Tag Archives: Tibet


9 Dec

Well, my personal research project on Tibetan Buddhist nuns just became a sensitive topic. I’ve been informed that I should maybe pick something a little less controversial. (I’m in the goddamn Tibetan Studies program! By default, its mere existence is controversial! GAHH.)

I’m not going to talk about it.

Like a River Flowing

5 Dec

I’m learning another language again. Yes, I know. Clearly, this is the insanity talking, because why the nine hells would I decide to pick up another miserably hard Asian language with tones and an intricate writing system? Well, actually it kind of went along the lines of Professor Xu telling me there was a graduate seminar on basic Tibetan that she was holding for her students. This meant that I had damn well better be there, or else. (It was implied.)

So, Tibetan. Yeah.

It turns out that the teacher of this class is a grad student my age, a Tibetan guy named Dorjee. He wants to study at UC Boulder. Small world, huh? His English is rudimentary and he doesn’t know any linguistic vocabulary at all. Which is a problem, since I don’t know the Chinese words for linguistic terms either. So for the past month or so, I’ve muddled along in class, reciting after the teacher along with everyone else. The class is small, no more than ten students, but I’m thankfully not the only foreigner there. A Korean woman old enough to be my mother – we determined this when she cheerfully announced that her middle daughter is my age and studying at college in Seoul – is also part of the department. I’m glad that she’s there; occasionally, when things are going not-so-swimmingly, Ann and I will glance at each other and exchange these beautiful, “what the hell are we doing, learning Tibetan in Chinese?” looks.

The class is primarily based around how to read Tibetan. I’ve learnt more spoken Tibetan (Lhasa dialect, if you’re interested in that sort of thing) from the Talk Tibetan podcast, which I highly recommend. I can safely say one thing for certain after a month of classes every Wednesday morning: written Tibetan is patently ridiculous. This isn’t racism or language elitism; you’re talking to a girl who voluntarily studied Chinese and their character-based writing system is so insane it defies belief and makes strong men and women cry.  [See the section on writing in David Moser’s Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard for validation from another source.]

Tibetan at least has the common decency to have an alphabet. Good for it. Well done, Tibetan. Unfortunately, every letter has, by default, the [ah] ending. So, a letter reads gah, kah, jah, or tzah, etc. In order to use the other vowels, diacritics (squiggly lines put above or below letters) are used to differentiate between a gah, gi, gu, ge, or go. Not hard, right? Well, not if you’re trying to glean a method to the madness at 9 am and only have a thoroughly unhelpful syllabary in Chinese and Tibetan at your disposal. I only managed this one with the help of Susan and the Internet, both of which are awesome.

Another fun thing is that spoken Tibetan and written Tibetan have diverged somewhat since the Buddhists adapted Sanskrit to the vernacular in the eight century. So any given word will have a few unvoiced consonants. I can’t bitch about this nearly as much given the English language’s propensity for hanging on to extra letters here and there in words. (through, I’m looking at you.)

We haven’t even gotten into grammar or basic sentence syntax yet, but from what I’ve gleaned from research on the internet, it will indeed make me cry. They have two ways of saying “goodbye” for crying out loud – galeshu is if you are leaving and galepe is if you’re the one staying behind. I’m curious as to what word is used if both parties are leaving, but I shudder to ask. Knowing my luck, it’ll be an entirely different word.

My personal goal in this class isn’t to become the next world-renowned scholar in translating Tibetan manuscripts into English. I know my limitations, people. Frankly, I’d like a little conversational Tibetan, enough to get me around in Lhasa or Kham when I go, not that I’m visiting either in the near future. It’s definitely winter here and if you think I’m going anywhere where they measure the snowfalls in feet you’d better have another think coming. Still, a little emergency Tibetan of the “hi how are you where’s the bathroom?” variety wouldn’t be amiss. Besides, how many people get to say they are being paid to study Tibetan? That’s what I thought.

Note: If you are Tibetan and thoroughly offended as to my representation of your native language, let me know, for Buddha’s sake, but be aware that I’ll probably take the opportunity to bug you about my homework problems and where my grammar is going wrong.

Of Mountains and Men

2 Dec

Today we’re going to talk about Tibet. Yay Tibet!

I am a member of the Tibetan Studies Department here at Sichuan University. Supposedly, this means I am working on a paper about Tibet (women in Tibetan Buddhism), but I am lazy and have no real motivation to do so. What I do bother to work on is research assistance to my advisor, Professor Xu. Right now, her thing is all about eco-anthropology. Basically, that means studying how humans interact and change their environment. This is a growing field of anthropology, especially with global warming and the rising human population.  Professor Xu has to give a lecture to non-anthro majors and wanted resources to spice up her presentation. I was set to find the English language bits, for obvious reasons.

Without further ado, I give you what I dug up on Tibet, or at least the interesting bits about the Himalayas. Mountains are cool, people.

Photo taken from “Rivers of Ice”.

Rivers of Ice: Comparative Photography
A visual, interactive look at ice and glacier lost on Mt. Everest. Compares the amount of ice present on the main Rongbuk Glacier by looking at photographs taken in 1921 and in 2007.The loss of ice and snow is simply stunning. It’s hard to argue with climate change when you see such a stark difference over the course of a lifetime. The pictures are fantastic, even without the scare-mongering. I want to go to the Himalayas, even if I will probably NEVER be in good enough shape to hike in the near vicinity of Mt. Everest.

China Green: The Big Melt
A video on the rapidly disappearing glaciers of China. The video is seven minutes long and has Chinese subtitles. It focuses on several mountains in the Tibetan Plateau, not just Mt. Everest. Tibet is known as the “Roof of the World”, but this region also serves as the headwaters for all the major rivers in Asia – the Yellow River, Ganges River, Indus River, and Mekong River all draw their sources from the Tibet-Qinghai plateau. China Green also has some other interesting videos on desertification in China, the problem of pollution, etc.

ECO Everest
A Nepalese Sherpa, Ang Tshering Sherpa, has started a movement to clean up the hiking debris from mountaineer’s attempts to climb Mt. Everest. As the levels of snow grow lower, more refuse from fifty years worth of hiking becomes visible and as the number of attempts climb, the amount of garbage grows, despite the Nepalese government imposing strict penalties on littering. Since they started in 2008, they have brought down “more than 12,000 kilos of previous expedition garbage”for proper disposal.

There were also quite a few journal articles, but they’re a little esoteric to people outside the field. (Hell, they were hard for me to read and I like this stuff.) Also, they’re hidden behind a JSTOR paywall. However, if you feel the need to read anything like “Sustainable Management of Alpine Meadows on the Tibetan Plateau: Problems Overlooked and Suggestions for Change” or “The Headwater Loss of the Western Plateau Exacerbates China’s Long Thirst”, let me know and I will totally send you the .pdf files.

On Monday, we’ll be talking about the language of Tibet and why I already want to bang my head against a wall and cry. See you then!