Monthly Archives: August 2013

Bye Pasture

With batteries all out, it was time to go back.

Woke up early to pack my bags. Left the tent to the herder’s family to use. The daughter and her husband stayed in a small lean-to, would be nice to have a tent with zipper.

Bid simple farewell to herder DJ’s family – a great family with the exception of the daughter’s husband who does basically nothing. Young herders don’t have much to do around here, especially at pastures with lots of fences. What would become their future?

One of my bags went with a tractor taking the summer tent back, and I put the other one on the bumpy moto ride. I have gotten used to the ride, and Sangku is a good friend now. Without his help, I could never make this film.

Back to his home, Danku was preparing breakfast, which the herders have at lunch time. We made steamed buns (momo) together and waited for my bag and the driver to show up. I interviewed her Mom but she was so timid her voice was close to nothing. After some chatting, Danku agreed to say a few words, in her new room with a nice bed and some stuffed animals. Sangku won a lottery earlier this year and brought in enough money to pay off all their debts, some of his relatives, and made this new home. Wonderful for them. But for Danku, with the new baby and the pressure of making a living subsided, she decided not going to the city for more schools. She just wanted a simple life on the pasture with her Mom and her son.

The driver was a friend of Sangku so he stayed around for quite sometime. Danku insisted on making another meal for us before we leave so we stayed even longer.

It was after dark when I got back to Langmusi. My hosts were all worried. They tried calling me many times, my phone battery was out too.

Music to their Ears

I love the way Herder DJ whistles while he herds, very musical. There are long ones and short ones, fast and slow, forceful and gentle.

With my camera batteries nearly running out, I had more time to do sound recording which is quite nice. Lots of interesting sounds, I still want to make an experimental film with very detailed location sound and very simple images. That’s later.

Sangku came back to the pasture to take me back to the winter village.

At herd-in time late in the afternoon, I put wireless mic on the herder and recorded the whole concert of his whistles.

What do the sheep and yaks think about those sound?

Full Moon Prayer

Has not rained. One afternoon a big thunder brought in strong wind and lightening, but no rain.

Early mornings and dusks are the busiest hours for the herders, dusks especially, and those could be the only time men did any work, if they happen to be around. Some of them rode horses, more younger ones rode their motorcycle to herd their animals back for the night. Each night, that was quite a scene.

Herder DJ went out to fix the fences one day. He is the most hard working herder I’ve seen on the whole pasture. When he got back, his wife, as with all women on the pasture would do for their man, prepared his wash bucket, soap, lotion. And after his was done washing, brought him breakfast. The family eat very traditionally. Tsampa – roasted barley is the staple in every meal. And for breakfasts, that was all they have.

Herder DJ made Tsampa – hot water added to yak butter, then barley flour, milk crumbs, and made a dough by hand in the bowl. The wife heated some yak butter and mixed that with hot pepper flakes. That became the sauce to dip the Tsampa with. More often, they added sugar to the dough mix instead.

I had been wanting to film they eat Tsampa, it was a perfect setting.

My batteries were running low. Maybe because of the bumpy road, one of them stopped working, bummer.

Before herder DJ got back from his evening herd-in, his wife prepared a yak-dung fire pile, the grandson helped fanning. When he got back, he walked out to the fire pile with a bag of Tsampa, while praying, put some Tsampa on the fire, let it burn, then a few spray of water. Then he walked around the fire, holding the little boy and praying.

All looked so wonderful except I didn’t turn my camera on. Was so fixated with the scene I got the on/off switch wrong!

Some scenes are probably meant for memories only. And I think I’ve got a new title for my film.

It was a full moon night. A good day to do the barley burning ceremony.

Making Blanket

Herder DJ’s wife gestured to me one day that they would make a wool blanket that day and I should film them.

The day before, I helped the women cut sheep wool – cut off the hard, twisted tips with scissors and then fluffed them up so they were ready to be used.

Early in the morning, the wife directed me to another tent where she had patted down a big sheet of wool. She kept adding more while I filmed. Women back in her family tent kept up with the wool supplies.

When the whole sheet was nicely covered, the daughter came in with two other women. They rolled the sheet, tied it up, set it on the grass, and rolled it as if it’s a giant rolling pin.

To keep the rhythm, they started singing. Later I found out they were simply counting numbers from 1 – 100. That has to be the best sounding number counting I’ve ever heard.

