If anything this whole documentary filmmaking journey has trained me to be, is to never ever expect things to happen the way I envisioned and learn to make peace with anything, good or bad coming my way.
The monk’s gathering lasted a few days – 15 I think. One of the days the debated lasted until deep into midnight. I didn’t know all these until …
In the morning, I followed the crowd again to the monastery, and to the main praying hall. The monks’ debate was on in full swing. There were less spectators this time and people could get in much closer to hear the questions and answers. So, I inserted myself close to a heatedly debating group and filmed some.
The pilgrims were a curious bunch and a few of them wanted to look through my view finder. So I moved to another group.
“Come over here, Comrade.” Someone padded me on my shoulder and said. It was one of the helpers with name tag. With perfect Mandarin, he was apparently not a Tibetan.
“Where are you from?”
“Where is your registration paper?”
“You need registration paper.”
“Oh, where do I get that?”
“Go back to the gate. Don’t let us see you here again.”
I didn’t bother to argue. Seemingly, nearly every pilgrim with a camera phone was recording.
Stuffed my cameras in and I stood a bit more just observing. A little while, another hand on my shoulder with the same question set. It was clear I had to leave now. I did know a path from the hill from behind though.
Going against the main traffic, I walked toward the entrance. Right outside the gate, I saw a familiar face. It was the first village chief I ran into at my filming site, the head of Gasha. I walked over to him, took my sunglasses off, and was greeted with the firmest handshake. Zubaji still remembered me and he was one of the helpers.
I described to him what happened and he dragged me back in to the monastery. “Follow me”, he said. So I did, back to the action, took out my camcorder, and filmed a bit more. I didn’t want to cause trouble for Zubaji and he was expected as his post at the entrance so we walked out shortly after. We made plans to meet for tea after he finished working.
With the light of the day so beautiful, I opted to take another walk to the Kham side of the monastery. Hardly a soul there with all the action on the other side of the river. A treat for me. Revisiting a place is always a luxury and a test to the eyes — what’s still fresh that inspires artistic pondering?
Some of the monks were working on a new roof for a big, golden temple. It was to the point they need to put three giant prayer’s wheel like caps on the top of the roof. I watched. When they were almost done, one of the monks posed by it and his friend took pictures.
A pack of jeep zipped by me to the courtyard of the monks’ quarter and out came some government officials delivering some goods to the monks, rice and stuff. A camera crew followed the action. All good deeds need to be recorded; it’d be on the evening news I bet.
Tea time, Zubaji called.
We met at a dingy tea house in the town center, him and two of his friends, one of them, Shiketa, ran a horse trekking service for tourist in the summer. Shiketa had a rugged look, chain-smoked, and spoke fairly good Mandarin. He claimed to know everyone in town and promised to find me a good translator I had been searching for in vain who could transcribe what I recorded, and hopefully for my later trips too.
Tea house seemed to be a place for men and I seemed out of place there, which was something I’ve gotten quite used to. Our conversation carried to dinner at a Muslim noodle shop and Zuba offered to take me back in to the monastery the next day.
Came the next morning, I went to the monastery entrance again and called Zuba, but no answer. I waited for about half hour and eventually he came out, also along with Daerji, who came down to help as well. With Zuba wanted at the gate, Daerji walked me in.
Less than two hundred meters when we walked together in the monastery, two monks stopped me.
“You can’t come inside. Go out.”
Daerji was not in a position to make opposition. And I didn’t want to make my curiosity a trouble for my friends. They asked Daerji in Tibetan, but I could make out the same question.
“Where is she from?”
I was glad I had a clever friend.
Daerji and I stopped shortly to talk to Zuba, who was a bit nervous looking and started mumbling scripture. Causing trouble to him was the last thing I’d want to see so I quickly walked away.
Not knowing if my continued staying here would be a good idea for my friends, I called Shike and told him about my concern. An hour later he came to town and we met in another tea house, along with a Hui man, Old Ding. Eventually Shike did get to talk to Zuba and all seemed to be okay. Old Ding was from the earliest and still biggest Hui muslim family in Langmusi. The two of them sure knew so much about this place than anybody else. The friction between the two monasteries, what happened during the cultural revolution, Shike’s story treating tourists’ high altitude sickness, the foreigner’s ban, the self-immolation of the lamas two years ago, the living buddha’s secret visit, etc., etc. Here a Buddhist Tibetan, a Hui Muslim, and me, an international wanderer sharing stories that could be very big or very small. Why I ended up here? How come my fate brought me here to meet these people? I’m amazed at all the serendipities in my life.
Next trip should be really interesting.