We’ve been terrible little bloggers. But we’ve been excellent little travelers and snowboarders lately. We’re having a blast in our lodge in Hakuba: the snowboard bum’s dream of good snow, empty slopes, and a life with no worries more than the next trick we’ll learn and staying safe as we learn them.
Operation Backpack Asia Blog
The Potala Palace is AMAZING!!! It had been one of my favorite exotic, seemingly-so-far-away magazine pictures I’d ripped out and taped onto my wall back in Tucson to keep me motivated during our two years’ saving for this trip and it was even better in person than it was in that awesome photo.
I’m not too sure about the strategery in planning for us to visit this iconic place the day after our arrival to nearly 12,000 ft and then proceed to climb some 2,000 stairs after having our water held at security (which we found to be because they are selling drinks at the top). When even walking down the street is enough to have you needing to catch your breath, that didn’t seem like a great idea. But, since we didn’t keel over dead (yet) with Acute Mountain Sickness I guess we’ll call it all’s well that ends well and say damn it was awesome to see the Palace up close and to stand atop this monumental piece of history.
We watched 7 Years in Tibet last night as prep to get in the mood and to again TRY to wrap our heads around just what this place means and what has transpired here. Despite armed troops at every turn (which, btw, we noticed this afternoon were standing stationed under the shade of a blazing red Coca-Cola canopy…seemed like an awkward sort of message or commentary?) it’s still pretty hard to conceive of the full situation here. For personal safety’s sake, I’m going to err on the side of caution and keep my mouth shut about it though.
What I CAN say is that Tibetans (at least the thousands-some that we saw today!) are awesome and chill and you should see their faces light up as they do their circumambulations around the gigantic palace and spin their prayer wheels and you say Tashi Dele – hello in their language – with a smile and a nod. I love the older ladies especially; I never knew a face could get so wrinkly! And when a smile creases through those wrinkles…I love it!
We toured through the Jokhang Temple today too and man was that a trip and a half. Sadly I mostly only retain things if I have a photo of them and there was no photography allowed so even as we were there, it had this fleeting, mist- and smoke-filled sensation of walking through a strange dream, surreal and devout.
The lines, oh the lines of pilgrims, just waiting to peek their heads into these little caves of Buddha images or deities or so much else. The smoke of the juniper thick in the temple made my nose sting and my eyes water but I tried to take it in as best I could before ducking back out of that strange world of posturing Buddhists up and back down again to the ground, up and back down again to the ground. There were the turquoise, diamond, and gold tombs of the former Dalai Lamas from centuries ago, the people throwing or tucking small bills of offering into seemingly every corner, nook and cranny in the place, wide-eyed or nirvana-stoned eyes of a Buddha staring at us or wildly into the center of the room at nothing…
So many customs that I’ll never understand whirling around me: ancient raisin-like women with high cheekbones pouring butter into these huge vats of candle offerings to keep the fires burning…the constant murmuring of sutras and prayers and hands together tapping foreheads, chests, wooden beams…touching heads down to this or that. I was lost and knew I’d never make sense of it and only today did I truly realize just how steeped in the Buddhist religion Tibetans are. It will undoubtedly take me decades after this trip to wade through all I have seen and heard and experienced and try to make sense of it or really learn what I’ve learned in these days on this trip.
And tomorrow we go on, and on, and on. I feel like I’m doing a terrible job at keeping up with the lessons, but the world is my classroom and learning has never been so fun or so scenic. I love this.
That wasn’t really my objective or purpose in the study and practice of this, but it’s a positive by-product of my reluctant time studying it regardless. Yes, reluctant. In all honesty, the trainings themselves are tiring, tedious, and somewhat physically straining. That it’s done in slow motion makes the strain of it that much more insulting.
This isn’t your grandma’s Tai Chi. Though to be honest I’m sure I’d enjoy that, maybe even moreso, lol. I think that although I entered into this without direct pre-conceived notion or expectation, that’s kind of what I expected/thought Tai Chi was – flowing movements that you stand in a park and do and somehow that opens up your bloodflow, flexibility, and um…your “chi”. Whatever that is. I usually only think about chi when somebody is killing it.
