Gangdruk, freedom fighters camped outside the Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama's summer palace. After a week of siege, the situation had become explosive. A few days after Tenpa's arrival, the Dalai Lama secretly fled into exile. In the days that followed, Tenpa witnessed the People's Liberation Army (PLA) attacking Tibetan demonstrators with machine gun fire and tank shelling from the two mountains overlooking the city. According to Chinese sources, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) killed 86,000 Tibetans. Tenpa witnessed many Tibetans drowning in the river or mud trying to escape. He fled to a resistance camp being formed on the outskirts of the city. About one thousand Tibetans from all walks of life met there: soldiers, old men, monks and teenagers. With limited resources, they were determined to fight.

Within a few days of the massacre at Norbulingka, the PLA attacked their camp from across the Kyichu river with machine guns and dropped bombs out of helicopters. Ammunition soon exhausted, Tenpa and his fellow resistance fighters had to flee, leaving 600 dead comrades behind. The fighters split into smaller groups to evade the helicopters and they decided to escape into Nepal via Mount Kailash. During their month long journey, nomads sometimes gave them food but mostly they ate the roots of wild grasses. Despite the danger, they lost none of their thirty comrades.

Upon reaching northeast India, they met Andruk Gompo Tashi, leader of the Chushi Gangdruk. He told told them they must work to survive. Tenpa joined a road making crew in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India making 1.25Rs a day. In 1962, the government in exile asked Tibetans to move to Karnataka where the Indian government had granted farm land to the Tibetan exiles. Tenpa took the free train ride south and started working an acre of land to grow vegetables with his new wife. Although the land was not as fertile as the Tibetan soil, he prospered and bought cattle to milk. He eventually had six sons and five daughters and still works on the farm at the age of 74.

He already participated in a 1995 peace march from Dharamsala to Delhi that was supposed to go onto Tibet. When he heard about the 2008 March to Tibet from the regional Tibetan Youth Congress, he didn’t ask his wife or children. He decided he was going and nobody could change his mind or tell him he was too old. Once arrested at Dehra in the Kangra Valley, he said, “I felt that now I am going to Tibet because now the issue has spread. I was excited to see Tibet under the spotlight.” After his release, he joined the second wave of marchers and now, aside from asthma flare-ups and occasional knee problems, he feels great continuing the march to his homeland.

His message to his people: “We have no freedom and we are living under the Chinese rule. It is the duty of every Tibetan to fight for Tibet’s freedom and not give up hope.”

The Billy Letters

In the 90s, Bill Geerhart, posing as a 10 year old boy named Billy, wrote to some of America's most famous serial killers, polticians and pop culture figures. He got some great responses.


damn damn! one more thing I want to see but can't

I can't hear the sound from this video but it must be good: ballerinas dancing to the Pixie's "Where is My Mind?" (the song during the ending credits of Fight Club).

A little boy went to the ballet for the first time with his parents. During the performance, he leaned over and whispered to his father. "Dad, why don't they just get taller girls?"

the power of a prize

The story of a scientist who won a million dollar prize for cheap removal of arsenic from groundwater to help save the people of Bangladesh. The kicker he donated almost all of the money to distribute his invention for free.

from Islamica Magazine via Wired Science

Their introduction:
It has been called the greatest mass poisoning in human history, bigger than the 1984 chemical spill in Bhopal, India, and bigger than Chernobyl. In an effort to prevent the crippling cholera and typhoid outbreaks of the 1940s and 50s, the Bangladeshi government, financed by UNICEF and the World Bank, began digging tube wells - deep incisions into the Earth's surface - to bypass contaminated surface water and pump up cleaner water from below. Since the 1970s million of such wells have been dug and, although initially unpopular, through massive awareness campaigns were made the primary source of Bangladeshi drinking water. What wasn't known at the time, or as some allege, was not adequately tested, was that the groundwater in the wells contained high levels of arsenic, in some cases as much as four hundred times the amount deemed safe. The World Health Organization (WHO) now estimates that between 35 and 77 million Bangladeshis are being slowly poisoned, and the Dhaka Department of Dermatology and Venereology estimates that as many as 200,000 people may die each year as a result.

Since the scale of the disaster has become known, numerous proposals have been put forward to ameliorate the catastrophe. One is to deepen the existing wells and thereby bypass the tainted water. With millions of wells to deepen, however, the cost could be astronomical with no guarantee of success. Another is to build elaborate rainwater collection systems, but UNICEF has cautioned that there is not enough rainfall in the country to do this. A third and final solution is to develop effective filters for the existing well water. But, as of 2001, the World Bank stated that there is "no proven affordable arsenic removal technology available yet."

Enter the Grainger Foundation of Lake Forest, Illinois. In 2005, the non-profit foundation announced the Grainger Challenge Prize for Sustainability, a million-dollar award for the most effective, inexpensive, reliable, and environmentally friendly solution to the arsenic problem facing Bangladesh and similar countries with tube-well-related problems. The United States' National Academy of Engineering was designated its arbitrator and in a little less than a year it received more than 70 entries. In February 2007, after exhaustive tests conducted by United States Environmental Protection Agency, the NAE finally announced the winner: Dr. Abul Hussam, a chemistry professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

His filter, a marvel of effectiveness and simplicity, costs only $35 to produce and can remove arsenic, iron, manganese, and many other toxic substances. Each unit can filter nearly 500 liters per day, enough water for sixty people. Perhaps most important of all, it is simple to operate and can work without interruption for at least five years.

pavement drawing master

It's amazing to see what Julian Beever can do on pavement.

A gallery of his work