Monthly Archives: July 2013

Daerji’s Family

Women were doing thread-making in front of the tent. The sound of the very basic but clever “machine” — which consists of nothing but a few pieces of wooden board and sticks, along with bottle caps and strings — could be heard from afar. Daerji’s daughter was the puller by the machine, and three older women, one of them Daerji’s wife held the yak hair bundle and fed them to form the threads as the machine spin them. Nowhere else I saw such things. It would not be possible without a big open space — the women gradually walked backwards as the thread became longer and longer. One bundle of hair could feed out to about 30 feet. One machine could spin as many as three threads. On a full working day like the day I arrived, three were there threading at the same time.

Daerji’s youngest son was riding a horse, and came back to greet his father and made me take a photo of him holding their big guard dog, a really handsome looking dog. Women chitchatted. I was free to film. Finally filming something! And thread-making is very pretty to film, with good sound too.

With only a brief meal break, the operation went on all day long. At dusk, the boy herded their yaks back and the wife and the daughter tied them in and milked a couple of them. Good sound with yaks mooing, but not so much visual, even my fastest lens wasn’t bright enough.

Herders’ meals were around their work schedule. Here, dinner doesn’t happen until all the night chores are done, and after dinner people go right back to sleep. With the tractor where my blankets and covers were on still in repair, I had to share the ground blanket with the daughter.

A good night of sleep surprisingly. The wife was already up working when I awoke. Very pretty fog in the valley. Not so much desert around Daerji’s immediate surrounding, but plenty on hills near other families in his group. Women at herder’s family are really working machines. Picking yak dung, spreading, drying, milking the yaks — that would take a good part of the morning nonstop from day break. After a meal around mid morning, it was butter making then more thread-making. No helpers came in the morning, so the wife let the boy be the puller. Sitting there pulling strings for a long time wasn’t very fun for the boy, I did a little bit of that when other distractions got him.

Some time during day two of my stay, I realized the stupid video gain was turned on. F!@#$%^&! those shots would be so washed out they would be nearly useless. F!@#$%^&!

The family sells snacks in the nearby tent — that explains the soft drinks on the tractor. Somehow a basketball hoop got shipped in as well and young herders came to play frequently.

Daerji also fixes motorcycles. Black Tent Moto Repair would be a fine name for his shop. With roads so bad and herders seemed to be riding so recklessly, Daerji got quite many customers.

The wife became quite playful once my stranger affect subsided. The daughter, who went to high school in town and only came home for short summer break was quite modern — wearing western clothe and having her hair braided differently than the traditional ways. They put on modern music later when they made thread. Some kind of Tibetan rap music. Yak hair tent, making thread, drying cheese curds, fixing motorcycle, rap music — the combination of those are fascinating to me.

The second son came for a brief visit at dinner time. The family prayed every night before going to bed, with the prayer wheel passing from one person to the next while the men recited scriptures. I filmed some, and participated as well in the praying circle.

Out to the Pasture

Raining on and off. Cleaning up of the feast started in the afternoon. Loads of food to put away. Tibetan dress comes in handy as ready sacks. The tents were taken down, and tractors came to take stuff back to homes.

Daerji was among the last to leave. When he was finally ready to take me to his home, it was quite late in the afternoon. His father sat by the window on a piece of sheep skin. He couldn’t walk very well. The wooden house was shabby and dirty though a newer two-story brick house with ugly pink paint was under construction. While Daerji went out to load the tractor — one of my bags will go with the tractor, the other camera bag I would carry with me on motorcycle, the father turned on the TV to entertain me. Some singing competition was on. Tibetan women with modified traditional dress — very modern looking were on performing.

It was raining quite heavily when Daerji came back. I put everything in dry bags, had rain jacket on and out we went. There was a stretch of very bad road I would ride on the tractor and after that, Daerji would take me on his motorcycle. That was the plan.

Thinking back all the strange transportations I had ever been on. Whatever that was, a sense of adventure started when I boarded any one of them. This was no exception. One young man drove, the other one sat on the back, next to me. The tractor was loaded with bottles of soft drinks.

It was cold sitting there. My rain pants apparently had holes.

When we came near the bad, waterlogged section of the road, they put chains on tires. Daerji followed on moto. The water came to almost the height of the tires. The mud was sinking. The tractor struggled ahead, hit a rock, and stalled. Two motorcyclists came to help push, Daerji as well. But the tractor was damaged enough they decided it needed repair at Maqu, the next day.

So, with rain and night falling, I chose the option to go back when Daerji let me choose between keep going to the pasture, which must involve wading through this section in the cold rain, with no dry clothe to change into, or going back to the village.