But it is working. I’ll probably never approach anything remotely resembling mastering this stuff, maybe not even my little circles I spend hours a day on, because I’m not going to dedicate years and years to it as you would need to. But nonetheless, I realized today as I walked up the stairs that my timing in movement is different. My awareness of body is different. My ability to use my body is different. My ability to recognize and utilize the finesse and flow of body parts coordinating and working in – here comes the hippie/weird-martial-artist word – harmony. I still have to try not to laugh when I talk about my knees hurting and they talk about rubbing my hands along the outside and inside of my knees to move the chi around. I know, it sounds a little kumbayah, but the truth is…there’s something to it.
When we practiced the other day, Henry (my teacher) said to hold our arms in this certain position so that the chi can flow freely and with just the smallest of tweaks, suddenly I can feel the difference and I move differently, and you can just tell…it’s correct. You can tell that it looks as different as it feels, and you can tell that harnessed the right way, it really can, will, and does “f shit up”.
I wouldn’t have known the difference when I came here if I was studying Grandma-Tai-Chi-in-the-park style here. I’m sure I would have enjoyed it anyway because it still looks cool and any activity in which you must concentrate on focusing, balance, coordination, and increasing flexibility would be beneficial in general physically and mentally, and for snowboarding. But I am somewhat aggressive by nature and I enjoy aggressive sports and activities. It appeals to me very much that at the root of this martial art – and it is indeed a martial art, which I didn’t realize – is some serious ass kicking.
I like learning to see the correlation between seeing and feeling a movement that looks and feels so graceful and calm, inside and out, and then watching as Henry speeds it up and adds an edge of aggression to it and suddenly you kinda want to keep a safe distance from this gentle, mild-mannered little Chinese dude. The past couple of days we even got to scrap a little bit with it to demonstrate how it’s used, or to illustrate what a move that seems so mild when done in practice can quickly become so effective when used for self-defense.
Above all what I like is seeing, realizing and feeling in my bones, body, muscles and blood how I will be able to apply what I’m learning in these long slow-motion sessions to riding a piece of tree strapped to my feet this snowboard season. Just walking up the stairs, realizing how I can feel the difference now when a coordinated move is done in such a way that it just LOOKS perfectly timed versus what it feels like when it actually IS perfectly timed. Until just now, even armed with my new SnowboardAddiction boxed set of instructional freestyle DVDs for the season, I have been nervous thinking about those bigger jumps I want to start hitting and pulling off this year, with a variety of spins and grabs and I don’t know yet about flips but I’m not ruling it out. Knowing now the nuance between such small movements and perfect timings and being able to (sometimes) achieve that perfect coordination between the two changes everything. Even if I can’t do it consistently and continuously yet, having access to that knowledge base in my head and in my experience and in my body is palpably awesome.
We’ve got our hostel reservations and plane tickets to ring in New Year’s in Tokyo on Dec 31. Just two months left to go now before we hit the slopes. Bring on the snow, baby.
We’ve been terrible little bloggers. But we’ve been excellent little travelers and snowboarders lately. We’re having a blast in our lodge in Hakuba: the snowboard bum’s dream of good snow, empty slopes, and a...
The Potala Palace is AMAZING!!! It had been one of my favorite exotic, seemingly-so-far-away magazine pictures I’d ripped out and taped onto my wall back in Tucson to keep me motivated during our two...
That wasn’t really my objective or purpose in the study and practice of this, but it’s a positive by-product of my reluctant time studying it regardless. Yes, reluctant. In all honesty, the trainings themselves...
We love this country. The people are consistently surprisingly nice, sweet, helpful and…well…there’s no other way to put this – adorable. From the little kids to the elderly, they are all totally awesome. I’ve...
Sometimes a picture says more. This isn’t even a joke; and I’ve simplified our actual routings in some parts. And we’re not even halfway there yet. Looking at that routing, it reminds me of...
Wow, no cows in the street, no blatant staring, no grunting for “customer service”, no piles of litter, no smell of urine. WHERE AM I, TOTO??? It’s amazing the things that seem WEIRD now....