The roll got thinner and thinner in the sound of women singing. I recorded the sound separately. It was fascinating to me how they worked and the women had good laughs seeing me puzzled at the beginning. Many hundreds and many laughters later, the blanket started to take shape. From fluffy sheep fur to strong blanket, all hand powers.

The wife sprayed more of the whey and water mix to the blanket and let it cure for the night.

Umbrella and Herder DJ

Sangku returned to the winter village early in the morning. I was left to rely on the few Tibetan words I learned so far to communicate with the herder’s family.

Friends of the family – a young women with two little boys came to visit. Women sat on the ground separating yak furs from hairs and chatted, the boys played outside.

It got really hot during mid-day, hardly any activities going on. I took a nap in my tent, but soon woke up to the very distinct whistles of Herder DJ. Out on the other side of the fence, he walked with a very colorful umbrella to keep the sun out, and also to use it as a signal to the sheep that they needed to move. It looked kind of comical, and didn’t quite fit the herder on a white horse image in my mind – but that’s the joy of filming without a script I crave for.

Earlier during the morning, an airplane flew by, the little boy jumped around with excitement and called her grandma out to look. Herder’s wife brought the binocular with her and stood nicely in front of my camera.

Before the woman friend’s family left, they made the boys wash their face and I took a picture of them together. One of the boys looked a bit scared holding one of the kittens. But they all looked relaxed when their father came to ride them away, four people on one moto.

Nearby herders came to have dinner with the family at night. It’s common for them to do so. A great feeling actually to be among them. Maybe the whole modern world got it all wrong, I feel some times.

Go Herding

Dogs barked all night long but not as loud as when it was at the Black River pasture.

Lovely misty morning, grass all damp and yaks chewing freely, and noisily by my tent. The sun had not come out yet. In the morning fog, one tan colored yak with colorful ribbons clipped on her ear stood on a small mound looking at the sun. With those ribbons, she is one of the few lucky yaks who get to live her full life. The herders always leave a few of the yaks unused, raising them until death as a way to pay some tributes to the ones they have to kill. Shong and Tsertser are the names of these special yaks. Shongs for individual and Tsertser for the whole family.

Sheep congregated in the center of the herder’s tents. When the morning deepened, if Herder DJ didn’t come out early enough, they would walk out on their own toward the big sandy hill. “Sheep walked away!”, the little boy alerted us.

So, Sangku rode me on his motorcycle to follow herder DJ and the sheep. Over the sand hills, what remained of Bird Lake could be seen glittering in the sun. Filmed the herder perched on the highest point on the hill, and some close ups.

With the sheep wandering around for their own business, we rode back. Herder DJ’s dirty white horse looked very pretty.

I interviewed herder DJ, just few questions. I’m not sure how much interviews I’d use in the film.

Sangku went to visit a nearby village and stayed there. The family made steamed bread mixed with melted yak butter and sugar. Kids seem to like that a lot.

Meeting Old Herder Again

Sangku called and said they got stuck on the tractor moving their tent back to the winter village — the Old Herder would take care of his yaks while his wife recuperate at the comfort of a house. So I waited another day in Langmusi.

In the morning, my driver kept talking about reincarnation and the need for religion, Tibetan Buddhism that is, and the necessity to have children and grandchildren as the meaning of life, so one has something to live for for the old age and death. “Fear is good,” he said, “It keeps people from doing bad things.” He went on saying everyone has that greedy temptation, but religion and fear discipline those desires for the fear of punishment, and that fear for them, would be to come back next life as a non-human.

I couldn’t remember where Sangku’s house was until I saw the dirt mount where I climbed up with the little girl last year. The house had been remodeled, new living room with bright orange furnitures, new, added kitchen, new bedroom where it was dirt on the ground last year, and a separate kitchen where they used to store their yak dung. Something changed quite dramatically from last year for sure.

Danku came out to greet me. She was still a bit shy but she looked very good and stylish, in modern style black skirt, not the traditional Tibetan robe. And her hair was in a pigtail, not the traditional double braids. Her Mom looked a bit weak and looked like have gained some weight. The little girl wasn’t that much different from when I left here last year, but her little brother who happened to be there that day was much bigger I could hardly recognize. Last time when I visited, he started crying and hid behind his Mom, Danku’s older sister.

We chatted a little bit and waited for an other villager to ride to the pasture together — I had two bags that needed to go, hard to ride the super bumpy path like that.

Almost dusk, we rode in. Through a longer path but not having to cross the water logged section. I have gotten used to that kind of ride and actually enjoyed it. I remembered some of the landscape, but all seems similar in the vast open land.