Sun was out the next morning and I was fully prepared for wading. We took a different route, through the open grassland – or swampland rather, instead of the bad road. It was very pleasant actually, walking through the lumpy swamp. The water was clear and cold; the grass was soft to my bare feet. “This is your bath.” Daerji joked at me.

Before tractors and motorcycles, herders used male yaks to move. Yaks and horses would be better choices here.

After the path became ridable, it was a hot but not so long of a ride through many hillsides with deserts to Daerji’s pasture.

A Feast

After a few days of waiting around in Langmusi, I got ahold of the village head and also Daerji. They were having a gathering at the winter village and asked me to go too.

My driver claimed he drove for the lama from the Sichuan side of the monastery. But he lied that the mountain path, the short cut to go to the village was closed for years — I was on it last year. On the way there, someone called him on the phone about prospective gold mine site near the village. With one near Maqu already causing problems, another one would be devastating.

Lots of people at the entrance to the village. They were not waiting for me, but government officials instead, higher level party members from the county, prefecture.

Three tents were set up on the grassland in front of the school. A couple of women guided me inside and there were trays after trays of meat on the table — the most in one setting I have ever seen probably. I was given a knife to carve the meat, and there were also momo dumplings, all kind of snack and drinks. Older herders sat around with the prayer wheel in their hand, spinning.

Soon a motorcade of jeeps rolled in and out came the suit-dressed officials. They were taken to the big colorful tent and out went more momos from the kitchen tent. A college-aged boy spoke good Mandarin so I chatted with him. A few familiar looking faces came in and out of the tent — I have been coming here for almost three years. “Eat More Meat!”, they said to me whenever they stopped by.

Eating went on for hours in the colorful tent while some of the women who came along went out to the field for photos of them in the grassland. Playing, drinking, eating later, the motorcade left. One of the women from the village told me they were given 30K Yuan from the local government to host the officials to come for this three-day feast. I was there on day two.

For the evening, Zuba arranged me to sleep in the communal house where the men and women who came to prepare the feast slept. The party continued, or, just started. Loud talking, laughing, more meat eating. When one of the women brought out a plate of flour, the room got rowdy. A nearly toothless guy became the target, then I was told, it was time to sing. If someone would not sing, the punishment was a choice between sniffing out a piece of candy hidden in the flour, or get a hair wash — I wasn’t sure why that was considered a punishment.

With the guy fighting, laughing, and people pushing and nudging him, two women brought out a wash bucket, detergent, and wash towel. The room laughed uncontrollably, peaking when the poor guy eventually gave in for a head wash.

The singing circle continued. Many of the herders are great singers. Many of them sang the tune Danku’s mom sang for me last year — that was the first time I heard of such tunes. Daerji and a slightly drunk Baisang made me sing too. My voice was no comparison to that of the Tibetan women. Poor Jiamu (Han Chinese).

The next morning, more cooking, heating up the momos, and another smaller feast with monks from the village monastery and a few other visitors I didn’t know about. Zuba asked Daerji to take me out to the pasture when the feast was over.

A Year Has Past

It is frightening to say the least, a year has past but I’m extremely grateful I’m here again, in Langmusi, getting ready to go to the summer pasture to film again. I lost my phone but all the connections found themselves back and I knew I was welcomed at all the villages and families — that’s a great feeling.

Sangku’s brother Jai who teaches at a college in Hezuo helped me with the translation and even volunteered to come to do the presentation with me. All the grassland restoration connections came rather quickly, in May and June and all looked very promising. I’m hoping that this opportunity of hope I am bringing to them would help both them and me — them for a chance to heal their land, me a chance to finish my film.

So much happened in one year. Mom was ill and we were all frightened. Amazingly, she is feeling great these days. Hope that continues for a long long time. I lost my biggest support, Les. I switched a sponsor and had a producer, sort of, with no breakthrough funds so far. I made a promise in front of Les’ grave that I would finish this film. I have to stick to my words, no matter what.

Langmusi is littered with new construction sites. The flower lady’s shop is gone, and so does the tea/dance bar by the river. A few more new hotels. The price for my quaint little hospataje almost doubled. The older Muslim couple are still very nice and kind, they gave me a little bit of discount and invited me to have dinner together.

Sangku came to pray at the Monastary. Yidan was sick in the local hospital. We met briefly. He would make arrangement for me to go to the pasture. Talked to Zuobaja as well and also Darji — I’ll go to their village first while Sangku takes care of Yidan. It will all work out.