A Travellerspoint blog

Sera Monastery

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The Sera Monastery in Lhasa is one of Tibet's largest monasteries and one of the most important ones.

Like all Tibetan monasteries, it's really more like a small town than just a monastic enclave. It is a beautiful complex of buildings all astir with life. They print Tibetan scriptures there, monks live, study and pray, Tibetans go for worship, and of course there are a few tourists.
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Our guide told us that Sera Monastery is a special monastery for children and that many Tibetans bring their children there to be blessed by the monks. The blessed children are given a touch of ash their noses, that looks like the touch of ash that many Catholics receive on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday (or so I've seen in Chicago).

We saw a sand mandala with its intricate and tiny designs all made by monks pouring colored sand together. We saw a monk printing scriptures using the traditional Tibetan paper and a wood block that had the words hand carved onto it.

The highlight, and our purpose for going to this particular monastery, was the debate courtyard. Each day between 3pm and 5pm the monks go to this courtyard to and debate. Their debates are very lively! Typically, a group of monks sits at the feet of another. The standing monk asks the sitting monks questions about what they learned in their study earlier in the morning. The sitting monks then reply and debate with the standing monk.
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Three types of clapping accompany the debate. The standing monk holds one of his arms behind his head and one in front, bringing the rear arm forward and clapping his hands together. He does this clap when he asks a question. He continues to clap as the seated monks answer him, clapping his hands palm together if they are correct and backhand to palm if they are incorrect. All the while, each monk is working his prayer beads with his hand.

It was fascinating to behold. The age of the monks ranged from the very old to teenagers. Their faces displayed joy, passion, determination, contemplation, frustration, and peace. The simplicity of their life and their sense of brotherhood was inspiring.
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Posted by grmoski 21:30 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Mt. Everest by Moonlight

semi-overcast 3 °C
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IMG_5769.jpgAfter 16 hours on a bus from Lhasa to Rongbuk Monastery we finally arrived at the foot of Mt. Everest, Qomolangma in Tibetan.
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I was glad I had brought my tripod and that the moon was so bright that night. The previous day was the Chinese Moon Festival, or Mid-Autumn Day Festival, so the moon had only been waning for one day.
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Our day time views of Everest were nearly completely obscure by clouds, but the night views by moonlight were very clear and nearly cloudless.
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It is impossible to describe the majesty of the mountains in Tibet and the feeling of standing before this formidable mountain, the tallest place on the entire Earth. I think it is the most remote place I have ever been. Tibet stirs the soul, whether by sun or moonlight.

Posted by grmoski 22:01 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (2)

Butterfly

lunchtime conversation

sunny 33 °C
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Last week I spent three days in a town in western Guangxi province called Baise. I was with four colleagues on a trip to gather information to create Baise's cityscape plan.

When we first arrived we had lunch with another Hualan employee from Nanning, and the three Hualan employees who work in our Baise branch. My colleague, whose cubicle is next to mine in our office, was wearing a black t-shirt with gold butterflies screen printed on it. In my ongoing effort to learn and use Chinese, I sang the jingle from a TV commercial I've seen many many times, "die fei." It's sung in two notes, with the second note a third above the first.

My friend told me that "die fei" 蝶飞 means butterfly. It actually means flying butterfly. Anyway, another colleague recognized the jingle from the commercial. This particular commercial happens to be for maxi pads, and "die fei" is sung many times in this commercial; it's a very recognizable jingle.

This butterfly-shirted friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, is a girl who I love to tease. Pretty soon everyone at the table repeated the jingle, and we all laughed at this girl's embarrassment. Of course, I was quite embarrassed too, having essentially started a conversation about maxi pads during a business lunch. It was all quite amusing though, because my Chinese is so poor and because this girl was so embarrassed.

Since then, every time I see her I sing "蝶飞" to her and she pretends to be upset all over again. I should stop while I'm ahead and we're still friends.

Posted by grmoski 07:13 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Solar Eclipse

22 July 2009

overcast 32 °C
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Although Nanning is in southern China it was south of the path of the total eclipse shadow. We experienced less than 80% eclipse which didn't seem any darker, but I got some good photos of the event. We were lucky that is was cloudy enough to block the light enough for us to see it safely, but not so cloudy that we couldn't see anything.
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One of our interns, Xiao Huang, and I took the elevator up to the 25th floor of our office building just before 9:00AM on Wednesday 22 July 2009. We walked up the stairs to the 26th and 27th floors, then climbed the ladder up through the hatch onto the roof. We sat up there, dangerously, for about half an hour with our cameras, a tripod, and took photos.
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It was a hot day, but worth the effort. I was disappointed that we didn't see any other people on roofs of buildings watching the eclipse.
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I've added some of the photos I took of the city while we were on the roof. It was my second time climbing up there. I don't think I'll go again because it pretty dangerous, unless there is a comet or something else to photograph!
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Posted by grmoski 23:10 Archived in China Tagged events Comments (1)

Stimulating the Economy

what i'd do if i had hundreds of billions of dollars

semi-overcast 31 °C
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This has nothing to do with China, but I need a conversational outlet for current events in the US.

The economic crisis is a complex set of issues that no one will ever fully understand...and I'm not an economist by any means, but I sure do have some opinions.

So some big banks made a lot of really bad lending choices. Some mortgage customers borrowed too much and added to the collective debt crushing the country. Some people are deceitful, some are just ignorant, or as Shirley Q. Liquor says, "ignunt." Anyway, the housing market collapsed, one of many dominoes to fall in the financial system. Then the federal government decides to give a bunch of money to these failing banks because it is important to keep them from all from actually failing.

Here's my take on it. Giving money to the banks improves their balance sheets but doesn't change any of the bad loans. Banks lose money, people lose houses. Why not use the money to pay the mortgages? That way people keep their homes and the banks end up with the money anyway. Bad debts are reduced, people retain their homes, banks have better balance sheets, and consumer spending goes up because people aren't making mortgage payments any more. I know there must be problems with this solution. So what are those problems? I don't know.

Another use for hundreds of billions of dollars involves student loans. The federal government loans students tons and tons of money each year. Why not apply some stimulus dollars forgiving loans of students who have graduated? It rewards a demographic group of people who have worked hard to educate themselves instead of a few greedy corporations. Then all those loan free graduates would have more money to dump back into the consumer economy. What are the technical drawbacks of this idea?

Now the part about China, or Asia at least. The US economy touches everyone in the world and I have personally seen how it affects poor people in Southeast Asia. You may not realize it, but the economic woes in the US have drastically reduced the quality of life in places like Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand. These are countries where labor is cheap so they tend to export lots of manufactured goods for consumption in the West. They also depend heavily on tourism, where a dollar can go a LONG way to support thousands upon thousands of people who rely on foreign tourists.

Did you know that in Cambodia and Vietnam you don't even need to exchange your money? Almost all of the prices in tourist destinations are in US dollars. They us it as a dual currency because their own currency has been so devalued. When food prices in the US go up a little bit we all complain. When they go up a little bit in places like Cambodia people starve. Americans are not alone in this economic crisis, but they sure do have it easy despite all the doom and gloom.

Posted by grmoski 22:53 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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