Wife of the old Herder, Herder DJ I shall call him, were at the tent but the herder had gone out to tend the sheep — it was time to bring them back to sleep. The wife helped me set my tent up. When he eventually showed up following the bustling end-of-day activities on the pasture, we were all sitting around and the wife was making dried yak meat soup with noodle.

Herder DJ looked the same way as last year, dark, good looking face with prominent cheek bones, few teeth remaining when he smiled. I’m fortunate that Sangku introduced me to Herder DJ, he is a model herder in my book.


Qijia had to help his family move, so, I found a new translator, one of the drivers’ son. He turned out to be quite good even though he was still in high school.

It became a routine for me to go out to film a few days, and back in town for translation. My threshold for coming back to town for a shower had gone lower.

I don’t know how I would feel if I have to live on the pasture all my life. And for that reason, even though I try, I could never capture the herders’ lives in their view, just my view of their lives and I’m grateful for the opportunity to do so.

I dreamed strange dreams. I dreamed about booking a flight from Banff to Seattle, and I dreamed about being at the taping of Seinfeld’s finale. I might have too much America in me than I wanted to realize already.

All is OK. One more pasture trip.

Moving Tents

Yidan and Ah-Ji prayed at nights in front of the TV. They decided, together with their neighbors to move. The grass where they put their tent was getting thin, and because of the diseases, the yaks were better off moved to a new place as well.

So, they started packing the next morning after milking was done. Herders live very simple lives. A couple of wooden chests, few bags of things, a stove, a butter-making machine, a TV set with satellite dish now, and they were ready to move. They packed the tractor belonging to her maiden family, one load was enough for them. They used a lighter tent too, without yak hair patches on the wall. Their parents used the full tent at their home pasture.

Their new spot was within walking distance, right next to a wired fence.

Blazing hot again. And we didn’t have any food and water all morning. The move had to be done first.

Choosing a location, unloading, setting tent up, they worked under the scorching sun.

When the tent was finally setup, I hid inside. My endurance was no comparison to the strong women of the pasture.

Yidan took no break even after the tent was up and their stuff loaded. She had to make another stove base with mud and sand, and her hands. She skimped no efforts making it looked nice and smooth.

Sangku came back on motorcycle along with the old herder’s daughter and her newborn child. The baby needed some medicine from the clinic nearby. First I thought that was a girl because of the full head of hair but later found out that was a boy. Tibetan babies don’t get a hair cut, and name too I believe until they are a year old.

Barley Burning Ceremony

Very cold at nights and the guard dogs barked all night long — that is their job to guard the sheep. Hard to sleep and was awaken often.

Work continued from early morning for the women while the men slept. The surrounding wasn’t as picturesque as their own pasture, lots of fences around. But, it would be good to tell the story, that the herders are fenced in more and more nowadays.

I filmed Yidan milking the yaks, good sound this time without strong wind that could be used in some of last year’s shots.

Sangku came back again from the village and started playing chess with Ah-Ji again. He helped asking a couple of more questions when Yidan returned to tent, making butter and cheese crumbs. Not as much milk as previous years. Yidan thought the yaks didn’t like their new, fenced home very much. And there were diseases. A couple of yaks got foams on their mouth.

Another round of thunder, lightening and yak dung covering. Sangku left for home after I exhausted my questions. I shall learn to be a better interviewer.

Just before the yaks were to return home for the night, the women prepared several piles of fire in the field where they would tie the yaks. Yidan made three piles. She put coal from the stove to light the piles. Then, all the women started fanning the fire piles with pot lids. Smoke soon permeated the three-tent camp.

The men herded their animals back. With fences everywhere, it was an easy ride out. Soon the yaks showed up at the camp. Fires didn’t seem to bother them. The women prayed while they fanned harder. Yaks walked right into the smoke, to where they were supposed to stand for the night.

Yidan prayed while tying their yaks. She also gave a bucket of whey to a couple of yaks and they seemed to like that a lot.

When all the yaks were tied, Yidan walked back into the tent and brought out a bag of barley flour. She scooped some on each pile of fire, sprinkled some water around and prayed loudly while doing that. I missed the first fire pile, filmed she did the second, and while preparing for the third, the girls came to watch me film and bumped the camera out of focus. Ugh! The little camera with a super fast lens is great for low light scenes such as this, but really difficult to focus when I couldn’t even see very well.

It smelled very nice, the burning barley smell. Perhaps that has some curing power indeed. Yidan said because their yaks were ill, Lamas told them to do a barley burning ceremony (Serpa).